You Can’t Do It Alone

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A few years back I was struggling to find my way in the business of self-employment. I had been doing many things wrong and taking just every opportunity to screw things up even if I didn’t realize it at the time.  Spending money I thought I had or was planning on having once I got paid for this job and that job only to come up short each month because some minor detail was forgotten or ignored. Simple accounting errors, mostly due to my inability to understand business accounting, had me in a place where I couldn’t tell you the difference between a profit & loss statement and a ledger. What’s worse? I didn’t have the balls to admit it to anyone that could possibly help me.

It wasn’t until one of the general contractors I was doing work for at the time decided that filing bankruptcy was the best way to get out of paying his debts that made me realize I was doing it all wrong. Have you been there? Maybe your situation was only similar but I’ll tell you it was a tough spot and having to admit I had no idea I was doing such a terrible job keeping the company books was exactly what I needed to turn things around for the better.

In this specific situation I, along with an electrician and framing contractor, had to hire an attorney in an attempt to get paid the money we were owed. Out of the three of us, only one had any clue how to run a business properly and could produce the proper records to take to the courts. I wasn’t the one so it was then that I hired a local bookkeeper to get me on track. That seems like a million years ago but I am reminded of it often and too remind myself that I have got a lot more to learn about running my business with a sound financial foundation.

I just started teaching once again for the apprenticeship program in Minneapolis. It’s my seventh year doing so and one of the things I like to talk to all my apprentices about is mentoring. I start the conversation with a list of about ten guidelines of advice I have learned along the way as both an apprentice and master plumber. Finding at least two mentors is number nine on my list.

My soapbox speech on the subject goes a little something like this: “The most guaranteed path to success is to emulate those who’ve achieved what you seek.  You should always have at least two people you call mentors who are where you want to be.  Their free guidance and counsel will be the most priceless gift you can receive. Picking one of these people and acting “as if” you were them can help you move forward. You’ve got to fake it until you make it, so it’s better to fake it as someone who is respected for their abilities and experience.”

I learned this from my father. He was self-employed as a Land Surveyor for over 30 years. Not all of those years were great, as he’d tell you if he was still with us but, he decided after struggling for a few years that if he tried as hard as he could to run his business as much like his most successful competitor he stood a chance at making it work. He also had a high regard for a friend’s father who was well respected in the community as a businessman, he asked for his advice and guidance too. This respected businessman just happened to be a local plumber; which to this day I think is pretty cool.

You can imagine I get a lot of blank stares from the other side of the desks as I am trying to convince the young apprentices in my class to seek the help of someone outside of their own selves. You’d be right too but, I say it anyway and I say it often with hope that it may stick to even just one of them. It has worked for me; my mentors have changed over the years and I’m always on the lookout for another but you can bet I have listened to every bit of advice and instruction given to me about making sound decisions when it comes to handling my business finances. That kind of advice should never be ignored when coming from an experienced, successful business-minded person.

Eric Aune

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