Life and business lessons from the chimney sweeper

If you’re looking for some useful lessons in business and in life, you could learn a few things from my chimney sweeper.

First, let me tell you a bit about our chimney issue and how we winded up finding our guy.

We live in a 100+-year-old old house with a chimney that looks like it could be toppled over by a feather. After more than a few people warned us that we could die while grilling, we decided to have a chimney sweeper come to take a look.

The first chimney sweeper simply looked at the outside chimney and concluded steam was unable to get out of the top causing it to expand and crack. Downstairs in our basement at the base of the chimney, we were told that debris from tile inside the chimney had piled up causing a blockage and that we likely needed to reline the inside of the chimney. Also, the current water and heater pipes had to be switched to be in code with the township. After roughly ten minutes, and merely eyeballing the issue, we had a quote that didn’t even include actually fixing the chimney itself.

Total Cost — $8000.

The second chimney sweeper also simply scanned our chimney and arrived at the same conclusion. However, to win, he was going to merely undercut the competition and charge us half the amount. Why was he able to cut those costs in half — we’ll let you know when we figure that out.

Total cost $4,000.

Our third and final chimney sweeper came in and had a completely different approach to the issue.

Like the first two sweepers, a quick scan outside revealed that steam was unable to get out of the top and caused our cracks. He explained the obstruction was at the base, and this also caused carbon monoxide to release from our water heater. He described the danger and that regardless of cost, he couldn’t leave until he fixed it.

Unlike the other two, he took out his tools, got inside the base of the chimney and swept away the dirt causing the blockage. After sweeping away the dirt, he was able to look more closely at the chimney and see that our lining was fine!

Finally, he was also able to see that the arrangement of our water and gas heater line were correct inside the chimney.

Total cost — $250

I guess you know which chimney sweeper we chose. Beyond the apparent value in savings, #3’s approach to the job showed that he took great care in his work and provided some valuable lessons that we all can apply to our own work and life.

Establish trust

Simply put, trust forms the basis of every relationship.

It’s been said that the best salespeople only spend a small percentage of their time selling. They spend most of their time understanding your challenges, offering value and building relationships.

#3 took the time to answer all of our questions, showed patience and stressed that our safety was more important than getting the job. He was going to fix the carbon monoxide issue regardless of getting paid.

At that stage, we would have likely hired him regardless of cost. When you show your care, your customers can feel it, and they are more likely to trust your guidance and decisions.

Have purpose

The purpose is not built or found, working with a sense of purpose day-in and day-out is an act of will that takes thoughtfulness and practice.

While we all can’t have jobs that make life or death decisions, and we might not want to, we each do serve someone in what we do.

Through his enthusiasm and care, our chosen sweeper clearly understood that his work served others. His positive energy led us to trust him more and to a better overall experience. We could tell in five minutes that we liked #3 and that we would recommend him to others and that was before he even gave us a quote. And look how that turned out.

Purpose isn’t magic — it’s something we must consciously pursue and create. With the right approach, almost any job can be meaningful.

Take pride

The more good work you do, the better your reputation will be.

Going the extra mile and taking pride in your work will always lead to a better experience.

Had #3 not actually cleaned out the chimney, he may have arrived at the same conclusion as the first two. By taking pride in his work and doing what’s right, he determined a simple sweep was all we needed and this saved us a great deal of money.

And while it might have cost the sweeper money on this job, his willingness to go the extra mile means we’ll recommend him to anyone looking for chimney work and he’ll make that money back tenfold.

Think long-term

People who were most likely to succeed were those that took their long-term future into consideration when making decisions and acting in the present.

#3 clearly takes a long-term approach to his business. He wasn’t out to dupe us and get a short-term win because he understood the value of his reputation and that protecting that will ultimately reap more reward for him.

Think long-term — what choices are will you make day to day that will set you up for long-term success, and what decisions should you avoid that will only hurt you down the line.

Do the right thing

We don’t become who we want to be because we do the right thing and the wrong thing. Whatever success looks like for you, doing the right thing will get you there faster.

#3 didn’t try to deceive us, didn’t try to heap on unnecessary costs, he just did the right thing. He was smart enough to recognize that being honest, trustworthy, hard-working would pay off in the long run.

Wouldn’t we all have the same upside if we approached life and work the same way?

I hope that the story of our broken chimney provided you some useful lessons. Oh, and if you have chimney issues of your own and live in New Jersey … I know a guy.

This article first appeared on Medium.