The Bar Is (Hilariously) Low

Want to know how to succeed in business?

Do the work that others are not willing to do, or simply just are not doing.

My wife and I own a couple of properties. As such, we have different contractors for different things:

  • Plumbing/Septic
  • Electrical
  • Lawn mowing
  • Fence building
  • Cleaning once per month


At our mountain house, we have a septic system and are required to have a contract with a company that will come out twice per year to inspect that system. We didn’t know about this (it may have been buried in the 150-page binder we received when we bought the place two years ago), but a month ago we had a door hanger on our door there that they had come by and needed to get our information updated. We played phone tag for a while, I finally got them on the phone, and then they were asking me to sign another 3 year agreement.

The issue? They hadn’t been out in two years to do something they were contractually obligated to do twice per year. Their reason was “We didn’t have enough technicians, but we’re trying to hire more.”

I didn’t sign the contract, and we’re finding someone else. It reminded me of the following Seinfeld episode:

To continue the saga, we need to get our septic system pumped. I have called no fewer than 5 in the general area (it’s a fairly rural area, just over a county line from where the majority of vacation homes are), and have not heard back from a single one. I’d even be happy to sign a multi-year contract for them to come out every 6 months, if they’d just pick up their phone or respond to emails!

Next Up: Fence Building

When we moved into our new house in Denver back in March, we knew we needed to fence in the yard front and back (the sides were already fenced) so our big curious dog doesn’t wander.

We hired a company that is well-reviewed in the area. They were professional in the process, communicative, etc. I felt really good about it.

Fast forward to the day they’re installing the fence. They use a post hole digger, of course.

I get a call that they hit a gas line. The county had come out and marked the lines out front, but there is a private gas line out back that we didn’t know about. The workers called me (not their supervisor) and told me, and that they didn’t want to call the gas company. I was like “We need to call the gas company.” Of course we did that, our county’s fire department showed up as they’re required to do, and we got it repaired the next day. Cost us $1,500.

Then we went to get the lawn and garden sprinkler system turned on this spring, and discovered 5 different places where they hit the sprinkler line. Another $2,500.

I’m still working with them to get them to cover at least a significant portion of that, but we weren’t told anything about hitting pipes. I did find pipe remnants around those areas afterwards, though.

The fence is great. They built it fast. But I can’t in good conscience recommend them to others.

There Are Good Contractors

I have many more stories about the last year or so with contractors, but I won’t go into the hot tub company ordering the completely wrong tub, or the flooring company hitting a water line and causing at least $1,500 of damage (they gave us a discount on the overall work), or the cleaning company that somehow always points the backup showerhead out of the shower and turns on the water to it, so it sprays me and water all over the bathroom every time after they’ve left.

There are good contractors.

  • Our plumbing and electrical company in Denver is amazing. They’re responsive and professional, and are reasonably priced.
  • The painting company we used did a great job, and worked with us to get the price to where we needed it.
  • Our lawn company shows up on schedule every time.

But The Bar Is Still (Incredibly) Low

The bar is still low to winning a lot of business, especially in local services.

Mowing lawns? Show up on time and communicate if you’re behind because of weather.

Doing HVAC? Answer your phone and show up.

Selling and delivering hot tubs to people? Order the right tub and deliver it on time, and don’t try to tell them you had told them a different date (oh yeah, that happened too).

I’m not perfect of course. I’ve messed up things, not been able to deliver results as I expected, and more. I’ve learned through it (and continue to learn from my mistakes).

The lesson is simple: Do what you said you’d do, and you’ll build a great business.

One thought on “The Bar Is (Hilariously) Low

  1. What about if I hire a subcontractor to take care of a specific part of a project I am contracted to do (subcontracting) and they mess up THEIR part? The result of which is that I look like a chump in the eyes of my client.
    I do commercial photography for small and medium sized businesses. On occasion I need drone photography completed. I don’t do that, so I have to farm it out.
    Would I have to write up a contract between me and my subcontractor that specifically lays out the ifs, and or buts of what happens if something goes wrong ? Should I get all “lawer-y” on their butts ?
    Just doesn’t feel right to me. I don’t want to be “that guy” and have all subcontractors avoid me.
    Thoughts ?

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