Are you making these 11 mistakes in your trades business?

Are you working longer and longer hours and downright frustrated at the lack of profits? Is work coming in, but it’s just not consistent? One month you’re scrambling to get the work done and the next, you’re sweating out where the next job is coming from?

By Daniel Fitzpatrick


Or maybe you’re getting the work — but where the heck is the money? There never seems to be enough cash in the bank when you need it.
If you feel you’re not getting ahead and your hard work isn’t reflecting money-wise, chances are you’re making one or more of these mistakes which even the smartest business owners do sometimes.
As a business coach working exclusively with trades, here are the 11 biggest mistakes I find tradies are making (not necessarily in this order).


1. Being unaware of margins and losing money on too many jobs. Often I see tradies working really hard, but they’re just not as profitable as they should be.

Really frustrating because they are missing out on the real money. The problem is margins; they just aren’t getting the margins right consistently on every job. This is even more of an issue when growing – you can end up doing more jobs for less money.
Solution: Always price based on margin. Then keep track of costs and hours during the job or at least backcost to check what margin you made. This will help when pricing future jobs, and show you how to be more efficient.
2. Working too many hours at the expense of health and family business is a marathon, not a sprint.

When business owners are working 50+ hours per week, they start making mistakes. They are reacting, instead of controlling their business. If this continues long term, they spend most of their time putting out fires, or even worse, their health or family falls apart.
Solution: Look at what you are doing in your week. Then decide what is important, make your family and your health a priority, and choose what work can be delegated or got rid of. Set some rules for yourself on what you will say “no” to.

3. Not knowing the numbers
Many tradies don’t know their numbers, so they have no idea how they are actually doing. They are busy, but are they making profits every single month? They just don’t know. This is dangerous. If things go wrong, it’s often too late to correct.
Solution: Have good accounting software you use to record monthly profit and loss figures. Then measure everything that is important to you, including sales, gross margins, earnings per worker, etc. Checking on these numbers regularly gives you early warning signs of any problems, and you will have plenty of time to adjust to get back on track.

4. No structure or direction in the business
Lack of planning and systems is a huge problem and can happen in any size business, but especially if a business grows quickly. Important information including customers, jobs, and work standards are all stuck in the owner’s head. This becomes frustrating for everyone; standards start to slip; jobs become slower and inefficient, and the owner’s works longer and longer hours just to keep
things moving.
Solution: Put into place good planning, procedures, checklists, and reports in all key areas, from the jobs themselves to work schedules to office systems. If this is done right, it will save everyone a whole lot of time and frustration, and the business can still operate without the owner for significant amounts of time.

5. Relying on a small number of large customers
For some, the easy option is to rely on one or a few large customers for work. This is dangerous because before long they will start calling the shots — when you work, how much you make, etc. Also, if they have less work for you, or go broke, it will have a major impact
on your business, sometimes irreparably. If your biggest client went broke (or stopped giving you work), would you survive?
Solution: Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Make sure you have a good spread of customers in different sectors. Make this a priority because if you want to have a long-term profitable business, this is essential.

6. Giving too much credit for too long
Credit can be dangerous and is one of the biggest downfalls for trades. Many have gone broke because their biggest clients didn’t pay them. Or at the very least have been stressed out with strangled cashflow at the end of the month looking for enough to pay staff, suppliers and the bank while waiting for overdue accounts to come in. How much have you lost in money and time through late payers and bad debts?
Solution: Have strict credit terms, take deposits at the beginning of jobs, progress payments, and be prepared to stop work if the account is not paid on time. Only when you are paid can you say the money is yours.

7. Not billing everything out on time or at all
Often, especially on complex jobs, bills are sent out weeks or months later. Some details are forgotten, so not everything is billed, or worse the job is not billed out at all.
Solution: Get your team to record all details of jobs including extras (materials and labour) on the job. Then make sure you invoice promptly on completion.
8. Not dealing with leads and quotes effectively
A number of tradies get plenty of good leads but don’t follow them up early enough before they go cold. Or because they don’t qualify their enquiry by asking good questions, they waste a lot of time quoting jobs they were never going to get.
Solution: Firstly make sure you have time available every week in your calendar to follow up leads and quotes. You have spent money and effort getting them; don’t blow it because of lack of time. Ask the right questions before quoting which frees up time by identifying the best jobs which are worth pursuing and by weeding out the tyre kickers. Always go through the quote with the customer – it will instantly increase your conversion rate.

9. Nannying the team
Some business owners either don’t supervise staff enough (not giving clear guidelines) or micro-manage them (staying too involved). And when the team is not responsible for their own work and makes too many mistakes, the owner spends a lot of time running around sorting out the fallout.
Solution: Have good systems and guidelines to ensure your staff know exactly what you expect of them and are accountable for their work.

10. Spending too much time on the tools instead of growing the business
Too much time on the tools leaves no time to find more work or make the team more efficient. It is important to schedule time each week for marketing/selling, and putting systems in place. Otherwise, you will restrict growth and profits.
Solution: Spend at least one day per week on marketing and sales activities, and plan each day in advance.

11. Relying on a small number of lead sources
Deceptive but deadly mistake. You might have plenty of work in the short term, but if you rely on one source e.g. word of mouth, you’ll be stuck in a feast or famine work cycle. Very hard to make money because what is made during the good times is then lost again when it gets quiet.
Solution: Have a good marketing plan and market consistently using a number of strategies both online and offline to get good enquiries flowing in every single week.


In conclusion
If you see yourself making some of these mistakes, the good news is it’s easy to fix, if you put the right strategies in place. Many tradies I have worked with have been able to turn their businesses around by putting these things in order.
So start now by working on the one mistake that is causing you the biggest headaches, then the next and the next. It won’t be
long before you start getting the business
you want.

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