A few hints for success

Tough economic times mean businesses have to pay closer attention to what they're doing and how they're doing it so they can survive the "bust" and be prepared to handle the "boom" when the fuse is lit.

But hinted at in the stories of this year's "top-performing contractors" is that sitting back and waiting it out, hoping to be one of the survivors, is probably not the best approach. These top performers manage - really manage - their business, and that's something all contractors, regardless of size, service, market, or the state of the economy, can do.

Kettle Moraine Asphalt Maintenance, North Prairie, WI, is celebrating its 25th year of growing while staying small (hint: reputation, reputation, reputation). Capitol Sweeping Services, Windsor, CT, underwent a major transformation soon after it opened its doors 22 years ago, and they've continued to change on the fly (hint: the market dictates). Roberts Traffic Marking, Hollywood, FL, has taken on a major challenge (hint: it used to be family owned and operated) and is thriving under a new organization and structure. And Worthington Paving, Visalia, CA, a paving and pavement repair business that has succeeded for 46 years as a one-crew operation, will soon double its business (hint: owner Dave Worthington has a son, Chandler), and that's been the plan for a while.

So step back and examine your market and how you fit into it. Take a good hard look at what you do, how you do what you do - and why you do it that way. Then formulate a plan of action - short and long-term. And don't just do this because fuel prices are high, construction starts are down, margins are tight, and you're bidding against five or six competitors as opposed to the normal one or two. Do it because it's what you should be doing to manage your business and because it's what you should be doing all the time.

These "top-performing" contractors, from the West to East Coasts, are thinking ahead, working to be responsive, planning for the future, and actively managing their business. None are just waiting. (Hint: you don't have to wait either).