Real-Time Labor Costs Improve Your Bottom Line

Real Time ReportingAny contractor knows that successful project management hinges on labor. That’s not to say that smart material purchases and inventory control don’t also play a role in job profitability. However, unproductive labor will always kill profit, which is why knowing your real-time labor costs can improve your bottom line.

Traditionally, labor costs have been notoriously difficult to track because of the time lapse between what was happening in the field versus what your office records reflected. It wasn’t that long ago when, if a project manager wanted to know the job progress, he had to look at the last payroll processed – which could be a week old or more. While this was good information for the time, it certainly wasn’t accurate.

Thankfully, technology has revolutionized how contractors manage labor – and the overall job. Today, project managers can get real-time labor costs that tie into their construction accounting software, like ComputerEase.

In the construction industry – where customer expectations are high, profit margins are slim and the pace is faster than ever – you need labor costs on a daily basis to make informed decisions. Today, you don’t have to wait until the paperwork is turned in; you have technology to help you.

Field-to-OfficeTimesheets, daily logs, change orders and job costs can all be captured from the field so you know what’s happening at all times. Mobile devices with internet access can transmit data from the field directly to your accounting system in the home office, eliminating the double-entry problem.

When a real-time field-to-office solution is set up, you can manage a job from anywhere. Imagine a workplace where your crew is out in the field during the day, and by night you know who worked on what job, what tasks they performed and even what equipment was used. It really is that simple when you have the right system in place.

Learn more about our real-time solution, FieldEase.

Common Errors in Converting to New Construction Accounting Software

Napkin Floor PlanA great writer once said, “Beginnings are always messy,” and this is often true in the construction industry. Some of our most trying events happen at the beginning of a new project, which can make the whole project messy from day one. However, with the proper plan, potential pitfalls can usually be avoided.

The same can be said for implementing new construction accounting software. Contractors often hesitate investing in a more efficient system – not because of the cost, but because of the anticipated pain associated with a conversion.

However, many of the errors can be avoided when you apply what you know about running a successful and profitable construction project to converting to a new accounting system. Here are some of the most common errors and how to avoid them:

Error #1: Beginning Without a Plan

Make a PlanApproach this conversion the same way you would approach a construction job – with a solid plan – and tap into the resources of your software provider to develop a logical implementation strategy. They’ve helped hundreds of other clients before you, so allow them to be your trusted partner throughout this process.

Error #2: Not Defining Success

Success is more than simply having the system up and running. Look deeper. What procedures aren’t working with your current accounting software and how can those be improved? Is there too much time wasted in duplicate efforts? Do you want work-in-progress (WIP) reports at the ready? Identify those tangible measurements of success at the onset of this conversion.

Error #3: No Project Manager Assigned

You wouldn’t begin a new job without a project manager (PM) so don’t start a software transition without one. Dedicate a person from your firm as the PM and request a point-person from the accounting software provider, too. Ultimately, those two will be the ones to champion this changeover from start to finish.

Error #4: Doing It the Way It’s Always Been Done

The reason for converting to new accounting software is to increase productivity and profitability, so it is important to review old procedures and make adjustments. Spend the time up front to establish a more standardized and logical coding structure for your jobs, chart of accounts, customers and so forth. Setting up a master job cost code structure, for instance, will allow you to compare data across jobs.

Error #5: Migrating Outdated Information

Before migrating your existing data to the new system, review all your records. Eliminate duplicate vendors, evaluate outstanding items, and archive old employee information. Once your data is clean, develop a procedure for how and when to approach this moving forward – so you avoid this scenario in the future.

Error #6: Not Approaching The Transition in Phases

Converting to a new construction accounting system should be approached in phases, just as you would a job. Map out each phase and timeframe. Using this tactic will keep your staff from feeling overwhelmed as you move forward because you are giving them time to learn the basics before adding more complex functionality.

Error #7: Overlooking Ongoing Training

TrainingYour staff will get the best understanding of how to use the new accounting software from experience, and there will probably be some frustration along the way. Don’t stop after the initial training. Instead, allocate funds for ongoing training – say every three months – for that initial year. Not only will this trouble-shoot any issues, but as your team’s familiarity of the system increases, ongoing training will increase their knowledge base and overall efficiency. Over time, this will enable them to utilize the software to its maximum ability.

The beginning of anything new is always a bit messy, but change is necessary for growth. When you set expectations early on and approach implementation with a solid strategy, you’ll avoid common errors, decrease frustration and be on the path to greater profitability and efficiency for your business.

To learn more about ComputerEase construction accounting software, take a tour to see our full-range of capabilities.

6 Ways Construction Jobs Lose Money to Unproductive Labor

Kenwood Town CenterTo appreciate how construction firms can make a greater profit on projects, you first need to recognize that one of the most common way to lose money is with unproductive labor. Downtime, overtime and reworking a project will kill profits – and oftentimes, morale.

However, when management and the field work together to reduce costs, you can beat the labor budget and complete the project on time or ahead of schedule. Not only does this make the project more profitable, it also makes everyone proud to be a part of such a successful project.

Here are the six most common ways construction projects get hit by unproductive labor:

1. Sloppy documentation – If a job isn’t well documented and organized, things get missed. Schedules get jammed, materials and equipment aren’t delivered when they are needed, and crews are standing around. All of this results in lost production, unproductive labor – and lost profits.

2. No job schedule – Job schedules change, but you still need a plan to manage the job. The easiest way to lose money on a job is to fly by the seat of your pants and be in reaction mode. Map out the job from start to finish, and then fine-tune the plan in small increments (about once every 2 weeks). This strategy is fluid enough to adjust, yet solid enough to keep the project on schedule.

Construction Site in the Snow3. Weather – You can’t control Mother Nature, but you should be documenting weather-related issues and delays in your daily log. You also need to communicate these hold-ups with others who need to know so the schedule is adjusted accordingly.

4. Miscommunication – In the construction industry, it is important to have good external communications with architects, owners, general contractors and subs, but good communication skills always start internally. If your staff isn’t communicating with each other, mistakes happen. Everyone should understand the common goal of making the projects as profitable as possible and appreciate how their role benefits the overall health of the company.

5. Inaccurate job cost history – A crucial element of developing a solid estimate is knowing production rates and the cost of labor. How much is your fully-burdened labor rate? How many feet of pipe can you run per hour? Don’t guess. You should have access to past history from your job costing report. When you don’t use historical data to estimate, the bid you won can quickly turn into a company loss.

6. Resources not available – The quickest route to unproductive labor is to have guys standing around because equipment or materials aren’t available. To make sure you have the right resources at the job when they’re needed, you need to manage the project with organizational skills, good communication and an accurate job schedule.

So how do construction jobs make money?

By addressing all these common mistakes – which all revolve around having an accurate job costing report. When you have an accurate picture of the job, you know:

  • Work in progress and where your resources are being used compared to where you allocated them.
  • Project costs to calculate if your project is on target with the estimate.
  • Labor analysis to determine if your labor hours are on target with the estimate.
  • Unit productivity so you can see if you are completing the work at the pace you estimated.

When you have solid construction accounting software in place, the ways in which construction jobs lose money become more visible – which means you can adjust and fix any issues quicker. You are more organized, which makes you better equipped to schedule jobs. This leads to better communication and more productive labor. The only thing that job costing still can’t control is the weather.

Find more job costing tips in our webinar, “How to Optimize Your Profits through Job Costing.”

Prevent Major Construction Losses with a Solid Job Costing Structure

Have a PlanIn 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.
Spot Issues EarlyIt 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.”

3 of the Most Deadly Job Cost Mistakes You Can Make

Most contractors start out having the owner act as the project manager on jobs, which makes it easy to oversee a job and make sure nothing is going terribly wrong. With success and growth, the “owner as PM” model starts to become unrealistic, and deadly mistakes start to crop up. Some problems are minor, but some are deadly to your bottom line. Here are the deadliest mistakes, and how to avoid them:

3. Using a Cost-to-Cost Method for Work-in-Progress Reports

If you’ve incurred $50,000 in costs on a $100,000 bid item, does that mean the item is 50% complete? Not necessarily. Yet many contractors make this mistaken assumption, leading bonding companies and bankers to be on the lookout for it. The amount of cost incurred often has nothing to do with how far along a job is. Sharp contractors know that unexpected costs arise, so measuring their percent complete by cost is probably the worst method.

Avoid this mistake by using units in place or an estimate of hours needed to complete, or anything other than cost when you’re drafting a work-in-progress report. Once you know the estimated percentage of completion, you can recalculated the estimate by adding actual costs to date to the projected cost derived by your informed estimate. With projected costs, you can know what your profit is likely to be when the job is complete.

2. Not Knowing Where You Stand on a Job

If you’re a project manager and you don’t know where you stand on a job, you may be under the false assumption that all is well, your job is on track, and you’re making money. Your estimator has a responsibility to give you a break down of the hours and units used in his estimate so that you can project the hours to complete. For example, if the estimate is to complete 1000 square feet in 500 hours and you’ve completed 500 square feet in 300 hours, you could be running 20% behind schedule and not even know it. If you use projected job cost calculations, you will know the status of your jobs before the end, when it would be too late to do anything about it.

1. Not Using Projected Job Cost Estimates

Job Cost eBook

9 Deadly Job Cost Mistakes

You’ve probably realized at this point that there’s a common thread in these deadly mistakes – job cost estimates. The importance of job cost estimates cannot be overstated. If you’re calculating your profit and loss without an accurate job cost estimate, your profit projection is just plain wrong. If you’re going to know anything about what your profits will be by the end of a job, you need to use projected job cost estimates.

To learn more about projected job costs and what other deadly mistakes you should avoid, check out 9 Deadly Job Cost Mistakes by Bob Mattlin, CPA, founder and owner of ComputerEase. You can request a free copy of the ebook on the ComputerEase website!