Up Your Downtime: Six Ways to Maximize Holiday Time

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December. A time for friends, family, and holiday cheer. But for contractors, December can mean sluggish business. Clients focus on family and friends, entertain, and host out-of-town visitors instead of pursue construction activities. Employees and subcontractors take vacation. Weather woes in many parts of the country can make construction work inefficient — and sometimes impossible. Supplier delivery problems and travel difficulties can even impact inside construction.

Yet a "holiday slowdown" can be the right time to get a jump on 2008 business. Even those who are flush with work will find it helpful to take some time to think about and plan for next year's work and vacation time. Instead of watching one more meaningless bowl game, take a look at some of the best things you can do to make 2008 the year you want it to be.

Fix and Flip

Tools, that is. Construction schedules seldom allow times for tool organization and maintenance. Now is the time to inspect tools and set aside those that need attention. Clean, adjust, sharpen, and repair as needed, and look for items that should be replaced or upgraded. December is a good time to turn in tools needing factory repairs, which often can take up to a month.

Next, organize tool boxes/bags in a way that best fits how you use them. Consider making a wish list of current and future needs. By clarifying what you really need and taking advantage of pre- and post-holiday sales (and those reward points on many credit cards), your tool dollars can go further than you might expect.

Make a Business Improvement Resolution

Are you satisfied with where your business is headed? If you see room for improvement or growth, now is the time to make a resolution to redirect efforts for 2008.

First, analyze your past year or two. What jobs were profitable? What specific types of jobs were satisfying, and which were not? Determine if you want to, and can, direct your business to concentrate on those you prefer. This also is an excellent time to evaluate your subcontractors and/or the general contractors with whom you work. If there are some that are better to work with, try to figure out how you can increase the percentage of work you do with them.

Likewise, if you conduct projects in several municipalities, are some easier or better to work in than others? If so, think about how to shift your future projects towards those.
Get to Market(ing)

As you review your targeted clients for 2008, consider your overall marketing strategy and plan. If you don't have a plan, now is the time to create one. Marketing can be challenging, in part because few people truly understand what it is or how to do it. Consider using your December downtime to do some homework and generate a plan for the next year. It need not be complicated or involved, but you know the saying: If you don't know where you're going, it'll be hard to get there.

Send a Message

Part of building your business is increasing the number of potential clients and/or general contractors who are familiar with your work. Consider creating information packages that describe what you do, along with your business principles and practices.
If you are primarily a subcontractor, gear your message toward the specialty services you can provide, your responsiveness, capacities, and experience. If you are a residential contractor, communicate your experience and competency to handle a job from start to finish.

Pulling this information together will benefit your ongoing communications and marketing efforts. You will be able to quickly assemble content for whatever communications tactic you choose to use in the coming year, as the base data can become the content for a brochure, direct mail campaign, email message, or website. Remember that none of these projects need to be complex or complicated. For instance, several Internet service providers provide inexpensive (think $35 for an entire year) website templates for which you only need to complete some basic messaging.

Get Those Cards and Letters out

Holiday cards and notes are excellent ways to communicate with clients, contractors, and suppliers. They convey your good wishes for the season, associate your company name with the good feelings the holidays bring, and keep your name in front of important contacts. Many contractors use a combination of traditional cards and email, which can be particularly efficient for contacting many people. Use sites offering free e-cards, or simply send a personalized note to those on your list.

Face up to Year-End Accounting

No one looks forward to year-end finances and tax preparation, but putting these activities off to the last minute only increases stress and opportunities for errors or omissions. Delving into it when you have time will make your business life easier come January — not to mention that it will allow you to enjoy the holidays instead of thinking about how much there is to do after they are over. Attending to accounting now may also give you a clearer idea of how much to spend on the holidays so that you do not overspend and start out 2008 in debt.

If you experience December slowdown, don't despair. It is possible to look at it as an opportunity to reflect on the recent past and improve your position for the coming year.

About the Author

Dean Bennett is president of Dean Bennett Design and Construction Inc., a design/build firm based in Castle Rock, CO. Specializing in custom residential design and construction, projects include remodeling, interior and exterior additions, conversions, basement finishes, landscaping and fencing, and custom finish carpentry.

The company offers concept-to-completion design, including working drawings, blueprints, securing of permits, and inspection coordination. Working with a business model of a single principal on-site throughout the project, from architectural design through final construction, Bennett effectively integrates design and construction while eliminating the need to hire separate general and sub-contractors and architects.

Bennett has worked with a national client base, which spans multiple years since 1996. He holds a master's degree in Architecture and bachelor's degree in Environmental Design from the University of Colorado. Bennett is an accomplished fly fisherman, golfer, skier, and snowboarder, and he enjoys swimming, running, cycling, cooking, and photography.

He can be reached at 303-513-2065 or at dean@deanbennettdc.com.
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