An owner's place is in the office

I started my company in 1985 as a guy with a tool belt. I worked a 40-hour week in the field and spent another 15 hours on paperwork, returning phone calls, and meeting with clients. Then I happened upon a wonderful employee, Hoa Nguyen, who freed me up to do a little less in the field and more in the office.

Over the years, I added another employee or two but stayed mostly in production until three years ago. At that point, we relocated the office out of the home and into a shop/office/storage venue, and my wife Lisa joined as full-time office and marketing administrator. Business Networks encouraged me to move from production into management. The final coup de grace came when I hired a project manager. So I changed my focus from craft to sales and service. Now, most of my days are filled with estimating, sales, and meetings. But I'm still managing projects, training our project manager, and maintaining quality control.

Making the move

If you are considering a change from production to office, I strongly encourage a slow transition. Keep visiting the jobsites and throwing on that tool belt, but designate a fixed number of hours and stick to that amount. Also, hiring a production manager will force you to make more sales.

When you move away from production, your time is well used going over job costs, profit and loss, and sales volume. Just as important is the need to set goals, network, and join professional organizations. Getting out in front of your business to guide it is the best place to be if you want it to grow.

--Steve Schliff, On The Beam Remodeling, Oakland, Calif., Big 50 2002

The field is dreamy

In the infancy of my remodeling business, I spent eight hours a day in the field and did office work on the side. As the business grew, I had to spend more time in the office. But I realized I was not happy. I need to be a part of the creative process on the ground level rather than from the guard tower.

Yet if I didn't pay attention to the dollars and cents of the business as well as paperwork, taxes, record keeping, etc., the business I was building would soon crumble. I decided to do both.

I hired a bookkeeper with construction experience to relieve me of my payroll and tax duties. I also set up a portable office. All larger jobsites have a dedicated phone line with a fax/printer. I can handle banking, exchange e-mails, set up appointments, and verify deliveries and orders. With few exceptions, there isn't much I can't do in the field.

Best of both worlds

Now I spend 50% of my time wearing a tool belt and working alongside very capable employees. We use the project manager system and I am careful not to take away the power I have entrusted in them. It is a time for mentoring, training, and teaching. It is also the best time to find out what's going on in the lives of those who are responsible for the success of my business: my employees. This daily contact builds trust and loyalty -- things that cannot be done in an office or company meeting setting.

My relationships with my bookkeeper, banker, suppliers, subcontractors, inspectors, and clients are crucial to our continued success. Being in the field with them also lets me keep track of their businesses.

--Rick Hjelm, CR, CGR, Phase II Contractor, Lakewood, Wash., Big 50 2002