7 Hard-Knock Truths To Building A Successful Contracting Business

June 15, 2011
Hagerstown, MD
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I've been blessed to be involved in this industry. It's all that I really know, and I've tried to make the world of it.

I've been involved with a handful of start-up companies, I've help build a $20,000,000+ construction company, I've had success's, and I've had LOTS of failures. I've done lots of thigns wrong. I've learned a lot. And so on.

But, this isn't about me. This is about some thoughts I'd like to share with you. 7 Indisputable facts (in my opinion at least) that I've learned (mostly the hard way), that must be followed. That you must accept in order to be successful in the construction industry. Or, any business, for that matter.

Of course, if you're a one-man operation or content with where you are, that's perfectly fine and not applicable for this piece. This is meant for the contractor who's struggling to make it work. Who's struggling to break through to the next level. Who's ambition often times exceeds his talents and will do whate3ver it takes to make it work.

So, let's get started!

Truth #1 - You Have To Be Psychotically Passionate

You're going to face a lot of struggles in your business. You're going to have hard times. You're going to have great times. In the end, the majority of it depends on you and how passionate you are about your business. It can't be something that you "kinda want to do" and expect huge results.

You have to be psychotic about it. You've got to work relentlessly for it. You've got to sacrifice certain things in your life now, so your passionate can push your business to where it needs to go. Like the old saying, If I do what I have to do now when I have to do it, the day will come when I can do what I want to do when I want to do it.

Truth #2 - Surround Yourself With The Right People

There's a saying that you can judge a person's life by their 5 closest friends. I've found that to be amazingly true. So, take a look at who you spend your time with. Do they bring you up, or do they bring you down? Sure, it can be hard to disassociate with people that you love, who really aren't good for you. But I promise you, you won't find many long-term successful people who do not have a great support system surrounding them.

Make strong bonds with people you admire, or who have qualities you want to possess. Or, people that are in a place in life that you want to be. Befriend them. Ask for their advice and help. Don't be shy. I've found that successful people typically love to share and help others who truly want to make it.

And remember, it can't be all take. Do something for them also. You may not be able to help them with business advice, but what can you do for them? Every person I've met has something they aspire for or wish they had or could do. Perhaps you can fill that role? Though it may some simple in your mind for what you're getting in return, don't think for the other person. You're simple help/gift may mean worlds more than what they feel they are giving you.

Truth #3 - Hire & Empower People Who Are Better Than You

At first, I had a hard time with this. Because of my passion, I used to think that "no one could do it as good as me" or "no one could want it as much as me". Wow was I wrong on that one. I've seen this in a good many unsuccessful contractors. We feel that we're the best or the only one who can do it "our way". So, we spend our time doing things "our way" and making bad mistakes in the business because of this.

Or, worse yet, I've seen contractors who hire people that are not as good as them. Why would anyone ever do that? Their own personal insecurities. They're more concerned about someone else looking smarter or taking the glory, over being successful. Wow, what a formula for failure.

This one really is important. I've worked with some amazingly successful people. One trait I've noticed about many of them is that, well, nothing was really amazing about their abilities. They weren't the best at one thing, or some super smart business guy. One thing they all possessed was the ability to hire people who were great at things they were not good at, and let them do their job. That's also a key.

Want to stifle an employee? Put limits on them. Be hard-fast on what they can and cannot do. You'll take a person who could be great and drive them to mediocrity in your company, and eventually looking for other employment.

Hey - you hired them. You pay for them. Let them do their job!

Truth #4 - Get Out Of The Way

The bottleneck is always at the top. What a true saying. I've seen a good many contractors grow their business successfully. One thing I noticed was that, in each case, a large portion of the growth happened when the owner got out of the way and had competent employees doing the work.

Again, I had trouble with this originally. It's your business. Your baby. Letting go of the rains is tough to do. But, it's has to happen. Otherwise, you'll be the bottleneck in your company's growth.

Why do we do this? Worry of things being done properly. Control issues. Personal insecurities again. Trust. All things you have to break free from.

Here's what helped me get over it. My business mentor said once sentence that really woke me up. It was simple. "If you hire 2 people that do it half as good as you, the same job gets done and you have freed up all of your time to move forward". Wow, that really stuck. I don't need to have another person who's as "good" as me. I can spend my time cultivating that employee to that level and move forward. Then the job still gets done and my time freed up to "move forward".


Truth #5 - Become A Business Person, Not A Contractor

If you've ever read the e-Myth books (there's one targeted for contractors, by the way), you understand this truth. Think about this story...

Most contractors fail because they are technicians in their business, not a true business person. In other words, let's say I'm a great carpenter. I do great work, so I decide to start my own carpentry business.

I'm a technician (carpenter) starting a business (not a business person).

So now, I'm working on the business, marketing, selling, payroll, taxes, and all the other burdens of running a business. Well guess what? I'm not spending any time being a good carpenter! I'm spending my time being a bad business person because it's not what I'm good at.

So, in order to be successful, you're going to have to pass the trade work off to others, and hone your skills in business. Otherwise, save yourself the stress and hassles and just work for someone else doing what you're good at.


Truth #6 - Step On The Gas

There's one consistent fact tha trumps everything else - you have to be a successful marketer in this industry. Everything starts with marketing. Without it - nothing else matters. You can have a great sales staff, do great work, etc. But, if you don't have any leads coming through the door, nothing happens and you fail.

If you dedicate your efforts to successful marketing plans (in whatever form of marketing/advertising that works for your industry), you'll have a pipeline feeding into your business machine that keeps it going.

Sure, referrals are great leads. Word-of-mouth advertising is "free" and "the only way for me". That's a great business model if you can survive on getting leads only when people talk about you. Unfortunately, it's a failing model. Here's why.

Not every job you sell will talk about you and refer you. Even if they did, not every referral you generate will turn into a sale. Thus, eventually you dwindle down to no referrals, no leads, no money. No good.

Push your marketing and make it work.


Truth #7 - Never Let Off Of The Gas

I've seen this happen several times, and it's soul crushing. A contractor builds a successful business. He says "whew" and starts to relax. He loses that "psychotic passion" that got him to where he is. Then things go downhill. The business loses momentum. The competition catch up and pass by. In the end, the business fails.

Wow - never let this happen to you.

Does that mean you'll always have to work like a madman? No way. There will come a time where you'll want to enjoy life more. Perhaps pass the business on to a child or family member or friend.

But that doesn't mean you let off the gas. It just means you focus your efforts on getting someone else to keep their foot on the gas.

Until you've completely replaced yourself from the business, and it can continue to grow without your direct involvement, you've got to keep the hammer down. Once you've successful accomplished this, the world will be your oyster.

So, my friends, I know this got long winded. But, I hope it has shed light and inspiration on your goals for success.

Now get to work! :)


This blog post submitted by:
  • DamionRutherford
  • PerformanceYellow
  • 877-532-6440 X 301
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Comments (17)

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Displaying 1–17 of 17
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    Chris Johnsonalmost 9 years ago

    You have hit the nail on the head.

    I finally learned to let go, allow others to run the site while I run the office and sales, smartest thing I ever did. Now when I have time (10-12 hours a week) I go to the site and act as an employee, I let the foreman continue running the job and I work for him. Even if the other employees ask me a site specific question, I tell them to talk to the foreman.

    Why didn't I know this 20+ years ago???

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    Darwinalmost 9 years ago

    Man, that's great advice and spot on. I'm, gonna bookmark this and read it over and over from time to time. Great piece!

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    builder2345almost 9 years ago

    Thanks for the advice

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    flashheatingandalmost 9 years ago

    I will take this at heart. Very valid points

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    Ewaalmost 9 years ago

    This is great!

  • No-avatar-62
    Jeralmost 9 years ago

    Words of wisdom for sure.

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    jarvis designalmost 9 years ago

    This really hit home with me. Especially the part about forgetting to market your business because of referrals and word of mouth. I am experiencing a serious lack of leads and work for the first time in over 20 years and was a little slow getting the marketing machine back up and running. The REAL funny thing is your comment on being a tradesman not a business man. When I started my first business at the age of 19 I had an uncanny business sense, but did not have the technical knowledge or skills to do a lot of the work. 20 years later I consider myself a master at the trades I perform, but a lousy business man!

    Thanks for a great read!

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    Android Appsalmost 9 years ago

    Couldn't have been said better. Although you can't teach experience you can write great literature such as this and hope the readers incorporate it into their business model.

  • No-avatar-62
    beaureguardalmost 9 years ago

    Thank you for the advice.I have been a drywall taper since I was a kid. My father showed me how to do the trade.I just started to go out on my own and start my own small business.I will take your advice to hart and try to fallow it.Now all i need is to find someone I can teach so I can move forward.

    p.s Do you think it is a good idea to get a small loan from the bank to help float my costs I have the work I just dont like to make the guys I do have wait till I get paid so they can get paid I am trying to build up a fund

  • Thumb_893b2435Author
    DamionRalmost 9 years ago


    If it's simply a cash flow issue, sure why not? It will take the stress off of you, and will make your guys happier by getting paid quicker.

    However, DO NOT (cannot stress this enough) use this as a crutch for anything. Be EXTREMELY disciplined to use the money ONLY for this purpose and for nothing else. Otherwise, you'll likely find your self paying on a loan and forgetting how you got in that position to begin with.

    Hope this helps!

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    BenLandersalmost 9 years ago

    Great list - I've got a couple more for you (and they're both critically important):

    1) Understand what you can - and should be willing to afford - to pay for a new client. You MUST know this BEFORE you put together your marketing plan.

    If you don't know what you can afford to pay for a new client, you CANNOT determine what you can afford to pay for various types of ads, for each click or visit to your website, for a lead, etc.

    2) Accurately measure and track your advertising and your website. It's simply unbelievable how many contractors continue to advertise based on their gut intuition and/or some sales rep's rhetoric. Stop wasting your money!!

    Asking people how they heard about you is terribly inaccurate. Track the leads you receive for one month from direct visits to your website, Google organic search, Yahoo and Bing - then compare it to the surveys (how your customers said they found you). If you do this - for even one month - you'll be blown away.

    Over the years, I've seen a direct correlation between the success of a business and the level of attention to detail. This extends to the nuances of tracking and quantifying various aspects of your business - including your advertising and marketing!

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    ginteriorsalmost 9 years ago

    AWESOME! You have really opened my eye's.

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    DLGalmost 9 years ago

    I KNOW IT.

  • No-avatar-62
    nynthalmost 9 years ago

    Great article mate, very nicely put.

  • Thumb_avatar72246_1
    room2roofover 8 years ago

    Great Read. I think most Contractors start out as workers such as in my case. I love doing the work but when my company started growing I've realized that it was time for me to step into the boss position and hire good reps and installers that I can train my way. I have a balance of fear and respect which makes things interesting but I'm also a comedian so my guys have alot of laughs and things dont overboil. Marketing and Advertising is the key and saving as much as you can while getting as much as you can. There is no set price on marketing from these companies offering services so watch out for who you hire....

    charlotte roofing, remodeling and painting contractor

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    TarahGruberover 8 years ago

    Great advice for any business owner!

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    cabinetsnjover 7 years ago

    I think alot of your points are universal regardless of your line of business. Very sound advice.

Displaying 1–17 of 17
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