One piece of advice for a new contractor. I think this is one of the hardest blogs that I've ever written. Mostly because there are so many pains, I wish that I could save you from them all. After 12 years, I’ve been through a lot of mistakes and hard lessons. Limiting my advice to one piece of advice is hard.
After some hard thinking, my advice is to be sure to focus equally on both sides, the business side and the installation side, of roofing. Usually you start a roofing business because you are a craftsman, adept at installing roofs, at being a quality technician, at having a passion to provide for your family. Roofing and installation, however, is just half of your business. Understanding that will make your life easier and increase the chances for longevity for your company.
My company was lucky, we opened with both sides covered. One of us was a roofer by trade, a craftsman who cared about quality installations, and did an exceptional job in the field of building relationships. The other of us was an exceptional business person, who cared about paying taxes, and many of the mundane tasks that need to be completed to keep the business going.
The business side isn't usually glamorous, or fun, but it’s necessary if you want the rest of your options to remain open. Skipping taxes even for 1 month can cause a backlash of fees and fines and follow up, that could put any good business under as they begin since their cashflow is low. If you have the skillset yourself, great. In the beginning at least, you can work on both sides of your business.
As you prove yourself, and your business “catches fire” decisions must be made. Being a self-employed employee isn’t a successful way to run a thriving business. By this I mean, you can’t do it all yourself. Take time to get to know yourself. What are your strengths and weaknesses and how would your time be best used? Who can you plug into your business to do the tasks you’re not suited for (or interested in)? How will you oversee their participation? Remember, you must know what you want, before you hire someone to help you. After you hire them, check up on them frequently.
At some point, handing off part of your business will help you grow. Often, with craftsmen, that handoff goes to a bookkeeper. (Secret Advice - this person should provide you with reports such as job costing, profit and loss by month, Accounts Payable and customer balances/AR) so you can gauge the health of your business). The bookkeeper will pay your bills and calculate and pay your taxes. Invaluable help but dangerous if you didn’t take the time to have knowledge of these skills yourself. I’m sneaking in more advice here - don’t tell – you HAVE to have knowledge of EVERY aspect of your business. That includes the requirements of taxes, billing and business. Abdicating that chair of knowledge will leave you vulnerable to people who commit fraud, and no one has time to deal with that.
I ended up giving more advice than we were supposed to but oh well. Here’s a recap of the gems.
One last thing – be tenacious. Fight for yourself and for your business. There are a lot of boulders that roll down the hill at you when you’re running a business. Use the resources of associations and industry friendships to recharge when you need.
And don’t forget to smile.
Wendy Marvin is CEO of Matrix Roofing. See her full bio here.