Impoverished Craftsman Part 1

August 29, 2005

The Impoverished Craftsman, Part 1
By: Matt Michel

A contractor wrote to me in an email, “I have never been able to figure out some guys. They think that being underpaid, undervalued and in debt is some badge of honor that goes along with being a quality craftsman.”

If you can’t figure it out either, then this Comanche Marketing is probably not for you. If, on the other hand, this strikes a nerve, sounds familiar, this Comanche Marketing might be one to think about.

Do yourself a favor. Do not react emotionally. Read it. Think about it. Consider it. And maybe, make some changes.

The Small Business Owner
I’ve long held a special affinity for the small business owner. I remember my father telling stories about how hard my grandfather worked during the depression to operate the Michel Tire Company in Saint Joseph, Missouri. Grandpa worked hard, was honest in his dealings with others, but never seemed to get very far ahead. He was always running scared.

That could be said for many small business owners. They revel in their craft, in the work, but they hate the nuts and bolts of making the business prosper. They hate the crude, crass functions of accounting, marketing, and especially, sales.

The Source of Business Starts
Some businesses start to pursue a new idea, an invention, or a concept. Most small businesses start because the owner seeks freedom. The owner hangs out a shingle so he pursue his craft as he sees fit. He wants the freedom to do the job right, without a boss looking over his shoulder critiquing and urging him to hurry along. Surely, if he performs the craft right, the way he knows it can and should be done, everything else will fall into place. People will seek him out. The money will be there.

It rarely works that way. The irony of the craftsman as businessman is that once he launches his own venture the craftsman is confronted with the need to give up the very thing he loves most, the craft.

Impossible Standards
Some craftsmen accept the need to learn a new set of skills, a new “craft,” so to speak. They embrace the notion of building a business and, though they are letting go of the craft, find a replacement that’s even more fulfilling: the craft of building a great business.

Yet for other craftsmen, this is impossible. They cannot give up the craft. Even if they could, they can never find anyone to do the work. No one measures up. No one meets their standards. No one is as good a craftsman as they are.

Faced with the prospect of hiring someone who fails to meet their standards, they never hire anyone. They can’t do it all. They can’t practice the craft and manage the business. So they shift as much of the business burden as possible to their spouses. What their spouses cannot or do not know how to do, doesn’t get done.

This burden gets thrown on a spouse who is already trying to run a household and likely holds down another job to help pay the bills. It strains the marriage. It stresses the family.

Business Novices
Great craftsmen know how to turn a wrench, but not how to turn a profit. They’re business novices. The craftsman usually undercharges. He undercharges because he still thinks in personal terms, not business terms. He relates pricing to the pay he earned working for someone else. He thinks like a craftsman, not a businessman.

He doesn’t realize that by undercharging he is subsidizing his customers at his company’s, family’s, and own expense. If he works through the numbers and understands them intellectually, he doesn’t accept them psychologically.

The craftsman doesn’t think *he* is personally worth what the business needs to charge. His self-esteem won’t allow him to charge what he should to build a business, to build a better lifestyle, to build a future. Since he wouldn’t pay what the business demands for himself, he can’t imagine others paying it. He associates higher rates with larceny.

He misses the fact that while his customers appreciate his conscientiousness, they wish he would respond faster, handle complaints and callbacks with more aplomb, and provide those little service extras that he cannot afford because he doesn’t charge enough.

Every callback becomes a threat. Every callback is food off his table, money out of his pocket. He still responds. The craftsman inside him demands a response. Yet, the husband, the father, the owner, responds grudgingly. Already under stress, customers sense his reluctance and quickly turn adversarial, further souring his attitude and starting a slippery slide down the path to customer conflict.

Next, Part 2: The dream goes off track.

Source: Comanche Marketing. Reprinted by permission.
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Copyright © 2004 Matt Michel

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