To Grow, Resist the ‘Always Busy’ Myth

Something my parents often told their five children took me years to fully comprehend: “A busy man always has time.” This was their way of imparting a “can do” attitude in our household of four boys and one girl. “No” was not an acceptable answer to a request, under any circumstance.

These days, I know how much truth there is in that adage of theirs. There are those people in life who always seem to get things done no matter how much lands on their desk. They work faster. They get creative. They find the time. In my experience, these people also seem to have time for a great life outside work ­— playing hard, volunteering, etc. On the contrary, we’ve all worked for, worked with and perhaps even hired people who tend to put limits on everything in their purview. They, to paraphrase Teddy Roosevelt, are part of the “vast twilight of humanity who neither suffer much nor enjoy much.”

Companies are no different. Yes, it is important for remodelers to not get themselves involved in unprofitable or otherwise not satisfactory projects. Selectiveness is a great key to profitability. But it is an entirely different matter to send away good clients along with the potentially bad ones because there is no contingency plan for how to handle requests when at full capacity.

In 2000, Iris Harrell of Harrell Remodeling Inc. in Mountain View, Calif. says her firm hit its capacity for new work. For about six months, she says, the company politely turned away customers until more staff could be brought on, and the company could move to a bigger office. Two years later, Harrell says, she would be at social gatherings and acquaintances would tell her that they had just completed some remodeling work and that they would have gone to Harrell, but they assumed that her company would be too busy.

“In this business you have to have excess capacity,” says Harrell, whose firm did $11 million in revenue in 2007. “If you are working everyone at full capacity and you have no room to accept a big job, except to postpone it, then you are not able to grow. And when you have no excess capacity, everyone on staff hates the idea of additional business because it is more work than they can handle. Because we were not big enough in 2000, we were turning people down for about six months. And we have been dismantling that myth for five years.”

Many, many remodelers choose to perpetuate the myth that they are “always busy”, but in 2008, that perception in their local market area could come back to haunt them. “If your idea is to keep your existing customers happy so they will come back and refer you to their friends, that requires growth,” Harrell explains. “And if you can’t take on even a modest amount each year, you are going to lose, in the long run, even the base you built. So I think it is inherent that a company be able to grow.”

It is great to be busy always, but you must also cultivate a “can do” impression in your market or risk capping your future outlook.