Learn from your mistakes and the mistakes of others.

My father recently reminded me of something my grandfather said about business owners. He said that there were three types: The first make mistakes and repeat them. The second type, which represents the majority of business people, make mistakes and learn from them. They do not repeat them. The third type represents the best business owners.

They learn from the mistakes of others and never make those mistakes. Yes, they make some mistakes. However, they don't make those made by others.

Everyone makes business mistakes. However, it is much better to talk with and learn from the mistakes of others. There are many places that you can do this. Joining trade associations and reading the stories in trade magazines can also help. If you have a question, look up the contractor in the story. Most are very willing to talk so that you don't make their mistakes.

Even many direct competitors will give you some of their time. The best competition is competition where everyone is trained well and has priced the jobs right. Good companies hate losing a job to a contractor who doesn't know how to price a job. It hurts everyone.

Summertime blues

On another subject, as you're probably aware, many parts of the United States experienced very different summers this year. Here in Atlanta, it was unseasonably cool. We only had one day over 90 degrees. The last time that happened was in 1961. Now, contractors who are dependent on the hot weather are complaining that they don't have the revenues.

It's obviously too late to do anything about it, but you can start planning for future slow times now. And, they will come again.

One thing that can decrease some of the seasonal effects of the HVAC business is service agreements or contracts. You will never eliminate the dependency on the weather. However, to decrease its effects next time, start or grow your service-contract base.

If your business is mainly residential, make the effort to increase your base of contracts by at least 25 percent this year. For those of you who have less than 500 contracts, then your goal should be to have 1,000 contracts by the end of the year. The additional money you receive should be put into a savings account to handle the slower times of the year. It isn't difficult to do; it just takes discipline.

Also consider servicing some light-commercial customers. Building commercial-service contracts takes time. You can't start when it gets slow and quit when you get busy. You have to make time to do the surveys and proposals throughout the year.

If you do make the time to establish a good residential and commercial service contract base, if you have a cool summer next summer you won't experience the slowdowns in work.