Guest Blogger: Melanie Hodgdon is a Certified QuickBooks ProAdvisor who has been providing financial analysis and QuickBooks training for contractors since 1994. She’s the co-author of A Simple Guide to Turning a Profit as a Contractor. Melanie and Shawn often coordinate their efforts when helping remodelers develop financial systems for their businesses so they serve the contractor, not just their accountant.
Five Ways To Think Like A Business For Business Owners
I work with many companies in transition. The steps from being a “guy and a truck” to having an office and a bookkeeper and field employees are frequently challenging, but the milestones are pretty easy to identify. Ray the Remodeler used to work out of his house, but now he’s got an office. Bill the Builder used to pound nails, but now he does sales and supervises a crew. A less easily-measured but potentially even more important milestone is when the owner is able to recognize and maintain separation between himself (his personality, his idiosyncrasies, his strengths and weaknesses, his preferences, and his habits) from the company for the sake of the business.
Adding the trappings of a business (office, staff) without shifting attitudes about the business has held many owners back and limited the potential growth of their companies. As long as they see themselves as remodelers, rather than owners of businesses that deliver the service of remodeling, they risk seeing their businesses as extensions of themselves, reflecting their own strengths and weaknesses. They also tend to see their companies as being so unique that they can’t be run using best business practices.
Have you ever said anything like this?
- “If I used that kind of markup in my area, I’d lose all my customers”
- “Yeah, I’d love to job cost my labor but I could never get my guys to fill out timecards accurately.”
- “I’m just too busy to keep up with the paperwork, so I really can’t count on my financials.”
- “Sure I’d love to hang up my toolbelt, but there’s nobody else who can do what I do.”
- “My customers would never stand for me creating change orders for all the little extras we do; I just either eat it or try to make it up somewhere else.”
If you have, this is exactly the kind of self-defeating head talk that will keep your business not only dependent on you, but restricted in scope and sophistication to the limitations of your energy.
Here are some suggestions:
- You are not your business. Don’t allow your personal limitations to hold it back. So you stink at paperwork. That shouldn’t doom your company to have paperwork that stinks. Hire somebody who just loves paperwork to take care of it for you, but only after you have determined what information you want and worked with him/her to make sure their method of data entry is going to get you what you want.
- Chase profit, not dollars. When owners start talking about how much their sales have increased, I remain unimpressed. Sales are nothing. Profit is where it’s at. Let’s say your volume is $600,000 in year 1 and $900,000 in year 2. A 50% increase, right? Wonderful, right? Maybe yes, and maybe no. If in order to sell and produce 50% more you had to hire a production manager, an estimator, and a salesperson and that caused a significant increase in your overhead, you could wind up with a lower net margin at the end of year 2. You might even end up with fewer actual dollars of profit to say nothing of the added stress of running more or bigger jobs. Know what numbers to watch, how to interpret them, and what to do to improve them.
- Plan for growth. Contractors who wouldn’t build a dog house without detailed plans all too often “build an addition” on their business without even a napkin scribbling. In other words, they add personnel, equipment, or practices but fail to integrate them into an overall plan. The result can be as disappointing as buying twenty 2x6-8’s when what you really needed was ten 2x6-16’s.
- Avoid basing business decisions on your gut. Thinking like a company instead of an individual can protect you from making decisions that, deep down, you know are bad. Do an “at cost” project for a friend? Hard for you to turn it down, but a justifiable decision from the standpoint of the business. Hanging on to those dead weight employees because you dislike conflict? It may be hard for you to let them go if you’re thinking like a kind uncle, but much easier if you’re thinking like a business.
- Stop trying to do everything yourself. If you haven’t already figured this stuff out on your own, hire somebody who has helped hundreds of contractors understand their numbers, replace habits with systems, and achieve a healthier relationship with their business. Comments from my clients reveal that many contractors struggle with the business side of things. Would you like to move “…from being clueless & frustrated to confident and comfortable….”? Would you find it “…refreshing to speak with someone who actually knew what they were doing, understood what (you were) trying to accomplish, and just made it happen.”? Are you sick of being “…lost in a sea of numbers…”?
If your business had a voice, would it be offering you the very same advice?