Money Matters

New Year’s resolutions for subcontractors and how to keep them

The new year is a time for celebration, but for subcontractors, it’s also a time to reflect on the successes and failures of yesteryear and ask how they can do things better next year. After the champagne, cocktails, and midnight celebration, you’ll find these folks alone on rooftop terraces, in offices and studies, and in libraries and quiet bedrooms, dealing with the new year’s tough questions. Below, I offer you New Year’s resolutions for subcontractors and how to keep them.

How can I make more money this year? How can I make this year less stressful than the last one? What decisions can I make that will grow my business? What tools can I use to improve productivity?

New Year’s resolutions turn these humble reflections into plans of action for the future, and each year thousands of subcontractors set the right intentions and achieve more success than ever before. Here are the most popular resolutions for subcontractors and how to keep them throughout the year.

This year I will get a head start on my taxes

Tax time can be an immense headache for the unprepared subcontractor, and it’s well worth it to be proactive about keeping your books in order in advance of tax time. In addition, it’s important to accurately project your yearly income and engage in tax planning ahead of time, and that means saving enough money to write a check to the IRS when tax season comes around. If you’re stockpiling receipts in a folder somewhere, you’re probably misplacing at least some of them and leaving yourself or your accountant a mountain of paperwork to do later on.

Any subcontractor who has been audited or assessed fines for late tax payments wants to avoid a repeat experience, and one of the best ways is with bookkeeping and accounting software that consistently tracks business income and expenses throughout the year. Keeping an organized and ongoing record system not only lets you stay prepared for tax season, you’ll also be able to make real-time business decisions with access to data like year-to-date revenue and expenses.

This year I will clean the dashboard in the work truck

If you get into your work vehicle every morning and see the same pile of weeks-old invoices, receipts, flyers, and old air fresheners sitting up on your dashboard, you’re certainly not alone. When you’re always on the go, it’s hard to find any downtime to keep your work vehicle looking clean and appealing to a prospective client. But this year, try taking just a few minutes at the end of each day to keep things neat.

First impressions are everything, and prospective clients know that a neat and clean work vehicle must belong to someone conscientious and organized and who can get the job done.

This year I will overcome worker shortages in my business

Subcontracting is tough when you’re working on your own, and in an industry that faces chronic worker shortages, good help can be hard to find. Subcontractors who find their operating capacity limited by the availability of workers in their area need to adapt and innovate to sustain growth. Here are two ideas that can help you make better connections this year:

  • Network: Look up local professional associations for drywall technicians, electricians, or other trades. Attend a community event and network with someone that could help you on a project. Build a contact list of folks with complementary skill sets and set the intention of offering them work in the future. You can grow your business through networking, as the capabilities you leverage through your contacts become part of your business.
  • Mentor: Get involved in mentoring or apprenticeship by training youth in your community. You’ll give a great experience and opportunity to a young person, and they’ll gain valuable training that can help them in the future. What’s more, you’ll have access to an extra pair of hands that can help you get more done than before.

This year I will not lose a single change order

When you’re moving between projects and focused on giving clients exactly what they want, it can be tough to remember to complete change orders, much less cost them out and have them approved by the client. Every subcontractor knows that they lose paper change orders sometimes, so why not make that a focus of change?

Electronic change orders should be stored centrally in a secure place so they are impossible to lose track of. Change orders should be completed and approved by the client at the time the request is made, streamlining the process and ensuring that you get paid for your hard work. A little bit of discipline in this area can add a lot to your bottom line at the end of the year.

This year I will not lose money on a single job

Everyone underbids on a job once in a while and gets stuck with a losing deal. This is possible to avoid through accurate job costing. This year, try costing out jobs with more detail to ensure that when it all boils down, you’re making enough cash to keep putting gas in your truck. While it’s exciting to be busy on a new project, it’s even better to know in advance that you’ve set a realistic budget that makes you the profit you want after you put yourself to work.

As part of this goal, try to determine what your highest-profit jobs are. What kinds of jobs make you the most profit? What can you do faster than anyone else? What can you offer that nobody else can? Determining your specialty and narrowing down what you’re good at can help you formulate a unique value proposition for your business and earn more money for the services you provide.

This year I will avoid cash stress and the bank

The number one reason that subcontractors and construction firms fail is because of cash scarcity. While it’s tempting to expand into new markets, take on larger projects, and explore new territory, a lack of cash will sink your business like the Titanic, or you’ll end up taking out expensive loans against future revenue just to stay afloat.

While it’s advisable to take measured risks, you should be careful when expanding into unfamiliar territory. You’re more likely to succeed with large-scale projects if they strongly fit your capabilities, but if you’re looking at a big project that’s outside your expertise, you’re bound to run into trouble. Focus on your strengths and find your niche to keep the cash flowing, and be extra cautious when venturing outside your comfort zone.

This year I will learn to keep my cool

The most important asset in business is a clear head, but when things have gone awry, it’s easy to make rash decisions. Smart subcontractors know that the business has ebbs and flows. Sometimes things go according to plan, and sometimes they don’t. The best thing you can do is stay calm and make the right decision.

If you can remember a time this year where you made the wrong choice under pressure, or got unnecessarily upset when things didn’t go according to plan, start by forgiving yourself. After all, you’re only human. The next time you have a tough day, remember how lucky you are to be an entrepreneur, to have control over your own business, and to enjoy the freedom to do what you love each day.


Whatever you’re trying to change about your business this year, it’s important to set the best intentions right from the start and follow them all the way through. Each year, many subcontractors achieve their resolutions, but many fail because they lack a plan of action. With great goals in place from the start, and a plan of action to tackle each one, you’re bound to make more money and enjoy more success as a subcontractor in 2018.