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3 Simple Steps To Covering A Carpenter's Non Productive Time

Posted by Shawn McCadden on Sun, Feb 02,2014 @ 06:00 AM

3 Simple Steps To Covering A Carpenter's Non Productive Time

Covering a carpenter's non-productive time


If your business pays a carpenter or other hourly employee for non productive time you better know how to build it into your labor charges so your customers are paying for it, not your profits.   The theory for how to do it is actually very simple.



What is nonproductive time?

Nonproductive time is the hours you must pay an employee for, when he or she is not producing income for the business.   Basically it’s what is typically referred to as non-billable time.   Non productive time can fall into a variety of categories for a construction company.  Here is a brief list of common examples:

Examples of nonproductive time for a carpenterExamples of nonproductive time for carpenters

  • Attending weekly meetings
  • Shop, tool  and vehicle maintenance
  • Commuting to/from projects
  • Attending educational events and training
  • Vacations, Holidays, Sick Days
  • Attending company social functions


How to include nonproductive time in your labor rates in 3 steps

In order to pay an employee for his or her nonproductive time a contractor must charge enough for that employee’s annual billable hours to also cover the non-billable hours.  To figure out how much to charge follow these simple steps.

  1. Add up the total annual cost to the business to compensate and support the employee.   In addition to hourly wages, here is a partial list to help you out.   Add any others specific to your business.
    • Employer paid taxes and Social Security
    • Vehicle expenses
    • Vehicle replacement
    • Workmen’s Comp
    • Liability Insurance
    • Medical benefits
    • Education and Training
    • Employee raises during the year
    • 401K or similar
  1. Add up the total annual non-billable hours for that employee and subtract them from total paid hours to determine that employee’s total available billable hours.
  2. Divide the total annual cost to compensate and support the employee by the total annual billable hours for that employee.

The resulting number is what you need to charge for each billable hour so it will, over the course of a year, bring in the money needed to pay that employee for all billable and non-billable hours.


Below is an example to help show how the math works

Labor cost for a carpenter


The example assumes an annual cost of $60,000 to compensate and support the employee.  It also assumes the employee will be paid for 2080 hours but can only be billed out for 1900 hours.

$60,000.00 ÷ 1900 billable hours = $31.58/Hr billable hourly rate


To prove the example above works simply multiply the billable rate by the number of billable hours to prove it will produce the total amount of money you will need to cover the cost of the employee for the entire year. 

1900 Billable hours X $31.58/Hr = $60,002.00



It’s that simple! Kinda...

Figuring out what to charge to cover your carpenter’s nonproductive time is simple to do, but here are a few caveats to keep in mind so you don’t come up short on the money you need.

  • If the employee doesn’t work all of the assumed billable hours you will not collect enough money.   So, if you have an employee who is constantly sick or is unreliable, realize that even though you may not be paying the employee for the missed time, that missed time is not contributing to the dollars you need to cover the total annual cost of the assumed non-productive time.
  • And, if in your billable hourly rate you included the costs of items required to support the employee, you will also come up short on the money you need to pay for those items as well.

Contractor coach

Need help figuring out your Labor Costs?

Attend this workshop to find out how to calucalate and include burdened labor costs into your estimates

Get 6 credits towards your MA CSL renewal too!

"Estimating, Pricing and Producing Successful Projects"

February 7th, 2014 at Brockway Smith Company in Andover MA

February 11th, 2014 at Brockway Smith Company in Hatfield MA

February 12th, 2014 at Sterritt Lumber in Watertown MA


Rather work one-on-one?

Call or  Email Shawn today. 

Do it now so you can be confident you are pricing your spring and summer projects correctly!

Topics: Labor Costs, Financial Related Topics, Production Considerations

Including General Production Costs in Your Estimates

Posted by Shawn McCadden on Thu, Jan 30,2014 @ 06:00 AM

Melanie Hodgdon, Business Systems Management



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.


Understanding and Including General Production Costs in Your Estimates

Estimators are pretty good about including costs for permits, materials, subs, and equipment rental in their estimates. And the really topnotch ones are also adept at estimating the amount of labor time based on knowledge of what their crew(s) can produce. But there is another element that often eludes even the most careful of estimators: the cost of those “necessaries” that will be used on a job but not easily assigned to specific jobs.


These include things like:

  • Miscellaneous Construction SuppliesBits
  • Blades
  • Rags and other cleaning supplies
  • Sanding disks and sand paper
  • Trash bags
  • Small tools
  • Dust masks
  • Assorted fasteners
  • Caulking and adhesives
  • Pencils, markers and chalk

Here are some more candidates:

  • General Production SuppliesCost to repair and maintain tools and equipment
  • Cost to maintain a jobsite trailer
  • Propane for the space heater
  • HEPA filters
  • Bungies, ropes and tie downs
  • Trash barrels or bins


These can be considered General Production Costs and you should have a method to allow for them in the job price.


Two ways to price your work

Basically, pricing consists of identifying the actual cost of X and then adding a markup. The purpose of the markup is to allow the selling price to cover not just what X costs, but also it’s fair share of the company overhead, with enough left over to contribute to company profit.


Option A: Include in the estimate

General Production Costs Option A




When you include an allowance for General Production Costs in your estimate, you increase the predicted cost of the job. When you apply a markup to the cost, you will also be marking up the predicted General Production Costs. Because you are charging your customer for the cost (income account), the matching cost should be considered Cost of Goods Sold.

For many contractors, including an allowance for these costs in the estimate will increase the likelihood that the costs will be covered.


Option B: Include in the markup

General Production Costs Option B




If you consider General Production Costs as being part of the cost of doing business (overhead), then you will account for them by increasing your markup on the job.

Ideally, both methods will result in the same selling price. However, in my experience, far too many contractors decide on a markup based not on the financial requirements of their company, but rather on a figure they found in an article, or what scuttlebutt tells them their competition is using. This WAG (wild ass guess) approach decreases the likelihood of capturing these costs in the markup.


Why I typically recommend Option A

Also, as companies have diversified with changes in the economy, the type of work they do has also changed in many cases. Burying these costs in overhead can make the changes less obvious than placing them in Cost of Goods Sold where significant changes are more likely to be spotted. For example, companies performing lots of RRP work might see a significant increase in these costs due to the requirement for filters, respirators, contractor bags, signage, duct tape, Tyvek suits, etc. The effect on the gross margin (when these costs reside in Cost of Goods Sold) might be noticed more quickly and reliably than remembering to deliberately dig into the overhead accounts to find and monitor them.


Estimating vs. job costing considerations

Estimating and Job Costing

Once your General Production Costs are part of Cost of Goods Sold, an allowance for the inevitable cost can be included in the estimate. This means that you will charge for them as part of your pricing strategy. However, because of their very nature, you won’t be able to attribute them to individual jobs, so when you look at job cost reports, you will not see an “actual cost” for these items, making the jobs appear slightly more profitable than they probably are. The achieved margins of all the jobs will look higher than the overall achieved margin from the Profit and Loss Statement since the Profit and Loss Statement will contain the dollars spent on General Production Costs and the individual job reports won’t.


How to calculate General Production Costs for estimating purposes

The simplest way is by comparing General Production Costs with Materials costs. Express the relationship as a ratio or percentage. For example, if in the last twelve months you spent $500,000 on materials and $8,000 on General Production Costs, you will need to add 1.6% ($8,000 ÷ $500,000) to your estimate to cover them. When estimating, this figure can be added as a line item as shown in the sample estimate template below.


Excel Estimating Template

 Screen shot from Shawn's new estimating Template


Final thoughts

Each job has enough surprises in it. Why not at least plan your sell price to include an allowance for the costs you know you can count on?


 Contractor coaching

Need help with General Production Costs?

Call or  Email Shawn today. 


Do it now so you can be confident you are pricing your spring and summer projects correctly!



Topics: Business Financials, Financial Related Topics, Guest Blogs, Estimating Considerations, Keeping More Money

Who's Paying For Your Carpenter's Non Productive Time?

Posted by Shawn McCadden on Thu, Jan 16,2014 @ 06:00 AM

Melanie Hodgdon, Business Systems Management



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 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.


Who's Paying For Your Carpenter's Non Productive Time?

Non Productive Time for CarpentersI was discussing the cost of labor the other day with a client, and he told me he really had a handle on what his costs were. “No kidding? That’s great,” I said. I then quizzed him on what factors he’d included, and was impressed that he’d gotten so many: wages; company-paid payroll taxes; Worker’s Comp; liability insurance; vehicles, cell phones, and small tools used by production workers; health insurance; retirement. “And what about non-productive time?” I asked. Puzzled, he asked me what I meant.

The fact is that while it’s relatively simple to calculate what it costs to pay a production worker for an hour of time, you have to remember that he’s not going to be available to perform the work that you estimated for 100% of that time.


Hours for carpenterLet’s do the math.

Assuming no overtime, a worker is typically paid for 8 hours/day, 5 days/week, 52 weeks/year. This adds up to 2,080 hours. So you’re paying him for 2,080 hours a year.

But for how many hours will he actually be available to you to perform the work you’ve included in your estimate for labor?  Subtracting for some common events, we see the number of hours available for producing the estimated work starts to evaporate.

Productive hours for a carpenter

Nonproductive time for carpenter



What else cuts into that productive time? How about those weekly production meetings? OSHA safety meetings? Meetings about the new health insurance or retirement options? What about training and education? How about the requirement that they clean out the vans every Friday afternoon? Do they help clean up the shop? Maintain tools? Are they paid for commuting time?


How might this affect estimating the cost of labor for a job?

Let’s say that you pay Will $20/hr. After adding all the burdens to that hourly rate, you discover that his total annual cost is $63,500.

You can look at this annual total in two ways: how much does Will cost you per paid hour, and how much does Will cost you per productive hour: the hours that he’s actually available to perform those labor tasks you included in the estimate when calculating the job’s sale price?

Labo burden for a carpenter


From the chart, you can see it costs over $5/hour more for Will’s time when you base the cost on his productive time.


So what does this mean in terms of pricing jobs?

Using the wrong labor cost can be devastating, particularly in jobs where there is a high proportion of labor.

Let’s see how it would play out in jobs with varying amount of labor.

For a 100 hour job, based on the burdened cost per paid hour, the estimated cost would be $3,053.

Those same 100 hours, based on the burdened cost per productive hour, costs $3,553. So the cost difference between using the paid vs. productive hr cost figure would be $500. For a 1,000 hour job, the cost difference would be $5,000.

The cost of non productive time


Now let’s look at the selling price of the job, assuming a 50% markup.

For a 100 hour job, the difference in selling price would be $750.

For a 1,000 hour job, you’d be underpricing by $7,500!

Pricing a remodeling project


Pay rates for carpenters


So next time you estimate work, be sure you’re working from realistic costs. Labor is tricky to estimate anyway; getting a handle on what it really costs for that hour of nail banging will bring you closer to costing and pricing your jobs accurately.




Need help with figuring out your labor costs?

Call or Email Shawn today. 


Do it now so you can be confident you are pricing your spring and summer projects correctly!



Topics: Business Financials, Labor Costs, Financial Related Topics, Earning More Money, Guest Blogs, Estimating Considerations

Why Contractors Should Get A Line Of Credit When They Don’t Need One

Posted by Shawn McCadden on Thu, Jan 09,2014 @ 08:27 AM

Why Contractors Should Get A Line Of Credit When They Don’t Need One

Melanie Hodgdon, Business Systems Management



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.

Contractor cash flow

A line of credit can be your cash flow insurance

I recently had a conversation with a client who, after an incredibly profitable startup a couple of years ago, encountered a perfect storm of difficulties and recently found himself facing a severe cash flow crunch. This is one of those things that happens in any industry, and seems particularly prevalent among construction and remodeling companies

The problem is sort of like health insurance.

Contractor Line of CreditWhen you’re young and in perfect health, it seems stupid to waste money on insurance. There are so many more important (and fun) things to buy: trucks, tools, additional personnel; the list is endless. I remember when I fell off my roof, my life didn’t flash before my eyes, but I did have a very clear sequence of thoughts.

  1. I hope the cat isn’t lying where I’m going to land (he wasn’t)
  2. This is SO going to hurt (it did)
  3. I really, really wish I had insurance (I didn’t)


Back to the cash flow issue.

The point is that when everything is going great and you have oodles of cash, it seems stupid to waste time setting up a line of credit. However, that’s exactly when you should apply: when you don’t need it.

Once you need a line of credit (or, more accurately, once you admit to yourself that you need it), the chances are pretty good that your Balance Sheet will look pretty bad, and it’s your Balance Sheet that creditors want to look at.

Working with your lender

Getting a line of credit as a contractor


Your bank is actually less interested in your income or even your profit figures; what matters is the extent to which you’re able to pay off debt, and the degree to which your company is running on credit. We’ll look at the critical numbers in a follow-up blog. In the meantime, one of the things that saved my client from being turned down by the bank was that he had an excellent relationship with the bank staff, who went to bat for him. While things were going well, he’d made a point of sharing his successes with key personnel. They knew he was a hard worker with a solid business plan and a track record of success, and this personal knowledge allowed them to see past the current bad-looking financials.


Here is a summary of steps to help contractors secure a line of credit

  1. Contractor balance sheetLearn more about your Balance Sheet, the often under-utilized and misunderstood financial report that can spell success or failure
  2. Make a point of getting to know your bank personnel, particularly your loan officers; this can up your chances of approval by lifting you from anonymity
  3. Apply and get approval for a line of credit when your books look good, when you have plenty of cash, you’ve paid down debt, and you don’t need credit




Topics: Business Financials, Success Strategies, Financial Related Topics, Cash Flow, Guest Blogs

Five Keys To Getting Contractor Financial Reports That Speak To You

Posted by Shawn McCadden on Thu, Dec 05,2013 @ 01:45 PM

Five Keys To Getting Contractor Financial Reports That Speak To You

Melanie Hodgdon, Business Systems Management



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.


“How can I get meaningful financial reports for my construction business?”

Remodeling business financial reports 

There’s a big difference between a pile of materials and a well-designed building. Yes, everything required to create and use the building is contained within the pile, but until it’s been put together with the intention of producing something useful and well-thought-out, it’s pretty much useless.


The same thing applies to contractor financial reports

I have worked with literally hundreds of contractors’ financial databases, and many of them have got the majority of the information in there, all right. The problem is that, just like the pile of materials, the information isn’t organized in a way to let them easily draw conclusions. Just like the point of having a house is to provide shelter, the point of having financial reports is to make informed management decisions.


My clients, seminar attendees, and reader audience are probably sick of hearing this, but if reports don’t provide useful information at-a-glance­, they aren’t doing you any good. Contractors can’t afford to have their bookkeeper or accountant adjust, explain, and interpret reports. Waiting for this kind of information puts them at the mercy of others. Instead, any contractor should be able to instantly access, review, and draw conclusions from standard reports any time he feels like it!


Begin with the end in mind

Contractor Financial ReportsThe key to getting this right and meaningful is to decide beforehand what questions you want answered. So if you want to know what your gross profit is, for example, then you need to set up your Chart of Accounts to show it to you. If you want to figure out how much your production workers are costing you, then be sure to capture all the burdens along with the wages. If you want to find out which marketing methods are working best, then you’ll need to have two categories of information: (1) you’ll have to have your financials set up so you can see costs by marketing source, and (2) you’ll have to have a lead tracking system that will identify which leads are coming in from which source.

Even software that advertises itself as being set up specifically for contractors doesn’t necessarily classify costs in the most useful way for a particular company; relying on the software to control the content and level of detail of information means you may be giving up answers that are important to you.


Here are five keys to getting the financial reports contractors need:

  1. First and foremost, give accounts names that make sense to you. If you want to call your refuse disposal garbage, do it. Don’t be hung up on what your accountant thinks it should be called. Use names that are familiar, descriptive, and have meaning for you.
  2. Separate costs related to production from overhead by using different types of accounts; when you run your financial reports, they will be in different regions of the reports and you should be able to get key numbers (such as gross profit) without doing anything more.
  3. Use account numbers to control the order of the accounts. Without numbers, your reports may appear in alphabetical order, which may be far less revealing.
  4. Organize the accounts in clusters; use sub-accounts to provide detail when required. For example, you can have a main account for marketing, but use sub-accounts for web, home show, print, and other categories.
  5. Arrange accounts to show the biggest numbers higher up. For example, if you cluster your production-related accounts together, and 50% of your production costs are for subcontractors, then put the subcontractor account at the top of the production cost list. If you spend only 3% on permits, put that at the bottom.

 Contractor chart of accounts

Take control of your Chart of Accounts so that your financials will speak to you.

You don’t have to have an MBA to derive meaning from reports; the basics are pretty darned easy to understand. However, if your accounts have arcane names, are organized with an inappropriate level of detail, or are in the wrong location, your job will be made more difficult. It’s challenging enough being a contractor without making things harder than they have to be!


Topics: Business Financials, Financial Related Topics, Guest Blogs

3 Financial Myths That Compromise a Contractor's Long Term Success

Posted by Shawn McCadden on Tue, Nov 26,2013 @ 06:00 AM

3 Financial Myths That Compromise a Contractor's Long Term Success

Contractor financial mistakes


Here is my list of the top three myths I see that compromise a contractor's ability to achieve long term financial success.  These areas definitely affect a contractor ability to profitably grow a business, as well as the contractor’s personal financial health, including retirement funding.


I must be competitive with my pricing

Contracors using competitive pricingIn my opinion when any business seeks to be competitive it typically becomes a commodity.  By that I mean the buying public looks at that business and or it’s offering as being the same as their other choices.   When consumers see a product or service as a commodity they ultimately make their choice between available options based on price.   By trying to remain competitive contractors playing in this sandbox become bidders in a reverse auction where the loser is the one who wins. 

To prove my point, ask any contractor who sells their services through a bidding process if they will have the money they need to comfortably retire at 65 without working again.  There will be some exceptions, but I bet the majority will tell you their plan is to work until they die.  What would their significant other say about that plan?

Also, keep in mind that nine out of every ten contractors will eventually fail.   By being competitive contractors are most likely joining the ranks of contractors who will eventually fail.   Rather than compete, why not differentiate your business?   Check out an article I wrote on this subject for Remodeling Magazine



I can't raise my prices; I'm already the most expensive contractor in my market.

I hear this one all the time from contractors.  Most of the time it comes from contractors who have no idea of their true cost of doing business and guess at what markup to use.  This is referred to as the WAG method, or the "Wild Ass Guess" method.  Based on the fact that they are guessing at what price they should charge I would also suggest they are guessing about being the highest price in their market.   Did they do or hire someone else to do market research to back up their claims?  I doubt it. 

Buyers are liarsWhen I ask how they know they are the most expensive most contractors tell me their prospects are the source of their assumptions.   For those using their prospects' feedback to determine their price point in the marketplace remember, buyers are liars.   The 11th commandment states that you can lie to a sales person and still go to heaven!

One of my contractor coaching clients told me he was the most expensive in his market and would not be able to sell anything if he raised his prices.    After I helped him do his first business budget and determine the markup he needed to use to cover his true overhead costs and make a profit, he went out that night and closed a deal at his new higher pricing.  Check out this article I wrote for remodeling magazine about the benefits of having confidence in you numbers.


I can only charge what the market will bear

Remodeling salespersonNow, if a contractor has done market research, for his or her local market, this may be true.   Savvy contractors, those who know what price they need to charge, will sell at higher prices up to the point that a majority of protects stop buying.  I would consider this to be true market research.  However, these business not only know how to determine the true costs of doing business, they also typically have professional marketing programs to help them get in front of specific prospects and they employ professionally trained salespeople who know how to sell.

Contractors using the WAG method to price their work also typically do not have a strategic marketing plan.  Without targeting a specific market of customer types, how can a business owner know what price point the market will bear?  Without professional sales skills, how would a contractor know if the reason for not selling at higher prices is due to the market or to his/her selling skills?

Also, what market are they referring to; the one they are proactively pursuing or the one that randomly ends up knocking on their door?  Are they using professionally trained sales people or are they using order takers?   One way to differentiate between sales people and order takers is that sales people present their solutions in person.  Order takers typically hit send.   If you use the hit send method I don’t think that counts as a valid way to test what the market will bear.


Want to be able to charge more for what you do? 

Check out this blog about why some contractors can raise their prices but most can’t.

Marketing workshop for contractors


Looking to target specific customers and work types?

Check out this all day Marketing and Sales Workshop




Topics: Sales Considerations, Differentiating your Business, Financial Related Topics, Retirement Planning, Earning More Money, Lead Generation, Marketing Considerations, Business Planning

10 Sign’s You’re Playing The Game of Contractor Roulette

Posted by Shawn McCadden on Thu, Aug 29,2013 @ 06:00 AM

10 Sign’s You’re Playing The Game of Contractor Roulette

Contractor Roulette wheel


Most contractors are great craftsman but terrible at accounting and financial management.   Most can build a house from the ground up without any plans but have no clue how to identify and create the financial reports they need to know whether they are making or losing money. 

Building or remodeling a house without any idea of whether you are making money or not, and if you will be able to pay all the bills as they come due, is like spinning a roulette wheel at the casino.   You put money down, spin the wheel and hope to make money.  Problem is that you have no idea or control over where the wheel will stop.   If you run out of money the casino is happy to let someone else step in, lay down some money and do the spinning. 

Like most gamblers, contractors always brag when they win, but never want to talk about it when they lose.


Contractor Roulette Is Not A Good Gamble

If it sounds like I'm describing you and your business you are playing what I call "Contractor Roulette".   Sure, once in a while you may win, and even win big.  But remember the odds are with the casino.   How about you?  Have you been spinning and winning or has the “casino” been winning and encouraging you to keep playing?


My list of 10 signs you’re spinning the “Contractor Roulette Wheel”

  1. You lose sleep at night worrying about money.
  2. You have no idea what markup to use.
  3. You think margin and markup are interchangeable terms.
  4. You never know if you will have enough money to pay your bills until they're paid.  Again
  5. You guess at project payment schedule amounts and when they're due.  As a result you constantly suffer from cash flow challenges.
  6. financial mistakes contractors makeWhen a prospect asks you if you will match someone else’s price for the same job you figure if the other guy can do it for that price so can you, so you say yes.
  7. You are always putting the whip to your production employees to beat the labor allowance in your estimate because you need to make up for dropping the price of the job just so you could sell it.  Again.
  8. Even though you got price quotes for the materials before you sold the job, after you take the job you either bid the materials out to a get a lower price or beat your vendors up to sell them to you for less than they already quoted you.  Again.
  9. You do little or no marketing so you have to try to sell to everyone who contacts you, even if you have a feeling they will try to beat you out of any profit.  Again.
  10. You need to sell a job this weekend and get a deposit just so you will have enough money to meet last week’s payroll.  Again.


Strive to become a Big 50 Remodeler

Big 50 class of 2013If you believe in the idea of relative success, where you convince yourself you are doing pretty well if you compare your results to other contractors who are doing far worse than you, then maybe you can be happy staying where you are regarding financial management at your business.  On the other hand, if you want to measure your success against truly successful contractors, perhaps use Remodeling Magazine’s Big 50 list as your reference.  To qualify for that list you need to be making a decent net profit.



There is hope!

Financial advice for contractorsIf you have been playing Contractor Roulette here is a simple three-step plan to help you end your gambling habit:


  1. Admit you have a gambling problem and commit to do something about it.
  2. Get the professional help you need to help you stop gambling and eliminate the causes of your gambling addiction.
  3. Find someone you can trust to hold you accountable to doing what it will take to make the switch.



Related articles:

The Five Biggest Financial Related Mistakes Contractors Make

Remodelers: I Bet You Don’t Know Your True Burdened Labor Costs

Five Ways To Think Like A Business For Business Owners


Topics: Business Financials, Pop Quizes, Success Strategies, Financial Related Topics, Earning More Money, Sage Advice, Self Quizes

You Can Build A House, But Can You Build Financial Reports Too?

Posted by Shawn McCadden on Tue, Aug 13,2013 @ 06:00 AM

Melanie Hodgdon, Business Systems Management



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.


You Can Build A House, But Can You Build Financial Reports Too?

Financial reports for contractors


For many contractors, there’s a frustrating gap between what goes into their financial software and what comes out in the form of useful reports. After twenty years of helping contractors obtain and interpret useful reports, I find that the vast majority of my income comes from cleaning up, restructuring, and sometimes discarding and re-starting accounting files that simply aren’t doing their job.


What’s important to know?

The only reason to use financial software is to provide answers to questions. Who’s asking the questions? How about

  • who needs contractor financial reportsyour production manager?
  • your estimator?
  • your sales team?
  • your marketing department?
  • your tax accountant?
  • your CFO/partners/investors
  • the bank you’re approaching for a credit line?
  • the prospective buyer of your company

If you haven’t thought about these questions before you start, you may be doomed to relying on luck to get your answers.


Starting right

Nobody starts out by saying, “Hey, I’m going to buy software, invest a whole lot of time into entering information, and then hope that I get good results.” Yet, with the best of intentions, most contractors don’t get it right the first time. There are three basic elements that need to be in place before the results will justify the investment of time, energy, and dollars:


    1.   Identify the destination

      Financial reports for contractorsIf you’re setting out to just “drive around” you don’t need a destination. But if you need to get somewhere, it’s important to know where the destination is relative to where you are. So if I want to drive from New York to California, I should be heading west, not south. It’s the same with your financials. If you don’t have a clear view of the destination (answers to your questions), getting there is left to chance. You must identify what you want to find out.


        2.  Plan your route

          setting up QuickBooks for contractorsIf you’re planning that trip from New York to California, the path you select will reflect your criteria, such as whether or not you are interested in the fastest route, the most scenic route, the cheapest route, etc. Accounting software varies in its user friendliness and flexibility. QuickBooks is highly flexible and very user friendly, which leads users to take inappropriate routes with a high degree of confidence! There are many ways to accomplish any given task. Making the right choice can be confusing, sort of like making the New York to California trip without the benefit of road signs (or GPS!). You must know the software.


            3.  Learn the rules

              Basics of construction accountingCan you turn right on a red light in Iowa? Is the maximum speed limit in Kansas the same as that in Missouri? Is it mandatory to wear seat belts in Nevada? Do you have to turn on your lights if it’s raining in California? Just as you can get yourself into trouble while driving if you don’t know the law, you can get yourself in trouble in accounting if you don’t know the correct way to classify transactions. You must understand the basics of construction accounting.


              The Bad News

              The unfortunate truth is that most business owners come from the field. They started a business because they were convinced that they could do a better job (and make more money) than the company for which they worked. Unfortunately, many of the “improvements” they make are in the areas of production and customer relations; few have to do with the numbers side of things. Very, very few construction business owners come to the business with MBA or CPA after their names; most are more of the FEA (Field Experience Acquired) persuasion. And this sets the stage for unfortunate results on the office front. They don’t have the accounting background, they don’t know the software (which is often selected for them by their accountant or bookkeeper), and they haven’t stopped to plan ahead to determine what kinds of answers will help them steer their business towards a desired destination.


              The Good News

              Help setting up QuickBooks for ContractorsHelp is available! There are good, experienced, qualified resources out there who can either start you out right or help you adjust your course. The key is to look for consultants and trainers with experience in your industry and in your software of choice. Find out how many businesses similar to yours they have worked with. A construction expert who has only worked with development companies with revenue in excess of $20M may not be appropriate for a startup remodeling company with forecast revenue of $600K. Get references. Request a no obligation 15 minute phone call to get a feel for whether they will be a good fit for your business and you.


              QuickBooks Setup for ContractorsFinal Word

              If you aren’t getting the information you need, whether it’s answers about achieved margins, overhead costs, profit centers, or profitability of individual jobs, you owe it to your company and your own peace of mind to turn things around. If you’ve already started driving without a map, without knowing the traffic rules, and without helpful signage, STOP where you are. Don’t make things any worse. Get the help you need so the rest of your journey will be sure to bring you to your destination.



              Topics: Business Financials, Success Strategies, Financial Related Topics, Guest Blogs

              Five Ways To Think Like A Business- For Construction Business Owners

              Posted by Shawn McCadden on Thu, Apr 25,2013 @ 06:00 AM

              Melanie Hodgdon, Business Systems Management



              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

              How to think like a companyI 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.


              See yourself as a business ownerAdding 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:

              1. 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.
              2. Chasing profit, not dollarsChase 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.
              3. 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.
              4. 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.
              5. Stop trying to do everything yourselfStop 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?


              Topics: Business Growth, Financial Related Topics, Earning More Money, Mentoring/Coaching, Guest Blogs, Business Planning, Sage Advice

              The Five Biggest Financial Mistakes Contractors Make

              Posted by Shawn McCadden on Sun, Apr 14,2013 @ 06:00 AM

              The Five Biggest Financial Related Mistakes Contractors Make

              Having worked with hundreds of remodelers to help them improve their businesses and achieve their goals has exposed me to the common reasons their businesses run into financial problems.   Here my list of the five biggest mistakes I see contractors make that lead to money problems, and some suggestions on how to avoid or prevent them.

              1. Guessing at the markup used to determine selling price

              Wild ass guessPricing your work without knowing the true cost of being in business is referred to as using the "WAG" method, or “Wild Ass Guess” method.  Unless a business knows what markup to use to determine the right selling price it puts itself at risk of actually buying jobs instead of selling them.   Unless you know your minimum required markup to cover overhead, how do you know how low you can go when the prospect wants to negotiate?

              Don't Put Your Business at Risk by Guessing At What Markup to Use


              1. Using different markups on different cost categories without knowing the impact on required gross profit.

              2.	Using different markups This is like a Super-Sized WAG!  Unless you use a single across the board markup on all estimated costs, you will need to be very accurate when anticipating how much you will sell of, and how much you will markup, each category of costs your business includes in estimates throughout the course of the year.  Most contractors who do this have no idea how to do so.  Keep in mind that if you do drop the markup on one item you will need to increase the markup on another to make up for the drop in gross profit dollars on the first one.  One contractor I know said he believed contractors who use this method have what he called “Head Trash” about money.  He went on to say they should “get over it” and should learn how to sell.


              1. Not factoring for the cost of non productive time in the labor rate used when estimating.

              Most contractors have no idea how to handle this one.   Using the wrong labor rate can have a double negative effect.  Not only will you not charge enough to cover labor costs, you will also lose the markup on the missing labor dollars! To bring in the money you need to pay your employees when they are not producing work you need to include that money in the billable hours they do work. 

              How to Cover the Cost of Non-Productive Time in Your Estimates


              1. Not estimating and job costing apples to apples.

              Accurate job costingFirst, this assumes the contractor even does job costing, most don’t.  As one example I estimate that fewer than 10% of contractors can job cost their labor costs the same way they estimate them.   If you use a burdened labor rate to estimate the dollar cost of task hours, your total labor cost will include things like workers comp insurance, non-productive time and employee benefits.   If you use QuickBooks for job costing, and you enter employee time card information into QuickBooks, typically only the employees wage and employer paid payroll taxes are expensed against the job budget in job cost reports.   This will falsely make the actual labor cost appear much lower than the labor budget from your estimate.   To solve this, use my free labor cost worksheet to calculate your true burdened labor rates for each employee and then work with a QuickBooks expert who knows how to set up the software to include labor burden assumptions in job cost reports without affecting the accuracy of your P&L.


              1. Not factoring for actual costs at time of production when estimating

              Anticipating construction cost increasesIf you sell work that you won’t be starting for some time, in your estimates you will needed to include the actual costs you will incur at the time you produce the work.   If you don’t do so the extra costs will eat away at your planned net profit until it’s gone.  If the extra costs exceed your anticipated net profit you will need to use your own money to finish that customer’s job.  Keep in mind that some reports anticipate many construction materials will increase in cost as much as 25% this year.


              Anticipate increases and include them in estimates before jobs are sold



              Topics: Business Financials, Labor Costs, Margin and Markup, Financial Related Topics, Earning More Money, Estimating Considerations