Ode to Contractors

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I have respect for contractors. They think in terms of commercial, residential, new build and rebuild. Their lives are filled with sawdust, nails, concrete, slab lifting and steel. They think about project management, bonds, prevailing wage, green building, LEED and they have to have an uncanny ability to see the competed project and all its costs prior to getting a job. They work hard, just to be considered. Would you expect your mechanic or your attorney to do that? Maybe they do work hard to get your business, but the clock is ticking in their favor while they do it. Not so , the contractor.

I don’t have the stats at my fingertips and I’m not sure that those stats exist but it is my guess that 80% of the contractors will be out of business, as they know it, very soon. (That ‘ol 80/20 rule.) Business is there. But not enough to feed everyone. And so, most will starve. And the others that are really great at what they do, and the same goes for the trades, will suffer at the hands of the unscrupulous: the “contractor” that cheats; no insurance, no wages, or what Stan so humorously calls “taillight warranties.” The warranty in effect until the contractor drives away.

When I am working with contractors, the ones that can’t safely retire or find other work, the tough questions are, “When you deliver your bids, how truly confident are you that you will get the job? Are your sales close rates sinking because of the sheer hunger of your competitors? Or are you now simply not good enough to be the chosen one?” Tough questions.

Joe articulated perfectly how what he “really” does for a living is read the hearts of his high end customers and divine the shrine they want to live in and create that environment for them. I nearly cried.

Bob explained to me that he loves people and builds relationships with his clients and his team. This is a dream team. They are working on improving efficiencies, but they love working for Bob and Bob, loves his team. Choke!

Sid told me that he is the whiz kid of his bidding software and he has a love of creating the most accurate and award winning bids on the planet. I’m impressed.

John is a hammer and nails guy. The ultimate craftsman. It’s all about sawdust. The team, the bid and the customer’s needs allude him. But when he touches wood, he is whole. Sigh…..

Rose is green. She understands her element so well that most of her time is spent consulting and is even in demand by other contractors. She doesn’t build much anymore. But when she is immersed in her element, she rocks everyone’s world. Very cool!

None of these people are making a living. All of them are scared about their survival from month to month. Until it smacked me upside the head that this industry, like many others, is in need of a serious model change.

Just like the “Ode to Real Estate Brokers” it is time to build the team. Contractors like Real Estate Borkers are a model of insanity. Think. What has made other industries great? What can you learn from outside this industry?

In a word: Collaborate.
Joe knows nothing about public building and can’t bid a prevailing wage if it bit him. Bob is certified green but doesn’t really want to consult. Sid couldn’t effectively run a team if it bit him and besides, he had to lay off his help. John doesn’t like talking to his customer. Rose hasn’t touched a hammer in ages. Does everyone survive or does no one survive?

Create your team.
There is a sub, subculture in the building trades but until people stop being secretive, suspicious and competitive they will eat each other alive. Think, teams of subs. Think, umbrella teams that are better than individuals.

Share the Wealth
Build a new model of collaboration based on the profitability of projects. Create an umbrella organization that is stronger together than apart and more profitable to boot. More work plus profitability means better use of everyone’s skills.

Two local contractors knew that they needed some core abilities to land a local public school bid. Did they compete against each other? No. In fact they got creative and went out looking for a win/win/win with a third company that had the necessary experience they needed to round out their combined competencies. Bravo. That’s collaboration. Now here comes a real trick: there are around 50 subs that want in on that deal where only a half dozen will win. What are they going to do? Will they employ the same ingenuity?

Can I help to mold change quickly enough to beat the race to bankruptcy? Will only some of these talented people survive?

Those who learn to collaborate with not only survive, they will learn what their expertise is, understand their core competency, they will learn to build new revenue streams and position themselves to follow their passions through this economy into the next. Its worked in technology. It’s worked in manufacturing. Oh, contractors, it can work for you too.


Ruth Schwartz

Ruth Schwartz is the author of "The Key to the Golden Handcuffs". She is a high performance business consultant and leadership coach. Connect with Ruth to participate in the conversation. Google+, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube .