What If You Want to Do a Construction Project but Don’t Know Where to Start?

That’s Where the Right Qualified Virtual Consultant Can Help

We all have our areas of expertise. One of mine is construction processes and systems.

These are a couple of things missing from most DIY construction programs on TV as well as many of the “do it yourself” internet videos. They can be helpful, but typically they oversimplify things and normally only give you a small snippet of the big picture of a construction project.

As a construction professional that has been doing this for forty years, trust me, there’s a lot more to it than a sixty-minute TV program or a five-minute video.

When I meet with a customer, I instinctively know what questions need to be asked and answered.

It’s different if you’re not a contractor and this is where a lot of problems with construction projects begin. Either from a “do it yourself” construction customer or when hiring someone who isn’t qualified.

The overwhelm starts and it often leads to corner cutting, things being done in the wrong order or completely left out.

Here’s some of the information that I gather early in the process –

            Measurements and dimensions, existing and new

            Building materials, existing and new

            Pictures of existing construction and pertinent areas involved in the new

            Design ideas, products and finishes to be used

The information gathered early in the process is important to the project moving forward as smoothly and economically as possible.

Asking and answering the right questions early in the process is critical to a successful project. Once you’ve determined what your dream project is, it needs to be broken down into categories. Then these categories should be divided further into smaller tasks.

Imagine a construction project as a giant puzzle with hundreds of thousands of pieces. These pieces need to be put together in the right place and in the right order. It’s hard when you don’t know what that is.

A qualified virtual consultant can help you put the right pieces in the right place.

I developed a list of categories and tasks that I use when doing a construction proposal so that I don’t overlook things. This “Bid Sheet” is where I gather the information that pertains to each specific task.

Here’s a small excerpt from my bid sheet template –

These are just three of the 17 categories of the construction process.

The next issue for the “do it yourself” construction customer is…what do all these tasks mean? What is included in them?

These questions prompted me to begin developing just such a list.

Here is a matching excerpt from it –

Once I have this explanation page finished, I will make a link available at the Solution Building web site.

This explanation page will be a good tool for a “do it yourself” construction customer, someone hiring a professional or as a helpful referral when talking with a qualified virtual consultant.

What’s Needed for a Good Construction Contractor is Simple

I Said It Was Simple…I Didn’t Say it Was Easy

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve written about the difficulty in finding good, qualified construction contractors and how this problem is amplified after a disaster such as a hurricane, tornado, flooding, etc.

Finding a good construction contractor is a huge problem and has been around for a long time. I’ve thought about this off and on for years and recently has been one of those “on times”.

Why is this a problem and what do we do about it?

As I’ve been thinking about it, I’ve concluded, that even though it’s a big problem, the solution is simple…but hard.

The key to this solution is…

Treat others the way you would want to be treated.

Granted, different people have different ways they want to be treated, because each of us is different. Add to that, the long-term acceptance of “this is just the way it is” and it becomes more difficult than ever to solve the problem.

To clarify how we should treat others, we should use God as a measuring stick. Do your work with all your heart, as if you are working for God, not for men. Colossians 3:23

Working as if for God is the opposite of how the world operates.

As I was speaking with a customer just last night, they were telling me how they had been trying to find someone to do their project for years.

They had contacted several contractors who said they would come by and look at the project and never did.

They met with some who did show up only to never be heard from again.

With one contractor they got as far as getting a price but then they could never get him to come do the work.

Equally as bad is when a contractor does agree to do the work, but the customer never knows if or when they’re going to show up and then the  job drags out and out and out.

This is an unacceptable way to treat God or anyone else.

The first and most important thing a good construction contractor needs is…COMMUNICATION.

Communication is more than just talking. It includes:

  • Listening to find out what the customer wants.  
  • Clearly explaining the work to be done, what it’s going to cost and when it will be done.
  • Transparency and honesty. Letting the customer know what to expect and when.
  • Willingness to be vulnerable. If you can’t be there when you said you would…let them know.

I plan to unpack what’s needed from a good construction contractor more over the next few weeks.

What Does it Take to be a Good Construction Contractor?

In a Nutshell, the Problem is…There is No Clear Answer to the Question

Last week I wrote about what’s missing when rebuilding after a disaster. It turns out that it’s the same thing that’s missing in everyday construction.

There’s simply a lack of good construction contractors.

So, what does it mean to be a “good construction contractor”?

As I was searching for ideas and answers to this question, I found very little and I mean, VERY LITTLE about it. Apparently, either nobody knows what it takes, or everyone assumes everybody already knows.

In my web search I found one article that spoke to it and one that kind of spoke to it.

The one that kind of spoke to it listed the following…

Signs of a good contractor –

  • Clean record, within reason
  • Responsive and punctual
  • Listens to your ideas
  • All hired work is accompanied with written contracts
  • Provides written estimates

Are you kidding me? Doesn’t this go without saying. And what about a clean record, within reason. This is a little concerning.

Signs of a bad contractor –

  • Licensing abnormalities
  • Habitually late or doesn’t return calls
  • Avoids permits, zoning and building codes
  • Speaks poorly of clients and associates
  • Many lawsuits against them

These are definitely signs of a bad contractor.

The better of the two articles spoke about construction workers, not contractors. It listed 12 skills, several of which would also fit for a good contractor. Those were…

  • Skills specific to “actual construction” – Need to know the things required to do the job they’ve been hired to do.
  • Problem-solving skills – Every construction job has unexpected problems that pop up. It’s important to be able to find solutions to keep production moving forward.
  • Reading and analytical skills – Contractors need to be able to read blueprints and scopes of work and understand them.
  • Listening skills – Talking is easy, but listening is critical to comprehending what the customer wants and what they don’t.
  • Communication skills – Being able to communicate both verbally and in writing are important to successful construction projects.
  • Decision making skills – The problem-solving skills will be no good if no decision gets made. It doesn’t mean that every decision is going to be the right one, but no decision is definitely the wrong one.
  • Organizational skills – This is one of the most important (and often most lacking). Time spent looking for missing tools, materials, papers, etc. leads to an unfocused project and cost time and money.
  • Technological skills – This is a newer skill that is becoming more and more important. The day of the fax is about gone. Computers, tablets and smart phones are how information is being shared…and it’s only going to increase.
  • Skill of working well with others – We need to remember that we’re all trying to accomplish the same thing. Working together as a team rather than fighting and not getting along is not productive or healthy.

This list is a good starting point, but it’s the lack of information on this topic that’s so concerning. It’s no wonder there is such a huge divide between construction customers and contractors.

A “good construction contractor” seems to be a rare and undefined treasure.

I’m going to continue digging to uncover what it takes to be a “GOOD CONSTRUCTION CONTRACTOR”.

If you have any thoughts about what you think a good construction contractor is, share your thoughts in the comments below.

An “Out of the Box” Solution to Get Your Construction Projects Done

Finding the Right Contractor for the Project Can Be a Problem

This is a construction industry issue…and it shouldn’t be.

We’ve all heard horror stories where someone either couldn’t find a contractor or hired one that later they wished they hadn’t.

I’m currently discussing this with someone in the middle of one of these situations.

After recently buying a home, they found a soft spot in the floor next to an exterior wall. With some further investigation they discovered some moisture damage that includes subfloor, floor joist and exterior wall problems. Some of the issues are structural.

The first hurdle was, having recently moved to a new location, they didn’t know anyone. They began looking for contractors, finally finding a few. After contacting them, only a couple came to look at the project. Of those who did, one never followed back up and the other said they wouldn’t do the structural work.

They had reservations about these contractors. It didn’t help that they had previously had issues with a painting contractor on a different house.

If this water damage is not fixed it’s going to lead to more significant problems in the future. Finding himself in this spot, the homeowner began to consider doing the work himself. He has done some small construction projects previously, but it didn’t take him long to realize this one was more than he could do.

Not knowing what else to do he contacted me.

Theses homeowners used to live closer and knew me through a family member. The first question was, would I come the 2+ hours to do the work?

We’ve done work further away than this before, but they were bigger projects. 

My biggest concern was finding qualified sub-contractors willing to go that far for a project of this size. It will be harder with everyone currently being so busy here close to home.

I felt his pain and really wanted to help him!

It’s a problem to find qualified construction contractors, especially in sparsely populated areas. There are too many people who call themselves contractors, but really are just a guy with a hammer.

Having run into this problem numerous times throughout my career, I have given a lot of thought to possible solutions to this problem.

One of the options that continually came up in these situations is long distance construction consulting.

What exactly would this long-distance construction consulting consist of?

This is the real question, isn’t it?

The customer’s issues come down a lack of construction experience and include things like –

  • Questions to ask the contractors
  • Communication to expect from contractors
  • Construction processes, standards and codes

What if there was a way for construction customers to have an experienced contractor in their corner? Someone to explain the process and support them through the process.

I’m working on this as an option for this customer. Providing the support and insight needed to get their repairs done. Giving them the comfort of a professional they trust that has their back through this process.

This service would include –

  • Me going to the job site and evaluating the project
  • Preparing a scope of work that could then be presented to less experienced contractors, giving them the expectations for the work to be performed.
  • Preparing a budget for the customer so they would have a price to compare to prices from contractors
  • Me reviewing pictures and reports from the customer as the onsite manager

This would be similar to what a general contractor would provide with the exception of actual construction work.

Now I’m going to get to work on figuring out what this service will cost them and preparing a proposal for it.

I will let you know how this construction customer consulting goes as we move forward.

What’s the Most Powerful Tool in the Construction Contractor’s Toolbox?

This Tool Can Make You More Money with Less Chance of Cutting a Finger Off

The past couple of weeks I’ve written about how much we love our power tools and how tools make building easier.

The sense of control that comes from pulling the trigger on a power tool is amazing. We feel like we are in control of our destiny. There’s no task too big. We can conquer the world.

There’s no doubt that power tools make construction projects go faster and easier than using hand tools. (And there are a lot of cool new tools that we’d like in our toolbox.)

Of all the tools out there, which is the most powerful?

This is a question that could be debated forever.

I would argue that the most powerful tool isn’t a tool in the normal sense of the word.

If the purpose of power tools is to increase control and be more productive, then having a power tool that would 10x these things would be worth 10 times what you paid for the most expensive tool you have.

Increasing your profit margin just 10% on a $5000 project and the tool has paid for itself.

What kind of tool could have this kind of return on investment?

The tool that I’m talking about is affordable and won’t wear out like other tools.

Most construction companies are great at “constructing” but are overwhelmed by the business side of things. This is not where their heart is.

You don’t need a master’s degree in business to be successful if you have the right tools.

A tool for doing clear and accurate construction proposals is this kind of tool.

Without a tool for doing proposals, a lot of contractors make mistakes that cost them a fortune. Unexpected costs, changes to projects after they’re started and poor communication are a lot more expensive than the cost of the tool.

Those mistakes include:

  • Lack of clarity with both the customer and the production crews
  • No budgets for customers and production crews
  • Losing money
  • Not doing accurate proposals due to a lack of time
  • Guessing at pricing of projects

Learn more about those mistakes and how to avoid them with this free download.

Wouldn’t it be nice to have a tool that would –

  • Increase you profit
  • Communicate clearly with both the customer and the production crews
  • Allow you to consistently and accurately price construction projects
  • Allow you to customize it to fit your company’s specific needs
  • Give you the freedom to delegate the paperwork so that you could focus on construction

The Blueprint for Building a Better Proposal will do all of this and more. I use this proposal system on every construction project I bid.

Just like power tools make construction projects easier…there’s a “power tool” that will make doing construction proposals easier, allowing you to reduce stress, be more profitable and build a successful business.

You’re not in business to lose money, so get this tool.

We’re currently running a special Holiday offer for our Blueprint for Building a Better Proposal system. The reduced Holiday price is $497, including some additional bonus templates.

In addition to this special offer, we’re having a drawing for building contractors.

One lucky winner will receive a DeWalt cordless tool combo kit valued at more than $700.

Your opportunity to win starts now and ends at midnight 12/3/21.

What is it About TOOLS That Building Contractors Love So Much?

Wielding a Power Tool Gives Us a Sense of Control and Respect

Those of you who build, know what I mean. Feeling that power in our hands. We are in control, but the machine can never be tamed. We have to respect it, or we will regret it. We pretend to be in charge of the “power tool beast” but know better.

Power and control

  • Power tools have the power to create. When the power tools come out, we have no idea what is about to happen. Every time we connect with that much electricity, a child-like excitement oozes from our pores.
  • Power tools have an untamed spirit that screams: “Anything can happen.” Turning on a generator makes you feel like you are The Generator. For a few minutes, you’re off the grid and in-charge. You have the power and can decide who you will bestow it upon.
  • Power tools let us pretend that we can do anything. Don’t fool yourself, your power tool is in charge! Just look at the sticker on your SAWZALL: “Warning this device is powerful and is capable of doing serious harm to your home, your person or your entire way of life.

Meditate on the raw power, the Amps and the Volts. Be in awe and imagine where your power tools may take you.

This fascination with tools is very similar to the reason most guys would take almost any ridiculous “man challenge” for the promise of a gold sticker on their forehead and “buddy cred”.

“Hey, I bet you can’t crush that can with your head!” Sound familiar?

Hopefully most of us are smarter than this.

As builders we love the rush we get from building something. That sense of accomplishment that comes from creating a dream home out of that stack of boards. Tools give us the power and control to do this.

A tool that is even more powerful than the biggest meanest saw, is the Blueprint for Building a Better Proposal.

I know it doesn’t make as much noise or make your arm numb after using it all afternoon, but it’s a tool that will allow you to build your business into a skyscraper of success.

The hardest thing you will ever build is a business. The tools used for this kind of building are different than what we normally think of when thinking tools.

During my thirty-five plus years of building my business I’ve continually worked to achieve and maintain a sense of control over my profit and respect for the power of business.

Just like any other building project, it’s important to know what tool to use for specific applications. You wouldn’t use a cordless screw gun to saw a board, or a reciprocating saw to nail down a shingle.

You can saw a board with a hand saw or you can use a circular saw. We both know which is faster, easier and makes more sense.

The same thing is true for preparing a proposal.

You can use the old school “guesstimation” method or you could use the new and improved power tool. It’s important to have the right tool for the job.

We are going to be offering a Holiday special for the Building a Better Proposal system starting on Black Friday complete with a weekly tool drawing starting on Black Friday.

If you or someone you know would like to feel the power of a tool that gives them control over building a successful construction business while respecting that power without regret…stay tuned for upcoming details or contact us in the comments below.

Things Will Go Much Smoother When the Contractor Knows How to Speak Customer

The Importance of Learning a Foreign Language When Doing a Construction Project

It’s difficult to understand someone speaking a language you don’t know or understand. Imagine being in a country that speaks a different language and trying to explain something.

This is the same thing that happens with construction customers and contractors.

The contractor says something that the customer doesn’t understand. The customer doesn’t want to appear like they don’t understand so they just nod and go on. This is contractor language…

Most customers don’t speak contractor.

This disconnect can lead to misunderstandings. Misunderstandings can lead to hurt feelings and frustration. The hurt feelings lead to disagreements and impasses.

This is the biggest problem in the construction industry.

I’ve written about the importance of good communication multiple times. On more than one occasion I’ve been asked by customers to help them understand “contractor” they found themselves at an impasse with their contractor.

Every contractor, at some time, has had an unhappy customer. This is almost always due to poor communication and/or a lack of understanding. It may have been some small misunderstanding or might have been major enough to result in being fired or going to court.

Several years ago, a partner and I were meeting with a customer early in the process of building a new home. The customer pointed out that the distance from the electric meter to the house was more than the 50’ allowance, as per the written proposal.

He asked if this was a problem. My partner told him no, it wasn’t a problem. Guess what…

It was a problem.

The problem didn’t surface until later when the customer was billed for the additional 100’. After some research, the communication breakdown was uncovered.

The customer asked, “if it was a problem”. What he really was asking was…”is it going to cost more?”.  

My partner’s response in reality was, “it’s not a problem to dig the additional 100’, but it will cost you more”. This isn’t what was said.

Neither intended nor expected this to be a problem. It was a simple matter of misunderstanding…

A contractor not speaking customer and a customer not speaking contractor.

That was a small thing that was clarified and resolved.

Sometimes they turn into big legal battles than can result in catastrophic outcomes.

Once again, I’ve been called in as a translator. This time it’s by a person having a construction project done by a contractor who doesn’t speak “customer”. This situation is going to be expensive for all parties and involves attorneys.

Situations like this break my heart. I understand why they happen…but they don’t need to. As the professionals in these situations the communication responsibility is the contractors.

Contractors need to learn to speak customer.

This is the reason I developed my proposal system. It’s a way for contractors to speak customer.

If you know someone in the construction industry that would benefit from learning to speak “customer” share this link to the Blueprint for Building a Better Proposal with them.

How to Make a Construction Proposal Better

The First Thing is to Figure Out What You’re Doing Wrong

As a building contractor that has been involved in construction for over forty years a common topic of conversation, as you might have guessed is…construction. When talking with people who had construction projects done (not my customers) one of the more common remarks is “That was the worst experience of my life.” This is not the way a construction experience should be.

The experience of building a dream project should be one of the best!

When digging into their feelings deeper the problems almost always came down to these issues.

  • Misunderstandings due to poor or no communication
  • Blindsided by cost overruns or hidden costs
  • The completed project wasn’t what they wanted or expected
  • Didn’t understand construction terminology
  • Poor quality workmanship and materials
  • Cluttered and unorganized job site
  • Left hanging part way through an unfinished project
  • Lack of scheduling or poor time management

As a construction professional you should read these posts to give you the customer’s perspective:

            How to Prevent Your Construction Projects from Falling Apart

            There’s a High Cost to No Communication

            What Should be Included in a Contractor’s Communication

            Lack of Quality, Honesty and Integrity

As building contractors we have a responsibility to do everything in our power to prevent these situations from happening.

As a contractor you might say, “But customers are so hard to deal with. They expect so much and want it done cheap. They’re so demanding.” My response to you is, “Then why are you in this business?” You’re the professional. You choose this.

If you don’t love what you’re doing, then you haven’t found your vocation.

This is not to say that there won’t be difficulties in construction sometimes, but my experiences have been completely different. It comes down to a few simple things that when done well make the experience pleasurable for both the customer and the contractor.

The majority of the problems between construction companies and customers come down to poor communication. These issues can be minimized with thorough and accurate proposals. When I started in business, I had no idea how to do proposals, so I did like most…I guessed.

Doing accurate proposals that communicate clearly, doesn’t have to be a roll of the dice.

So, if you’re pricing construction projects like I did when I began. Maybe you could use some help and I would love to help you with this. So that I can know where you could use help the most, I need answers to some questions.

As a building contractor –

  • Have you ever had issues with customer’s, if so what were they?
  • Did these issues involve poor communication?
  • Do you currently do proposals, estimates, time and material or just guess?
  • What is your biggest issue when pricing construction projects?
  • How do you determine the cost of labor and material?
  • How do you determine overhead and profit?
  • How do you communicate the work to be done with sub-contractors and/or employees?
  • What would make your process better?

Here’s a link to these questions if you would go there and answer these questions it will be helpful to us so that we can help you. Or you can answer them in the comments below.

Let us help you to communicate clearer, be more profitable and reduce your stress with a Blueprint for Building a Better Proposal.

An Overview of the “Blueprint for Building A Better Proposal”

 

 

 

 

An Explanation of How That System Works

 

This is the third post in the Blueprint for Building A Better Proposal series. The first focused on the importance of communication between contractor and customer and the problems that can happen without it. The second listed the foundational pieces of the proposal system

In this post we’ll take an overview of the process and how the different pieces fit together.

STEP 1 – Gathering Information

Once you’ve been contacted by a potential customer schedule a meeting to discuss the customer’s dreams and find out what they hope to get from this project. At this initial meeting you will gather information –

  • Measurements and dimensions, existing and new

  • Building materials, existing and new

  • Pictures of pertinent areas and existing construction

  • Customer’s design ideas and finishes

The information gathered in this meeting can be recorded in a variety of ways. The important thing in this step is to gather any and all information needed to prepare an accurate proposal. It can be handwritten on a printed out Bid Sheet. It can be typed in an electronic Bid Sheet on a tablet, smart phone or laptop. The purpose for using the Bid Sheet is that all the areas of a construction project are listed out, this minimizes overlooking things.

STEP 2 – Preparing the Scope of Work

After the preliminary information has been gathered it’s time to clarify the scope of the project by writing out the description of each specific task in terminology that both the customer and the contractor understand. It needs to include enough specifics to be thorough without being too technical. It doesn’t help communication if it’s confusing for the customer. This written description on the Bid Sheet gets transferred to the Proposal and serves as a written scope of work to be performed and materials to be provided.

STEP 3 – Pricing the Project

Next is putting prices to the project. This process involves two different Excel spreadsheets, the Worksheet and the Data Base. Based on the descriptions written on the Bid Sheet, content from the Data Base will be copied and pasted into the correlating cells on the Worksheet. After the pertinent information from the Data Base has been placed on the Worksheet it’s time to fill in the specific quantities.

STEP 4 – Quantities

On the Worksheet you will fill in the quantity needed to do the work on that line item. This may be lineal feet, square feet, square yards, cubic feet, cubic yards or numbers of pieces. Once this is completed you will now have prices for the Proposal. 

STEP 5 – Preparing the Proposal

Now you have everything you need to prepare the Proposal. You will use the description from the Bid Sheet and the prices from the Worksheet and put them both on the Proposal. Now you have a description for each specific task to be provided and the price for each. After filling out the customer’s information, the total project price, how payments are to be made and the duration of time to do the project, the Proposal is ready to present to the customer.

Next week I’ll go into the details of Gathering Information.

The Bulk of The Communication Responsibility Lies on The Contractor

 

 

 

 

 

How To Build A Better Proposal

 

 

Every contractor, at some time, has had an unhappy customer. This is almost always due to poor communication and/or a lack of understanding. It may have been some small misunderstanding or might have been major enough to result in being fired or going to court.


Several years ago, a partner and I were meeting with a customer early in the process of building a new home. The customer pointed out that the distance from the electric meter to the house was more than the 50’ allowance, as per the written proposal.

He asked if this was a problem. My partner told him no, it wasn’t a problem. Guess what…


It was a problem.


The problem didn’t surface until later when the customer was billed for the additional 100’. After some digging, the communication breakdown was uncovered.


The customer asked, “if it was a problem”. What he really was asking was…”is it going to cost more?”.


My partner’s response in reality was, “we can dig the additional 100’, but it will cost you three times as much as the allowance in the proposal”. This isn’t what was said.


Neither individual intended nor expected this to be a problem. It was a simple matter of misunderstanding…a lack of communication.


Communication is, …the exchange of information and the expression of feelings that result in understanding.

 

 

Understanding is the tricky part.

Why is it that contractors don’t communicate clearly through concise written proposals to customers? Here are the four main reasons for this:


First is time – It takes more time to prepare a detailed written proposal. We’re already so busy that we can’t keep up and with the limited time we have, we aren’t going to spend it on preparing a proposal.


Second is comfort – I started this company because I loved to build, plumb, wire, pour concrete, roof, etc., etc. The trade is what I know, and I don’t like doing paperwork, I want to go swing a hammer.


Third is knowledge – It’s hard to know how long something is going to take or how much material is going to cost. If I give the customer an approximate price or even better if I can just get paid for time and material, I know I won’t lose any money.


Fourth is no system – When we started the company, no one ever explained the importance of having a business system in place. A business system is the blueprint for building your business. Detailed proposals are one of the foundational pieces needed to keep it from collapsing.


These are four valid reasons for avoiding doing proposals, but…


The cost of not preparing detailed proposals, is far more expensive.


The customer also has some responsibility in preventing construction projects from falling apart and the high cost of poor communication. This whole construction process is overwhelming to most customers and they need to know what should be included in the communication


But the customer isn’t an experienced contractor that does this for a living.


If only there was a process for doing proposals that:

  • Saved time.
  • Could be done by office staff.
  • Didn’t require a four-year degree or twenty years of on the job training.
  • Included all the necessary parts and pieces


What if I told you that there is such a system and you could have it? There is and it’s going to become available in the next few months. Over the next several weeks we are going to breakdown the system, go through the different documents and processes in detail and explain how it works.


Remember that we are the professionals and the bulk of the communication responsibility lies on us.