Forget your ego, realize you have made a mistake, and move on.” That's Jerry Liu's, of D.G. Liu Contractor, attitude about making mistakes. He embraces the idea that he is imperfect and has learned from the past that the sooner you admit you fell short, the more valuable the lesson.

Ten years ago, his company was doing some commercial work for a very good residential client. Unfortunately, during the excavation, they hit bedrock. Liu, realizing how far back this obstacle would set them, approached the general manager of the customer's company and explained that this would mean a great deal of additional expense. Although there was no way of knowing how long the excavation would take, Liu quoted him the price for two weeks, careful to say that it might be longer than that.

However, when the work was finally done, the company owner disputed the bill. Liu, the general manager, an architect, and the owner called a meeting to discuss the problem. Although the architect agreed with Liu and the expenses, the owner refused to pay anything over the original two-week estimate that Liu had given to the general manager. This left Liu to cover an additional $6,000 in expenses.

The next week, the owner's wife called Liu to let him know they were ready for the next phase of work to begin on their home. “I was still pretty stung from the meeting and the lost money” and briefly considered folding the $6,000 loss on the commercial job into their residential project, says Liu.

However, he realized two things: He came to the understanding that he needed to be the one responsible for outlining what-if clauses in his contracts and clearly stipulating the terms of such an event. He had not done that, and so any miscommunication came from him. “Without an iron-clad contract, you have no room to maneuver when faced with a surprise in the field,” says Liu.

He also realized that the owner had no choice but to support his manager. “When you hire and trust people to represent you out in the field, you have to support them and be on their side if there is a problem,” says Liu. Without documentation, there was no reason for the owner to doubt his manager. In public, the company has to present a united front. Liu tries to uphold this in his own company too.

Liu later did hundreds of thousands of dollars of work for this same client on his home. His professional relationship with the owner continued, and he used this job and the lessons learned to make his business even stronger. “The lessons were worth the $6,000,” claims Liu, especially considering the respect the owner has for him and the referrals he's sent Liu's way.