I was on the witness stand being questioned by a $260,000-per-year attorney.

“Mr. Koop, how much do you think your time is worth?”

I was an electrical, plumbing, and HVAC contractor so I replied, “My time is worth $125 per hour.” I happened to know this particular attorney was billing his client $125 per hour.

I said, “Do you think that is too much to charge for expertise?”

I tried hard to keep a straight face as he hesitated. It was quite funny, but guess what? He didn’t try to contest my value. He agreed that expertise, at least his and mine, should easily be worth $125 per hour.


So, what is your expertise worth? Expertise can only come from experience. You must work in or on something long enough to learn more than the average person. A man I greatly admire once said to me, “Rodney, there is something to be said about apprenticeship and paying your dues to the profession. Experience comes from time.”

For example, running a backhoe for a year will allow you to be good at running a backhoe. But, to be an excavation expert, one should have 10 years or more of experience. Why? Because, you can’t possibly come across enough problems and situations in a short period of time to learn all you need to know. I’m talking experiences that require you to dig down into your subconscious and pull from your personal reservoir.


An expert is a person who has solid solutions to tough problems, and that ability takes time to develop. To move forward, though, you must have passion for what you do. You have to want to know more than the other guy. If you want to be the best in your field, you are going to have to work harder. But not just work harder, you have to dedicate the time. I knew a guy years ago who was a backhoe operator, but because of the amount of years he had operated one, he was truly an expert. On the job site, he was operating the machinery, and his father was in the hole they were digging. Out of nowhere, one of the sides of the hole collapsed, covering his father entirely. He had only seconds to act. Without hesitation, he scooped out a portion of the dirt on one side to relieve pressure and allow his father to be uncovered. He was inches away from gas lines, electrical lines, and not to mention his father’s head. Because of his expertise and his confidence in working in his trade, he not only saved his dad’s life but he did no extra damage to the job site. I’m sure he would have if he had too, but he knew exactly what to do under extreme pressure because he was an expert.


Opportunity brings reward but opportunity will only continue to present itself with much persistence. This means it will not always be the one in pursuit. You must seek it out. Success does not come overnight nor without some difficulties and struggles. It is only in overcoming difficulties and struggles that we begin to fine tune our skills. In the HVAC industry, contractors have chosen this career path for many reasons, such as they grew up in the family business, they were guaranteed employment, or they discovered a love for finding solutions and solving problems. With our customers, confidence increases when we are considered to be the experts. When we are valued for our knowledge and time invested in our trade, it feels great. Where we struggle is when we walk out feeling like we just gave away our expertise for free. How do we change that? How do we fuse our actual worth with bottom-line results? First, we must make a decision to be the best we can be. Non-experts will rarely contest or devalue individuals who know their stuff. How do you become that person? How do you become an expert?

• Time — It’s the most important piece in building expertise. Not years, necessarily, but intentional time in study, preparation, and work.

• Passion — You must desperately desire to know more. This usually springs from solving problems on the job.

• Persistence — Once around the block isn’t enough. The more you do something, the more likely it becomes second nature, which builds your skill.

• Opportunity — This is your reward for your time, passion, and persistence. Don’t pass this up.

HVAC is a multi-layered industry. Surely, not one person can be the expert on everything. Choose a niche and give that your focus until years have passed and the knowledge you have acquired becomes second nature.

Half-hearted work never pays what true expertise has the potential to pay you. Be the expert and beat the other guy every time.

Publication date: 12/12/2016

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