In a world full of other people who could do your job, one thing we are always doing as professionals is working to differentiate ourselves from our competition. I had an experience with an electrician recently that illustrates two ways to do this.

A lesson in fire safety

A while back I had some electrical outlets added to the exterior of my house. Like anyone who lacks the skills to do this themselves, I called an electrician. He was able to install the outlets without a problem. And, I was able to hang lights outside my house in time for Christmas.

Fast forward to my next propane delivery. I received a note from the technician stating that I needed to move one of the exterior outlets. Why? Well, it’s a little complicated.

  • The outlet was a Ground Fuse Interrupt (GFI) outlet which contains a fuse that may produce a spark when tripped. It is considered a source of ignition for fire.

  • My propane tank is filled on premises. That means a propane truck pulls up to my house, and the technician uses a long hose to bring the gas to the tank.

  • Any propane tank filled on premises cannot have any sources of ignition within ten feet of the tank’s relief valve. If the pressure in the tank gets too high, the relief valve will release a small amount of gas to bring the pressure down.

  • The electrician installed the outlet about five feet from the propane tank.

So, said the technician, according to NFPA code 50 (one of over 300 codes and standards issued by the National Fire Protection Association) I would have to move the outlet, or they could refuse to deliver my propane in the future.

Back to the electrician

I called the electrician back and told him about the situation. He came by to take a look and said that, yes, the outlet was indeed too close to the propane tank according to the NFPA 58 guidelines. He also told me that it would cost $350 to move the outlet (it cost over $500 to install it initially). His refusal to fix his mistake made me angry enough, but then he started trying to explain.

Electricians, he said, follow NFPA 70, the National Electrical Code (NEC). The law only requires licensed electricians to know and the NEC guidelines. He had no idea that installing the outlet so close to my propane tank violated another NFPA code until I brought it to his attention. Furthermore, because it was not a violation of the NEC, he wasn’t going to move it without charging me.

I was able to convince him to replace the outlet with a blank faceplate for free, so at least my propane technician wouldn’t refuse to perform my next delivery. But, that’s beside the point of telling the story. There are two valuable lessons to learn here that can help you stand out no matter what industry you’re in.

Lesson 1: broaden your horizons

The requirement for becoming an electrician is to know the NEC guidelines. If that’s all you learn, then every other electrician out there knows as much as you if not more. A great electrician would be aware of where other NFPA guidelines overlap with the NEC (at least as much as possible). You should always be looking to expand your knowledge beyond the base requirements. That knowledge will differentiate you from others in your field. Believe me, when you’re able to save a client or employer from a major headache because you happened to know an extra fact or two, they will appreciate you that much more.

Lesson 2: stand behind your work, always

Another great way to differentiate yourself is to stand behind your work at all times. When you perform work for somebody, you should view it with a healthy sense of pride. Obviously you should do your best to get it right in the first place. But, if you find out that there were mistakes, you should take it upon yourself to fix them. If you can take advantage of a loophole or technicality to avoid having to make things right, don’t do it. You might save money on parts or labor, but the damage you’ll do in goodwill is irreparable.

If my electrician had known either of the above lessons, I would gladly call him for all my electrical needs as long as I own my home. As it stands, I will never call him again. Why? There is a world full of other people who can do his job, and he did not differentiate himself from the crowd.