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Thursday, September 20, 2007

Success, again, is in your current client relations
I'm travelling today and tomorrow -- today I visited a successful general contractor in a relatively rural area of Southwestern Ontario; then travelled to a resort north of Toronto to attend part of the Ready Mixed Contractors Association of Ontario convention. Research and writing for these events will consume my energies for the next couple of days, so blogging will be lighter than normal (at least until Sunday).
But I want to share with you right now the powerful impressions I received at that general contractor -- where they are ready to take risks and expand their knowledge in areas of specialized expertise, but where they thrive because of their solid and natural client relationships.
When you work out in a relatively rural area, and want to do most of your business within a 100km radius of your office, you are not going to thrive by specializing in a narrow type of business niche -- you need to be a 'generalist' within your geography. And this means doing stuff that is often done by specialists; like water treatment plants, multi-story condo buildings, hospitals, and the like.
Now this diversification of course contains the seeds of both risk and opportunity -- risk in getting over your head in areas where you don't have competence; and opportunity, because you become relatively immune from market downturns because even in the most difficult times at least some of your knowledge/services will be in demand.
But how can you manage the risks effectively? Great relationships, is the answer.
For example, your project superintendent is so well liked on a conventional low-bid-wins-the-job project that the client, to avoid having to work with anyone else, accepts your proposal for a design-bid initiative.
Then your client has a job that requires expertise not in your normal range of skills. But you have an inside track; you can explain frankly to your client how you will overcome your lack of previous experience, and assure the client that if anything snags along the way, you will fix it. Your client trusts you, and gives the go-ahead.
So, next problem, you really don't know much about the specialized function. But you've conducted yourself properly previously with designers, architects, engineers, and consultants. Would they be willing to help guide you through the first job -- which, as it progresses, you can co-ordinate with your own understanding of the contracting business?
In other words, by really treating your clients right, you will understand the single most construction industry marketing lesson you can learn here or anywhere else. Great relationships, really incredible service, absolute integrity, and true sensitivity to the needs of your current clients will give you the edge in jobs and projects that, in a purely hard-ball environment, you wouldn't have a chance in a million to win.
And so the rural contractor grows at a comfortable, planned rate, year after year, and 'markets' through respect and integrity.
P.S. To write my story, I asked for testimonials. Within two minutes, the administrative assistant had brought out an inch-thick stack. This company has obviously earned its clients' respect -- and also knows that it is important to ask for testimonials when the job is well done.

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