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The 5 greatest job risk factors
By Monroe Porter

By nature, contracting is a risk. Risk might be defined as the potential exposure to loss or danger. Life itself is a risk. One of my favorite jokes is about the guy who went to the doctor and was diagnosed as terminally ill.

He told the doctor, “That can’t be. I don’t drink, I never go out, I am a health nut, and I sleep 10 hours a night.” The doctor replies, “I’m sorry you are definitely terminal.” He replies, “But I meditate 2 hours a day, I am a vegetarian, I’m a virgin, and I take no risks of any kind.” The doctor replies, “Then why should you care?”

Like anything else, risk management might be most effective when undertaken in moderation but there are things you can do to reduce your liability.

Through my years of being a consultant, I have found that risks fall into 2 categories: general business risk and job risk. General risks are things such as death, disability, natural disasters, theft, auto accidents, computer backup failure, etc. A good accountant, financial planner or estate lawyer can probably provide you with a checklist that can prove very helpful in these areas. For this article I am going to focus on job risks and how to avoid them.

Each and every time a contractor bids a job, he or she is taking on risk. You are gambling on the weather, that the customer is reasonable and will pay, that your guys will show up, etc. Such constant exposure can make contractors believe they are immune to job risks and no matter what, they will persevere.

Most contractors tend to take jobs they should not take by turning a deaf ear to that gut feeling that is warning them not to take the job. Entrepreneurs by nature believe they will conquer and win. Such fearlessness is one of the things I love about contractors. However, blind enthusiasm can also create unnecessary risk.

Here are the 5 factors I believe represent the greatest risk to any job:
1. The customer

Is it a high demanding or an unknown customer? Few contractors check customer references or perform a credit check. Some customers are unreasonable and demand things that cannot be done. Others are simply crooks and plan not to pay. A quick background check or look at local lawsuits may save you a lot of grief. If a customer is going to take advantage of you, you are probably not his or her first victim.

With residential consumers, make sure you use a sound, professional contract that has been put together by a construction lawyer. Unfortunately, many of the commercial contracts put together by general contractors or other parties are weighted against you. Know your lien rights and be wary of what you sign. And always remember, if it is too good to be true, it probably is.

2. Job size

Large jobs always have the potential for big losses as well as big profits. Big jobs are always exciting but also risky. Always ask yourself, “What happens if I don’t get paid on 30% of this job or can I take the hit if it loses big?” Remember that a large job also impacts other jobs as your attention and production capacity are drawn away.

3. Project manager/foreman

Is job management inexperienced or do they have experience with this type of job? There is a shortage of good foremen everywhere. A new foreman may do great on a certain type or size of job and then fail miserably when assigned to something else. When assigning foremen to a new task, make sure management keeps an eye on things and makes it easy to offer assistance. Don’t assume field and project management will ask for help when they get in over their head.

4. Experience

Experience is a wonderful teacher but at times it can be a very expensive education. Have you done this type of work in the past and have a core competency in this area? Expanding into a new trade or additional service always includes risk. Extra care should be made to measure the product, plan the job, monitor the job and stay on top of things. Try to assign a foreman who is creative, enjoys learning new things and can adapt to the situation.

5. Degree of difficulty

Does the job have unique or difficult challenges? How many people do you have that are good at this type of work? Complicated work can be very profitable as you may have been able to sell it at a higher price because competitors were frightened by it. However, you can also lose big. Even if you have the expertise, you still can be challenged by an over demanding schedule, job-site conditions, weather, etc. If you get behind, it is difficult to catch up if the skills required are complex and tedious.

Monroe Porter
None of the above risk factors in itself is a deal breaker. But if too many of these factors add up, you might want to say “no.” Let’s see … a large job with a tough customer, unique challenges, doing a new type of work, and you have a new foreman or project manager to run it. Sounds pretty insane to me. Remember, the job you did not take never kept you up at night or cost you money.

Monroe Porter is president of PROOF Management Consultants, a company specializing in seminars, and business consulting for contractors. He is also founder of PROSULT™ Networking Groups developed to help noncompeting contractors. Call (804) 267-1688, email Monroe@Proofman.com or visit Proofman.com.