Everybody makes mistakes. It is unavoidable. How you learn from those mistakes is the key so you don’t repeat them.

Two battle-worn industry veterans – Dennis Jaques of Maverick Integration in New Hampshire and Kim Michels of Electronic Environments in New York City – offered some advice to others based on their own experiences at this year’s Azione Unlimited ‘Networking in New Orleans’ conference. Combined they have nearly 50 years of experience in the industry.

1. Hiring Family, Relatives and Friends – As Dennis says: “There is 100 percent chance that at some point you will have to fire one of your relatives.”

So, he advises, never hire them unless you are prepared to fire them. He told the story of hiring his brother-in-law years ago, only to find out that he was colour-blind. That’s a problem when he has been terminating cable in the field for a year.

2. Beta Testing Products Clients’ Homes – It sounds like a great idea. You have an early adopter client who is OK with you testing out a new system in their home, often at a discount.

Kim says his company has ‘suffered great harm’ from this policy in the past. Today, he engineers everything in his office before deployment. “You have to make sure it works,” he adds.

3. Taking Unprofitable Jobs – It sounds like common sense to only take on jobs that make profit, but the duo said they learned the lesson of taking a project on a thin margin thinking they could squeeze out more profit with efficiency. In most cases, it just doesn’t happen.

4. Overpaying for an Employee – Dennis goes so far as to advise integrator to pay every employee in like job positions the exact same amount. Not doing that creates two problems, he says.

First, usually the employee is not worth the extra money. “I was too busy making money to realise that I was losing money on an overpaid employee. It took me a year to figure it out,” he says.

Second, employees talk “when they find out that one of their peers is making more than everyone else, it demoralises everyone. Pay equally, but pay well,” says Dennis.

5. Keeping Difficult– The dreaded difficult employee is a problem everyone faces at some point. “Without realising it, when an employee is a pain, you end up favouring him. You make excuses for him. All the other techs see it,” says Dennis.

In his case, often the troublesome employee is also a very skilled employee.

“When we are all struggling to find good technicians, it makes it harder to let a great technician go. It was hard to do, but one of the best decisions I have made,” he says.

Kim says the tell-tale signal to recognise when an employee is a pain in the ass is when you are spending too much of your time managing him.

“It is better in the long run. When we are all struggling to find good technicians, it makes it harder to let a great technician go, but you have to get rid of him,” says Kim.

6. Not Walking Away from a Bad Sale – This is not the retail business… not all sales are good sales. Kim deadpans, “If a client sounds crazy and demanding, believe him!”

Dennis adds, “If you are the fourth integrator on a project, it is unlikely that all three of the previous guys were terrible. The common denominator is the client. Listen to the bird in your head.”

7. Thinking your Systems Are Bulletproof – Kim says, “First of all, it is a terrible sales pitch to make to a customer that your systems are bulletproof because all systems need to be maintained.”

He cited one particular cross-country project that Electronic Environments did that need someone out to the home once per week on average.

Moreover, that ‘no maintenance-needed’ attitude also means you are less likely to try to sell a service agreement.

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