One of the toughest transitions facing any trade-based business owner is knowing when to let go ... of your tools. It's an awkward moment for sure because so much self-perception and personal identification, ingrained over years of hard work and jobsite camaraderie, are wrapped up in the simple act of strapping on your toolbelt every day. So "hanging it up," as they say, and focusing on managing your business, clients, crews, and futures is where a lot of contractors get lost in transition and make U-turns when they see how challenging and uncomfortable growth and change can be. For sure, growing a small contracting company into a mid-sized or larger operation isn't for everyone, but most everyone who has done it probably started out just like you.
This came up recently in a conversation I had with Tools of the Trade contributing editor Steve Veroneau. Besides being a valued tool tester and editorial adviser to our magazine, Steve is a smart and successful high-end builder/remodeler in Virginia who came up through the trades and has been at it long enough to have tried a number of business models related to growth. His balance point now, after running a fair-sized employee workforce, is subcontracting almost all of his trade work and completing critical elements of projects himself with one employee.
Steve understands the pressure to grow, the need to manage, and the connection to the jobsite we often can't overcome, and he's convinced that contractors should really question the instinct to grow for growth's sake. You should find the level of business that feels right and meets the goals you decide to set for yourself, no matter how grand or how humble.
I couldn't agree more. In fact, I know that when I was a home builder I was more focused on my net profit than my volume. We actually made more money–and were happier doing it–when we reduced our volume and workforce, even if there was always the opportunity and pressure to go for "BIGGER"–which wasn't always "better."
Still, I think the day comes for hands-on contractors at all levels when you feel like you are never where you should be. You find yourself trapped in the mundane activities of the day–framing an interior partition, laying out a waste run, installing locksets, or grouting tile–when the things running through your mind are the 20 phone calls you have to make, the bills you have to send out, the estimate you should be preparing, and that couple that is waiting to talk to you about a potential job. So, beyond considering how big you want to be, the question that most needs to be answered for all of us is "Where am I best serving my business, my employees, my clients, and my goals?"
This is a team sport, and we all have to cover our assignments and play our positions. Player-coach works fine for a while, but if you get hung up on your playing time, you could be letting your team down when they need you on the sidelines reading the defense and calling plays.
Building Our Bench
I'm pleased to introduce Tools' new senior editor, Michael Springer. Michael brings with him a long construction background along with a deep and detailed curiosity, understanding, and love for tools; a degree in architecture; and a passion for construction photography. If his name sounds familiar, that's because he's tested tools and written feature articles for us as a contributor during the past year; we're happy to have him on our team full time. You can reach Michael at 303-494-4040 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.