Ten success tips for the professional contractor

IN ANY PROFESSION, there are always tips for success. Something as simple and seemingly insignificant as your own attitude can mean a lot to production. Certainly for contractors installing systems as important as fire alarms, a good attitude is a necessity. I recently reread the Investor’s Business Daily’s “Ten Best Secrets to Success” and decided I would try to personalize them for those contractors installing fire alarm systems.

1. How you think is everything.

When you develop your business philosophy, make sure you know why you are in this profession. Of course, we are all capitalists, and that’s OK. After all, we’re in America, and I understand that without profits, businesses fail and jobs are lost. But most individuals in the fire alarm installation business not only work to make a profit, but also take pride in the fact that what they do saves lives. Saving lives and property and getting the call that the system you installed really made a difference in the outcome of a fire are what really provide job satisfaction. Think about that often, so you don’t lose focus.

2. Decide upon your true dreams and goals.

This secret of success is personal, and only you can address what your true dreams and goals are. I would hope from a business point of view one of your goals is to provide the right system and a workmanlike installation for every fire alarm system you are associated with.

3. Take action.

For example, when you see a need for education, fill it. Call it “pro bono” or donated time. No matter what, take action toward your goals. If you have the ability to make presentations, provide some for the fire service. If you don’t, buy the NECA and NEMA fire alarm system manuals and distribute them to the fire service. The more they know, the higher the bar for the competition.

4. Never stop learning.

I once heard a graduate say, “Thank God, I’m through school! I will never have to read a book again!” We live in an era when the average employee comes to the job with few marketable skills. Don’t let this happen to you. Attend any fire or detection systems related seminars or courses that are available to you. Stay abreast of the new technology by attending at association meetings, reading the technical literature or surfing the Web. Read and understand the standards and codes that affect your livelihood. If you are an owner, make sure your employees get constant and appropriate training. Never stop learning.

5. Be persistent and work hard.

As Winston Churchill said, “Never, never, never, never give up!” Being persistent means just that. I have had contractors tell me it took them many installations and inspections to get the job right, but constant awareness of the code requirements and redoing non-code-compliant work helped them to be a better and more efficient installing contractor. Higdon’s law states, “Good judgment comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgment.” Hard work and persistence is the only way a person can excel in any field.

6. Learn to analyze details.

This applies to reading specifications until you understand all points and doing a thorough analysis of the fire alarm system design drawings to ensure the engineer’s design not only complies with the codes, but that you understand the premise of the design.

7. Focus your time and money.

I interpret this to mean, “Do what you know best.” Many contractors overextend their abilities (and financial resources) in an attempt to take on larger projects than their experience and training warrants. Focus on what you know best, and you will succeed.

8. Don’t be afraid to innovate.

What we do in our profession is governed by codes and standards. We are only allowed to “innovate” when an engineer uses performance-based alternatives to code requirements. It is difficult to innovate when it comes to fire alarm system installations.

9. Deal and communicate effectively.

This relates to number four. While difficult to learn, there are numerous books and courses available that teach how to communicate effectively. Communication is not only important within your company, but also with your clients and with the authorities having jurisdiction (AHJ). Think back to the last time you had a problem with an AHJ on a project, and I am sure you will discover an element of miscommunication that was involved in causing the problem.

10. Be honest and dependable. Take responsibility (otherwise 1–9 won’t matter).

I have preached taking responsibility many times from these pages. You have a responsibility for the safety of the occupants in every building where you install or maintain a fire protection system. You have a responsibility to educate yourself and others associated with us in our profession. You have a responsibility to train your employees not only in the technical aspects of what you do but in the ethical responsibilities we all share. You have a responsibility to give back something of what you have learned to your profession. You do not need a recount to do what is right.

Quoting Andrew Carnegie, “As I grow older, I pay less attention to what men say. I just watch what they do.” You should take pride in working in a profession where you not only make a living but save lives.         EC

MOORE, a licensed fire protection engineer, frequent speaker and an expert in the life safety field, is a co-editor of the current National Fire Alarm Code Handbook. Moore is a principal with Hughes Associates Inc. and is located at the Warwick, R.I., office.