One of the last conversations I had with my brother, Jim, before he died was one about our respective businesses. I had ideas on how he could professionalize his construction business of 10 years – things like a website and Facebook page. Sadly, we never got around to these things, not that I’m convinced he actually wanted a web presence. He seemed to get by just fine with word-of-mouth business.
I’ve since thought a lot about his business (and mine). While I was ready to help him in marketing, I now wonder how I could have learned from his business acumen and who he was as a person. Here are a few things that stick out for me:
1. Be brave and confident
Going into business isn’t for everybody. There’s risk and uncertainty with going the entrepreneurial route. Even when the work is steady, the revenues aren’t necessarily. There have been times this year that I’ve gotten two or three substantial payments in a week and others when it’s a couple of months between checks. This is a part of it. I’ve been able to build a business knowing that I have no children to support and a partner with a steady income. I’m thinking about what it must have been like for him to start his own business in his mid-twenties with limited reserves and a wife and young son who depended upon him. That took some serious moxie. Not only this, but the willingness to believe in oneself and his ability to increase his earnings over time – that’s confidence.
2. Set limits
Jim worked for other builders before opening Camp’s Construction. I remember him doing work in Squirrel Hill in the early 2000s. I loved that I could hop a neighborhood over to say hello. The thing is, he hated the daily commute into the city and ultimately decided against it. He chose to take the reigns and start his own business, one in which he would limit his work to close to home jobs. Geography was a deal breaker for him and I always respected that. If you’re a small business owner, what are your personal deal breakers?
3. Break rule #2 every once in a while
The only time I recall him doing any work in Pittsburgh after that wasn’t for a “job.” Rather, it was to help me with some home improvements in order to be able to sell my home. (The house had been on the market for well over a year and sold just weeks after his minor bathroom remodel.) Years later, we’d dreamed together about his constructing a cabin for me. He would sleep there in the woods while building my rural respite. How I wish we’d gotten around to that! But these are just minor examples around how sometimes we stray from our own order of operations when we perceive the shift to be worth it. I often talk with my coaching clients on the topic of “what are we saying ‘yes’ and ‘no’ to?”. Sometimes we need to say “no” or “not now” so that we stay on track with our own priorities. Other times, a “yes” is what’s needed to embrace new opportunities, and sometimes simply to do what you know ought to be done. It’s good to set limits and even better to sense when we need to break them.
4. “Do you”
Anyone who ever knew Jimmy Camp knows that he was his own person. And while I started this post by mentioning my ideas for helping him achieve a web presence, his leads were born out of his reputation. People liked him – a lot – and he was a skilled carpenter. In fact, if I were to write another “lesson” in this post it would be around his commitment to excellence (a value that we had in common). When you run your own service business you are your business. It’s all about word of mouth, your track record, and what others know and say about you. So be who you are. Lead with your strengths and allow for imperfections. Most carpenters keep an early schedule; they start the day early and end the day early. That was not my brother. I understand that he started his day a little more casually and always with a coffee warm up (no rush, but rather savoring the morning). That must be why he (at times) raced daylight to finish a job or go give an estimate. But it’s who he was, and people loved him for it (or despite it). And at the end of the day – some of those very late days – he got the job right. So tell me, how do you “do you” in work and in life?
5. Live fully
You know what? I don’t know nearly enough about my brother. We loved each other deeply, but didn’t necessarily know each other very well as adults. This is a regret of mine, to be sure. Jim and I navigated grief together as children when our mother died suddenly. And we had lost others – grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. But losing him hit me harder than any other loss. I remember a voice in my head when I got the news. It said, “Not him.” I’ve never shared this with anyone, but choose to now because I was reminded in losing my brother that life is to be lived fully and in the present in every moment. I recently saw an article that was wary of the selfish side of gratitude. But I think when you’ve experienced loss and are still standing, there’s no other way to feel but grateful. So how is this a lesson Jim taught me? I suppose it’s not one he “taught” but it’s one that has been reinforced through his loss. Sense of gratitude and love of life makes me who I am as a person, a coach, and a small business owner. I can be with my clients wherever they are including all of the highs and lows. It’s the sheer humanness of it all.