Business coach helps construction contractors
build successful companies—and lives
By Will Fifield
Entrepreneurs of every type face a paradox: Either they learn to run their businesses efficiently or their businesses end
up running their lives. Construction contractors are no exception. There’s a gaping
chasm between the skills experienced craftsmen possess and the expertise required to run
a successful business. Contractors are susceptible to many of the same pitfalls all entrepreneurs face and often need extensive help on
the business side of their ventures.
That’s where Costco member and business
coach Michael Stone comes in. Stone specializes in helping construction contractors
remodel their businesses. “Although I’m sometimes called a consultant, I think of myself as a
coach,” explains Stone. “I ask clients what’s
going on and we go right down their laundry
list. But they set the priority, because they know
where they’re heading as a company. I don’t try
to teach them their business. Instead, I try to
help them think like businesspeople.”
Stone, who cut his teeth in construction
as a “gofer” in his father’s company, credits
his 44 years of experience in the industry as
the key that enables him to help contractors
connect with their goals. “For me, most of the
time it’s a case of been there, done that,” he
says. “If you’re any kind of businessperson at
all, you’ll remember the things you do that
work—and the ones that don’t.”
As for his résumé, he wired his first house
in 1957, then began installing heating systems.
In 1968 he earned his plumbing license. After
working in several other trades, he earned his
general contractor’s license in 1978.
“Whether you’re in Sacramento or
Saskatoon, it’s not hard to make money as a
builder, if you run your business properly,”
says Stone. Since construction companies,
like nearly all types of businesses, have a very
high failure rate, his message gets attention.
His words offer a much-needed sense of hope
to weary contractors; others call on him
because they believe his expertise will help
them take their businesses to the next level.
Stone takes on clients only if he believes
he can help them. He avoids coaching contractors who are resistant to new ideas or
seem argumentative while he’s fielding pre-
FROM THE U.S. ARCHIVES
Costco member and business coach Michael
Stone’s advice for construction contractors
can be equally valuable for many small-busi-ness owners.
liminary questions. Coaching sessions run
about 30 to 45 minutes per week. “In 2003,”
Stone says, “ 33 contractors came to us; 30 of
them were operating in the black after our
12-week sessions. You turn your business
around one job at a time.”
Mike Bober, owner and operator of Central
Street Carpentry, a remodeling company in
Oshkosh, Wisconsin, says that calling Stone
was his last-ditch effort before he gave up on
the company he’d worked 10 years to build.
Although his clients were nearly always happy
with the quality of his company’s work, it was
in a shambles financially. “I was seriously
struggling,” he explains. “Some years I didn’t
know if the company made money or not. I was
$70,000 in debt. It seemed hopeless.”
Bober says that Stone helped him identify
a few key areas to work on in his company. “It
boiled down to lack of marketing and the fact
that we needed to raise our prices,” he says.
“We’re ahead of our projections now. And it
looks as though we’ll be able to pay off our
debts this year and become profitable.”
Stone’s transformation from contractor to
coach began about 20 years ago. After seeing
hundreds of talented contractors fail in their
businesses because they didn’t know how to
price their services at a profit, he started offer-
Company: Construction Programs & Results
Year founded: 1999
Founder: Michael Stone
Address: 1001 49th St., Washougal, WA 98671
Phone: (360) 335-1100
Member at: Portland, Oregon, since 1992
Michael Stone’s quick tips
• Never cut prices to get a job.
• Don’t do cost plus or time and materials
unless it is service work.
• Give away one business card each day
to someone you don’t know.
• Return all phone calls the same day
(or early the next day).
• Get written quotes on all items over $300
from subcontractors and suppliers.
• Have a good advertising program in place.
• Get outside help if you are in the red—
the sooner the better.
COURTESY OF MICHAEL STONE
ing his help, part-time. In 1998, he finished a
book called Markup and Profit: A
Contractor’s Guide (available at Stone’s Web
www.markupandprofit.com). His book
led to seminars and calls from contractors at
all different stages in their businesses seeking
personalized help, which led to a full-time
career in coaching in 1999.
Stone says his smarts were earned
through trial and error. “I think everyone goes
through a period when they’re drowning in
red ink,” he says. “I know I did when I was
younger. But I had a good friend, Monty
Osier, who mentored me. He was an older
contractor. When I made mistakes, we’d go
over them. Because he was such a nice person, it was easy to follow him.”
Eventually, through careful observation
and good advice, Stone’s company, Stone
Construction Services Inc., became a working model for the business principles he
began sharing with other contractors.
This year, Stone plans to help even more
contractors combine their talents with good
business practices in order to attain their
goals—one job at a time. C