When people hear the word “entrepreneur,” they may think of Silicon Valley hoodies behind innovative tech startups. They might even picture open-concept offices, writing code or playing ping pong. But what about business owners who wear work boots instead of flip flops? The fact is, some of the hardest-working, most successful entrepreneurs out there today are also the most overlooked.
Construction contractors experience all of the challenges, pressures, setbacks and rewards of entrepreneurship, without the recognition founders in other industries typically enjoy. But whether you’re a coder at Google launching a startup from your garage, or a contractor breaking away from a larger construction business to start your own company, it’s the same jump from employee to entrepreneur — with the very same 16-hour days and sleepless nights.
As an entrepreneur in any industry, it’s all on you to ensure the company succeeds, not only for yourself, but for your employees and their families. You know your employees have to put food on the table, and the mental burden of that responsibility can be huge. Many workers may have taken a leap and left stable jobs to join your startup, so the pressure’s on to make sure you deliver on the faith they have in your ability as an entrepreneur. And, in construction, you also have to ensure the physical safety of your team on the jobsite.
While they’re every bit as entrepreneurial and take just as many risks as the next app developer, construction contractors often don’t receive the same credit for their entrepreneurial spirit, the risks they take to launch their own businesses, or their accomplishments.
The Construction Industry’s Image Challenge
Why aren’t construction contractors held in the same regard as entrepreneurs in other industries? It might stem in part from the decades-long “college for all” push in our education system. For many years, students were encouraged to attend four-year universities instead of trade or vocational school as a viable career path. This not only created a serious skilled labor shortage problem, but it also caused generations of up-and-coming young adults to discount construction as a serious (and seriously successful) entrepreneurial pursuit.
Meanwhile, the construction industry can be a lucrative industry in which to launch a career or a business, with a manageable barrier to entry for those with the right drive, experience and talent. In addition, construction can offer enormous potential for workers to develop a marketable skill, move up within a company and even break away and start their own successful business.
But, even though construction entrepreneurs run some of the most essential businesses today, they often aren’t given their due.
Here are some of the many reasons why construction entrepreneurs are the most undervalued founders in business:
They’re Not Only Hard Working, But Also Highly Skilled
Construction contractors learn the meaning of hard work long before they ever set out on their own. Unlike an entrepreneur straight out of business school, they’re used to putting in the long hours, as well as the blood, sweat and tears it takes to get the job done right.
Many construction entrepreneurs have worked in the industry for years, honing both their trade skills and leadership ability before taking the leap to launch their own business. For example, you might start your construction career as a trade electrician and then move up to crew lead, where you manage a team of three to four people. On the job, you’ll learn how to effectively communicate and lead a team, how to ensure the safety of your employees, how to keep the superintendent happy and how to sell in order to secure the next project. You’ll gain experience in aspects of the business like estimates and take-offs, as well as the important dynamic of supplier relationships (where you learn to treat them as partners, not just vendors).
This kind of expertise may not be viewed in the same light as white-collar professions, but it requires the same amount of study, precision and proficiency — and people depend on the construction profession just as much, if not more.
They Also Have Business Acumen
Construction entrepreneurs not only know their way around a job site, they also have to learn fundamental business administration and development skills as they go, including sales and marketing, operations, and finance, in order to grow their company and remain successful. Entrepreneurship in construction may look a little different from other industries, but contractors have to face many of the same challenges, including how to pay staff, how to manage project communication, how to keep clients happy and, of course, how to land that next contract.
They Do It All Without Fanfare
Anyone who has ever launched a startup will tell you that it isn’t for the faint of heart. It takes tenacity, agility and a lot of hard work. When you choose entrepreneurship, you’ll deal with challenges you never thought you’d face, handle responsibilities that will keep you up at night and enjoy rewards that make it all worth it.
But because many don’t view construction contractors as the typical “entrepreneur” — or give them the same recognition as entrepreneurs in white-collar industries — the sacrifices construction entrepreneurs make, the risks they take and the successes they achieve are often downplayed or overlooked. While they have the same remarkable vision and grit as entrepreneurs in other industries, construction business owners do it all out of the spotlight.
For contractors starting or running your own construction business, we see you — and we acknowledge the persistence, tenacity, hustle and grittiness it takes to launch and run your own business today. Hang in there, we are rooting for you!