A New Year, A Clean Slate


Why Did the Turkey Cross the Road?


It’s just a few days until the start of a new year. This start represents an opportunity for new possibilities. The thought of this can be exciting. The chance to do better…to be better. This is what encourages us to make ‘New Year’s resolutions’. The process of making resolutions and failing at them over and over, makes us hesitant though. Most of the time people give up on resolutions after a few weeks. Only about 8 percent of people that make resolutions will stick to them. Most resolutions are really good, and if kept, would make us better.


Okay, so if the possibilities are exciting, we want to be better and most resolutions are admirable, why don’t we keep them?


I think most of the time it is the lack of a clear plan. It reminds me of some wild turkeys that were crossing the road near my home. There were fifteen or twenty birds going across as I approached them in my truck. Some continued on across, some turned and went back, but one couldn’t decide which way to go. It ran back and forth going in circles in the middle of the road. This indecision and lack of clarity put this bird at risk of failure…and in this case, failure could have been really bad. Good thing I was driving slow.


The first thing to do is determine WHY. WHY do we want to accomplish this thing? The WHY will be the motivating factor. The WHY gives us the reason to move. For example, WHY do I want to cross the road?

Next we need to know the HOW. The HOW gives us the map from here to there. The HOW gives us a direction to go. Now I know HOW best to cross the road.

This is where things begin to get tricky. There are a lot of different systems that you can use for this. The problem is that what works for one person may not work for another. I have used several, some I paid for and some were free. The conclusion I have come to is, it matters less what the system is and more about whether you use it or not. You have to move or you will be left standing in the road.

Currently I am using parts and pieces from Michael Hyatt’s, Five Days to Your Best Year Ever; Donald Miller’s, Creating Your Life Plan; Andy Andrews, The Seven Decisions Perpetual Calendar as well as things I have designed myself. Each year I modify and tweak my system so that it works better for me. Every year I schedule time between Christmas and New Year’s Day for working on my Life Plan. Scheduling it on the calendar is critical to being intentional.

The plan needs to look back at the past to see what worked and what didn’t. It needs to look to the future to see where we want to go. Most importantly it needs action now. It also needs a way of measuring progress so you can see how you’re doing. Resolutions are only as good as our actions. Like Ebenezer Scrooge in the Christmas Carol, we have to decide to be different if we’re going to be different.

Don’t be a turkey. Make a plan before you start across the road and stick with it. Don’t stop in the middle of the road. You can continue to improve on the plan every day if you keep moving.


Dreaming About Budgeting


The Roots of the Financial Planning Tree


A few weeks ago I wrote about the 4 W’s of budgeting. That post was an overview of the WHY, WHAT, WHERE AND WHEN of budgeting. It was a quick look at the purposes for budgeting from the outside. It didn’t answer the question of HOW I do my business budget. It is important to understand the underlying reasons or there is no motivation to prepare or maintain a plan. So we will peel off another layer of the onion and get closer to the process of HOW.

This morning as I was reviewing my schedule and once again trying to figure out how best to spend time, I had a thought…time and money both need to be managed and spent well. Both of them have a major role in achieving our dreams and need to be budgeted.

We can’t see into the future so we can’t know in advance how much of either of these, (time or money) it will take. What we can do is use information from our past and plan for the future. The hard part is maintaining the present. We need to be aware of where we are and be intentional in our actions using what we know from the past and what we want for our future, otherwise we just wander through life.

Dreaming about the future –


            If you haven’t determined where you want to go, how will you ever get there? Growing up watching my Dad farm, that was what I dreamed of doing. I started in that direction without much of a plan (okay none) and then something unexpected happened…my Dad died. If his death wasn’t enough, the waves that it created completely changed my future. Granted there is no amount of planning that could have prepared me for his death, but the right plan would have served as a life preserver until the waves subsided. Instead my ability to dream was drowned. I went through years with no clear destination or direction. Then several years later I had a dream resuscitating incident. I fell while working on a second floor. I was unconscious for three days. After regaining consciousness and while recovering, I realized that God wasn’t done with me yet and I still had things to do and dreams to achieve. I think that when I hit the ground the impact must have restarted my ‘dream heart’. The point of this is the underlying importance of dreams. Having a plan can serve as a life preserver.


863937109_6245bef2c4_oI have always been a planner by nature. For years there was no purpose behind the planning. Dreams are what give the planning a purpose. My dreams now are big, more like they used to be. Things like; being debt free, renovating our home, traveling, owning rental property, flying my own plane and owning a NASCAR team…to mention a few. Everyone’s dreams will be different, but this will be the motivation behind the plan.

Okay now we have a reason for making plans. How much money and time are needed to achieve your dreams? Break each one down, what is it going to cost to get out of debt or buy that NASCAR team?

If my debt is $100,000.00, how am I going to pay it off? How long is it going to take? How much do I currently earn?

I will peel another layer in a later blog and we continue to go deeper. Until then what are your dreams?

The 4 W’s of Budgeting

The Place to Start When Considering a Budget


Recently I have been asked multiple times about how I do my business budgeting. This question has come up multiple times over the last several years. Based on the number of times, it must need some discussion.

Budgeting has rarely been a very popular subject. Most people view it as restrictive, confusing or just too much work. It’s even more complicated when you’re self-employed and don’t have a constant or regular income. Before you can budget effectively you need to answer some questions.

The first question to answer is WHY do you want to bother with a budget? This could be because it’s just one of the things that the business world talks about, so it must be the right thing to do. It could be because you are tired of not knowing where your money is going. It might be that you feel out of control. Whatever the reason, this needs to be the first question to answer, because it will affect how you answer the remaining questions.

The next question is WHAT difference is a budget going to make? Before budgeting I would deposit a check and Debby would pay bills. Later I would be surprised when there was less in the account than I expected. After writing the numbers down and doing the math I could see exactly where the money had gone. Before it was written down it would be abstract and estimated. It was amazing how much difference it made seeing it written down. If your happy with your current money situation and can account for where it all goes, then you don’t need to bother with a budget.

6736189489_451af024b0_oIf you don’t like where you currently are then it’s time to sharpen your pencil and get ready to answer the next questions. WHERE do you want to be? This will be different for everybody, but it needs to be answered. Do you want to have money put back for your retirement? Do you want to be out of debt so that you aren’t feeling the pressure that comes with owing money to someone? Maybe you are just tired of your life being out of control and living paycheck to paycheck. Whatever the answer to this question, once you’ve answered it, you then have a destination. If you don’t have a map how will you ever be able to get there?

Next is WHEN will I get there? Once you have determined why it makes a difference and where you want to go, it’s time to figure out how long it’s going to take. This comes down to doing some simple math. Depending on what your end target is, it may seem overwhelming. The thing to remember is that if you don’t start you sure won’t get there. This is why some way of tracking progress is helpful. It can give the process a sense of reality rather than just being a fantasy. Dave Ramsey refers to Aesop’s Fable, the “Tortoise and the Hare” in his Financial Peace University course. We live in a high speed want it now world. We need to remember that slow and steady wins the race and not be discouraged if in the beginning it looks overwhelming.

After years of working through these issues I have come up with a system that works for me. It is an accumulation of different thoughts, ideas and plans from a variety of different people and places. In a future post I will break down and share HOW I budget and track my finances. So until then, answer the questions above so you will be ready to move forward and get control of your money and your life.

Education vs. Regulation

How Learning Can Benefit Both You and Your Customer


Recently I was working on a small ceiling repair project. It was one of those simple projects that turned a bit more complicated. Due to city building codes and the lead based paint regulations this small $1600.00 project was going to end up doubling in price.12236333666_3c5a6a5cd9_o

The project consisted of removing the balance of some water damaged plaster and lath, approximately 108 square feet. Lead based paint regulations require the removal and cleanup be done by a certified lead abatement contractor if the work exceeds 100 square feet. This isn’t about lead based paint regulations. That’s a topic for another day. The issue that I want to discuss is what this requirement caused. Due to the lead paint abatement, a building permit was needed. No problem. I pulled the permit, the demo was done by a certified lead paint abatement contractor. New sheetrock was installed, finished and painted. A new ceiling light fixture was hung. Everything was looking great and I called the inspector to come do the final inspection. This is where things get a little bumpy. The inspector asked about smoke alarms in the upstairs bedrooms. We check and find that there aren’t any. By code in this jurisdiction if a building permit is pulled for a remodel and there aren’t interconnected smoke alarms, they have to be installed. This meant we had to install a smoke alarm in each bedroom and a smoke and carbon monoxide alarm on each level. All of these alarms need to be hardwired together. Don’t get me wrong, this is a great idea. If they’re asleep in the upstairs bedroom and there is a fire in the basement, then all of the alarms will go off. The problem is…this is an old two story home with a basement. Have you ever tried to get electrical wire from one level to the next in an old house? If not, trust me it isn’t easy. All of this because we were a few square feet more than the minimum. Regulations can be a real problem and in this case expensive.

For a long time, I thought that licensing of contractors was just another way for the government to make more money, not to mention an additional cost that I had to pass on to my customer. More rules and regulations that allow some bureaucrat to stick their nose in someone else’s business. Like they really know what’s best for every customer. Regulating continues to expand and I don’t expect it to get any less any time soon. The problem is that not all contractors approach things the way that I do. There are a lot of “contractors” out there that don’t care about the customer or are just unaware and/or untrained. These are the guys that have made it necessary to have some level of protection for the customer. It would have been easy enough for me to have divided this project in to two separate projects and these rules wouldn’t have applied. This isn’t how I do things.

Okay now for the real point of this rant…I mean blog post.

I’m all for the protection of life and property. The question is, how is this best achieved? I think that education is as important as rules and regulations, maybe even more so. If both contractors and customers are better educated it could help decrease the need for regulations. Education allows for the understanding of the reasons. Just like the project above, understanding the benefits of the connected smoke alarms makes sense. It should be up to the customer if they think it is worth the cost.

One problem with regulations is that there are so many that it is difficult to keep up with them all, especially for those people not involved with it regularly. Not every situation can be regulated. I think when we over regulate in an effort to protect we make it so people no longer need to think for themselves, because someone else will.

Back to the interconnected smoke alarms of the project above. With some research by an electrician and working with the inspector we were able to find some 12-year battery powered alarms that are interconnected with a radio frequency rather than hardwired. This not only met the regulations, but also met the intent. It gave the customer the protection needed and kept the additional cost to the customer from getting out of hand.

By working together, the customer, electrician, inspector and myself came to a reasonable working solution. Not all builders would have put forth the effort to meet the required regulations while looking out for the customer.

Another class in the ‘school of hard knocks’ completed with a passing grade.

The Importance of Good Communication

It Should Be Focused On Helping the Customer Realize THEIR Dream



Over the last few days I have been reminded of how important good communication is. There are two separate instances that have come to my attention that confirm this. One situation is of an individual who had been given a price for a project and then after they were already started doing their part (pouring the concrete) found out the price for the building was more than expected. The second was someone who had a project done with no agreement in writing. Once the project was almost completed there were some quality issues. This left them (both the customer and the contractor) in a place where they felt cheated. The contractor billed for work done and wasn’t getting paid. The customer felt that the work is below standard and couldn’t get the contractor to come back and fix it. As is usually the case there are several extenuating circumstances in both of these situations and both sides had legitimate viewpoints. Both projects could have had less problems if there had been clearer communication in the beginning.

Read more

5 Ways Builders Should Treat Customers

It’s Not Just a Job…It’s Someone’s Dream 



Over the years as I have discussed building projects with people, a lot of people. There are those who have had the experience of building a new home, doing a remodel or even a small repair project. The number of times that I have heard them say, ‘it was the worst experience of my life’, breaks my heart. The experience of repairing, remodeling or building new should be counted among their best experiences, not their worst. In many cases they only get the opportunity to experience a project, especially a large one, once. This makes it even more critical that we do what we can to make this as enjoyable and painless as possible.

A building project is like having a child. For me the designing, developing and building something is an amazing experience. It is more than just the mechanical act of pouring some concrete, nailing two boards together, putting a window in a hole or slapping on some paint. The collaboration between the parties involved should be fun and exciting. A part of me is poured into each and every project. Once it is done, I step back and look at it. Something that wasn’t before and is now…it is a part of me and I am a part of it. I’m continually moved when I see projects that I was involved in over the years. Approaching construction in this perspective is key to the conception, gestation and birth of each new project.

The builder carries the majority of the responsibility. Those of us in the building industry go through the process over and over again. We can get used to the daily routine of construction. We forget that the customer doesn’t do this daily like we do. This is something that can be scary and overwhelming to the person wanting to have some repairs done, add on a room or build a new home. As builders we need to remember to approach each new customer with an open mind and a desire to help them build their dream.

Things that the builder should do:

  • Communicate – Let the customer know what to expect. Remember that they don’t do this day in and day out like you do.
  • Listen – This is the most important part of communicating. You need to hear what the customer is saying. This is more than just their words.
  • Be on time – Show up when you say you will. Respect their time.
  • Be responsive – Return communications in a reasonable amount of time. They just want to know that you hear them and care.
  • Be accountable – If you or someone on your team make a mistake, own up to it. Don’t blame someone else.

Remember the Golden Rule and treat your customer the way you would like to be treated, not the way you have been treated.

Can Communicating Too Much, Be Too Much?

For those of you who know me or know somebody that knows me. You know that I talk a little…okay…maybe I talk a lot.

When I was in grade school my Mom went to a parent/teacher conference. The teacher asked my Mom if I was required to be quit at home. My mother said no and asked why. The teacher replied that she thought that maybe I wasn’t allowed to talk at home and that was why I talked so much at school. I have realized over the years that this is a part of who I am. That doesn’t mean that I’m not continually working to rein in my talking. I also realize that this a part of how God made me and realize the benefits as well.

Being able to communicate well is key to good relationships. Communication is not just what we say, write, draw or even an expression or gesture we use. Communication is also what we hear or see. Our receiving may be the most critical part of good communication. Quite often we forget that we need to listen to what our customers want or to hear the different idea that a team member has. We need to remember that communication is a two way process. I think this may be why God gave us two ears, two eyes and only one mouth. He knew that the receiving part was going to be twice as hard as the giving part. If we don’t communicate well how can we expect to have fulfilling and productive relationships?

We all perceive things differently. Different things mean different things to different people. Several years ago we were in the early stages of building a new home. I was in a partnership at the time and each of us had different roles in the company. Quite often when putting figures together early in the process it is difficult to know specifics. We had included a 50’ allowance for running the electrical entrance from the pole to the house. As we were laying out for the house location on the property the customer pointed out that it was going to be 150’ from the electric pole to the house. He asked if that WAS GOING TO BE A PROBLEM. My partner responded. NO, IT WASN’T GOING TO BE A PROBLEM. The construction continued and everything was fine…until the final billing. When we gave the customer the final bill with the additional cost for the extra 100’ he was angry. As we worked through this, it was pretty clear what had happened. When the customer asked the question what he really asked was. IS IT GOING TO COST MORE? When my partner responded what he was really saying is PHYSICALLY IT CAN BE DONE. Being clear when we communicate is hard, but important.

If we say something once then saying it 10 times is better. Saying things enough without saying them too many times is a difficult balance. I would prefer to over communicate rather than not communicate enough. This certainly makes the process take longer, but can minimize if not eliminate misunderstandings later. This is the main reason that I have developed the system and documents that I use in my business. It comes from years of trials and errors. Is it perfect? No. It is, however, closer to where I want to be than I was 30 years ago. Is this system right for every business or every customer? No. Some people just want that much detail. Either way, if there is going to be a misunderstanding I don’t want it to be because of something that I didn’t communicate.


Writing a Blog…What the Heck Am I Thinking?



Having spent most of my adult life working in the construction industry I have experienced the difficulties and struggles that come with it. I’ve seen unhappy customers and contractors who didn’t understand why. I’ve seen way too many building projects run over budget or behind schedule. I’ve seen contractors scrambling to make ends meet and customers who think everything costs too much.

It doesn’t have to be this way. I think that building a home, a business or a life, are like construction. You need to determine what you want and why you want it. Start with a good design. Have a blueprint and know how to read it. Make sure that you have a good foundation. Be flexible and willing to accept changes as they come along. Understand that there are going to be problems and be prepared to deal with them. If you can be clear about the goals in the beginning and work with a good team, you can build something great.

This is my hope for this blog site.

By nature I am a planner and a thinker. I’m always thinking and then talking about what I’m thinking. This is how I process my thoughts. I think out loud. This blog is a place for me to do that. It will give me the opportunity to get feedback from you as well. It will be like virtual brainstorming. This sharing should help all of us build better.

I’m going to write with two separate, but intertwined, focuses. One for the building industry and one for the building customer. There will be things that we can all learn from both. The goal is that all of these will lead to building better. I plan to post two new blogs weekly, one for each focus. In addition to these two there will be a third topic mixed in periodically. It will be more random, with a foundational life lesson built in.

The business blog will share business systems, business ideas, personal experiences, construction lessons, etc.:


  • Sales and Marketing
    • Proposals and contracts
    • Customer relations
  • Production and Operations
    • Communication documents and systems
    • Production documents
  • Administration and Finance
    • Contracts and change orders
    • Cash flow
    • Invoicing
    • Bill paying
  • New and different ways of operating a business
  • Examples of things that worked and things that didn’t
  • Discussion of specific products and applications


The customer blog will focus on looking for and finding solutions for building projects by sharing how to work with contractors, construction ideas, personal experiences, product education, etc.:


  • What to expect from a contractor
  • Improved communication
  • Project budgets
  • Realistic project timelines
  • Products and how they work (or don’t)


For years I have been asked by other contractors and customers, how I do this or why I do that or what I think the best way is to do something. I’m always glad to answer these questions, but there is a limit to how much I can do this and still operate a construction company. My hope is that this blog site will allow me to share with, and help, a lot more people with SOLUTION BUILDING.

Riding on a Runaway Train

Getting Control of Your Busy Life


For years I have used the example of a runaway train as a comparison to my busy, on the go, over scheduled, out of control life. It’s like I am riding on a speeding train of which I’m supposed to be in control. The problem is that instead of being seated comfortably in the engine at the front, I am barely hanging onto the ladder on the back of the caboose trying to not fall off. The train keeps speeding along, with no way for me to get control from the caboose. I start pulling my way forward, one train car at a time. First one, then a second, then a third. Look at me I’m making some real progress here. It won’t be long now and I will have this train back under control. Then, wouldn’t you know it, the train hits a bump. I lose my grip and catch the caboose as it goes by. Now I get to start clawing my way back toward the front all over again. How am I ever going to get this crazy train, called life, under control? If you’ve ever felt like this, then here are some ideas that might help.

You need to have a plan –This is where getting control starts. How are you going to make it to the engine? The key is to not quit. Don’t ever let go of your train unless you’re dead. As long as you are still alive you can do something about your situation. You need to be intentional about how you want your train to operate.

            Review the past – Look back at what has worked and what hasn’t. What was it that caused you to lose your grip from the train? Determining this will help you to know how to hold on as you move forward next time.

            Figure out what your purpose is – God has given each of us specific talents that fit who we are created to be. It is up to us to find out what they are and put them to good use. This determines who we are and what kind of train we have. Is it a freight train, a passenger train or maybe something different?

            Don’t overload your train – Once you have determined what kind of train you’re on you can decide what kind of cars should have. Most likely there are some that will need to be disconnected and left behind. Overloading our train is a very common problem. Most of us think we have a ‘super train’ that can pull as many cars as we hook to it. It’s okay if we don’t pull them all. They will fit in someone else’s train better, or are just a waste of good train fuel. Who knows maybe you will need to add some different ones. The important thing is to know how many are too many and which ones don’t belong.

            Help from other trains – Sometimes when our trains are overloaded there are others that can help us with our load. Maybe they can give us a push, a pull or take some of our cars. It’s okay to get help. Our train isn’t the only one. If we get our load right, then we are better prepared to help other trains when they need it.

In this world there is no such thing as a perfect train. We will never have complete control or a ride without any bumps. What is important is to not give up or quit. Keep working to make your train better. To be aware and observant of what our train should be. Work every day to make your train the best train it can be and remember, ENJOY THE RIDE!

Be Careful About Short Table Legs

Supporting and balancing your business.

Have you ever felt like your business and/or your life were out of balance? It’s a little like a three legged table with a short leg, it can get wobbly.

I know I have felt this way and sometimes still do. You have probably heard the saying ‘feast or famine’ when talking about the building industry. This refers to the common problem of either having way too much to do. Or worrying about how you are going to pay the bills if you don’t get some work soon. Sometimes this is caused by situations beyond our control. The economy, the weather or some other external force. I think more often than not this ‘out of balance business’ is like a table with a short leg.

Most of us that are self-employed, started out by learning our trade as an apprentice while working for someone else. I know that is how I started. The problem with this is that while I learned how to build a building I wasn’t taught how to build a company. After years of struggling and learning things the hard way and paying the expensive tuition to the ‘school of hard knocks’, I am getting closer to graduating.

One thing that I learned is that my business is a lot like a three legged table. When each of the legs are the same length, it helps provide a level sturdy platform for my company to sit on. When any one or two of them is short the table starts leaning and begins to tip over. If it tips too far the company will slid off. It’s not good when the company slides onto the floor.

My three table legs are:

1 – Sales/marketing – Searching for and finding customers that you can help by providing your service and/or product through word of mouth, advertising and awareness. Meeting with potential customers, determining what they want/need and preparation of estimates, proposals and contracts.

2 – Production – Organizing, scheduling and maintaining the project or product. Determining who and what the specific people and parts that are needed and making sure they fit. Maintaining communication between all parties involved.

3 – Administration/finance – The preparation documents needed to communicate, track and record all aspects of the business. The filling out and filing of income, expense, banking and tax papers. This leg is one of the easiest to get short and when it does can really cause the table to lean.

The table top is the big picture planning and organizing. It’s what connects the three separate legs. It’s easy to give too much attention to one or two legs and forget the others. To get so focused on the production of a project that we forget to follow up on a new customer. To get so into preparing proposals that we forget to invoice. To work so diligently on tracking expenses that we don’t leave enough time for working on the project.

There is no perfect answer to keep the table from ever leaning. The most important thing is to realize that it can happen and work to keep the table balanced.