Comfort zone.

We all have one; we all sell them for a living. In our business, comfort is the key to success. If your customers are happy with the comfort zone they live in, then you’ve done your job.

If you are happy with the comfort zone your business is in, then you aren’t doing your job.

Let me explain.

We all have our little comfort zone that we carry around with us. Sometimes the zone is mobile and other times it is stationary. It is surrounded by an invisible force field and we rarely let anyone or anything past that force field. If we did, it would make us “uncomfortable.”

The same is true with your business. Your comfort zone is how you conduct yourself in your everyday operations. You might get in before everyone else, put on a pot of coffee, check your e-mail, check the board to see what jobs are going out, etc. Your habits dictate your comfort zone.

But what if someone threw a monkey wrench into your routine? I think most contractors would step back, assess, and readjust. Call me a “homer,” but I have faith in our trade and the contractors who make tough business decisions each day.

And then there are those who may have a little trouble adapting to the monkey wrench. To them, change is sometimes painful and uneasy. But change is inevitable. Volumes of books and hours of speeches are geared toward steering businesspeople into making decisions that are uncomfortable, yet necessary.

They are willing to accept change but it often involves “hearing things they don’t want to hear.”

I like to use a popular cliché when talking about change and how to adapt to it. It’s called “thinking outside the box.”

Take a look at the graphic on this page. Here is a series of 9 dots placed in a perfect square. Now take out a pencil and connect all of the dots, using only 4 lines and without lifting your pencil off the page. Give it a try. I’ll wait.

If you still haven’t got it, look for the solution on page 5.

You’ll see that I had to extend two of the lines outside of the square in order to connect all dots in one continuous motion.

Did I cheat? Heck no — I thought outside of the box.

The standard of doing business in the hvac trade today requires changes, or “outside of the box” thinking. If you see the changes and can adapt to them, you can continue to compete and succeed. However, if you think inside the square and continue with business as usual, your competitors — those who use the Internet, wireless communications, modern marketing tools, advanced training, innovative sales techniques, etc. — will leave you in the dust.

We lament about how the lack of field personnel and adequate training are hurting our chances to attract and retain customers. So maybe it’s time to think outside the box and find new ways to make our trade attractive to workers and, consequently, to customers.

Think outside the box. If you need some ideas, drop me a line. Better yet, invite me to one of your meetings. I’ll be happy to suggest changes, even if it’s not what you want to hear. Hall is business management editor. He can be reached at 248-244-6417; 248-362-0317 (fax); (e-mail).