A Man of Many failures

May 01, 2011

Alot has changed since my first post here at ContractorTalk. Back then it was the contractor chat room.  This guy, Nate was his name, sent me an email after reading one of my posts on another forum suggesting this cool new website.  How could I resist but take a look?  I've been hooked ever since.

I was one of the first to sign up, actually I believe I was the 25th member of Contractor Chat Room.  I was a punk kid know it all.  I had been working in the construction industry 5 years. I rose to a position of responsibility rather quickly. I worked first as an installer for some hack outfit a friend of mine ran. I left him because of the shady business practices, I did not want to be involved in. I went to work for one of the largest residential roofing companies in Chicago, and after only 2 months as an administrative assistant, got promoted to scheduling manager.  I worked there for a year and went to work for one of their subcontractors as a sales rep and after our first winter I began doing all the marketing and office management in addition to most of the sales and customer service.  Needless to say my success had gone to my head. 

I was still an employee at that time, I was 26 years old then and had ALL the answers.  After all in my mind, why not, I had achieved in only a few years what some couldn't figure out in an entire career.  Then I decided the logical step was to go out on my own and start my own company, I figured my boss was holding me back. I figured I would be making double, if not triple what I was making working for him making him rich.

So I did it. I went out on my own, registered a domain name, incorporated December 12th 2003.  By September 2004, I was full time on my own... And then everything changed!


I write alot of articles or blog posts giving advice. Most of what I write is about my own failures.  I wrote about buying your first insurance policy because of the mistakes I made when I bought mine. I wrote about renting office space because of the mistakes I made when I rented my first office.  I write ALOT about checks and balances and employee oversight because it damned near broke me to let the monkeys run the zoo.

This is why I say I am a man of many failures.  I don't think I have ever met another person as proud of their failures as I am of mine. I would like to think that for the most part I have learned from my failures.  I try to do everything in my power to ensure that others can learn from my mistakes as well.

So how bad can it be? Well it WAS bad, very very bad. For awhile I stopped coming to this forum. I thought, who am I to give advice and be answering questions? My first mistake about the insurance, cost me $19,000.00 at audit time. What, what? Audit? Nobody told me about no stinking audit. I was quoted $1,000 a year why did I get a bill for $19,000.00?! Who's got $19,000 laying around? I fired that insurance broker because he didn't give me the information I needed to make an educated buying decision and it cost me $19,000.000 in my mind. I'd still like tp punch him in the face, but really the mistake was my own. I didn't know what I didn't know and it cost me big.

By 2005 I had a revolving door of sales reps that I hired and fired for various reasons. I had a production manager overseeing the production side of things and part of his job was to make sure the sales reps didn't mess up their measurements. Little did I know their tape mesures worked very well, but their calculators did not. Having 2 full times sales reps plus myself, and the ONLY jobs we made money on were the ones I sold?  After three years of that, I was in the hole, and BIG time. How Much? I'm proud to say $250,000.00 in debt. Yes a quarter of a million dollars. I went home and cried on my new bride's shoulder that night.  Yes I cried, got a problem with it?

So how can I be proud of the fact that I was basically bankrupt, had little to no more credit and stress out the wazoo? Today I have got that $1/4 mil down to a very manageable $40k.  I made the decision that I was NOT going to be like everyone else, I was not going to go out of business, I was going to honor my commitments, I was going to do the right thing and pay my bills... and I have done just that.

But what else did I do?  I implemented processes and procedures to ensure this kind of monkey business would never happen again.  I implemented a series of checks and balances in place to ensure that we were profitable on each and every job we installed.  I set my levels of expectations with my employees, subs, and suppliers and I let them know what I expect from them or else.  I wrote manuals for every procedure within my company no more reinventing the wheel each and every day.

The failures didn't end there though. In 2009 I had record complaints. I pride myself on doing the job right, but we were no longer doing the job right.  Sure we all make mistakes but when the trend is growing there is a problem. I identified why mistakes were being made and ensured to prevent them from happening again.  Again going back to checks and balances. The #1 procedure I impemented to ensure customer satisfaction was to set the policy that no customer gets billed until the job gets inspected for completion. I made a list of inspection forms for each type of roofing and gutter system that we installed and now no customer is expected to pay until someone of authority, usually myself, has inspected the job and is satisfied with the results. My thinking is that I would rather find the mistakes before the water does, and I do not want my customer to be the quality control.   For what it's worth, had we been doing these inspections in the first place I would have had very little complaints in 2009 because most of the problems were simply oversights that had they been inspected would have never passed.

So yes, I am a man of many failures. Chances are you are a person of many failures as well. I am proud now when I speak, I speak of my failures, not of my successes. 

Read more here: http://hangupthebelt.com/2011/a-man-of-many-failures/ 

Comments (24)

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Displaying 1–20 of 24
  • Thumb_avatar38247_1
    English Rooferabout 9 years ago

    Hi Grumpy and thank you for sharing your story,your right we have all made many mistakes along the way,in business and in life!
    As my dad used to say 'The man who never made a mistake never made anything'

  • Thumb_avatar69476_1
    ccappaulabout 9 years ago

    I only hope I can learn from mine and yours as much as you have. You are a stand up kinda guy obviously from the tale of your rise, stumble and recovery and rising again. Thanks for your tale.

  • No-avatar-62
    bfitzabout 9 years ago

    good luck

  • Thumb_polar%20bear
    katomanabout 9 years ago

    All I can say is WOW. Most guys would have just declared bankruptcy. My hats off to you Grumpy for standing by your principles. It's not easy to do sometimes. It's very true that "what does not kill us makes us stronger."

    Thank you so much for this blog, I hope lots of new guys read this.

  • Thumb_bf5f1343
    mehtwoabout 9 years ago

    As I inch into the "self-employment ring", it's advice like yours that reassures me that if we learn from our mistakes and the mistakes from others we will be successful. Thanks Grumpy. ContractorTalk is like an "occupational brotherhood" for me.

  • Thumb_avatar3465_1
    john elliottabout 9 years ago

    Interesting stuff. I've had a few myself.

  • Thumb_roof-replacement
    jmillerabout 9 years ago

    I'm glad you survived to tell the tale. Your advice on everything from the mechanical to financial is very much appreciated.

  • Thumb_avatar2496_1
    6stringmasonabout 9 years ago

    Great blog post. Many here can learn alot from it Im sure.

    Humble pie, though it sounds delicious, is anything but, and its not fun getting served a big ole slice of it.

  • No-avatar-62
    PowerWashabout 9 years ago

    Great blog post!

    I also strive to learn from all my failures.

  • No-avatar-62
    BC Carpenterabout 9 years ago

    great stuff

    very true, as much as it sucks going through those failures and mistakes, those are what gives you the experience to handle things properly and confidently, and do what you set out to do.

  • Thumb_542435_296766617086286_687307429_n
    Tom Strubleabout 9 years ago

    great post Grumpy

  • No-avatar-62
    Ed the Rooferabout 9 years ago

    From the Smartest Businessman to possibly the Humblest. I've known of you since before I ever signed up on www.ContratorTalk.com and realized that you an I shared one very similar characteristic, which is to be open and honest about our experiences, both good and bad, hopefully for the opportunity to assist others to avoid making the same mistakes and shorten the business learning curve to upgrade the standards of our combined industries.

    My favorite quote is from Thomas Edison, regarding someone inquiring with him on how frustrated he must be by not finding the solution to the light bulb he was working on, after around 10,000 attempts.....

    "I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work."


    "If I find 10,000 ways something won't work, I haven't failed. I am not discouraged, because every wrong attempt discarded is another step forward."

    Perseverance, in the face of perceived failure, is the entrepreneurs greatest asset.


  • Thumb_motorcycle2
    Rod B.about 9 years ago

    Impressive, to say the least. Thanks for sharing your frustrating and unfortunately expensive info... taking a deep breath, and moving onward.

  • Thumb_phbconstrlogosmall
    Paulieabout 9 years ago

    Great post Grumps.

  • No-avatar-62
    22 Constitutionabout 9 years ago

    Wow. Great post. As always.

  • Thumb_avatar25_1Author
    Grumpyabout 9 years ago

    Thank you all, I hope you got the point of this blog post was more than just unloading a burden from my conscience. While it was therapuetic to vent about this subject the point was to suggest to everyone not to let it happen to them and to explain how to prevent it.

    In short you have to be profitable or your business will die. You have to ensure profitibality on each and every job by implementing a series of checks and balances. You have to ensure your customers are truly satisified and that you are delivering on your promises or you'll be back fixing mistakes and that kills profit. Also not delivering on your promises will kill your referral base and put you in the category with "every other contractor".

  • Thumb_brutus
    Brutusabout 9 years ago

    Thank you very much for this. Those kind of things are what scares me into not going out on my own. The way you handled it, is phenomenal. Gives me more hope, and maybe some day I will take on my own business.

    Thanks again.

  • Thumb_personal%20pic%201
    kowalityabout 9 years ago

    Thank You for a great story Grumpy. We don't learn a damn thing by standing on the sidelines. This is not a good day to die...I have way to many mistakes to make.

  • Thumb_avatar25_1Author
    Grumpyabout 9 years ago

    Posted by: Brutus

    Thank you very much for this. Those kind of things are what scares me into not going out on my own. The way you handled it, is phenomenal. Gives me more hope, and maybe some day I will take on my own business.

    Thanks again.

    If you do decide to ever start your own business, or even if you rise to a position of responsiblity within your current employer, just be smart about it. Surround yourself with advisors such as an account and a lawyer whom you trust with your business.

    Ask your accountant to generate profit loss reports on each job and a monthly over all P&L. Have a 2nd set of eyes look at every job before you comit to doing it. Be prepared to walk away from work if the customer feels "fishy" or you're not comfortable with the work, not every customer is your customer. Chase the cream of the crop and leave the cream of the crap for your competition.

  • Thumb_avatar25_1Author
    Grumpyabout 9 years ago

    One more thing I want to add about the 2nd set of eyes, if you don't work on the job yourself inspect each and every job or have someone whom you trust do it. Never consider a job complete until YOU or your production manager says so.

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