Final Word

How to succeed in the coming decade

TomBy Tom Jackson


If you survived the last two tumultuous years in the construction business, congratulations. What’s your plan for the next 10?

This time of year Equipment World editors are traveling all over the country interviewing Contractor of the Year candidates. One thing I’ve learned from this experience is that all successful contractors share the same qualities. Even though every company tells a different story, the successful ones all have a core set of values that you’d do well to pay attention to if you want to succeed in the future. Here’s some of what I’ve learned from the most successful small and medium size construction companies in the country:


Give every customer a little bit extra, something they weren’t expecting.


Turn customers into fans. “The secret to success,” as one Contractor of the Year finalist told me, “is not just to do the job on time and on budget, but to give every customer a little bit extra, something they weren’t expecting.” Do this and your word-of-mouth reputation will bring in more business than even the most expensive marketing program.

Watch the numbers. Nobody who enjoys construction likes sitting in an office. But successful contractors spend a lot of time on paperwork, much more than they anticipated when they were starting out. Check every invoice, question the financials, keep up with equipment trends, develop metrics and systems to improve efficiency and review and improve these on a continual basis. As one contractor told me, “if you don’t know where every dollar is going you could be going broke and not know it for six months.”

Lead by example. The U.S. military has a lot of leadership principles, none more important than this. That’s why they’re able to take ordinary kids and get them to achieve extraordinary things, often in the face of danger and death. If you’re spending two days a week on the golf course and calling it “sales,” you can rest assured that your employees aren’t giving you their all.

Give. Generosity changes psychology. Whether you tithe for religious reasons or just give to a favorite cause, charity makes you a better person on the inside. In addition to being personally generous, a lot of our Contractor of the Year finalists also give through their companies and get their employees involved. This need not require a lot of money. Your time and skills are sometimes more important. Pulling the crews together to build a house or a basketball court for the underprivileged creates a team spirit and elevates everybody’s character. EW


Editor’s note: If you’ve got a good story to tell and would like to apply to our Contractor of the Year program, drop me a line at and I’ll send you an application form.