Business Articles - On the Job

Is It Normal to Work 80 Hours a Week?

Unfortunately, long hours have become standard in our business, particularly for the small business owner. While "normal" likely isn't the right word for it, it certainly has become accepted. But there is hope, and you don't have to sacrifice revenue, good employees, or a growing business to get more time away from the job.

The Cycle
We all know how it starts. You're doing good work and realize you could make more money being out on your own. You take a few side jobs in additional to your steady gig, knowing that if you just keep your head down, work hard, and put in some long hours that pretty soon you'll be able to make it on your own. Then you take the plunge and open up your own shop. Now you're getting up earlier to stay ahead, and you're the last to leave because you're the boss, and you plan on catching up on paperwork once the weekend hits. Sound familiar?

For many of us in the home improvement trade, this is how it happens. Given that there are so many examples of others doing the same thing, it only seems natural that everyone works this much. Everyone certainly does, but it doesn't have to be this way.

Windshield Time
Nearly every service pro talks about how much time they waste with their hand on the wheel. You are craftsmen, so when you are in the truck you're not doing your craft, which makes you feel like you're not really working.

Sometimes windshield time is good for a short rest, like driving to eat or to get a sheet of plywood, and other times it just can't be avoided. But there are some things you can do to decrease your windshield time.

Measure: You need to know exactly how much time you spend behind the wheel. Mark down how many minutes you spend driving next week (be honest). No matter what the reason, keep track of the time. If you have employees, have them do this as well. If the week you kept track was not a typical week, then adjust the time up or down based on what you think your typical week is.

Define: Also write down the reason for being in the truck: driving to a job, trip to the store, going on a bid.

Total & Analyze: After the week is up, figure your total time spent and total time spent driving for certain reasons.

Be Reasonable: If all the leads you have in a certain time period are coming from an area far from home, what can you do? So if you find out that you spent a great deal of time driving for bids that are farther away than normal, be reasonable about that time. You still might be able to cut down on the drive time to those places, but don't sacrifice your business unless your business is sacrificing your life.

The Store
Time and again contractors make too many avoidable trips to the store. As soon as they run out of something, they jump in the truck. While this makes sense when you are trying to get something finished, most of the time you could stand to adjust your thinking.

Stockpile Items: You should never run out of the staples of your trade (which might actually be staples). Before any job, buy enough nails, screws, flake, plywood, studs, etc so that you never have to go to the store for any of this.

Pricing: We'd all like to support the local hardware store, but their prices often prohibit that. But if you have the choice between buying expensive nails at the corner store or driving 5 miles to the local Home Depot just to save a dollar, you might not be saving money, but you will likely be saving time. If you don't know the area, bring a phonebook so you know where these stores are hiding before a project begins.

Think of the local guys before you set out on the freeway just to pinch a penny. On the other side, if there is any doubt that the local guy doesn't carry what you're looking for, think twice about time wasted walking around a local store, looking for something they might not even carry.

We all have a love/hate relationship with bids. When you get the job, bids are great. When you don't, seemingly endless resources are wasted. However, depending on your category, there might be some ways in which you can get a little time back without ever turning down a bid opportunity.

Group Bids Together: If you have a homeowner who lives far away but is flexible as far as timing, and you have other bids or jobs in her area later in the week, see if you can schedule it then. If you might lose the opportunity for a good job, go right away, of course. But if you can combine trips to faraway areas, you'll get some time (and gas money) back.

Initial Bidding: No matter what category your business is in, develop a phone-based quick bid strategy. If you are a roofing contractor, you can give someone a ballpark estimate in just a few questions. Matter of fact you can give someone a ballpark estimate even if the person on the phone has never seen the house she needs the bid for.

You know your average job. You know the price of the most expensive job and least expensive job. If a prospect thinks he's going to get a new slate tile roof for $2500, you just informed him and likely saved yourself a drive to Never Never Land. However, if a homeowner can give you square footage of the house and answer some other questions, then you can give a little more refined bid right over the phone. Of course, the price is going to change when you arrive, but the point is that you can save yourself the trouble of people who can't afford your services. And perhaps you only use this initial bid system when the prospect is over a certain distance from your headquarters.

You would drive a great distance for the right job at the right price, right? Then make sure you don't drive any distance for the wrong job and the wrong customer.

Brass Tacks
Of course, each business has its own challenges, but no matter what your particular business is, if you track your time for a certain period, and then look closely at where your time is being spent, you might find you can shave a few hours off your week. And if you are working 80 hours a week, each hour back to you will be worth its weight in gold.

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