That’s exactly what the guy said when I picked up the phone. I intelligently said “huh?”. He explained that he had called the gas company (who has a policy of not referring contractors) and they referred me, as no other plumber was doing water heater maintenance. Then he called the water company… same story. Finally he called his plumber who also told him to call me. No doubt he wondered how much I’d spent to pay off everybody :~)
I did nothing but work diligently to understand exactly how water heaters do and don’t work and then used that know-how to help clients. I sought out the most knowledgeable hot water people in North America and shared information. Early in my career, I was a generalist… trying to do everything that might ever need doing around a home. That’s a great way to know only a little about a lot of topics, and spend a lot of unpaid time researching info and hunting for parts. A truck is not made big enough that can carry ALL the stuff, (tools and parts) you’ll need if you try to do it all. It’s good and useful to have the generalist’s understanding of things, but understanding a topic in depth makes you the go to person in that field. And a good reputation means you don’t need to worry about whether or not the phone will ring.
Long ago in my area, the plumbers tried to make themselves look good by dissing other plumbers. It’s nothing unusual, but it is unfortunate as it just makes the entire group look untrustworthy. As I was transitioning from generalist to hot water guy, I started asking around, learning what each other plumber liked to do best. When I got calls about doing plumbing other than hot water, I began to refer the work to the plumber who really liked that sort of work. A couple of interesting things happened. I started getting hot water referrals back, and slowly, the plumbers stopped bad-mouthing other plumbers. The latter might just be co-incidence, but it made the local world of plumbing much nicer! The bar was raised.
You may remember a little book called “50 Simple Things You Can do to Save the Earth” (now updated and in print!) by John Javna. My work on hot water was one of the 50 things. That caused thousands of letters to arrive in my mailbox from all over the world. School teachers particularly seemed to use it as a class outline. I needed to buy lots of stamps as this was before the internet took hold, and I got a lot of questions to answer. This became the drive for writing “The Water Heater Workbook” as I got asked the same questions over and over again and began to understand people couldn’t readily find good, truthful answers.
Being considered an expert comes with responsibility. It means you cannot stop learning… you need to stay informed so that you give the best answers possible to those who choose to trust you. As long as I’m putting out thoughts on business and philosophy, there is one more thing I can say with certainty, though I still don’t really understand how it works. If you take care of others, you will be taken care of. Once, I sat down and did the math… In a period of ten years, I had a total of just under two weeks of slow work. That’s pretty good! Additionally, when trouble comes to visit, invariably, good arrives to help me deal with the trouble. Every single time. This always being the case, I’ve learned that worry has no place to stand and bother me from. Worry must find me frustrating!
My point in writing this is not to toot any horns, but rather to share what has worked for me and might work for you, regardless of your field.
Looking back over my working life of 50+ years, it seems clear that self sufficiency has always been the best way for me to be useful. Now, mix in a strong interest in water in its many forms and the wide world of animals and you'll know what's important to me.