Monthly Archives: October 2019

What’s Buried Under Your Construction Site?

Finding toxic waste or hazardous materials isn’t the only disturbing thing you might find as you dig into a construction site. In many parts of the country, people start work on a construction project only to learn that it was a sacred burial ground long ago. There may be laws you have to follow when you discover such things, especially if they involve human remains. Here’s a few tips that will help you keep your head and your project on schedule.

Consider Testing Before You Dig
You can often avoid a lot of problems simply by doing some research in advance of the project. If you’re subcontracting, you might not have as much say in the process before you start. Otherwise, consider getting a sense for what might be under the surface. Soil testing helps to reveal possible contaminants or toxins that could cause problems once they come out of the ground. If you’re worried that you might be disrupting an old graveyard or burial ground, look at old surveys of the property. You might even be able to see old pictures to give you more information.

Research Local Rules
In California, this practice is common enough that there may be state and local guidelines in place to guide your actions. In September 2019, workers participating in a project to widen the 405 in Orange County found remains they believed to come from Indigenous Americans. The law dictates that they were unable to release information about the location or what they found except to local authorities. Investigate state laws concerning finding human remains, and see if the city or county has a task force that helps to handle the situation. This will help ensure that you can manage things without making yourself liable.

Create a Plan of Action
No one expects to dig into the ground and find bones unless they’re working in a field like archeology or anthropology. This means that you and your employees might be surprised or even shocked by the presence of remains. It’s best to start with a plan of action. Tell your employees that if they find remains, they should:

  • stop work at the site immediately
  • alert local authorities
  • avoid telling anyone about the site

This can happen in almost any part of the state. Dry areas can preserve bones for millennia, which means that you may have no idea what is lurking beneath 10 or even 15 feet of dirt.

Avoid Disturbing the Site
Really old remains look quite different from bones of those who died a few years ago. Besides that distinction, you may have no idea exactly what you have found. That is why you should leave it alone as soon as you find it, until authorities have a chance to investigate. It may not be human remains. It could be a burial ground. It might be evidence of a crime. Leaving the remains as they are allows investigators to determine the most information, including whether or not they should do additional digging to search for other remains.

Keep Information Discreet
Once you’ve alerted the authorities, it is not necessarily obvious what will be the next course of action. You may need to let the client know that there has been a delay, although local guidelines will determine how much information you can give them. Officials usually like to keep these finds quiet at first, as a way to avoid further disruption of the site. Although it may be difficult not to go rushing to the newspapers with the story, you may find it makes sense. For your own workflow, you don’t want a flood of tourists arriving to traipse through your worksite once you get clearance to continue.

There are lots of things hiding under the surface that you might not know about. Research in advance can help flush out a few possibilities, but you won’t know everything until you dig. Making a plan helps you avoid finding more than you bargained for. To dig into a construction career you’ll enjoy for years to come, visit CSLS today!

When to Say No to Projects for Your Contracting Business

In an industry that is dictated largely by season and often unpredictable, it’s hard to imagine a time when you’d ever want to decline bidding on a project. However, there are cases when you might get in over your head on a project that has major flaws. When you’re first starting out, you don’t want to be too selective in the kind of work you’ll do related to your business. But there are definitely a handful of red flags you should watch for so you know when to pass. Here’s what they are, and how you can decline projects professionally.

Client Doesn’t Know What They Want
Sometimes, you may get a client who could be good, but they’re too far up the sales funnel. Many people start reaching out to contractors before they have a fully-developed sense of what they want from the project. This can be a problem if you try to push them to commit to details too early. They may decide that they want something smaller, or fail to have the budget necessary for the project they have in mind. Instead, give them a few resources they can use to ideate and get a sense for the total cost, as well as your contact information.

Client Won’t Commit to a Bid or Estimate
There’s a reason everyone in business recommends getting the details in writing. Without them, it’s just your word against your client’s. Clients who push away the idea of a signed contract in favor of a verbal conversation can create big issues for the project. They may fail to understand the details and therefore underestimate costs. They may deliberately confuse the issue in an attempt to get you to do more work than you agreed to do. They could even expect you to change the project halfway through. Make it a regular process to get a signed contract before you start doing any work.

You’re Unsure if the Client Can Pay
Making sure the client can pay applies to big and small projects. When you’re working with property owners who have little experience in construction, get a firm number on their budget before you start planning. If your bid is coming near the top, make sure you put enough in your estimate to cover all costs. Clients may not be able to pay more than their listed budget, and you might have to fight to get what’s owed. For larger projects, ask for evidence that they have the funds to pay you at the right times. If they can’t, tell them that you’ll be willing to start work once they can prove they have funds in place.

Client Asks for Unreasonable or Illegal Terms
There’s a difference between making a stretch to meet the client’s terms and completely blowing away all your boundaries. You want to set a clear threshold between these two so you don’t end up in a situation you can’t manage. Some clients want a rush job that simply can’t be done in the time allotted. Others may ask you to skip getting permits or other required items to save money or time. These requests are not just unrealistic–they also put you at risk. Explain that your processes include adherence to local guidelines, and that you can’t change them without risking liability.

Trust Your Gut Instincts
When you’re trying to get established or you’re stuck in the middle of a slow season, it’s tempting to take any work for the sake of income. But there are instances in which the work is going to cost you more in effort and frustration than the benefit of payment. If the red flags are piling up and every instinct tells you to decline, it’s often best to respect it. Sticking to reasonable business operations will help preserve your abilities for the next project.

Running your own contracting business involves learning when to take new projects, and when to let them go. It begins with a solid grounding in the rules and standards of the construction industry. To start your education, visit CSLS today!

How Your Contracting Business Can Maintain Relationships With Partners

The longer you develop your business, the more opportunities you have to build relationships with business partners. Your contractors, subcontractors, supply chain and other companies help to keep you running smoothly. When you do it right, it’s a win-win for everyone involved. The trick is that you have to maintain the relationship so that it’s always there when you need it. Here’s a few ways to make it a priority.

Get on a First-Name Basis
You hear a lot about business success not being so much what you know, as who you know. In a competitive industry with a lot of small contracting businesses, this is certainly true. The better someone knows you and your work, the more likely they are to call you first when they need something. This is where all those networking skills come in handy. Whether you’re a B2B or a B2C, selling your services is paramount. You need to make sure that people with the right connection in the industry not just know your name, but can remember it. You can do this by communicating with them on a regular basis and remembering who they are, as well.

Keep Tabs on Your Contractors and Subcontractors
Businesses change names or switch owners all the time. Your job is to know who you need to talk to and how best to reach them. Once you get this information, write it down in a place where your employees can get easy access to it. At least once every six months, follow up with your most important business partners and confirm that your contact information is correct. The last thing you want to do is end up with a dead phone number or an email address that now goes into a black hole, right when you need it most.

Give as Much as You Take
Everyone has a friend who only comes around when they want something. Not surprisingly, there are plenty of businesses that run on the same premise. If you’re always asking for favors and not offering something in exchange, you may find that businesses are less interested in maintaining the relationship. Instead, make sure that you reciprocate on a regular basis. If you’re at the point where you might consider someone a colleague or a friend, get together for lunch or coffee on occasion. This little effort can remind someone that you’re a valuable part of their own business success.

Keep Your Promises
A lot of making sure you have a smooth workflow involves keeping up with your business partners, but there’s another step. You need to be a person they want to continue working with. When you first get started, it is really tempting to overpromise as a way to secure a bid or contract. The trouble is that if you underdeliver, you’ve given a cast-iron reason not to work with you again. Sure, completing a project late and over budget is practically part of the job description, but that doesn’t mean people will be happy about it. Set realistic goals you know you can achieve, and let your reliability secure your reputation.

Build Redundancy Into the System
In a field like construction, turnover is as predictable as the Santa Ana winds. The difficulty with cultivating long-term relationships with your subcontractors or supply chain is that you’ll develop relationships that break from time to time. This is where you want to build some redundancy into the system. If you have an employee who always talks to a particular company, make it a point to call them yourself on occasion. This helps them remain familiar with you, as you are with them. It makes for a more seamless transition, when one of your employees needs to move on.

Running a successful contracting business requires help from other businesses. To get their regular assistance, you need to develop a relationship that you can maintain for years to come. To learn how you can become your own boss in construction, contact CSLS today!

Is Lung Disease Making a Comeback in Construction? How You Can Protect Yourself.

Black Lung Disease feels like a reminder of a completely different time. And yet, lung disease caused by the repeated inhalation of a toxic substance is making a comeback in California and other states. The push for engineered stone countertops in residential and commercial construction is creating a problem that many people thought had largely been eradicated. The cutting of silica for countertops, as well as silica dust left on the jobsite, has led to several cases of silicosis. This is a permanent and serious health condition. Here’s what you need to know, and how you can protect yourself and your employees.

What Is Silicosis?
If you haven’t worked with silica personally, you’re probably at least familiar with the packets used in shelf-stable food items to help keep them fresh. Silica is a common mineral that makes up a lot of things you see all the time, like quartz, sand or even glass. When ground down to a powder, silica is surprisingly easy to inhale. But once you get it into your system, it’s practically impossible to get it out. It only takes a few weeks to start showing symptoms of silicosis, or you might not notice it for years. Common signs include:

  • regular cough
  • chest pain
  • fever
  • breathing difficulties

Since these are common symptoms of a variety of conditions, it’s sometimes hard to diagnose. Once you’ve got it, it’s a chronic lung disease you’ll have to manage for the rest of your life. Silicosis can make the side effects of smoking worse, and is associated with a higher risk of lung cancer. It can even be fatal, especially with high exposure.

Why Is Lung Disease Becoming a Problem in Construction?
Silicosis has been a concern in the mining industry for more than a century. People who are mining granite or quartz get a high level of exposure to it, which increases the likelihood that they will inhale it. It’s becoming a bigger problem in construction, due to the increased popularity of engineered stone countertops. Silica is the primary component of these countertops. At this point, experts are reporting at least 18 cases in four states including California. Although that may not seem like much, it’s possible that there are many more out there that haven’t been diagnosed yet. The seriousness of the condition indicates that people at risk should take steps to prevent it.

Which Fields Are At Risk?
People who manufacture glass or stone countertops are the ones most likely to deal with silica dust. However, anyone who works in adjacent fields or in areas where others are working with silica may also be at risk. This means that if you’re working in electrical in a new house where another contractor is cutting a quartz countertop, you could be inhaling the dust. You’re at risk, even if you’re coming in after they are done.

How Can Contracting Businesses Protect Themselves?
Proper procedures can make the difference between health and a higher risk of cancer or other long-term health problems. If you’re working with or near silica, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration recommends several prevention steps, including:

  • avoiding eating or drinking near silica dust
  • use different materials for blasting
  • washing properly after working with silica
  • relying on water or wet products for cleaning instead of compressed air

In addition, employers may want to educate themselves and their employees about the common signs and symptoms of silicosis. A faster diagnosis can help avoid the problem getting worse.

Working in construction was always a little bit risky, but there are modern trends that can make it worse. Knowing about the rise in silicosis cases in California can help you identify ways that you can run your business safely and effectively. To learn more about the best practices for a variety of construction fields and prepare to take your licensing exam, contact CSLS today!

Are Unlicensed Contractors Stealing Your Business? Here’s What to Do

It’s so hard to do the right thing when you’re surrounded by people who don’t. You go to the effort of studying and taking the time to get your license so you can operate honorably. Then you see unlicensed contractors driving through neighborhoods and business districts, offering services to people who might be your customers. California does allow unlicensed contractors to do certain types of projects, but there are strict limitations. Here’s a few tips to make sure that you’re not losing work to people who shouldn’t be taking those projects in the first place.

Know the Rules for the Project
The rules for projects that may or may not need a licensed contractor depend on the state. In the state of California, anyone who wants to do a project that costs $500 or more for labor and materials needs a contractor’s license. This limits the legal work that unlicensed contractors can do, since $500 for the full project doesn’t go very far. Keep in mind that state licensing requirements don’t usually transfer unless the state has a reciprocity agreement. This means that someone who has an active license in Nevada may be able to do work in California, but someone licensed in Illinois might not.

Understand the Risks of Unlicensed Contract Work
If you ever felt inclined to ignore this problem in your area, you should know there’s several reasons to pay attention. It’s not just that unlicensed contractors might be taking your clients with promises of lower costs or quicker turnarounds. They often do work of lower quality, especially if they don’t have the same amount of experience that a licensed contractor does. They’re less likely to follow building conventions, like obtaining the right permits for the job. They may even scam property owners with fake offers of work for an advance payment. This can turn into an expensive headache for you, when property owners call you in to fix a mess.

Gather Information About Unlicensed Contractors
Doing work as an unlicensed contractor outside the legal limits is a criminal act punishable by fines and/or prison time. As with any other criminal case, the state needs evidence to prosecute and hope to get a conviction. Most unlicensed contractors know this, so they’ll try to avoid putting too much in writing. Your job is to gather everything that they leave behind, like estimates, receipts for payment, or advertising materials falsely claiming that they have a license.

Report Violations
Once you have some information on unlicensed contractors in your area, you need to report them. Doing this consistently may not feel like a triumph, but you should keep in mind that you’re saving a lot of people trouble by doing it. The Contractors State Licensing Board (CSLB) has two ways you can report violations. You can fill out a form to file a complaint that someone is advertising illegally. You can also submit a lead referral to the Statewide Investigative Fraud Team (SWIFT). The more information you can provide, the better the state organizations can follow up on the report.

Make Showing Your License a Part of the Process
It’s unfortunate but true that most property owners learn about this the hard way. Too many people say that they didn’t think to ask for or verify a license because they assumed the contractor had it covered. You can do your part to cut down on the problem by making it a point to show your license in every consultation with a prospective client. When they see you take this step, they’ll come to expect it from everyone they consult. This erodes the market for unlicensed contractors, making it a less-profitable way to earn a living.

Unlicensed contract work is a serious problem in California, and the state needs licensed contractors to help root it out. To discover more benefits of earning your contractor’s license, contact CSLS today!

Can Your Client Afford the Project? Here’s How Your Contracting Business Can Find Out

When you put in a bid for a project, you generally expect to prove that you can actually do the work. But since you have so much riding on every project you do, you should probably be doing the same thing for your clients. Every contractor has a horror story about a client that seemed legit and then bailed on the bill at the end. If you don’t want this to happen to you, there are a few things you can do to follow up on a client’s ability to pay. Here are some things to ask for, and ways to request them without alienating prospective customers.

Set a Pay Interval You Can Manage
It’s really tempting to let clients pay you whenever it suits them. If you do this long enough, you might go out of business. Companies that have a lot of overhead may teach you that it never suits them to pay you in a timely manner. Instead of catering entirely to their preferences, find out the regional billing standards for your industry. Depending on the project, you might charge the full price upon completion, or bill with 30, 60 or 90 days to pay. Don’t let this aspect of business administration slip through the cracks. You don’t want to discover that they had the money when you did the project, but spent it by the time you billed them.

Know When You Can Ask for Financial Verification
There’s basically two times that you can ask for proof that a client has funds sufficient for the project: at the beginning, and if something happens during the construction process. The latter can create a sticky situation, so it’s better to find out about this before you start ordering materials and scheduling hours. This is also a good opportunity to ask about timelines. If the property owner’s ability to pay is contingent upon them securing a grant or other public funds, make sure they got it and will have the money ready before you start.

Get Evidence From the Start
Beyond feeling comfortable that the client will be able to meet their end of the deal, the kind of evidence you collect depends how far you intend to take it if the client doesn’t. Usually, you can ask for verification of ability to pay in the form of a loan, offer of credit or a bank statement showing sufficient funds. If the client fails to do on your initial request, it’s probably best not to do any more work until they can provide evidence. If you bill for portions of the project in stages, send invoices on time and track when they are paid. In the event that you have to pursue someone to get the rest of your money, these records will be necessary.

Avoid Project Scope Creep
Of course, there are instances when everything checked out at the beginning, until the project exploded in scope. This underscores the need to give a clear estimate before signing any contracts to provide service. If the client changes their mind about something and requests a change, clarify those changes in writing and have everyone sign a new contract. This helps avoid confusion at the end, especially if the alterations mean the total is higher.

Choose a Reliable General Contractor
At times, part of your work might involve subcontracting to another general contractor. As a general rule, the general contractor for the project is the one who has both the right and the responsibility to verify a client’s ability to pay. And typically, you’re going to wait to get paid until they do. As a result, you’ll do better to work with general contractors who have experience and the savvy to know how to follow up with clients for this information. That way, you’re less likely to be left on the hook for your expenses if the project fails.

Keeping the income flowing through your contracting business is the way you succeed. That takes clients who can pay for the services they request. For more information about starting a successful business in construction, visit CSLS today!

What Are Prevailing Wage Laws, and How Do They Affect Your Contracting Business?

If you’re accustomed to working in the private sector, you may think that businesses get to set the wages they pay their employees, with few limitations. For the public sector and a wide variety of public works projects, prevailing wage laws are the order of the day. This regulation dictates how much you have to pay your employees in order to secure a public works project. Here are the basics of prevailing wage laws, and how they may relate to your contracting business.

What Are Prevailing Wage Laws?
A prevailing wage is a set hourly wage dependent on the area, including benefits and overtime. About 100 years ago, the wages that contractors and subcontractors might be paid for public works projects depended heavily on the state. Although this is still true to some degree, federal legislation establishes specific controls. The Davis-Bacon Act of 1931 ruled that on these types of projects over a certain amount of money, contractors had to be paid a specific wage that was considered average for the area. Many states like California have added their own laws to this federal legislation, providing clarification as they saw fit. These are considered prevailing wage laws.

What Are the Pros and Cons of Prevailing Wage Laws?
If you think about the Great Depression and the lack of worker protections that people were facing in the 1920s, it may not be difficult to think about what people hoped to achieve with prevailing wage laws. Someone who has hired people who are willing to work for far less money may be able to underbid other companies for the same job. This can lead to a race to the bottom as every business tries to survive on less.

On the other hand, many experts argue that setting wages for projects like this can hinder innovation and development. They claim that if someone is willing to work for a certain wage, they should be allowed to use that secure contracts. Higher wages set by the state can increase costs to the point that a business struggles to survive. Even the early proponents of the policies argued that oversight was difficult to guarantee, and that the laws may not provide enough of a penalty to discourage businesses from violating the rules.

How Can Prevailing Wage Laws Affect Your Contracting Business?
If you want to bid on a public works project in the state of California, you must show that you pay a specific per diem set by the state. This also applies to certain types of residential construction, if the funds to build are paid partially out of public funds. State officials use the most common wage that workers in a particular trade or classification are paid in the area. The state sets these numbers twice a year, on February 22 and August 22. These numbers may be set by the county or for a larger area. You can always pay your workers more for the work than the prevailing wage, but you may not pay less.

What Can Business Owners Do to Ensure Compliance?
If you’re interested in these types of projects, you need to be ready to prove you are compliant with prevailing wage laws. This is particularly important for businesses that have contracts in multiple states, which all have their own forms and specific criteria companies have to follow. If you’re trying to cut costs and do it the old-fashioned way, make sure you’ve got the right numbers for the area and the time of year. These rates expire every six months. For simplicity, you might try using software that will specifically handle prevailing wage paperwork. This can make it easier to ensure that you are up-to-date on the rules and less likely to have a bid rejected because you used obsolete wage rates.

Payroll is one of the biggest parts of your business overhead, and prevailing wage laws can make it more complicated. By understanding what they are and how to ensure your business meets the requirements, you can better ensure a successful bid on public works projects. To discover other benefits of starting your own business as a licensed contractor, contact CSLS today!

California’s New Independent Contractor Law and How It May Affect Your Contracting Business

These days, independent contractors are a popular hiring approach for all kinds of businesses. Companies like Uber rely largely on staff with no benefits and little rights within the company. With the recent passage of California’s AB 5 law, the way an independent contractor works in the state is about to change. Here’s what you can expect from the new law, and a few ways it might affect your contracting business.

What Is the Difference Between an Employee and an Independent Contractor?
Independent contractors have been a prominent feature of the construction industry for decades, so it may be difficult for people in the industry to understand why California passed this new law. After all, an independent contractor has a lot of flexibility that a regular employee of a business does not. If you want to set your own hours and select the projects you think will be the best fit for you, being independent helps you achieve that. It’s why a lot of people start a contracting business in the first place. However, being your own boss also means that you lose a lot of the protections that state and federal laws guarantee employees. These include:

  • minimum wages
  • tax withholding
  • access to health insurance
  • retirement planning

When you’re not someone’s employee, it’s on you to provide these things for yourself. You may even pay higher taxes as a result.

What Triggered AB 5’s Passage?
Nationwide, companies have been switching from a workforce primarily made of employees to one mostly made up of contractors. For people who want the benefits of running their own businesses and working for a variety of clients or organizations, this can be a benefit. However, a number of businesses have recently been called out for abusing this system as a way to pay lower wages while still confining their workers to employee-like conditions. Businesses that rely on a large workforce to provide remote services, like Uber, are the primary targets of this new legislation.

What Is the AB 5 Law?
The AB 5 law was passed in September 2019 and will take effect in California January 1st, 2020. Although the law only carries weight in the state of California, it may affect companies located in other places that hire contractors based in California. Basically, the law requires that businesses that use independent contractors be able to prove that the people they hire in this capacity function as independent contractors. In order to classify as an independent contractor, people must:

  • be able to select their own work and generally control how it is done
  • perform work other than that which the business generally does
  • have an independent line of work or their own business

This means that someone who runs a business as an independent contractor wouldn’t be classified as an employee under this law. However, someone who works under the dictates of the business owner and performs tasks related to the core of the business may be ruled an employee under AB 5.

What Does AB 5 Mean for Construction Businesses?
When you first start out as an independent contractor, it makes sense to establish yourself as a separate business. This will provide an easy form of proof against any claims when you work as a subcontractor under someone else. Once you get to the point of hiring employees, make sure that anyone you bring on as an independent contractor can meet these requirements. Companies that treat regular workers as contractors when they really should be employees can get hit with a higher tax liability and penalties.

Being an independent contractor is part of what many people love about the construction industry. You get to control your own destiny. Just make sure that you know what the local laws are, so you can do it right. To get started on the path to building your future, visit CSLS today!