Swimming Upstream

Starting out in the world of small business is difficult. When we’re just beginning our home inspection journey, it seems like the list of things to do is overwhelming. New business owners, especially ones that are trying to run a business for the first time, are faced with a seemingly endless number of options. Quite often, there are so many choices to be made that we succumb to paralysis by analysis, and end up doing nothing rather than face the possibility of making a wrong decision.

a new home inspector trying to make the right decision about his business

The risk of a wrong decision is preferable to the terror of indecision.


When we’re starting out in this new inspection venture, we’re often faced with mountains of uncertainty. Most of us that start in this arena are new to the world of business, and struggle with figuring out what it is we’re supposed to be doing. We’re not sure exactly what’s expected of us, and we wage an internal battle to decide how we’re supposed to go about building our empire.

All too often, we get caught up in trying to decide on the perfect, foolproof business plan. We jump through all kinds of mental hoops, trying to discover an original idea on how to approach the home inspection industry. We think we need to develop a plan that no one’s ever tried before. We labor under the erroneous belief that we need to figure out a way to eliminate the possibility that we’re going to have competition in our space.

We struggle trying to solve a problem that we’ve created in our mind; a problem that really doesn’t exist.

The fact is that we’re climbing aboard a train that’s already moving down the track. We’re jumping into a profession that’s well established. We’re not inventing a brand-new industry, something that’s never been thought of before, so it stands to reason that we’re going to be trying to find success against established competition. We’re not the originator of the home inspection business, so the fact is that we’re going to be recycling some of the same strategies that have already been used by other businesses in our field.

We’re not going to be, and we don’t have to be, the first one to the party.

Steve Jobs didn’t invent the cell phone or the personal computer. Nike didn’t invent shoes and Amazon didn’t invent retail shopping. All these industries existed long before these companies entered the marketplace. They didn’t worry about existing competition; they simply saw an opportunity to provide something that was missing from their respective industries and stepped in to fill a void.

The same thing can be said of small, local businesses (like our home inspection company).

The future success of our inspection business isn’t based entirely on the number of competitors we have to deal with. It’s not solely based on how many customers each of those companies is going to be sharing. It doesn’t simply amount to a numbers game.

In reality, it often comes down to serving the customers.

Which one of us is giving the customers what they want?

If we’re giving the client a convincing reason to choose us over our competitors, then we’re going to be successful.

Whether we’re streamlining the process to make it easier to do business with us, offering exactly what it is a client’s looking for, or making sure that our personal interactions are empathetic and memorable, the things we do to improve the customer experience will often prove to be the deciding factor in a client’s choice of an inspector.

We need to remember that we’re selling information and knowledge, and not a physical product that can easily be judged side by side against our competitor’s offering. This fact can make it difficult for potential home inspection clients to compare the merchandise. It’s not like buying a new phone, where they can compare camera megapixels and battery life between competing company’s products. Deciding on which home inspector to hire is a much more abstract choice for our clients.

And our customers are going to choose to do business with the company that makes them feel like they offer what it is they’re looking for. They’re going to pick the inspector that makes them feel like they’re smart for choosing them. They’re going to decide on the one that they think is the best (even though they likely have no earthly idea what it is their inspector is going to do for them).

Once we understand this fact and get past the erroneous idea that we need to do something totally original, the options for our business begin to expand. Once we realize that we’ve simply got to solve one problem, how to get our clients to understand that we’re the right choice for them, we can get started working toward that goal.

We simply need to figure out how to show up for our clients; how to lead with empathy and generosity; how to create a product that people want to choose over our competitors.

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And that’s when things start to get difficult. That’s when we start to doubt ourselves. That’s when we think that we’re not smart enough, strong enough, or capable enough to do something that our clients will think is worth choosing.

That’s when we start getting into our own head. That’s when our self-doubt creeps in. That’s when we begin to think that we’re not cut out for all this business stuff.

Instead of trying to stand out, instead of doing something worth choosing, we decide to stay on the safe path. We refuse to step out of our comfort zone. We choose the well-worn road instead of trying something new.

It’s just easier, we tell ourselves.

We don’t have to do anything differently.

We don’t have to put forth any extra effort.

We don’t have to worry about failure.

But the whole reason that Steve Jobs was successful was because he tried something that required extra effort. The cause of Nike’s triumph in the footwear industry was the fact that they went out on a limb to try something different, to create something unique for their customers. The fact that Amazon shunned the traditional brick and mortar retail model, and danced on the edge of failure, is the reason they’re now one of the world’s largest retailers.

a home inspector swimming upstream against the competition

It’s a scary proposition to move into a marketspace and try to do something different. It’s hard to offer the customer the same product, but to market it in a different way. It’s challenging to be the one who’s taking a different approach to developing client relationships.

It’s always easier to go with the flow.

Swimming upstream is definitely harder.

It takes more energy. It requires more initiative. It demands more resourcefulness.

And it’s scary.

But it’s the fear that lets you know that you’re on to something.

If it were easy, everybody would do it. Hard is what makes it great.

-Tom Hanks, A League of Their Own

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Thanks, Joe

pic of me, Joseph Cook Jr, home inspector