Canadian Contractor

Steve Maxwell   

Avoiding the young contractor trap

"Every young contractor I've ever met figures he was as tough as new rebar."

Every young contractor I’ve ever met figured he was as tough as new rebar. Strength, independence, a big truck and a cowboy attitude serve these young bucks well for years. But eventually, without realizing exactly when, the glitter of the young, solo contractor lifestyle begins to rust. Our vital, independent mover-and-shaker eventually grows weary of constantly getting dirty, tired and bruised. Business independence is a great thing, but not if it blinds our contractor to how handy it can be to have trusted people on board to keep the business rolling while he takes a vacation or when the flu strikes.

If our young contractor never does anything to change the natural trajectory of the business started when he was 23 and immortal, he finds himself doing the same thing on the far side of middle age. Bags of cement are heavier. Piles of lumber grow mysteriously larger. Mondays take on a new dread. Our once-young contractor, now on the downhill side of 40, is living what he thought was his dream, yet feeling more like an overworked employee on a nightmare treadmill. Occasionally he wonders if he wouldn’t have been better off with an office career and a pension. Not that he ever considered it an option at the time, but it’s too late now.

The root problem here is that even though our solo contractor hires subs, he’s never grown a succession plan to build capable leadership to take control of things at the top. Had he built a true “business”, our contractor would have managed his affairs with the aim that some day the operation would run itself. Everyone involved could be replaced, including that “irreplaceable” young swashbuckler who never thought past his ambition, strength and boundless energy.

If our young contractor turns out to be smart enough to balance braun with brains, by the time he’s in his 50s he sits at the top of an organization he has built. It may not be a large organization, but it no longer requires his constant attention, exertion and youthful vigour. The business runs on auto-pilot, at least for short bursts and in most ways. And while it’s good to feel the vibrancy of being a young, rebar-tough contractor, the day always comes when it’s more than good to have someone else a little less rusty on your side.




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