Babe Ruth. Hank Aaron. Willie Mays. Most baseball fans can agree that these three men are among the greatest players of all time. But none of them ever managed a major league team, and Babe Ruth reportedly took this disappointment to his grave, bitter that he was never given a team of his own.
Ruth was a born hitter, and many baseball historians actually credit him with inventing the home run. But was he organized? Was he disciplined? Could he multitask, run a meeting, supervise others, provide counsel, mentor rookies, schedule people and events? In other words, could he manage?
Although we'll never know the answer to this question, there's a lesson here for builders.
Most owners of small construction companies can trace their backgrounds to the building trades, with an overabundance of carpenters in this group.
Prior to starting their own businesses, most of these men (and women)considered themselves highly skilled craftspeople in their respective fields. But what most of these people discover as they strike out on their own is that their craftsmanship — their baseball hitting skill — is just one of the many skills necessary for a successful business venture. Ironically, it may not even be the most important one.
IT'S ALL ABOUT BUSINESS I speak often with other small contractors, and there are recurring themes that dominate these conversations. I often hear: “I don't really like dealing with clients.” “I wish I could be left alone to just work with my hands like I used to.” “I'm not really good with paper and record keeping.” “I hate having to prepare so many bids, it's a real waste of time.” “I don't like having to keep track of employees — it's so much easier to work alone.” “I'm not really into planning for the future, I would rather just deal with the here and now.”
In each of these cases, what the person is actually saying is that they don't really enjoy, nor are they likely very skilled at, actually running a business. Small-business owners must possess skill sets that are pretty much unrelated to how competent they are as craftsmen. It is one of the many reasons for the high failure rate for owners of small construction companies.
So what's a new business owner to do?
For starters, he or she must develop an understanding — through reading, attending trade shows, and networking — of how and why these myriad management skills are absolutely essential to a company's success. And, every small-business owner must make an honest assessment of his or her skills in each of the relevant categories. It's not necessary for every owner to possess all of these skills, but it is necessary that someone associated with the company (or under contract with the company) possess them. For many, this assessment will lead them to the conclusion that perhaps business ownership isn't the best path to success for them.
FOREGO THE DREAM? Although such ownership is often deemed a “part of the American dream,” it really isn't for everybody. Finances aside, many people are not equipped to handle the stress and long hours that accompany business ownership. In exchange for the freedom and independence that are some of the more attractive components of business ownership, many will wisely forgo this dream for the security of a steady paycheck and a 40-hour work week.
Craftsmanship is a valuable commodity, but it does not guarantee success in business. If you've already ventured into the minefield of small-business ownership, in a sense you have already surpassed the Babe and his dream of managing a team.
Don't waste this opportunity. It doesn't matter how many home runs you can hit, or how quickly you can frame a roof. For small-business owners, what matters most is how well you can manage and guide your business. — Rick Bruce, who retired as a captain from the San Francisco Police Department in 2005, has been remodeling homes in the San Francisco Bay Area since 1978.