By Ron Coleman
In part one of this article, the focus was on the issues that have arose due to the ongoing labour shortage and how to deal with those issues. There are other factors that still should be reviewed when looking at our businesses. Several methods of making more money and having a successful business don’t involve growing your labour force.
Many companies would rather focus on growing sales, but I believe it is better to focus on growing profits by improving efficiencies already in place and focusing on the right customers. Growing sales often means your business struggles to keep up with processes, staff, and customer needs.
Artificial intelligence is proving to add value to many businesses. There are three growth areas in artificial technology—building information modelling (BIM), customer relationship management (CRM), and data collection.
We need to use technology more effectively. Design, estimating, accounting, invoicing, payroll, scheduling, and materials handling are all areas we can use technology to enhance our business model. Virtually every facet of the industry can improve productivity by using technology.
Augmented reality, while in its infancy in Canada, has potential for safety training, real-time project information, team collaboration, project planning, and modifying projects. I predict this will have a major impact on the way we run our businesses over the coming decade.
Good vs. Great
A good contractor will talk his way out of a situation, but a great one would not get into in the tricky situation in the first place! Good is not good enough, anymore. Most of your competitors are good, and with the upcoming labour shortage, you need to be great. Good contractors make money on one job and give it back on the next. Great contractors don’t give it back. To be a great contractor you need to be proactive.
By spending your time putting out fires and focusing on just keeping your business afloat is surely not a strategy for survival. And certainly not one for success. Real leaders are focused on the long-term future—they have a vision. Every business that aims at being successful must have proactive leadership. In the current, very uncertain labour market, it’s a given. Without this leadership, you will be a has-been.
The biggest threat facing contractors in the current and future market is, as we have discussed, a shortage of qualified labour. There is no perfect size for a contractor. The correct balance between overhead and operations should get you the maximum results.
For example, if you could add $500,000 in annual sales without any additional overhead then that might be a good strategy. Alternatively, if you dropped some overhead how much work would you drop?
On the other hand, if you need to add an estimator or other overhead person, you will need to recover at least eight times their cost in annual sales to justify the cost and risk of investing in that overhead.
Let’s look at strategies for making more money considering the likely labour difficulties we are going to face.
Do I focus on labour-intensive jobs or material-intensive jobs? In a tight labour market, I would suggest going with the more material-intensive jobs. They are also likely to be lower risk and lower profit.
Make sure you have price escalation clauses in your contracts to cover labour and material cost increases.
Adding & subtracting
Adding resources is easy. Subtraction is an action, and it doesn’t just happen. Do you have the leadership skills to take this action? The best way to add profit is to subtract what hinders profit.
According to the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu, “To attain knowledge, add things every day. To attain wisdom, subtract things every day.” More does not always mean better.
Our customers push us to quote jobs for their benefit, not for ours. If we do less work, prices will increase, and we will become more efficient and make more money.
Find the sweet spot
Ask yourself, what size jobs are best suited to you? How about, what types of work are best suited to you or what geographic areas are best suited to you?
For several years, the union employees at a B.C. government body lobbied to allow workers to work from home, at least on a part-time basis. The employer consistently found reasons why this could not work. Now, due to COVID, many of the employees are working from home.
Suddenly the employers understood the myriad of benefits to both the organization and the employees. This is reactive leadership; not proactive. It is your duty as a businessperson to provide proactive leadership.
I would argue there are four ways to grow a successful business—more customers of the type you want, get them to come back more often, upsell them with additional value, and lastly, be efficient.
As the lead person in your business, this is where you should be spending your time—identify what you need to add and subtract from your business, appoint champions to move these needs forward, and mentor those the champions. This will help develop a more cohesive team within your business and allow you to spend more time in your leadership role and less in management.
Probably the most important advice I give to service contractors is to increase their hourly rate by $10. I have never had a client tell me that it backfired on them. You would have to lose a lot of billable hours before it hurt your bottom line. The customers you are most likely to lose are the high maintenance and slow-paying ones. If you had five technicians billing out 40 hours per week, you would put almost another $100,000 profit on your bottom lines each year. Over 10 years that’s an extra $1 million in the bank. It’s that easy.