At the conclusion of the recent e-Contracting Summit, sponsored byThe Newsand ACCA, I took an informal e-mail poll of attendees and asked for their feedback, positive or negative. What they came back with set me to thinking, which can often beextremelydangerous.

In this case, though, I believe their criticisms provided some constructive and thought-provoking processes that we can all take back to our communities and discuss with fellow members contractors.

I don’t know about you, but I’m a geek for case histories. Stories about how other businesses tried and succeeded or tried and failed usually captivate me and make we want to read their whole story, instead of jumping to the end to learn the outcome. I feel that I can take back some good ideas by what someone else has experienced.

It was suggested that our afternoon panel discussion, which included manufacturers, wholesalers, and contractors talking about their web experiences, should have been limited to contractors only, since so many contractors in the audience were more focused on their experiences. I’d have to agree with that idea. It is human nature that we, as listeners, pay more attention to what a peer has to say rather than listen to advice from someone “outside of our circle.”

One of the contractors at the summit talked about how he’d like to see ideas tossed about at his ACCA chapter meetings. This idea came on the heels of a discussion involving “experimentation” and if contractors should “test drive” a new business idea for a few months to see if it works.

He said it would be beneficial for other contractors to hear about a new software program a contractor tried — whether it was a good business solution or whether it was a dud. If the software worked for one contractor, it may also work for another.

Sharing Ideas

I suggest taking that idea one step further. How about going back to your peers or chapter members and telling them about any new idea you may have come up with, whether it’s a new business management software program, a new tool or piece of test equipment, a communication device, or even a training program? Sharing your successes or failures with fellow contractors can only make for stronger and better business practices.

I’ll bet that most of us have a horror story or two to tell about a “traveling salesperson” who mesmerized us or our employees with the great features and benefits of a certain “business tool.” And in a moment of weakness, we may have bought the pitch and the product, only to find that it fell short of our expectations and left a hole in our operating budget.

I’d rather have a peer give me his sales pitch because I know I’d get the straight facts and the honest truth. I’m not implying that you can’t get these same things from “non-peers,” but the comfort level is higher if a similar business is experiencing the same things that I am. I don’t expect to walk into an ACCA chapter meeting and ask that all contractors in the audience heed my advice and hang on every suggestion. After all, I’ve never owned or worked at an hvacr contracting company. I think contractors get better advice from other contractors (although I can often toss in some thought-provoking ideas [Shameless Plug]).

For giving attendees suggestions on website development, I’d give very high marks to our contractor panelists: Ray Isaac, Tom Lawson, and Jeff Stewart, the last two being members of The News’ Contractor Consultant panel. Their ideas were well received and hopefully, attendees will take them back and share with other contractors in their communities.

Maybe it’s a good idea to refrain from throwing too many ideas from too many sources into one big blender. Stick to what you know and who you trust.

Besides, have you ever seen what comes out of a blender when too many different things are thrown in? Anybody who has ever pledged for a fraternity or “jock club” (like I did in high school) knows the answer to that.

Hall is business management editor. He can be reached at 248-244-6417; 248-362-0317 (fax);