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Construction EmployeesLast February we wrote an article titled “Are You Worth It?“. The gist of the article was recognizing the value you provide so you can fight through the discomfort of asking a fair price for your work.

We received a note afterward:

Great article, I do disagree with two points. “You aren’t in business to employ others.” Without the others you would not have a business.

It’s true that employees are important, to your business and/or to your subs who get your jobs built. But they aren’t the reason you’re in business. You’re in business to provide a service and make a profit doing it.

Too many business owners measure their success by their number of employees rather than their profitability. That’s backwards. You have a successful business if you’re making a profit. If you have a lot of employees but aren’t making a profit, your employees are successful. You aren’t.

When you listen to the safety information flight attendants provide on an airplane, they tell you that if the oxygen masks are deployed, put on your own mask first. It goes against human nature; if you’re traveling with someone who needs your assistance, you want to help them first. The problem is that if you help them with their mask but don’t have enough oxygen yourself, you might not survive. If you take care of your own oxygen first, you’ll both survive.

The same applies to your business. Your business has to be profitable if you want to survive. Your success has to come first. In the long term, your employees won’t be successful unless you’re profitable.

I’m not anti-employee. I’ve said many times that your employees should be the top paid construction-related employees in your area. Business owners who take good care of their employees can get their jobs built better, with fewer problems, than those who nickel-and-dime the ones doing the work.

On the other hand, we have a number of coaching clients with no employees. They also do quite well getting jobs built with subs. It’s a matter of choice, and both options are reasonable as long as the business is profitable.

Our article also stated, “Business is a risk, and you’re the one taking that risk, not your clients and not your employees.” Their comment:

I feel that long time employees take a risk as well. We work with you to make sure the company grows and the older we get the riskier it is, as you get older it is harder to find employment.

I’ll agree that employees are at risk, but the owner risks far more than any or all of their employees combined. They can’t just give two weeks’ notice and go to work for someone else. Well, they can, but they’ll still have to pay the business debts or file for bankruptcy.

If you’ve been in construction for more than a week, you know construction is a risky business. It’s cyclical; depending on where you’re located you might have more work in the summer than in the winter. It’s also subject to changes in the economy or changes in the interest rate, and when that happens, employees lose their jobs. My grandfather, who had a residential construction business from about 1915 to 1932, told me many stories about the ups and downs he experienced during his business days. Things haven’t changed. If you want a job without risk, almost any other industry would be a better fit.

It’s true that the older we get, the more difficult it is to find a job. That said, it applies to both unemployed employees and unemployed owners whose businesses have failed. The difference is that the owner still has to pay the debts from their failed business.

Bottom line: You’re in business to provide a service and make a profit doing it. If you want to stay in business, you have to be profitable. If you’re the business owner, you’re the one who has to make it happen, with or without employees.

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