In the construction industry, cash flow is essential to staying viable in a competitive market. Even some of the most profitable construction firms have gone out of business because of poor cash flow management.
Perhaps the reason cash flow is so difficult in construction is that by the time a job is awarded, significant resources have already been invested into it – from the time spent on the lengthy bidding process, to manpower on the job site, to purchasing materials and renting equipment. Often, these expense are incurred months before ever seeing a payment.
How well your company is doing financially may not be an accurate reflection of what money you have in your bank account. You may be over-billed on a project, so it is important to understand how to manage the project properly – so you have money to pay expenses when the time comes.
Contractors with the best understanding of cost and schedule will be the most successful. Having an accurate picture of your labor and material costs allows you to bid competitively and stay profitable.
Successful contractors manage their cash flow on a daily basis. They have a system in place that allows them to access job information in an organized fashion. They have access to accurate work-in-progress and percent-complete reports. They know, with confidence, where each job stands.
That success begins with a solid job costing structure.
Job costing can manage jobs more thoroughly.
As the CEO, you may know the overall financial health of your construction company, but you also want to make sure that each job is holding its own to support the cash flow of the business. Jobs should be broken down into activities (labor, materials, subs) and/or phases so that you can compare real costs against the budget. A solid job costing structure allows you to manage each job more thoroughly because you are able to see where gains (and losses) are happening and plan accordingly.
Job costing allows you to spot potential issues early on.
It is important to know where each job stands, and to do this we need to have accurate “Work in Progress” and “Percent Complete” reports. If you’ve only done 25 percent of the work but you have spent half the budget, you need a red flag alert that will make you aware of the problem. Jobs go off-course for a variety of reasons, but diagnosing and correcting them early minimizes the loss and goes a long way toward making the job as profitable as possible.
Job costing generates accurate estimates.
One of the easiest ways a construction firm can lose money is through the estimating process. When you start with a poor estimate, you are immediately beginning a project with a deficit, and you might spend the entire job trying to dig your way out of it. You can generate accurate estimates by using historical data for calculating labor rates.
Imagine your estimator is bidding a job using $45 per hour as your fully-burdened labor rate, but historically over the last 12 months, that rate has actually been $46 per hour. With a solid job costing system in place, this information is available to help you create solid estimates.
Job costing creates better work schedules.
Unproductive labor is one of the top reasons jobs lose money, and inaccurate job schedules can cause work stoppages. As a project manager, you want to allocate your labor properly so you can meet or conserve your labor budget. Say you were planning to have five workers on the job site for the next five weeks, but then you realize that you are ahead of schedule and only need four. Job costing allows you to see whether you are ahead of or behind schedule and plan your labor intelligently.
Job costing gives you the “fade and gain” comparison.
Every job has a natural flow to it. A job that is a little bit behind in the beginning can catch up midway, but contractors need to know where they stand at all times. When a solid job cost structure is implemented, you can see the flow come into focus and be better equipped to track the “fade and gain.”
In construction, managing cash flow begins with a solid job cost structure that can detect and help prevent huge cash flow mishaps. Get more job costing tips by viewing our webinar, “How to Optimize Your Profits through Job Costing.”