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A Mid-year Progress Check ... Are You Halfway to Your Goals?

by Guy Gruenberg (Guy and Ron Roberts are business partners)

If your fiscal year is January through December, you are about half-way through the year. Even if your fiscal time period has different starting and ending points the year is technically just about half over.

It wasn't long ago that the U.S. economy was humming along. Then, it came to what appeared to be a fairly sudden halt. Some of you have gone through dramatic changes in just a matter of months. The one thing we always knew to be true is now a reality. It is far easier to run a business during good times than bad.

Over the last six months or so we have been trying to help guide you through these difficult times with advice and suggestions. This 101st newsletter is going to recap some of the things we have covered and add a few new helpful tidbits

Guy Gruenberg

Have you heard a similar story? I tell this story in our consulting practice because so many construction companies go full speed ahead but don't know where they are going.

My questions to you are:

  • Are things for your company better or worse than what you expected?
  • What changes have you made to adapt to your markets?
  • What changes do you still need to consider and execute in order to survive these times?

. One of the things we have noticed in our consulting practice over the last several months is there is more bid activity than normal. If a typical project had 3 or 4 bidders, that number now may be doubled. Consequently, if we examine the odds on strictly a statistical level, your chances to win may have gone from 25% down to 10 - 12%. If you are not typically a low-cost producer your success rate will plummet even further. If this is the case, you do, however, have a few choices.

First off, gain efficiencies in order to be more competitive and/or spend more time going after negotiated work. Granted, the selling cycle for negotiated work may be longer, however, it is usually more fruitful over the long haul. Believe it or not, there are still plenty of companies that require a high level of service and demand quality. This type of client is not typically served well by low-cost producers. If you fit in the group that offers high quality but not necessarily the lowest pricing, prepare to enhance your customer service and attention to detail to meet your clients' increasingly high expectations.

If you fall into the price competitive category, honing your true costs is now more important than ever. We see more bid tabulations where contractors are one percent or less apart. Even if you are winning these projects, your margins are getting squeezed. Again, tweaking the amount of time, material, and equipment resources correctly is paramount to making profit on each project. Speaking of profit, it is important to know your overhead multiplier and make sure you are minimally making your contribution to overhead. Adding your direct costs to your overhead burden will determine your breakeven.

Most companies have already gone through at least one phase of cost-cutting. Figuring out where to cut expenses and how they impact your company can be a challenge. One client recently eliminated the cell portion of several phones where only the Nextel® push-to-talk feature was needed. This related to a savings of approximately $750.00 per month.

Obviously for our U.S. readers, market trends are specific to different trades and geographic areas. On average most companies are 10% - 30% below last year's sales numbers. Margins overall are also down. For most, this is tolerable with proper planning.

Realistically, companies that budget are taking this into consideration. The goal is to make enough profit in the peak times to absorb the expenses during slower business cycles. It is important to create a cushion or reserve if you are going to have the staying power that is needed to survive some extended slow periods.

We advised those burdened with high equipment debt to avoid additional purchases. (Editor's note: If you need sweepers, consider used machines with warranties from Used Sweepers of America, LLC, or check out the lower cost T500 tow-behind sweeper line of Victory Sweepers, Inc.)

For the few who are cash rich, we have seen incredible buys on used equipment. Some slightly used pieces less than four years old going for 25 -35% of their original list price. Even at bargain basement prices we still advise that you only purchase what you really need.

Surviving and succeeding is just as much psychological as it is being smart. Keeping your company motivated through budget cuts, layoffs and reduced overtime is a huge challenge.

Constant communication usually works best. Employees, vendors, and customers not only prefer but insist on honesty. It is better to bear bad news sooner than drag it on and try and cover it up. Employees are especially perceptive. They may overhear part of a conversation that is one-sided and come away with the wrong perception. Spend more time communicating why certain decisions that may seem contrary to what was typically done in the past have changed.

It is sometimes necessary to trim personnel. It is critical to prune the people who make the least contributions or are adversarial. Do not make your decision strictly on dollars and cents. Performance, loyalty and, especially, flexibility, are key traits. Team members who are willing to take on an extra workload without complaint, or perform tasks that are not typical of their training or job description, are immensely valuable.

Very few contracting companies are great marketers and/or stellar sales performers. Let's face it... The industry has predominately been an estimating focused arena. Marketing can get you great opportunities if you are marketing to the right market segments.

As I teach in my "Revving Up Your Sales Engine" seminars two of the most important parts of the sales process are qualifying prospects and following up on quotes. Think about your time. If you spend too much time chasing the wrong prospects that are not in a position to buy you are wasting precious time. Additionally, if you invest several hours in a quote it is worth a few five-minute phone calls to follow-up with that prospect and close the deal.

There is no such thing as a FREE ESTIMATE. You may not charge for them but they do have a cost. You are not in the business to give free estimates...but you are in the business to sell jobs.

If you don't have a strategy, I would suggest reading our recent newsletter on strategy. This is a time of change and we are change agents. We embrace improvements and many of you will be leaner and stronger on the other side of the tunnel. It is not too late to make changes, so stay positive and go for it.

If you are a new reader feel free to email us and we will send a copy of our strategy newsletter to you as a PDF.

Finally, remember that your time is better spent reading our newsletters and blogs than wasting time reading and watching all the bad news in the papers and on television. Seek out positive ideas and solution and you will find your business attitude and operation will also improve.

Should you need help finding a strategy that will allow your business to thrive, give us a call. We've been identifying them for years with great success.

Until next time, best of luck with your business!

Guy Gruenberg,
The Contractor's Business Coach

More information about Guy Gruenberg, Ron Roberts and their company may be found on his website Guy may be reached via email sent to

If you have new information to provide on this topic, let us know and we can add it in as an addendum to this article.

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