As a snowstorm forces me to be idle, I am reminded how quickly conditions can change no matter the amount of planning to keep a small construction company healthy. The difference between good and great business owners can be measured by how quickly one recognizes, adjusts to and overcomes the surprises.
In a small construction business, cash flow is more critical than fuel in the truck. Prices at the pump may vary enough to affect a percentage point on the bottom line, but with no money in the bank, a good carpenter can’t even get to the job, much less collect a paycheck on Friday.
This obvious fact seems too basic to bother reading on, but the truth is that too many businesses are one disaster away from running out of gas. Stick with me because I know there are ways to help each other stash more money in the bank.
Experience proves that “Murphy’s Law” (anything that can go wrong, will go wrong) inevitably comes to pass, no matter the amount of planning committed to paper. While there are many business owners fortunate enough to have reserves set aside, too many others are so-well visited by Mr. Murphy, they face a weekly temptation to “borrow” from the withheld funds account to step from this Friday to the next.
Over many years, in countless conversations at coffee shops, lumber store parking lots and Home Builders banquets, few builders feel they are on the smooth track to a sell-off and retirement. Despite shiny pick-up trucks and multi project signs around town, the most established know enough to be wary. Many more juggle in all directions and send out the truck payment on the last day of the grace period.
The demands of a small business require constant vigilance and it can easily feel like you don’t have enough fingers to plug all the holes. While we know we should have another contract lined up and ready to go at all times, reality might be that a client suddenly dies, killing as well the 3 month addition that was planned to get us through the winter and the other client has committed the funds elsewhere after being told they had to wait.
Looking at those shiny pick-ups, it is easy to believe everyone else has it figured out, but the conversations have revealed to me that there are so many more who are improvising day to day to find paths of least resistance and a modicum of success. You are not alone.
Many have become owners of small construction businesses simply by virtue of being laid off with no other option but to take that handyman project for the neighbor down the street. That job leads to more until another parent on the soccer sideline mentions they need an addition and you have to decide if you want to run the risk of hiring sub-contractors or take on an employee.
Once responsible for another family’s food on the table, the requirement to find more work grows ever more critical. Successfully putting together 2×4’s and sheetrock leads to headaches that can’t be imagined while working up on someone else’s scaffold.
Thirty years ago, the mindset was competition. Builders held their methods closely in the fear that divulging their systems of marketing, pricing, costs and profits would be used against them in the next bid. Growth was exclusively through trial, error and a lot of good luck.
Today, professionals have learned that sharing information has improved the quality of the industry as a whole and increased the success rates of builders individually. Trade associations and journals have exposed the pitfalls and celebrated the achievements, as well as created resources to understand the subtle issues of subjects like the dynamics of mark-up versus sales. More are coming into the business with accredited degrees in project management and marketing.
Still, the bulk of small construction companies are run by those of us who started on a crew for a summer job and carried on however we could to keep food on the table. My mailing list is generated by people looking to improve their product, frustrated by the complications, willing to work hard to get the job done and looking to figure out how to make life easier.
We help each other.
Even before this latest snow melts, I’ll be back to work and too busy to do all the things I know should be done to ensure my own business is as healthy as it can be. As age takes its toll on my knees and the nail belt seems to get heavier each passing day, I want to share what I’ve learned.
We have a serious problem of fewer people taking up these tools today, so those of you reading this have a real opportunity to create successful businesses with far fewer cash flow problems than those who have struggled before you. Take advantage of my FREE offer to evaluate your website (or your need for one) and let’s get back to work smartly.