Raising the Bottom Line

It’s Time to Increase Your Construction Company’s Pricing – Here’s How to Do It

Posted by Steve Ball on Wed, Oct 11, 2017 @ 10:07 AM

competitive-pricing

There is no question the construction industry has recovered from where it was in 2009, so why haven’t Maryland construction companies started increasing their pricing? We surveyed nearly 200 Maryland construction contractors in the 2017 Maryland Construction Industry Survey, and over half of respondents said they didn’t increase their pricing in 2016.

Now, more than ever, is the time to increase your company’s prices, and those who fail to make increases will end up paying more in the long run.

Costs will rise

There is no “maybe” about the reality of increasing material costs. As the amount of work increases, so will demand for resources. The Turner Cost Index, which measures costs in the non-residential building construction market in the United States, has found that costs increased 4.96% between the second quarter of 2016 to the second quarter of 2017. For a company that spends $250,000 in material costs, that’s an additional $12,400 a year.

Learn what other Maryland construction contractors have to say about the industry and the future of their construction business.

This increase not only includes costs for materials like wood or steel, but also human resources in the form of skilled labor. 62% of Maryland construction contractors say their #1 concern for 2017 is finding and retaining good employees, and for good reason. As the market continues to recover, skilled construction employees will have more leverage than years prior.

Companies who want to retain their top staff must commit to paying their employees competitive wages, and the only way to minimize the impact on your bottom line is to up your pricing.

Tips for raising prices

While all signs point to raising prices, many construction companies will continue to waver. Much of this apprehension has to do with the fear of losing business, especially to a competitor who may still be getting plenty of business with rock-bottom, post-recession pricing. Here are some tips on the best way to get your prices up (without losing business):

  1. Explain the situation
    One bad way to go about price increases is to blindside customers with a huge price jump on their next bill. People want to know and understand why the price for your service is going up, and lucky for you, you have some pretty visible evidence. New construction projects are cropping up around the country at a rapid rate, only helping your argument on the rising demand of service and associated materials.

    This is also a good time to remind customers just how long it’s been since your last rate hike (and if that was in 2009, that was eight years ago!). Customer loyalty is undoubtedly important, but customers will have nothing to be loyal to if your business can barely break even. There is always the risk a customer or two will walk out the door when prices go up, but you have to hold firm in your propositioning. You are providing a high-quality service, with high-quality materials and staff, and that requires a bigger budget than substandard work from a much cheaper business.

  2. Evaluate your current service
    Before you start increasing prices, take a minute to ask yourself – are there areas where we could be doing better? If your business has been struggling on the customer satisfaction front, raising prices without addressing existing concerns could result in major pushback, and rightfully so. Happy customers will or can be convinced to pay more. Unsatisfied customers won’t be able to get to the door fast enough.
  1. Give notice
    Price increases should never be made after a contract has been signed. If you are performing reoccurring work for a client, and their contract is almost up, send them at least a month’s notice so they are able to get their ducks in a row. Springing last minute increases, especially on a repeat customer, will leave a bad taste in everyone’s mouth and may dissuade them from doing business with you in the future.

  2. Have confidence
    One big mistake small to mid-size businesses make is apologizing for price increases. That’s not to say you shouldn’t have empathy for customers (after all, they’re trying to do the same thing as you – be diligent about their funds), but that doesn’t mean expressing guilt over your price increase. Explain your reasoning; express understanding when encountering pushback; but don’t undermine yourself by apologizing for making a sensible business decision.

Still on the fence?

If you’re still in need of some convincing, download a free copy of our executive summary of the results of the 2017 Maryland Construction Industry Survey to get a first-hand look at the data showing improving industry conditions and what’s coming down the pike.

2017-maryland-construction-survey-executive-summary 

Tags: Steve Ball, construction, Maryland, 2017 Maryland Construction Industry Survey

How to Completely Change the Way Your Construction Company Does Performance Reviews

Posted by Steve Ball on Thu, Sep 28, 2017 @ 02:03 PM

man drawing arrows

Whether you like giving reviews or not, employee performance reviews are critical to your construction company’s success. After all, expecting your employees’ behavior to change without acknowledging the areas they must improve is a lot like expecting a job to finish itself –it’s not going to happen.

Despite this, having worked with many construction companies throughout my 30-year career, I’ve watched time and time again as contractors fail to give employees the feedback they need. 

construction employee feedback statistic

This can lead to unintended consequences, like lost revenue due to habitual and avoidable mistakes, and the loss of all-star employees who are seeking to move up or challenge their skills.

The truth is, employees, and especially younger generations, want and expect regular feedback. In a 2017 survey of Maryland construction contractors, nearly 3 out of 10 contractors said they don’t give feedback on a regular basis. This number is far too high, especially given that 62% of contractors said that finding and retaining good employees was their top concern for their company.

So, how can construction contractors give feedback in a constructive, meaningful way?

Review every major job

Let’s say you have two guys on your team – John and Bob. They both have similar skill and experience levels, and are good employees overall.

You start meeting with John on a regular basis to review his performance. During these discussions, you discuss which areas he could improve, areas he is doing well, and things you’d like to see from him upon completion of his next job in two months. On the other hand, you don’t have time to meet with Bob, and almost a year passes when you sit down with him to review his performance.

Who do you think is going to have made the most progress in a year – John, who you’ve sat down with several times in the past twelve months or Bob, who you’ve only met with once? Not much of a question, right?

Want to get started now? Check out this free construction job employee evaluation form.

The simple truth is that employees who receive timely feedback are better able to correct mistakes and improve over those who receive that same feedback a year down the road. After all, what good is feedback if it comes twelve months too late?

To avoid this, construction contractors should review an employee’s performance after every major job. This review can be brief, but it should provide an overall evaluation of the employee’s strengths and weaknesses on the job and where they are expected to do better on the next job.

These job-to-job evaluations will not only allow you to correct mistakes and issues sooner rather than later, but will give you an opportunity to identify and mentor the all-star employees who are looking to develop their skills throughout the year.

But, I don’t have time!

These days, your company is most likely firing all cylinders. Today’s recovering economy, paired with a growing backlog of work, probably means you and your employees are spending more time than ever in the field. This can mean routine tasks – like performance reviews – often take a backseat to jobs that pay the bills and may end up getting pushed off or forgotten all together.

This, however, can be a costly mistake.

We all struggle to find time to take care of important but seemingly non-essential tasks, but those “less important” tasks we push off often come around to haunt us.

Take for example, oil changes in your company truck. You depend on the vehicle to get you, your guys and your tools from point A to point B, but when that check oil light goes on, you decide to push it an extra few miles. A few days become a few weeks and then the summer is gone by the time you get around to changing the oil. This process repeats for several years, until one day, your seemingly okay engine dies in the center of the beltway in morning rush hour. Now, you’ve got a dead engine, a half a day of lost work and a bill from your mechanic that would make even Bill Gates raise an eyebrow.

The same thing goes for performance reviews.

When you push off reviews, whether they are job-to-job or year-to-year, you get in a bad habit of thinking performance reviews aren’t really that important. And if all your employees are already operating perfectly 100% of the time and are content to stay exactly where they are in your company, you’re probably okay to forgo reviews. For the rest of the construction industry, putting off reviews is a lot like putting off those oil changes – it’s going to catch up with you eventually.

Get started now

Job-to-job performance reviews don’t have to be complicated. To get started now, check out our free construction job employee evaluation form.

employee-evaluation-form

Tags: Steve Ball, construction, 2017 Maryland Construction Industry Survey

Beginner’s Guide: How to Find New Construction Employees Online

Posted by Steve Ball on Tue, Sep 12, 2017 @ 07:01 AM

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While construction companies have historically relied on word of mouth to find new employees, the internet is changing the way job candidates discover new opportunities. 

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Between 2013 and 2015, a staggering 90% of Americans said they went online to search for jobs, with 84% having applied for a job online1Despite this, according to the 2017 Maryland Construction Industry Survey, only a third of Maryland construction contractors said they find new employees using online job boards like Monster or Indeed.

As the demand for qualified construction employees continues to rise, companies who continue to rely purely on word of mouth will undoubtedly miss out on the growing number of individuals looking for jobs via the internet. Luckily, posting your company’s open positions online doesn’t have to be hard.

Where to post your company’s positions

The secret to getting the most eyes on your online job ad is posting the information in more than one place. You’ll want to start with creating an account and posting the position on websites like Indeed and Monster. For some examples of what kinds of positions other Maryland construction companies are posting online, check out the search results for construction positions in Maryland or check out this sample listing:

Utility Construction Laborer
ABC Construction Company
$## - $## an hour

We are seeking experienced laborers to join our team in Baltimore, MD. This is a full-time, year-round position, with a competitive benefits package.

Laborers will be responsible with utility construction work, including, but not limited to, digging, heavy lifting and operating power tools, in all weather conditions.

All work will be completed in a team environment, but employees must be able to follow directions with minimal supervision.

Requirements
2+ years of construction experience
High school diploma or equivalent
Valid driver’s license
Pass pre-employment drug screening and background check

Benefits
Health, dental and life insurance
Seven days paid vacation and three days of sick leave per year
Employee bonus incentive program

If you have a company website, consider creating a career page and keeping a running list of all of your company’s open positions (check out our open position page as an example). By making this list available, future job candidates looking at your website can see what positions are currently open, making applying that much easier.

Social media accounts like your company’s Facebook or LinkedIn page are also great places to post information about open positions. It’s free, easy and often results in people sharing your posts far and wide.

What’s this going to cost me?

Just like the classified ads, posting jobs online isn’t always free. Listings can often cost companies a pretty penny, especially if you are posting one job at a time versus several at once. At the moment, Indeed still offers free listings, but sites like Monster can charge up to $300 for a 30-day listing.

This kind of expense can be staggering to smaller companies, and especially those looking to limit overhead costs. However, there are discounts for companies who post more than one job at a time. So, if you’re looking for laborers, a project manager and a new bookkeeper, you would receive a discount by posting all three jobs at once.                   

The don’ts of writing a good job description

1. Don’t forget how competitive the market is

The goal of posting job openings online is to entice candidates to want to apply to your company. It’s important to remember that while the people applying are looking to sell themselves as the best candidate, your company must also be selling itself as a desirable employer. Construction workers have more job opportunities than ever before, and when posting a job online, you want to distinguish your position above the other job postings in the same list.

While you don’t want to write too much, you do want to explain what the job entails and the responsibilities involved. Not only will this save you from fielding a tsunami of calls from unqualified applicants, but you’ll be better positioning your description to stand out among others and attract the right kind of candidates.

It’s also important to use your job posting to mention why your company is different from your competitors – like those free lunches you provide on Fridays or the employee bonus program that you offer.

All in all, you want to avoid positing a position like:

Laborer
ABC Construction Company

Construction laborers needed. Competitive pay. Call 555.555.5555.

2. Don’t pick an overly general job title

When it comes to clicking on a job description, most candidates click based on the title of the position. For example, if you have the choice between clicking “Laborerand “Heavy Construction Site Laborer,” which would you choose? Specificity about the type of position, experience level, etc. can make the job more attractive to candidates and can potentially attract more eyes to your posting.

3. Don’t forget to use keywords

Without going into the rabbit hole of how internet searching works, it’s important that the word “construction” appears in the majority of your job titles. Put yourself in the shoes of a job candidate. If you were looking for jobs in the construction industry, chances are your search would contain the word “construction.” In fact, “construction” may be the only search term a candidate uses in their search, meaning your job posting may not even show up in their results if you didn’t use the keyword in your position description.

Despite this, while it makes sense to have position titles like “Construction Laborer” or “Senior Construction Project Manager,” there is no need to have titles like “Construction Bookkeeper” or “Construction Administrative Assistant.” A good rule of thumb is that if the job isn’t directly related to the industry, you don’t need an industry keyword in the job title.

Need a hand?

Finding qualified employees is no walk in the park. If you’d like to have a sounding board to figure out how to find good employees, retain your best team members for the long haul, or improve your online presence, we can help. Contact Steve Ball, CPA, online or call 410.685.5512.

2017-maryland-construction-survey-executive-summary


1Pew Research Center of Internet & Technology

Tags: Steve Ball, construction, 2017 Maryland Construction Industry Survey

How to Respond to a Bad Review About Your Construction Company

Posted by Steve Ball on Thu, Aug 31, 2017 @ 07:02 AM

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If you’ve never googled your company, you might be surprised at what you find. Chances are, your company’s website (assuming you have one) will rank high in your search results and, more likely than not, so will a few online reviews of your business.

In a 2017 survey of Maryland construction contractors, 43% of contractors said they believe the reviews posted about a construction company online don’t impact whether a customer will do business with that company. This, however, cannot be further from the truth.

Online reviews have become standalone marketing tools for (or against) businesses, and if you’ve ever decided to make an online purchase based on the reviews about that product, you know how powerful a well-written review can be. Online reviews are not only booming in popularity but in their strength of influence, with over 84% of people in a 2016 BrightLocal survey saying they trust online reviews just as much as a personal recommendation.

The problem most contractors run into in dealing with online reviews is how and what to say in response to reviews, and especially the bad ones. Responses can range the gauntlet from arguing with the reviewer (bad) or failing to respond at all (equally as bad).

How should your company respond to a bad review about your business?

1. Take a breath

Criticism about your company can be a bitter pill to swallow. When you come across a scathing review of your business, it’s normal to feel angry or upset, which is why – regardless of how mad you are or untrue the review is – you need to take a breath before responding. If you’re really angry, it’s best to take several days to cool off or, better yet, ask someone who is more impartial to respond.

It’s important to remember that responses to reviews are public, which means every word you publish will be accessible to anyone who stumbles upon that page. That means your response is a direct reflection on you, your business and the type of relationship you have with your customers.

Learn what nearly 200 Maryland construction contractors said about their company’s outlook, marketing strategy and more.

The things you write can come back to haunt you. Even if you cool down and delete an angry response you’ve written two days later, your comments may still be out there. The person who you replied to or another page visitor may have taken a screenshot of your response can repost your words wherever and whenever they please.

Bad reviews can sting, but losing business because potential customers think you’re a hothead will sting a lot worse.

2. Take the time to truly understand what happened

Just like our children, pets, spouses, friends, etc., we all want to believe the best about our business and staff. Unfortunately, no business or person is perfect, and mistakes will be made – mistakes we might not always know about. Before responding to a review, it’s important to find out what actually happened and, namely, if the reviewer’s story is true.

For example, if you receive an angry review about how rude and unprofessional your foreman acted on a job, it’s your responsibility to check in and see what really happened. Chances are, your staff acted just as they should, but before you reply to the review, you’ll want to know how accurate the reviewer’s version of events actually is.

3. Claim your page

If this is your first time responding to a review, you’ll most likely have to claim your business through the website by creating a company account. This may have to be verified through phone or email, but once your account is created, you are free to respond to the reviews on your company’s page. Check out these pages to claim your business on Yelp and Angie’s List.

4. Be positive

When it comes to writing your review, the point is not to play the blame game. The goal in responding is to either:

  1. apologize
  2. explain

In the first case, your goal in responding is to admit a mistake was made, apologize and potentially make amends. For example, you might write:

“Sarah, thank you for writing. I spoke with the foreman on your account, and you are absolutely right that mistakes were made, and we truly apologize for the inconvenience it caused you. While I know it can’t make up for the time you lost as a result of our slipup, I’d like to waive the balance on your final invoice in hopes you will consider doing business with us again.”

In the second case, your goal is to explain the situation from your company’s perspective in order to put the review in context for anyone else reading the review. This is typically the route you would take when you receive a review with some debatable facts. For example, you might write:

“John, thank you for writing. I apologize you had such a negative experience with XYZ Construction Company. Unfortunately, the carpet you mentioned was the sample you picked and signed off on. We always want to prevent mistakes like these from being made, which is why we had you sign off on the carpet right before it was installed, after you were permitted to make a first-hand inspection.”

5. End the response with your contact information

Even if the reviewer has written the most scathing, untruthful review ever written, you want to appear the bigger person. Staying cool, calm and collected will show those reading your reviews that they will be doing business with professionals. By offering contact information, you put yourself in a position where you are showing the public that you take reviewers’ comments seriously and care about your customers. You might do this by ending your response with:

“If you have any other questions or concerns, please don’t hesitate to contact me at 555.555.5555 x55.”

Other marketing and business development tactics

To learn what other Maryland construction contractors are saying about their company’s marketing and business development tactics, download a free copy of the executive summary of the results of the 2017 Maryland Construction Industry Report.

2017-maryland-construction-survey-executive-summary

Tags: Steve Ball, construction, 2017 Maryland Construction Industry Survey

The Future of the Maryland Construction Industry [Infographic]

Posted by Steve Ball on Wed, Aug 16, 2017 @ 04:11 PM

Things are looking up for Maryland’s construction industry. In early 2017, we surveyed nearly 200 Maryland construction contractors on their take on the future of the industry, their individual company and top concerns for the year, and found high levels of optimism abound.

The following infographic highlights outlook and trend data from the 2017 Maryland Construction Industry Survey. If you'd like to view a larger copy of the infographic, click here. (Psst…to get more data, download your free copy of the executive summary of the survey results.)

2017-Maryland-Construction-Industry-Future-Infographic

Get more data

For more data and insights from the 2017 Maryland Construction Industry Survey, download a free copy of the executive summary of the survey results.

2017-maryland-construction-survey-executive-summary

Tags: Steve Ball, construction, 2017 Maryland Construction Industry Survey

How One Construction Company Saved a Bunch of Money By Outsourcing the Accounting Function

Posted by Steve Ball on Tue, Aug 08, 2017 @ 08:44 AM

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In a recent poll of Maryland construction company owners, more than one-quarter said profitability is their #1 concern for 2017. Even more construction company owners – 62% to be exact – told us that finding and retaining good employees is their biggest concern.

What if we told you there is a way to add money to your bottom line AND alleviate the pain of finding and retaining a good employee?

That’s where outsourcing the accounting function comes in.

A Tale of Two Bookkeepers

Let’s look at a hypothetical story, based on our past experiences, of a Maryland general contractor that had two in-house bookkeepers in its accounting department. With their combined salaries plus benefits, the two bookkeepers accounted for $170,000 of the company’s payroll. Although the two bookkeepers did a decent job, that was a lot of money for two employees.

Download the results of our 2017 Maryland Construction Industry Survey. 

When one of the bookkeepers decided to retire and the other left the company to stay at home with her children, the company was suddenly left with an unstaffed accounting department.

The owner of the company, Grace, immediately advertised the two open positions, never stopping to consider whether she could approach her company’s accounting needs in a different – and potentially less expensive – way going forward. Her company’s accounting department had been staffed by two bookkeepers for so long that it just seemed natural to hire two more.

Geez, Where Are All the Good Bookkeepers?

Grace, along with her HR manager, spent gobs of time wading through the resumes of dozens of unqualified job candidates. Some had no bookkeeping experience at all, while some were seasoned CFOs demanding a six-figure salary.

If you’ve ever been involved in the hiring process, including writing an ad, reviewing resumes and interviewing, you know how much attention it can take away from your regular duties.

After a disappointing round of initial interviews with bookkeeper candidates, Grace’s college friend told her that he outsources his company’s accounting function to his CPA firm.

Grace was intrigued about this idea and took the time to learn more about the benefits of outsourcing the accounting function.

Time For An Accounting Department Makeover?

Like many business owners, Grace assumed that bringing in a CPA firm to handle her company’s day-to-day accounting needs would be too expensive. She was skeptical. But as soon as she finished yet another horrible interview – this time, with a trainer of exotic animals who claimed to have bookkeeping experience – she called her CPA firm. Enter Plan B.

Grace was glad she made that call. Plan B ended up saving her business $74,000 a year in salary and benefits. Here’s how … 

Grace’s CPA explained how it can be hard to know when it makes good business sense to outsource your accounting function. After he listened to what Grace expected from her bookkeepers in terms of day-to-day tasks and reporting, he came up with a plan to deliver that, and more, to her.

After getting her CPA’s unbiased feedback about how her bookkeeping staff had been doing things the same way for years, Grace realized that she wasn’t getting nearly the bang for the $170K that she thought she was getting. For example:

  • Her bookkeepers weren’t producing reports that helped Grace and her management team with decision making.
  • Some of the accounting department’s day-to-day tasks that were essential a decade ago were no longer relevant due to changes in the company’s structure and operations. Yet the bookkeepers performed the tasks anyway because no one told them to do otherwise.
  • With the two long-time bookkeepers firmly entrenched in the company’s accounting department, internal controls weren’t as strong as they could have been.
  • One of the bookkeepers didn’t have adequate training on the company’s accounting software system. As a result it took her twice as long as it should to get her invoices out.
  • The company’s accounting function probably didn’t need two full-time employees to adequately support it. Had the bookkeepers’ job descriptions been more in line with the company’s current accounting and reporting needs, and if they had better knowledge of the accounting software system, two full-time employees was overkill.

Outsourced Accounting to the Rescue

Grace hired her CPA firm to streamline the accounting function in her company. Together they mapped out a plan to ensure that the accounting function only perform tasks that are absolutely essential to (1) operating the business day-to-day and month-to-month and (2) supporting her management team’s decision making.

Next, an accountant from Grace’s CPA firm assumed responsibility for handling her company’s accounting function. The accountant got quickly up to speed on the company’s accounting needs and settled into his role. In addition to compiling monthly financial statements and handling quarterly payroll filings, the accountant is available to Grace and her management team for questions and guidance any day of the week.

The Cost Savings

The cost of outsourcing the accounting function to her CPA firm was $8,000 per month. At $96,000 annually, outsourcing the accounting function saved Grace’s construction company $74,000 in wages and benefits (by outsourcing, the company no longer had to cover the cost of health benefits, parking and dental insurance). 
Grace loved seeing the $74,000 she saved in salaries and benefits go straight to her company’s bottom line. It was an instant boost in profitability! And she didn’t have to meet with anymore trainers of exotic pets claiming to have bookkeeping experience.

The Next Step

Next on Grace’s agenda as she plans big things for next year? She’s going to consider bringing in an outsourced CFO to prepare cash flow projections, improve reporting for her management team, and form a strategic plan for significant growth in the next three years.

If you’re in Grace’s boat and want to explore how you can get more out of your company’s accounting function, talk with our Smart Accounting Support Solutions team to see if outsourced accounting makes sense for you. Contact us online or call 800.899.4623.

2017-maryland-construction-survey-executive-summary

Tags: Steve Ball, construction, accounting, 2017 Maryland Construction Industry Survey, outsourced accounting, Smart Accounting Support Solutions, outsourced CFO

4 Soft Skills Your Construction Company Should Offer Training On

Posted by Steve Ball on Thu, Aug 03, 2017 @ 10:08 AM

Soft Skills Training for Construction Contractors Blog Post.png

Don’t stop reading. This article isn’t about participation trophies, role playing or sensitivity training. It’s about how you can improve and retain your employees, and hopefully, grow your construction business through soft skills training.

There’s no doubt that most employees see job sponsored training as a nice benefit. It helps workers keep their skills current and fresh. If you’re a construction company owner who offers job sponsored training, you’ll likely retain your best employees because the perceived benefit of training will increase their loyalty to you.

Construction is a technical business, but when you get right down to it, it’s a relationship business. Good relationships with customers, co-workers and suppliers call for effective communication, leadership and conflict resolution. Are your employees equipped with the “soft skills” required to manage good relationships?

There is a growing trend of construction companies offering soft skills training. In fact, 43% of people who took our 2017 Maryland Construction Industry Survey reported offering soft skills training, up from last year’s 37%. This increase is promising.

If you are already offering any kind of training to your employees, pat yourself on the back. But if you don’t offer training in soft skills to employees, there’s room for improvement. Here are a few soft skills your construction company should be offering training on:

1. Communication

This is a big one for all employees. Without good communication, you really don’t have a whole lot to work with. Good communication is essential to maintaining relationships with co-workers, supervisors and subordinates. It’s necessary to deal effectively with customers and generate new business.

Soft skills training should not only include verbal communication, but also non-verbal skills like the use of body language. Let’s face it – it does no one on the job site any good to have a project manager staring down the new guy with crossed arms and a tight-lipped glare.

2. Conflict resolution

It’s no secret that the construction industry has a reputation of being rough and tumble. Employees come from varying educational and cultural backgrounds. Work can be physically demanding, and on a 95 degree day in the humidity, tempers can flare. Job sites are ripe for potential conflicts. Conflicts and disagreements between co-workers, and even employees and your customers, can sometimes arise from even seemingly benign scenarios.

Download the results of our 2017 Maryland Construction Industry Survey. 

Conflict within a workplace is normal and even be healthy. It’s often how problems come to the surface and get addressed. But are your employees equipped to react to disagreements in a productive way?

Give your employees the soft skills training they need to resolve conflicts before they escalate into full-blown incidents.

3. Teamwork

Teamwork is more than being a reliable shortstop on the slow-pitch company softball team. Good teamwork means you have the ability to work with others in a professional, respectful manner to accomplish a mutual goal. It’s not about everyone liking each other. It’s about trusting others, being accepting of coworkers’ ideas and knowing how to use each employee’s strengths to maximize efficiency and productivity.

4. Leadership

What if your foreman has to leave the construction site early to deal with a family emergency? Will a member of his team step up and fill his shoes for the day? Will he do so with commitment and good communication skills, and motivate the rest of the team to stay on task?

Your company’s current and emerging leaders should receive leadership training that encompasses effective delegation, listening, giving performance feedback, offering constructive criticism and motivating others.

Make no bones about it: getting employees on board with soft skills training can be like herding cats. While you might see some eye rolling when you introduce soft skills into your training program, make sure all your employees get the memo that soft skills are just as valuable as technical skills like bricklaying, dry walling and carpentry.

Need a Hand?

Sometimes it’s helpful to have a sounding board to figure out how to develop your best employees and keep them on board for the long haul. Contact Steve Ball, CPA, online or call 410.685.5512 to talk about how hold onto your best employees.

2017-maryland-construction-survey-executive-summary

Tags: Steve Ball, construction, employee retention, 2017 Maryland Construction Industry Survey

3 Smart Strategies for Managing Your Construction Company’s Online Reviews

Posted by Steve Ball on Tue, Jul 11, 2017 @ 03:11 PM

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If you’ve ever had a teenager sullenly ask “what is this?” when presented with a now rare copy of the Yellow Pages, you know that the way customers find businesses has fundamentally changed in the past decade. Consumers are more informed and empowered than ever to make better buying decisions, which puts the onus on businesses to own up to promises and provide good customer experiences.

The freedom of today’s online environment allows customers to do their research and decision making all from the comfort of their homes or offices. In fact, many prospective customers who contact you most likely have already made up their mind based on your company’s website, social media accounts and any online reviews.

Online reviews matter

One increasing way consumers are making decisions is by reading online reviews of a company or product. Chances are, if you’ve ever made a purchase online, you’ve probably seen a rating or review section on a product page; and maybe you’ve even changed your decision based on what reviewers had to say.

The same thing goes for businesses, and especially construction businesses. Websites like Angie’s List and Yelp exist for one big reason, for users to post about their experience with a business to help others make informed decisions.

Download the results of our 2017 Maryland Construction Industry Survey. 

Let’s take, for example, homeowner John. John hired ABC Construction Company to renovate his kitchen, but after a few months of work, he decides to terminate his agreement with ABC. Shortly after, he creates a Yelp page for the company and submits its first and only review.

“I hired ABC Construction Company for my kitchen remodel, and let me tell you -- what a major mistake on my part! Not only was the project two months behind schedule by the time I kicked them off the job, but they had the audacity to try and charge me more than our agreed upon price for my kitchen counters! The foreman who started the work was great, but then he got pulled from the job with no notice, and his replacement was less than ideal. I had to pay to get my carpets steamed because some of the guys tracked their muddy boots through my living room one day when I wasn’t home. Awful experience. DON’T DO BUSINESS WITH THESE PEOPLE!”

This is a bad situation for ABC. Not only do they have a terrible review about their business sitting online for anyone to read, but they don’t have any positive reviews or online presence to counter the negativity in John’s review.

Maryland contractors remain skeptical about the power of online reviews

A startling 43% of Maryland construction contractors say they don’t think reviews posted about a construction company online impact whether a customer will do business with that company. But put yourself in the shoes of a customer. If you read John’s review about any other company, would you want to do business with them?

The problem is, many business owners either don’t give online reviews the attention they should or know reviews are important, but just don’t know how to interact with the comments they receive. To get you started, here are a few smart strategies for dealing with online reviews:

1. Respond to bad reviews 

The only thing worse than a scathing online review is a scathing online review with no response from the business or, even worse, the business does reply, but with an angry tirade against the reviewer (hint – your online persona should be just as professional as your in-person persona).

Think back to John’s review of ABC Construction Company. It’s going to look bad if ABC remains silent on John’s claims because, just like the defendant who pleads the 5th, silence can insinuate guilt. But what if ABC isn’t guilty? How do you think public perception of John’s review would change if ABC responded with the following?

“John, I apologize you had such a negative experience with ABC. Unfortunately, the completion date of your remodel was pushed back due to the major changes in layout you requested midway through the work. We make it a priority to keep customers up-to-date on any change in work schedules, and that’s why we had you sign off on an updated calendar, documenting the extra work needed as a result of the new changes, so you’d be aware of the schedule modifications beforehand.

The increase in price you mentioned for the counters was due to the unforeseeable shortage in stock of the granite you requested. We never want customers to feel blindsided by increases in price, which is why we had you sign off on the additional cost needed to have your preferred granite shipped from a vendor across the country instead of our usual local supplier before we placed the order…”

Suddenly, John’s story is cast in a whole new light, and you start to question his legitimacy as a reviewer. Seeing both sides of the story at least allows your business a fighting chance when being read by a potential customer online.

2. Ask satisfied customers to write reviews

Anger or upset over a bad business experience is often motivation alone to give someone the drive to log on and take the time to write a review, but happy customers are less likely to be as motivated. One easy way to increase your company’s number of positive reviews is to ask satisfied customers to write a review describing their experience with your business. The best time to ask for a few is immediately after you finish the job.

For example, if a customer thanks you for your hard work and expresses how pleased they are, you might say, “Thank you so much. We really enjoyed working with you. If you get a chance, would you mind writing us a review on Yelp?” (Hint: better yet, send them the link to your Yelp page.)

For some people, a verbal ask will be enough to motivate their review. However, for others, you may want to consider a follow-up reminder either by including a line like “Please review us on Yelp” on your final invoice, email signature or as part of any post-job materials sent to your customers.

And when someone does take the time to write a review about your business, remember to acknowledge them with a quick thank you comment.

3. Utilize reviews as the valuable tools they are

Getting the truth stings sometimes, but refusing to listen to legitimate complaints about your business will only hurt you in the long run. It’s inevitable you’re going to get a few accusatory (and untrue) reviews from people like John, but many of the reviews your business receives will contain invaluable feedback from your customers.

For example, if three reviewers comment that the same employee has a poor attitude, maybe it’s time to pull that person aside and have a chat. Use reviews for the tool that they are. Your customers see your business with a perspective you can’t, so utilize their observations to help better your company.

Other marketing and business development tactics

To learn what other Maryland construction contractors are saying about their company’s marketing and business development tactics, download a free copy of the executive summary of the results of the 2017 Maryland Construction Industry Report.

2017-maryland-construction-survey-executive-summary 

Tags: construction, Maryland, 2017 Maryland Construction Industry Survey

8 Employee Retention Hacks For Construction Companies

Posted by Steve Ball on Thu, Jun 22, 2017 @ 10:24 AM

construction tools

Be honest. How many times have you heard someone say “our people are our greatest asset” and rolled your eyes?

It’s cliché, but there is a good bit of truth to the statement. The truth lies in the simple fact that human and intellectual capital are expensive to replace. When you watch a good employee walk out the door, it’s like throwing $100 bills into a big summer bonfire. Losing a valuable employee can be a big hit, financial and otherwise, to your business.Our 2017 Maryland Construction Industry Survey revealed that 62% of contractors say finding and retaining good employees is their #1 concern, up from 54% in 2016.

Tackling that concern can be daunting when you already have so many things going on in your business, but you have to start somewhere.

To help, we’ve put together eight employee retention hacks that you can start putting into place this year.

1. Pay your best employees a competitive salary.

Let’s get money out of the way. It’s the number one reason why construction company owners believe good employees leave their company. While you don’t need to break the bank to pay more than every other contractor in town, at least be aware of what the going rate is for the types of employees you hire, whether it’s foremen, accountants, bricklayers or estimators. Pay them fairly and competitively.

2. Say more than “welcome aboard” to your employees.

Your retention efforts should begin at the time you decide to hire a particular employee. When they accept your offer, make them feel like they absolutely made the right decision by joining your company. On their first day, show your new employee around and introduce them to the rest of your crew. Pair your new employee with a friendly peer who already knows the ropes.

3. Offer employer-sponsored job training.

In the survey, more construction companies reported offering technical and soft skills training to employees in 2017 compared to 2016.

Download the results of our 2017 Maryland Construction Industry Survey. 

Having the opportunity to learn new skills will be viewed by your employees – especially those who care about their jobs and want to do well – as a nice benefit, which in turn will most likely increase their loyalty to you. But just as important, you will be developing a pool of more skilled and efficient employees for your business. It’s a win-win.

4. Offer a leadership development program.

Only 16% of Maryland construction companies ranked their leadership development programs as “great.” A staggering 20% of contactors reported having no leadership program at all for employees, with the rest falling somewhere in between.

Your best workers should be trained and groomed to take on more responsibility, whether it’s mentoring young employees or managing the finance department.

Who knows, maybe that employee you’re grooming now will turn out to be the person who takes over your business down the road. Leadership development programs can keep good people engaged and increase their loyalty to your business.

When you give your managers leadership training, you’re more likely to retain your up and comers. Why? Because today’s managers will be leading tomorrow’s managers by example.

So ask yourself, what are you doing today to keep your star project manager on track to stay – and succeed – at your company?

5. Give your employees frequent and actionable feedback.

Nearly one-third of contractors said in our 2017 Maryland Construction Industry Survey that they do not give feedback to employees on a regular basis.

If you’re part of that one-third, it’s time to make some changes. Feedback can be given in both informal and formal settings. The important thing is that you do it regularly, ideally after every completed job or project.

Your feedback will help ensure your employees know how they can improve and what they’re doing well. Make your feedback specific, transparent and actionable. For example:

  • “You did ABC very well.”
  • “I liked how you …”
  • “Next time, try XYZ instead.”
  • “The way you handled ABC allowed us to get the job done faster than expected.”

The vast majority of employees WANT to improve. But they rely on your feedback to know how to do that.

6. Make your business a fun place to work.

This hack is so easy to implement but sometimes falls by the wayside. Get to know your employees as people. Show them that you care, and be ready to share a laugh here and there.

Celebrate birthdays, put their name in the company newsletter, or give your employee of the month a prime parking spot or a Friday afternoon off. Institute Taco Tuesday. Play a game of cornhole over lunch. Do you have a team that exceeded a goal? Treat that team to a catered lunch or an evening at the ballpark.

7. Get rid of the bad apples.

Nothing frustrates a high-performing employee more than a bad apple whose incompetency or bad attitude goes unaddressed by the boss. Equally as grating is the nasty customer who, time and time again, puts undue burden on your company and your team with her constant criticism, last-minute requests and poor communication.

When is the last time you fired a bad apple employee or customer? If you’ve done it, did it make your employees happy?

8. Be flexible.

For some employees, a flexible work schedule ranks right up there with compensation and a good medical plan on the list of desirable benefits.

Although it might be difficult to institute a high degree of flexibility for your workers in the field, it might be possible to give your in-office staff a work-from-home perk, or every other Friday off in the summer.

While this might not work for every business or every employee, extending some degree of flexibility to your best employees doesn’t cost your company a dime and could go a long way toward keeping them happy and loyal to you.

Need a Hand?

Make no bones about it: managing people can be flat out difficult. Sometimes it’s helpful to have a sounding board to figure out how to keep your best employees happy, engaged and on your payroll for the long haul. Contact Steve Ball, CPA, online or call 410.685.5512 to talk about how boost your company’s employee retention rate.

2017-maryland-construction-survey-executive-summary

Tags: Steve Ball, construction, employee retention, 2017 Maryland Construction Industry Survey

Finding Good Employees for Your Construction Company: Are You Looking in the Right Place?

Posted by Steve Ball on Tue, May 30, 2017 @ 03:25 PM

construction employee job search.jpg

It’s no secret that your company is only as good as the people you hire. With competition for good construction employees at an all-time high, it’s more important than ever to position your company to attract the right job candidates.

Regardless of whether you’re looking to hire skilled laborers, project managers or estimators for your construction business, knowing where to find the best employees can give you an edge over the competition.

According to our 2017 Maryland Construction Industry Survey, an overwhelming 62% of respondents said their top concern is finding and retaining good employees. Contractors recognize the need to hire good people, but are they looking in the right place?

Download the results of our 2017 Maryland Construction Industry Survey. 

Nearly half of contractors said they find new employees by word of mouth, while 34% said they have success with online job boards like Monster and Indeed. Particularly surprising to us was that only 11% of contractors said they use their own website to post job openings.

Where Do You Find New Construction Employees.jpg

There’s no doubt that the value of “word of mouth” will always be high. Consider the last time you needed a job. You probably asked your friends and family if they knew anyone who was hiring.

But word of mouth only goes so far. And while younger workers might ask their friends and family for job leads, they’re definitely turning to their default resource for, well, pretty much everything: the internet. The internet casts a much wider net for job hunters than word of mouth ever will.

The Internet Is Where It’s At

Construction company owners are missing a huge opportunity by not looking for job candidates online. In fact, 90% of Americans who searched for a job between 2013 and 2015 said they used the internet to look for jobs online, according to a study by the Pew Research Center.

Consider this likely scenario of a job hunter: 32-year-old Ryan wants to leave his current employer, a small HVAC contractor in Baltimore, to work as a project manager with a larger company.

Without thinking twice, Ryan immediately hops online to conduct an exhaustive search of construction-related job openings in a 25-mile radius of his home. Ryan peruses online job boards like Indeed and Monster, and within a few minutes identifies a dozen local construction companies that are hiring project managers. He can easily tell from the job listings that four opportunities are with HVAC companies, an area of the construction sector he knows especially well. Three of those companies are within 25 miles of his home. Boom! Ryan applies for those three positions online without ever printing a resume or licking a stamp.

Ryan also asks his family and friends if they know anyone who is hiring. He just thought to check the internet first.

But Ryan’s not finished. Still excited about the opportunities he found online with the three nearby companies, Ryan grabs his mobile phone and googles the names of the three potential employers he’s interested in. He checks their websites to learn more about their history and management team. Then he looks to see whether he can find a Facebook page for those companies. He also looks at Yelp and Angie’s List for reviews of those companies, because it’s important to dedicated employees like Ryan to work with a business that has a solid reputation.

You get the idea. Many employees, particularly those age 40 and under, go straight to the internet to conduct their job search.

When you need to find quality employees, you need to make it easy for them to find YOU. Make sure you are set up to have the right people find you online.

Need a Hand?

Finding qualified employees is no walk in the park. If you’d like to have a sounding board to figure out how to find good employees, retain your best team members for the long haul, or improve your online presence, we can help. Contact Steve Ball, CPA, online or call 410.685.5512.

2017-maryland-construction-survey-executive-summary

Tags: Steve Ball, construction, 2017 Maryland Construction Industry Survey