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Don’t Be An Accidental Contractor

Dec. 26, 2017
The Accidental Contractor stumbles into the HVAC business devoid of business knowledge or a plan. He comes to believe his maverick way is best, and spends each day just getting by.

Many people choose a career in HVAC. Some do not. They just fall into the HVAC industry. The Accidental Contractor is one of the latter.

The Accidental Contractor had no idea what he would do following high school. He thought about college, but needed to work. A friend told him about an air conditioning company that was always looking for people, so he applied and was hired as an installation helper. His career in HVAC began . . . by accident.

Because he worked hard, showed up on time, stayed drug free, and was more or less presentable, the contractor trained him to perform maintenance. On one of his first maintenance calls, he stumbled across an old air conditioner that was low on charge.  He explained to the homeowner that adding refrigerant would be a temporary solution. The homeowner really needed the leak located. When the homeowner asked if it was worth it, given the age of the system, the Accidental Contractor shrugged and said it probably wasn’t. Thus, he sold his first change out . . . by accident.

As time went on, the Accidental Contractor moved from installations and maintenance to service. He became a service technician. Outside of work, he started dating a girl he met by accident and married her. He was generally happy, but money was tight. His wife pressed him to work for a different company that paid more. Under pressure, he made the change, but money was soon tight again. They never budgeted, never managed their money, and never saved, so they tended to spend everything they made. The Accidental Contractor tried to help by doing a few side jobs on the Q.T.  As time moved on, he was moving through life, by one accident after another.

The Accidental Contractor worked for a company that charged a lot. The company was flat rate, but he more or less knew the cost of material and he knew how much he was making. The boss, he thought, was making a killing.  The boss was always pushing him to offer people more options. He hated that. It was selling and he hated selling. One day, he came to work in a bad mood, following another fight with his wife about money. The boss pushed everyone to offer replacement options when the equipment was a decade old. He pushed back. Words were exchanged and the Accidental Contractor was now on his own. It happened . . . by accident.

Because he worked hard and was likable, the Accidental Contractor’s business grew and he hired a helper. There was no plan, other than a scramble to make the phone ring each day. Still, because people need heating and air conditioning, he found more than enough work. His helper grew into a tech and he put him in a truck, then hired a buddy who quit another company.  He had grown . . . by accident.

The Accidental Contractor had three trucks, but less money than when he was a single truck operator. As someone who hated to sell, he found more and more of his world revolved around selling. His growth slowed, then stopped. He stalled out. He didn’t know how to grow or how to become profitable. Everything that had happened in his life had been an accident and he wasn’t going to prosper by accident.

Unfortunately, there are lots of accidental contractors in the HVAC industry. The good news is there is a way out of the inertia of accidental contracting. It starts with education. It starts with learning the craft of business better than the craft of HVAC repair.  It includes reading trade magazines, attending national conferences, and joining local trade associations and national contractor alliances. It involves getting involved.  When a contractor gets involved with other contractors he learns from people who have been where he is and figured out a way to break through and break free.

Never has there been more resources and help for contractors in the HVAC industry than today.  Never has there been less of an excuse to run a contracting business by accident.

For information on HVAC’s largest contractor alliance, visit

About the Author

Matt Michel | Chief Executive Officer

Matt Michel was a co-founder and CEO of the Service Roundtable ( The Service Roundtable is an organization founded to help contractors improve their sales, marketing, operations, and profitability. The Service Nation Alliance is a part of this overall organization. Matt was inducted into the Contracting Business HVAC Hall of Fame in 2015. He is now an author and rancher.