Get yourself OFF the tools
(ultimate tradies guide to building a better life)
What have I seen and learnt from 25+ years of advising Tradies? Over that time I’ve helped countless Tradies increase cash flow, be more profitable and grow their business. I can confidently now say I reckon I’ve seen it all. From those who have gone from driving a rusty old ute with the bum hanging out of their pants to owning a couple of helicopters and a private jet. Only to end up losing it all and everything else in between.
As an adviser it’s always fascinated me why some Tradies “get it” but also why most don’t. And even when those who do “get it”, how can things go so horribly wrong, especially while on my watch.
Clearly there is no quick way to success. As we like to say, “It has to stink of effort”. I used to think it was 85% about being the best Tradie out there and 15% mind games. Every week I have a young enthusiastic Tradie ask me “just tell me the secret Simon, just tell me what to do.” The reality there is no secret other than I now know it’s 85% mind games and 15% on being a Tradie.
I’m going to assume you are already quality Tradie who knows your stuff. Maybe your starting out or maybe you have been doing this a while and already have a team working with you. Either way if your wanting more (could be more Money, more Time, more doing what you enjoy) then come on the 7 Step Journey of what I’ve found successful Tradies do.
The 7 Step Journey
- Why do it?
- Take what you have and make it the best you can
- People – team and customers
- Operations – doing the do
- Time to crank it up – marketing
- How to keep what’s yours
- Wrap up
Why do it? Why build a better business?
As an accountant in public practice we know Tradies come to us because you have to. We know you have to get your BAS and income tax done and the only reason you do is because the ATO will hit you with a big stick if you don’t. Not much of a motivation especially when we hand you a tax bill and then say “its due tomorrow”. Sound familiar? No wonder most Tradies see accountants as pseudo tax collectors. The funny thing is in the 4 years I spent at Uni (I enjoyed myself there so much I spent an extra year than most!) we were NEVER taught how to do a BAS or an income tax return let alone anything to do with bookkeeping. What I did learn though was to 1) identify a problem, 2) have the confidence to research it and 3) come up with a solution.
You can rightly ask, “what’s that got to do with GST, income tax, payroll tax, super, contractor payments, LSL Corp forms and workers comp?” The answer is that’s our bread and butter (to be honest its pretty easy after you have done 10,000 of them) so you can understand when we put the feelers out to do more than just the tax its not about a “fee grab” its really about what we signed up for!
Even so I can see picture how the conversation usually unfolds, “Simon, you do my tax how could you possibly help me in my business when you don’t know anything about what I do out there in the real world?” I get it, I’m a professional accountant and in an ivory tower no less!” I usually reply with something along the lines of “a doctor doesn’t have to have cancer themselves to be able to diagnose and treat it”. Which is true, but my story goes a little deeper.
Growing up in the working class steel town of Newcastle, my dear old dad was a self employed building contractor. From as early as I can remember I thought there was nothing better than spending my school holidays with my Dad on his building sites. I loved the sights, sounds and smell of bulldozers pushing spoil around and there was nothing better than sitting up high and getting a ride to the dump in those massive Mack trucks. It was fun scrounging discarded “YY” lemonade bottles in the crib room as the bonus was to get the 5c refund at the corner shop. But most of all I loved seeing things being built. Looking back it must have been a challenge for my Dad to have a young lad traipsing around shadowing him but he took it in his stride. It was the early to mid 1970’s, the suburbs were spreading out like a rapidly rising tide. Whitlam was spending up big on residential infrastructure, interest rates were essentially fixed but inflation was ripping away. This fuelled a massive construction and property boom.
During that decade I saw my Dad move out of residential cottage work to tackle large scale commercial work. And by all means he was pretty good at it. We lived in a nice home in a typical middle class suburb but I do remember my school friends being wide eyed when my dad pulled up in a new Mercedes (no big deal now but back then there probably less than a dozen in the whole city). My parents bought a grazing property and growing up I spent many happy weekends and holidays there riding horses / motorbikes and fishing on the river. My Dad has always loved his cars but by the time I was finishing high school I figured he was doing something right when he took delivery of a new Cessna 172 Sky Hawk.
By the early 1980’s Hawke and Keating deregulated interest rates floated the dollar and the long boom was finally over. Work dried up and rather than ride out the downturn my Dad made the difficult decision to put his team off and close his business. He was able to retire financially free, at the ripe old age of 52. This is a man who finished school in year 9, started out at BHP as an apprentice moulder. He didn’t inherit a business, his father was a WW1 vet and a tram conductor. Now in his late 80’s I recently asked my Dad, “you must have had a plan, what did you do and why?” He thought about it for a while and in his usual cryptic style said, “I just wanted to build buildings“.
The moral of the story? You and only you can figure out your WHY? But to make positive change you have to start with the end in mind. You have to be able to picture WHAT you want and WHY – remember I said it was 85% mind games!. Could be you want more time with your spouse and kids. More money or to spend less time on the tools. As corny as it sounds I suggest you write it down on a piece of paper. Which takes us to the next step in the journey, how figure out what your strengths are and make what you have now and make it the best you can.
The Tradie Accountant