Canadian Contractor

Myths of contractors continued: I save money by doing chores myself

"If you can’t point to some fundamental improvement you haven’t been doing the job of a general manager"

September 10, 2019
By canadiancontractor

By Steve Ryan

In our previous column we suggested that the company owner should draw a salary and recognize this as an operating cost. Let’s shift our perspective now and talk about the value your company must derive from that. Like any expense, your time needs to be spent where it returns maximum value. While it may not be a conscious decision, with each task you take on you are making a judgment: Either you have time to spare or the task you are doing is worth more than other things you could be doing.

Here’s what we mean. Unless we have time to spare, the things we do each day come at the expense of something else that won’t get done. If I choose to do my own bookkeeping because “it saves the cost of a bookkeeper”, or if I run between jobs dropping supplies because “I don’t want my labourer wasting time running errands” it means I delay something else I could be doing.  Most likely that will be the less immediate priorities like long-term planning, or training. The list could go on and on, but the point is, you only deliver the value of a general manager when you are doing the work of a general manager. When you pick up the simple chores, you don’t save the wages of a lower cost employee. You cost the value of results that a general manager should achieve.

Even if you accept that in concept, you may still be up against your own instincts in this. For builders and contractors one of the biggest motivators is seeing tangible results at the end of a day, or a week.  As the head of a company though, many of your most important jobs don’t offer that immediate result. Your efforts toward things like greater efficiency, more productive employees, fewer regulatory speed bumps, or more consistent quality rarely show themselves at the end of the workday, week or even month. No wonder getting hands-on with the more basic tasks often feels like being more productive.

Ironically, you can also be fooled by your own work ethic, and a determination to just put in whatever time it takes. There’s nothing wrong with dedication and working hard, but the established facts are that, beyond a certain point, you become less effective and actually get less done by working more hours. Don’t fool yourself. If you let clerical work or basic labouring come first, you’re not likely to do effective work on your organization later in the week.

Take a good objective assessment of how different your company is now compared to two years ago. If you can’t point to some fundamental improvement (e.g. more efficient, more profitable, more stable work force, greater customer satisfaction etc…) you haven’t been doing the job of a general manager.  You are costing your company by trying to do it all and it’s time to look for ways to delegate.

Let’s be clear, this is not encouraging you to indulge yourself by handing off responsibilities. It’s quite the opposite. We’re saying put expectations on yourself to deliver high value to your company. Make the executive decision to pay someone else to do the chores that soak up time and energy. But then roll up your sleeves and get going on the job of general manager. You need to put a high value on your time (even if you don’t pay yourself that way). Then, like you would with any other employee, demand that the work you do is worth that kind of value.

For most residential contractors, the biggest obstacle to success is rooted in being unaware or misinformed regarding the basics of running a business.   They have the skills to run building projects.  Not so much for running their business.  MMI Professional Services is committed to the success of contractors by helping them develop the business and management skills they need.  For information on ways to run a better building business contact the writer at