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Essential Business Hacks for Independent Contractors

Posted by Shawn McCadden on Mon, Oct 05,2015 @ 05:30 AM

Essential Business Hacks for Independent Contractors

Man_at_Laptop_talking_on_phone-wr-1Over 10 million Americans are independent contractors, according to the most recent estimates by the U.S. Department of Labor. Whether that means you do freelance work or have started your own company and hope to employ many people yourself one day, most independent contractors have one thing in common: they are learning as they go.

Here are some tried and true tips to help you navigate the time, energy and, most importantly, money-sucking pitfalls of entrepreneurship, so you can actually appreciate the joys of working for yourself:

Get Eco-Friendly

Your customers will love you for getting eco-friendly and so will your bank account. Eliminate paper from your processes as much as possible. Having everything digital makes your business run faster and smoother and saves you money and time down the line.

If you travel for work and your vehicle is not the most fuel efficient, you’re throwing money out the window every month, as well as contributing to smog and pollution. But that doesn’t mean you have to invest in an expensive electric car to save precious startup money. Check out the EPA’s new SmartWay certification for a list of budget-friendly vehicles that reduce carbon emissions and have saved drivers over $16.8 billion in fuel costs since 2004.

Buy in Bulk and Ahead of Time

Office supplies for contractorsFrom office supplies to packing materials, the biggest waste of time and energy is buying things you knew you would need at the last minute and paying full retail price. If you’re a retailer, seek out wholesale options and buy in bulk for the maximum discount. Look into a Costco membership for any and all office supplies. Office furniture can also be found at the local thrift store, furniture rental company or hotel furniture liquidators for pennies on the dollar.

Don’t Let Cash Flow Stop You

You are bound to have cash flow issues at some point. The thrill of working for yourself can quickly become the anxiety of "why on Earth did I think I could stand not knowing how much money I was going to be making each month?" Your bills may be fixed, but your income is not, so saving money prior to striking out on your own and during the startup process is crucial. It’s impossible to foresee all the hidden costs that are sure to crop in the beginning, so you need a little cushion.

SBA Loans for contractorsBut not even a lack of cash flow can stop you these days. With the popularity of crowdfunding, job placement services and Craigslist, there are outlets everywhere for the hard working, resourceful, independent contractor. Leave no stone unturned and check to see if you qualify for any small business loans or grants from the SBA.

Leverage Free Technology

Marketing yourself doesn’t have to cost you a fortune, but beware of companies looking to take advantage of unwitting new contractors. There are a lot of lead referral services out there that boast thousands of job postings for everything from nannies to graphic designers. Often they pull the old bait and switch move: you spend hours creating a profile for their sites, adding product pictures, reviews, references and certifications only for them to ask for a credit card and a hefty fee when you’re about to hit submit. You don’t want all that work to go to waste, so you plunk down your credit card against your better judgment and pay for a month (or three) of leads that, honestly, may not even exist.

The good news is you really can market yourself for free. Research your competitors and find out what social media outlets they’re using. Take notes and improve upon their tactics to stand apart from the crowd. Many SEO experts recommend using five or less social media sites and keeping your focus on original, quality content. And don’t discount the power of LinkedIn for finding and connecting with the top names in your industry; it’s like the Facebook of finance.


Stacy EdenGuest Blogger:  Stacy Eden is a Phoenix, Arizona native with a passion for art, power tools, and historical significance. She draws inspiration from classic cars, ancient mythological sculptures and jewelry designers such as Delfina Delettrez, Shaun Leane, and Dior Jewellery creative director Victoire de Castellane.

Topics: Business Financials, Starting a Business, Free Stuff, Cash Flow, Marketing Ideas, Guest Blogs

How Long Does It Take Before A New Construction Business Sees A Profit?

Posted by Shawn McCadden on Thu, Jan 29,2015 @ 06:00 AM

How Long Does It Take Before A New Construction Business Sees A Profit?

Creating a profitable construction companyI came across a great question asked by a group member while participating on LinkedIn. I replied to the question on LinkedIn, but also thought it would make for great info to share with other contractors who might be asking the same question.


Here is the question:

I'm sure we all have heard, "It takes a business 3 to 5 years before it profits." Does this apply for our industry? How long should it take when you start your own business before you start to see a profit?


Here is my expanded answer

Great question. Thanks for asking it. The answer depends on how you define profit.   Many factors can be considered.   Let me offer a few here.


What you charge will be a significant factor

Being profitable does have a lot to do with knowing what you need to charge so you can and will earn a profit. If a business is guessing at their rates earning a profit is a guess as well. Probably more like a HUGE RISK!

Also, consider that investments you make in your business for the tools, equipment and other larger and long term use stuff are just that; investments.   The cost of those items, at least for tax purposes, is not typically assumed to be cost covered in one year of doing business, but rather the cost is typically spread out over several years. The idea is that these items are "invested in" using profits so they will eventually help provide more income and profits than they originally cost.

To summarize, the more you charge the more profits you can earn and therefore the faster you can pay off your investments and show a profit.


Profit is not measured only by how much you have left in the bank at the end of the year

How can I have earned a profit if I have no moneyAlso consider, as a business owner you may personally be measuring your profitability including the costs of any investments for a one year period. As a result may not see a profit in the bank at the end of the year.  However the money spent on those investments is still considered profit for business and tax purposes. This is the case because when filing your taxes the government sees these investment type purchases as assets paid for with profits.  To get tax deductions for these assets you are allowed to depreciate the assets over time to reduce their value and take tax deductions for them over several years or more. Essentially, for tax purposes, the government measures your profit by combining the money you earned and still have; along with the assets you bought using any profits, as your total taxable net profit. Also, any money your business paid out to you the owner as profit distributions over the year will be considered part of your business’ total taxable net income.

These are a few reasons why a lot of business owners have to report profits earned but may not have any money left in the bank to cover the taxes on those profits. When this happens a lot of contractors view their businesses as not having earned any profit. I suggest as the business owner you can view it any way you want, but the government will still be taxing you and or your business.


Make sure you give enough attention to these important tax considerations

tax_pie_chart-wrAgain, great question to ask. I hope this article helps.   Being a business owner means you have to understand how to manage and protect the profits you earn, but at the same time manage how you will be taxed on that same money.   By not knowing or ignoring these considerations you can be working hard to make money while profits that could have stayed with you are going out the door to the government as taxes. That said there are a lot of great reasons to have a proactive accountant helping you and your business instead of a historian type accountant who only files your taxes for you when everything is already said and done for the year.

Now, go on out there and generate some profits so you have to pay even more taxes next year!

But, don’t pay any more than you have to!



Topics: Business Financials, Starting a Business, Business Growth, Financial Related Topics, Keeping More Money

Three Thoughts for Contractors by Cowboy Legend Will Rogers

Posted by Shawn McCadden on Tue, Apr 16,2013 @ 06:00 AM

Three Thoughts for Contractors by Cowboy Legend Will Rogers

Will Rogers



Will Rogers, who died in a 1935 plane crash, was one of the greatest political sages this country has ever known.  He is well known for his quote:  “Don't squat with your spurs on”.  He also shared many other thought provoking but less popular sayings.   For a little fun I offer these three and what I think they could offer for advice to contractors

“Never miss a good chance to shut up”

Many contractors, me included, have probably had an occasion where we opened our mouths and wished we hadn’t.  Other times we open our mouths, and even though we may not realize it, others we interact with wish we hadn’t! 

Never miss a good chance to shut upHere are a few times when saying nothing might just be the best thing to say:

  • If your customer has already decided to buy, shut up.  Don’t risk giving him/her a reason to change their mind.
  • If you ask your prospect or customer a question, shut up.   Give them time to think and answer the question.  If due to the silence you keep talking or offer them answers to choose from you might not get the real answer.
  • If you have chance to disparage your competition, shut up.  More times than not the person listening to you will begin to think less of you for doing so.  Instead of talking bad about what they do or don’t do, talk about how you do what you do.


“Always drink upstream from the herd”

Will Rogers Quotes


When starting their businesses too many contractors look to what other contractors are doing and assume they should do the same.   The fact is that 9 of 10 contractors typically go out of business within 10 years of getting started.   The odds of copying the right contractor’s strategy are only 1 in 10. 

Here are a few things drinking downstream of other contractors can do to your construction business:

  • Use the wrong labor rates and markup to price your jobs assuming you need to be competitive.
  • Assume because another contractor quoted a price to a prospect you must be able to do it for that price as well.
  • Getting and using legal advice from online contractor discussion groups without consulting legal counsel before you do so.


“If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging”

Contractor Financial problemsA good number of contractors at one time or another find themselves in a financial hole.  Rather than figure out how they got there, they just keep working, often assuming by working harder or longer hours they will eventually get out of the hole.  Unfortunately many of them just dig a deeper hole and eventually the hole is so deep they can’t climb out so they stay in it.  Sometimes the hole can even cave in all around them and bury them and their businesses.  If you want to avoid the most common reasons contractors get into financial trouble check out this previous blog post.


Bonus saying:

Here’s one more from Will Rogers just for fun.  I’ll let you be the one to determine what this means to you!

 “There are three kinds of men:

  1. The ones that learn by reading.

  2. The few who learn by observation.

  3. The rest of them have to pee on the electric fence and find out for themselves.”

 Quotes by Will Rogers


Topics: Business Financials, Margin and Markup, Sales, Fun Stuff, Starting a Business

Understanding and Complying With Home Improvement Contractor Laws

Posted by Shawn McCadden on Tue, Feb 05,2013 @ 06:00 AM

Help Understanding and Complying With Home Improvement Contractor Laws

MA HIC videos with Shawn McCaddenMany remodeling contractors may be operating their businesses illegally without even knowing it.  In addition to construction supervisor licensing, most states now have some type of licensing or registration requirements for contractors who offer and or perform home improvement work.  Home improvement contractor licensing and regulations govern how contractors conduct business, not how they build or renovate at the job site.  Fines and penalties for lack of compliance can be substantial, including losing your right to conduct business.  The specific details of home improvement contractor laws and regulations are different from state to state, so it’s a good idea to make sure you’re aware of and understand requirements where you work. 


What states have Home Improvement Contractor Licensing requirements?

Click here for an interactive map where you can find out.  You or your remodeling customers can also use the map to check to see if a specific contractor is licensed.


Currently there are about 26,000 Registered Home Improvement Contractors in Massachusetts.

Recently the Massachusetts Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation ("OCABR") released a series of five short videos to help Massachusetts home improvement contractors become aware of and learn how to comply with the Massachusetts Home Improvement Contractor Registration law.  The videos are well done and are targeted to help Massachusetts contractors, but a lot of the information shared in the videos could also be very helpful for contractors doing businesses in other states as well.  Each video covers a topic that is regulated in some way or another by any state's home improvement regulations.

Home Improvement Contractor Law videos with Shawn McCadden

At about 17 minutes of total time, it’s worth your time to watch all five videos even if your business is not in Massachusetts.  

The first 45 seconds of each video is an introduction and is just about the same, so after watching the first video in full you can probably skip ahead in the other four.


Basic Rules for Home Improvement Contractors:

Video #1:  Registration


Video #2: Contract Content & Payment Terms


Video #3: Advertising & Estimating


Video #4: Performance of the Contract


Video #5: Arbitration & Enforcement


In addition to being an industry representative in the videos, I was also pleased to be able to offer input on the script.  Before, during and after the filming I worked closely with Steven J. Zuilkowski, Hearing Officer for the Office of Consumer Affairs & Business Regulation.  During the filming I also worked with Jacqueline F. Chandler, HIC Program Coordinator.  Both demonstrated they were genuinely interested in helping contractors comply with the regulations and were seeking input to help ensure the videos served the intended purpose.  Recently Steve shared with me that the OCABR now also has a blog were he has written several posts for contractors regarding help interpreting the HIC regulations, check it out here.

I want to thank Barbara Anthony, Undersecretary of the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation and the OCABR for doing these videos to help contractors.  It was an honor for me to be asked to participate in the project and I had some fun too!


Steven J. Zuilkowski

       Steven J. Zuilkowski

Jacqueline F. Chandler

    Jacqueline F. Chandler


Barbara Anthony

  Barbara Anthony


Topics: Videos, Legal Related, Contracts, Starting a Business, MA HIC Regulations, Sales Considerations, Marketing Considerations, Business Considerations

Rebuilding Your Construction Business On Purpose in 2013

Posted by Shawn McCadden on Sun, Jan 27,2013 @ 06:00 AM

Rebuilding Your Construction Business On Purpose in 2013

Remodeler business plan


Most remodeling and construction business owners didn’t start with a plan for where their business would end up; they just ended up where their businesses took them.   As they did business the employees and subs who worked for them, the clients who bought from them and the project types they bought are often the factors that eventually defined the business and therefore defined who their target customer type and job types are today.  If you’re not happy with where your business ended up, and you had to downsize during the recession, your current position might just provide an opportunity to rethink how you move forward before the economy and your business picks up.  Here’s a path to consider if you want a different business going forward.  Reflect back on and take advantage of lessons learned in the past as you map out your plan.

First establish goals for your business.  

Make sure the goals support both your professional and personal ambitions.   If you want to work to live, rather than live to work, now is your opportunity to make the change happen.

Contractor business planYour goals must be measurable

Next, establish metrics by which you will measure whether your business is on the right track and is achieving those goals.   In your metrics include ways to measure things like financial health, quality of service, quality of work, company culture, when you will be ready for the next stage of growth and the related employee growth or advancement that needs to be achieved. 

Decide who you will need for employees

Remodeling business org chart


Now that you have a clear idea of your goals and have defined objective ways to measure whether you’re achieving them or not, you can develop organizational charts for each stage of growth as well as job descriptions and candidate profiles for the people you will need to hire and advance.   Rather than let who you hire define your business and the job descriptions for those people, you will this time be able to proactively define, seek out and better qualify the right employees for each job position you will need to fill as the business grows. 



Here are a few examples. 

If you want to use a lead carpenter system, hire field staff with both trade and management skills.  If you can’t find real lead carpenters with management skills (because in reality very few exist) find good carpenters with the cognitive abilities and desire to learn and use those skills.  Then, train them yourself or find someone else to properly train them.  Your lead carpenter job description will help define the training you will need to provide.   If you want managers who will lead employees rather than supervise them, make sure you include that consideration in the employee profiles you will use to complement your job descriptions and hiring decisions. 


Construction company business planPutting the pieces together

If you hire the wrong managers you will be compromising your ability to hire and keep the right employees to do the work.   If you have to compromise on who you hire to do the work they will not be able to live up to your metrics or you will have to lower the standards by which you measure their performance.   If you drop the bar on your metrics you will either have to accept that you will never achieve your business and personal goals, or you will have to drop the bar on those too.

One definition of insanity is to keep doing the same things but expect different results.  If you want 2013 to be the year you changed the direction and performance of your business, you would probably be insane not to consider the path described above.


Thinking about figuring all this out on your own? 

If you and your business have the ability, the time and the money to learn all this stuff on your own check out this list of Five Great Books for Remodeling Business Owners.


Rather work one-on-one with a coach to help you?

Contact Shawn to find out how he helps remodelers and other construction related businesses all over the country achieve the business and personal results they desire.  If you're not earning and keeping enough money for your retirement yet he can help you change things.


Topics: Starting a Business, Hiring and Firing, Success Strategies, Worker Training, Differentiating your Business, Lead Carpenter System, Business Planning, Leadership, Business Considerations

Contractors and Remodelers: Decide Your Niche and Then Go Get It!

Posted by Shawn McCadden on Sun, Dec 16,2012 @ 06:00 AM

Contractors and Remodelers: Decide Your Niche and Then Go Get It!

Choosing a Remodeling Niche


Choosing a niche for your remodeling business should be done with care and can include much more than most remodelers might realize.  When I ask remodelers what their niche is, most cite just one characteristic, typically a work type, such as windows, kitchens or historical renovations.  Rather, I suggest remodelers consider many characteristics when establishing a niche. 

The idea is to assemble the ideal niche or niches for your business.  To do this at my own business I used the five “W’s”; who, what, when, where and why to help me.  By thinking back about past clients and their projects, I filtered out and then assembled the characteristic that consistently lead us to successful and profitable projects with customer we enjoyed working with.


Targeting Remodeling CustomersLooking back our ideal customer was a middle aged middle market married couple, both working with either very young or high school age children.  These people worked hard to earn their money and therefore respected the fact that my employees and I also worked hard to earn our money.  They looked at my employees as partners in the project, not nail bangers.  Due to the age of their children, they had little time to do their own work, they didn’t want to move or change school systems, and they typically needed more space at their homes.  Unlike wealthier clients I had worked for, these clients would say; “I know I will owe you the next payment on Monday, but I won’t be here.  Can I pay you today”?  I never had to use my line of credit to finance their projects because waiting for a stock dividend delayed progress payment.


Marketing help for remodelersThese clients needed additions to their homes, but we didn’t want just an addition.  We wanted an addition with a kitchen and/or a bathroom.  We came to find that simple family room or bedroom additions came with too much competition from laid off framers or inexperienced low price remodelers.  If the project included a kitchen and or a bathroom, most low price completion lacked the skills to design and build the project.  We also found that these projects, because of the baths and kitchens, were material and sub contractor intensive.  We found it easier to mark up and manage more materials and subs, rather than more labor.  We also found they brought in more gross profit in less time than labor intensive projects.


Strategic Marketing for RemodelersWe purposely timed our marketing for addition work relative to the New England weather realities as well as the typical lead time required to sell, design and permit additions.  The idea was to get foundations in the ground and shells constructed before the weather made it impossible or impractical to work in the cold.  Using similar tactics, we marketed in advance for Kitchens, baths, attics and basement remodels to fill the cold months.  We marketed these projects to the same client type.  The attics and basements typically included bathrooms.



Remodeler NichesAs the business grew and competition increased within our market, we decided to expand our footprint.  Through experience and detailed job costing we came to see that commuting more than 30 minutes from our office typically lead to increased costs, compromised supervision on projects, a dip in client satisfaction and therefore a dip in referrals.  We also found it ideal to work on homes built in the 60’s or later.  These homes were built with standard lumber sizes, drywall rather than horse hair plaster, PVC drain lines rather than cast iron, copper water supplies and poured concrete foundations.  These homes were easier to work on, they made it easier to anticipate and estimate costs and they were typically one of many similar homes within concentrated subdivisions.  By marketing to target home owners in target neighborhoods within 30 minutes of our office, we attracted addition projects in high exposure locations, leading to more work and more referrals in those same areas.



Marketing ideas for remodelersTo me the why was the easy part.  The why’s were all the benefits my business came to enjoy as a result of defining our ideal niches, the biggest being improved profitability.  If you concentrate your efforts in a defined area, you and your team naturally become better and more competent at what you do, leading to improved efficiency across your business.  We realized efficiency in our marketing efforts because we knew who and what to market for and how to get their attention.  Estimating and sales also became simplified because projects and clients were very similar.  It was easier to find and train good employees and subs because the work types were fairly consistent and the clients were almost always a pleasure to work with.  Because we could successfully deliver the right projects to the right people we enjoyed a steady flow of high quality referrals.   Because, because, because…


Just like the Dating Game?

Choosing the right customers


Think of defining your niche as being similar to defining your ideal spouse or partner.  If you date enough people you will eventually recognize the qualities that come together to define a good fit, someone you want to live with for a long time.   If you have been in business for a few years and think back on all of the clients you have dated, I bet you can filter out the ones worth marrying your business up with. 



If you would like to attend a workshop offering the insight and information you need to develop a marketing strategy and the tactics needed to redirect the future of your business check out Workshop #2 of 6 titled: "Choosing and Targeting the Right Customers and Project Types for Your Business" of this Contractor Success Program that starts on January 22, 2013.


Topics: Starting a Business, Success Strategies, Marketing, Marketing Ideas, Marketing Considerations

What Separates Successful Design/Builders From Other Remodelers

Posted by Shawn McCadden on Sun, May 20,2012 @ 05:00 AM

Characteristics That Separate Successful Design/Builders From Other Business Models Include:

  • Business plan for remodelers and Design BuildersAn experienced Management Team that has created and follows a strategic and sustainable business plan, implements industry best practices and continuously identifies and mentors strong leadership within the team in each department.
  • A strong Financial System that that predicts, tracks and analyzes the cost of doing business and producing projects, and includes an estimating system that facilitates timely and accurate "What-if" project pricing abilities during the entire design process.
  • Sales system for Design Builders and sales training for remodelersA Marketing System and Strategy that identifies and attracts targeted prospects qualified to do business with the Design/Builder and helps them discover the unique values and advantages of the Design/Build project delivery method.
  • An established and tested Sales System used and or supported by all employees which prequalifies that a prospect's purpose, budget and decision making process is a match with the Design/Builder's Business model and provides a consistent approach and results for those prospects who become clients.

download shawn's free sample design build retainer agreement

  • Technology for Remodelers and Design BuildersA Design System that properly identifies and documents the information needed by the client as well as the Design/Builder's project team and serves as a communication tool to make sure the design and final project serve the client's purposes within the agreed budget and timeline
  • A Communication System and Process that uses technology to create, capture, manage, and distribute timely and accurate business and project information between team members, trade partners, design professionals and the client in a way that manages and meets established expectations.
  • Design Build Training for Design Build SystemsA Production System that produces a quality project and experience for all of the parties involved within the established budget and puts management of the project at the jobsite and in the hands of a qualified Lead Carpenter and or Project Manager.
  • A Personnel System that identifies, attracts, advances, recognizes and rewards those employees who best support a true Design/Build Business model and project delivery system.


If you are looking for help or training to create or switch over to a Design/Build Business Model contact Shawn today.  Will you be ready when the economy improves and there is money to be made?


"The topics you touched on yesterday really hit home and the light bulb has gone off!
We will take this information and start to apply to our business immediately."

David Haney, Dave Haney - Custom Woodworking


Topics: Starting a Business, Success Strategies, Advantages of Design/Build, Defining Design/Build, Design/Build Process, Marketing Considerations, Business Planning, Business Considerations

Going From Carpenter to Businessman as a Remodeler

Posted by Shawn McCadden on Tue, May 15,2012 @ 06:00 AM

Going From Carpenter to Businessman as a Remodeler

from carpenter to business owner



I received the follow question from a carpenter via the send a message function of my web site:

“Where is a good start for a carpenter to become a business man as a remodeler?”



Here is my reply:



Differentiation for remodlers and design buildersThanks for your question.   It’s a great one! I’m glad you are asking before you start out on your own.  That makes you very different than most. 

I suggest you find a mentor to help you get started.   Find a person who has done it before so they have the experience and knowledge to guide you.   Even if you have to pay this person it will end up being an investment that can be quickly paid off if you do your part because you will get going toward success much faster and will save a lot of money in tuition at the lumberyard school of hard knocks.

One of my current remodeler clients got his parents to finance the coaching and mentoring I am giving him to help him get going.   We prepare reports for him to share with his parents so they can see how the money is invested and so they can see how he is doing regarding actual profitability against the plans and budget I have been helping him with.  In actuality it’s the same information any business owner needs to know how the business is doing.  It’s the same information a bank would want to see if it loaned you the money.

Why remodelers fail


 Thinking about and planning what you will do before you get going is critical.   

Consider this: "You can either set up what you want to have happen or you can settle for what you get."

For a good overview see if you can find the book below.  It’s an old one that is out of print, and some of it is dated, but I think if you read it you will get a lot of good info to consider before you get started.  Try Amazon to find it.


Professional Remodeling ManagementProfessional Remodeling Management

By Walter Stoeppelwerth

Using the book as a guide, find out about all the legal requirements, insurances and all the overhead costs you will have before you start.   That’s what I did before I started my business.   Then, do a budget so you will know what to expect for costs and what markup to use so you don’t guess at it.

 Keep in mind, 9 out of 10 contractors will fail within 10 years.   You can beat the odds by doing your homework before getting going.

Keep me posted about how you are making out.  Let me know if I can help.


Topics: Questions from Visitors, Starting a Business, Success Strategies, Mentoring/Coaching, Business Planning