How To Make Failure Pay You Back

Making failure pay off.
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The Wisdom of Failure

Tom Watson, CEO of IBM, is credited with saying, “If you want to succeed faster, double your rate of failure.”

What you may not know about this legendary CEO is that Tom Watson as a young man in 1892 was a traveling salesman who peddled pianos and organs from farm to farm. He earned $10 bucks a week, but got mad and left the company when he realized he could have earned $70 a week if he had been working on commission instead of salary.

He moved to Buffalo and took a job selling sewing machines before moving on to selling shares of the Buffalo Building and Loan Company for a no-good, scumbag, shark named C.B. Barron.

When Barron disappeared with the money and Watson’s commissions, he opened a butcher shop in Buffalo where he owned an NCR cash register.

It wasn’t long before the butcher shop failed too, but he still owed installment payments on his NCR cash register. Watson visited NCR to try and transfer the payments to the new owner of the butcher shop. That’s when he met the local manager of NCR – John J. Range.

It was under John J. Range that Tom Watson learned to really sell.

Tom Watson became the best salesman in the East and was earning up to $100 a week. Four years later NCR made Watson manager of the shop in Rochester, NY. The rest, as they say, is history… you can read more here.

Safer Is Usually Cheaper

A lot of people skip roofing sales because they think it is too risky… and they would be right. Selling roofs for a living is a risky business because it is usually a 100% Commission only job.

You can find roofing companies willing to pay you by the hour or pay you a small salary, but I guarantee they’ll cut way back on your commissions if they are going to guarantee you any type of guaranteed paycheck.

You can put your money in a bank CD today and earn less than 2% interest or you could put your money in gold, the stock market or mutual funds and possibly earn 10x that much… or you could lose 100% of your investment.

Time Is An Investment

Almost everybody I know invests 40+ hours a week working for themselves or working for somebody else.

Just because a career decision is safe doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll be rewarded. You could get fired, laid off or possibly demoted.

However, even if you are rewarded, your reward is more likely to be minimal when you make safe career decisions.

Interviewing for a promotion, going to your boss with a new idea or staying late after work to get a special project finished are all risks.

Taking a job being a roofing salesman, where you are not guaranteed a single dollar, is also very risky.

Bigger Risks

Tom Watson was earning $10 a week on a guaranteed salary, but his sales abilities could have netted him $70 a week had he worked on commission instead.

Obviously, he didn’t know he could have been making 7x as much money until he was actually doing it. When he found out how much money he left on the table, he quit, moved to Buffalo and started selling sewing machines.

You may find yourself working a job in sales without the benefit of earning full commissions. Maybe you work for a roofing or construction company that gives you a steady paycheck, but you’re tired of watching the sales people in your company pick up big, fat, nasty, massive paychecks on the same day you pick up your small, itty, bitty, tiny, barely enough to stay afloat paycheck.

Some people will spend their entire life making safe choices because they are scared to death of failure. They can’t stand the thought of their in-laws, cousins or neighbors knowing that they tried something and failed. The end of the world would be getting a car repossessed in the middle of the night or losing their home… a big white notice of Foreclosure hanging in the front window for everybody to see.

Thinking about failure all the time is depressing.

Change what you think about. Think about success instead.

Bigger Losses

What you may not realize is just because they are picking up a fat check this week doesn’t necessarily mean they’re getting a fat check next week.

In 100% Commission sales, you can have a great week one week and strike out the next… and the next… and the next… and the next… and the next.

You get the idea!

Just because you go into sales, doesn’t mean you’ll be successful.

There are so many variables that have to go just exactly right for you to make a good living.

There’s more than a few of the veteran salespeople reading this article right now that can relate with Watson. Just about the time he’s making some decent money, the boss leaves town with everybody’s money and your paycheck too.

Big risks can mean big losses and the losses don’t always have to be your fault.

Bigger Rewards

Of course, and I don’t have to tell you, there’s always the possibility that you’ll do great.

You may be that 1 out of 10 new hire that knocks it out of the park. You might be the one to consistently pick up big commission checks while everybody else takes the safe route.

If you are the one, the one who makes a living while everybody else is failing, it won’t be because you got lucky.

Your success now or in the future won’t be a cosmic accident.

If you make big money, it will be because you earned it.

Big risks can lead to big rewards.

Make Failure Pay You

The great thing about failure is that it teaches us how to succeed.

“Some of us are smart enough to learn from other people’s mistakes, the rest of us are those other people.” – Zig Ziglar

Failure is the great teacher…

You can tell a child that the oven is hot, but most of them don’t learn the truth until they actually touch the oven. That’s a lesson they’ll never forget. I know I didn’t!

This business of selling roofs for a living is all about knocking doors, prospecting, working referrals and networking with the right people who can help you sell even more roofs.

How do you learn to do those things and do them well enough to make a good living?

Obviously, the answer is Failure!

If you aren’t knocking any doors, you’ll never fail enough to learn what you’re doing wrong.

These days, builders build homes about 15-20 feet apart from each other.

If you think it is tough to sell a new roof after a hail storm or a hurricane, you should have tried selling an organ to a farmer back in Tom Watson’s day.

Imagine how long it took Watson to find a good prospect while walking from farm to farm.

Getting out of the truck to knock doors for a few minutes twice a week before somebody is mean to you so you drive over to 7-11 for a Slurpee and cool down… well, that won’t get the job done.

If that’s you, you need to go back to your safe job.

Fail At Referrals

If you aren’t asking for or getting referrals, you’ll never fail at trying to close them.

The great thing about referrals is that you can ask anybody, anytime, anywhere, anyplace… doesn’t matter!

Standing in line at the convenience store in the middle of a hail damaged neighborhood.

Right after the guy tells you, “I just got a new roof. Can’t you tell?”

When your Aunt says, “We don’t think it’s a good idea to mix business and family.”

It is so easy to ask for referrals and the best part is that asking is absolutely free.

It doesn’t matter what they say, you can always follow their rejection up with, “If you were like me, out here trying to make a living, who else would you talk to about getting a new roof?”

Maybe they’ll tell you to get lost… but, maybe they’ll tell you to go talk to their next door neighbor because they know he needs a new roof too.

Learning to ask for referrals is hard because you’ll fail a lot until you learn how to ask the right way — at the right time. But, you’ll never learn until you fail.

If you never spend time with people who can help you, how will you get help?

Remember what Zig Ziglar said about failure?

You can either go out there and fail, fail, fail as fast as you can or you can spend time learning from the failures of other people.

Even with a good teacher, you’ll still fail. You’ll just recover quicker, learn faster and make improvements sooner.

Embrace Failure

That is if you can find anybody who is willing to admit that they’ve ever failed.

I can’t think of more than 2-3 people who would admit that they’ve ever made a mistake. Once they make it to the top, people will let you think they did it without failing. Either that or they forgot how hard it was to get there.

They won’t tell you about their repossessed cars, lost homes and broken dreams. They won’t tell you that it was because of what they learned going through the hardest times in their life, that they’re successful today.

I want you to know that when you come here and read these articles that you’re listening to somebody who has been there, done that, lost it and worked hard to get it back again… and again… and again.

I’ll probably have to do it a few more times before this life is over.

It’s like the old evangelist Glenn Shinn used to say:

I’ve been up and I’ve been down — up is better!

I’ve been in and I’ve been out – in is better!

I’ve been with and I’ve been without – with is better!

If you want to succeed in life, you’ll have to go down the path of failure to get there. I want to invite you to return here often and learn from my mistakes.


P.S. “Like” the Roofing Salesman page on Facebook or follow along on Twitter… whatever you do, get involved.

Shoot! Leave a comment on the blog. I need to hear from you because I want to know that I’m helping somebody.

If you don’t participate then I feel like I’m wasting my time typing away on this dumb computer when I could be playing with my kids.

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About The Author

Mike Coday

Mike Coday is a retired youth pastor turned serial entrepreneur, roofing marketing consultant, author, speaker, sales trainer, and sentimental family man. His expertise is coaching roofers to the next level of success.

Facebook Comments


  • mandy

    Reply Reply January 14, 2013

    Hey mike. I plan to go with my boyfriend when the rain lets up to knock doors for him. Imma knock n try to get him on the roofs n he can close the deal. I need to know what to say excatly to these ppl. Ive never sold a thing in my life. Figure it should be easy since these ppl here in Louisiana need roofs. Were workin the huricane Issac storm. Any help please. Some have hurricane damage others have jus wind damage n alot still have 3 tabs. Btw i dont know much about roofs at all. I just know 3 tabs bc my bf loves them kind ha. Thanks alot….in the meantime imma keep reading.

    • mike

      Reply Reply January 14, 2013


      How cool are you?!?!

      I’m really glad to hear that y’all are going out to sell roofs together.

      I’ve taken a few minutes to answer your question on this new article. I’ve edited your comments, but wanted you to know so you can follow-up with me if you have any more questions.

      Mandy’s Door Knocking Question


  • Kevin

    Reply Reply October 31, 2011

    Just found your site. I am enjoying reading your great advise and will put it in to practice.

    • mike

      Reply Reply October 31, 2011

      Thank you Kevin.

      Let me know if you have any questions or believe I may be able to help you.


  • Anne

    Reply Reply September 30, 2011


    I just found your website tonight through a Google Search. Very nice! Thanks for taking the time to write articles. They are interesting and definitely worth reading. We own a roofing, siding and construction company and are always looking for ways to improve our business.

    • mike

      Reply Reply September 30, 2011

      Hey Anne! Glad you found us. I appreciate the comment. Have you joined us on Facebook yet? – Mike

  • Brad

    Reply Reply September 25, 2011

    I’m a rookie salesman, only 3 weeks in. I definitely appreciate the helpful advice. I have not closed any deals yet, but I have noticed improvement since knocking on that very first door…stuttering like crazy! It seems as though all of the crooked, fly by night companies have really given all the other honest companies a bad name. Is there anything particular you do or say to put the home owner at ease to know you aren’t trying to scam them? Once again, thanks for the time you put in to helping newbies like myself!

    • mike

      Reply Reply September 25, 2011


      That’s a common problem when working a hail storm. In fact, it is THE major obstacle you’ll have to overcome.

      How do you get somebody to trust you when there’s so many other roofing companies?

      #1 Be seen a lot
      It is hard for somebody to trust you if the first and only time they’ve ever seen you is when you knocked on their door. Get out and stay out in the neighborhood. Be there when they’re coming home from work, taking the kids to soccer practice or coming home with groceries. People are more likely to trust somebody they are familiar with.

      #2 Find common points of interest
      This ties in with familiarity… do they have a bumper sticker from the school you went to? How about drive the same car as you? Seriously! Anything you can point out where you have something in common.

      #3 Work around your companies signs
      This may be a little controversial, but ask the owner if he’ll help you get started by working around some other signs already up. Again, you want a point of reference with the homeowner and nothing builds confidence like another homeowner choosing to do business with you. They may not be your signs, but maybe you can “borrow” some credibility.

      Finally, try to get in the home to talk. You might not close the deal, but sitting on the sofa in the living room talking about college football or their antique collection or anything else is far better than standing outside pitching roofing.

      Build friendships. You don’t need everybody to like you… you just need 1 to get you rolling.

      Good Luck!

  • John

    Reply Reply September 14, 2011

    I was considering skipping my door knocking this evening before heading off to the Rangers game. I am three weeks into the roofing game, and this article made me realize that I was close to making an excuse to avoid failure.

    • mike

      Reply Reply September 14, 2011


      With 3 weeks under your belt, you are at the critical make-it or break-it point.

      I hope you have the best night of knocking you’ve ever had tonight. Sometimes making yourself do something you know you need to do, but don’t want to do, can really push you to the next level. Again, I hope it is a good night for you.


  • jonathan farnsworth

    Reply Reply September 12, 2011

    keep’um coming brother. I am just starting in the roofing biz and your articles are really great!!!!

    • mike

      Reply Reply September 12, 2011

      Thank you!

      Hit me up if you have any questions or need help solving a problem. We’ll be glad to do all we can to help you make more money selling roofs.

  • Brent

    Reply Reply September 4, 2011

    Didnt go to church this morning and felt bad about it. After reading your article I got just what I needed. Thanks for sharing… Awesome heartfelt advice!!

    • mike

      Reply Reply September 4, 2011

      Thx Brent. I appreciate the encouragement. Glad to help. Mike

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