Business Tips

subcontractor

5 ways to be a great specialty contractor in 2020—and beyond

The economy is healthy, and construction is going great guns. This is the perfect time for specialty contractors to take an honest inventory and strengthen your weak spots in order to weather the storms to come—both the real, wet ones and the financial “downpours”.

Some traits of a good specialty contractor are the same as they’ve always been, and apply to any commercial contractor. Other characteristics that indicate a strong chance of survival are Darwinian evolutions based on changes in expectations and technology within the construction landscape.

We recommend doing a self-check about each of these five behaviors, and make sure you align with them as we move into 2020.

1) Never say ‘yes’ to what you can’t deliver (or to being treated unfairly).

As you bid on a project, and when you sign a contract, only represent yourself as capable of doing what you can do—at a price that will work. Otherwise you risk leaving either the owner or yourself high and dry.

This is why a “race to the bottom” isn’t a great race to engage in. Sure, everyone likes a good price, but what they like even more is a job well done—and a sub they can consider for future projects. What owners hate, on the other hand, is a job that was finished too quickly using materials that were too cheap, and what you’ll hate is having to do rework for no additional pay.

And again, don’t misrepresent what you’re capable of when you sign the contract, either. (Sorry, this means you have to read the thing.) A good contract will cover how conflicts should be resolved by the GC and owner, who’s responsible for coordinating work between the trades, and other important guidelines. If the parameters laid out in the contract aren’t to your liking, this is your time to question them—not down the road, when it might involve serious legal fees.

2) Be a good co-worker, boss, friend.

Maybe you’ve worked jobs where you felt disrespected by the GC or one of the other trades, or where you weren’t as easy to get along with as on your best day. So take your next project as a chance to be the person you wanted that GC to be toward you, or that you wanted to be toward others on the last project and failed. Think about the best, most respectable person you’ve ever worked with—the person with enough integrity to go around. Simply striving to be more like them will go a long way.

3) Make reliability your signature trait.

We all know the stereotype of the contractor who doesn’t answer calls, doesn’t show up on time, and takes way longer to complete their portion of the project than they said they would. Worst of all—and this will rankle the GCs who hire you as much as it rankles the owner—there is the sub who wasn’t paying attention, didn’t ask, and then does the work wrong.

You can avoid being that guy is by taking notes when the owner or GC starts talking, so you’re clear on what is expected of you (and not to beat a dead horse, but read that contract). You can also out-perform your lackluster competitors by showing up on time, and by being clear with the GC and owner when something disrupts your schedule.

4) Communicate, communicate, communicate.

Let’s say a chain of events is clear as day to you, or a problem seems bright and glaring. That doesn’t mean everyone else has the same knowledge or understanding. You’ve got to communicate.

Firstly, never leave your team in the dark: Keep communication lines flowing both ways so they have the knowledge of scope and the materials to get cracking. Make sure they are always aware of the schedule. Instruct them to inform you right away of changes or setbacks as well as when a task is completed successfully.

If an error is made by you or one of your workers or some hiccup occurs, don’t waste time on the details of why it happened, but do bring to the GC a clear plan for how you are going to get the job done properly and safely.

5) Get more efficient.

When you repeat a task again and again, you inevitably start to look for ways to standardize it. You find ways to work out the inefficiencies so that you don’t waste time and you get the basic, repetitive parts done quickly—without errors.

With tasks that you only do once per project, or every couple of weeks, you aren’t reminded as often of the sticking points that hold you up, or the pain caused by doing the work inefficiently. It’s easier to procrastinate doing anything about it.

This is why it’s important to sit down once or twice a year and look at your top five workflows—and then strategize how you’re going to try to streamline them.

Many small to mid-size construction companies are starting to automate to make up for the labor shortage. Plus, the construction boom is going to peak out at some point. This means you’d better make sure your business is as strong and streamlined as possible to ensure your survival when this happens.

Whether this means finding a better way to line up two-by-fours prior to framing or instituting a system for time tracking and payroll, decide on a change and then go for it. It might require a little investment of time and money up front, but if it will make your business more competitive in six months or a year, you’ll be better off for it.