I don’t have all the answers

In this business, people expect me to know what I’m talking about. In order for prospective customers to trust me, they need to have confidence that I can actually do what I claim that I can. As a result of that dynamic, every quote for us becomes a job interview.

Most of the time it works out. We arrive, do what we promised we would do, finish up and get paid.

Most of the time.

And then there are the times that we get stuck. Like a job we took on last month. We promised a very nice client and her husband that we could re-finish all of the doors in their house. It seemed like a straightforward project. We were planning to strip off all the original lacquer finish, re-stain them a dark colour and then apply new clear coat. Piece of cake. Until the new stain wouldn’t go on evenly…

So we stripped all the doors again to make sure we got all the lacquer off and tried again. No go! Now, we’re running out of time, running out of money and I’m beginning to panic. We finally came to the conclusion that there was glue on them from when they were manufactured. (Wood glue dries clear and won’t accept stain.) Whatever the cause, we knew we had to try a different technique.

In the end, we sanded the doors down with electric sanders. It was a last resort and I was terrified because the doors were oak veneer. If I sanded through the veneer the doors would be ruined. I was also nervous because I wasn’t sure if sanding would work and we were out of time too.

In the end, the method worked; the stain took evenly and the doors looked spectacular once they had multiple coats of varnish on them. We filled the client’s home with dust but they were very gracious about it and we in turn went through the entire house vacuuming and dusting like house cleaning pros.

The moral of the story is that I don’t have all the answers but I should have listened to my crew. They suggested that we remove all the doors, take them to an off site location and do all the work there. It would have helped a great deal. The frames still needed to be done on site but we could have reduced the impact on our clients, done it all in less time and done it right the first time.

But that’s not all. The real heroes were our clients. I told them that I was confident that I would get it done and we worked for days and days to make it happen. They trusted us that we were going to fulfill on our obligation and make it right. They could have fired us, kicked us off the site and hired someone else but they didn’t. At one point they admitted that they awarded us the contract because we were the only bidders who sounded confident that we could get it done!

Now many people told me that I should have gone back to the clients and asked for more money after we realised that our earlier methods hadn’t worked. Their argument was that I couldn’t have known that the doors wouldn’t take a stain.  True, but I had made up this great story that we were the experts.  We had proven that I did not in fact have all the answers.

So thank you to great clients. If it wasn’t for you, we wouldn’t have a company. And thank you for experienced crew who feel confident enough to speak up and suggest the correct way to get a job.

Now I have to step back and make sure my confidence also includes a generous list of back up strategies just in case my ‘have all the answers’ strategy doesn’t work.