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Chapter 3
Men Are Cheaper Than Guns


Chapter 4
Intellectual Capital And Bootstrapping


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The Importance Of Professionalism In Small Business

If you're alert, you find business lessons in all sorts of places.

A while ago, my mom had a new power receptacle installed in her house. She selected a company from the Yellow Pages, and the plug was installed. Unfortunately, the job wasn't flawless, and, in the end, in addition to getting a new power source, the wall also had a gaping seven-inch hole surrounding the plug. And, there were a few extra holes drilled through the floor for good measure.

Being the handyman I am, I decided this would be easy enough to fix. A little plaster patch and wood putty and voila! Better than the best drywall expert in the country! Of course, the intelligent thing to do probably would have been to just call the electrician's bonding company and let them take care of it. Delegating jobs to others is usually the right choice. And, it's almost never smart to let someone else's error cost you time and money. Let it cost the person who made the error.

I have my own theory about doing-it-yourselfers versus delegators and the consequences for successful entrepreneurship. I think many people who do-it-yourself aren't convinced they can get someone else to do an adequate job. They don't want to boss someone else around. And, if they aren't satisfied, they don't like to complain. Delegators are confident in their management skills. They will assert themselves to get the job done right--by someone else--no matter what it takes, from begging to threatening and everything in between. The only thing they won't do is pay more money to correct someone else's error. Entrepreneurs need to learn to be managers. Entrepreneurs need to be willing to enforce contracts to assure other parties perform adequately.

Filling the drill holes with wood putty went easily enough. I was ready for my own This Old House show. But, a little bit of early success is a dangerous thing.

After cutting a piece of sheet rock to fit the hole (helpful hint to do-it-yourselfers out there—Don't cut sheet rock with a saw. Use a very sharp knife), I placed the piece into the wall and noticed that the plug sat a good quarter inch behind the wall and it was crooked to boot. This wouldn't do. The receptacle box had to move forward so that the end result would look like a normal wall receptacle.

I called the electrical company to ask them to send someone out to move the receptacle forward. After about nine rings, a guy answered and said, "Hello."

"Hello," said I. "Is this So-and-So Electric?"

"Yes."

Now at this point, several things struck me. First, for a company which advertises in the Yellow Pages, nine phone rings isn't too great. Second, businesses which deal with the public usually answer the phone, "Hello. This is the So-and-So Company." They usually throw in: "How may I help you?" A business which is trying to draw customers from the larger public needs a dedicated phone line. And, preferably, someone answering it during business hours on the first few rings.

I explained my plight. There was a slight problem with their installation—a seven-hole in the wall. But, I was on it. I had cut a piece of sheet rock. I explained when I aligned the sheet rock, the plug sat too far back. So, send someone out to move the receptacle box up a quarter inch or so.

The proprietor explained that I just had to move the receptacle forward and the wall plate would hold it in. OK. Send someone out to show me. He responded that "We don't send someone out to move two screws."

"Ah, but I want somebody to come and look at it," said I.

"OK," said he. But, he'd need to charge me for it.

"That was unacceptable" I told him.

He tried to negotiate saying how about he'd charge me for it if it wasn't done right, but if it was done right, he'd charge me. I wasn't in the mood for negotiation. In my book, a seven-inch hole in the wall is a job not done right. I shouldn't even have needed to spend my time on this.

I asked him for the phone number of his bonding company. He said he didn't give that information out unless a job was done wrong. I popped. I reminded him there was a seven-inch hole in the wall. I told him that information about his bonding company was on file with the Secretary of State. But, he'd better hope I didn't need to call the Secretary of State to get it.

The proprietor said he'd send someone out. Finally. I had expected that when he heard "seven-inch hole," he'd respond, "We'll send someone out right away. We'll get it corrected."

Toward the end of the conversation, he asked, "Who are you? I don't even know who I'm talking to."

I gave him my name. He'd get someone out, but it couldn't be Friday. All his people were going deer hunting, and he didn't have anyone on the weekend.

After hanging up the phone, the statement, "I don't even know who I'm talking to" stuck in my mind. I should have responded, "a frustrated customer."

For all this proprietor knew, I was the head of a building association or someone else positioned to send him a large number of business referrals. Word-of-mouth is one of the most important advertising methods. There is a world of difference between a Yellow Pages ad that draws in a one-time customer and a Yellow Pages ad followed up by great service that draws in a customer and converts him into a regular customer and a source of referrals.

I was willing to overlook the initial error. Mistakes happen. Even seven-inch holes in walls. I was willing to overlook a few extra phone rings and a curt "Hello?" But, I would never be willing to overlook a company's unwillingness to correct its mistakes and a lack of service toward customers. It's probably just as well for the proprietor, however. He probably doesn't want any more business during deer season.