When I started in the pool industry back in 1842, all we had were shovels and gumption. We had to make our own trowels from scavenged materials. Our labor force was provided through the government-run institute for the criminally insane work-release rehabilitation program. Okay, maybe I am not remembering entirely accurately, it was 150 years ago after all, but as I recall the industry was tough back then just like it's tough now.
Every part of the swimming pool industry is designed to chew up and spit out weaker-willed people. Only the strong survive around here, but truth be told, I would probably do things a little differently if I had to do it all over again. So what would I do differently? I am so glad you asked, voice- inside-my-head. I guess if I started again today, I'd follow these seven simple rules for a long and happy career in the pool business.
PROTECT YOUR BODY
For the love of all that is holy, please protect your body. This would be the first piece of advice I would cram down my own cakehole if I could go back in time and advise my younger self (or any young pool worker). Unfortunately, warnings of eventual vulnerability fall on deaf ears of young people the world over since it is widely known that young people are invincible.
I wish someone would have grabbed me by the shoulders and shook me and explained what heavy lifting, a trades job and old age leads to. My understanding of "too heavy" was different when I was young. At 20, I would pick up and carry a 27 mil (might have been 30 back then) 20-by-40-foot liner on my shoulder from the truck to the backyard. Why would I do this when I could get someone to help carry it, or you know, use a frigging dolly or something? The answer is that I was young and stupid and too foolish to understand the frailty of the human condition. So let me drop some knowledge on you. In every generation throughout human history, prior to the ones we know personally, every old person lived and died with a sore back. As it turns out, we are poorly designed for upright manual labor.
Something is "too heavy" not because you cannot lift it, it is too heavy because you have a finite amount of lifting that you will get to do in your life before everything simply wears out, and you move awkwardly and with pain for the rest of your days.
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When you choose to work a manual labor job, you are guaranteed to experience body pains later in life. Your joints will all wear out before your desire to earn money does. Why in the WORLD would you pick up something heavy, using up some of your finite "pain free" later life experience, for a one-time payment of a few dollars. It
is absolutely insane to do this, and you need to stop immediately. Everything in the pool industry is oversized, awkward and extra heavy. Resolve yourself at a young age to value your meat-vehicle and take absolutely every precaution you can to protect yourself against long-term damage to your body.
STOP TRYING TO MAKE EVERYONE HAPPY
This one is a little counterintuitive to some people, especially the overachievers out there who try to make everyone happy all of the time. It's just not going to happen so you might as well stop trying now.
When you start in the pool business, you soon learn there are a ton of completely crazy people who own swimming pools. Pools are extremely expensive and more technically complex than most people understand them to be, and as a result, people become overly protective about their pools.
Even that is an understatement. It is well within the normal boundaries of your day as a pool worker to encounter YouTube-quality public freakouts from pool owners who are frustrated or overwhelmed with their pools. I definitely understand the desire to help people and leave customers satisfied, but some people are looking for someone to vent to (or about) more than they are looking for an actual solution to their problem. Even more commonly, they are being presented with a (the) solution, but they are just unwilling or unable to accept the reality of the situation.
I wish that I had spent less time trying to make crazy pool owners happy (it never worked) and instead devoted that time to really over-delivering to the people who actually appreciated what I was trying to do for them. Why waste your time with people who do not value you or your time, even when you go above and beyond for them? There are more than enough homeowners and pool owners out there to "trim the fat" from your client portfolio, so to speak, and when you are not seeing eye-to-eye with a potential client, you are far better off to walk away. Instead, devote that time to finding a client that you can help, and one that is more willing to accept your advice and appreciate the professional help/services that you are offering.
BUILD SOME POOLS
When I started in the pool industry, I worked on vinyl-liner swimming pools as a service and renovation tech. I was a decade into this work before I moved areas and started with a concrete pool construction company. Of course, after 10 years of working on pools as a tech, I already had a very strong understanding of pools in general, the different kinds, how they tend to break, filtration systems and other fundamental aspects. I had not, however, built a pool yet.
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There is something about seeing the chronological process from beginning to end, from the first day arriving at a flat, grassy field to the last day leaving a full, heated and functioning swimming pool, which really helped me to understand the concept better as a whole. The skills and understanding I gained from building concrete pools became very valuable later in life.
After years of working in swimming pool maintenance or service, many pool workers look to graduate up to building their own pools. The problem with this logic is that it's just really hard to start building your own if you haven't done it before. Pool construction is the kind of thing that you should do for years as your daily job, working for someone else, if you want to build pools under your own company banner one day.
And it's best to do it while you're young. As an older worker, it will be harder to gain hands-on experience with many of the skills needed like pool framing, concrete finishing, plastering, tile setting...why would any local company want to teach you their processes just to have you start up a competing company next season?
People who are looking to make a career in the pool industry would do well to spend some time building pools early on, as this will open a lot of doors. It is much easier to work construction and transition to service than it is the other way around. This will ensure you have the maximum skill, versatility and options later in your career.
BUILD A LIST OF CONTACTS
Along with your skills, you should definitely consider investing in your industry contacts. Over your swimming pool career, you will meet many people like concrete artisans, plumbing wizards, water chemistry scientists and the owners of successful companies. If I had to start again tomorrow, I would start to cultivate my contact list from day one.
Having access to knowledge is definitely power in the pool industry, and unfortunately, knowledge can be pretty hard to come by sometimes. Having the name and number of someone you can reach out to for advice, especially on tricky or technically challenging issues, can be a literal lifesaver as you sit there struggling to remember the name of that one fellow you met at a trade show a few years back...
When you meet a new contact within the pool industry, take a minute to write down a few notes about the meeting, what was said, any personal or professional information that the person shared with you. Most of all, get multiple forms of contact info like email and phone number and use that contact information every now and again to reach out. Just reaching out periodically to say hello, ask how things are going, can go a very long way towards getting help when you need it. If you have regular contact with someone, it is far more likely that they will go out of their way to help you should the occasion ever arise.
Along these lines, I would also recommend being helpful to others in general within the pool industry. It is a very small community of people, and there are more than enough pools for us all to share without being petty.
TAKE CARE OF YOUR TOOLS
In the pool industry we work in rain and all sorts of inclement weather, and we work with and around chlorine and chlorinated water, so tools can take an absolute beating if you are not careful. It sure can be hard to find the time and energy after a 16-hour day of physical labor to clean and dry all of your tools, but you really should get in the habit of doing this. Over a lifetime of working, the difference in cost between someone who makes tools last and someone who is careless with tools is along the lines of a new house or a supercar. Tools are expensive, and you need a lot of them, and if you replace them all every few years because they are rusted shut, broken or lost, then you are just throwing money away.
If you want to get better at taking care of your tools, then go talk to an automobile mechanic. They typically need to purchase many tens of thousands of dollars in tools just to start an apprenticeship, so most mechanics learn on day one the importance of taking care of tools and not losing them, which means putting them back in the same place every time.
Sure, if you took a firehose of chlorinated water and sprayed down the inside of their shop every day, that might level the playing field a little in terms of the difficulty maintaining tools, but the point stands. Oil your tools regularly, keep them dry and organized so you can find them when you need them and notice readily when they are missing. This applies to all tools as well, including the more expensive stuff like cordless drills, jackhammers and even the service vehicles that you operate. Schedule time daily for maintenance of tools and equipment. This is not just extra time that you have to squeeze out of your day, but a regular activity that is built into your regular schedule.
START LEARNING EARLIER
You cannot appreciate how little you know about a subject until you start to learn about that subject. And the scope of the pool industry is vast.
So you will find a great many swimming pool industry workers who, despite their years of experience, have very narrow fields of knowledge about the industry as a whole. For example, it is very common to have a worker who
has been installing pool liners for over 10 years but does not know the first thing about pumps, filters, heaters, salt water, automation or water chemistry. Or a pool maintenance technician with 25 years of experience that does not know the first thing about how to build a pool.
It is not an egregious thing to have a specialized field of experience, especially in an industry as deep as the pool industry (pun intended), but if you are going to spend your life working on something, then why not try to learn as much about it as possible? In reality, you could spend your entire life studying pools and working on pools and still have entire areas of the industry that are still a little foggy to you.
Best to get started early. Fortunately, education materials today are widely available in comparison to the early days when there were simply no resource materials available at all. Now you can learn any aspect of the pool industry through online or paid education courses.
COVER YOUR BACK END
Cover your ass, definitely, but what I am talking about here is the back end of your business. At the front end are the customer interactions and the physical goods and services that you provide with your business, whereas the back end is all the behind-the-scenes stuff that tends to stay on the perpetual back burner for many small business owners. These are things like monthly and annual accounting, taxes, etc. — the numbers.
You need to know your costs to do business, so stay on top of your purchasing accounts and request new pricing discounts every year, audit your jobs to determine your most profitable work, and keep and organize your receipts to ensure you are able to accurately write off your business expenses. When you're new in business, all of this stuff will take a back seat to actually getting customers and doing billable work, but it really should not.
You say you have no time for building the back end of your business because you have to go get new clients, but that is the same reason developing your business structure is worth the time. In addition to the work needed to keep your business operating, you should devote "back end" time to developing your social profiles for yourself and your business. There is no way to fast track this process. A strong social following grows slowly over time so you need to start this early on. With only a small effort every day or every week, you can have a thriving online brand that attracts more leads and new customers than you could ever keep up with.
Making time to develop the long-term legs that your business will stand on is important for success. If you are "just an employee," then this advice will simply put you in good favor with the owner or management. It is hard to run a business, and showing that you understand the bigger picture by self-managing and reporting things like expense receipts promptly can go a long way towards singling you out for future advancement.
I hope that you find this information helpful to your career in the swimming pool industry. It is a great industry to work in; however, it requires more personal accountability and responsibility than most jobs, and you will need to advocate for your own safety and advancement within the industry more than other careers. Bad advice and poor technical methods are very easy to come by, so be sure to keep your eyes open for opportunities to improve the processes that you use.