Every year the season draws to an end and contractors have so much opportunity. How do you use it? Do you get your books done right away so you don’t have the weight of that hanging over you? Do you immediately seek retreat with a vacation and some quality time with your family? Not only do I think it is very important for your own mental health to take some time off once the season slows, it is equally as important to spend some time with your family to rebuild those relationships that have been tested throughout the year. These are all things we have heard about and know we should do. We all know that we need to get our books done and rest, but have you considered fixing your processes? I mean like really fixing them. Dive right into your business and be so frank and forward with yourself it hurts. Get up, find the job you made the least amount of money on this year, and pick it apart.
We all have that one job, as you are reading this you are already thinking about your “one”. Why don’t you want to find out why it went so bad? It is uncomfortable to admit you failed but the truth is, you did. There, that’s over. Not so hard. Your family is still with you, your employees will still go to work for you and your stomach has sunk. Nothing worse can come from this now. So what happened, the customer made too many changes, the materials showed up late, the materials were wrong, the guys were not as efficient as they usually are? This sounds like a lot like finger pointing. I can write this article because we have just gone through this internal reflection. It's my fault. The worst job that happened to our company this year, all that loss, all that frustration from the customer and our team, my fault. I did that. There are so many things that I could have done better. And this winter we have taken the opportunity to really be accountable to ourselves.
If the customer made too many changes it is likely fair to say you rushed the design stage. Why did they make so many changes? Did you do a site visit, like a real site visit, not the sit at their table, get the dimensions kind of visit. But actually walk the yard, plan the space, talk to them about product limitations? Did you make sure you and the client were on the exact same page? If you did not, then this is your fault. The customer does not know what it takes to build a deck, they hired you to do it, and design is a huge part of why they need you. They had a vision and you were not listening. If you had allowed more time during the planning stages to get the details right it's likely that all of the changes would not have happened. Reflect on your time spent with them. Did you give this job the attention it needed at the start? If you did and the changes still occurred I challenge you to think about why those changes occurred. Really, reflect. It is possible that the customer just had no idea what this was going to look like and your renders were perfect and they messed up the colour or whatever. The chance that this was not a planning error is probably less than 1%. How do you fix this? I think for most trades, we do not allow enough time at the start of a job. We are so busy getting ready to start the next job because we feel like if we are not on the tools every day then we are not making money. Would you have made more money this year if you had spent 1 whole day planning this job better? The answer is yes and now you know what you have to do this season. You need to allow more time for the discovery part of your job. Put it in your calendar, make a note right now on a document that will be the template for how you build this year. Give yourself at least 4 hours to really really plan each job. It's a half day and it will save you more than that in the end.
Maybe the problem was materials were delayed getting to site. You blame the supplier and the manufacturer but for the past 2 years everything has been delayed. You likely wanted to order the materials a week before you actually got there. Or you did your part and the supplier did actually get it wrong. I think a great conversation to have with your customers this year is to let them know well in advance that the supply chain is under extreme pressure. And the summer of 2022 will not be better. In fact it may be worse. The best plan is to chat with your customers early about working with in stock products or have a plan for how you will notify them when the materials arrive at the supplier and how many days after the material arrives that you will start their job. Make it clear you will start to bring some clarity to the schedule once you know the materials are at your suppliers. Customers will not be mad if they know the materials are available and they are just waiting for you to finish up at the previous job so you can commit to their project fully. If you explain something to a customer in advance of a potential issue it will be seen as knowledge and if you try to defend an inconvenience after it has happened it sounds like an excuse. Be the person in the relationship with the most knowledge.
You know you have good guys working for you and you don’t want them to burn out or you don’t want to yell at them but sometimes they just don’t work well on a project. In this time of year the best thing to work on is putting together a bullet proof plan of how you are going to set your guys up for success. If you develop a document that has the framing plan, the decking plan, the railing plan, the lighting plan and an overview of the whole job. Once this package is complete your team will get used to having, reading and working off of these documents. It is a ton of work to put this together. I know this because it is one of the things we are working on as well. Once the process is set everyone on your team will know exactly what is expected of them and they will feel more comfortable. If they never have to question how something is going to be built, you will be able to rely on their schedule because you will have a really solid idea how long it takes for them to complete their work.
The point I am making is with proper planning right now you can make your summer go better. It will not be easy to change and it will be even harder to maintain your new practice because once you get busy you will have a tendency to slide back into your old ways. They are comfortable and you know them but if you are serious about making some changes it will require some uncomfortable times. We both know it will be worth it so being uncomfortable for a bit is the only way to get the change. Something you can do right now is to set some days in your calendar for a review of how your process is going, or book a day each month that you allow yourself to work ON your business. Make it the 1st, 10th or 15th of each month, make it an unbreakable rule, never ever compromise that day. Once you get used to working on your business for that day you will see some improvement in your business. Take this time in the offseason to improve how you run your business in the busy season and next year at this time you will see an improvement in profit and efficiency. Slow down, make a good plan and know that by taking a bit more time at the start of the project you will give yourself less stress and increase your efficiency. Invest in yourself and believe in yourself, your customers do.