The Grass Isn’t Always Greener

by Richard Shank | April 2008

The following story is based upon a number of situations. Names, locations, and other facts have been changed to illustrate and simplify the case. As such, any resulting similarity to any one business or person is coincidental.

The phone conversation began with a typical question. “I’m having a problem and I’d like to talk to someone about it.” Well, if I were in Tom’s shoes, I’d probably say it the same way. You really wouldn’t expect him to begin by saying the bank is foreclosing on his house, and his business vendors have all placed him on a C.O.D. status. He doesn’t have enough cash to buy supplies to do his work, or cover payroll tomorrow, and neither does he have enough cash in his checking account to cover the batch of checks he mailed yesterday.

Tom Mast was raised in an Ohio community with traditional Mennonite values. He believed that if you worked hard, God would reward you with enough money to support your family, and have money leftover each month to help others. Tom started working for a local plumber when he left school at age 16. Ten years later, he was earning enough money for his family necessities, but he needed to do some scratching to make his pay check reach each week.

It wasn’t unusual for Tom to see invoices his employer received from the supply house. He observed that his boss usually made more profit on the sale of plumbing fixtures from just one house job, than Tom did sweating 45 hours to install them. He was certain being in business was the way to make money.

While discussing the matter with his wife Teresa, she said, “Why don’t we start our own plumbing business?” Tom knew he was a good craftsman. His boss rarely needed to explain how to do a job. After thinking about it for several months, he asked his Uncle Fred if he would consider giving him a $50,000 loan. Uncle Fred liked Tom and his hardworking ways, so he agreed. Although Tom didn’t have any business management or administrative experience, those omissions didn’t bother him. He was certain he could handle it. He’d learn as he went along. So with the loan, Tom was ‘ready to roll.’ That was two years ago. The $50,000 has long since disappeared, but neither Tom nor Teresa has any idea where it has gone. You see, they didn’t know about proper record keeping. But they clearly knew they were in much worse financial condition than two years ago. Tom was working late almost every evening, and most Saturdays. Teresa complained that he didn’t even know his own children. Although Tom enjoyed plumbing work, it was a different story working with employees and customers, and doing the ‘paperwork.’ It was a nightmare he couldn’t handle. Worse, he had no idea where to turn next, or what to do about it.

Fortunately Tom heard about the help which was available from Anabaptist Financial Advising. With the assistance of a Christian businessman to guide him, Tom started the long road up from the bottom. Tom’s basic problem was he didn’t know how to run a business before he began. He didn’t understand how to properly price jobs, figure his true cost of operating, or decipher a Financial Statement or Balance Sheet. Neither did he have a solid business plan. He didn’t understand budgeting, cash flow requirements, nor did he have a ‘road map’ to guide him in reaching his goal. In fact, Tom’s only goal was to get a little more income each month. He now realizes he should have asked for advice about ‘setting up’ the business properly before he started.

We receive calls from several ‘Toms’ each month. If you are interested in learning ‘tried and true’ business principles from a Biblical viewpoint, or assistance in implementing them, give us a call. We may be able to help you as we helped Tom.