Q: Because of a tragic accident, I need to reinvent my career. I’ve always worked in construction. Although I’ve generally been the only woman on every crew, I’ve been respected because I’ve been able to handle the toughest assignments thrown at me.
I’m now disabled, have partial hearing loss and have recovered only limited function on the left side of my body. I’m able to get around using a cane, as long as I walk slowly and rest frequently. Although I wear a hearing aid, I still miss part of people say. Since I’ve always been highly competitive, my physical limitations have eroded my confidence.
No one wanted to hire me when I tried to land a job after my accident, even though I said I’d do anything. After three months of failure, I decided to strike out on my own using the hefty legal settlement I’d received from the accident. Since I really understand construction, I got business and contractor’s licenses, and set aside a room in my apartment for an office, and looked for clients interested in me as a remodeling contractor for their homes. I advertised on Craigslist and Nextdoor.com and lined up journeymen to work for me.
I thought it would be easy, that I could call or text prospective clients, or if they wanted, meet once with them and give them a proposal that wowed them. I hadn’t expected that clients would insist on meeting me or that once I landed the project, I’d have to interact with the clients daily. I’ve only secured one project and to land it I had to steeply underbid it. Prospective clients seem to think that because I walk slowly, I think slowly.
I frequently miss part of what potential clients say, particularly if they talk quickly or have high-register voices. How can I possibly convince them I’m their best choice if they think I don’t hear what they want or keep up with them while they walk me through their proposed project? Should be upfront about my hearing disability, explain what happened and ask that they give me a chance by writing what they want or letting me summarize back what I’ve heard? How do I handle it if I say what happened and they pity me?
Will I fail?
A: While not every small-business owner succeeds, I’m betting on you. You have grit and resiliency, traits needed by every business owner. You’re wise enough to realize you need to transition from plan A to plan B if A doesn’t produce results. If prospective clients learn you’ve worked your way through recovery, they’ll admire, not pity you.
Remodeling clients, like customers that buy from any “service” business, buy from people they trust and like. You seem like the kind of person customers can relate to — you’re real and you’ve got guts. To win customers, let who you are as a person show. If you let see you — a woman smart enough to ask questions to make sure she’s understood and strong enough to endure the physical and emotional pain it took to recover from an accident and “remade” herself, they’ll want to buy from you.
If prospective customers focus on your disability, use honesty to get things on track. Just say, "By the way, I have walking and hearing issues. Luckily I won’t figure out the best way to remodel your kitchen with my ears or legs. My brain is 100 percent and I’d like to use it to be the very best remodeling contractor you can hire.”
If you feel a client pities you, you’ve got options. You can end the consultation, turn down any offered assignments or consider sympathy the starting and not the ending point. Then, you can prove you don’t need pity. Your disabilities are part of what you are, not all you are.