17 Tips For the Class of 2017


I recently had the privilege of speaking to construction students at a local college, and quite a few expressed a desire to run their own company or work as a general contractor. It dawned on me that, very soon, these young people will be in a position to start making their dreams a reality. So with graduation season upon us, here are 17 tips for all the budding entrepreneurs in the class of 2017:

1. Master the fundamentals. In the construction industry, we’re evaluated on four major criteria: on schedule, under budget, work quality and customer service. That’s the minimum admission ticket to compete.

2. Constantly sell yourself and your competencies. This business is 90 percent people and 10 percent technical. Always be ready to explain why you’re the right person for the job.

3. Generate repeat business. Build strong relationships with clients who appreciate your unique value, and strive to avoid the hard public bid market. This might prove difficult at first, but aim to have at least half of your contracts come from repeat clients.

4. Attitude, not aptitude, determines your altitude. God-given skills will only take you so far – in life and on the job. For effective leaders, EI (emotional intelligence) is more important than IQ (intelligence quotient).

5. Sweat the small stuff. Every phase of the construction process – from the initial conversation with a client to site management, PM work and punch lists – requires copious attention to detail.

6. There are no dumb questions. Failing to ask a perceived “dumb” question is simply a failure on your part to seek clear direction. Without the proper understanding of a problem, you cannot provide a viable solution.

7. Treat people firmly but fairly. Don’t avoid difficult discussions, but do avoid condescending tones – and don’t make it personal when confronting someone with constructive criticism. Remember the Golden Rule: How would I want to be treated in this situation?

8. Be a calming force. Unfortunately, conflict and construction can go hand in hand. Stay ahead of potentially explosive situations with analytical problem solving, proactive communication and servant leadership.

9. Negotiate fairly with subcontractors and vendors. Don’t beat them up on the front end, because it will come back to bite you. Subcontractors will start to avoid GCs who are too cheap, focused only on price and don’t pay on time.

10. Be assertive. Don’t be afraid to respectfully push back if you feel a subcontractor or owner is trying to steamroll you. Sometimes, they might not even realize what they’re doing.

11. Earn respect. This can be a tough lesson for many superintendents and project managers, but it’s more important to be respected than it is to be liked. Friendships will flourish over time if people genuinely respect you first.

12. Ego kills. Be confident in your abilities, but stay humble and don’t get a big head. As my son’s high school wrestling coach once said, “Don’t think less of yourself; just think of yourself less often.”

13. Maintain mental toughness. After falling down (and you will), how well will you get back up and dust yourself off? Have a short memory with mistakes, and treat them as learning opportunities.

14. Be politely persistent and question authority. If you always take no for an answer, you won’t last long in this business. Let’s say you’re dealing with a local government’s building department. Some reviewers make the same comments and reject plans regardless if the required code information is included in the drawings. Push back and hold civil servants accountable, but do it respectfully.

15. Time is money. It pays to be highly motivated to solve problems, stay on schedule and avoid unnecessary costs. The more scheduling that is done ahead of time – as a collaborative effort among the project manager, superintendent and subcontractors – the better the project will go.

16. Appreciate your employees. Research by Gallup shows that 70 percent of workers are “disengaged” from their jobs – often because they don’t feel valued. Go out of your way to show an attitude of gratitude.

17. Be a sponge. Because our industry is so broad, it offers ever-changing opportunities for learning and personal growth. Soak up wisdom from more experienced leaders – and know that soon you’ll be in a position to help the next generation start their own journey.

Todd Andrew is president and owner of Andrew General Contractors, a full-service Orlando-based firm he started in 1996 after nine years of management and operational experience in the construction industry. Andrew GC specializes in commercial ground-up construction, interior buildouts and renovations. He can be reached at [email protected] 

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