Each year, most states in the country require a contractor to take a certain number of continuing education courses in order to qualify for license renewal. Here in North Carolina, you’re required to take eight hours worth of courses: two hours are for a mandatory course that covers new laws and regulations, while the remaining six hours are for classes the contractor gets to choose. Elective courses.
So which elective courses should you choose? Remember, continuing education classes for contractors are an opportunity to learn something new or brush up on the information you may have forgotten. What’s the best way to take advantage of this time?
Having taken these courses each year for the past two decades, I have a unique perspective on this question. I believe there are three types of continuing education courses you should take in order to maximize your time, either in-class or online.
A Course on Business or Administrative Systems
It’s sometimes easy to forget that contracting is both a skill and a business; it’s a trade and a profession. Those of us who started as roofers or carpenters or plumbers worked for years to perfect our trade, with the sole focus being on getting better at the work we performed. As a contractor, that focus has changed: now we run a business, with responsibilities not just to our customers and employees, but potentially to partners and shareholders.
That’s why it’s important that your business skills are top-notch. Managing both the front office and back office is an entirely different skillset from the one you developed as a craftsman. But the fact is, it’s the skill set that could cost you the most money or save you the most money. So hone your chops with a class about the latest business tools: customer relationship management, project management platforms, new technologies designed to improve efficiency. This is the kind of information that can give you a competitive advantage in your market.
If you can’t find a course on business or administrative proficiencies in general contracting, look for a course on the economics of contracting. Understanding the basics of supply chain management, supply and demand, and the effect of demographic changes in your market will make you a more insightful business owner. And it’ll probably save you a lot of money in the long run.
A Marketing Course
Here’s a question for you: what’s the difference between sales and marketing? It’s not very easy to answer, is it? If you don’t understand the fundamental difference, you need to take a course or two about marketing for general contractors.
Again, let’s talk about skill sets. Look at your current salesperson or sales team. They’re a different breed, aren’t they? They’re motivated by money, they have a different kind of personality, and they think differently than you do. If you are currently your own salesperson, think about how you interact with your customers as opposed to anyone else. Sales require a different skill set—a different mindset.
Marketing is the same thing. Marketing is all about finding your audience and reaching them with the right message. And it’s not easy. People get four and six-year degrees in marketing from major universities. That’s not to say it should be intimidating. I’m saying that if it’s a concept that’s outside your wheelhouse, this would be a good time and a great opportunity to learn more about it. If nothing else, it will help you manage your marketing team better.
A Course on the Trade You Know The Least About
As general contractors, we work with a wide variety of tradespeople. For many projects, we’re required to put together a team with different skill sets and be responsible for their final product. One could say that, as a contractor, it’s easy to become “a jack of all trades and a master of none.”
One of the best things you can do for yourself is to take a continuing education course about one of the trades you know the least about. If you’re still a little shaky on plumbing, for example, and your state is offering a course on the latest advancements in plumbing, take that class. Think of it in terms of “what language do I need to speak better?” This is an opportunity to understand the demands of a trade you know the least about, which in turn will help you with everything from pricing to negotiation to project management.
In the same vein, consider taking a course about a trade for which you need to find more skilled workers. Remember, taking your continuing education courses for license renewal is an opportunity to network with your fellow contractors. Of course, this only applies if you’re taking the classes in person (in the classroom). But if you are looking for an opportunity to network, this is a terrific way to do it.