May 17, 2023

Back to the Basics

I recently constructed a small pressure-treated fence for a return customer of mine. They got a hold of me last fall, and I did not have time in my schedule to get it completed before the cold weather set in for the season. As the temperatures started rising, I knew it was time to get this project going. I worked with them to get design approval using sketchup, and got them scheduled.

To be forthright, at this point in my career this is not a typical job for me. For one, I do not do a ton of exterior work, and I spend most of my time doing more intricate interior carpentry or renovations. I worked very hard for a long time to get away from these types of projects thinking that my time was better spent on other tasks or projects. While that may be true for the most part, I learned a handful of lessons on this job, and I really enjoyed myself while doing so.

Return customers are the best customers. They understand how you operate, what you do, your rates, your process, and most importantly they trust you. This project reiterated that for me. Even on a small little build like this fence, a new customer can barrage you with questions, concerns, and details that make it more of a hassle than it is worth to do the job. Return customers understand how you price projects and are typically not shopping around. For this project we established a budget, and the final invoicing was done on a time/material basis. This affords me an opportunity to do my best work at my best price. I do not have to pad my numbers or eat any costs. 

Another thing that I learned during this job was that I am never too big or too small or too skilled to do anything. From a business standpoint you should always play your strong hand, but sometimes a change of pace can be good for you. I will be completely honest, building this small and relatively simple fence was probably the most fun I have had at work in about two years. I have been doing interior renovations and detailed millwork for so long, that I forgot how nice it is to head outside and bang out some exterior carpentry. The weather was great, I had minimal site setup/breakdown, and the pace of the job moved quickly. It also felt good to dig some holes, sweat a little,  and make some sawdust! You are working with rough framing lumber, so things have to be tight, but they do not have to be perfect. It was extremely enjoyable to lower my shoulders and be productive as hell. Plus, Polly came to work with me for a few days, and we got to hang outside together!

When I first started my business I would do projects like this all the time. The barrier to entry was low, and what I lacked in skill I could make up for with drive and focus. The customers were always thrilled, and it led to other work. I did not need any fancy tools, dust extractors, or complex woodworking joinery. Just a saw, a screw gun, a level, and some string lines. The results were and have always been extremely satisfying. Whether it was a deck, a pergola, or a fence, I have always enjoyed getting outside and doing some manual labor. The other aspect of these projects that I really enjoy is the lack of site protection and cleanup. Most of my other jobs require floor protection, dust walls, tape, paper, plastic, etc. These projects require a blower, a broom, a hose, and not much else. At the end of the day the van is parked right where I am working, I load my tools up, blow off some sawdust, hose down the area, and I am on my way. There is something to be said for simplicity and productivity.

When I sat down to script this blogpost, I was not sure of the direction I wanted to take. In fact, I am still not certain of that, but I do know one thing. I truly enjoyed myself for a few days. I had fun and felt productive. I started with nothing, and within three days I left with a beautiful project completed. I came in under budget, I was thrilled with the results, and the homeowner was extremely grateful. This is why I got into the trades. To create tangible products and experiences for myself and customers. To take pride in what I do, to feel productive, and to make some money. This job checked all of those boxes. I also enjoyed myself more than I had in a long time at work. The takeaway for me is to not forget my roots. They are humbling and extremely enjoyable to see how far I have come. While I may not become a full-time exterior contractor, maybe I will say yes to a few more outdoor projects in the future.

- Tyler Grace