Contractors are notorious for being disorganized. Many a contractor’s truck dashboard looks like a bomb went off in the front seat. Younger contractors tend to use smart phones and tablets, but many still suffer; just because you are strong electronically does not mean you have good administrative practices in your business.

If you are a disorganized person, start by accepting your fate. It is part of your personality, and you will live with it your entire life. Disorganized folks buy day timers they never use and  put reminders on their phones that  just get ignored.

If you are disorganized, the best way to organize yourself is to hire someone to do it. Organization starts with a strong administrative person who can help organize you. Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) is said to be a genetic trait. America was founded by folks who were a little ADD. When settling Jamestown, 144 people boarded three ships for four months that were little more than overgrown cabin cruisers. You had to be a little compulsive, disorganized and wacky to take that risk. Accept your restlessness and disorganization, and embrace it. Hire someone to help you with it. Discipline and organization are your friends.

As business grows and owners have more than they can do, many will hire another salesperson or production manager to help them. The problem is if you had poor or no administration, adding another body is just going to make the situation worse. As you are building your business, the first and most critical step in the process is to hire a strong administrative person.

Many contractors wonder, well, what will this person do? A smart and strong person will find things to do. If you have to tell your admin what to do, you probably have the wrong person. A good administrative person will take duties away from you, help you get organized and keep things on track. He or she can:

  • Answer the phone, but more importantly set your sales appointments.
  • Do all bookkeeping and payroll.
  • Help order material.
  • Call customers.
  • Schedule repair or warranty calls, and manage the process.
  • Help organize job colors and other customer information needs.
  • Phone crews to ensure they have all the material that is needed.
  • Oversee insurance, employee records and other duties.

The list goes on and on.

Should this person be a family member? Probably not. Many contractors choose a family member, and in some cases it works out OK, but there are many disadvantages, especially with a spouse. First, how well does it work when you tell each other what to do? Secondly, if you and your spouse want to go on vacation, who runs things and sets appointments while you are gone? If you do hire a family member, the person needs to have the bookkeeping and office experience necessary for the job. Worried about embezzlement? Buy insurance or have the person bonded. You can also have your family member or someone else balance the checkbook.

What Makes a Good Administrator?

So, what kind of traits should a good office admin person have? A good office admin is intelligent, computer savvy and willing to learn new technology. Good admin people are cooperative, loyal and good problem solvers. They are efficient, and it bothers them when things don’t get done. They are organized, and their desk is usually neat and clean. Their office is a little like mom’s kitchen at Thanksgiving. She is the cook and is in control. You can help, but on her terms. 

A good small-business admin must be able to deal with the chaos and multi-function aspect of the job. Frequently, people who came from big companies do not work out because of the hectic pace and diversity. You also need a person who enjoys a small office and is happy working alone much of the day.

So what do you pay this person? Good administrators are hard to find. A good guideline on their pay is that they are going to be paid what a top craftsperson or a junior foreman would receive. In a smaller market, plan $30,000 to $35,000 a year, and in a major market $40,000 to $50,000 a year. If you hire someone part time, make sure you offer a high enough hourly rate to make it worthwhile for the person to work four or five hours a day. Sometimes you can find an executive secretary type who wants to work part time. Ironically, the pay does not matter if you have a really good person, as that person will do what two other people might do. The trick is to find the right person and pay whatever it takes.

One of the hardest lessons to learn is that you cannot do everything yourself. It is impossible. You may be 100 percent at task, but 100 percent of your own effort is all you can get done, and you can only do so much. Even if someone else is only at 80 percent, together you are 180 percent. If you want to make $100,000 a year, that equates to $50 an hour. Doing tasks that you are not good at and don’t like to do does not make sense when it costs half as much to have someone else do them for you. Focus on selling work and managing production, not clerical tasks. Selling and producing one more job a week probably pays for a better administrative person.