Decorative concrete contracting companies, no matter the size or specialty, have to deal with many of the same challenges. It’s important to address some of these before trying to expand your business, so you're sure the foundation you're about to build on is solid.
First of all, before you consider expanding, make sure you’re charging enough for your services. Although the best way to succeed as a contractor is to master the craft, your front-end work with your client should reflect the same precision you bring to the job site. Take the time to job-cost accurately. Invest in estimating software. Don’t be afraid to shop your competitors. (And if you think they haven’t shopped you, think again.) It may take some effort, but knowing exactly what any given project should cost will ensure that you end up in the black on every job.
Secondly, know the materials you’re using. There are more decorative concrete products arriving on the market every day, and choosing from among them can be overwhelming. That said, finding the products that work best for you just takes a little bit of research. Test the products yourself — don’t just rely on the recommendations of others.
Also, before expanding, you should be confident not just about the quality of your workmanship, but also the quality of your materials. Ask manufacturers to direct you to projects that have been completed locally. Projects that have aged a minimum of four or five years will show you how the materials have held up.
Finally, know your own weak spots. Just as it is important to know your strengths, it’s equally important to know the areas where your company needs improvement. This last point is key when it comes to deciding when to grow your business.
Knowing when the time is right
There are two places you need to look to determine whether the time is right for expansion. The first is the situation within your company. Are you completing your jobs on time? How about on budget? Do you rarely make return or repair trips to past projects? If you can answer yes to all these questions, then the chances are good that you’re ready to move forward.
But conditions within your company are only half the equation — you might be ready to expand, but market demand might not be there to support you. A favorable business climate is just as crucial to your timing as the internal state of your company.
It’s also important to remember that you don’t have to make this assessment alone. Call someone in from outside your company who can help you determine if the time is right.
What comes next
Once you’re on the springboard, the first step is a lot like the one before it — seek outside advice. Hire a consultant, someone who’s been where you want to go, and work with them to develop a game plan. You will also need to prepare yourself for what may be difficult statements and ideas from the consultant. Remember, they are looking in from the outside and can give sometimes brutally honest perspectives that may not be easy for you to swallow.
Before any kind of plan can be implemented, however, you have to make business growth your top priority. Often that means pulling yourself off the job-site crew and devoting yourself full time to the expansion of your company. As long as you’re performing more than 40 percent of the labor in your company, growth will be hindered because of the lack of time focused on the business plan.
Although every contractor’s business plan will be different — depending, of course, on your goals, strengths, specialties and so on — some aspects of business expansion are the same for everyone.
The most common of these is the hiring process. More manpower is obviously the goal here, but you need more than just someone capable of doing the job. You need employees who will help you take your company in the direction you want to go. To that end, it’s better to hire someone with the right personality, even if they’re short on experience. You can train anyone to do a task; you can’t train attitude.
To put your expanded crews to work, you’ll also need to have an expanded clientele. There are a number of ways to accomplish this, some more involved than others, but the basic guideline is to expand your contacts within the community. Join and get involved in local trade organizations. Get to know area designers and architects, and bring samples of your work that can be left with them at their place of business. The more contacts you have in the community, the more opportunities you’ll get for projects.
In addition to local exposure, the Internet is becoming more and more crucial to the success of any business. Make sure your Web site is working for you. There are a lot of resources out there for improving not only the look and functionality of your Web site, but also how easy it is for search engines to find. Take advantage of them.
Although expanding your work force and your clientele are important steps, your company’s success is still contingent on the quality of service you provide for your customers. Training is an excellent chance to learn more efficient ways of completing your projects or to practice other techniques that will open new avenues of service for your business.
Don’t go overboard, though. As you expand your business it’s best to focus on just a few techniques, so as to avoid being labeled “jack of all trades, master of none.” Think of the market you want to target and train in services that complement one another within that market. For example, a residential contractor might train in acid-stained floors and concrete countertops, both services that might be involved in a single renovation project. One project can lead to another.
Expanding your decorative concrete business is no simple task, but the right research, planning and organization can help you take your company to the next level.