Wintertime doesn't have to mean a big slowdown in work. No matter where you build, you can always find opportunities in wintertime building that can do more than just keep you afloat until next spring. One way to do that is to stay true to your craft; resist the temptation to join the ranks of all the others who decided to try making a living plowing snow or driving tow trucks. Here are some ideas.
Specialize in Wintertime Building
It's not for the faint-hearted, but making wintertime building your competitive advantage can radically change your cold weather work prospects. Refine your contracts to minimize the typical wintertime building risks. Line up subs and suppliers that complement your efforts best. Analyze your estimating and scheduling so that you can improve them specifically for the challenges of cold weather building. Then, get the word out that you're in business to handle cold weather projects.
Get a Jump on Site Preparations
When you have work lined up for spring, you might consider getting the site prep done on all things above ground. Do structural removals, get trees pruned, remove unwanted plants, and clean up the sites.
People need extra layers of comfort during cold winter weather. However, they often don't realize it until winter is already here. That's when they're looking for someone to improve building insulation, install fireplaces, install wood stoves, and improve the overall energy efficiency of their structures. Partner with home improvement outlets and product manufacturers to do installations. Let your past clients know about the services you offer that could improve their comfort and help them save on energy costs.
Buy a Fixer Upper
Depending on where you live, this could be a very viable option to turn wintertime work into profits later on. Look for rundown properties in otherwise up and coming locations. Buy them and do the renovations over the winter.
Do Maintenance and Repair
If you're in the HVAC, plumbing or electrical trades and you haven't offered maintenance services, you're leaving opportunities on the table. But, even general builders who specialize in new construction can find plenty of prospects in maintaining and repairing existing structures. Past and present customers, and all the people they know, can become new and repeat customers. There is also a large second-home market requiring maintenance and repairs. Consider vacation homes, mountain properties, and timeshares as new markets for more profitable cold weather seasons.
Become a Weather Expert
Well, not even the weather experts can get it right, but you have just as good a chance. Watch the long-range forecasts and look for outside work that matches up with milder weather. If you have long-term clients, consider proposing projects to them with an eye toward working the jobs during the good weather.
Build to Suit
Many commercial properties like retail and office rely on building out their spaces to suit new tenants' needs. Much of this is inside work and it happens all year—a regular source of new jobs. Just like when working in other construction niches, you have to understand the market, client expectations, and the 'rules of the game' to avoid surprises. And, since these can often be narrow margin jobs, you've got to have accurate estimates and exact scheduling. The extended benefit of improving your processes for this type of work yields better all-around business practices to help you on all other project types.
Think about all the components you normally buy for the buildings you work on. Then, consider which ones of those you might build and supply yourself. Cabinets, countertops, trim pieces, and custom doors lend themselves to wintertime shop work. You might also get ahead on framing requirements by building your standard opening frames and storing them until needed. Think of all the ways to use your shop in the winter to reduce your workload later.
Offer incentives to clients if they will wait until winter for their interior work. Just be sure to account for your typical extra wintertime costs when giving the estimate. When you have a mature and effective process for doing the outside portions of projects during winter, offer incentives for clients willing to wait until cold weather to start their projects. Negotiate a two-part contract in places where frost is an issue so you can get the required earthwork done before frost sets in, and then finish the work during the winter.
Tackle Upcoming Business Needs
You can make your whole year more profitable by increasing your productivity during winter. Maintain and repair equipment and tools to avoid buying new, and prepare resources to have them ready to go when needed. Review your business and marketing plans with an eye toward improving results. Consider your employees, partners, and suppliers with an emphasis on improving performance. Take stock of your technology so you have the right tools for the busy seasons, including a project management solution to streamline communications and accountability.
Finally, don't overlook your own needs. Time away from work gives you new perspectives and staves off burnout. Take a rejuvenating vacation. Stay home and do the things you've been meaning to get around to. Or, head off to your own adventure place.