BMJ Stone
EZG Manufacturing
Federated Insurance
Fraco USA, Inc.
Hohmann and Barnard, Inc.
Hydro Mobile, Inc.
iQ Power Tools
Kennison Forest Products, Inc.
Mortar Net Solutions
Non-Stop Scaffolding
Pullman Ermator
Tradesmen's Software, Inc.
September 12, 2005 8:09 AM CDT

A Contractor's Guide to Surviving Opportunity


Too many contractors do too much extra work for free. The reason? They don't get paid because they don't ask properly. And for today's session, asking properly doesn't just mean saying "please." But, we'll come back to this in a minute.

So, what's all this talk about a "session"? First off, the session is held right here, every month, in the pages of one of your favorite magazines. But this session is unlike any class you've ever taken. It's a coaching session - a nuts-and-bolts, meat-and-potatoes kind of a time together. It's like a class, only without all of the fluff. And instead of being your professor, I'll be your coach. Instead of a PowerPoint presentation, you'll get more of a "chalk talk." And at the end of my talk every month, you'll be introduced to a "guest coach" from an all-star team of coaches who will draw up a strategy you can put to use. Not unlike sports, we'll talk offense and defense - both of which are crucial to good project management. And, when appropriate, I'll give you a page for your "playbook." The first one lists 10 things a Project Manager needs to do today. It's free, and you can get it at

Today's session began with my proclamation that too many contractors do way too much work for free, and I stand by that statement. But before one of our team members disagrees, answer this question: How much work did you "donate" last year to your clients? If it was zero, that's good. If, however, you are like most contractors, there will be several zeros preceded by a whole number, and that's not so good.

Because this is an important meeting, please take notes. There will be a test given by your clients afterward, and failing this test is not an option.

This coaching session comes with a guarantee, and it's ironclad.

Your Part
Attend each team meeting here every month, and just pick up on one or more ideas that you like. Implement it, not because I say so, but because it makes sense to you, and it seems likely to work in your own business. Maybe you've heard the same things before, from your friends, a sub or a supplier. Your gut will tell you two things: it'll take some work on your part, but it'll probably also work for you. Implement at least one idea for at least three months and see if it doesn't put thousands of dollars back into your pocket.

My Part
If it doesn't work or is a waste of time, I'll send a free copy of my upcoming book to your toughest competitor.

Read my articles, as well as the others in this magazine that apply to you, and you'll revolutionize your business. You'll earn a "practical" master's degree in the business of masonry construction, and you'll become a more valuable player on your team.

Now, let's get back to the task at hand ...

Know, Know, Know - Yes, Yes, Yes!
Simple message: know your scope of work; know your plans and specs; know your rights and remedies. That's the beginning of knowing how to ask properly. And here's why: before we can talk about the whole concept of getting paid for extra work, let's understand some definitions and establish some basics.

What is extra work? Most contractors would answer that it's work that is not a part of their base contract. What's your answer?

Full Contact Project Management says that, at best, that answer is just OK. A better answer is: "extra work is actually work that wasn't included in the bid, is going to be performed, and somebody will pay for it." For the purposes of our class discussion, let's agree that we want to be the payee, not the payor!

Why is this definition important? Because extra work doesn't only mean, for example, the cost of adding a vapor barrier. It needs to include a careful analysis of what's included in the building. Is that what the plans and specs showed? Was there any vapor barrier included? Did the specs say that a vapor barrier "may" be included, or "shall" be included? An important distinction, and we'll come back to that in another class.

At virtually every pre-construction meeting I've ever attended, the subject of change orders is addressed - RFIs, approvals, processing, payment, etc. And this is normally where the owner's representative feels obligated to say something like "But there aren't going to be any change orders, right?" He's nice about it, he smiles big, and everybody laughs. Why? Here's the reality:

  • The owner is pressing for no changes.
  • The architect is praying for no changes.
  • And, the construction manager has already promised the owner that there will be no changes.

Because - are you ready - they all believe that your bid includes everything, even the stuff they know they inadvertently left out, but hope you'll catch and fix for free.

On the other hand, here's the way it usually works: you are sitting there, probably thinking to yourself something like, "Man, I'm way too cheap already, and I didn't include anything for contingencies." And even if your bid is "fat" on this job, only you know that fact because it's a closely guarded secret. Besides, you were selected on the basis of your good looks and your low bid, right?

With this background out of the way, we can now proceed with how we ask for what is rightfully ours.

We are never confrontational, but we are always confident. What's the difference? Confrontational people are scared, bitter, ineffective, "shout and bang the table" kind of people, and others don't like dealing with them.

Our team members, however, are confident, because we know the job, the documents (contract, plans and specs, codes), and which document takes precedence. We know what our hard costs are and what we have budgeted for our own contingencies. We know how to address perceived changes in scope of work. We know that, properly presented, the owner will agree with us most of the time because we are right, and we are backed up by a little bit of legal knowledge as well as the documents the owner wrote for the project. People like dealing with confident contractors.

So know your scope of work; know your plans and specs; and know your rights and remedies.

About the Author

Gary Micheloni is a working project manager, speaker, author, consultant and coach. He has severals years of industry experience, including a background as a licensed general engineering contractor. For further information and insight on the Full Contact Project Management approach, write Coach Gary at

Copyright © 2005, Gary Micheloni and Full Contact Project Management


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