8 Tips for a Successful Contractor Business
There are always opportunities for improvement in how any company does business. That’s as true for contractors as anyone else. Whether you’re starting out or have been at it for years (like us!), it’s important to remind ourselves of what we’re doing, why we do it, and if it really works. Some of that learning comes through trial and error, but all of us can also save some effort and learn from others as well.
With that in mind, we started to jot down some tips based on our own experience as well as on conversations with others and books and blogs we’ve read. We always have to remind ourselves to follow our own advice, but we hope you’ll find it useful as well!
Never Stop Learning
Learning is a lifelong process. It might sound cliché, but that’s because it’s true. There’s always more to learn and many opportunities to do so. With modern technology, there are more ways than ever to gain new knowledge.
Trade shows and magazines remain great resources. But the internet has brought more information than ever to our desktops – or even to the palms of our hands. It’s easy to subscribe to a blog or get it through email. And you can find great inspiration browsing sites like Pinterest that are full of design ideas.
One thing we should never forget, though, is the value of learning from each other. Having a mentor is one great way to do so, especially when you’re trying to start your business. But even for grizzled veterans, talking to peers with various levels of experience can help deepen our knowledge in a way we often forget about.
Be Available to Customers
Another important piece of advice is to treat your clients as human beings. People react better when they can deal with a human being who treats them with respect. If they don’t find that with you, they’ll find it elsewhere. And of course, being courteous goes without saying.
As far as possible, have a human being answer the phone during regular working hours. If you receive a voicemail, respond as soon as possible. The same goes for email and social media. A quick response is key to getting and keeping clients.
This shows your contacts that you’re interested in working for them. Whether it’s an existing client calling for information, or someone looking for a contractor for a project they have in mind, it’s more likely they’ll stick with you if they can reach you. Even if the project isn’t something you want to take on, respond – because they still can be a source of positive word of mouth.
Of course, you do need downtime. You don’t have to be on call 24 hours a day. And there may also be parts of the day when you’re not able to answer. For instance, if you don’t have a receptionist and you’re on a job, it might not be possible to leave what you’re doing to take a call or respond on Facebook. For those times, voice mail or an answering service is great. Most social media platforms let you send an automatic response that will thank the person and tell them you’ll get back to them (or another customized message). But as far as reasonably possible, it’s best to have a real person answering messages or calls.
Keep Up To Date On Paperwork
Now let’s talk about one of our most dreaded tasks.
Paperwork is a drag for most people, and that makes it tempting to put it off. But it’s usually far easier to keep it up to date rather than saving it all for later on. That way, you’re less likely to lose anything or to forget what it was all about.
That applies to doing your taxes, filing for permits, and sending out bills, along with anything else that comes along. And of course, it also applies to your bookkeeping.
Keeping abreast of your financial situation is especially important. Whether you do it yourself or have a bookkeeper do it for you, it’s a key to know where you stand at all times. This will allow you to make adjustments as needed. It also keeps you from going beyond your limits (and bouncing a check!).
No, sitting behind the desk isn’t usually going to get the adrenalin flowing. But it’s definitely going to help you stay aware of your overall situation. After all, if you don’t know where you are right now, how will you ever figure out how to get where you’re going?
Join A Club
Another positive step you can take is to be part of local clubs and organizations. Becoming a member of community organizations is a wonderful opportunity to make connections and expand your network.
You may want to start with the Chamber of Commerce, but don’t end there. Organizations like Rotary or the Lions Club offer terrific opportunities to get to know other business people. Other members may call on you as a client or may be able to refer you to businesses or individuals in need of your services.
Of course, being active in those clubs is important. Attend meetings and events. And let’s give a shout-out to the good, old-fashioned business card. Always carry some with you to be able to share at these get-togethers – or even if you happen to run into someone at the supermarket.
Define Yourself As Something Unique
Almost all of us struggled as adolescents to figure out who we are. We want independence from our parents but to fit in with our peers. At the same time, we struggled to show what was special about us as individuals.
The same thing can happen with businesses. It’s true that few enterprises are going to be the “first” in their fields; not everyone is going to come up with the next printing press or light bulb. But each of us can offer something that stands out and helps define our companies.
Even if you’re in a crowded market, try to determine what aspects of work you can do differently and better than others. It’s not necessarily the only thing you do, but it helps to make you stand out from the pack and not be just another contractor. Whether it’s a rare skill you possess or a higher-quality material you insist on using, find your own special place among the rest.
Get Your Name Out There
Marketing and advertising are key components of getting business. We might be tempted to think they don’t really work, but look around at the car you drive, the clothes you wear, the places you shop. Almost all of them are advertised and that had at least some influence on your decision.
Don’t Be Intimidated By Great Employees
Business owners and managers can sometimes feel that they have to be the most knowledgeable and best-equipped to deal with every aspect of the business. That thought pattern, though, can seriously hamper your success.
Surround yourself with good people – including those who may be more talented or more intelligent than yourself. Allow them to bring their ideas to the table and learn from them. Be humble enough to accept that you can’t know it all and that they can make huge contributions.
Will some decide to move on because they may be able to do better on their own? Probably. But that would happen anyway – if they didn’t work for you, they would already be the competition.
Of course, this also means to train your team to the highest level possible. As Virgin Group founder Richard Branson said, “Train people well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough so they don’t want to.” When employees feel respected and wanted in your company, they’re far more likely to stay with you even when they know they could easily get hired elsewhere.
Grow To Where You Want To Be
When trying to find ways to grow your business, it’s important to know what your goals are. Don’t be coerced or cowered by someone else’s accomplishments or goals.
Not every new burger place has to be McDonald’s in order to be successful. In the same way, you don’t need to be the biggest, richest, or any other “-est” in the field. You only need to be where you want to be.
That, of course, includes living to the standards you want, working the schedule you want, and having enough put away to retire when you want. Once you know what your goals are in life, then you can decide how much you want your business to grow.
If that means you want to become a huge empire, so be it. If it means you’d prefer to stick to a mom-’n-pop type operation, that’s fine too. What’s important is that it provides for your needs and makes you happy
Those goals in life may change over time, and you can always adapt. But the key is to judge yourself by your goals, not by what everyone else is doing.
As newcomers or as veterans, we can all use a refresher once in a while on how we can improve our business strategies. Hopefully, these tips will be a good start to help make your work as a contractor more successful. We try to remind ourselves of them on a daily basis, too!