Quite often entrepreneurship is painted as this glorious mountaintop where you’ll find complete happiness and a pot of gold. In Chris Rock’s comedy special “Bigger & Blacker” he stated “You gotta love the crust, the crumbs, the tiny crumbs at the bottom of the toaster.” in reference to being in a relationship. Although being an entrepreneur in Construction Engineering has been very rewarding, like any other profession, it comes with its challenges. Three years ago I wrote an article “How I Escaped My 9 to 5” (See article here https://winstoneng.com/how-i-escaped-my-9-to-5/ ), detailing my journey to business ownership. Now I want to give some insight into this world for any aspiring entrepreneur.
You’ll Be Treated Like a Football Kicker
In the game of football, there are a lot of actions that take place before the final seconds. The quarterback could have thrown multiple interceptions, the wide receivers constantly dropping balls and the coach called horrible plays. In the final moments of the game, it’s up to the kicker to make the game-winning field goal. If the field goal is missed, it’s the kicker’s fault. No matter what happened leading up to that moment, the kicker lost the game for their team.
Being in Construction Engineering requires that you work on a team with other people or entities. Quite often there is a project owner, Architect, General Contractor and specialized contractors (Electrician, Plumber, HVAC Technician, etc) that have to provide inputs before it gets to us as the MEP (Mechanical, Electrical & Plumbing) Engineers. You may have an all-star team but if any one of those entities are late, it can cause a domino effect. So we as the MEP Engineers are usually the last link in the chain and quite often it’s up to us to work miracles to finish on time.
When working as a consultant, collaborating with different entities, it’s important that you understand you will be blamed no matter how well you performed. Get over it and move on. It’s always best to have everything documented, but sometimes even that’s not enough. Continue doing the best work you can, and with experience, you will become good a noticing trouble spots before they arrive.
This Is Not Burger King
As a business owner, you want every customer to be completely happy with their transaction. 9 out of 10 times that happens and it makes you feel good knowing you were able to help someone. Unfortunately there are some times when you have to say “no” leaving some clients unhappy. Sometimes life happens (See sections below for some of the reasons) or sometimes clients will ask you to do things that are illegal or unethical (yes, sometimes unethical actions can still be considered legal).
I’ve been asked to “fudge” numbers on Engineering plans just to pass inspection. I’ve been asked to leave vital information off plans to pass inspection. I’ve been asked to put my employees in dangerous situations to get site information. In these and other situations, the answer is always “No”. Stand firm in your decision as “Have It Your Way” never applies in these moments.
Value Your Time
Anyone who knows me, knows I put my family first. I do my best to carve out critical quality time with my wife and 2 kids. Although I’m not perfect, I still try my best. For that very reason, I have 2 cell phones…one for work and one for personal. (here is the social media post I did on this topic https://www.instagram.com/p/BqvmL39hgpV/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link ). Make sure your clients fully understand your office hours. If you don’t, expect calls late at night.
Be a Tribal Leader
Simon Sinek wrote an amazing book titled “Leaders Eat Last” (https://simonsinek.com/product/leaders-eat-last/ ). This book completely changed my perspective on being a leader. In summary, the book describes how being a leader means being selfless and looking out for the best interest of the tribe (your employees) before your own. This was the first time I had heard this concept. It is critically important that you as a leader understand that your people come first and business comes 2nd. This may seem counter-intuitive, but at the end of the day, you can’t run a successful company without having quality personnel that WANT to stay.
When building a company, I don’t believe many people take this into consideration. You have to remember that your employees are living, breathing individuals that have lives. They get sick, they lose loved ones, their kids participate in sports, they go through divorces and breakups. Through all of this, you as a leader have to be understanding and have empathy.
No One Cares About Your Sick Kids
One thing you should know is that some (not all) clients believe that when they sign the contract and make the start payment, THEY OWN YOU. Their project is the most important thing in the universe and it doesn’t matter if your child is sick, you’re sick or your house is about to burn down. The latter actually happened a few years ago during a major wildfire. My house was in danger of burning down and I informed the client I would be a bit late. They didn’t care and I calmly explained the situation in my most professional, yet stern voice.
It’s always best that you are upfront about project turnaround times prior to the client signing on. I would rather lose a client than over-promise on a submittal date. Also be sure to over-communicate. Let the client know well in advance that you are on track to meet your deadline or if there is a need to extend the deadline. The worst thing you can do is tell a client a project is going to be late on the day it’s due.
You Now Have Multiple Bosses
The perception about being an entrepreneur is that you no longer have a boss. That couldn’t be further from the truth. As a consultant you have multiple bosses. At any given time we may have 5-10 projects. That means I have 5-10 bosses at any given time. Of course you have the ability to set terms and work in the manner that you feel is best.
Failure Is An Option
I do my best to not dwell on the negative statistics about business failure rates. The Bureau of Labor Statistics state that about 20% of businesses fail in their first year and 50% of small businesses fail in their fifth year (https://www.fundera.com/blog/what-percentage-of-small-businesses-fail ). I rarely think about failure but I am certain if Winston Engineering Inc did not survive, I have gained enough knowledge and skill-sets to start another business. Electrical Contractor Magazine wrote a great article about “R.I.P. Your Business” (https://winstoneng.com/dont-rip-your-business/ ). Essentially write a letter to you as to why you think your business will fail. This may highlight some inadequacies that you can correct before it’s too late. Stay focused on being successful but also be aware of things that could cause you to fail.
I hope this article has given you some insight into the “crust” of entrepreneurship. Enjoy the beauty of it, but know how to deal with the not-so-great aspects as well.