Let me ask if this sounds like somebody you know — you put in years perfecting your decorative concrete craft and consider yourself an expert in your field. Past customers appreciated your skill, courtesy and professionalism, and they refer friends and relatives to your services. But recently you have noticed something is changing, and this change makes you uneasy. Sure, you have sharpened the pencil, but it seems most months come and go leaving you asking where all the money is going.
I understand this perfectly, because my own contracting business feels the same effects of a down economy. The culprit is efficiency, or I should say, the lack of it.
I personally know two contractors running inefficient decorative businesses. Both are considered to be in the top 10 percent of their chosen decorative trade. If you were to ask them if they are organized they would say yes. But the truth is that they are far from it. Disorganization has become a way of contracting for them, and I believe they don’t know the difference anymore. I see it when I visit, and all I can think about is how much production and profit melts away with each project. Just to be clear, their projects are top-notch, they’re just not profitable.
Unfortunately this could cause both of them money and clients if change doesn’t come soon. Today’s construction industry leaves little room for inefficiency or the unorganized.
Here are a few skills that will guarantee your jobs will finish in as organized and efficient a manner as possible. These practices help your job start off on the right foot, ultimately leading to a satisfied customer and a profitable year.
Step 1: Sign contracts and agreements.
I’m still amazed at how often, when a contractor calls me complaining about a project gone bad, no formal project agreement exists. This may sound basic, but the foundation of a successful project is a signed agreement. Take the time to get signatures on documents describing the job, exclusions and method of payment, if nothing else.
Step 2: Plan before the job.
Most decorative concrete projects require time for colors and materials to be ordered. Use this time to organize things such as staging of materials, sequence and progression of work, traffic control, and notifications. At first these tasks seem time-consuming but soon they are second nature. If you have ever shown up to work on a project to find other subs working over your area, then you know the importance of planning beyond your work.
Step 3: Start right.
Our foreman and salesman have mastered the transition from selling a job to starting one. This transition starts usually a day or three before the crew arrives, so that when the morning comes to begin work no one is stressed by not knowing what is going on. Take the time to walk through each job ahead of time, regardless of how small, picturing where to start and how to proceed. The time to do this is always before a crew of workers arrives.
Step 4: Keep customers informed.
No one likes surprises in the construction industry. Keep your customer in the loop of each phase, explaining what they should expect.
Years ago I had problems with customers not understanding that new stamped concrete looked pale and washed out before it was sealed. Since I wait several weeks to seal, some customers lost faith, with many doubting we made the right color choice. To correct this confusion, our salesman now explains the importance of the sealer and educates new buyers on the look of an unsealed project compared to the finished product.
Spend time by face or phone each day bringing your customer or architect into the project. This could be nothing more than a voice mail or as in-depth as a half-hour on-site visit. Some customers roll with it and some want to know every move as it happens. Take the good with the bad and always communicate with your buyer.
Step 5: Don’t leave the job for supplies. I can’t tell you how many in our industry make three trips to the local hardware store each day while their crew waits for supplies. Nothing costs contractors more money than a failure to organize supplies and materials during off hours. Take time to look ahead of your crew regarding what is needed and make sure materials are waiting for them.
Step 6: Finish the job.
I once had a lead guy who grew bored with a project just before we finished. His idea was usually to take a guy or two and move on to another project before the last one was completed. This sometimes works well — if you’re very organized, I might add — but in any case, make sure manpower and time allow for a completed project as promised. A finished project is cleaner then when started and protected from foot or vehicle traffic until dry. Tell your customer when traffic can resume and answer other questions concerning their project. Invoice your project immediately after it’s completed.