This is our new fence. It's a 7-foot tower of glory I call the ‘Fortress of Solitude.'
It took a long time for us to find a reliable contractor that we felt comfortable hiring. Most contractors are notoriously hard to get a hold of, don't call when they say they will, show up late, leave a mess, etc. Here are some characteristics and behaviors you want to look for when hiring a contractor of any kind.
Do they honor micro commitments?
The sales person from the fence company came to see us a few times to measure and find out what we wanted. When he said he would send quotes, he sent them in the time that he promised.
Cory, the supervisor, showed up the day before the workers to finalize everything, paint lines where the gate would go and answer any of our questions. As we were wrapping up, my wife asked when the workers would show up the next morning.
“Probably between 8:00 and 9:00am,” he said. “We have our weekly meeting tomorrow so it just depends how many issues are on the issues list.”
The way he said ‘issues list' made my ears perk up. I asked him if his boss had read Traction.
“Yup, and I've read it twice. Our company runs on EOS.” (Entrepreneurs Operating System).
Do they have a process?
Suddenly, it all made sense. They were the most organized company we talked with by many orders of magnitude. They have a system for running their business and it shows.
The next day, the workers showed up before 9:00am. They were friendly, organized, and efficient. They spent the first day digging holes and installing posts. The following day, they came back and attached the planks and hung the gate. When they were done, they cleaned up after themselves and washed down the entire fence.
It was by far the smoothest, most pleasant house project we've ever experienced. Our fence was also a good deal more expensive than we could have gotten from a different company.
I was showing off the fence to one of the employees at the grocery store recently and the subject of contractor flakiness came up.
Watch out for signs of flakiness
He said, “My friend doesn't live here, but he owns the house next door to me and he's trying to sell it. I hear his contractor on the phone all day long and I see how he's working 2 other jobs at the same time, using the new job to pay for the previous one that's over budget.”
As a contractor (or a freelancer), you never know where the next job is coming from. So when the work comes in waves, as it tends to do, they tend to say yes to everything and quickly become overwhelmed.
Promises get broken and deadlines get missed. It's very difficult to focus on doing the best job possible if you're worried about where next month's rent is coming from and constantly searching for new work.
Some contractors are just bad at managing their business or not as skilled as they claim. But many are just trying to do too much, because they need to pay their bills, and they haven't learned to charge enough to keep their workload managable.
Eventually, some of them figure out how to charge more and work less by doing higher value work. Those are the people who end up studying books like Traction or Work the System and building processes into their business. If you've been dealing with overworked, stressed out, disorganized people before, the difference is palpable and the value is immediately apparent.
The rest may end up going to work for someone else.
Quality has lasting value
The day after the fence was completed, there was a pretty serious wind storm that lasted most of the day. I worked from home, watching the new fence out my office window. It swayed a little in the 25 mph gusts but was otherwise unaffected.
Then I happened to open the door to the backyard and see the back fence, which was put up by the neighbor behind us. It didn't fare so well:
You get what you pay for
A lot of people know the phrase, “You get what you pay for,” but don't consider what it really means in practical terms.
- It's time saved when you don't have to chase people down and micromanaging them.
- It's not worrying about whether the job will be done well.
- It's not having to rebuild when things fall apart sooner than they should.
Our next project is trying to find some cheap labor to pull all the weeds in our yard. It's time-consuming but doesn't require a lot of skill. So we'd prefer to hire a young person from the neighborhood instead of paying a full landscaping company $25 or more per hour just for weeding.
It's been about two weeks, and we have yet to find someone who is responsive and available. My wife has spent several hours searching our local Nextdoor neighborhood network. She contacted people only to find they're not interested, not available, respond only once, etc. If we'd just hired a real company, those weeds would probably be gone by now.
Think about that when it's time to hire your next freelancer.
What about you? Have some great or terrible stories about hiring contractors? Let me know in the comments.