Running any business is challenging, but the uncertainties of contracting make it tougher than most. A limited supply of skilled labor, late payments, online reviews allowing unscrupulous customers to hold you hostage, ever-mounting regulations, rising costs, high customer expectations and more. The pressure hangs heavy like an impending storm while the terror of total business and financial risk are all part of the game. You know what it’s like to be worried not just about your own family, but the families your business supports as well. Even when you’re home, your thoughts are on the business. Your sense of self-worth might be wrapped up in how the business performs and it’s hard to remember that your worth is more than your current net worth.
If this feels familiar, you are not alone. Far from it. A few years ago, a team from the University of California at San Francisco, UC Berkeley, and Stanford University announced research findings that showed entrepreneurs were twice as likely as a control group to be depressed.
At some point, everyone struggles. Every successful contractor fought through the same moments of trial and uncertainty that seem so insurmountable. Before they became successful, most of the leaders in our industry failed — and failed more than once. To make matters worse, hardly anybody talks about it because talking about it is admitting a weakness none of us think we are supposed to have.
Here are 7 ways to stay mentally healthy as a contractor business owner:
Put Your Mental Health Above All Else: To run a successful business, you need to be at your best mentally, physically and emotionally. Mental health issues can have debilitating side effects on your business, not to mention your life: We don’t make good decisions when we’re burnt out or stressed out. Finding at least a small amount of time for yourself every day is an important part of self-care.
Healthy Eating: Eating right helps. Under stress, we eat the wrong foods and consume too much alcohol. Avoid lots of sugar. Avoid alcohol. Do not binge, and do not skip meals. Eat lean. Eat healthy. This will raise your serotonin levels, which helps regulate mood.
Exercising: When the darkness closes in, exercise is the last thing you want, but need the most. Exercise stimulates the release of endorphins, which is your body’s happy drug. Endorphins, which cause “runner’s high,” give you energy and make insurmountable problems solvable.
Gratitude: Make a list of the things you still have in your life, the things that were important before you went into business. Give thanks for them. Gratitude crowds out depression.
Getting Sufficient Sleep: Getting between 7-8 hours of sleep every night is crucial for your brain and body to reset, and will leave you feeling less on edge. Try to find a sleep routine that will promote a good night’s sleep, such as shutting off all your electronics as early as possible.
Be Social: It may feel like the last thing you want to do, but spending time with friends or family is incredibly important for your wellbeing. If you’re comfortable, share your struggles and feelings with those closest to you.
Don’t be afraid of therapy: If the stress of being an entrepreneur becomes overwhelming, get professional help from your family doctor, counselor, psychologist, or other mental help expert as soon as possible. You’ve hired accountants, lawyers, and other professionals for things you can’t tackle on your own, so what makes this any different? Think of it as the most important investment you could make.
Running a business can take its toll, and feelings of anxiousness, depression or stress are signs that you’re neglecting your mental health. Practicing self-care as an business owner is beneficial to your personal well-being and makes good business sense. Remember to follow these steps so that you can run a successful business without worrying about letting your happiness or well-being fall by the wayside.
FIELDBOSS helps you manage your business so that you can reduce your stress and increase your efficiency. Our focus is to help you get the most out of your labour resources and deliver the information you and your staff need to run your business.
Automation may have made elevator operators obsolete, but it’s quite the opposite for those who install and repair elevators. A new analysis of the 2018 federal labor statistics breaks down construction’s top earners by job category. Among construction trades, elevator mechanic tops the median wages list, with half earning over $78,990 a year, and the top 25% making at least $100,720.
Below is the breakdown for the highest-paid field employees by occupation.
Rotary drill operators
Construction and building inspector
Structural iron and steel worker
Sheet metal worker
Reinforcing iron and rebar worker
Elevator mechanics face many challenges
Elevators are complex and becoming even more so. Elevator technology is moving so fast that it’s near impossible for technicians to keep pace. “Smart elevators” use algorithms to shuttle passengers more efficiently, and some technologies adjust the heat and air conditioning of office floors based on where people land. Meanwhile, technicians must also deal with elevators that date back to the 1930s, which can be unpredictable. With multiple cars that sometimes dispatch seemingly at their own will, a mix of old and new technologies that make them stubborn to fix, and new flight speeds of 100 floors per minute, being an elevator technician is a tough job.
Along with the challenge of keeping up with the technology is the challenge of keeping pace with maintenance calls. As property owners try to cut costs, technicians are reporting a dangerous lack of maintenance. As well, with the lack of skilled technicians and the increasing number of elevators to be serviced, some technicians rush through hundreds of maintenance jobs per month, reportedly with time limits as quick as seven minutes per visit. Politicians are pushing new policies, but still, increasing numbers of citizens are either getting stuck inside elevators, are stuck with dangerous ones, or are stuck with the stairs.
Elevator maintenance is a high-paying job, yet there’s still a mismatch of supply and demand. More mechanics need to be trained, if only to ease the demand on those already working in the field. There is obviously a great need for qualified technicians and an abundance of opportunity for a well-paying career.
Business owners want their company to run smoothly, like a well-oiled machine. An organization that works efficiently is one of the primary goals of implementing new software, but often technology improvements don’t yield the intended results. Why is this?
Technology changes are not always done in conjunction with business process enhancements. Technology changes will not bring value if they do not work together with people and process changes, just like parts in a machine.
Where things can go wrong
When organizations move toward modernization and improvement, their main goals are usually to increase automation in an effort to improve efficiency, increase flexibility, cut costs, and keep up with ever-present, ever-changing market and customer demands.
Technology on its own is generally not the magic potion for all these challenges. It requires a concerted effort between technology, process and people. Without a focused effort on these key elements, projects generally fail to achieve the expected results.
“We just need software that is really easy for everyone to use.” When it comes to software, there is no such thing. The only way to make software simple to use is to take away features, preferences, and choices. Simple software is inflexible and weak. That’s the secret to making software easy to use. Most companies don’t follow any kind of established business model. The way they do things is a hybrid of the company they once worked for, their own ideas, and the ideas of the various employees that have worked there over the years. That means you need flexible software that offers a wide array of options, methods, and possibilities. Flexible software is going to take more time to learn than it would “simple” software that forces you to do things their way.
Process and Procedure Management
Process and Procedure Management is the hardest part and is the cornerstone to user adoption success. Organizational leaders who can explain, motivate and continually drive standardized processes will ensure staff buy in and project success. Organizations who back away will find that the staff may return to their old ways of working – negating any system replacement objectives.
Begin by getting buy-in from a small group of experienced employees in each user role—planners, dispatchers, technicians, and supervisors. Having been in field service for a while, they know the business and have experienced the pains more than anybody. They might even be more willing than newer employees to accept changes if they understand how the new technology will make their jobs easier. Make sure this group has good communication and networking skills. These influencers can become ‘power users’ who will be the software experts. They will come to know the product inside-out and be the go-to people for anyone in your company who has questions about it.
FIELDBOSS is a flexible and configurable platform that allows you to work the way you want to work, now and in the future. Our focus is to help you get the most out of your labour resources and deliver the information you and your staff need to run your business more efficiently, profitably, and with lower risk. If you are considering implementing field service management software, working with a knowledgeable experienced partner like FIELDBOSS can help ensure a successful transition and user adoption. Contact us for more information.
The US and China signed a phase-one trade agreement on January 15th to ease the ongoing trade war tensions, paving the way for another stage of trade negotiations. But it is only the start of negotiations to defuse a broader economic standoff between the two sides. The truce lowered rates on a portion of Chinese tariffs but left them on $360 billion worth of Chinese products. Under the phase-one deal, China agreed to purchase more American products and adjust the way its economy is managed. However, the agreement does not appear to affect the 25% tariffs applied to Chinese steel and aluminum early in the conflict.
At first, the tariffs were an instant bonanza for domestic steel producers. With much fanfare, some announced ambitious expansion plans. Today, the steel industry tells a different story. Steelmakers that once supported Trump’s steel tariffs have had a change of heart, and steel production has consecutively declined, resulting in several layoffs and cutbacks. A tariff is a tax, and if you tax an item the price of that item goes up, resulting in purchasers buying less of that item. And that’s
what’s happening to the domestic steel industry today. U.S. manufacturing, which along with the construction sector is the principle consumer of American steel, is currently in recession.
For the HVAC industry, the trade war’s effect depends on which part of the industry is being asked. However, three statements earn broad agreement:
Overall, the industry views the tariffs as bad for business and would like to see them disappear.
The added cost of the steel and aluminum tariffs most relevant to HVAC pricing is being passed on to the consumer.
American consumers, over the last several months, do not seem to be feeling this impact in a way that affects their purchasing decisions.
Air Conditioning Heating & Refrigeration Institute’s (AHRI) member survey indicated that 70 percent of its manufacturers have been affected by the pertinent tariffs. Customers are absorbing the brunt of these tariffs and contractors should mitigate damage to customer relations by communicating with customers about tariff realities, building quotes that reflect current realities, and considering force majeure clauses in contracts.
Luckily, the residential HVAC industry and their customers may have some inherent insulation from tariffs: infrequent nature of purchasing heating and/or air conditioning systems. Tariffs may make a new heating system 14 percent more expensive today than it was in 2017. That still might not affect the way a potential customer looks at pricing if they haven’t bought a unit since 2003. People in that situation know that the fix is relatively expensive but rare.
While that may help contractors on the residential side, commercial HVAC contractors and their clients have had no such luck. Commercial work often means more lead time and more of a delay between a successful bid and the work itself. That increases the chances for an interim price hike due to tariff-induced increases in the cost of steel and other materials. The resulting spike in project cost can make for a displeased customer and an uncomfortable conversation.
With no relief from steel or aluminum tariffs visible in the near future, this may be a good time for a quick review of force majeure, which includes events such as acts of God, strikes, war or acts of the government, as something contractors’ contracts should include. Force majeure commonly comes up in relation to natural disasters, but it can represent some protection if the clause is included in a contract before a given tariff. If the problem is an existing tariff, then the best solutions may be pricing the tariff in originally and/or creating windows of pricing with some shared burden in the case of unexpected costs.
China isn’t the only international trade and tariff hotspot with HVAC relevance these days. On December 19, 2019, the United States House of Representatives passed the USMCA with bipartisan support by a vote of 385–41. On January 16, 2020, the United States Senate passed the trade agreement by a vote of 89–10. The bill is now awaiting President Trump’s signature. Once Trump signs the USMCA implementation bill it will officially cancel NAFTA but not the 1989 Canada-US Free Trade Agreement, so in case parties fail to extend or renew it in 6 years, FTA would become the law. Once Donald Trump signs the USMCA implementation bill into law, NAFTA is officially cancelled but 1989’s Canada-US FTA would only be ‘suspended’
As details on the ‘Phase 1’ trade deal come rolling in, disappointment from the steel industry is apparent. Scott Paul, president of the Alliance for American Manufacturing, which includes manufacturers and the United Steelworkers union, said in a tweet, “All those ‘forgotten men and women’ in U.S. factories have, once again, been forgotten.” The administration has said it will address some of these changes in Phase 2 of the negotiations and is keeping tariffs in place in part to maintain leverage for the next round of talks. Mr. Trump said he would remove all tariffs if the two sides reach agreement on the next phase. The last chapter of the trade deal states that Washington and Beijing will agree on the timing of new negotiations — although no timeline is given. While fresh trade negotiations are expected to begin soon, Trump has said he would prefer to wait until after the November election to finalize another agreement.
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When it comes to growing marijuana, a controlled environment is pretty much everything. From heat and humidity to ventilation and air quality, the HVAC industry goes hand in hand with cannabis growing facilities. The cannabis industry shows potential for massive growth as an in-demand product becomes accessible to millions of consumers, but it also faces the uncertainty common to any growing segment. Yet despite facing many challenges, contractors remain optimistic about the marijuana grow industry.
Temperature and Humidity – When growing cannabis, you can’t underestimate the importance of an HVAC system. A good HVAC system regulates temperature, humidity and air quality. An HVAC system also regulates airflow, provides ventilation and can increase technology in grow rooms, depending on how sophisticated the system. An HVAC system for a cultivation facility isn’t like other HVAC systems. Cultivators have specific needs, and building and running a proper system catered to cannabis isn’t that simple. Too little or too much humidity will spoil the crop. They’re some of the most demanding environments to try to condition. HVAC contractors need to get the systems right because of the money at stake if it fails and the crops suffer.
Energy Consumption – Grow rooms are also extremely energy intensive. In addition to needing powerful HVAC systems to keep temperature and humidity within range, they also require an incredible amount of energy for specialized lighting. The lights are often on 24-hours a day.
Odor Management – With a high concentration of marijuana plants, grow rooms are notorious for producing an overwhelming aroma within a small space. One of the biggest municipal issues contractors face is odor control. Cannabis emits an extremely pungent smell, and this arises as the biggest objection among neighbors during the vetting of a proposal. HVAC contractors must assure their clients they can control the smell.
Cash Crops – All this equipment and service comes at a cost, but access to banking has been a major issue for the cannabis industry. As the cannabis industry grows, the shortage of financial services for cannabis companies has become more of a headache. It’s not as simple as walking into a bank and opening an account. At first, banks were unwilling to work with growers and sellers because while sales may have been legal in the state, the proceeds remained illegal at the federal level. More banks today serve the industry. But growers still have limited options. Those banks only have a select number of accounts and often charge high fees for those services.
The banking situation, however, does show signs of improvement. Congress is considering bills to expand bank access for the industry. The Treasury Department already eased restrictions for banks, allowing them to work with cannabis companies as long as they produce enhanced transaction reports. More growth funding today comes from traditional investors, such as private equity firms, that pay out of existing funds rather than cash from sales. However, until legislation like the SAFE Banking Act, which is currently in the House of Representatives, shifts the headwinds, cannabis companies will continue to have limited access to financial products most businesses take for granted.
Levels of Regulation – Where is marijuana legal in the U.S.? With every state but three legalizing marijuana in at least some form, the US is a little bit greener than a few years ago. Now there are numerous different state laws on the legalization of recreational marijuana. Legal states like California and Colorado offer widely available dispensaries, while in places like Alabama and Georgia, which are technically medical marijuana states, possession still may lead to felonies.
States making the transition to allowing recreational use, rather than just medical use, are still struggling with implementation. For example, Michigan decriminalized marijuana in 2018 and started allowing recreational sales on Dec. 1, but a majority of cities, including Detroit, have banned recreational dispensaries.Many expected a building boom when California’s recreational regulations went into place. That didn’t happen. Instead, shops opened without any cultivators licensed to supply them. This caused issues with HVAC contractors being paid, since the customers found themselves without cash flow.
Many operators in the cannabis business started out when the entire field was illegal. Contractors now need to insist on following every rule to the letter. There are still plenty of unlicensed operations. Contractors must check to make sure their clients have proper licensing from both the state and the local municipality. Most states maintain an accessible database, but verifying the local license often proves more challenging.
Challenges aside, once a grower finds a contractor they trust to take care of them, they are likely to be quite loyal. Growers will have very high-tech equipment and they will pay a premium to maintain it.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo has signed the long awaited Elevator Safety Act, which requires anyone who designs, builds, inspects, maintains and/or repairs elevators to be licensed by the state. The legislation also creates a nine member New York State Elevator Safety & Standards Advisory Board to help establish recommendations for elevator inspections, examinations to satisfy licensing requirements, and enforcement to ensure compliance and promote public safety. The DOB must also start maintaining a list of licensed mechanics, contractors and inspectors. The list will be made available on the agency’s website.
Gov. Cuomo approved the new bill reinforcing elevator safety in the aftermath of a gruesome Manhattan accident that killed a man. However, in a compromise to win Cuomo’s signature, lawmakers agreed to amend the bill and have state government delay implementation of the “Elevator Safety Act” from June until January 2022.
The measure will require the state Labor Department to license mechanics and others who oversee the maintenance of 70,000 elevators in the city buildings and require more extensive education and training, bringing the state in line with standards required in the rest of the U.S.
Under the new law, workers can obtain a license through a few different methods, including taking a written test on national, state, and local codes (with at least four years of experience) or completing a union apprenticeship/other approved training program.
A January 2019 report by The Real Deal showed how elevator-related injuries and fatalities in recent years underscored lapses in the enforcement of city safety standards and a lack of consistency in training of elevator contractors. Between 2010 and 2018, at least 22 people were killed in passenger elevators or shafts in the city, according to the Department of Buildings. Twelve of the fatalities were mechanics.
The law is backed by the International Union of Elevator Constructors (IUEC) Local 1, which has long sought licensing rules to toughen elevator safety in New York by setting minimum education and training standards for elevator mechanics.
“After a decade of hard work, New York is finally taking an important first step forward in elevator safety,” said IUEC Local 1 business manager Lenny Legotte..
But Legotte suggested more work needs to be done.
“As we work towards implementation, we remain committed to building on this progress and to one day making New York a national leader in elevator safety,” he said.
Other than New York, 36 states and the District of Columbia require elevator mechanics to be licensed.
FIELDBOSS is excited to announce the release of our new video library. With so much functionality within our software, it can sometimes be challenging to explain all the cool tools FIELDBOSS has to offer.
Our new video library offers an easy way to showcase the FIELDBOSS workflows and processes. Watch how we navigate a service call, a maintenance contract, a field request, and a quoted repair. We also highlight some of our unique features including dashboards, case types, and assigning cases.
As a single, integrated system, FIELDBOSS provides you with the tools you need to run your business more efficiently, and leverage the resources you already have.
Based on data from the U.S. Department of Labor Statistics, 30 people die and 17,000 are seriously hurt in incidents on elevators and escalators each year. Most recently, issues in Washington, Texas and North Carolina are calling into question methods that are used to regulate the industry and keep riders safe.
Although Washington state law requires every elevator and escalator in the state to be inspected annually, more than half of the states’ 18,000 conveyances were not inspected in 2018. What’s worse, thousands of conveyances had not been inspected for two or three years, and investigators found three that had not been inspected in more than 10 years. The backlog has been blamed on a building boom generating more elevators and escalators in need of annual inspections. The state has also had a hard time keeping its inspectors from taking better-paying jobs with construction firms.
Next year’s audit may show an improvement now that additional funding allows the state to pay its inspectors higher salaries, and legislators approved more money to hire conveyance inspections. Technology is also allowing inspectors to spend more time in the field, rather than back at the office filling out paperwork.
The situation in North Carolina is a similar one. CBS 17 found that thousands of elevators are overdue for those inspections. This is shocking given that the North Carolina Department of Labor has full-time employees who have the responsibility of inspecting the 27,000 elevators and escalators across the state once per year. While the department does aim to meet that goal every year, a recent analysis of the inspection data for those devices found that’s not happening. As of late September, about 14 percent of elevators were overdue for inspection.
The biggest problem the North Carolina Department of Labor has is recruiting and hiring qualified elevator inspectors. To become an inspector, you need five years’ experience in the trade and become certified if not already. An added problem is that the private sector typically pays better. Starting pay for inspectors is $53,083.
Elevator owners are required to have contracts to maintain them, and the state will respond if you call about an issue. But the inspectors are supposed to serve as the extra set of eyes to ensure safety for the public. The department is aiming to get better at recruiting and retaining employees and has hired six new inspectors this year to meet this goal.
The story is similar in Texas, where a nurse was nearly crushed to death in an elevator at a Fort Worth hospital. State investigators blamed the incident on worn-out brakes caused by lack of maintenance. Since 2004, nearly half of all elevator accidents in Texas happened in Dallas and Fort Worth. About one-third of those occurred at hospitals, which typically have elevators running day and night, particularly in urban areas.
A WFAA investigation found significant problems in the state’s program to ensure the safety of Texas’ 40,000 passenger elevators — including missed inspections, neglected elevators, shoddy record-keeping and failing oversight. A major problem is that the state has no inspectors on its payroll. Although the state does have a chief inspector and a deputy based in Austin, neither actually completes inspections. So who does? Texas issues licenses to approximately 150 independent contractors to inspect elevators across the state. Some have more training than others and are of varying quality and experience. But what is the minimum required training to become an elevator inspector in Texas? A $50 state fee and a three-day class, records show. Needless to say, this is not enough training, when issues with an elevator can quickly become life or death situations.
Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation enforces the annual inspection requirement. But analysis of the state’s own data shows 5,617 — or 14% — of all elevators are overdue for their annual inspection – some by years. There are a lot of building owners out there who are either unaware that they need to have their elevators inspected or that don’t care. WFAA also found numerous errors in the state’s elevator database, which is littered with elevators that no longer exist, as well as some inspectors faking inspections.
Lack of trained inspectors, insufficient funding, major inspection backlogs, and incorrect databases seem to be common themes amongst the three states- and likely in many others as well. Increased government funding, adequate training programs, increased inspector accountability, and better inspector vetting processes must all be put in place in order to see drastic improvements in elevator safety across the country.
According to a follow-up audit by state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli’s office, the city’s Department of Buildings has yet to re-examine 1,108 elevators more than a year after auditors found that they had been inspected by “ineffective” workers.
Elevators that fall under DOB’s authority must be inspected and tested annually by either DOB inspectors or private contractors. The city’s Housing Authority can perform inspections and tests in its buildings. Likewise, the MTA inspects and tests its elevators. DiNapoli’s June 2018 audit report found at least eight ineffective inspectors who did not work for the buildings department. Auditors recommended the agency go back and re-inspect the elevators they worked on.
But, according to the comptroller’s new report, the department only re-inspected 133 of 1,216 elevators touched by two faulty inspectors. There were 36 elevators handled by the other six inspectors, but the department only re-inspected 11 of them and provided support for just six of those inspections, according to the report.
“Failure to inspect elevators can be a lethal problem,” DiNapoli said in a statement. “Last year my auditors raised a red flag about poor elevator inspections across New York City, but shockingly, the problems persist. New York City’s Department of Buildings needs to immediately address the problems we found.”
The buildings department is in the process of re-inspecting the remaining devices, agency spokesperson Andrew Rudansky said. The department has “taken the Comptroller’s input seriously” and fired two contractors identified in the original audit, he said.