Do You Have What It Takes to Make Your Contracting Business a Success?

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In Start Your Own Construction and Contracting Business, the staff of Entrepreneur explain how you can get started in the construction and contracting industry. Whether you’re interested in building homes or prefer contracting the services needed to get the job done, this guide will help you determine what type of construction or contracting business is right for you. In this edited excerpt, the authors offer a list of key traits you need if you want your contracting business to be a success.

Contractors come in all sizes, shapes and temperaments. But the one trait they all seem to have in common is a burning desire to start and operate their own business. If you have this burning desire to become your own boss, to work independently, to make all the important decisions required to run a successful business and you’re willing to assume full responsibility for your decisions, you pass the first test on starting your own business.

You also have to be willing to spend long hours and make many personal sacrifices to achieve success. There will be times when your family life will need to make sacrifices because of the demands of your business. Starting a business is difficult and stressful. It’s very important to have a supportive family to get through the tough times when running your own business. Finally, you need to have enough self-confidence to stand by your decisions as well as enough self-discipline to persevere and build your new business.

Do you have the proper background?

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Individual skills are extremely important to succeeding in the contracting industry. Some are natural, and many can be learned. The ability to use and improve both natural and learned skills is an important factor in developing a successful business.

Those of you who have a desire to enter the design field, such as architecture or landscape architecture, must have artistic and creative instincts. The ability to think abstractly and visualize outcomes is extremely important. Creative solutions to development challenges separate the outstanding firm from the average one.

However, natural skill and ability is not enough. The best of the best don’t stop once they’ve made it to the top; they continue working hard to stay there, always pushing themselves. At any level, you can always work on enhancing your current skills while learning new ones.

Formal education

Architects, landscape architects, engineers and others in the professional field typically earn undergraduate or graduate degrees in their field. Four years of college are required for an undergraduate degree and an additional two years for a master’s degree. Many colleges will allow students to earn a master’s degree even if their undergraduate degree is in a field unrelated to architecture, landscape architecture, or engineering.

There are excellent opportunities for those who don’t wish, or are unable, to attend a full four-year college program. Technical schools, usually offering two-year degree programs, are a great place to learn a new trade or to improve a skill you presently have. These programs don’t require the rigorous high school curriculum and pre-admission testing needed to be accepted at four-year colleges. Technical schools offer degrees in the construction trades such as plumbing, carpentry and landscaping. They also offer programs in business management, marketing and real estate for those who intend on someday starting their own business in the property development industry.

On-the-job training (OJT)

In the construction business OJT is a common way for employees to learn the trade. New, inexperienced employees are assigned to a work crew led by an experienced foreman or crew leader. It’s the job of the foreman to complete each job or project according to the specifications established for the project and to finish it at or under budget. Their job is also to train new employees on how to do their particular tasks. New employees are given simple tasks at first and then move on to more complex and skilled work as they master each task. Repetition and familiarity with the necessary tools will help facilitate OJT.

An important part of OJT is making mistakes! All employees (as well as bosses and business owners) will make mistakes at some time during their career. The key is the ability to learn from them. As a boss or business owner, you should make it a point to encourage employees to understand what they did wrong and move forward. Those who do learn from mistakes and errors eventually become much better and more productive employees. And, most important for those who intend on starting their own contracting business, understanding and learning from your past mistakes will make you a better teacher of new employees; the result will be that your business is more productive, successful and profitable.


Personality is part of what can set you apart from your competition. People do business with other people, especially those with whom they like spending time. This doesn’t mean you have to be boisterous or even outgoing. All it means is that you need to be personable, polite, attentive, respectful and communicate well with others, which also means being a very good listener.

Discipline and determination

Think about great professional golfers: They combine their natural athletic ability with discipline and determination. They’re disciplined in the way they practice and in the way they approach each shot. Week in and week out, they practice and set up each shot in precisely the same way. They’re also determined enough to keep their minds on the game and their goal (of winning) always in sight. They have incredible ability to focus on the task at hand; the last shot they made, good or bad, is a distant memory and has absolutely no effect on their next shot. They also persevere through good times and bad. Likewise, you need to have the determination to make a project fit the needs of the client(s) and the discipline to stay on task no matter what goes wrong along the way (and something always goes wrong). Very few projects go smoothly form start to finish, so you must stay the course and be determined that it will work out well in the end.


Self-confidence is critical. Business ownership is often a lonely life. In order to start and run a successful contracting business, the owner must be willing to make key decisions, often alone. However, one of the biggest decisions that most business owners make is deciding when they need to call in someone else. Self-confidence shouldn’t be confused with stubbornness. We all have knowledge and skill sets, but we also have to know what we don’t know and reach out for help when necessary. Heads of Fortune 500 companies and leaders of industries don’t get to those positions by trying to do it all alone; they reach out to experts in all kinds of fields for help. That’s real self-confidence.

Excellent time management skills

A well-organized manager earns the respect not only of fellow employees but also of clients. Every day an owner is bombarded with requests. Foremen ask for direction about a current project; an assistant requests clarification of information needed to complete a job estimate; a client calls asking why some service was not done properly; a supplier calls to reschedule a delivery; and a magazine salesperson calls needing information for the current advertisement, which has a deadline of today. Most contracting businesses are like a busy beehive, especially in the morning. An owner must be able to prioritize their tasks, adjust the daily schedule to solve true emergencies and keep the operation moving forward as smoothly as possible. Of particular importance is organizing the work crews on a daily basis so that time isn’t wasted and clients aren’t kept waiting. Efficient foremen know exactly where they’re going, what type of work they’ll do and what tools they need to complete the job. If an owner is too busy with other tasks, money is lost while employees are getting paid to sit and wait for instructions.

Time management is also important on a long-term basis. As the backlog of work increases, owners must be able to accurately project how long each project will take so they can accurately schedule future projects. One of the worst things a contracting company can do is promise a client “We’ll be there next week” and then, for no reason apparent to the client, show up in three weeks. Time management encompasses much more than merely organizing a daily calendar. It’s crucial to the success of a contracting business.