By Jeffrey Yazwa
Being turned down, whether in your personal or professional life, never feels good. However, having the courage to open yourself up to (either) succeed or fail is a major step in becoming a better employee/person. In the construction industry, owners, general contractors and even subcontractors have to say the words, “no, thank you,” every day. Proposals from hundreds of subcontractors are rejected significantly more than they are awarded. It’s an occupational hazard, and one to which I’ve become accustomed.
One major lesson I learned from working in business development (under the umbrella of pre-construction), was accepting that being rejected isn’t so bad. In the beginning, I took it personally. I was shocked and offended, wondering why these companies would not give us a chance to prove to them that we are in the top 1%. According to my research and thorough vetting, our proposal should have eclipsed the competition. So, what gives? I would mope around like a zombie every time a client informed us that we did not win the award.
After some self-reflection, journaling and great conversations with our ownership, it was clear what I had to do. I needed to compartmentalize each bid result (no matter if it was a yes or a no) for what it truly was – a business decision. As a subcontractor, I had to remind myself that the general contractors have sometimes up to 40 subcontracting companies to award on any given project.
Subsequently, general contractors must answer to the architect and ultimately, the owner of the project (funding source). The math dictates several of us vying for the work will be ultimately told, “Thank you for your time in preparing your proposal. We have gone in another direction, but we hope you will continue to bid our work. We have a lot more to come in the near future.”
It’s Not Personal
We hear it all the time in the movies: “It’s nothing personal, man … it’s just business.”
As audience members sitting in that movie, it does not make us feel any better — it still stings.
However, as with all consistent failures, it stings a little less every time it happens, until one day when we are impervious to failure. We accept that it happens, and we soldier forward. We realize this is a marathon, not a sprint. Being understanding about rejection and learning from it is a sign of leadership and professionalism. You must make sure that you’re asking pertinent questions to discover where the shortcomings lie and then doing the legwork to improve them for the next potential contract/award.
Onward and Upward.
After you have asked your follow-up questions, and (hopefully) received some constructive criticism about why you didn’t win the award, use that information as fuel to prepare your next bid. As my mother used to tell me during my high school years, reeling from being dumped by another young lady, “Turn the page. Close the book. Open another one.” In business, we need to simply turn our focus on what is next. We move on and we look toward brighter futures.
Learn a Lesson
Failing becomes a way of life in my line of work. If I wasn’t learning from my failures, I would be doing myself and our company a great disservice. Knowing why you did not win the award is sometimes more important than winning the award. Receiving valuable feedback from your clients can sharpen your internal estimating tools for the next go-round. Eddie Basha, one of Arizona’s most philanthropic business owners, said to me, “You can’t think of it as a failure. Think of it as an opportunity to grow yourself.” I went home and wrote those words down. I still live by those words today.
When Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks, was trying to win over his prospective investors, he was so strapped for capital, he had to use white-out on his business plan to change his number of potential stores from 100 to 75. He had to do this because he was rejected 217 different times, where the investors were telling him he was aiming too high. Needless to say, those investors were wrong. Today, Starbucks serves premium brand coffee in over 75 countries and is opening over one store per day in China, where Schultz was told he would never succeed. What if Howard Schultz had packed it in after 100 rejections? He and his team stayed the course, believed in themselves and their product, and now they are in the top 1% of successful businesses in the world. Failing does not make us failures. It prepares us for the next opportunity.
Jeffrey Yazwa is the pre-construction director for Arizona Glass Specialists | Arizona Composite Metals in Chandler, Ariz.