On Record: Make it work in your favor

When work is plentiful, any Joe Blow Contractor can make it. But when things soften, as they have in a few sectors of the construction economy, it’s time to turn clever. There’s opportunity in a less-than-stellar market. Here are a few tactics to see you through this year:

  1. Take stock of your place in your local market. Are you really where you want to be? In the day-to-day minutia of bid estimates, vendor deliveries and change orders, it can be easy to lose your sense of direction. Pay heed to the economic forces around you, but focus on what you can control. You can control what jobs you bid on. You can control many of your costs. You can control who you hire. Make sure the decisions you make today contribute to the future you envision.
  2. Look at another company’s problems as your opportunities. I’m not talking about stomping on someone when they’re down, but simply reaping the benefits – particularly when it comes to manpower. In its November 2007 issue, Builder magazine – directed to home builders – tells the story of how Chet Mirabal, laid off by a homebuilder, became the sales manager of Sterling Concepts Grading, a grading and excavating company in Covington, Georgia. Builder quotes Mirabel as saying he intends to stay at Sterling “for the long haul.” Sterling gained an experienced employee, and Mirabel now has a job with equal pay and better perks. And you could even argue the home builder won by seeing a valued former employee land on his feet.
  3. Take a second hard look at the technologies that will give you and edge in the market – or at the very least, help you keep pace with it. We’ve been talking about one of these technologies, GPS, for at least four years now, but we recognize there’s a huge gulp factor. It’s expensive (although at least one supplier, Qualcomm, has lowered the entry fee with its GlobalTRACS Lite, as reported in this issue) and it’s complicated. All this led Tom Jackson, our executive editor, who has a passion for explaining knotty concepts in simple ways, to come up his ABC’s article on GPS, which you can check out on page 84.
  4. Watch the big guys. This can go two ways, and sometimes both ways at once. One, they’ll try to fill their bellies with your type of work. In this case, you need a firm battle plan, one that makes full use of the contacts mentioned in my final point. Two, they may decide to stop doing segments of the work they did previously, so be ready to answer the call. Make sure yours is the first firm they think of, and you may gain a customer for life.
  5. Step up your face-to-face marketing. Your relationships are your number one marketing tactic, so turn on the heat. Be available. Answer phone calls – especially ones loaded with trouble – in a calm, capable manner. Most of all, ask questions. Know in intimate detail what’s going on in your market. And if you haven’t already, start to cultivate the lower-rung people on sites and in offices. If they’re treated with kindness and respect, these people can offer you a wealth of information and help.

All of this is just the beginning and I know many of you have your own game plans (I’d love to hear them!). Whatever your tactics, this is a great time to start on the next stage of your company’s future.