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Managing Your Decorative Concrete Business for Profit

By my estimation, nearly 80 percent of all decorative concrete businesses fail to reach full earning potential, thanks to some form of mismanagement. Don’t feel bad. This percentage elevates when we combine all other construction trades into the equation. The fact is, contractors can be good at a trade but this doesn’t always equate to a growing bank balance. What if I said you can change this statistic in your favor, all while freeing up more time for you to do what you enjoy? This could be time with family or for golfing, fishing, maybe even taking time to evaluate or revise a business plan. How do fewer phone calls and fewer fires to extinguish sound? Managing for profit has one huge byproduct. The byproduct of good management is less stress and more peace of mind.

Although I haven’t personally met most Concrete Decor readers, I think I know you well. In all likelihood you own or operate a small business that offers some form of decorative concrete-related service. You haven’t had a true day off in months and most days consist of running from job to job and meeting to meeting, leaving you dead tired at day’s end. No sooner do you arrive on a project than you receive a call that has you running to another. You are the guy who manages sales, orders product, schedules work, oversees the work and also manages billing, complaints, questions and a dozen other obstacles on any given day. You hate to admit it but most days are overwhelming and each one brings a new level of stress. Truthfully, if this describes you then I must honestly say you’re mismanaged.

The decorative concrete trade is complex; I realize this well after many years actively involved in my own company. But there are two steps you can immediately take that will provide profitable results — not to mention restore balance in your personal life. Learn to say “no” and delegate.

Just say ‘no’
For some reason most business owners have difficulty with the word “no.” They fail to realize the liberation that derives from “no” and, more importantly, fail to understand that a business is not stable until they learn when to say it. As your business grows you cannot be everything to everyone. It’s impossible.

The result of “yes” fills a portion of your productive time with less than profitable activities. Let me say that again. The result of “yes” fills a portion of your productive time with less than profitable activities. Too many “yeses” keep you from performing whatever it is that makes your company money. It stretches your day, it stresses you and your crew, and it robs you of the energy to properly run your business. Here is the secret no one will tell you: Customers condition themselves to hearing “yes” and grow to expect it. Practicing “no” is not rude or disrespectful. Quite the contrary. You will not gain control of your business or personal life until you perfect the art of saying “no” in a friendly, respectful fashion.

If requests for small projects are robbing valuable productive time, try establishing a minimum charge-per-job policy. A kind way of saying “no” is to establish a $500 project minimum, or $1,000 if you so choose. Establishing a minimum charge eliminates wasting time on unprofitable projects when your efforts are best served farming profitable projects. Establish smart policy and let policy say “no.”

Delegate
I know what you’re thinking . . . “It won’t be done correctly unless I do it,” right? Wrong! The reason you’re the only one who can do “it” correctly is because you’re the only one allowing “it” to be done. Don’t underestimate those around you. I’m willing to bet you already have someone on your team, or in your family, that can do many daily tasks as well, or better, than you. If not, show them how to do whatever “it” is.

Delegation is freedom. Delegation allows you to catch a breath. Delegation is the first rung on the ladder of profitability. The art of delegation within our decorative concrete world is a process few have mastered. I personally know too many artisans who falsely believe they are the only person who can properly prep a floor, mold a countertop, set forms, stamp concrete or stain a floor. This is ridiculous. Your job is leadership and supervision. How can you lead when most of your time is spent in the trenches?

The first step in delegation is to ask others for opinion and assistance. You’ll be surprised at the level of creativity that will come from the most unlikely individuals. Know why? Because their minds are not cluttered with a thousand other things that must be done because of an inability to say “no.” Ones willing to assist or accept delegation will view tasks from a new perspective. This will be hard for you, at first, but it’s vital to entrust others so you can move along to managing for profit. I encourage you to support the decisions made under delegation and caution you to not constantly correct or undermine those trusted.

If at all possible, delegate incoming phone calls to someone else. Cell phones are great but they instantaneously disconnect our train of thought, waste productive time and distract us from a daily plan of profitability. Insulate yourself, if at all possible, from random incoming calls to your business. A good call-screener will triage calls according to importance and shield your train of thought away from trivial questions or concerns. If properly directed, this screener will be your best step toward saying “no.”

Doug Carlton is working on his third decade in the decorative concrete industry. He is the owner of Carlton Construction, located at the base of the Big Horn Mountains in northeastern Wyoming. Doug can be reached at carltondoug@sbcglobal.net.

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