Creating a competitive advantage that separates you from the pack is tough for a specialty contractor. This is especially true when your industry is full of scrappy people like yourself trying to fight you for your piece of the pie.

Here are four essential tips to help you remain a viable venture, and increase your market share.

1. Hire—and retain—the best.

What makes a business great? The people! Finding qualified employees with a good work ethic is the 10th biggest concern for small business owners, according to the National Federation of Independent Business 2016 survey (out of 75 list items). Finding and hiring great candidates is no easy task, especially with the worker shortage in construction.

That’s all the more reason not only to find good people, but to retain them with all your might (the new ones and the old ones).

Here are a few useful moves when trying to snag and keep good workers:

  • Post on job boards and go to job fairs to maximize reach
  • Offer on-the-job technology training so that your team will be exposed to the latest and greatest developments in the industry, a perk many younger workers will seek
  • Provide incentives—holiday bonuses, good benefits, positive reviews and raises (positive feedback does a lot toward making employees feel valued—possibly as much as an increase in pay)

Upshot: Invest in building a team of great employees. That value will lead to growth because a stellar team is an advantage competitors can’t easily replicate.

2. Maintain a strong online presence.

“No, we’re not on the web.” If you’ve had to say that you’ve probably felt a tinge of embarrassment. “You can see some of our work on our web site”—that’s how a business owner should be able to answer these days.

Almost like the modern business card, a digital presence is now integral to building a successful business. Consumers continue to rely on the web for finding products and services, and your website is a primary touch point for that (even if you don’t sell anything online).

But it’s not enough to simply slap up a website and forget about it. If you neglect your website it’ll start to look dull, outdated, and abandoned, which can drive clients away.

Below are a few ways to compete on the web and gain more business:

  • Don’t neglect your website—update it on a regular basis and keep contact info current
  • Make sure your site is optimized for search engines
  • Think about making your site mobile-friendly
  • Provide useful, clear, and accessible information
  • Bonus points: create and update social media profiles (photos of the great work you do are always good!)

Upshot: Your website is often the first interaction a potential customer has with your business—and a good first impression is crucial.

3. Get to know your market, and their desires, well.

While a strong web site is important, it will do nothing if you don’t really know your target potential customer—what they need, want, and don’t want, their spending power, and where they look for services and recommendations.

Depending on your sub-industry, people may want most of all reassurance that the finished product will be completely safe—or they may be as focused in the style of the work as the substance. If you don’t know this, how can you delight them?

Here are a few ways you can make sure you become intimately familiar with your market:

  • Regularly consult Angie’s List to see what makes clients gripe or gush about you and your competitors
  • Talk and listen to your subs (they’re a good source of info on industry issues and trends)
  • Attend trade shows so you can talk to lots of potential clients face to face
  • Talk to Home Depot or DoIt Center about what new materials are trending that you could offer to your customers (unless you have a good reason not to)
  • Conduct a simple email survey of customers and leads about what matters most to them (Expert tip: email subject lines like “Got a second to help us?” work better than “Please fill out our survey”)

Upshot: When you actively pursue knowledge of your customer base, you’ll avoid being out of step, and you’ll amaze customers and leads with your offerings and your work.

4. Use technology to your advantage.

Gone are the days when construction software was all overpriced, badly designed, and unreliable. Now there are software solutions developed by real contractors (and real developers) that actually help, instead of tying your brain in knots or failing at a critical juncture.

What’s more, with the burgeoning popularity of social media, the consumer market expects a kind of transparency, foresight, and accuracy that can only be created with high-tech.

New technologies that streamline your operations will not only wow your cohorts and clients with how organized you are—they will also win you more business and save you money.

  • Whether you’re a GC or a specialty contractor, think about an estimating software that would store your scheduling, bids, and change orders together in the cloud
  • If you do home builds or room remodels, an easy-to-use 3D modeling software is a must for showing clients what to expect
  • Check out software review sites like Capterra and read the testimonials/case studies on software websites (and remember that a free trial does not a great software make)
  • Consider ease-of-use for anything you need to train employees on, like time tracking software—and make sure they offer good support in case trouble strikes on payroll day

Upshot: Construction is turning more and more to technology to streamline operations. Even if you aren’t ready to adopt new technologies for every facet of your business, if it can simplify even one of your key operations, it will help you stay organized, efficient, and ahead of the curve.