The one thing you must Do to Thrive in your (construction) business
Part 2 of ThrivingCraftsmen’s interview With Randal DeHart of “Fast Easy Accounting”
Randal DeHart has built and sold construction business after construction business after construction business. Eventually he returned to his originl profession with “Fast Easy Accounting” providing Accounting and Consulting services tailored to his beloved fellow tradesmen.
Thriving Craftsmen sat down with Randal DeHart of Fast Easy Accounting to learn how he did it.
Our monthly meet up is coming up. Come meet fellow Craftsmen, learn something new, and start the week on the right foot
meet us on Monday, June 27th, At Gerritsen Beach Library 2808 Gerritsen Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11229
A man with money met a man with experience. A man with experience got money and a guy with money got experience.
The lowest point
TC: I want to ask you a question. You’ve been a contractor. You started out at some point, you moved ahead. We all know it’s not all roses, all fun. Sometimes we make mistakes. Sometimes we fail. I want you to tell our audience about the lowest point in your contracting business. Your worst mistake. Your darkest day. And how did you pull out of that?
RD: Oh, that is really easy. This is a great story. You’ll love this.
All of the sudden one day, I thought I was so powerful that I amazed even myself and we started doing some commercial plumbing work. Now, people that own commercial buildings are good people. And I cannot believe some of the rumors about how they came from The hot place down south….
The precursor’s this. A man with money met a man with experience. A man with experience got money and a guy with money got experience.
Even though, I had no business getting involved in commercial work. I went ahead and signed the AIA contract, the GSC contract. These are all private contracts, but they’re very brutal and like 20-something pages to read through.
I thought, “This seems kind of funny. This is pretty brutal… umm. Okay, it’s fine.”
I had done things at that point based on mutual trust. In commercial work, there is no trust is what my experience is.
We took on a couple of big projects and not only did we not get paid, but I wound up putting a lot of my own personal resources into the project in order to keep from filing total and complete bankruptcy.
The good news was that I had some extra baggage that I discovered I didn’t need at the time. I had a really nice hopped-up ’69 Dodge Charger with a 440 and six pack which I had babied…
And, I discovered that I needed money, I didn’t really need that car. So I decided to sell it. And the house we lived in was a nice big four-bedroom, three-bathroom house. It was huge. And I told Sherry, “We don’t need this big house. We can go live in a basement apartment.” And she said, “Yeah, we could do that. And the next time somebody says, ‘Break into commercial,’ I’m going to take a 2 by 4 and tune you up!”
“Listen, friend. This is your world. You are of this world. I am in this world, not of this world. In the future, I hope we never meet. And you know what I’m saying to you.”
He kind of laughed and he said, “Yeah, you’re just another dumb subcontractor. That’s how we make money; we take you guys down.”
Losing everything, Twice
We almost lost everything. Ok? I talked to my attorney. He looks at the contract, he looks at me, and he says, “If you pull out of this, you will be older and wiser.” He looked me square in the eye and he said, “You know what, the universe works like this: you take a test, you learn a lesson. If you don’t learn the lesson, repeat the test as often as you need to.”
I said, “What can I do to get out of this thing?” He said, “There’s nothing you can do that’s going to make any sense. Just deal with it, do the best you can, get out of it as quickly as you can.” And I did.
So we get our part of the project done and it was all done. I went and looked the developer square in the eye and said — This is a little rough. You can cut this out if you want to. I looked him square in the eye and I said, “Listen, friend. This is your world. You are of this world. I am in this world, not of this world. In the future, I hope we never meet. And you know what I’m saying to you.” He kind of laughed and he said, “Yeah, you’re just another dumb subcontractor.” He says, “That’s how we make money; we take you guys down.” So I said, we’ve got it all done. I have to warranty this work for a year; I will warranty it for a year.
We had a couple of small problems, so he’d call us up. He had a leak. And he said, “You better come and take care of this or we’re going to get our attorney.” I said, “Don’t bother. I’ll send a crew over there. We’ll fix it.” He had like two, I think, a couple of little leaks we went in and fixed. At the end of the year, I called him up and I said, “Your warrantee is over. Don’t ever call me. We’re done.” So that one just about took us down. It cost us a lot.
Now Tomer, the good news? The good news is I didn’t need to repeat that lesson! So when commercial contractors are calling and saying, “Hey, we’ve got an 8-story building we want you to put the plumbing in.” I’d say, “Hey, that’s great. Why don’t you call somebody else that’s more qualified? And I would be very polite and just refuse. So that was one of our biggest experiences.
And I’ll share another experience with you. I’m a little bit — I have a strong paradigm on this subject and not everybody agrees with me. And that’s okay. My feeling is a partnership is the only ship designed to sink.
We went into partnership with somebody who was basically a quasi-friend. And what’s the old saying? Everybody’s friends until they’re not.
It ended badly. The relationship was broken. And that partnership cost me a lot of money. Because what happened is the other partner had the ability to bind the company and us. And so they bought a few things I thought were inappropriate. And then I discovered that the payments weren’t made. That was our second one. So that was a serious problem. And we lost some big-time financial. Now good news there too. You want to hear the good news?
When we went down the second time hard, it occurred to me that there are answers out there. The universe has answers. You’ve just got to know what questions to ask.
RD: Once a person — I don’t care who you are — but once a person, and we had built up some wealth and we pretty much lost it all twice. The first time we lose it all, it’s kind of like, “Okay, fine. We’ll figure it out.” There’s two ways to go: You either get depressed, or you bear down and rebuild. We beared down and rebuilt.
The first time we went down, I never asked friends or relatives for any help. I didn’t need it, you know? I’m going to figure it out. The second time was really quite serious. And so I went to some of my friends and relatives and said, “I need a little help here, because I’ve had some problems.” And all of them — Bless their hearts, I love them all. And when I say “all,” Tomer, I mean all of them, said; “You deserve it. You took two many chances. You are like a serial entrepreneur. You just don’t know when to quit. And you got what you deserved.” And I said, “Okay, that’s fair. That’s absolutely fair.” So we rebuilt really quick.
Well, it took from scratch, we had basically zero. We had lost our house again. And it took 89 days. We had enough money for a down payment on an old house, a used house in a not-great neighborhood. But we had money for a down payment. It took about five years of hard work for Sherry and I both. About five years and we had reestablished and we’d gone further than before. Now I’m sitting here in Glenwood, WA. One of our buildings, it’s a little commercial building that we bought like five years ago. So to kind of give you an idea of what happens now, I don’t go to the bank, the bank comes to me. When we buy a piece of property, the bank comes to me with the loan papers. The closing agent comes to my office; I don’t go to her office.
And a lot of my relatives have said, “Gee, we could use some money to do blank.” And I say, “Here’s what you do: Put one foot in front of the other and go build something.” So I’ve got a little bit of undercurrent of — Let’s just say Sherry and I are battle-hardened.
When we went down the second time, Tomer, when we went down the second time hard, it occurred to me that there are answers out there. The universe has answers. You’ve just got to know what questions to ask. And so I began — And I advise everybody to do this. I began to build my own personal library.
And that’s why I’m really strong on get to know where your niche is and focus on that one.
Learn to Thrive
Nowadays you can do it with iTunes and whatnot, but I actually went out and I bought a number of books. Hardcover, softcover books. I bought books. Biographies, I bought books on philosophy, I bought books on mathematics, which I already was pretty strong in, I bought books on successful people, I bought books to learn about people who had failures, massive failures and recovered. And I read books — My personal library now has over 5,000 books and I’ve read them all. And Tomer, it’s so inspiring. If you ever have a chance to read it, it’s called The Ray Crock Story, and it’s about the McDonald’s founder. That guy went through ten times, twenty times, fifty times worse than I ever experienced. And he came out.
I read a lot of biographies. And I discovered something that was interesting: Life gives us a test. We learn the lesson or we repeat as often as need be. So the key is to learn those lessons.
So we started rebuilding our businesses and we started businesses hard and fast, and that’s how I really discovered MAP.
Now I want to end on a good note. We have several clients that do commercial tenant improvement work. And they do it wonderfully! And they make money! And I respect them for it, you know? They’ve got whatever it takes. They do it and they do it well. They’re meaner than junkyard dogs, but they do it well. They get a lot of respect from their people, their clients. So that niche was just not for me. And that’s why I’m really strong on get to know where your niche is and focus on that one.
TC: Really I think the main thing, for me from your story, beyond finding what your niche is, finding who you’re serving, (because if you’re serving everyone, you’re not serving anybody really). The main takeaway for me is that if you want to succeed in the end, then you really have to be willing to go through that pain of failure.
Nobody ever gets it right their first time. You just can’t. You can’t. But the ability to persevere and maintain that line of sight for yourself where you know where you want to go and you’re willing to pay your dues.
TC: You’re willing to make the effort again and again and again until you get it right and until you learn it. Definitely that’s what separates the successful from the not successful, the not thriving. That’s all it is.
If we have a big enough why, we’ll find the how.
Find the Why
TC: Randal, there’s lots of challenges in this line of work.
What is the one thing you would recommend for people on this path? Somebody who’s reading this now, he’s a craftsman and maybe starting a business or he’s been in the business for a while and he’s really inspired by what you’re saying, but it’s all a bit overwhelming.
What is the one thing you think somebody should start with? The first step, you know — a hundred-mile journey starts with just one step.
What’s the first step for somebody who wants to grow and to strive in business and in construction?
RD: Well, Tomer, I think the first thing that is really important if we have a big enough why, we’ll find the how. So the why is huge. So I work with my consulting clients and the first thing I ask them to do is to establish their mission statement.
The mission statement is very, very important, and the first thing we do with the mission statement is we spend some serious time to ask ourselves, “Why?” Why am I a contractor? Why am I in construction? That’s really important. Am I in it by default because my mom, my dad, aunt, uncle, somebody influenced me, because that was their experience? Find out why you’re in construction and ask that question very deep. So you’ve got to keep asking the question until you get to the nub, the truth of it.
Then write a narrative, in longhand, on notebook paper with blue ink. And there’s a reason for all of this. I won’t go into a lot of detail, but there’s a definite psychological reason for this. And a person may burn up an entire notepad writing and rewriting a mission statement. The big Why. And sleep on it for a little while. A few days. And revisit it again.
Eventually, it will boil down to that one sentence: Why I’m in construction. And once they understand why they’re in construction and why they’re doing what it is they’re doing, then it’s real simple, because then everything will flow from that mission statement.
With my clients, I will actually take a piece of string that’s about twelve inches long. I’ll put the string on the desk and I’ll start pushing it. And I’ll say, “That is people who are trying to push their business and make it happen.”
Take that string and start pulling it and the string gets straight.” That’s “The Why. The mission statement.
The why is the most important thing. Once you have that figured out in your mind and it resonates, try it with other people and see if it makes sense to them. But it’s got to come right from the heart. This is why I’m doing this.
If you’re a contractor, I believe you deserve to be wealthy.
TC: What is your Why, Randal?
RD: Oh. Really quite simple. If you’re a contractor, I believe you deserve to be wealthy. That is the core of my; ‘Why I do what I do’. Tomer, right now, I’m in a race and I’m working hard. I’m in a competition with Bill Gates. Now, this is not fair. We live in a world of what is, not what should be. Do you realize that Bill Gates made more money last year, in one year, than I have made all week? Now what’s fair about that?
But nevertheless, the point being — and I’m going to be serious a little bit — The point being, Tomer, at this point in my life, if I never work another day and I live to be 150, I’ll eat regular and live indoors. So, strangely enough, I don’t really desperately need the money. But, like I said, and this gets down to my core, when I was a kid growing up, my stepfather, greatest guy on earth, I loved him immensely. He was a good, solid man. No two ways about it. Good, solid, god-fearing man. And he did everything. Like I said, we had food, clothing, shelter. But we didn’t have what I would consider the goodies of life. We didn’t take a lot of vacations, that sort of thing. But I had everything I needed, so it was good.
Having made a lot of money in construction, and working with a lot of contractors, my mission statement, my Why is quote-unquote: “If you’re a contractor, you deserve to be wealthy because you bring value to other people’s lives.” And that’s why I do this. Do I charge money for it? Yes, I do. Do I need the money? Well, I can always use it. But there’s another funny thing, too. I do charge for our services, because I’ve done it both ways. I’ve actually given away our services and if people get it for free-
TC: They don’t appreciate it.
RD: There’s no value! That’s my Why. I believe if you’re a contractor, you deserve to be wealthy, because you bring value to other people’s lives. I worked a long time to come up with that. That’s my mission statement. That’s my Why. So if I can help contractors become wealthy, then you want to hear the underlying cause for that? The underlying cause for that is if contractors are wealthy, they’re going to do what? They’re going to spend money. They spend money, they’re going to pay taxes. They pay taxes, they spend money, they create jobs. And all that goes into a circle, which builds civilization…
TC: So you’re really talking about abundance. And that’s wonderful. You’re saying your mission is really to get abundance for contractors who do all this good, provide all this value to customers and to the market. And you’re saying how that flows out in circles, like a rock you throw in a pond. Where the abundance of the contractor just flows out towards his workers, his employees, his subcontractors, the customers, the whole community. You’re really talking about abundance and that’s a wonderful thing.
That’s where creativity comes to the fore. And high-quality work. And happy people. It’s a much better place to be.
Keep in touch with Randal
TC: Randal, I had so much fun talking to you. You’ve been amazing. You’ve provided so much value. What if somebody wants to touch base with you, wants to hear more about what you have to say? Why don’t you tell us a little bit, maybe, about your podcast or how to reach out directly to you? How people could consult with you or learn more from you.
RD: Sure. The first step is really quite simple, is call our office. The phone number is (206) 361–3950. Call our office and most of the time Sherry answers the phone. So, for all contractors, we offer a free, no charge, one-hour consultation.
RD: Sherry will spend at least an hour, sometimes more, and Sherry’s got the same experience I do. And she provides a lot of value, just for contractors who want to call up and chat and get some basic information.
So that’s step one; call the office and chat with her. The other thing they can do, we have a website. It’s at www.fasteasyaccounting.com. And our website, I’m told, is fairly large. It has a little over 15,000 pages. And we have lots and lots of content there. And there’s a lot of free resources for contractors. Contractors that want to listen to my podcast, again, it’s https://www.fasteasyaccounting.com/podcast I actually do a podcast and a blog post every Friday. So one released this morning.
RD: It’s on about 35 different channels. And it really speaks to contractors. And I’ve gotten a lot of really good feedback from contractors.
I’ve actually gotten some feedback from other companies who are not contractors who said, “Gee, I’d like to have you work with us.” And we had one in particular that briefly needed to throw a million dollars of project work. And I said, “I’d love to work with you, but here’s the problem. You would pay me about six figures a year and that’s not too bad to do the work if you’re an accounting firm. Yet, if the handyman called up and he just got started in this business and he’s going to pay me $10, and he needs help. I’m going to hang up on you, because you’re not as important as a handyman.” A handyman has much more value to me than you do. So I said, “I really can’t take you on as a client, because you might get in the way of the important people. The VIPs. The handymen, the electricians, the plumbers, the contractors.
The phone number is (206) 361–3950. Or the website, like I said, is www.fasteasyaccounting.com. And I monitor all the incoming information. I don’t answer the phone most of the time, but I am on top of things, so people can contact us through there. And Sherry can chat with them. And in lots of situations, I’m available to chat also. Just so we’re clear, I don’t go into a lot of depth about a person’s accounting system until we have what’s called a letter of engagement, because I don’t have the authority to look into their file deeply. I can do some surface looks. Does that make sense?
TC: Sure does. Randal, that was an amazing talk. You really gave so much value. Thank you so much, Randal.
RD: Well, Tomer, thank you. This was a pleasure.
Want to consult with Randal about your business? Checkout his website www.fasteasyaccounting.com or call his office at (206) 361–3950
Want to listen to Randall on the go? Checkout his podcast
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Randal reccomends reading Grinding It Out: The Making of McDonald’s by Ray Kroc