5 ways contractors lose money

By Samuel Okoronkwo

Having spent over 30 years dealing with construction disputes and litigation, I’ve gained a deep understanding of the challenges that can financially impact construction contractors.


The construction industry offers great opportunities but also comes with a plethora of risks. In this article, I discuss seven common areas where contractors often lose money and how to effectively manage these risks.


Contract Management: The Legal Backbone


Effective contract management is crucial in construction. Contractors frequently encounter financial losses due to vague contract terms, leading to disputes and expensive legal battles. A comprehensive contract should clearly define project scope, timelines, payment schedules, and dispute resolution procedures. It’s essential for contractors to ensure all contractual obligations and rights are clearly outlined to avoid misunderstandings. When things are going well, nobody worries about the contract, when things don’t go to plan, the contact becomes central to every conversation.


Managing Project Variations: The Art of Adaptation


Variations in construction projects are inevitable. However, poor management of these changes can lead to significant financial losses. These variations might stem from client requests, unforeseen site conditions, or changes in regulations. Contractors need to establish a clear process for assessing, pricing, and negotiating these changes. This will ensure fair compensation for any extra work and help in maintaining project profitability. Having a water-tight approach to managing variations will prevent misunderstandings and reduce the potential delays. If you leave things open to interpretation, you risk squabbles and non-payment issues later.


The Impact of Late Payments: A Financial Strain


Late payments are a common problem in the construction industry, adversely affecting cash flow. Contractors must take proactive measures in managing client relationships to ensure payments are made on time. This might involve setting favourable payment terms from the outset and being diligent in following up on overdue payments. Timely payment is critical for maintaining healthy cash flow and the financial stability of the business. Whether it’s an employer pushing their luck or a legitimate delay, with interest rates high, having money in the bank on time, can allow you to make better decisions.


Cash Flow Management: The Lifeblood of Business


Cash flow management is key, especially given the typically thin margins and high upfront costs in construction. Contractors should carefully plan their finances, from the bidding process to managing daily expenses. Regular financial forecasting and having backup plans for unexpected costs are crucial for maintaining financial stability.


Supply Chain Issues: Navigating the Maze


The construction supply chain is often complex and unpredictable. Issues such as price volatility, delivery delays, and quality concerns can disrupt project timelines and inflate budgets. Contractors need to build strong relationships with suppliers and create contingency plans, including securing alternative sources of materials, to manage these risks effectively.


Labour Shortages: The Human Factor


The shortage of skilled labour is a growing concern in the construction industry. Such shortages can lead to project delays and increased costs due to higher wages. Contractors should focus on strategic workforce planning, including training programs and employee retention strategies, to ensure the availability of necessary skills when required.


Productivity: Maximising Efficiency


Productivity is crucial for profitability. Inefficiencies in work practices, poor site management, or a lack of technological integration can significantly hinder productivity. Contractors should strive for continuous improvement, embrace technology, and implement industry best practices to enhance efficiency and profitability.


I have observed how these issues can critically impact a construction project’s success or failure. Contractors must be vigilant in identifying and managing these risks to ensure their financial health.


Remember, if you are faced with a construction dispute, Mercantile Barristers will be happy to assist. Do use the enquiry form below to contact us to discuss your matter further.

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Our approach to legal practice is always to articulate creative and value-adding solutions for clients whilst delivering timely, efficient and affordable professional services. All clients conduct their affairs within a legal context and Mercantile Barristers’ role is to advise on the conduct of their transactions and affairs in ways that avoid conflict and disputes.


However, should a dispute become inevitable, then our prior engagement would have assured that all the necessary precautions have been taken and mitigating steps adopted. Thus, clients will begin any dispute resolution in a strong position to achieve their desired objectives.


Whether by adjudication, arbitration, litigation, members at Mercantile Barristers will adopt a firm, swift and decisive approach to achieve the best possible results for clients within the shortest possible time. We recognise that no two cases are the same, so we will adapt our style to suit the occasion.


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