7 Ways Small and Medium-Sized Contractors Can Get More Business
When people talk about construction, most people probably think about the big, national companies that they see branded on the largest job sites. But what often gets lost is that the majority of the businesses in the construction industry are actually small and medium-sized enterprises, more commonly referred to as SMEs. In fact, in 2015, 92% of the over 600,000 contracting enterprises would be classified as SMEs.
And the same goes for most of the employees. In Canada in the same year, only 12.5% of employees worked at construction businesses with more than 500 employees, and 73.1% of them worked at companies with less than 90 employees. This means that most of the industry is built on the backs of small and medium-sized enterprises. And it's not just a small majority of employees and companies. It's by a landslide.
But just because most of the companies in the industry are small and medium-sized, it doesn't mean that they can't have a more prominent role in bigger projects or try and get more business. We're going to go over some tactics that you can use in your contracting business to get more leads and land bigger projects:
- Expand your network in the industry
Let's dive into how each topic will apply to your business.
Understand Your Business's Capabilities
This sounds like a simple enough strategy, but as a business owner and leader, you probably know how challenging it can be to make sure all the information you need to make great choices is organized and accessible to you. Whether that be your finances, workload, timelines, calendar, labor availability, and more, knowing your business is often more complicated than it seems - especially for small and medium-sized businesses with a lot of moving parts and who may not have the resources to use technology to simplify processes.
The reason why understanding your business's abilities is important is that you should know the limits of what you can handle as a business. We'll go into it in more detail later, but overcommitting on projects and promising timelines that you won't be able to keep are detrimental to the credibility of your work. If you create a calendar that is too busy for you and the employees you have, it might look like more revenue and business is coming in when in actuality you're doing low-quality work, which won't look good for the long-term of your business.
Understand Your Competition
As a general contractor (GC) or subcontractor, you probably know of some successful competitors in your local area. But do you ever look into how they got to be successful? Are you trying to understand why they might be getting more jobs than you? Do you work to understand if they're achieving results from social media or other branding strategies?
Asking these questions of your competitors and doing market research to see exactly how they're achieving results will give you a leg up in either matching their efforts or exceeding them. Also, by pinpointing your competitor's strengths, you can work to determine if you can build success in the same ways or if you're going to be able to leverage a part of your business as a solution to the pain points that have been ignored.
For example, say one of your competitors is able to attract more business because they've been active on social media and using it to generate leads. Is that something you and your company could try to do? Do you have the resources to invest in those platforms? If not, what are some alternatives you can leverage or creative ways to overcome that internal challenge? Lead generation and brand recognition are always a challenge for SMEs, but if you study your competitors, you might be able to find some techniques and tactics that you could apply to your own business.
Pick the Jobs and Bids That Play to Your Strengths
Following up on the previously-mentioned point about understanding your business's abilities, it's also a crucial skill because it will help you play to your strengths. If you're a general contractor, you often are able to bid on a wide variety of jobs because you have subcontractors that can come in and do the specific work.
But what if you're a GC that focuses more on new build homes? Would it be smart or worth your time to try and take on a remodeling project? You probably have a good understanding of how to work with customers and would do that job well, but it doesn't play exactly to your strengths. This is why it can be worthwhile to stay within your bubble, master it, and work to find more clients and projects within that space.
On the other hand, if you're a subcontractor that focuses on landscaping or electrical work for single-family homes, would it make sense to expand into commercial real estate opportunities? It definitely could, but again, this is where it comes down to knowing your business and having a good grip on how and where you want to grow. If you don't have the proper machinery or number of employees for larger projects, it probably makes sense to stay within single-family homes than to take on bigger projects.
If you think there are more projects and opportunities in another sector of your industry and you'd like to expand your opportunities to a larger scale, commercial opportunity, then you should be looking for ways to get involved in those types of projects through networking or lead generation. If you're wanting to stay within the bubble of single-family homes, and just find more work within that specialty, it might be worthwhile trying to focus your client list on individuals with larger properties or larger homes because those will automatically be larger revenue jobs.
Do Smaller Jobs Well
One of the best ways to get more projects, and potentially bigger projects, is by overdelivering on the ones you have now. The construction and contracting worlds are ones where word-of-mouth means a lot. For residential jobs, neighbors, friends, and homeowners talk to each other to figure out who was responsible for their recent remodeling, home designs, or landscaping jobs. And commercial and government projects are no different.
The easiest way to build positive branding on small jobs is to work within the set budget at the start of the project, keep on the original timeline, or even exceed it, and deliver great customer service. Essentially, your goal is to just be as reliable as possible.
This is a simple approach that may not seem to work in the short term, but will do wonders for you and your business in the long term. As more people ask their neighbors, friends, and fellow homeowners who did their wonderful lighting, landscaping, or remodeling, your name will be at the top of the list if you provide great service! And if you work on large-scale projects like a road or building infrastructure, commercial, or community housing, how you perform in previous jobs will have a direct effect on being hired or your bid being accepted for new ones.
Learn How To Upsell
This topic is a tricky one because a lot of clients are sensitive to sales tactics and feel like they could be getting pressured into doing more than what's needed. As almost everyone who has bought something before can attest to, this isn't usually a fun interaction.
On the other hand, sometimes upselling is exactly what the customer needs. As a contracting professional, you can use your expertise and experience to observe what other projects could be completed in a way that's beneficial to the client and customer.
However, not every contractor is a great salesperson. And not every client wants to be sold to. But there are a lot of ways you can create a pitch with tact that helps complement the work you're already doing. Putting in a new shelving unit for a kitchen? Maybe a new floor would complement it better. Doing landscaping work to beautify a property? Perhaps the client would be interested in putting in a pond or doing some extra brickwork.
Upselling is a skill that takes a lot of refinement and trust. That's why being reliable and doing good work and staying within budget is an important part of the process. If you're able to achieve those, then the contractor has more reason to believe that what you're selling is actually for them. If you're notorious for going over budget on the original job, then they will be extremely hesitant to trust you with a larger project and budget.
If you do this right, you can convert one-time clients into lifetime clients.
Ask For Referrals From Previous Clients
If you're not asking for referrals from your previous clients, you're probably not utilizing the resources you have access to and this is one of the biggest mistakes you can make. It can be as simple as emailing or calling past clients and asking if they know anyone who's currently looking to do projects in their neighborhood or in their network.
Again, people talk. Before picking a contractor for their job, people want to know if anyone they're connected with had great or even terrible service recently. It can be challenging to ask for referrals because contractors can be afraid that they're bothering their past clients, that the client will think they don't have enough work or any other reasons. But this isn't going to be the case. If you did a great job and the client is happy with the work you did, most of the time they'd be happy to refer you to new business, or at least keep your contact information should they know of anyone looking for work.
Expand Your Network In the Industry
You should always be trying to expand your connections and networks in the industry. Knowing who you should be building relationships with is where it starts.
At the end of the day, networking is all about strategy. Is there really a point to networking with people who will never impact your day-to-day business decisions or outcomes? Probably not. That's why we recommend building relationships with GCs, subcontractors, developers, architects, property managers, and construction management firms.
Why these roles specifically? The first people architects reach out to after they develop and draft the design are typically owners and developers to see what GCs they should reach out to for the job. Developers are the companies or individuals who usually have the biggest financial risk in the project, meaning they want the best GCs and subcontractors on the project. Some property managers own several homes and properties, while some can own hundreds. Find the ones that fit the market you're trying to target, do good work, and find consistent work. Lastly, property owners can contact construction management firms to oversee a project as a middleman. Become close with the middleman and be hired for a lot of projects.
Depending on your preferences and experience, some of these might be more in line with your comfort level and some might be completely outside of your comfort zone. However, if you're primary goal is to grow your business, either in terms of profit, revenue, employees, jobs, or however you classify growth, these steps are incredibly useful and will help you no matter your goal.