The Stuff You Learn

This has been my third year in the retic and turf business and it’s been a year for learning. The first two years have been largely learning the skills of what I do, but this year has had more of a focus on learning about developing a business. So here are some of my learnings…

A 12 Month Warranty is Actually a 6 Year Warranty

This one was an interesting one.

Two soakwells that I installed over 2 years ago overflowed during the huge storm and made some paving subside. As it was out of warranty I wasn’t prepared to fix it for free and the owner took action against me with the Builders Registration Board. I thought giving a 12 mth warranty meant I was responsible for the work for that period of time.

It turns out that any ‘builder’ (apparently I am one of these) must actually guarantee his work for 6 years and the 12 mth thing means nothing. I was ‘ordered’ to do repairs to the subsided paving and make sure it wouldn’t occur again.

So I sent someone round and fixed it up. As soakwells are a bit of a sideline and I don’t need the hassle I have decided not to do any more.

I guess the upside of this learning is that now I am aware of my own ‘rights’ and if building work done around here fails in a 6 year time frame I can also call someone back…

Excrement Occurs – deal with it

I’ve had a couple of jobs not work out quite as planned this year and it’s given me a few moments of stress.

There were the soakwells and then just before going on holidays there was the turf that I had to replace.

After laying 70m of turf in the backyard of a new house I didn’t set the retic controller correctly and the lawn didn’t get watered for 7 days… It was only then that the owner called me to tell me it was looking ‘dry’. No kidding…

So we had to lift the lawn, pay for tipping and then buy new lawn and relay it. At first I was stressed by the whole deal, annoyed and frustrated at the waste of time and money – a good $600.00 down the gurgler, but accepting that it was ‘just one of those things’ allowed me to breathe easy again.

I didn’t need to waste emotional energy on anxiety. I just needed to accept that mistakes happen, cop it and move on.

I don’t like making mistakes, and costly mistakes even less so, but worrying about it wasn’t going to fix it.

I reckon that was a good learning and next time I bugger something up hopefully I’ll be able to suck it up, breathe deep and deal with it…


Don’t Do Cheap Jobs For Difficult People

I can smell a difficult customer these days – someone who will haggle to the death over price and then call you back 3 or 4 times because ‘the lawn is not green enough’ or the wind is making the sprinklers water the driveway, or one sprinkler isn’t quite in line with the other 2…

There are some folks who have a genuine cause for concern and I am more than happy to help out and answer questions, but there have been a couple who have driven me mad with their complaints about issues that haven’t been issues.

Ironically these have been people who I have been willing to do work cheaper for. Not any more…

In fact I recently did a quote for one of these people and added about 20% on to the cost of the work because that was what I reckoned the ongoing ‘work’ would be worth. I didn’t get the job… He told me I was too expensive…

No problem…

Never Use People To Do The Work of Machinery

I learnt this a while back but ‘re-learnt’ it a couple of weeks back – the hard way…

A customer had 45 sqm of rear yard to be turfed and I arranged to spread some soil and lay the turf. Because there was no bobcat access to the rear yard someone else was going to dig out the old turf prior to us arriving. I wasn’t interested in doing it as previous experience had taught me it was a laborious and very difficult job.

But… the other guy broke a toe and to help the customer out I agreed – against my better judgement – to do the work at my normal hourly rate with my co worker.

It took 2 of us 5 hours to do what a bobcat would have done in 30 mins. Everything about the job was difficult and by the end we were both wiped out.

With the cost of a skip bin included I think it cost the customer twice as much as what a bobcat would have.

So from here on, if it’s a job for a bobcat then I’m not touching it with a shovel, both for my sanity and for the customer’s sake.

Apart from the sheer physical effort it takes I am realising my body is a finite resource so every time I make the tendons and ligaments work more than they have to I am risking injury.

You Get Better at Stuff

After 3 years of Retic and turf I can now work much faster and smarter than before.

That’s good because being able to do 3 days work in 2 means significantly more income for the same output. Alternatively I can work less and have more free time. Either way a win.

It makes sense, but it’s only been in the last 6 months that I have really noticed the value of it.

Specialising Trumps Diversifying

I can see value to being able to do a range of tasks well and earlier this year was considering ways of expanding the business, maybe with a bobcat or even into brick paving or limestone walls.

But I didn’t and while I miss out on the stimulation of learning something new I do end up getting very very good at the thing I specialise in.

If I had more strings to the bow then I would have more work options, but I may not be brilliant at any of them. Being good at something means you work fast and smart and therefore earn more and have fewer warranty issues.

From a financial point of view it has been wise to specialise rather than trying to do many different things.

The Extra Mile is Worth More Than You Think

If I were starting over and re-naming my business I think I might choose the name ‘Extra Mile Retic and Turf’ as that would be possibly my no. 1 core value.

Little things matter and I have generally tried to do little things well as often it is what distinguishes you from every other bloke out there.

Returning all phone calls within 24 hrs, remembering people’s names, always cleaning up well, taking time to chat, are all things that don’t improve the quality of work, but they do leave people with a positive memory. Repeat work and referrals is a huge part of my work and I reckon it comes from ‘the extra mile’ stuff.

You Can’t Please Some People

Occasionally I have struck people who have been unimaginably difficult. I have finished a job, had them sign off on it and then got a phone call saying that they weren’t happy (any more)

I return to check what is wrong and it turns out that they have changed their minds about the areas that require watering and I am supposedly responsible.

This has happened twice now with one person and I can see what will happen if I allow myself to return a third time.

I am just learning to relax and accept that some folks are going to be hard work.

No You Can’t Pay 1000 Over A 6 Month Period

Again a bloke who haggled me to death asked for 6 months to pay. I should have said no because now he emails, calls and complains about non-issues and I need to respond because he still has a fair slab of my money…

I imagine most people would be fine, but for some reason my ‘difficult’ customer also became my ‘periodical payer’ – or non-payer actually as we have had to chase him for the money…

Never again…

My Body is Not a Machine

I don’t think I have ever worked as hard as I have in the past 12 months, but my body is telling me all about it.

I have 3 overuse injuries in one arm at the moment and the future doesn’t look bright in that regard. Machines have bits you replace when they break down. Bodies just give you pain and remind you of your age and frailty.

Time to work smarter rather than harder.

Anyway, this was part of my own personal end of year review and as I was doing it I thought I’d share it with you…

3 thoughts on “The Stuff You Learn

  1. Sounds like you need to send in Debt Collector Danelle to your non-paying customer if he’s had more than his 6 mths!!

  2. some good thoughts mate. It’s a great learning experience growing a business, and sounds like you have leveraged your key asset, yourself, to great effect. a good job by a good bloke at a good price will always beat an ok job by a faceless company and a cheap price, at least that is my experience.

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