How to Maintain Your Edge

If the last several years have tested your patience, creativity and confidence then join the ranks of other contractors.  While some pavement maintenance contractors have thrived through the past few turbulent economic years, more have experienced bidding work at smaller margins than ever…and those were the fortunate contractors.

While certainly the paving & pavement maintenance industry witnessed a departure of many contractors, those who remain have learned how to do “more with less” while practicing more creativity than perhaps they’ve ever been required to practice.  And this last thought has actually proved beneficial to those fortunate contractors who have made it through the “lean years.”

So, while we clearly are not out of the financial fog just yet, it’s important that we work hard to regain and maintain that “edge” of confidence that can, at times, come off just a little bit cocky.  Not arrogance mind you, but a belief in yourself, your leadership, and your company as truly being the “preferred contractor of choice.”

Here are a few observations I’ve made based on some of the successful pavement maintenance contractors I met and spent time with this past January at the 2014 National Pavement Expo in Ft. Lauderdale.

Contractors with an “Edge”…

… Maintain Eye Contact. Successful contractors hold others with their eyes.  While they don’t stare, they look at you when you are speaking and when they are speaking to you.  Their eyes convey interest as they are always looking to learn something new and are not too proud to learn from just about anyone.

… Ask Questions. Successful contractors desire knowledge.  They have mastered the “2-to-1” (ears-to-mouth) ratio of listening to speaking. And they make it a point to actively listen when others speak.  They realize that they don’t know it all and that what they do know might be viewed or positioned differently from others who also know.  Successful contractors are always interested in what the other guy thinks, knowing that even a small lesson learned can turn into thousands of dollars in profitability.

… Speak Proudly – almost Brag -- about their Company. Successful contractors are proud of their company and their workers.  They realize that while some customers will “buy” their services because of the contractor’s personality or enthusiasm, repeat business -- you know, the really profitable work -- is realized when the customer values the entire company.  Being “proud as a new father” is easy for the successful contractor when speaking about his workers and their success with challenging projects.  The successful contractor speaks positively of his company just up to the point of bragging about things that have not happened.

… Confirm What They Can Execute After Careful Study. Successful contractors are not intimidated by challenging projects -- but they’re not foolish either.  Their “edge” is perhaps best displayed when they have calmly and confidently informed a customer that “after reviewing” the customer’s situation they have determined how they can best complete the job and meet (perhaps even exceed!) the customer’s needs and expectations.  Such an approach encourages the customer that the successful contractor not only knows what he is doing but is not going to propose something that either cannot be done or is a set-up to “change order” their initial bid to a higher price.

… Allow the Conversation to “Come to Them.” Successful contractors are not in a hurry and they prove this by allowing the conversation to move to them.  Often, over-zealous contractors, those who might need a quick job NOW, shoot themselves in their foot by hurrying a conversation.  They speak about things that their company can do or has performed even before the customer has shared his need.  Successful contractors can carry a conversation but the customer never feels rushed to answer too many questions or to be bored by all of the bragging.  They realize that relationships, like fine wines, take time to develop but in the long term provide incredible satisfaction.

… Read, Research, and Review. Successful contractors are regularly engaged with reading books, reports and researching trends that can bring greater understanding, objectivity and clarity to their decision making.  When you know more you can withstand temptations to make unwise decisions that can negatively impact your company.  Again, successful contractors “connect the dots” to how to better market their company because they know more about the needs and expectations of their customers than even their customers know.  They make time to read, research, and to review because they know the positive impact it can have on their success.

… Strategically Assess & Decide. Successful contractors are not fly-by-the-seat-of-their-pants kind of leaders.  They are calculating.  Of all the “edge” observations I’ve made about successful contractors, not only at the recent NPE, but through more than 25 years of working with contractors, it is their ability to look at situations strategically.  Tactical thinkers “look” and quickly “do” because “we’ve got more to do.”  Strategic thinkers realize that time is critical but that doing something incorrectly doubles, even triples, their cost. 

Successful contractors might look like they are making decisions quickly but the fact is that they have often already reviewed in their mind, comparing “now versus then” scenarios and assessing consequences before making a decision.  Quite honestly, successful contractors are not perfect…but pretty darn close!

Maintaining your edge as a contractor isn’t about being the toughest contractor or the loudest mouth in your market.  Instead, it’s about being sure of your strengths, knowing what your company can perform well, and knowing the niche needs in your market that you can best exploit…to outsell your competitors.

Also, maintaining your edge doesn’t depend on your personality.  I’ve met contractors who were highly extroverted or quiet as a church mouse.  Some were direct while others were overly detail oriented.  Maintaining your edge is about walking confidently, with your shoulders back and your head up, because you love your company, the people in your company and what your company is capable of doing for customers.

Be proud! 

Be confident! 

Maintain your edge!

Brad Humphrey is President of Pinnacle Development Group, a consulting firm dedicated to the construction industry.  For more information about Brad’s company and for more learning opportunities, be a reader of Brad’s weekly column by going to www.thecontractorsbestfriend.