I’ve worked with dozens of contractors, and with a few exceptions, they all suffered from what I call the “omnipotence syndrome.” However, this condition is not limited to only artisans and traders, although it is especially prevalent in this industry. This is just a more specific way to illustrate E-Myth’s image of the three personalities within a business owner: technician, manager, and entrepreneur. Respectfully and simply put, the doer, planner and dreamer. Handyman Syndrome is a particularly stark example of how fusion to technician persona creates serious business problems.
The entrepreneurial myth, the myth that business owners are entrepreneurs when in fact technicians who had “entrepreneurial attacks”, is especially interesting to apply to Solopreneurs. These are people who are in some cases so pure a technician that they have not even had their seizures yet, and therefore they are some of the most melted-to-technician owners. Their inner leader and / or entrepreneur doesn’t really get much room for expression at all.
Many people are happy with this, and that is fine, of course, but unfortunately too often they do not see the effect their technician mentality has on the other aspects of their practice when not knocking nails, tiling or framing walls. This article will explore the implications of the technician mentality of traders, especially but not only Solopreneurs.
I use the term handyman deliberately because it has a kind of unsophisticated connotation intended to silently offend an expert tradesperson. It is a help to help you discover that you are more than that. It suggests someone who is limited in ability: someone who can fix an outlet but not rewire a house, repair a sprinkler system but not install new plumbing, install a new lock, but don’t fly down a door to get perfect fit. You get the idea. But it is only the skills that are attached to the Almighty. I’m talking about the handyman mentality, and it’s much more important as it’s upstream of all his skills. The way we think and act is always upstream of what we do, and therefore the greatest leverage for change is within the thinking / being domains.
The craftsman mentality is an order master. Tell him what to do and he’ll go to work. Give him the tools and the job site and his head is down. He may have an ad with yellow pages, but is waiting for the phone to ring. He has previous clients, but he does not have their contact information or a mailing list. If they need him, he says to himself, they call. Furthermore, he keeps himself busy with new customers, new jobs and new orders to take.
He has been thinking about hiring an assistant, but it seems like a lot of work. He should be able to depend on a steady stream of much more income than he has now. He is not sure how much it is, or even how he would find out. He is not that comfortable with Excel. Furthermore, he is busy working and too tired at the end of the work day to plan for the future. Who knows what the future brings?
The calls come in continuously, the orders come in. Hiring someone would just complicate things: payroll taxes, workers ’compensation, insurance, management. He sometimes thinks about it in 100 degree heat or when he has to crawl under a house, but at the end of the day, after a job well done, it just doesn’t seem worth it. Basically, he’s just too busy to dream, much less plan.
This is not just the story of a carpenter. That is the story for almost any Solopreneur, and still applies to someone who has an employee or two. Without a vision of where the business / practice is going, without a plan for what’s next, the omnipotence is destined to go wherever the wind blows. Without any plan, there is no direction but whatever arises.
Of course, any Solopreneur who wants to stay small has decided this choice and there is no judgment on this. The problem is when such a person’s all-encompassing mentality trickles into domains that limit their opportunity, success, and fulfillment. Let’s see ….
The difference between a successful main contractor and an all-around man is not in size, scope or volume. It is in attitude. On sale, the handyman is an order. G.C. is an expert consultant. Handyman, who is often humble, hardworking and sweet-hearted, feels grateful to have the opportunity to work in someone’s home. Often they do not own a home even when they are just getting started. The intern is shy in the client’s home and does not look around. If they do, they only do it with a glance and stay focused on the current job. G.C. will ask for a ride and take their time.
G.C. respectfully enters the client’s home, but they are not shy about taking a seat. They look around. They are expert in crafts and are not shy about it. They notice things and make comments. They note that the door does not quite fit the threshold when entering. They note that the windows are at least thirty years old. They notice the leaking kitchen faucet. However, when making comments, they have a relationship with the homeowner that makes it come off as useful and not critical.
“Does this door bother you much?”
“Those old windows with a single pane cost you some money, right?”
“I have a good plumber if you want me to take care of that leak for you.”
To G.C. each job site is a directory of opportunities and work. For the handyman, it is a place where they have to ask permission to do something other than why they were called in the first place. G.C. Expert consultant knows that the homeowner may have no idea how simple or inexpensive it could be to fix that faucet or door. G.C. knows that maybe the house man is shy about it; maybe I tried to fix it myself and failed. Maybe he installed this faucet himself and has been unable to bring himself to retransmit it.
Who knows? G.C. is confident enough to ask questions and make suggestions; in short, because he understands the value he brings to the table. G.C. is happy to grab a new slice from his truck and install it for you in a few minutes because he knows it may have bothered you for months. Maybe it has even been the spark of conflict in the homeowner’s marriage.
Meanwhile, the opportunity is quietly about his business. He is focused on the current job, not on many opportunities around him. G.C. has a vision of what the home might look like if given the time and budget. Handyman is focused on quitting the job, getting paid and moving on to the next job.
The artisan gives a verbal bid or a loosely organized email or something neatly handwritten on lined paper. G.C. submits a proposal that accurately covers the scope of work, the exact cost and when it will be completed. It has every single component of the work broken out, allowing the client to compare apples to apply and / or remove pieces of the job to reduce costs. It’s written. It comes in person or at least with a phone call that follows up.
The artisan says when he will show up and show up 15-20 minutes later. G.C. is on time, each time exactly as promised. The craftsman makes the bid and waits. G.C. follows up because he wants to work and wants to know why he was not chosen to do so. He is interested in constant improvement, not just by continuous busyness. He is interested in his influence on people, so he will proactively ask the client why he was or was not chosen because he is willing to accept criticism and work with it. The craftsman has his head buried in the sand.
Do you get the idea? This sales example is just one of dozens of ways in which the handyman mentality destroys the growth of what could otherwise be a thriving business.
What this is really about is the inability of a technician-fused person to hold a contextual thinking larger. Customer fulfillment is a context; customer relationship is a context; collaboration with a customer for opportunities requires greater thinking. Having this kind of context requires the confidence and willingness to assert yourself as an authority on a subject.
The lack of confidence in skilled workers is tragic. Maybe it’s because they lack the education that many “white collar” professionals have and so shame on themselves. Maybe it’s because they drive trucks instead of smart cars. Maybe they didn’t do well in school because they needed to learn with their hands. I do not know.
What I do know is that I have seen many of a skilled worker perform magic. They can cut things exactly together. I mean exactly. They can collect things so that they do not leak, short-circuit or fail to work the first time. They know where to apply the oil to stop that squeak. They can paint straight shavers without shaving and cover it in one coat. They know what’s wrong with your engine just by listening. They know what’s wrong with your oven by smelling. They can see the difference between 7/16 and 3/8 and save 30 minutes in the hardware store because of it.
They must think this is normal. They may not know how incredibly difficult, frustrating and time-consuming it is for the average person to do this kind of thing. Like school teachers, they are under recognized and underpaid. These people keep our lights on, our water runs, and our homes are warm, and many of them sell themselves short every day. I would gladly give away my expensive education to have the knowledge to build a fine home, foundation to roof.
But as skilled as they are in the content of their work, however, the handyman mentality pulls them down and keeps them small. They have the skills to do their job, but not the slightest idea of how to run a business. The artisan does not see the need for a marketing strategy, a strategic vision or a 36-month rolling budget or sometimes even a standard contract. For the handyman, that doesn’t seem so important. After all, the work is coming.
But eventually something will go wrong. The cash flow is a problem because there was no tracking mechanism. A customer refuses to pay for something because you did not create a change order. Work is drying up because you do not have a lead generation plan and the market is shifting in a way you did not foresee. Something will eventually happen because you are similarly responsible for having the technical skills to do your job, if you work for yourself, you are responsible for having the business skills to keep the context of your organization.
This is empirically obvious. You may not realize it yet, but if you work for yourself, you are responsible for many things beyond the content of your work. Tax and liability issues, licensing, insurance, labor law, contract law, difficulty borrowing, P&L and cash flow analysis, budgeting, job costing, client management, ad copy writing, lead generation tracking, sales strategy, presentation scripting, and organizational strategy and even . Some of these things you need to do, others you can get rid of not doing, but you are responsible for it all.
It is actually simpler than knowing how to build a house. It’s about as hard as most high school. The difference is that it is relevant to your business and your life every day.
You are already a master of your trade. Bravo! Really. It’s amazing what you do. You could teach me how to tile a bathroom, framing a house, gold lacquer copper or drywall plaster. You are an expert in your trade. But are you an expert in the business itself? Do you see that you also have to be a champion in this world? It can be learned just like anything else. It’s not rocket science. Do you see how many missed opportunities and problems come from not what is lacking in your trading skills but your business skills?
As a business owner, you are responsible for more than just being a master of your business, you must seek to become a master of the business yourself. Otherwise, you are destined to remain an opportunity forever, regardless of your trade.