There’s no way around it: The availability of construction jobs peaks in the summer and cools off when the weather does. Still, there are steps you can take to mitigate seasonal shifts in your workload. Try these tips to keep business prospects coming year-round.
Examine Your Business
Start by taking full stock of your construction business. Finding and keeping steady work requires strategic planning, a step busy contractors tend to skip.
“A full SWOT [Strength, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats] analysis will help you build your job pipeline and keep it full,” says business performance consultant Terry Corbell, founder of The Biz Coach.
To conduct this type of analysis, begin by writing down your strengths and weaknesses. (Strengths and weaknesses are things you have control over, such as your skills, contacts and credentials.) Next, list the opportunities and threats to your business from external forces, such as the current market, your location and competition.
Finally, look into whether you’re leveraging your strengths to secure new jobs and addressing your weaknesses so you don’t lose jobs to competitors. “Many contractors don’t know what advantages their skills afford them or how quickly a weakness can be turned around once it’s identified,” Corbell says.
Develop a Job Prospect List
Reading the business section of the local paper to learn which companies are expanding or relocating is a good way to predict future opportunities, Corbell says.
In addition, subscribe to area business journals and join your city and state business associations. “Attending these groups’ meetings allows me to network with other business owners and find out about new commercial construction jobs,” says Andrew Colas, president of Colas Construction in Portland, Oregon.
If residential construction is your forte, stay abreast of area property sales. “Develop relationships with local real estate agents,” says Jamie Strotmeyer, owner of Henry Street Building + Design in Burlington, Vermont.
Home sales generate jobs on the front end — before the property is listed — and again at closing when the inspection is complete. “The jobs may be small, but they can help to fill in the gaps,” Strotmeyer says.
Keep Up with Past Clients
Successful contractors are as good at building relationships as they are at building homes. During slow periods, review a list of past clients and ask yourself if every job is complete. “Many contractors leave jobs 90 percent finished,” Corbell says. While you may have been paid in full, the client may not be completely satisfied with the job.
When a client expresses pleasure with your work, that’s the time to ask if he or she knows anyone who needs similar work done. Then, follow up on those leads right away. “Happy customers are the best source of referrals,” Corbell says.
Boosting customer satisfaction will build your reputation for being thorough and detail oriented, and will help you land future jobs. “Doing quality work on every job is the best way to ensure a steady workflow,” Colas says.
Diversify Your Work
The timing of funding for capital projects can also impact workflow. Federal contracts ebb and flow on a biannual basis, while commercial contracts peak three months before the end of the fiscal year and dry up from January to March while budgets are being finalized.
Striking a balance between public and private jobs can help you mitigate these swings. “Funding is cyclical, and it’s a matter of being in the right place at the right time,” says Jennifer Crain, CEO of Homeland Contracting Corporation in Chesapeake, Virginia.
Take a Well-Rounded Approach
In northern climates, outdoor jobs take longer and cost more to complete in the winter. “I schedule all of my new construction, additions and window replacements to be done before the cold weather sets in,” Strotmeyer says. When snow is piling up, kitchen and bath renovations keep his business steady.
In rainy Oregon, Colas follows suit. “I try to keep a mix of ground-up and tenant improvement jobs to choose from,” he says.
When work does comes your way, it’s important to be ready. Line up subcontractors and temporary workers in advance so you can meet demand and turn your rainy day into a windfall.
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