You know the routine. Men will go on driving for hours looking for a route, a street address, or a place of business; but they will not stop to ask for directions. When they are almost out of gas or already late for their meeting, only then will they unwillingly succumb to their wife’s pleas, and finally stop and ask someone for directions.

Don’t you just love some of the responses?

  • “You drove right by your turnoff about 80 miles down the road.”
  • “I’ve got a shortcut for you, but listen closely because you might get lost again.”
  • “You don’t have a map?! Let me draw you one.”

The results might be funny when you’re driving your car, but what about when you’re “driving” your business? When you’re out of time or almost out of money and need more help, do you stop to ask for directions or simply resort to that usual, “If I just keep on going, I’ll find the way.”

Amazingly when you finally do ask for directions, the responses are almost the same:

  • “You missed a basic item and now you’ll have to go back.”
  • “There are some shortcuts, but you won’t make up for what you’ve lost.”
  • “You don’t have a map?! Let me draw you one.”
Above all else, you need to be certain that the person giving you directions has already been down that same road. You cannot afford to miss a right turn or you’ll end up on a dead-end street.

I have been giving directions to contractors for over a quarter of a century because I have been down that road before. My first two questions are, “Where do you want to go?” and “How fast do you want to get there?” Once they establish those two objectives, we draw the map and weigh all of the options.

In the “good old days” we used to call this “marketing,” which simply meant deciding what you wanted to do and how to go about doing it. Today’s quality contractors call it “paradigms” or backing up 10 steps to analyze what you are doing. Regardless of what you want to call it, you need to establish some kind of realistic goal, as well as what routes you will need to follow to get there.

Which Route? If you take a look at a map of the United States, you can see that there are dozens of different routes that would take you from your hometown to Disney World (Orlando), where I live. You can get on the interstates and take all of the major city bypasses and get here in the shortest possible time or you can leisurely travel some of the scenic routes to enjoy the trip. You must also consider rush hour traffic delays, road construction, accidents on the highway or automobile trouble, such as flat tires or engine problems.

As we draw a map and establish directions for your business, we must likewise consider all of your desirable options and alternatives and every predictable problem or obstacle that you might possibly encounter:

  • What type of work do you want to perform?
  • What size projects can you handle?
  • How much money is available?
  • How much would you like to make?
  • What is your bonding capacity?
  • Do you have the available manpower to complete that much work on schedule?
  • Will that route satisfy your personal goals?
  • What about family involvement and succession?

Fortunately, today’s booming economy and ever-increasing skilled craft shortage are providing many more profitable options and alternate routes. Some of you who have been struggling on those rocky roads that lead to the poorhouse should either look at your own map and find a better route or stop and ask for directions.

The following 10 “directions” are among the most common for my clients:

  • Carefully pick and choose who you want to work for. Stop bidding to those abusive con men (construction managers) and general contractors who “shop and chop” your prices. Avoid working for those companies who constantly change schedules but never meet them, issue work orders but won’t pay for them, flood your office with RFIs and time-consuming pricing on changes, etc., etc., etc. You should use that old adage, “First time, shame on him. Second time, shame on me.” There is enough good work and plenty of good customers that will provide you with a smooth, paved highway that bypasses all of that congestion and delay. When you latch on to those good ones, be sure to create a true “partnering” relationship.
  • Raise your prices. If you are better than your competitors you should definitely be charging more than they do. If you are not, look carefully at what makes them better than you. Don’t waste your time trying to compete with low-ball prices. You can diversify into a more lucrative field or try bidding in a different market area.
  • Keep score. Good employees want to be measured and they want that score to mean something. If you have employees who don’t want to be measured, why do you pay them?
  • Get into the “people business.” You need someone to recruit, hire, train, motivate, control, discipline and counsel every single employee on your payroll. Small contractors might have enough time to do this themselves, but most will need a general superintendent, general foreman or human relations director to insure that no employee is overlooked. If your company isn’t concerned with the personal success of your employees, why would they care about your company?
  • Go for the gold. Recruit and use all of the retired craftsmen in your area to mentor your “green” entry level employees. They will also value-engineer every project, oversee your pre-fab shop, maintain your tools and equipment and organize your shop, yard and material inventory.
  • Offer flex-time work schedules to every employee. Some prefer four 10s, some like three 13s, some like early morning shifts and some will choose afternoons and evenings. Whatever hours or days off that will allow them to enjoy the “good life” and still fulfill your work needs will create an attractive win-win solution.
  • Maintain a visible work schedule. You need to know what jobs are in progress, which ones are near completion, and when you will need to get more. This will provide justification for in-company skill certification classes, an active skills inventory and a VCR “how to” library. This visible manpower-needs schedule also assures each of your employees that you will always have that security of a “next job” waiting for them. No employee is going to hurry up to get laid off! Watch for detours, alternate routes and shortcuts. There is always a better way you should be looking for at all times. You also need to empower your employees to get their ideas and input.
  • Carefully select the best route for each family member on your payroll. You want to avoid any road that would cause tension, frustration, or misunderstandings in your business, that could create animosity in your personal family life. This item alone could be justification to stop and ask directions.

When you do get your map, choose your route, and head off in the right direction; be sure that someone is watching that map to keep you on course. If you should wander off, always stop and ask before it is too late or too costly.