What Recession? 10 Ways to Keep Your Job and Your Customers in Tough Times
In business we’re forever looking for magic bullets. But when times are tough it means getting back to basics. These lessons from Life 101 will make you indispensable to your employer and your customers.
Several months ago the skylight in my kitchen suddenly sprang a leak. Besides a soggy floor, what was particularly distressing was that I didn’t know anyone I could trust to fix it. Since moving onto a 75 acre farm in rural North Carolina 11 years ago, I’ve had plenty of experience with what the locals affectionately refer to as “jacklegs”: Contractors of all stripes who show up late or not at all who uniformly provide as little indifferent work as they can get away with.
[caption id="attachment_4132" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Juan Perez, August Turak, & Doug Kelsey pose for rare photo opp in front of Kelsey's Supermarket just up the road from Turak's farm in Franklinton, NC"][/caption]
Luckily, over the years I’ve developed a close friendship with Doug Kelsey. Doug successfully owns and operates both Ashwhit Builders, LLC and Kelsey's Supermarket, the local convenience store. He is the unofficial mayor in these parts, and if you need anything short of a presidential pardon next time you’re out this way, I’ll introduce you to Kelsey. Anyway, I called Doug and he recommended a roofer named Juan Perez.
At 6:30 the next morning I was startled out of a dead sleep by someone tramping around on my roof just outside my bedroom window. Juan was already hard at it even though according to my sleep addled brain it was Saturday. A half hour later at his insistence, I had joined him on the roof so he could carefully show me that my leaking skylight as well as the others had been improperly installed. He quickly fixed them all for a fair price.
About a week later a severe storm sent one of the ancient oaks that grace my backyard onto the driveway blocking it. I called Juan and asked him to remove the tree. Even though he is technically a roofer, Juan quickly showed up with a helper named José and set to work. Every once in a while I wandered by and was struck by the fact that José never stopped working. Even while Juan was sharpening his chain saw José kept at it, making work for himself even where none was apparent.
Then I came around the corner of my house and found Juan and José splitting huge chunks of oak by hand into firewood. Juan had taken the job for a flat rate, so even though I use lots of firewood in the winter, I insisted that splitting wood wasn’t part of the contract. When they finished the only things left to tell the heart rending tale of the demise of a mighty oak, was a finely manicured stump and some finely ground saw dust.
Delighted by the sheer quality of their work I looked around for another project. I found one in an old concrete block building left over from a previous owner. Frankly it didn’t really need tearing down, but I was so enamored of Juan and José that I felt like Darwin drooling over a species long assumed extinct. I needed one more sighting just to believe my eyes.
Juan and José not only tore down the building but hand- chiseled the old mortar from the blocks and carefully stacked them for reuse. Unasked, they even used the old mortar to fill in a couple of the mud holes on my farm road that I swear must dig themselves in the middle of the night.
But as Steve Jobs would say, there’s one more thing. While they were tearing down the building, I happened to mention that the aluminum roof on one of the out buildings had torn loose and was flapping in the wind. A few days later I discovered Juan fixing the roof with a sheet of aluminum he had fished out from somewhere around the farm. I had not authorized the work, but assuming that the miscommunication was my responsibility I asked him how much I owed him.
“Nothing,” he said with a big grin, “I’m doing it just for you.” I tried to argue but he just drove away. After a few minutes I called him on his cell. In lieu of money would he accept some beef for his family from one of my steers nestling in the freezer fresh from the butcher? He laughingly agreed and promised to stop by.
I’ve called several times to coax him, but it’s been two months and he still hasn’t stopped by for his beef. He is always sincerely apologetic but I must admit he has a good excuse. You see, Juan is so busy working round the clock in a construction industry written off for dead that he doesn’t have time to stop by for free organic beef even though he lives about two miles from my house…
* * *If we all are willing to learn a few lessons from Juan we will always have steady work and more than enough customers no matter how bad the economy may be.
1) Someone is always watching. When we cut corners not only do we short change our customers and employers but we insult their intelligence as well.
2) If it isn’t worth doing well don’t do it at all. We are much better off doing a few things well than throwing our hats at a lot of things.
3) Take the initiative. Like José look around for things that need doing and just start doing them. Look for reasons for why it is your job rather than for reasons that it is not.
4) Get outside the box of your job description. Juan is a roofer but he cheerfully adds value wherever he can. Not only does his attitude provide job security, but he has picked up some valuable skills in the process.
5) Don’t expect an immediate payoff. Juan’s success is directly proportional to his faith. He has faith that if he always gives his best it will come back to him in ways he can’t always anticipate.
6) Make friends. Juan never treats me like a customer let alone a pay check. He always treats me like a friend in need. If you treat your boss and your customers like friends more often than not they will be there for you as well.
7) Cultivate an attitude of gratitude. Juan has been almost effusive in his gratitude for the work and referrals that I have provided. Ironically, he is so sincerely grateful that despite the fact that I have always paid him promptly and well, I still feel profoundly in his debt.
8) Always do what you say you are going to do. Everything Juan has ever promised he has delivered. And more…
9) Always leave money on the table. Juan was under no obligation to fix the roof of my out building for free. I firmly believe that this gesture was just part of his overall philosophy of business and life that it is better to give than to receive. The fact that it pays off financially for him is just the trailing indicator of a life well lived.
10) Excellence for the Sake of Excellence. I would be amazed if Juan even thinks about any of the things I’ve enumerated here. What so obviously drives him is just the sheer satisfaction that he gets from always doing his best. I’m having Juan and his family over for dinner this weekend. When he emigrated from Mexico I doubt he ever thought that he would be featured in a publication like Forbes.com. But that is just the kind of magical “happy accidents” that living a life of service and selflessness provides. But only if, like Juan, we have enough faith to live it without constantly wondering “What’s in it for me?”
By the way, if you need some work done let me know. I’ll happily send Juan your way. You’ll get great work at a fair price and I’ll feel a little less beholden to him.
Follow me on Twitter @augustturak, or check out my Forbes.com articles on http://blogs.forbes.com/augustturak/ for more tips and strategies for becoming a great leader – and to discover how service and selflessness is the secret to success in business and in life.