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Truly appreciate it. In the hands of someone who can interpret that picture, it speaks volumes about the financial health of that person or business. Most going businesses prepare a current financial statement every month. If that's too much trouble, every three months will do.

But going without a financial statement for more than three months is like setting out on a cross-country trip without a map. If you've never prepared a financial statement, stop right now and do it. Figure shows a sample financial statement. There's no point in reading any further until you know your assets, liabilities and net worth. Here's how to make up a financial statement. Write your name or your company name at the top center of the paper and put the date right below the name.

On the top left side of the page, write the word Assets. Under this heading make a list, by type, of all the money and things of value you or your business owns.

Start with current assets: cash in your checking or savings account, receivables, inventory, stock or bonds, the cash value of insurance, and any advance payments made before receiving goods or services. Opposite each category write the realistic present value of that current asset.

Below the current assets, list fixed assets by category and value. Land, equipment, furnishings, vehicles and buildings are fixed assets. At the bottom of this list write Total Assets and the total value of all assets listed. Now on the top right side of the sheet, list your liabilities. Then list by category everything you or your business owes: mortgages, charge accounts, loan balances, anything received but not yet paid for, money owed to subcontractors, invoices still unpaid and the like.

Below all the liabilities write Total Liabilities and total the figures in the liabilities section. On the last line at the bottom of the page, write Net Worth. That's the total of all assets less all liabilities. It shows what you're worth.


If the net worth is negative, you're what's known as "being in the hole. But knowing your net worth is an advantage, even if it's negative. Coping with Recessions Every construction contractor should understand that there's a cycle of construction activity.

This cycle rewards those that can anticipate it and punishes those that can't. The construction cycle can make or break you. And for many it does both. At the beginning of every upswing in construction activity a fresh new crop of eager young builders surge into the industry. They develop a house or two, sell them off at a nice profit, and then tackle larger projects, making more money and laying bigger plans.

After three or four very profitable years, some of these builders are running big construction companies with millions of dollars in assets and several major projects under way. They probably attribute their success to hard work, skill and daring. They're right. But they were also in the right business at the right time.

And good times don't last forever. When recession comes, as surely it will, hard work, skill and daring count for little. The bank loans, heavy investment in materials, equipment, staff, overhead and projects that can't be sold become a crushing burden.

Many builders fail and leave the business. Others can salvage enough to remain active, or at least stay open for business until the next upswing comes. Economic recessions are here to stay. There's no reason to suspect that our economy will be better managed or that recessions will be less severe in the future than they have in the past. Accept the ups and downs in construction activity as an opportunity to improve your competitive position against other contractors.

Plan to survive when others can't and thrive when others can only recover. Exactly what is a recession? From a builder's standpoint, we're in a recession when construction activity is down.

That's usually because owners can't borrow money or would have to pay interest rates that make borrowing unattractive. Nearly all construction work is done on borrowed money. When lenders stop lending, builders stop building. That's a recession. To survive more than one cycle in construction, you have to anticipate the construction cycle.

It isn't hard. Like the seasons, they occur at regular intervals. Anything that's predictable can be planned for. And planning is the only way to make your company recession-proof. Later in this chapter I'll explain how planning can help you use the construction cycle to your advantage.

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Plotting the Construction Cycle You can't anticipate the construction cycle until you know how the cycle works. So let's look a little more carefully at the construction cycle or business cycle as it's sometimes called. Figure shows the normal business cycle of rising and falling business activity. We've smoothed out the cycle a little to help you recognize the various phases of the cycle.

There's a definite trend during each part of the cycle. And what's going to happen next is quite predictable. Timing is the only major unknown. In spite of the rough shape of the actual cycle, the overall shape of the curve is usually a smooth continuous slope from a peak of inflation to the bottom of the recession.

Since the curve is smooth and predictable, you'll have little trouble planning major business decisions around it. Don't worry about small fluctuations in the curve. It's only important that you identify the larger, slower, major changes in direction. See Figure Identify first whether we're in the recessionary or inflationary phase of the cycle. The small monthly fluctuations matter only to stock traders and commodity speculators. As a builder you're in a much longer-haul situation.

You can't do much building in less than six months, so shorter-term fluctuations don't really affect you. The overall trend in the economic cycle is generally upward or inflationary. For example, the lowest price of a home during the next recession will be higher than the lowest price of a similar home in the last recession.

To get a better idea of what I mean, glance at Figure Notice that both the years and were deep recession years. Many land prices hit low points during those years. The point of this explanation is to show that prices tend to increase even from recession to recession.

Even if prices collapse completely in the next recession, count on them to rebound once more to new highs within a few years. That's just the nature of the business cycle.

Knowing that should give you courage to hang on to assets when others are liquidating. The real danger for builders and developers is that they'll be forced to liquidate at the bottom before the economy has recovered. Contractors that don't have the cash to make interest payments when due have to sacrifice assets to satisfy creditors or face foreclosure.

A forced sale at the bottom of a recession is never good for the seller. And most important, it strips the contractor of the assets most likely to increase in value during the next upswing in the cycle. Have enough reserves to hold out during a recession and you'll never be forced to liquidate at fire sale prices.

Recessions - the Big Picture Any discussion of recessions would be incomplete without a look at how often they happen. Let's look at recessions over a broader period of time to see if we can learn more than by examining a single cycle. Look at Figure Is inflation going to die any time soon? Not very likely. But don't let that bother you.

From a historical stand-point, inflation is predictable. You can plan on it and use it to your advantage. Notice that the inflation rate has tended to rise higher in each successive business cycle. That shouldn't be a surprise. What is surprising is the frequency and the steep slope during recent cycles.

Figure shows a distinct upward slope to the cycle over the years. Notice also that the peaks of the cycles are moving closer together.

That's disturbing. Is it possible that the cycles could come so close together that you won't be able to tell the good times from the bad? As of this writing, it's too soon to tell. By the mid's we should know for sure. For now, just be aware that inflation drives prices upward in fits and starts, that the elapsed time between cycles seems to be growing shorter and that lately the cycles have become more exaggerated with each swing. Planning for the Economic Cycle So much for the way the cycle works.

Now let's take a look at the investment and business decision you should be making in each phase of the cycle. How do you plan for this cycle? That's easy. Keep your thinking one-half step ahead of the construction cycle. Start thinking about the next recession when construction activity is intense. Then turn your attention to the next boom when recession is driving panic-stricken contractors to the wall. When every carpenter who can drive a straight nail is working full time, begin thinking about what you'll do when the work in your shop is less than one-half present volume.

What projects will you close out as construction activity declines? Who are you going to layoff? What salary adjustment will you make? Can you shift emphasis to remodeling, additions or government jobs if more work is available there? Maybe you can get work on a "cost plus" basis at a slim but guaranteed profit while others battle it out for the lowest bid.

Start building a financial cushion of spare cash. For some builders it would be better to close up shop entirely for the duration of a recession.

That's a real option. Leave it open. It may be better to close out your projects, pay your bills, furlough your employees and go back to teaching school or working for your Uncle Fred for a while. Most of all, plan to reduce the risk of failure by reducing the money you owe.

Only debtors end up in bankruptcy court. If you don't owe any money, you'll never go belly up. Debt-free builders don't have to take zero-profit work just to stay busy.

They can put the business in mothballs or continue at very low levels of activity until better times return. And better times will return. You know that, even when others have lost hope. Start planning your revival at the depths of the recession. When others are being forced out of the business, look for land or other opportunities that don't seem attractive at the time but have potential if downloaders come back into the market. Start working with investors or lenders who can finance your growth during the boom.

Decide what types of work you want to handle during the coming surge and prepare yourself and your organization for that day. Assemble your team and your resources for the next boom. Commit yourself and your finances as heavily as you dare to one key project or one opportunity that you feel will be most likely to succeed when construction revives.

That's an excellent prescription for building a thriving business in the next revival. Remember this throughout the construction cycle: Things are never quite as good and never nearly as bad as most people perceive them to be. Don't let the emotions of others keep you from using the construction cycle to good advantage.

For our purposes, we'll divide the cycle into three phases. The top third we'll call the inflationary period.

The bottom third is the recessionary period. The remaining or middle portion we'll call the inconclusive period. There's a saying among developers that goes like this: "When people figure out what you're doing, it's time to switch to what they're doing. Smart money moves in and out of the real estate and building markets as the cycle moves from inflation to recession and as the downloading public reacts to inflation and recession. The principle is so simple that most people miss it completely.

If you plan to do next year what was generally accepted as good policy for last year, you're probably planning to do the wrong thing. There's a good time to invest and a good time to sell.

If you download when downloading is considered wise by the general public, what you do is probably foolish. And, strange as it may seem, there's a time to get out of the market altogether.

It's not when everyone else is selling. When that happens, the really smart money has already sold out. The time to liquidate, or at least reduce your investment in real assets, is while there are still enthusiastic downloaders left in the market.

When the recession is nearing bottom, when projects are being liquidated to satisfy creditors, smart money is picking up the choice assets that will be the first to recover when the economy revives, as it inevitably will.

The remaining part of the cycle, the middle third, is what we called the inconclusive period. Neither inflation nor recession is predominant. There is no clear trend or the trend may be in the process of reversing. This inconclusive period is a good time to take stock of your position.

It's a time to look seriously at what you've accumulated and weigh your options. It's a time of transition. It's time to restructure your thinking and reposition your assets from defensive to offensive, or vice versa.

Few contractors recognize the need to make new business changes during the inconclusive period. Others see the need for change coming but don't make enough changes in time. As I suggested earlier, the smart money moves in and out of the real estate and building markets.

Think back to We were in a red-hot real estate market. Builders could do no wrong.

What we in construction didn't realize was that we were cresting at the top of that particular inflationary cycle. By year end, Watergate had forced President Nixon to resign, credit disappeared, construction work stopped and the economy nosed over into a long recessionary slide that few were prepared for.

Look again at Figure Notice that the economy had already begun to lose its momentum by the middle of This was a warning of what was to happen in the next few months. It was a sign to builders to conserve cash, postpone investment in additional equipment and real estate and to reduce staff until the next cycle began.

But few did. I watched builders, plumbers, suppliers and owners alike pushed to the brink of financial ruin. At the bottom, I had very little hope of working out from under these debts.

No one knew how long the recession would last. Luckily, I was able to stick it out. I had to. There was no other way for me to payoff my debts. Understand that timing is critical. No contractor can run his business as though the inflationary cycle will last forever. It never does. When the economy starts to crash, just get out of the way.

You don't have to crash with it. Then lay your plans. Be ready to start new ventures when you're at the bottom of the recession, not the top. From there the prospects can only get better. But how do you know if the economy is at the top of a cycle or at the bottom? Unfortunately, it's not always easy.

As I mentioned, the economic cycle is a rather rough curve, not a smooth sine wave as suggested in Figure Even in retrospect, it may be hard to pick the exact bottom or exact top. Fortunately, that isn't necessary. It's only critical that you identify an inflationary or recessionary period when you're in it.

Each period lasts at least 12 months. You have plenty of time to make up your mind. In a typical four-year cycle, you have one year in an inflationary peak, one year of downward sliding through an inconclusive period, a one-year recessionary bottom, and finally a year of upward rising through an inconclusive period. The really critical periods are the top and bottom of the cycle.

Let's say that you've been watching the economic trends. You feel pretty sure the cycle has peaked out and it's starting to head downhill into a recession. Now what? Well, it's time to wrap up any projects that are draining cash out of your pocket.

Get out of debt now, before downloader enthusiasm is gone and bankers begin to get cautious. Switching Horses Switch horses before the inflationary bubble bursts. Stop building speculative houses. That market is about to collapse. Start bidding more work for other contractors. Go to work on someone else's money, not your own. If you wait until the recession's in full swing, the pickings will be slim. Too many contractors will be bidding for what little work there is available.

Make the switch months ahead of when you actually need the work. Don't wait until six months after the need arrives. That's too late. Suppose you're in the opposite situation. You feel the recession has just about bottomed out. It's time to begin those new projects you've been planning through the last 12 months of downsliding.

Begin slowly though. There's no rush. Remember, it's better to get into the market three months late and get out three months early than to get trapped in a negative market with assets that can't be sold.

As the economy strengthens, put less emphasis on contract work with others. This gives you more time to devote to your own projects. But don't withdraw completely from the contract market. You'll need that work again in a few short years when the momentum of the current cycle is gone. Don't burn your bridges. You're going to need them again. The kind of work to emphasize should be based on your evaluation of the economic conditions. Keep your workload in tune with the economic climate.

If the economy is beginning to expand, gamble a little. Take short term risk. Speculate on a house or two, even a small tract or commercial building. But if the economic cycle is shifting downward, it's time to switch horses.

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That doesn't mean closing down the business necessarily. Just avoid jobs that require a big investment. Go to work for others who are willing to risk their own cash, not yours. And do it before others recognize the trend in the economy. To survive, strike a balance between speculative work and work you do for others. The quantity of each type should change as the economy changes.

That maximizes your risk in good times and minimizes it in bad times. This risk-taking isn't gambling. Gambling is tempting fate. It requires neither planning nor forethought. Risk-taking is a deliberately planned and carefully executed action. Take risks when the options have been fully explored, the possible losses evaluated, the time limits established and the money set aside.

There's little, if anything, left to chance. Take risks when the odds are in your favor, like the dealer in blackjack. You may lose a hand or two, but over many hands, you're going to come out ahead. By now you should see that trying to do business the same way in good times and bad can literally break you. Recognize economic cycles. Learn when to start your projects and when to close them out.

You'll increase your profits and reduce the risk of loss substantially. Switch from speculative building to working on contract for others when that seems advisable.

Believe me, you'll save yourself a lot of money, time and heartache. Transferring Debt Up to this point I've covered several important points that should be understood by every construction contractor. But I haven't done more than mention one of the key problems that most contractors have to live with: debt management. The rest of this chapter explains what to do when old bills can't be paid. Let's say that we've hit the bottom of an economic cycle. In spite of all the planning you've done, losses on old jobs left piles of unpaid bills.

There's money coming in on the current job. But it's not enough to clear up all debts on previous jobs. Here's your dilemma. Who gets paid? Suppliers and subs on your current job, creditors on prior jobs, the most insistent creditor, or a little here and there to keep everyone happy. If you use receipts from current work to pay creditors on prior jobs, that's called transferring debt.

There's one serious flaw in transferring debt.

It doesn't work. You only succeed in creating a whole new group of unhappy creditors. Instead of having a single group of suppliers and subs you can't work.

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You create one more unhappy group of creditors each time you transfer the loss. Eventually word gets around that you sting everyone you work with. And no one wants to work with a slow pay contractor.

So avoid transferring debt. It's notoriously unsuccessful and totally unrewarding. There's only one kind of cash to transfer from one job to another - real profit left over after all bills have been paid. Otherwise, pay current debts first. You have to stay in business to payoff debts. Paying your current debts keeps you in business. If you go out of business, everybody loses - especially your oldest creditors.

You Can't Make it Up on Volume Do you remember the story of two brothers who decided to go into the apple business?

But the brothers were in the apple business, so they sold off all their apples. Then they added up receipts for the day and discovered a problem. The older of the two brothers sat down to think up a solution. After some time had passed, the older brother approached the younger one with his answer. If you're losing money, more volume will only lose it faster so you'll go broke sooner.

Don't fall into this trap. It's an illusion. If you're losing money, volume isn't the answer. It only compounds the problem. Sure, more volume may make more money. But increased volume almost always requires accepting less profitable work.More information about family arbitrations in Ontario can be found at: www. Can you at least tolerate it? Preparedness is a big part of our lives now and I would be honored to share some knowledge with you.

Now on the top right side of the sheet, list your liabilities. Some contractors ignore their clients, creditors and problems whenever possible.

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