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Deferred Maintenance

Updated: Jul 6

deferred maintenance

My wife and I just returned from a trip to Germany and several surrounding countries to visit our son John, who is serving in the Air Force and is stationed there. He was our tour guide and driver, and we had a memorable time traveling with him.

Since he drove us, we never experienced German train service. Unbeknownst to us, that's a good thing right now. Riders of Deutsche Bahn, Germany's national railroad company, are suffering from subpar service as a result of years of the company's underinvestment in its physical assets.

The issue has been heightened recently, as football fans from around Europe have descended upon Germany to root for their national teams playing in Euro 2024. Although the tournament is in its early days, there have already been notable instances reported involving long delays and fans left stranded.

What makes the situation drip with irony is that Deutsche Bahn is one of the tournament’s five national sponsors. Fans exasperated by the company’s poor service experience, therefore, get an added reminder of who’s responsible for whatever travel misery they’re experiencing getting to and from matches.

Deferred Maintenance and Service Providers

As service providers, when we think of deferred maintenance, we often think of it as an issue for organizations that have physical assets. For a company like Deutsche Bahn, those physical assets include train tracks, stations, bridges, and so forth.

Since our own factory floor is essentially between our ears, we might not think of underinvestment and deferred maintenance as threats equally applicable to us.

If that’s the thought—and we’re acting out the thought with our own underinvestment—we'd be wrong. Terribly so.

Given the state of technological change that has affected the service industry, one could argue that for service providers, investment in our infrastructure, both in our base of knowledge and in the tools we utilize, is more vital than it has ever been. AI provides the most notable current example, of course, but it doesn’t just stop there. Technological change has and is changing processes and systems quickly and without conscience. Ignorance of those changes in your own service discipline in favor of what's worked in the past could be disastrous over time.

As service providers, the danger of underinvestment in ourselves and our business is more dire than we might prefer to admit.

Further, our definition of deferred maintenance investment might be too restrictive. It's easy to discount the significant process improvements you can make in your business by simply upgrading the operating system for your computers, investing in new mobile devices, or switching to new software.

If you design courses or are a public speaker, a needed investment might involve improving the look and design of your course or your presentation. It might involve freshening up your knowledge delivery by dropping the same old stories and quotes that you've been using for years and that make you feel old and tired.

Challenging the Quality of Investment in Ourselves

If you’re a solo or small firm service provider, you have a lot of choices on how you invest in yourself and your business. Even if your continuing education obligations (as a CPA, for example) tie you to a specific track of choices or you work for a corporation, you frequently have a choice in how you complete your CE requirements.

The problem sometimes manifests itself in the choices that we make. As human beings, our preference is often to stay inside our comfort zones. Such a choice may be to complete the minimal requirement or make choices in areas in which we are already quite proficient simply because we can complete it faster and without "unnecessary" time away from "more important" work for clients. 

We may also overemphasize the maintenance and improvement of our technical skills when it's soft skills development that may accelerate our business. If you're a website developer, for example, do you really need to take additional coding training, or do you need to improve your ability to ask great questions of your clients and prospects, the answers to which will help you serve them much more effectively than you currently do?

I wonder whether an important criteria for the investment choices we make as service providers is quite simple: where we invest must stretch us in some way that is uncomfortable and challenging.

If it doesn’t challenge your thinking or "the way you've always done it," your investment in yourself might not be adequate. If it doesn't make you nervous, you may be cheating yourself and your business.

Poor Deferred Maintenance Decisions Compound

Deutsche Bahn is no different than any other organization that avoided near-term pain by avoiding making hard investment choices. We see the same phenomenon here in the United States, for example, where politicians at the national, state, and local level kick tough decisions on investment down the road, knowing they won't be around to deal with the consequences of that inattention.

In our own service businesses, we have no such luxury. Sure, maybe if you're close to retirement, you might be able to run for the exits and escape very soon. If you decide you want to sell your practice, however, any buyer worth a flip is going to want to understand whether you've made the investments needed to maintain a growing enterprise into the near future. If you haven't, they'll deduct those overdue expenditures from their purchase offer (and, most likely, with an added discount thrown in as a fudge factor).

Most of us have plans for ourselves and our businesses, however, that involve us working quite a few years into the future. If that statement applies to you, then decisions on investments and deferred maintenance are as crucial as they have ever been.

What are the tough investment choices you need to make in your business? Acting on this question with honesty and speed might make the difference in your future prosperity.

Image Credit: Deutsche Bahn


Are you frustrated by your pricing? Need help articulating your value? Do you need a better way to identify and close your best-fit clients? Do you want to restore the joy you used to have for your business? I may be able to help you.

I’m John Ray, a business consultant and coach, author, and podcaster. I advise solopreneurs and small professional services firms on their two most frustrating problems: pricing and business development. I’m passionate about how changes in mindset, positioning, and pricing change the trajectory of a business and the lifestyle choices of a business owner. My clients are professionals who are selling their expertise, such as consultants, coaches, attorneys, CPAs, accountants and bookkeepers, marketing professionals, and other professional services practitioners. Click here to learn more or contact me directly.

I’m the author of the national bestselling book, The Generosity Mindset: A Journey to Business Success by Raising Your Confidence, Value, and Prices. The book covers topics like value and adopting a mindset of value, pricing your services more effectively, proposals, and essential elements of growing your business. The book is available at all major physical and online book retailers.

The Generosity Mindset


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