Not long ago, I received a phone call, out of the blue, from a friend who owns a distributor for Hi-Fi and automation system brands. The reason for the call was even more unexpected. My friend was calling for what I would call a retroactive reference check on a dealer that I know, both personally and professionally.
I call it a reference check because the exact question my friend asked was, “What’s the deal with this guy; is he crazy or an idiot?”
Long story short: The dealer-who-shall-not-be-named oversold a customer on using an IR/RF handheld remote control as a controller for managing the lighting control (a different brand from the remote) he had installed in the house.
Controlled, I might add, via a cunning network of IR repeaters.
While not exactly wrong per se and perhaps working theoretically, in practice it didn’t work at all, which led the dealer to reach out to my friend’s tech support department (his company vends the remote control brand), tying up man-hours and resources trying to make this abomination of a system (and I use that word in the loosest sense of the word) work.
Which brings me to the central thesis of this editorial: Are you actually running an AV business or this just a hobby?
How can you tell the difference?
That’s easy: One makes you money, the other costs you money.
I’d like to assume that nobody likes losing money. Yes, technical hurdles can happen, but professionals do their best to minimize that likelihood.
AV pros are not amateur inventors, puttering about their garage workshops, messing about with barely-identifiable contraptions. AV pros are contractors who’ve been paid to deliver a finished product. So it’s essential to act like one.
That said, there are going to be times that you have to try something new. Technical advances and innovations mean that sometimes you are going to need to experiment and learn something new in order to grow. And trying new things means new problems to solve.
Really, if we all wanted to play it safe and never take a chance, we’d all still be installing RG-59 and volume control knobs.
So what can you do to be a problem solver, while still running and actual business?
First, and I sound like a broken record here: Standardize all of your processes.They way you design, document, install and troubleshoot should all follow standard processes. A consistent approach to both design and install will drastically cut down on time fooling around in the field trying to fix a problem.
Keep it simple. Minimize the number of vendors in a single job is bang on. The shortest distance between two points is a straight line, and the best system designs have the least connections that the system requires. More boxes and cables equal more opportunities for something in the connection chain to fail.
Don’t paint yourself into a corner. In situations where you’re going to go into new territory on a jobsite, bill for the actual time it takes you to deliver a finished project. This is something you have to reach an agreement with your client about, but you’re better off working that out in advance than you are if you make a wild guess as to what your labour bill will be, and you’re horribly, horribly wrong.
I can’t stress this enough: Innovate when you’re off the clock. The client’s house is not a good place to Beta test new ideas. Believe me, I speak from experience as I have wasted many hours and lots of dollars futzing about with problems that should have never happened in the first place.
If you want to experiment and try something that’s new, assign your best propeller-head technician (I know you have at least one) with the task of Beta testing new gear, and prioritize the completion of the tests the way you manage the rest of your work activities.