How to Make Money with a Mess


FRIENDS | “The One with the Dirty Girl”

I feel like I’ve been handed something I thought would take years to accomplish. Part of me is irritated that I didn’t pursue a management position years ago when it became clear that I was built for leadership. But I can’t throw away the last 8 years of work. I learned a lot about human nature. That has to be worth something.

I also learned that corporate life is for peons and cutthroats. If you’re not interested in being one of those, for the love of God, stick to a small office!

Today is my first day off in my new position. And I feel alive. The challenge I’m faced with is an ultimate puzzle. I’ve been handed 25 years of files with only 15 years of financial records, spread across 4 QuickBooks files, 1 incomplete Excel spreadsheet, 3 filing cabinets, and multiple file folders strewn about the office in boxes and on desks, and asked to find repeat business. The thought is that after 25 years, someone is going to need roof maintenance.

My goal this week was to introduce myself by sending letters to 5 past customers, and give them a heads-up that I would be calling next week to setup an appointment to inspect their roofs. I send 6 letters yesterday. It probably sounds small, but I am so proud of myself! After 6 days, I pinpointed the biggest fish I could find in all that data, and I’m going to start reeling them in next week. One of them could be an 80 thousand dollar sale!

Not only that, but I’m going to build a custom customer relationship management database in Access. This was the project I originally started for the company back in April, but had to put on the back burner because my life didn’t give me enough consecutive hours to work on a relational database. (If you’ve ever worked with relational databases, you probably can relate to the assertion that focus is crucial; otherwise, you end up with a lot of data that doesn’t rightly talk to each other.)

Some people might wonder why I didn’t just send letters to everyone I could and just start calling them en masse. Here’s my thought process:

1. If I’m going to take care of a customer by myself, it needs to pay off.

I don’t want to waste time with small potatoes. If I had a team of customer service reps that could coddle small sales, I would go after every dollar I could. As it is, I have to make the most of every letter, phone call, and email.

Here’s how I did it: I exported the invoice transactions from each QuickBooks file into an Excel spreadsheet, combined them all into one, filtered it by services to exclude sales where we only sold product, and summed all transactions before August 2011. (The minimum warranty period is 5 years, but some are good for as long as 20 years.) I sorted those totals in order of highest to lowest and got feedback from both the past and current owners for all customers whose total was 10 thousand dollars or more. And wham! Focus achieved. The result was a list of about 60 customers I’ve now adopted as my own.

2. If my customers don’t believe I know who they are, they’re not going to believe I know what they need.

Here’s another reason I chose to start small: I need to understand my customers, their properties, and their needs if I’m going to have a prayer of closing the sale. There’s no way I can effectively learn about all of them all at once; not with the state the records are in. If everything were nicely organized and I could count on having everything I need at my fingertips, that would be another story.As it is, I have to gather all the intel I can about each one as I go. That includes reading through files with handwritten notes about past interactions, proposals, contracts, warranties, invoices, and talking to the people in the office who had past experience with them.

3. Slow and steady wins the race.

My hope is that I will be able to gain momentum as I go. This week it’s 6 customers. Maybe next week it will be 10 more, but I’m going to build slowly. I have some clearly defined work to do: Organize the files and the data, understand the history, contact the customer, make the sale. I could go crazy and pour over records and make a zillion calls, but there’s no way I could sustain that pace. My level of service would suffer, and I can’t afford to give my customers substandard attention.

“He told me about your apartment, and I couldn’t sleep thinking about it.”

I’m truly excited about this next step in my professional life. It’s the perfect challenge: I have a starting point, I have a goal, I have the skills to accomplish it, I have the tools to make it happen, and best of all – I have the owner’s full support!


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