Category Archives: Business Success

Low Bid Gets the Job In Public Work

In public works construction, the low bidder usually gets the job and there is little or no room for sales strategy or tactics. The best way to be the low bidder and awarded a contract is to have the lowest possible costs and the most efficient construction management and field operation possible. To keep your costs lower than your competitors, your field crews must be lean, productive, and well trained. There must be no downtime, job problems, quality issues, coordination conflicts, or mistakes. Your subcontractors and suppliers must also be supervised and managed tight without gaps in scheduling, productivity, conflicts, or quality. This can only be accomplished with diligent leadership, accountable management, and ongoing training focused on productivity and efficiency.

Now you are in the sales business!
In private work, it takes a lot more than just bidding and negotiating to win contracts. You’ve got to give customers a differentiating reason to hire your company. It’s not just about the price, inclusions, and exclusions. Now there are too many competitors who can do the same job as your company and will cut their bid below their cost to get a job. To win more contracts at your price, you must face reality. You are not in the construction business. You now have to also be in the $ALES business! Continue reading

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Do your customers want more?

Joseph owns a residential landscape company doing new installations for homeowners. He mainly works on referrals from custom home-builders, architects, and past customers. Sometimes his company is busy and other times he waits for the phone to ring. By chance he was asked to do some hauling for one of his contractor customers. In the past he didn’t pursue this type of business because is was a nuisance and disrupted his operations. But this got him thinking about how he could expand his revenue sources.

Joseph decided to set up a new division that focuses on service work. He moved his chief estimator into the role of division manager to build the customer base, added a service manager, and put a bookkeeper in charge of managing the accounts. He started by asking his customers what other type of services they needed on an ongoing basis. His homeowner customers trusted his company, liked their work, and actually wanted his company to provide more ongoing maintenance for them as well. They asked for weekly lawn and garden service, annual weed removal, yearly tree-trimming, winterization service, and annual irrigation repairs. Some of his customers owned pools and also wanted his company to do their pool service, maintenance, and repairs. Some customers had young children and wanted swing sets and playground equipment installed. Some wanted new barbeques installed, fencing added, stables for their horses built, cages for their pets, and patio covers added. Some customers asked him if he installed annual holiday lights as well. Some customers even wanted his company to offer debris and junk removal and hauling. WOW! All that business and Joseph hadn’t even thought about providing it for his customers. Continue reading

Slow and Steady Wins the Race!

My wife and I get up every morning around 6 am, start the coffee, and together we read the Los Angeles Times and USA Today. Last week I was traveling to the CONSTRUCT show in Indianapolis later that morning, so I didn’t have time to read every news section I wanted to. But I did read one newspaper article which made me think about the typical construction company trying to do business in today’s tough and slower economy.

In California, total unemployment is predicted to reach ten percent or more over the next few years. Construction unemployment is almost double that sad statistic. But the monthly statistics which got me thinking even more, were construction permits issued in the State. Commercial construction permit dollar volume was down 66% and residential permit dollar volume was down 75% since the peak years of 2005 through 2007. This is a horrible situation if you are a contractor in California trying to keep your doors open and make a profit.

At several large construction conventions I have spoken at this past year, I have repeatedly heard shocking and similar sales figures from national companies who supply construction materials like cement, drywall, light fixtures, and lumber. Your state might not be in as bad of shape as California, but it does make you think about your business model going forward.

What type of company would you own?
If you were not in the construction business, what type of company would you want to start, buy, or own? Would it be dependent on the Federal government or your State to produce enough budget money to insure there was plenty of work for your company to bid on? Or would it be dependent on potential customers to ask you to bid plans and specifications against an unlimited number of competitors – qualified or not? Or would it be a business where you were awarded contracts based on the lowest possible price, regardless of your capacity, reputation, service, quality, or workmanship. Would it be a business where you do all the work and don’t get paid for weeks after you finish? Would it be a business where you do a great job and then the next contract is awarded based on the lowest bidder? Or would it be a business where you do a great job for a customer and then they may not have another job for you to bid on for a few years, if ever?

Being a contractor is a hard way to make an easy living. Or not! Most observers think contractors make a minimum of ten percent net profit and have all the freedom in the world. But the reality of our business is that as you may build a better and better company, you are really at the mercy of the market and customers to create opportunities to generate your revenue potential. In other words you don’t create your own future. You are at the mercy of others to decide to build and then give you an opportunity to present a proposal. Continue reading

The 8 Traits Of Great Companies! Traits 5 through 8

Competition | Pro-active Sales | Operational Systems | Investments
Part 3

Trait #5 – Set your company apart from your competition!
When I drive down the freeway and see contractors’ trucks, they often have signs on like: “Joe’s Electric – Commercial, Industrial & Residential.” I chuckle and ask myself: “What do they excel at, what kind of jobs are they the expert in, and why should I hire them?” Based on my experience working with tens of thousands of contractors, my best guess is they chase any kind of work they can get and don’t make a lot of money doing it.

Are you in the “Yes” Business taking any kind of job or project thrown your way? Experience shows that companies who specialize in a specific type of project or service do better work, are more competitive, have more loyal customers, and make a lot more money than their “jack of all trades” competitors. Perceived experts are the first called when a customer needs a professional to complete a tough or special project. Experts get the first chance to propose on jobs which require complex engineering or technical knowledge.

To set your company apart from your competition and get hired at higher prices, you must be the perceived expert in your market and offer more than your competitors. According to a survey from the Society of Marketing Professional Services (a national association of construction sales and marketing professionals), the top two reasons construction companies don’t get awarded projects are 1) Their inability to market and properly present the differences between themselves and their competition, and 2) Their lack of expertise in a particular project or service niche. When you continue to be and do everything for everyone, you won’t have enough time to satisfy your customers and you can’t make enough money for all the different types of work you attempt to complete. Continue reading

The 8 Traits Of Great Companies! Traits 1 through 4

Vision | Targets & Goals | Organizational Structure | Profits
Part 2
 
Trait #1 – Start with an exciting vision!

What do you want to happen with your company and where do you want it to go? Leading companies start with an exciting focused passionate vision connected to the specific results they want. Some companies have a vision to be the best company in their marketplace with the biggest market share. Others want to be known as the best service provider, provide the best quality, or offer the lowest price. Great companies ramp up their visions with more excitement. Exciting visions of great companies read like these: be recognized as the leader in customer service, being number one in building difficult technical projects, finishing jobs ten percent faster than our competition, or being known for helping customers make a profit. Bill Gates of Microsoft had a big vision to put a computer in every home. Ask the people who work for you and a few customers, “What’s the vision of our company and what are we trying to accomplish? If they don’t know, you’ll never become a great company. What is your passionate vision that will excite your customers and employees?

Trait #2 – Write and track your targets and goals!
After defining your exciting vision, specific results must be written down and targeted to quantify exactly what’s expected for your company, departments, people, and projects. For example, if your vision is to be the best service provider, determine what specific measurable results would enhance your bottom-line. Some targets you can track include obtaining a referral from every customer, only five percent callbacks, no installation errors, or 98% on-time completion. What specific targets and numbers can you shoot for to realize your vision & get the results you want? Without specific clear targets, your people really don’t know what ‘try to make ten percent gross profit’ or  ‘try to do quality work’ or ‘try to be the best’ really means.

What are your top priorities and specific targets your company is shooting for? You need to then monitor and track the progress if you want to achieve your company, department, and project goals. Ask your people what results are important. You’ll probably get 17 different answers if you have 17 people working for you. To get the results you want, write down and track your targets to get everyone on the same page from top to bottom.

Trait #3 – Draft your structured organizational chart!
Company managers and employees who don’t have written detailed job descriptions, don’t know what they’re 100% accountable for, don’t have authority to make decisions, and don’t have an understanding of the clear lines of communication in your company, can’t be held responsible for producing the results you want. Without a structured organizational chart and a list of accountabilities for every position in your company, your people will wait for their boss to tell them what to do next. This limits employee’s growth, enthusiasm, production, and efficiency. Plus it stalls the company so it can’t grow beyond the owner’s ability to make every major decision for everyone.

It doesn’t take a lot of time to layout your perfect organizational chart. Each position’s duties and responsibilities must be considered, detailed, described, outlined, and assigned listing the accountabilities and expected results desired and required. Only with these clear descriptions can people help the company grow and become great.

Trait #4 – Know your numbers and make big profits!
Many business owners are too busy to be bothered with watching and tracking their numbers. Can you imagine the CEO of a major company not focusing on or knowing their company’s revenue, direct costs, fixed costs, and profit? You can’t make a profit if you don’t know what to charge and how much you need to bring in. Many companies shoot for moving targets by attempting to make ‘as much money as possible’ or ‘more’ than they are currently making. ‘As much money as possible’ is not a target. ‘More!’ More than what? These are not clear targets or goals. 5%, 10%, or 15% are not clear targets either. As your sales and job costs vary each month, your total markup earned changes, while your fixed cost of doing business remains the same. This causes your net profit to move up and down like a roller coaster.

The owners of great companies spend a lot of time making people accountable to achieve the numbers. They set specific targets and keep track of the progress towards them. Annual sales of $5,000,000, overhead target of $600,000, and a net profit goal of $200,000 are specific fixed targets you can shoot for and hit. Not More! Not as much as possible! With specific targets for sales, costs, overhead, accounts receivables, cash flow, and net profit, you stay focused on the lifeblood of your company.

The 8 Traits Of Great Companies!

Earn More, Work Less, Live Life!

Good news! Now is the best time you’ll ever have to take a hard look at how your company does business. Why wait? When you start a company, you’re happy getting some work and making a little money. Then it grows into the company it is today by doing what it does relatively well for the few customers it has acquired. As an expert on entrepreneurial companies, I can tell you this is not the right way to design and build a great company that maximizes its’ potential market share, resources, people, and bottom-line profits.

When studying market-leading companies, you’ll find they have eight traits that make them stand out and stay at the top of their field. Make a list of top companies who are leaders in their marketplace. Your list might include: Apple, Caterpillar, Wal-Mart, Microsoft, McDonalds, Ritz Carlton, BMW, FedEx, Forbes, Star-Bucks, or Google. What sets them apart from the rest of their competitors and allows them to continually maintain market share, growth, and profitability?

Owning a company that offers the same basic services or products as most of your direct competitors will keep you busy during good economic times. But as the economy struggles or shrinks, business becomes more difficult, harder to grow, and make a profit. Especially when you offer almost exactly the same thing as most every other company you compete against. In order for your company to become the leader in your marketplace, you have to offer something unique or different than your competitors do. You also have to be passionate about your vision and where your company to go. You need organized systems and a professional management team that consistently delivers the same results for your customers every time. And you must be clearly focused on hitting your targets, goals and financial numbers. With these characteristics, your company will make an above average profit margin and have extra funds leftover to invest in wealth building opportunities.

IS YOUR COMPANY GREAT?
Take this True / False Test to determine if your company has the eight traits of great companies.

1. Our company has a written passionate vision that is prominently displayed for all of our customers and employees to see. Every manager and employee knows exactly what the company stands for, its’ values, and where it’s going.

2. Our company has written targets and goals for the overall operations, each department, and every project. These goals are tracked every month so adjustments can be made quickly.

3. Our company has a structured organizational chart clearly describing the accountabilities and responsibilities for each position in the company. Every employee knows exactly what they’re responsible to do and is fully accountable to make it happen.

4. Our company owners and managers are focused on achieving the numbers required for the company to hit its’ financial targets and goals. Our company makes a very large profit compared to the industry average and our competitors.

5. Our company has a unique or different delivery system, product, or service that attracts customers who will pay more to buy from our company than our competitors.

6. Our company has an ongoing, systemized, and pro-active sales and marketing program to find, contact, attract, retain, and service our customers. Our sales and marketing system has allowed our company to grow at least fifteen to twenty percent, or more per year.

7. Our company has written operational systems and procedures for all employees to follow that insure all workflow is completed in a similar standardized manner by all employees without exception.

8. Our company’s bottom-line delivers significant excess profits that allow us to seek investments and find opportunities to grow and build our equity and wealth. Continue reading

Me, Myself and I

The best advice you can get is from outside, unbiased professionals who know your business, can give you real opinions of how to improve, and are not afraid of telling you the truth and hurting your feelings. I founded my commercial construction company in 1977. After only seven years in business, I had built up to 150 employees and we were doing $50,000,000 in annual sales. I thought I was doing great (and knew everything there was to know about business) for a young thirty-five year old. A friend suggested that a company board of directors could help me take my company to the next level. So, I asked five very successful businessmen to be on my advisory board of directors. At our first meeting, I proudly presented my goals, financials, and plans for the future. I then asked for their input. One by one they proceeded to rip me apart and ask questions I couldn’t answer.

Their laser-like questions included: 

 “Is that all the money you make for the risk you take?”
“Why are you only doing that type of work?”
“Why is your employee turn-over so high?”
“Why do you do so much of the work yourself?”
“Who else on your management team do you review the financials with?
“What is your plan to improve profitability?”
“What new customers and markets have you tried in the last year?”
“Why are you afraid to let go of major decisions?”
“Do you have a strategic business plan?”

These questions and many more made me feel really stupid and about two feet tall. I couldn’t answer any of them with good answers. I thought I had done fairly well building a company with me as the leader. But my inner circle and executive management team consisted of just me, myself, and I. And, I had obviously missed the boat on many major issues required to become VERY successful and VERY profitable. Does this scenario sound familiar to you? Are you alone making most of your strategic decisions. Do you continue to do business the same way and expect better results if you work a little harder?

Get some help!
My advisory board recommended I hire a professional management consultant and coach who specialized in helping construction business owners grow and make a profit. They also recommended I quickly work with the coach and my management team to draft a strategic business plan before I made another dumb decision. After several days of mourning and shock from the reality of the board meeting, I took the advice and decided to invest in the future of my company and get some help. I hired a construction business management consultant and coach who helped me look at my leadership style to become a better leader and analyzed our management team to determine who were valuable assets to our long term growth. He also reviewed and improved our overall operational systems, standards, and procedures to help us get organized, systemized, and more in control.  In addition, he reviewed our numbers and give us advice on how to make more money. After getting to know our company, he then did a great job at facilitating our two day strategic business planning workshop. I could have never made the moves and changes I needed to make without the help, advice, and pushing of an outside person who had no agenda except to make me and our company better.

Think about some of the steps you can begin to take to improve your business.

Two Heads Are Better Than None!

Take Time To Plan Your Strategy

Imagine yourself stranded on a tiny island trying to make a strategic decision how to get off the island quickly and safely before you run out of food and die. Without any input, advice, or ideas from other people or outside advisors, it would be very difficult to decide what to do next or the best way to get off the island. Now imagine an entrepreneur or business owner sitting in their office alone trying to make all the decisions how to run their company. These scenarios are similar. Without input from others, making decisions based solely on what you know and your experiences are no guarantee you’ll choose the right path to take. Your chances are less than fifty percent, or twenty percent, or perhaps ZERO! Not good odds when your future is at stake.

Do you continually struggle with big decisions that shape the course of your potential success:

“What should my organizational chart look like?”
“Do I have the right people in place to grow my company?”
“What type of new business should we go after?”
“How can I cut or control overhead expenses?”
“Who should I fire to balance our budget?’
“Should I promote from within or hire a trained manager?”
“How can we make more money in the field?”
“How can I make my managers more responsible and accountable?”
“What financial reports should I be getting?”
“How much money should I be making?”
“How should I give out incentives and bonuses?
“How can I get my people more motivated?
“Where am I losing the most money?”
“What’s working and what’s not?”
“How can I get my company to go where I want it to?

 It’s Lonely At The Top!
With the fun and excitement of owning and running a company comes much stress and strain. Overwhelmed with tough questions, no easy answers, and difficult decisions, frustrated business owners delay deciding what to do about their direction, management team, customers, equipment, marketing, profits, financial reporting, investments, and growth. When you delay or postpone necessary key strategic decisions, you continue living with mediocre employees, poor results, inadequate organizational systems, and continually struggle to keep everything moving in the right direction. Eventually you come to the realization you can’t do it all yourself and need to seek some help. Unfortunately most never get off the treadmill to look for professional advisers and make time to improve their companies. This is kind of like postponing a trip to the doctor even though you know that nagging pain in your chest must be attended to before it’s too late and you have a heart attack.

We all know that two heads are better than one. Guess what? Two heads are better than NONE too. You can’t do it alone. You might as well be stranded on an island. The odds are less than one in five or ten you’ll make the right decisions when you do it alone. And when you ask your managers or key employees for advice, they only give you their perspective on what’s best for them, not you or your company.

The 5% Factor: 5% Faster jobs = More profit! (part 3 of 3)

How can you make your jobs finish only five or ten percent faster? Many of these critical scheduling factors can cause major delays:

– permits
– procurement
– submittals
– approvals
– material selections
– long lead items
– probable delays
– potential problems
– anticipated conflicts
– critical decisions
– phasing issues

 Time is easy money!
Those major factors can cause your projects to take longer. But we are looking for the little things that really cost you money. When you don’t focus on faster, it doesn’t happen and you let your crews go with the flow. When you focus on speed, you get the whole team moving faster and becoming more efficient. When you start every project, get the easy money flowing by getting your supervisor and crew together. Explain the projected and budgeted schedule. And then ask them to brainstorm ideas how they can improve the schedule by a minimum 5% to 10%. Explain to them how 5% faster will translate into dollars and will keep your company competitive in the tougher

 Squish the Schedule 5% or more!

Total projected sch. = 100 crew days
Total bud. @ $3,000 /day = $300,000
Beat the sch. by 5% = Save 5 days
Total crew savings = $15,000
Beat the sch. by 10% = Save 10 days
Total crew savings = $30,000

In addition to saving on your crew labor budget, the overall project will finish faster as well. You will save even more money concurrently on general conditions, equipment, clean-up, temporary facilities, and supervision costs. This money adds up fast!

Miracles can happen!
Years ago in July, I was on a job-site meeting with my superintendent and concrete foreman. I asked them when they were going to erect and tilt-up the exterior concrete wall panels on a large warehouse project. They both told me they were planning on tilting-up on November 15th. That seemed too long a schedule to me for our 20 man crew to get the work done. So I asked them how they arrived at that date. They told me they met with the crane company and thought that date was ‘doable’ and they could easily make it happen.

I didn’t like their answer so I asked if they could finish a few weeks faster. They both squirmed and didn’t want to answer or commit. Then I asked if they could finish by October 25th if I offered them each a $1,000 incentive. In less than ten seconds, they both said they could make the faster October 25th date. A miraculous change of mind by two veterans. And they made the new date. It cost me $2,000 and saved me 15 days for 20 men. You do the math.

Sometimes we have to get creative to get the results we want. When we go with the flow, we don’t push our people, and it costs us real money. When you compete, you run a little faster. When I used to swim in high school, I always went faster in the meets than in practice. Competition makes people go faster. Challenges make people work harder. So do games where you keep score and can declare a winner. I like to say: ‘No score, no game!’ What incentives can you offer to get your crew excited about beating the schedule?

Annual Savings @ 5% Faster

20 Crew @ 200 days @ $35 /hr
Labor savs. w/5% faster sch.
Equip. costs saved – 4 pcs @ $50/hr
Costs saved 4 jobs @ $1,000/day
Tot. Annual Savings = More Profit

Trash your old tools!
Another consideration is the working condition of your tools and equipment, and their overall effect on your crew efficiency. When is the last time you did a tool inventory or a detailed equipment analysis? Some you should keep, trash, replace, or upgrade. Field workers tend to use old, broken, or bandaged tools and equipment rather than admit to the boss that they might be broken or worn out. How much money are old unproductive tools or broken down equipment costing you?

The added benefits of having quality tools and great equipment will be increased crew teamwork, improved morale, more pride of workmanship, better quality, less mistakes, safer projects, and more efficiency. This will translate into even faster jobs and more bottom-line profits for your company.

Poor Production = Poor Profits!
Do you think your crew wastes at least 3 to 6 minutes per hour? Those few minutes are costing you a ton of money.

20 Person Crew 5% Time Lost
Time lost /person = 3 minutes /hr
Time lost /day /crew = 8 hours /day
Total hours lost = 1,600 hrs /yr
Crew labor rate @ $35.00 /hr
Annual Prod. Lab. LOST = $ 56,000 /yr

There are many ways to improve crew efficiency and finish your jobs faster. Start by taking a hard look at your start time, break time, lunch time, and quitting time. Does stop working at 3:30 pm mean start rolling up at 3:00 pm or 3:10 pm or 3:30 pm? For a 20 person crew, every minute you lose per day costs you as much as $2,500 per year or more.

Double your Profits!
Call an all crew team meeting and discuss ways to improve your schedule, save a few minutes every hour, define your exact hours for production expected, create meaningful incentives, improve your tools and equipment, increase efficiency, and strive to implement the 5% factor to get more everyday from everyone.

The 5% Factor: Produce More To Make More (part 1 of 3)

In the good old days, construction companies were owned and run by builders. These proud, tough, hard working men (and women) learned their trade in the field, had years of practical experience, and knew what it took to get their projects finished on-time. If they didn’t produce quality workmanship, they didn’t last long. Back then it was all about getting the work done no matter what it took to meet their obligations. It was about delivering solid structures with unsurpassed craftsmanship. The contracts were negotiated face to face and enacted with handshakes based on integrity, reputation, trust, one’s word, and doing what’s right. It was all about building a project the contractor could remember, be proud of, and then rely on their customers for recommendations and new work.

Fast forward to today. Now successful construction companies are run by professional managers, engineers, and accountants. These business leaders are focused on the bottom-line and following what is only required by the contract. These managers have college degrees and little or no construction field experience. It’s now about paperwork, documentation, notices, claims, and tracking systems. Building the project isn’t as important as getting the work, doing the paperwork, and getting paid, even if it involves litigation.

Combine this lack of real field construction experience at the top of many companies today with the lower and lower profit margins. Years ago there was not enough qualified construction companies to handle all the work available in the marketplace. Under this business climate, contractors could afford to always do a little extra to insure a perfect project and still make a good profit.

More demands = less profits!
But over the last 40 years, the number of contractors has tripled while the total amount of construction has stayed relatively flat (adjusted for inflation). Therefore now there are more contractors than needed to do all the work required by the market. This has created a price squeeze and reduced contractor’s ability to do more than the minimum required by their contract. In addition, with increasing competition, construction customers are now demanding more than ever before. They now demand faster schedules, safer projects, better quality, more communications, better technology, all at much lower prices.

These added customer demands on contractors who are willing to sign contracts for less than they should, have killed the construction business as it once was. Add to these demands poor architectural plans, problematic engineering, incomplete specifications, conflicting contract documents, material shortages, price fluxuations, more regulations, added paperwork, lender’s requirements, third party inspections, construction managers, and red tape, has all but eliminated a fair profit for the risk contractors take.

It’s time to refocus on the field!
These issues have put pressure on contractors to save more and more money in the field. The average crew size has increased, while the number of experienced field workers on the crews have decreased. Training is a thing of the past as most employers have eliminated it as an unnecessary expense. Superintendents and foreman are younger than ever which also translates into less experienced field leadership and less efficient crews. This has resulted in poor or flat field productivity improvements over the last twenty years. Consider your challenges fighting against competitors who charge less than they should, have inexperienced and untrained field crews, and building projects that now require more paperwork and increased risk. A need now emerges for contractors to refocus on improving field productivity as their only viable solution to compete and improve their profit margins.

Construction profitability is about reducing risk. Contracts require contractors to assume more risk than ever today. Have you considered what’s at stake?

Types Of Construction Business Risk:

– Project Loc. & Access – Project Type & Sz
– Project Sch. & Duration – Constructability
– Customer – Architect, Eng. & Consultants
– Contract Terms – Financial , Funding & Pymt.
– Regs & Inspections – Subcontractors & Suppliers
– Material Costs & Aval. – Plans & Specifications
– Approvals & Acceptance – Project Management
– Supervision & Coord. – Manpower, Prod. & Safety
– Quality & Workmanship – Estimate & Budget
– Factors Beyond Control

So how do you reduce risk and increase your bottom-line? Your choices are many. But consider which will give you the biggest return on your time, energy, and money. In other words, where can your company gain the biggest advantage over your competitors?

– Lower Material Costs
– Better Subs. Costs
– Better Equipment
– Better Supervision
– Better Project Mgmt.
– Labor Productivity