No matter what segment of the market you work in, there are good, mediocre, and less than desirable general contractors and owners involved. There was a time in my younger days as a contractor that I would be willing to take any job. I also spent many sleepless nights wondering when and if I was going to be paid.

Finally, growing tired of working for less than wages, I began looking at my successful peers. What caused them to thrive, while I continued to struggle?

Was it the quality of the work I turned out? No.

Were my peers simply smarter than me? Possibly.

Then I looked at what these successful contractors had in common. I learned that they had a handful to dozens of great clients, who where loyal, professional, and paid in a timely manner.

It became crystal clear that for my company to succeed, I needed to find and retain these types of clients. But how?

Two Ways

I believe that the two best ways for finding the right customers is by word of mouth from current clients, or mason contractor peers putting in a good word for you.

One of my first great clients came via a referral from another mason contractor. Another customer came from his desperation to find someone who would show up and perform the work. The beauty of these two arrangements is that the client is prescreened by a peer, and/or desperate just to get someone to do the work.

Networking Tools

One key to success in the peer arena is joining and participating in organizations such as the Residential Masonry Contractors Association. These groups create networking opportunities for you, as well as the other members of the organization. You will meet key people working on the supplier side, as well as mason contractors who might refer you if the potential client doesn't fit their business plan.

Sometimes the client may be good for you, but doesn't quite fit the niche of a peer. For example, the client may do tract housing and your peer may only do custom homes. You will also find that as your peers' businesses evolve, they may be looking for another good mason contractor to hand off clients to if they can no longer provide proper service to them.

Associations also can be helpful when you get the client you want and find yourself understaffed. Work with peers to provide the manpower to keep caught up until able to hire your own workforce.

Now, I know what you're thinking. A great plan when the market is strong, but what about when business is slow?

Consider this situation as an opportunity to find out who your friends are. Clients may ask for temporary pricing relief in lieu of just shopping for a more competitive bid. Be careful because the 1% or 2% given up even temporarily comes out of your paycheck and will be very hard to get back later.

If considering price reductions, ask suppliers to help share the cost since everyone is in this market together, and they may be willing to share the pain. Network with other mason contractors and ask about shifting your manpower to their projects instead of layoffs. It's hard to replace a good employee that took another job because you were a little slow for a few weeks.

Be prepared for your client to bring in another mason contractor. Obviously you want to prove your worth to the client by explaining the costs. Sometimes, for whatever reason, you won't see eye-to-eye and they will bring someone else in.

If you are competitive, competent, and professional, that is what the job costs. Maybe the other mason missed something on the estimating side. He won't do that again for the price, or he will be lacking in one of the three categories above.

After experiencing anything less than what you provided in the past, the client will return.

Mark VanWell is president of VanWell Masonry Inc. and president of the Residential Masonry Contractors Association.