Still Learning Stuff the Hard Way


Ok. Back to business. I will save you the next ten minutes by telling you that there is absolutely no tech in this article. None. Just more stories of really bad business decisions and what I learned the hard way. Ok?

If you remember my article about learning to see opportunities, you will remember the story of the three knuckleheads. I wanted to follow that up and let you know how the story played out. Some of you may be under the completely delusional idea that I have become smarter and make great decisions now. Yeah. Right.

Apparently, my understanding of humans is still off. I still gravitate towards the thoughts that people deserve the benefit of the doubt. Guilty until proven innocent. Karma and similar principles are at work. You know. Stuff like that. I try to believe the best about folks. I try to help wherever I can. That’s part of what keeps getting me in trouble.

The worst part of it all is knowing better. I give other people advice about making better decisions, then I turn around and do something even stupider. Hence the knucklehead tag I still wear.

Our third clown from the “opportunities” story. Here’s how that played out. I gave him the opportunity of a lifetime. Handed him a fully operational business with paying customers. He screwed it up. Screwed me out of my commission from his sales and work. Attempted to steal customers and get paid on the side. Used up supplies on stuff I didn’t get paid for. Stole some of my tools. Almost lost our biggest account because of one too many sloppy jobs. Refused to come fix it. Snapped at me for asking him to come save the account on his “day off.” Dumped all my supplies and equipment in a parking lot and refused to bring them to me.

All because I was trying to help two people at once. Two people who shouldn’t have been part of my priorities.

I recondition cars now, taking ugly trade ins and making them pretty. Not mixing. Not touring. Not even volunteering at a church or theater. Needed time away from that world while we put our marriage back together. Saving the family meant giving up everything. Two houses, my studio, most of my equipment, my motorcycles… Pretty much everything but them. We moved away from insurmountable problems to get a fresh start and give us room to breathe. The career change was unavoidable once we left.

So, the recon work was moving along nicely, picking up accounts, making money. A friend, who I worked with before down here, asks me to work with him again. His business is recovering from a bad year, wants to bring me on to help. It’s for mutual benefit. The only way to do it, was to hire someone to cover most of my work. Hired the guy who seemed most determined to work. Trained him at my expense. Set him up with all the tools and supplies he needed. Handed him paying customers.

I start working with the other guy, who can only pay me half of what I needed. It’s technically part time, the recon work should cover the difference. Bills still getting paid. All is well. Not worried about it.

The problem here is that Ii am now depending on two different people to keep my money coming in. Two different people with completely different priorities than mine. Two people who are infinitely more concerned with their money than mine. I have committed myself to help both of them without really considering the risk.

The clown starts doing side work, or whatever he was doing. My income starts dropping, I wasn’t paying close attention. The friend has hired another guy full time, now I don’t have the chance to get a full time check in the near future. His books are also wrong, can’t get my last check. I have committed myself to two different guys who aren’t going to pay my bills. Both of them seem to be doing fine. I am about out of options.

My only options? Fired the clown. Went back to managing my own business. Took time off from the friend, not going back except possibly some evening hours in the shop.

The clown hates me. The friend can’t pay me. I have, once again, made a horrible decision that cost my family money and put us in a bad place. Yay me.

Years ago, I helped another friend bid a job. It was a remodeling project for a single mother who had been ripped off by a contractor. I agreed to help him work up a price and figure out materials. We met at her house and both took notes. I told him to call me once he had figured out a price.

About two hours later, he calls. His price came out to around $1700. Mine came out to $3600. He freaked out. He asked how I figured that. Cost of material, allowing for extra, labor, etc. I had a pretty solid number. He couldn’t make that number work in his head. Single mom, already ripped off, tragic sob story. He wanted to help. He wanted to be a hero. He was a good man with poor judgement.

I told him that there were two women in this story. Her and his wife. Which one are you more concerned about? Sure, do the job cheap, spend a whole lot of time on it, miss dinner a few nights, go home with a small check and not pay your own bills. Or. Do a great job at a fair price and take home a good check, make momma happy.

I told him to give her my price and shut up. Forget how you feel about everything else. If she can’t pay it, let her try to find someone else before you take on a project to cut your own throat. He was stressed, but said he would do it.

He called back ten minutes later. All she asked was when he could start. Money wasn’t the problem. She just wanted it done.

We can’t be everyone’s hero. Be a little more selective about where you commit yourself. It’s better to have someone frustrated because you said no, than hate you after committing to something you just can’t do. That stuff damages friendships more than saying no. Trust me on this one. This isn’t my first rodeo.

There’s a whole lot of power and freedom in the ability to say “no” sometimes. Practice it. Weigh your options, consider the cost, ask your wife for her opinion. She’s probably a lot smarter than you give her credit for. You are only expected to be superman for your family. Be their hero. Everyone else can wait.

Maybe I can start following my own advice soon.

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