The Parable of the Plumber
Meet John Smith (not his real name). John has spent the past fifteen years of his life working as a plumber. He’s licensed and certified and knows some people. He hates his boss so he’s going to make the leap. One sunny Friday, John tells his boss to “take this job and shove it”. John Smith is now in business. He has a license, a truck, a logo his wife sketched out on a napkin, some business cards and a flyer. John is a plumber and offers to “handle all your plumbing needs”. Five years later John is working for somebody else again.
What went wrong?
What happened you ask? The answer is quite simple, John didn’t actually “start a business”, he bought a job. And that relationship has to be one of the most painful there is. If all you want is a job, don’t work for yourself, it’s not worth the headaches. But, what is the difference between “owning a business” and “owning a job”? It comes down to the first mistake John made when he made his offer to “handle all your plumbing needs”. What exactly is a “plumbing need”? Fix a toilet? Install pipes? John never thought beyond the specific solution he offers – “plumbing” – to the actual problems he’s solving. If he had done some thinking he might have reasoned this way. “Who do I want to work with? Ok, residential customers. Why? Because I like doing stuff that makes a family happier. What about the field of plumbing makes a family unhappy? Their drains are stopped up, their toilet doesn’t work anymore, their shower is clogged, the hot water tank busted, their sewer line breaks…and so on.” So what is the general problem John is solving? He is fixing the problem described as: Is your home making you miserable? John is now the “home residence misery eliminator”. So, what other miseries can he solve?
- Appliances broken
- Appliances need hauled away
- Hot Water tank too small
- Water needs conditioned
- Water tastes horrible – water filters
- Share his knowledge
- What dishwasher is best for my house
- What washer dryer is best for my house
- How can I extend the life of my appliances
In less than ten minutes, starting with the words “If he had done…” we’ve designed an entire business structure with potentially dozens of core products and services which can be offered to a specific demographic, residential customers. Maybe John doesn’t want to clean toilets. Maybe he’ll start out with “commercial plumbing”. Doesn’t matter. The point is, go from the specific thing (which is a specific solution to one aspect of a general problem), define the general problem and then work forward to a bunch of general solutions.
What is an entrepreneur anyhow?
The great Zig Zigler supposedly once said “an entrepreneur is someone who is paid to solve other people’s problems”. Much as I respect and admire Zig, I disagree. That is the description of an employee, not an entrepreneur. If we look at it from another angle we see that “a business is an organization which is paid to solve other people’s problems” and it is the job of an entrepreneur to create businesses. And so, an entrepreneur — which is what I assume you want to be — is “someone who is paid to create sustainable organizations which are paid to solve other people’s problems“. That, my friends is the difference between “owning a business” and “owning a job”. Maybe next time our good friend John will bear that in mind and he won’t be stuck working for a boss he’s learned to hate. Until next time… Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net