Do I really need a business plan?

For most contractors the past few years have seen some of the most trying times in the history of both our industry and country. I have been amazed at the number of contractors who have abandoned their business plans and asked me, “Do I even need a business plan with all the changes that we’ve been through and are yet to deal with?” In a word … Yes!

It is exactly because of our economic times that you need to think through what you are about as a company and put together the plan you feel is the best course of action for your company to take and follow. Consider the following suggestions for your approach to creating a new business plan.

Define your direction

Direction embraces your vision for the business. These questions should be honestly discussed and answered:

  • Where are we going?
  • What markets should we move into?
  • Do we have the resources and capital to make those moves?
  • How big do we want to become?

Business planning looks at the future through more quantifiable lenses. It incorporates a strategic focus, i.e. “Where are we going?” and puts more tangible steps in place. Most of the better contractors I work with have a burning desire to quantify where they are going to direct their company. They set financial objectives, specify the markets they want to dominate and set targets of accomplishments that objectively state where they are going to be at specific points in the future.

The direction set out by the business plan should clearly include what markets will be attacked, what resources will be needed including type of workers and equipment, and what the financial requirements will be. The financial requirements will require the creation of a budget, something that many contractors wait way too long to create.

Take action

Once the direction is developed it is then critical to create action steps to bring the plans to life. Most contractors have little problem creating action steps as this is the tactical effort that most contractors are more comfortable executing. The key here is to create action steps that are justified due to the amount of experience, type of resources and a method for deployment that the leaders all understand and are committed to executing.

One brief example of action steps in place might be the decision to add another service to your business. For instance, let us look at an example of a flatwork concrete contractor who is adding decorative stamping to his field of services. The action steps might include the following list of items.

  • Identify best market for decorative stamping opportunities.
  • Review current clients with potential for decorative stamping opportunities.
  • Determine needed expertise for decorative stamping.
  • Determine needed tools and equipment for decorative stamping.
  • Set realistic goals for decorative stamping revenue.
  • Purchase equipment and tools.
  • Hire needed workers for decorative stamping or train existing employees.
  • Incorporate decorative stamping into proposals that warrant its presence.
  • Monitor decorative stamping revenue, gross margin and percentage contribution to overall projects.

Monitor your success

Reading financials has become a necessity for successful contractors. More than reading your Profit & Loss Statement or studying your Balance Statement, your third component must be to create a monitoring process that measures the success of your business objectives. That will take some practical measurements that are easy to track.

While you can measure just about anything you want, consider the following targets that might signal if your business planning efforts are taking the company in the right direction.

  • Gross Profit for each job completed
  • % material used against estimate
  • % hours worked against estimate
  • % bids won against bids created
  • % bids won against goal per market type
  • Overtime hours worked versus overtime hours budgeted
  • Customer call-backs versus customer call-back target

Each target above should be calculated. For many of the items, there should be targets created on a weekly, monthly, quarterly and annual basis. Targets need to be clearly and regularly communicated to the workers who most impact the results. Remember, what is not regularly discussed is quickly forgotten.

Effective business planning takes focused attention by owners and senior leaders. It is more than simply putting some goals out there and then making a mad scramble to reach the goals. Business planning forces leaders to think more logically and methodically while also allowing enough wiggle room for adjustments and changes throughout the journey.