If You Could Start Over, What Would You Do Different?

Think of all the decisions you made over the last five to ten years that affected your future and where you are today. Now think of all those decisions you didn’t make you wish you had. Remember when you were busy signing new contracts, getting plenty of business, trying to juggle all your commitments, scheduling crews, putting out fires, and doing everything you could to keep everyone happy? During this time it was hard to do everything you wanted to do. Continue reading

Advertisements

What Is Your Bidding Strategy?

After you have established reasons why customers should hire your company, now it’s time to find jobs to bid where you can be successful. Your overall estimating and bidding strategy is to get enough signed contracts at your price to cover your job costs, overhead, and then make a profit. This requires several winning plans. The first strategy is to have a strategy! Many contractors bid any job they are offered to bid. They don’t have a strategy that helps them decide which jobs to bid and when to say no. What’s your estimating and bidding strategy?

Before agreeing to bid a project, create a list of questions to determine if you will have an excellent chance to win the contract.

 1. Do you want to negotiate the project?
– How will you convince the customer to negotiate with you?

2. Do you want to be the select or only bidder?
– How will you implement this strategy?

3. Do you want to get the last look?
– How will you make this happen?

4. Do you know your bid-success ratio against your competitors?
– How do you keep track of your success versus competitors?

5. Do you have competitors you don’t want to compete against?
– How will you discover this information?

6. Do you have some competitors you will bid against?
– How will insure the bid list gives you a chance to be awarded a contract?

7. Do you have an ideal number of bidders you’ll bid against?
– How will you insure this happens?

8. Do you have a maximum number of bidders you’ll bid against?
 – How will you decide when not to bid a job? Continue reading

Can customers really tell the difference between your company’s bid proposal and your competitors?

If all else is equal, the only differentiating factor between your company and your competitors is the lowest price. What do you do to stand out from the crowd? To set yourself apart and charge a higher price, you must be different than your competitor. Differentiation can include doing more than your competitor for the same price, being the expert or specialist in a particular type of work or project, adding more value than required, or having a deep loyal trusted customer relationship.

Give customers a reason to hire you!
The best way to win a contract is to have a relationship with your customer that goes beyond doing past projects for them. It is based on trust and friendship developed over time. It is built by spending lots of time together having fun fishing, golfing, or doing other activities together not related to work.

If you don’t have this kind of loyal customer relationship, you have no other choice but to differentiate your company from competitors. Low price is one way and creating and offering real differences is another. Before you bid the next project, ask yourself why the customer should hire your company for this project. Are you better or faster? Do you have more qualified trained people who know how to perform this type of work? Can you help your customer make more money?

As you create a list of reasons the customer should hire your company for the project, think about what you offer that no other competitor offers. Think about what else you can do for the customer that is not required by the scope of work. Think about how you can help your customer meet their goals, make more money, increase sales, grow their business, build a better project, reduce risk, or have more fun while working with your company. I know what you are thinking: ‘We don’t get paid for all those extra things!’ If you want to win jobs today, you must do more than the minimum.

After you create a list of three to five reasons why you are the best choice for your customer to award this contract, what will you do to prove your company is the best choice? In your proposal you can include a list of past projects where you beat the schedule and delivered results that made the customer excited about your company (this is more than the standard reference list). Include pictures of completed projects similar to the one you are bidding on. Include a draft schedule showing how you can help your customer complete the project ten to twenty percent faster than a normal contractor can. Schedule a field trip with your potential customer to other jobsites where you can show them how you solved difficult problems. Give them a list of added services your company will provide if awarded the job. Offer a guarantee such as completion date, punch-list completion, quality, or added warranty they will not get with another competitor.

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

Win More Contacts At Your Price!

Every construction company business owner wants to charge a higher price for their services and products. And especially today, I’m sure you are looking for the magic ingredient that will give you more jobs at your price. But why should customers award your company a contract? In this tough economy there are less jobs to bid and more competition. Many of your competitors are pricing jobs at prices lower than their costs. They are trying to keep their doors open and crews busy hoping something good happens soon. Ask yourself this question:

Why should customers award your company contracts at your price or higher than your competitors?

It is what it is!
Perhaps you are starting to realize that it’s not what it was. The new economic reality is here to stay for at least 3 to 5 years. If it hasn’t hit you yet, get ready. Just a few years ago you could do a pretty good job and get lots of work from your customers. But today, your old sales strategies won’t get you enough work to stay profitable. It takes more than doing a good job, producing quality work, and bidding projects per plans and specifications to win contracts. Now, you must do more and offer something different than your competitors to win contracts. You need to renovate, innovate, change, improve, and upgrade your estimating systems, bidding strategies, proposal format, presentation methods, customer contact approach, marketing plan, and sales tactics to be successful today.

I started my construction company in 1977. At that time there was not a lot of competition and getting work was relatively easy. Through my business contacts, I could find a nice job to bid, call the customer, meet them, get a set of plans to bid, do the take-off, estimate the job, and then turn in my proposal with a reasonable mark-up on it. A few days later I would call to see if I could meet with the customer to review our bid. At the meeting we would negotiate the terms, inclusions, exclusions, and agree on a final price. Simple. 

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

Contracting is not just about construction!

How can construction companies increase their steady stream of ongoing reliable sales income regardless of the economy? What type of ongoing revenue can your company, employees, infrastructure, technical skills, reputation, equipment, knowledge, customer base, experience, or potential generate? Attendees of my two day Profit-Builder Circles come to learn how to get their business to work the way they want them to and then take them to the next level. As I look back over the hundreds of past attendees, the business owners who are the most successful are the ones who have two types of contracts, revenue sources, customers, and business models. They do both lump sum contracting work plus have a significant amount of their revenue come from steady ongoing service accounts.

These successful contractors don’t rely solely on bidding single jobs, one at a time, to generate most of their revenue. When you mainly rely on bidding or negotiating work to win contracts, your business becomes ‘fast and furious.’ Your business is either hot or cold, fast paced or dead, busy or slow, and you cant’ control your workload and your revenue isn’t steady or reliable.

‘Slow & steady’ business keeps your crews busy as the workload keeps on coming regularly over and over every month. You can count on a steady flow of work as annual service contracts provide ongoing revenue. With steady regular service accounts, you can plan your schedule, workload, and cash-flow.

Multiple types of income, contracts, and revenue sources compliment each other. This business model allows these type of companies who do both bid and service work, to become very efficient, generate steady workflow for their employees, and create wealth for the owners. But they require two different types of management, sales efforts, cost accounting, customer service, employee training, professional standards, and marketing efforts.

Steve is an electrical contractor who has two separate companies that work together. He has a new construction division that bids to general contractors and does commercial projects, large shopping centers, and office buildings. He has ten steady general contractor customers who typically give his company enough work to make a small profit during good times.

As an offshoot to his contracting company, Steve started an electrical service company several years ago that installs, services, and maintains back-up power generators for homeowners, commercial facilities, industrial plants, hospitals, government buildings, and offices. This company seeks annual contracts for all service work required to keep customer’s buildings electrified during power failures. This specialty service work includes design, engineering, preparing studies, permitting, new installation, repairs, maintenance, testing, fueling, implementing technology, and ongoing monitoring work to insure the generators will work when needed. This service business has grown as he has focused on acquiring new customers, providing excellent customer service, regular weekly employee training, and lots of sales and marketing to attract potential 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.