Contractors intent on improving their bottom line in a new year often relegate the last 12 months to the past as quickly as possible. An analysis of business performance over the previous year, however, forces a company to pinpoint its strengths and weaknesses and construct a growth strategy that addresses both areas. Which characteristics should contractors evaluate in order to increase business this year?
Assessing individual needs
A concerted effort to enhance interactions with customers enables a company to examine the health of its client relationships. Contractors who focus specifically on job scheduling and communication put themselves in a much better position to keep customers informed and, ultimately, satisfied with the finished product.
“We’ve done a better job of assessing customer needs so that we can address them more individually,” says Courtney Little, owner and president of ACE Glass Construction in Little Rock, Arkansas. “In 2015, we plan to create and implement a more robust scheduling system to address customer requests.”
As the economy continues to recover, many contractors will encounter an influx of work from homeowners who delayed renovations during the recession. But managing a larger number of jobs all of the sudden can overwhelm a company and strain its ability to form a personal connection with each customer.
“We lost our first client ever [in 2014],” says Jim Coffman, president of Coffman Studio, a landscape architecture firm based in Tempe, Arizona. “The timing was bad and we did not deliver as promptly as we should have. We were incredibly busy at the time and our combined schedules made it very difficult to coordinate meetings and reviews.”
In response, Coffman promoted a part-time employee to full-time status and might bump up the hours of other part-time workers as well as interns in 2015.
Discussions about service, fee structure and credentials allow contractors to highlight the advantages of working with their company. Brian Johnson, president of Soil Consultants Inc., a geotechnical engineering and testing firm in Charleston, South Carolina, initiated those conversations this past year with former customers who switched to a competitor because of price.
“We were able to better educate them on why there is a difference in cost,” says Johnson, who also serves as national president of the American Subcontractors Association, based in Alexandria, Virginia. “We will continue to target new clients and invite them to ‘lunch and learn’ in their offices or in our lab.”
Shortening turnaround times
Price remains the primary concern for many customers, but as more homeowners pursue renovations post-recession, the job schedule becomes critical. Contractors who hone their organizational skills, meet deadlines and deliver quality work every time ensure they not only acquire more jobs but also keep more of them.
Producing solutions for a specific job, however, can take longer than expected. Chuck B. Edwards, landscape architect for Breckon Land Design in Garden City, Idaho, admits he occasionally spends more time than he would like on the initial design concept for a job. But Edwards says he strives to apprise customers while he creates the first draft of their distinctive outdoor space.
“We are not building widgets—each design is unique and has to be thought out,” he adds. “But I try to keep my clients informed of the situation, and make sure that I am proud of the design when I present it to them.”
Johnson plans to establish a timetable for each phase of a job in 2015 so his company can reduce waits and minimize oversights. “We’ve identified a weakness in handing off jobs between departments, and we need to make sure all parties understand the time schedule that was agreed upon,” he says.
Embracing proven technology
Developments in construction management software have assisted companies in reaching a higher level of efficiency and productivity. Contractors should continually seek out new software programs, study the capabilities and test-drive the tools most likely to help them achieve greater profitability and success.
In 2014, Edwards particularly noticed the popularity and effectiveness of Breckon’s 3-D modeling and animation service. “Clients really enjoy seeing what their house and their landscape will look like in 3-D before construction starts,” he says. “Clients are able to make changes to the design before a shovel hits the ground, which reduces and in some cases even eliminates change orders.”
ACE Glass Construction failed to maximize some opportunities to capture smaller jobs and revenues in 2014 when the company needed more work, so Little initiated a system to track and accomplish financial objectives. “We implemented new planning strategies to project monthly revenue goals, and we now have enough work to carry us until 2016, so we’re going to work hard on performing all that we have,” he says.
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