Imagine yourself stranded in a jungle, trying to determine how to quickly and safely get back to civilization before you run out of food and water. Without the help of an experienced survival expert, it would be difficult to decide your next steps for surviving and finding your way back to safety.
Now, imagine a construction business owner sitting in his/her office alone, trying to make decisions about how to run his/her company, increase sales or improve project management systems. Strangely, these scenarios are very similar. As a business owner, making decisions based on what you know and your past experience, without also learning from experienced professionals, is no way to operate well.
Along with the fun and excitement of owning and running a company, comes much stress and strain. Overwhelmed with difficult decisions, frustrated business owners often delay making decisions and continue operating as they have been—which often means keeping mediocre employees, producing below-average results, using inadequate organizational systems, and taking on the wrong customers and projects.
Unfortunately, most of these frustrated owners fail to realize that two heads are better than one and that peers with experience might be able to offer help. You cannot do it alone, and you might as well be stranded in the jungle if you try.
Me, Myself & I
The best business advice comes from successful peers or outside, unbiased professionals who know your business, can give you real tips on how to improve and don’t hold back the truth. I founded my commercial construction company in 1977. After 7 years in business, the company grew to 150 employees and $50 million in annual sales.
Still, a friend suggested that a board of directors could help me take my company to the next level. So, I asked five successful businessmen to be on my advisory board. At our first meeting, I presented my goals, financials and plans for the future. One by one, they proceeded to ask questions I could not answer, including:
- “Is that all the money you make for the risk you take?”
- “Why is your employee turnover rate so high?”
- “Why do you do so much of the financial planning and decision-making yourself?”
- “What new customers and markets have you tried in the last year?”
- “What is your long-term, strategic business plan?”
These questions and many more made me feel inadequate. I couldn’t answer any of them well because my inner circle and executive management team consisted of just me, myself and I. Does this scenario sound familiar?
After overcoming the shock of the board meeting, I decided to invest in the future of my company by getting some help. My advisory board recommended I join a peer group and hire a professional management consultant to draft a strategic business plan. So, I hired a construction business management coach who helped me look at my leadership style and analyzed my management team to determine which employees were assets to the long-term growth of my company.
He recommended improvements to our overall operational systems, standards and procedures to help us become more organized. He reviewed our numbers and gave us advice on how to make more money. Then, he facilitated a strategic business planning workshop for us. I couldn’t have made the changes I needed to make without his leadership.
Finding The Help You Need
More than 20 years later, as a contractor business coach, I have worked directly with hundreds of construction business owners who also decided they needed help making the right business decisions. Some of the major concerns from clients have included:
- Ken—Struggled with keeping his project managers and estimators accountable for finishing projects on budget.
- Harold—Couldn’t decide how to structure his organizational chart so he could work less and focus more on gaining and retaining customers.
- Dave—Struggled with a tight market and tough competition and needed to attract more, higher-margin customers.
- Donald—Was trying to figure out how to hand over his company to his son without upsetting his senior managers.
- Ben—Had field productivity problems and needed to create a program his foremen and supervisors would use.
- Dale—Asked me to help his 20 division managers work on a plan to expand their services and create loyal customers across the country.
- Charles—Needed help getting his managers, superintendents and foremen all doing their jobs in the same, systematic way.
- Dennis—Wanted to develop an accountability system that kept sales associates focused on profitable clients and expanding market share.
Every business owner has internal challenges and tough decisions to make. But without sound advice, these owners often remain trapped doing what they’ve always done.
When contractors come to me, they don’t know what they need, but they know they need help. I begin with a confidential survey of their employees to study problems from their perspective. The survey includes questions like:
- What works, and what doesn’t?
- What needs improvement?
- Which people are productive, mediocre or need to go?
- What additional responsibilities do you want to accept, let go of?
- What are your ideas for improving productivity, scheduling, retaining people and profits?
From the results of a survey like this one, a strategic business planning workshop can be built during a 1- to 3-day meeting, in which company leadership sits down and drafts the direction for the future of the business. Discussions often focus on answering key questions, such as:
- What are your 1-, 3- and 5-year business visions?
- What are your core values and financial growth goals?
- What is your organizational structure?
- What is your plan for winning work and building wealth?
- What improvements do you ultimately need to make?
Every business owner must invest time and money into his/her company’s future. You and your management team will have to dedicate yourselves to the process of actively pursuing change and becoming a high-margin contractor.