Everyone worries about the lack of technicians in the HVAC industry. Not me. We’ve got plenty of technicians. Our problem is we’ve got too many owners.

Contracting companies are often formed when a technician suffers a capitalist convulsion and sets sail in a leaky truck for the promised land of entrepreneurial freedom. Thus, most contracting companies start the same way: small. There’s nothing wrong with small. A small successful company beats a large failure every single time.

The problem isn’t small companies. The problem is small thinkers. Small thinkers suffer from low expectations. A good month is one that ends with money in the checkbook.

You see, just because a technician launches a business doesn’t mean he’s a businessperson. Few are . . . at first.

This shouldn’t be surprising. When they first hang out their shingle, technicians are usually ill-prepared to run a business. So at first, the tech doesn't own a business. The tech owns a job.

From Tech to Businessperson

To build a business, a technician must undergo a transformation. He must give up the craft he loves, to learn another one: the craft of business. Many find this trade more than satisfactory. They find even more fulfillment and joy in the craft of business than they found as a technician.

However, merely being open to change and growth is insufficient. We’ve got lots of HVAC trade schools, but little in the way of HVAC owner schools. There is plenty of business knowledge available to the enterprising technician who seeks it out. And he’ll need initiative to put it to use.

Fortunately, the odds are with technicians who are committed to becoming businesspeople and building prosperous enterprises.

Unfortunately, not enough have the commitment. They are content to survive and subsist, when prosperity should be the goal. Subsistence is technician thinking, not business thinking. It’s the thinking of someone who can turn a wrench, but not a profit.

Good Technicians, But Lousy Owners

The tech-as-owner measures his performance in terms of the technical craft, not the business craft. He often undercharges, subsidizing customers at his personal expense. He can’t afford to market, and even if he could, he lacks the time and knowledge to perform the function well. Over time, he even falls behind technically because he can’t afford the time or expense for technical training. He hates the constant burden of government paperwork and regulations. Since employees always disappoint and can never measure up, he doesn’t hire anyone. He lacks the time and inclination to make the simplest business improvements.

Instead of more freedom, more time, and more money, he’s got less of each. It wasn’t supposed to be like this. He knows others do well while he struggles. He resents them for it.

He would be better served working for someone else. He would make more money, endure fewer hassles, and have more time for his family. Collectively, the tech-as-owner could solve the industry’s technician shortage. However, the tech-as-owner’s pride won’t let him quit. So he persists in his fantasy while subsisting on the meager income a technician generates as a free agent.

Prosperity, Not Subsistence

Ironically, he’s not that different from the contractors who have succeeded. At one time, every successful contractor was in the very same position. Even if it’s late in the game, it’s not too late to begin the transformation, to start down the path to prosperity. No one should accept subsistence in the HVAC industry. It’s too good of an industry for that.

If you’re a contractor who is subsisting, there are three choices. You can revel in your pride and poverty. You can work for someone else. Or, you can begin your transformation from technician to businessperson. The path to prosperity can begin today for any contractor. Remember, nearly all of today's legendary HVAC companies were built from humble foundations.