In these uncertain times, contractors have to make decisions that will ultimately have an impact on your business and livelihood. What job to take, which ones to pass up, when to cut staff, when to add staff, where do you add them, when to expand or even drop a certain segment of the market that is just not worth it-decisions, decisions.

I was recently in a meeting with a wall and ceiling contractor and he proclaimed his excellent decision making abilities. He announced to the group that “I have made many bold and correct decisions in these tough times.” He paused and then continued, “Unfortunately, they have all been six months too late.” We all laughed but knew exactly what he meant; I am sure you do, too.

Most of us were not born with a crystal ball and only a few of the lucky seem to always be ahead of the curve. While these people exist, they seem to us mere mortals that they must have the gift of insight or higher intelligence. But do they?

What makes the more successful people shine over the average business people? What puts them ahead of the curve? What gives them that valuable insight at the right time? Monday morning quarterbacks are a dime a dozen and they are always right. How can you become a person who makes that decision in a timelier manner? In this ever-changing, fast-paced world you have to be thinking, always thinking and willing to change or adapt.

Progressive Vs. Traditional

At a seminar recently, the speaker compared a progressive to a traditionalist. He focused on plumbing contractors and noted the contractors who were progressive were more profitable and always thinking differently. He noted what made them different on the job site was adopting the “assembly line” method to speed production and cut overhead.

The traditionalist sent out raw pipe, fittings and fixtures and used all journeyman to field assemble everything in place. The progressive contractor discovered that many of the assemblies were repetitive. His approach was to create an assembly line at the warehouse to pre-assemble, tag and package most plumbing fixtures. This was faster and required less journeymen on the site, since much of the more menial work was already done.

The point is someone will think progressively and others will have to follow-or they will go out of business. The traditionalist may resist progress and change; he may even be the local mom and pop grocery store who fights the mega-chain moving in, but he will adapt, change or die out.

This adapt-or-die scenario does not mean that you have to conform or die, it means adapt to the change. Consider the mom and pop grocery stores: they are largely gone but they have been replaced with progressive stores. In my area, a store called Bristol Farms is a local grocery store. They have specialty upscale items the big stores don’t-they found a niche. I know you have the same type of store in your town.

“Progressive” does not simply mean jumping on the bandwagon to a new product or just going with the new flow. It is more akin to seeing the future; how to position your business to take advantage of the inevitable changes. You are a classic traditionalist if you think, “I am just a contractor, so it is pretty basic and not much I can do. I buy cheap, work the men harder and bid for less.” There is a big world out there with opportunities, you just have to open your eyes and look. If you think someone is going to hand it to you or draw you a map to get there, guess again. Expand your horizons and stop thinking like an average contractor. I was a contractor for many years and I thought the traditionalist way. Knowing what I know today, I would have done things differently.

All of us have been a teenager and remember our parents telling us that, “If I only knew then what I know now.” Today we say it to our kids. You try to guide them but they know better than you. “You just don’t understand Dad” is what we hear. Are you the teenage contractor? You know better and they just don’t understand you. Stop and think for a moment: Are you just being stubborn and close-minded? You have decisions to make-some easy, some tough and some may even be game changers. Change is coming and believing it will continue to be the way it was is being stuck. You have to make those progressive decisions to stay on top.