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Managing a Construction Business

Knowing how to manage a construction business is the key to being a successful contractor.  There are many ways to enter the construction field with extensive opportunities for a rewarding career in the industry.

The US Bureau of Statistics provides an Occupational Outlook Handbook where you can find entrance requirements, salary, job descriptions, job outlook, and more for the construction industry.

A construction company can be just an owner, an owner using subcontractors, or an owner with employees, with more variations depending on the number of people involved.

There’s more information about running your own construction company in the article called The Lifecycle of a Construction Business.

Getting Started

Carpenters can enter the construction business with a desire to learn and the agility to perform physical work. Hands-on learning in the industry is the best way to prepare for owning and managing a construction business. Score, community colleges, and libraries are good places to learn more about managing a construction business.

Preparing to Own a Construction Business

Learning construction may take 2 to 5 years or longer to have enough knowledge to manage a construction business.  Plus, a business or construction certificate or degree will improve your success.

Electricians, plumbers, HVAC, and specialty contractors have additional education and licensing requirements.

Contractor Licensing requirements vary from state to state. Levelset, a cloud-based platform that offers payment facilitation for construction companies, has compiled a Guide for Licensing in each state.

Skills Needed to Manage a Construction Business

As an owner, a large part of the day is talking on the phone and coordinating projects.  Sales, customer service, and planning get juggled throughout the day. The day’s filled with interruptions, so the ability to move from one task to another under pressure is essential.

Necessary skills:

  • Being organized
  • Construction know-how
  • Understanding finances
  • Problem-solving ability
  • Good time-management
  • Great communication skills

Financial Investment

Putting time into learning and understanding how to manage a construction business is a great start. Establishing a construction business also takes a financial investment.

The basic setup for a startup construction business:

  • Vehicle
  • Tools
  • Storage
  • Office space
  • Insurance
  • Licensing

Managing a Construction Business Office

The office is where the behind-the-scenes work happens and where the project begins. It’s where the paperwork for the construction business gets handled.

Basic office setup:

  • Cell phone
  • Desk
  • Filing boxes/cabinet
  • Computer
  • Printer
  • Office supplies
  • Internet
  • Accounting software

Administrative functions

All the activities of the office are called administrative functions. In a construction business, administrative activities facilitate work on the projects, help the company comply with laws, and support the company’s growth.

 Administrative tasks:

  • Handling correspondence
  • Drafting contract paperwork
  • Ordering office supplies, materials
  • Product research
  • Maintaining technology
  • Filing paperwork

Sales Functions

Sales functions keep the company operating. Selling for a construction business involves:

  • Relationship building
  • Understanding the requirements of the project
  • Being able to present and finalize contracts

Sales tasks:

  • Prospecting
  • Meeting with potential customers
  • Calculating and writing up an estimate
  • Presenting the estimate
  • Closing the deal and entering into a contract

Learn more about Establishing Hourly Rates and The Terms Estimate, Quote, Bid, Proposal, Explained.

Accounting Functions

In a construction business, accounting tracks the company’s finances and the profitability of each project.

Accounting tasks:

  • Invoicing
  • Paying bills
  • Paying taxes
  • Paying employees
  • Preparing financial statements

Learn more about What Accountants Do for Construction Companies and how to Audit-Proof Your Business.

Human Resource Functions

The laws around employees are extensive, and the paperwork is immense for a construction business. Look to Score and your state Department of Labor and Industry, state Department of Economic Security, and IRS for guidance.  

Human Resource Tasks:

  • Onboarding
  • Payroll & Benefits

Here’s some helpful information on Hiring Employees for your Construction Business.

Managing a Construction Business In the Field

The contract outlines the work to be performed. The goal is to complete the project on time and within the budget defined by the agreement.

There are job site interactions with clients, material suppliers, subcontractors, and inspectors. Communication between all people involved is a regular part of keeping the project moving forward to completion.

Scheduling

Scheduling is an integral part of managing a construction business. A forecasted schedule is prepared and coordinated with the homeowners and everyone involved with the project. The anticipated schedule can and often does change; however, the contract can involve penalties for not meeting completion dates.

There is scheduling for:

  • Appointments with potential clients
  • Meetings with homeowners, designers, architects
  • Walk-throughs with subcontractors
  • Inspections with city Inspectors
  • Labor work schedules
  • Material deliveries

Project Management

Project management is the oversite of all the project’s details; it’s the budget and the labor and materials from beginning to completion.

The budget for the project was determined during the estimating process with a contract agreeing to provide the labor and materials for a specified cost. Project management keeps the project in line with the project’s budget.

Labor

Managing a construction business means managing people, budgets, and unplanned obstacles. Many factors play into whether the labor hours will stay within the budget; weather, equipment failures, site conditions, code issues, and a host of other situations.

Labor tasks:

  • Showing up on-time
  • Setting up tools and workspace
  • Performing work according to the contract
  • Cleaning up and packing up

Following safety guidelines is priority one on the job site. For guidance, read Job Safety and OSHA.

Materials

  • Purchasing materials
  • Picking up or receiving delivery
  • Making returns

Tools and Equipment

  • Purchasing
  • Maintaining
  • Inventory

Learn about Cargo Trailer Theft and how you can protect your assets.

Finalizing Projects

Following through is vital to the success of the construction business. Before collecting the final payment, there are a few things to wrap up.

  • Final inspections
  • Closing-out permits
  • Paying subcontractors
  • Completing lien waivers
  • Thank everyone!
  • Ask for referrals

Learn more about managing at the Start of the Year and Year-end for your Construction Business.

Because history is fun, enjoy these articles, History of Systems for Measuring Length and

History of the Tape Measure.

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Start of the Year for Your Construction Company

Are you ready to start the new year for your construction company? At the top of the list for the start of the year is getting the tax preparation done. If you have employees, you have additional tax deadlines.

New year for your construction company.
Construction New Year

Important Tax Deadlines

January 15

  • 4th Estimated Tax Payment Due

January 31

  • W-2’s, W-3’s Due
  • Form 940 Due
  • Form 945 Due
  • 1099-NEC, Form 1096 Due

February 28

(March 31 for electronic filing)

  • 1099-Misc, Form 1096 Due

March 15

  • Partnership Returns Due
  • S-Corporation Returns Due

April 15

  • C-Corporation Returns Due
  • 1st Estimated Tax Payment Due
Accountant compiles the companies transactions

Accountant’s Responsibility

At the start of the year, an accountant’s responsibility is to compile all of the company’s transactions for the year into reports for tax preparation. All of the income and expenses are reconciled to bank statements. Accountants have a tight timeline between the period when statements are available and when tax returns are filed.  

The accountant is responsible for:

  • Entering Transactions
  • Reconciling Statements
  • Making Adjusting Entries
  • Closing out the Year
  • Compiling Reports
  • Payroll and Payroll Reports

Tax Preparation

After the accountant has made all entries for the year and reconciled statements, a review for accuracy should occur before tax preparation.

There are many options for tax preparation. Tax preparation can be self-prepared, a tax service can be used, or a CPA can prepare taxes. Tax preparation software provides a reasonably priced option for a sole proprietor. However, construction involves complex tax issues, and construction companies will benefit from the expertise of a professional.

Most tax preparers provide a checklist of items needed to prepare the tax return. Here’s a general list:

Organize paperwork at the start of the year.
  • Previous Tax Return
  • EIN, Social Security Numbers
  • Year-End Income Statement and Balance Sheet
  • Year-End Banking and Credit Card Account Statements
  • Vehicle Information
    • Business Use, Mileage Totals
    • Loan Documents
  • Equipment Information
    • Loan Documents
    • Prior Depreciation
  • Sales of Assets
  • Payroll Summary, Payroll Tax Forms
  • 1099s
  • Estimated Tax Payments Made
  • Home Office Information

Year-End Tasks

By now, the end-of-the-year tasks should be completed. Here’s a quick reminder of the tasks on the list.

  • Review Accounts
  • Set up Tax Appointment
  • Make a Budget Projection
  • Clean up Receivables
  • Purge and File Paperwork
  • Inventory Tools and Equipment
  • Review Mileage Records
  • Review Subcontractor Status and Insurance Certificates
  • Clean up Punch Lists and Open Permits
  • Touch Base with Clients

With those tasks out of the way, you can concentrate on the upcoming year.

Kick-off the New Year

The end of the year was about getting prepared for taxes. The beginning of the year is an excellent time to organize and prepare for the busy construction season.

  • Review Contract Terms
  • Update Employee Manual
  • Perform Employee Reviews
  • Hire Employees
  • Improve Safety Program
  • Line up Subcontractors
  • Marketing

Review Contract Terms

Over time the size and type of projects may change, resulting in the need to revise contracts. It’s always important to watch for situations that may affect the terms of your agreements. Contracts are vital to construction companies. The start of the year for your construction company is a great time to review contracts to determine if the wording meets all the legal protections your company needs.

Update Employee Manual

Employee manuals have policies and procedures that may change over time. Laws are constantly changing and the start of the year is an excellent time to review the employee manual to reflect the changes. 

If the company changes employee benefits or plans to make changes, revise the employee manual to reflect benefit changes.

Perform Employee Reviews

Employee reviews are typically done at specific milestones and anniversaries. Add the dates to your calendar for employee reviews to stay on schedule.

Hire Employees

You celebrated the accomplishments, looked at the budget, and planned for the upcoming year at the end of the year. If your construction company is in a growth and expansion stage, start planning for the next hire. Along with the employee manual, update the employee welcome packet and onboarding materials.

Next comes recruiting and training. A successful recruiting effort is an ongoing process. Employee retention in the construction industry tends to look like a revolving door. Implement thoughtful recruiting programs and provide quality training. Offer a career path that provides opportunities for growth, as a valuable tools to retain employees.

Improve Safety Program

Improve your safety program by making it a priority. To plan for the year ahead; lay out a calendar of toolbox talks, appoint a safety coordinator and implement the Safe + Sound program. Safe + Sound is a year-round program with week-long events in August.

Line Up Subcontractors

General contractors and subcontractors can establish great relationships and work well together for years. Change is inevitable, general contractors may find the need to widen the net and look for additional subcontractors. 

Subcontractors can be found through online searches, trade organizations, or hosting an open house. Develop a process for qualifying subcontractors. Consider compatibility for current projects and future projects.

Subcontractor Screening

Scalability
  • Does the subcontractor have the capacity to provide labor and equipment?
  • Can the subcontractor schedule labor to accommodate your schedule?
Experience
  • Does the subcontractor have adequate experience?
  • What is the quality of the subcontractor’s work?
Portfolio
  • Has the subcontractor worked on similar projects?
  • Does the subcontractor have recommendations?
Licensing
  • Has the subcontractor obtained proper licensing?
  • Have there been any violations?
Insurance and Bonding
  • Does the subcontractor have adequate liability insurance?
  • Is the subcontractor bonded?
Safety Record
  • Does the subcontractor have a safety program?
  • Does the subcontractor carry worker’s compensation insurance?
  • What is the accident history of the subcontractor?
Marketing

Construction companies’ branding and marketing can be done on a reasonably low budget. Facebook and Instagram are perfect, if the pictures are good quality and captioned. Watch for comments and respond professionally. People love short videos.

A website is essential for high-end projects and the pictures must look professional. The website needs a gallery of projects and a well-written “about us.” It requires a description of the type of projects you work on and provide contact information.

Yard signs and advertising on vehicles and trailers are affordable ways to promote your construction company. Novelty items like pens, t-shirts, and stickers are fun way to advertise.

Looking Forward

The start of the year will ramp up into a busy spring before you know it. Start now to plan for a successful building season. It won’t seem like a long time, and you’ll be looking back on this year, preparing for the next one.

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What Accountants do for Construction Companies

Accountants interpret documents relating to business transactions to produce a picture of the business’s financial health. Accountants, just like contractors, offer different levels and areas of expertise. Deciding on the type of accountant that is best for your construction company depends on your ability to understand accounting and the complexity of your business.

Typically, the more employees, the more complex accounting becomes; however, a contractor using subcontractors, along with having capital assets can also have very complex accounting.

Types of Accountants

Types of accountants

Bookkeeper

  • Issue Invoices
  • Pay expenses
  • Record sales and expenses
  • Prepare reports
  • Run payroll

Accountant

  • Performs any procedure a bookkeeper performs
  • More experience and education than a bookkeeper
  • More responsibility for complex situations than a bookkeeper
  • Has tax training

Quickbooks Accountant

  • Uses Intuit Quickbooks software products
  • Improves skills with Quickbooks training and certifications
  • Offers a range of services with remote, online, or in-office options

Certified Public Accountant (CPA)

  • 150 hours of college-level accounting
  • Must pass an exam
  • Maintains continuing education
  • Financial advising, tax preparation, auditing
  • May serve as an enrolled agent

Enrolled Agent

  • Must pass an exam
  • Must complete 72 hours of education every 36 months
  • Authorized by the IRS to represent taxpayers in tax matters
  • Tax planning, tax preparation

Payroll Specialists

  • Handles all aspects of payroll
  • Ensures compliance

Accounting for Construction

Accounting for construction is complex and involves several types of accounting: financial, managerial, cost, project, auditing, and tax.

When income and expenses are tracked to a specific project, it is known as job costing.  Each project is tracked individually for profitability. Financial information gathered throughout the project is used to determine whether there is a profit or loss and used by project managers to estimate potential projects.

Accounting Tasks

Accountants enter information from documents such as invoices and receipts into accounting software and use the compiled data to create reports for business planning and taxes.

Accounting tells the story of the businesses worth and provides information needed to determine credit worthiness, profitability, and for taxation purposes.

An accountant can help an owner understand financial reports and provide them with information for budgeting, loan applications, insurance claims, job costing, and more.

Accounting tasks

Accounting Responsibilities

Receivables/Payables

  • Invoice clients
  • Pay vendors
  • Track income and expenses
  • Collections
  • Monitor balances
Accountant responsibilities

Assets/Liabilities

  • Track loans
  • Track depreciation

Reconciliations

  • Balance accounts
  • Reconcile discrepancies
  • Monthly closings

Financial Statements and Reports

  • Prepare Income Statement, Balance Sheet
  • File sales tax reports
  • Prepare budget reports

Payroll

  • Pay employees
  • Calculate deductions
  • File payroll reports
  • Pay payroll taxes

Tax Preparation

  • Prepare tax returns
  • Provide tax advice

Other

  • Analyze cash flow
  • Assist with audits
  • Ensure compliance with laws and regulations

Receipts

Receipts for construction companies may be obtained at the point of sale or received through email. It is now common for accountants to login into an online account to retrieve receipts.

Accountants capture information on receipts and associate it with the proper job. For that, either a purchase order system is used or the job name must be indicated on the receipt or invoice. Typically the purchaser hand writes the job name at the top of each receipt.

Purchase orders typically require a unique number for purchases. A purchase order is a confirmation for the seller to generate an order for a buyer.

If a unique number isn’t necessary, using the job name as a PO number is an easy way to identify a job for job costing.

Classifying Expenses

Tools, materials and supplies, and equipment are often misclassified, but there is a difference.

  • Tools
    • Useful life less than a year
    • Classified as an expense
  • Equipment
    • Expected to last more than a year
    • Considered a capital asset
    • Is depreciated
  • Materials and Supplies
    • Used to complete the project
    • Cost of Goods Sold (COGS)

Incorrect classification affects job costing and financial reports by showing profit and assets to be higher or lower than they actually are.

Job Costing

If you want to know just how precise your accountant is, add a candy bar to your materials, and see if the accountant catches it on the receipt.

Accountants for construction companies review each line item to determine the classification. They decide whether each line item is a job cost, tool, equipment or belongs in another category unless a construction manager has reviewed the receipt and classified the items on it.

Small tools such as screwdrivers that are not “used up” on a project are treated as an expense rather than a Cost of Goods (COGS) materials and supplies. Some items such as saw blades can fall under either category depending on durability and usage. Saw blades with a short life and cannot be re-sharpened are considered COGS materials and supplies, while saw blades that can be re-sharpened and reused are considered a tool.

Purchase tools and equipment separately from materials to avoid incorrectly coding items to projects, which overstates job costs.

Work-in-Progress (WIP)

Work-in-Progress is an inventory account for projects from development until completion. When completed, the project is moved to the balance sheet and becomes a fixed asset on the chart of accounts.

Think of Work-in-Progress as a way to synchronize the cash flow for long-term contracts. It provides a value for work during a snapshot in time prior to completion.

Work-in-Progress is used to prevent overbilling and underbilling. Work-in-Progress adjusts billing for the percent of completion for sufficient cash flow throughout the entire project; this assures funds to cover expenses at the end of the project.

In-House Accountants

Accounting may be only a portion of the responsibility an in-house accountant takes on.

In-house accountants may serve as the office manager with administrative responsibilities. They may participate in project development, human resources, and miscellaneous tasks.

In a large construction company, accountants may have specific roles such as accounts/payable specialists, payroll specialists, or supervising other accountants.

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Year-end for your Construction Business

The end of the year is approaching quickly, and every business owner knows that tax season is just around the corner. What does year-end mean for your construction business? It means it’s time to focus on accounting and do some organizing and planning.

Year-end review for your construction business.
Have a year-end review for your construction business.

Focus

Accounting is a significant focus at the end of the year. Like most businesses, the end of the year in construction means looking at the next year and setting financial goals. For many companies, license and insurance renewals coincide with the end of the year. If the company carries a product inventory, the end of the year is when inventory is counted to determine its value. For a construction business, the end of the year is also an excellent time to review mileage records and conduct tool and equipment inventory, counts.

Reset

The end of the year is the time to reset. Most construction companies slow down. Days are shorter, wetter, and colder, which causes delays and days off for outdoor work. Holidays affect indoor work. Jobs may be paused or scheduled to be completed ahead of the holidays. Work drastically slows at the end of the year, if not completely stopping. Use this time as an opportunity to organize and plan next year.

Accounting

For most businesses, December 31 marks the end of the fiscal year.  If your company goes by the calendar year and depending on your business structure, you will be filing a business tax return either by March 15 or April 15.

Review Accounts

In addition to running a Profit and Loss Statement and Balance Sheet, ask your accountant for detailed transaction reports by account and review each account for discrepancies. Review each transaction to determine if it was coded and classified correctly and see if it has sufficient memos.

It is to your benefit to understand every transaction in your bookkeeping records. As a business owner, you are responsible for the accuracy of the information on your tax return.

Accounting mistakes may occur. Accountants may not understand all documents; most certainly, there are unanswered questions during the year. Don’t assume everything is correct and ready for tax preparation until you have thoroughly reviewed it.  

Use a Certified Public Account (CPA)

An accountant is responsible for reconciling each account and making adjusting entries. If your bookkeeper doesn’t make journal entries, a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) can provide the adjusting entries. Adjusting entries are essential for showing depreciation, interest, and several other reasons.

Schedule a meeting with a CPA for an annual audit. An internal audit is a way of avoiding tax issues and keeping the accounting accurate. Small businesses can use a software program for day-to-day accounting, such as preparing invoices, check writing, and reconciliations.

Every business comes across complicated accounting transactions, which is where the importance of a CPA comes in. CPAs offer many services such as training, adjusting entries, or completely handling all accounting.

Schedule Tax Appointments

Tax planning is a service provided by certified tax preparers and CPAs. By meeting for a tax planning session before the end of the year, the business owner can plan for bonuses, retirement funding, and year-end purchases, and the business owner can strategically take advantage of lowering their tax liability.

Because of the complexity of construction taxes, hire a tax preparer with experience. A pre-tax season meeting with a tax preparer provides a way to establish a business relationship.

Schedules for the tax season fill up quickly; make an appointment for tax preparation as early as possible.

Budget Projection and Forecast

Budget projections help business owners make calculated decisions for hiring employees, purchasing vehicles and equipment, and taking out loans. The basis of the budget projection is from the current year’s numbers. Adjustments are made for each item, anticipating changes at specific periods, commonly 1, 2, 3, 5, & 10 years.

A budget forecast is a short-term budget projection, typically the next four quarters. Monthly budget forecasts can be used to help m immediate decisions. A budget forecast assembled after the third quarter is helpful when planning a year-end tax-lowering strategy.

Account Receivables

Strong policies on contracts and good collection practices for payments should keep account receivables current. The end of the year is an excellent time to review outstanding invoices and determine if any action needs to be taken.

If a small amount remains on an invoice or there is no hope in collecting, the quickest and easiest action may be to write off the account. In unusual cases, the contractor may take legal action. If payment was withheld because of a quality issue or a dispute, consider resolving the problem to recover the payment. Offer several payment options and flexibility in making the payments if possible before taking legal action.

Filing

File away paperwork at the end of the year. We can all agree that filing is usually the last task in an office we get around to. We all want to avoid it! The end of the year is housekeeping time, and it is the best time to clean up piles of paper and set up file folders for next year.

If file folders become too filled, break overstuffed folders down. A year’s worth of invoices may fit in one folder. If they don’t, break the files down into 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th quarters or file them alphabetically in a separate folder for each project. The same applies to the bank statement, reconciliations, and receipts, combine into one folder or break down into quarterly folders or monthly folders.

This is a sample list of labels for a start-up remodeling company. The labels for your company will likely be a variation of this list.

  • Organizational Documents
    • Articles of Incorporation
    • Operating Agreement
    • Employer Identification Number (EIN)
    • Initial and Annual Reports
  • Business License
  • Contractor License
  • Insurance (folder for each type of insurance)
  • Invoices
  • Receipts
  • Bank Statements and Reconciliations
  • Vehicle, Equipment (folder for each)
    • Purchase Invoice
    • Loan Documents
    • Maintenance Records
  • Tool Inventory
  • Payroll Registrations
    • Department of Revenue Registration
    • Unemployment Department Registration
  • Payroll Year ___________
    • Payroll Summaries
    • Employee Paystubs
  • Quarterly Payroll Reports
  • Employee Folders (folder for each employee)
    • Job Application
    • W-4(s)
    • I-9
    • Reviews

Record Retention

Some records must be retained permanently. Keep records in a convenient location, such as Organizational Documents, Bylaws, contracts, legal correspondence, and meeting minutes. Retain vehicle titles as long as you own the vehicle and loan documents for as long there is a balance, possibly longer for depreciation purposes.

Payroll records must be retained for a minimum of 4 years from the filing due date or when the payment was made, whichever is later. State record retention periods vary; some states have retention periods up to 8 years.

For convenience, keep at least three years of financial documents in the office to refer back to during budgeting, in the event of an audit, for warranty issues, or a number of other reasons.

Invoices, receipts, bank statements, and canceled insurance policies can be relocated to permanent storage for safekeeping after three years. Store records in a safe locked location and away from moisture in a labeled plastic tote. Label storage containers with the contents and dates, a real time saver if you have to retrieve stored documents.

Back up records!

Recreating lost records is not an experience you want to go through. Store records in at least two locations. One of those locations should be at a location other than at your business. One option is to use a backup device such as a hard drive or flash drive and store it in a remote location. Cloud storage offers another solution.

Using a scanner to create a pdf provides an easy way to store a copy of paper receipts obtained at the point of sale and other original paperwork. Include the receipt date in the pdf file name; that helps if you ever need to retrieve the receipt.

Tools and Equipment

Since projects slow down at the end of the year, this is an excellent time to inspect and maintain work vehicles and equipment. Go through the cargo trailer and toolboxes to compare the tools and the tool inventory list. Remove tools from inventory that are no longer in good shape from wear and tear or missing tools.

The company should maintain a tool inventory for insurance purposes. A tool inventory may also be required for reporting Tangible Personal Property taxes.

Corded and battery-operated tools have serial numbers. Some tools, such as air compressors, may have two serial numbers. Record the purchase date, tool’s name, price, and serial numbers. Also, take pictures for your records.

While everything is out of the cargo trailer, reorganize and mark tools. Spray paint handles, engrave tools, or use a permanent marker to mark tools with easily identifiable markings. Marked tools make it obvious who they belong to, should a tool be mistakenly left on a job site and helps to prevent theft. In the case of theft, marked tools are easier to recover.

Mileage

Gas receipts alone won’t meet IRS requirements. Whether you are claiming actual mileage expenses or are using the standard mileage deduction, it is essential to document the miles driven. The IRS requires written proof of date, start location, starting and ending miles, ending location, and the purpose of the trip.

If employees are reimbursed for mileage, the IRS requires that the reimbursements be properly documented. Undocumented mileage reimbursements are taxable income and reported on the W-2.

Per diems and allowances have special reporting instructions. Per diems and allowances that are in excess of expenses are taxable income and reported on the W-2.

Vendors

Worker Classification

If your company relies on subcontractors, it is your responsibility to determine their classification and verify their license and insurance status. Hiring unlicensed and uninsured workers can leave a general contractor vulnerable to fines and lawsuits.

General contractors must determine that the subcontractor is an independent contractor instead of employee. The IRS assumes the subcontractor is an employee, whereas the Department of Labor looks at the employment relationship, and state agencies have their own rules. Employers control an employee’s work. Independent contractors control their work.

In 2020, the IRS added a new form, a 1099-NEC, to report payments made to independent contractors instead of reporting payments on a 1099-MISC. Businesses must report nonemployee payments over $600 unless the company is an S-Corp, C-Corp, or an LLC treated as an S or C-Corp. Payments to attorneys, including Law Firms, are reported on the form 1099-NEC.

Certificate of Liability Insurance (COI)

General contractors must verify a subcontractor’s General Liability Insurance, and if the subcontractor has employees, they must also verify Worker’s Compensation Insurance. Obtaining an ACORD Certificate of Liability Insurance (COI) is necessary before hiring subcontractors to protect against liability issues. Adding the general contractor’s company as a certificate holder to the ACORD Certificate of Liability Insurance establishes that the policy exists.

The Certificate of Liability Insurance is valid for the policy term, usually one year. The general contractor must keep track of renewal dates to ensure coverage doesn’t lapse while the subcontractor is performing work. Some insurance companies automatically send the general contractor a new certificate at renewal time, but others do not.

Your insurer will audit your records for the Certificates of Liability Insurance, so that is one more reason to request them before hiring a subcontractor and maintaining current Certificates of Liability.

Completed Projects

Review open projects for punch list items. Complete punch lists and close open building permits on completed jobs. Punch lists consist of minor items remaining at the end of the project. Open building permits can create problems for homeowners and can prevent homeowners from selling a home until the permit is closed.

Marketing

The end of the year is a great time to let clients know that you appreciate them. If you haven’t already sent your clients a “Thank You” for the work, the end of the year is an excellent time to catch up and let them know.

Get feedback on completed projects. Follow up on projects that have been on hold and check to see if clients have any new projects they’ve been considering. Let clients know that you would like to get their project scheduled before your calendar gets filled.

Celebrate the end of the Year

It’s time to celebrate the end of the year. After a year of ups and downs, the end of the year is an excellent time to reflect on accomplishments, reward employees, and take a bit of time off before the next wave ramps up.

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Hiring Employees for your Construction Business

Before hiring your first employee for your construction business, you must consider preparing to manage another person. With construction, you have a very high level of responsibility for a client’s home. When you hire an employee, you take on additional responsibility. That means you have obligations to numerous government agencies.

Hiring employees for your construction company,

Capacity to Grow 

Do you have the capacity to grow? Hiring an employee also means that you must line up consistent work to keep that person busy as promised. That means if you hire a full-time person at 40 hours a week, you will grow your business by 2,080 hours for the year.

If you have taken care of all business details by yourself up until this point, now would be a good time to consider sourcing out payroll and HR responsibilities or creating an in-house position.

Ability to Process Payroll

Before you can hire employees, you must register with federal and state agencies and obtain workers compensation insurance in order to process payroll.

Step 1 Obtain an Employer Identification Number (EIN).  

Score provides 5 very good reasons for sole proprietor to obtain an EIN.

  1. It shows separation between the business and the individual.
  2. It protects personal privacy.
  3. Most banks require an EIN to open a business bank account.
  4. It helps to establish business credit.
  5. It indicates the business is credible.

Hiring an employee is one more reason to obtain an EIN. If you haven’t obtained an EIN for your business yet, you can obtain a free EIN by submitting an online application through IRS.gov.

Step 2 Register with your state’s unemployment insurance office and state’s taxation department.

Each state has an unemployment insurance program with its own rules. Each state sets its wage base and determines its tax rates for employers. Once the business registers, the state provides the unemployment insurance rate.

Step 3 Obtain Worker’s Compensation Insurance.

Each state sets its own rules and rates for Worker’s Compensation Insurance. Ohio, North Dakota, Washington, and Wyoming have monopolistic state funds from which businesses must purchase Worker’s Compensation. Competitive State Funds are state-owned and operated plans, keeping pricing affordable for high-risk industries, such as construction.  State funds are an alternative to private Worker’s Compensation insurance in twenty states.

Step 4 Decide how payroll will be processed.

In-house Payroll

Because of the amount of time involved with payroll processing and the amount of knowledge needed, it is rarely economical to process payroll yourself. Processing payroll in-house requires a subscription to a payroll program and knowledge of payroll laws. In-house payroll works well for companies that are large enough to hire a full-time office manager or accountant, but not as well for companies with only a few employees.

Accountant, Payroll Specialist, or CPA

Other options for construction companies with a small crew are to use an online payroll company or outsource payroll to an accountant, payroll specialist, or CPA.

Accountants and Certified Public Accountants (CPA) provide a range of accounting, payroll, and tax services. CPAs specialize in difficult and complex accounting issues and provide year-end accounting reviews and audits. Annual company audits are recommended for maintaining proper checks and balances.

Online Payroll

Online payroll is economical and offers employees a portal to paystubs and W-2’s. Once on-line payroll is set-up, the process to enter payroll is relatively easy. It’s a simple solution to keeping payroll cost down.

Time to Hire your Employee

Write a Job Description

It is a big step going from working alone to hiring an employee. Many remodeling companies start out with small jobs and sporadic scheduling. If your business is at this point, it may be best to hire a part-time position rather than a full-time position.

Ideally, the person you hire should be compatible with your goals and mission. In a perfect situation, you already know that person, but rarely does it work that way.

Before you can hire an employee, you must figure out what job they will perform.

Decide on the role of the new hire

  • Do you need someone with skills or are you willing to train?
  • Do they need their own tools and vehicle?
  • Will they be leading jobs?

Job description

  • Job description templates are readily available. A job description should include objectives, daily responsibilities, skills, and qualifications.
Search for the New Employee

After determining the job role, the next step to hiring an employee is to look for someone to work for you. Take time to find your employee. Since you could be spending more time around your employee than your family, you want to be around someone enthusiastic and excited to come to work each day.

Search during the slow season. Winter tends to be a good time for remodeling businesses to do some housekeeping. After a busy season, comes tax season. This is a good time of the year to plan for the upcoming busy season. The earlier you start recruiting, the more likely you will avoid desperately seeking someone during your busy time and it will give you more time for training.

Where to Recruit
  1. Network everywhere you can. Get the word out through family, friends, and organizations you belong to.
  2. Let people know you are hiring. Talk to people working with the public; your server when you pick up lunch, the cashier at the grocery store, your hair stylist.
  3. Post on local boards at the lumberyard, community college, Craigslist
  4. Hire through a temporary agency.
  5. Post through the Unemployment Office.
Independent Contractor or Employee Rules

Independent contractors are used widely throughout the construction industry. However, to treat a worker as an independent contractor, they must pass the rules set up by the individual states, the Internal Revenue Service, and the Department of Labor.

Two types of tests are used for determining employee classification. Each state has chosen how to adopt the tests.

  1. The Common Law Test used by the IRS, New York, District of Columbia, and 17 other states presumes the worker is a contractor unless the employer has any behavioral or financial control over the worker and based on the relationship of the parties.
  2. The ABC Test used by the Department of Labor and 33 states presumes the worker is an employee unless they are free of control or direction of the employer, their work is unusual for the hiring business, and whether they have a business identity.

The Department of Labor defines the employment relationship under the Fair Standards Labor Act (FSLA). The “economic reality” determines the employer-employee relationship test. It looks at the situation to determine if an individual is an employee or an independent contractor.

Workers are entitled to certain protections under the Fair Standards Labor Act. Employees that are misclassified as subcontractors miss out on wages and benefits that should be provided to them.

Worker classification is important and taken very seriously by the IRS and Department of Labor.

Job Application

A job application is used to screen employees for skills and experience. An application can go further than just asking for previous education and work experience.  The application can include questions that will establish the candidate’s industry knowledge and to determine how well the candidate will fit the role.

Include questions such as these:

  • Tell me about your carpentry experience.
  • Why are you interested in this position?
  • What skills would you like to develop?
  • What’s one of the most valuable lessons you’ve learned?

Avoid questions such as these:

  • What is your birthdate?
  • When did you graduate?
  • Why were you discharged from the military?
  • What is your race?
  • What country were you born in?
  • Are you married?

Social Security numbers aren’t needed for the job application. Although it is not unlawful to ask for a social security number, it adds risk to identity theft and privacy concerns. Therefore, avoid asking for social security numbers.

Asking for salary history is prohibited in some states to prevent pay inequality. Many states have adopted “ban the box” laws that prohibit asking for criminal history on the application to avoid applicants from being automatically disqualified from the selection process.

EEOC

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission enforces laws that protect against discrimination.

Application questions are unlawful when the requirements could screen out a disproportionately high percentage of candidates on the basis of protected status and are not justified for a business purpose. For more information, see EEOC Prohibited Employment Policies/Practices.      

For further information, EEOC provides answers through their Small Business Center.

Job Trial

A job trial provides an opportunity to determine the compatibility of a job candidate. If the job trial is unpaid, it cannot include unsupervised productive work. An unpaid job trial should only be long enough to demonstrate skills. A paid job trial has the benefit of seeing how the candidate performs in a real job environment.

Employee Paperwork

In order to issue a paycheck, the employee needs to complete required forms W-4 and I-9.

A W-4 is an employee withholding certificate that indicates the amount of tax to withhold. For states with withholding taxes, some will allow using the Federal W-4 and other states will have their own withholding form.

The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA) requires employers to verity identity and employment eligibility by using a form I-9.

Report New Hires

The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (PRWORA) requires reporting new hires in order to assist in the collection of child support and to detect and to prevent fraud of government benefit payments. Each state maintains its own website for reporting new hires.

Employee Required Posters

United States Department of Labor requires visibly posting workplace posters. The U.S. Department of Labor has a compliance assistance resource, FirstStep Poster Advisor. It determines the poster requirements through several questions. Obtain state posters through your state’s Department of Labor

OSHA provides a free workplace poster letting employees know their rights to job safety and health in the workplace. Twenty-two states have OSHA-approved safety and health programs.

Employee Handbook

A good amount of time can go into an employee handbook. Get a good start on it with The Ultimate Guide from Score. The Guide breaks down the components that belong in an employee handbook.

New Hire Orientation

The new hire introduction to the company should be organized and well planned. A checklist will help to make the orientation go smoothly. Provide a new hire packet on the employee’s first day that includes an employee handbook, benefits information, and pertinent information. The first day of work should welcome the new employee and introduce them to procedures and policies. After introductions, address required paperwork and time card procedure.

The second part of a new hire orientation in a construction company takes place in the field. A safety orientation is required and, at the minimum, needs to provide an overview of rights and responsibilities, health program and policies, and an overview of hazards, PPE, and reporting protocols. The safety program will need to meet state and federal requirements and be ongoing.

Retaining Employees

Employee turnover is expensive. It requires administrative time, training time, and can lead to higher unemployment insurance costs. Reduce turnover by implementing programs that address turnover issues.

  1. Recognition and rewards let employees know that you appreciate them.
  2. Pay competitive wages and give raises at regular intervals. Employees that are unhappy about payrate are quick to leave when a better paying job becomes available.
  3. Address concerns and allow open communication. Creating a pleasant work culture keeps people interested in staying.
  4. Advancement opportunities give people something to work towards achieving.
  5. Benefits!  Retirement plans are a win for the company and a win for the employee.
  6. Keep employees interested and learning by offering training opportunities.
  7. Little things make a difference. Something as simple as a birthday card can have a big impact.

Benefits

Benefits enhance what your company can offer employees and help to retain employees and have tax advantages for the businesses as well.

Health Insurance

Businesses with fewer than 50 employees my be eligible to purchase health insurance through Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP).

In addition to Health Insurance, employers may offer dental, vision, short-term and long-term disability, and life insurance.

Retirement Plans

Employers with one or more employee may offer retirement plans. There are two options for small business owners: Simple and SEP.

A SIMPLE Saving Incentive Match Plan for Employees is an easy to administer plan making it popular for small businesses. The employer either matches up to 3 percent of the employee’s pay or makes a 2 percent contribution to every employee, whether the employee participates or not.

A Simplified Employee Pension Plan (SEP) is a traditional IRA plan that the employer funds. Employers make contributions to the employee’s plans at a set percentage, up to 25% of the employee’s salary or up to $58,000 for 2021, whichever is less.

Fringe Benefits

Fringe benefits are taxable, unless the law has excluded it. Qualified benefits such as cafeteria plans allow employees to receive benefits on a pre-tax free basis. Although cafeteria plans don’t include deferred pay, they can include qualified 401K plans. A cafeteria plan allows for payment of certain medical expenses through Flexible Spending Accounts (FSA) and Health Savings Accounts (HSA). A cafeteria plan may also include a Dependent Care Assistance Plan (DCAP), adoption assistance, and group life insurance coverage.

Other Benefits

Cash types of employee benefits such as paid time off for personal days, sick days, vacation days, paid holidays, and bereavement leave or year-end bonus are taxable benefits.

The value of meals gets included in the employee’s gross income; however, there is an exception for meals provided where the employee performs their job under certain circumstances. The meals must be for the employer’s convenience, not the employee’s. The value of meals may be excluded; if the employee is available for emergency calls, cannot leave due to a peak workload, or a short meal break doesn’t allow the employee to eat elsewhere.

De Minimis Fringe Benefits

De minimis means trivial or minor and come from a Latin phrase “de minimis non curat lex”.  The IRS has adopted the principle that the law is not concerned with insignificant or minor items that are so small it makes accounting unreasonable or impractical.  Internal Revenue Code section 132(a)(4) excludes de minimis benefits and allows employers to provide small benefits to employees without taxing employees.

The IRS is clear that cash or the equivalent of currency such as gift cards is not excludable from income, with an exception for an occasional meal or transportation money to enable an employee to work overtime. The employee must work an unusual, extended schedule.

What is a de minimis fringe benefit? To be a de minimis fringe benefit, it must be occasional or unusual in frequency.

Examples of de minimis fringe benefits: 

  • Occasional use of photocopier
  • Small gift such as flowers, cards at holidays or under a special circumstance
  • Occasional snacks and beverages
  • Group-term life insurance for employee spouse or dependent with a face value under $2,000
  • Personal use of a business phone

Payroll Reporting

Employers withhold taxes when they pay wages. The schedule for reports and tax due dates to agencies is based on the agency’s requirements. The employer submits taxes to the agencies for the company and on behalf of the employee.

Form 941

Form 941 is filed by most businesses with wages subject to withholding, Social Security, and Medicare taxes. It is used to report federal income tax withheld from the employee and report Social Security and Medicare taxes. Most businesses must file Form 941 quarterly and make the tax deposits, either monthly or semi-weekly, determined by the tax liability amount.

Some businesses may pay and file Form 944 on an annual basis, if their tax liability is under $1,000 a year and they have been notified by the IRS to file the Form 944 instead of a Form 941.

Form 940

The employer pays Federal Unemployment Tax quarterly and reported annually on Form 940. Form 940 is filed when wages of $1,500 are paid in a quarter or if a W-2 employee works 20 or more weeks of the year.

State and Local Income Tax

Seven states do not have withholding taxes, Alaska, Florida, Nevada, South Dakota, Texas, Washington, and Wyoming. All other states require employers to withhold state income tax from paychecks.

Some states may have additional taxes, such as short and long-term disability. Seventeen states allow cities, counties, school districts, or special districts to impose additional taxes.

State Unemployment Tax Act (SUTA)  

Employers pay SUTA also referred to as State Unemployment Insurance (SUI) to provide benefits to displaced workers. However, in a few states, Florida, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania employees also pay SUI.

Workers Compensation

Reporting requirements vary by state. Self-insured employers and state funded Worker’s Compensation may have reporting requirements.

W-2 and W-3

Employee wages are reported on Form W-2. W-2’s must be provided to employees by January 31st of the following year. Form W-3 is a summary of the W-2 forms. The W-3 and copies of the W-2’s are sent to Social Security annually by January 31.

Payroll reports must be submitted timely and accurately, and taxes must be paid on time. When you prepare to hire your first employee, plan to hire a professional to take care of your payroll and benefits as well.

Disclaimer: This article is not intended to provide tax or legal advice. Always use professional services when making business decisions.

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