Without careful planning and bookkeeping, growth can be haphazard and profits meager. Contractors may lose control of their employees and their quality. And lucrative opportunities may be overlooked. To prosper in a competitive industry, a masonry contracting firm must seize control of its growth. IDENTIFY PRODUCTS, ASSESS PROFITABILITY Masonry contractors sometimes confuse cash flow with profitability. These contractors think they're doing well if they have money in the checking account at the end of the month. In addition, contractors sometimes overestimate their net profits by failing to subtract all their overhead expenses. DO MARKET RESEARCH To build up a profitable business, a company must stand out in the market by offering something that customers want but can't readily find anywhere else, whether it be on-schedule performance, superior quality, or special services. Market research is the path to this knowledge. GEOGRAPHIC EXPANSION Many contractors think of geographic expansion when they think of growth strategies. To a firm in a large metropolitan area, this might just mean pursuing business outside the usual 60-mile radius. But to a contractor in a sparsely populated rural area or near a state border, this could mean crossing state lines. VERTICAL INTEGRATION A masonry contracting firm also can expand through vertical integration-adding services normally performed by other trades, such as pouring concrete footings or applying the stucco finish. HAZARDS OF FAST GROWTH Many contractors don't realize the economy is cyclical and tend to overinvest in themselves when they have a successful year.