Do you deserve success or failure? Some people work hard and smart to achieve success only to risk it all on a new venture or customer. Others work hard and smart consistently while focusing on something other than success. For them, success isn't the goal, yet success greets them each year like a good friend at Christmas.

Dr. Bill Gillham, professor of psychology, at Oklahoma State University, wrote, "People have memory traces or patterns which are deeply entrenched," all of which cause people to focus solely on getting their needs met. In other words, people operate every moment of their lives trying to get their needs met no matter the cost. What drives a person to succeed or fail in construction? Do you deserve success or failure?

I recently talked to a painting contractor who operated a successful business for more than 10 years. He explained that he was facing the possibility of having to file for bankruptcy. As he told me his story, I couldn't help feeling sorry for him and his family because he had simply made an error in judgment. He explained that one of his good customers presented him with an opportunity. The general contractor told this young man that his drywall subcontractor went out of business and that he needed someone to do the drywall work. The GC convinced the painter that he should give drywall work a try and that this was the perfect opportunity for him to expand his business.

The painter took the job and signed a subcontract, which included both painting and drywall. When I asked the painter why he decided to go into the drywall business, I was surprised at his answer. He said the painting business had been good to him but he was bored and wanted to try something new.

His decision cost him everything he earned over his 10 years in business. He said the most difficult part was telling his wife what had happened. He said the second most difficult part was asking his banker to "please help."

I asked him if he had talked to anyone who could have helped him make his decision. He replied, "No! Thinking back I don't know who could have helped."

Hearing him say he didn't know who could have helped bothered me. Where does a small family-owned subcontractor go for help when faced with big decisions? Your average banker looks at your net worth and decides if you can afford the loss. Your attorney is great advising you about contract issues but can he advise you if it's wise to expand your business? Your average accountant is always going to give you conservative advice but can he ever see the potential in an opportunity?

Where do you get good advice for those big decisions? Do you go to family, friends, or do you dare ask your competitors? Is there an association you can join to get the advice you need?

Dr. Gillham says, "People (contractors) spend there time trying to get their needs met and one of their greatest needs is the approval or acceptance of others." Most people (contractors) spend their lifetimes seeking approval. A business owner may view the words, "please help me, I need help making this decision," as appearing weak or spineless. As the business owner, you are supposed to have all the answers. Everyone looks to you for answers including your customers and employees. You are the one who ultimately makes all decisions, solves problems and answers all questions, because you have put yourself in this position. Do you deserve success or failure?


I call one of my competitors once every couple of months for advice. In turn, he calls me for advice and the advice we share with one another is open and honest. When seeking advice we must make sure that we are seeking out the right person. I wouldn't seek advice from someone who just started in the business. Nor would I seek advice from someone I know wouldn't be honest with me. We should seek advice from people who have equal or more experience than we do. Let me put it in sports terms: If you want to be a great basketball player, work with people who play better than you do. I've recently had the opportunity of being surrounded with some people who play better than I do and I take every opportunity to learn from them.

Just do it? Call one of your areas most respected competitors and ask them for their advice. You will be surprised to find your competitor willing to talk. One of the reasons a competitor is respected is because they have achieved success for a reason and I believe a large part of their success is directly related to their humility. Do you deserve success or failure?


A material supplier is a great resource for advice. You would be surprised how willingly a supplier will give advice. You can't ask just any supplier; you have to pick a supplier you respect and one who has been around a while. Suppliers have seen many good subcontractors fail for one reason or another. A good supplier hates to see a good subcontractor fail for a variety of reasons. Of course, one of the key reasons suppliers hate to see you fail is because their own success is directly related to your success.

Material suppliers sometimes see things very clearly and if you allow them to speak truth into your life, their advice may save you from a lot of pain and suffering. Suppliers are a wealth of information and should be considered a prime advice resource. Do you deserve success or failure?

Old timers

If you've been in the business for a while you most likely know someone who has retired. Old timers have been one of my best resources for advice. Lee has been retired for more than 20 years. He's now 84 years old and a wealth of advice. This man is wiser than anyone I know. He gets to the guts of a problem in a matter of seconds and has always given me sound advice. As well, Larry, my friend in Philadelphia who has been retired for 15 years, has the ability (experience) to get to the heart of a problem and give me sound advice. Old timers have a unique characteristic that you will never find in active competitors and suppliers; old timers have the ability to see right through you. The moment you ask the question they know what's going on in your head. Old timers understand the emotional complexities younger people in business have. I enjoy the way Lee and Larry bring me back to simply making a good business decision. Do you deserve success or failure?

What we deserve

We work in an industry where small business owners are expected to know everything. We also work in an industry where asking for advice is not the norm. You may think subcontracting is a learn-as-you-go business. We pay for our mistakes and get rewarded when we make good decisions.

The construction industry is such a loose knit group. Many people in construction remind me of elementary school students who don't know how to play or make friends. We all want and need friends but when it gets down to priorities, success usually becomes the number one priority.

I can't help thinking about how we parents harp on our kids to ask for help if they need it. I've told my son a million times, "If you don't understand your teacher's directions, ask him or her to explain it until you do." All of us have seen the sign, "There are no dumb questions." We oftentimes say things we don't believe.

I think about the painting contractor who may file bankruptcy because he made a uniformed decision. I feel bad that he made the decision on his own and it concerns me as to how many of us make decisions based on nothing more than our emotions.

I hate to think that small business owners are loners who won't seek advice. Statistics from the Small Business Administration make it very clear that your odds of creating a successful business are very slim. I think one key reason success rates are so low is because people don't seek advice from people with experience. If you think your taking an emotional risk asking for advice consider the risk of being in business. Compare the risks and then ask yourself if you deserve success or failure knowing that without an advocate risk is like hot air; it only rises.

Remember: Teamwork begins with a fair contract!