Successful Contractor Tips: Learning from Your Mistakes

Successful Contractor Tips: Learning from Your Mistakes

Written by Diane Calabrese | Published June 2024

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Seventeen? Five? Choose a number. Online search engines churn up lists of everything, including things that make a contractor successful. But perhaps it’s possible to settle on one trait: Determination.

Being resolute and unwavering is a must for achieving success. It’s worth considering, though, what exactly constitutes success.

“There are a lot of traits that business owners need to build a company, like determination, adaptability, and resourcefulness, but being successful really depends on the person and their vision,” says Henry Bockman, president of PowerWashCompany.com in Germantown, MD. The uniqueness of vision encompasses what a contractor wants to accomplish.

“What success is and how it is measured may vary,” explains Bockman. “A lot of contractors think success is owning a company that grosses over a million dollars a year.”

The seven-figure perspective needs to be tempered, however. “That sounds great, but if your net profit is five percent and you’re working 12 hours a day, six days a week, then you might be a lot happier getting a regular nine to five job and avoiding the risks of running a company,” says Bockman.

“There are a lot of small owner operated companies that are more profitable than companies with five trucks and seven employees,” explains Bockman. Each contractor must establish the configuration that works best for him or her.

“What is success?” is a question that Bockman poses in a philosophical way. “I think many new companies have a dollar figure in mind, but I think that work-life balance and being happy are more important,” he says.

Everyone, even the most successful contractor, is on a learning curve. Methods and products change. So, too, do surfaces and regulations.

Successful contractors not only keep learning but also commit themselves to learning from doing. And part of the doing is interacting with customers in a consistently positive way.

“Being personable and building relationships with clients will enable contractors to build loyal clients that are less likely to switch to another contractor with lower prices,” says Bockman. “Also, learning from mistakes and creating systems that prevent errors from happening again is extremely important.”

A never-made-an-error contractor? It doesn’t happen. Bockman explains that everyone makes mistakes. And he emphasizes that the most important thing is to be certain a particular error never happens again. Learn from each experience.

Fair Play Of Turn Around

Contractors can get quite a good idea of what their customers want by turning the question around. From roof or HVAC replacement to bathroom or kitchen remodeling, every contractor in our industry has had experience hiring a contractor.

It doesn’t matter which project a contractor handles as the expectations of customers are the same. Customers want a good result at a price they can afford. And it’s a given they don’t want anything damaged in the process or an indefinite or endlessly extended timeline.

Competent, trustworthy, and efficient are traits of successful contractors that transcend any industry. Even if a customer knows nothing about power washing, the customer will know something is amiss if they observe any sign of cavalier activity.

A little thing like a member of the team who is not in the best mood and raises a voice can worry a customer. Politeness must be the norm on every jobsite.

Politeness and professionalism should be one and the same. A customer who asks for too much or who has unrealistic expectations may be exasperating, but politeness must govern all interactions.

Perhaps a contractor will say to himself or herself, “I’ll never take another job for this individual.” Just don’t say the quiet part aloud. Neighbors may be watching and listening.

Word-of-mouth (and direct observation) referrals remain one of the best forms of advertising in high-density suburban areas where there is keen competition for contractors. Before spending on boosting returns in search engines, be sure to polish cordial interaction skills.

Successful contractors say a quick hello (good morning, good afternoon) to passersby. They avoid disruption of any kind to neighboring properties. In all actions, they just do the little things that get them noticed and draw positive responses.

Contractors who have no county license number on their vehicles or who have totes and equipment toppling out of a van door that opens to a jumbled mess get noticed too. A neat and orderly vehicle signals to prospective customers that the contractor will work in a methodical way.

Focus. It’s become a wearisome word. Still, it’s an important trait for a contractor.

Perhaps a power-washing contractor is fully ambidextrous and can manage a smartphone in one hand and a wand in the other. But customers want to see a focused individual.

Rules Followed

Successful contractors know and scrupulously follow the local, state, and federal regulations that apply to them. They may also be subject to another layer of regulations from HOAs [homeowners’ associations].

Consumers get a lot of advice from various regulators. They also have a lot of recourse if they want to pursue a complaint. A complaint can hold up payment to a contractor.

Get it in writing. That’s an operative phrase for consumers and for contractors. The idea is that all things will be mutually agreed before a project begins, so what could go wrong?

As we know, things can always go wrong. Just because customers sign a contract laden with protective boilerplate language for a contractor does not mean they have read the contract. That’s a problem.

Successful contractors try to sort out and emphasize the essential points of a contract in a space tailored to a customer. This is what will be done. This is what will not be done.

Successful contractors never overpromise. A roof will not look new after soft washing; but soft washing will remove dirt and mold, and the roof will look better.

Working with residential and small commercial clients differs from working with large commercial and industrial clients. The large commercial and industrial clients, which typically bid out work, will specify exactly what they want done and very often how they want it done (right down to specific equipment to be used).

There’s an investment of time in obtaining large contracts in the form of documentation and the uncertainty of the competitive bidding process. There’s also an investment of time in providing estimates to residential and small commercial customers, but it’s usually much, much less.

Smaller customers require a different kind of investment of time. That’s time to sort through what they want. Not all customers are as easy to read as others.

There’s an adage about public speaking: Assess the audience (“read the room”), and peg the presentation to that audience.

A successful contractor does not use a script but has the ability to tailor presentations to customers. No time will be wasted on giving customers who have a clear-cut idea what they want and will pay an agreed upon price for that service information they do not want.

On the other hand, a successful contractor is ready to use concision and persuasion to expedite interactions with the customers who are vague about what they want. Even more time-consuming are prospects who are wholly unrealistic about the results they can expect or the cost of services.

To be successful, a contractor must be prepared to say, “That can’t be done.”

Regulating authorities, which again we recall likely include layers of government levels, will define some parameters. Licensed contractors know the rules they must meet, rules that often establish limits for them.

For example, one-third of the payment may be due when a contract is signed, another one-third when a job commences, and the final one-third on completion of the job. That’s a typical local government rule.

A customer usually has a short interval of time—48 hours or so—to back out of a contract. In some localities, older people (e.g., 60 or 65-plus) get a longer interval of time (e.g., a full week) during which they can void the contract. Contractors must make sure a written agreement is in effect before starting work.


Successful contractors are aware. They are situationally aware on the jobsite. They are also aware of the impact the online world has on their business.

Many businesses post comments from satisfied customers on their websites. All well and good, but who is going to post a comment from a dissatisfied customer? Business consolidator sites also post reviews from customers, satisfied or not. Consumers know how the system works and sift through comments looking for something concrete.

Prospective clients look for details, such as how plants were protected and how the equipment looked and sounded. In states where license holders are listed online, they also check to make certain a contractor has a license and that there have been no lapses because of problems.

Above all, successful contractors know each job involves a positive interaction between the contractor and the property owner. When the job is completed, the contractor nets an appropriate sum, and the property owner is satisfied.

Successful contractors build on those positive interactions, stacking one upon the other. Determination day in and day out

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