Every business owner should own a white shirt!

I once had a client who owned an auto repair business. He was a very good mechanic and worked on cars all the time. You could often find several cars and trucks in his backyard waiting to be worked on. As his family grew, his wife wanted the vehicles out of the yard. His solution was to start a business and open a shop of his own. He called me because his banker was asking him for accurate financial statements.

He would work twelve hours a day under the hood of a car and then spend a half hour every other day trying to get caught up on his book work. I would visit him every week on a specific day, let’s say Tuesday, for ninety minutes. During our initial conversations—actually all the time we worked together—he would give me grief that I wore a white shirt. “As you know,” he would say, “anyone who wears a white shirt all the time definitely is not working.” He would wear the typical blue and gray striped mechanic’s shirt covered with grease and dirt stains.

Often times when I first came to work with him, he did nothing but shop work from the time I last left him to the time I arrived the next week. He spent little time on the current financials or planning for the future. I needed to get him engaged in working “on the business” verses always working “in the business”. A great book that stresses this concept is E-Myth Revisited by Michael Gerber.

So one day I bought him his own white shirt and suggested he wear it when we work together. The white shirt signified the time he was to work on the business. When I arrived he would take off the dirty blue and gray shirt and put on the white shirt for the entire ninety minutes we worked together. After we were done we would hang the white shirt against the back of his office door and put on the blue and gray shirt again. It was obvious to me he was much more comfortable in his blue/gray shirt than the white shirt.

We discussed how making a good business decision on bad financials hardly ever leads to positive results. He began to understand that analyzing his past performance and working on developing a business strategy was as important as working on the engines he loved so much. The white shirt was a symbol of him as “the business owner”. He needed to clear his mind and concentrate on what we were doing in his office when we were together. At the end of the day he really was a good business owner and is still in business today.