Boosting Construction Profitability: Understanding Margins and Success Strategies

August 3, 2023

The Nitty Gritty

  • Find out why profit margins in the construction industry are a critical component of success
  • Take a look at key terms and factors that can influence profit margins
  • Learn how to calculate your own profit margin and see how you compare with industry averages
  • Pick up strategies on how to improve profitability in construction
A person is wearing a yellow hard hat and safety goggles and smiling towards another individual wearing a yellow hard hat.

The construction industry contends with a disheartening average profit margin. In fact, the average profit margin for construction often oscillates between three and seven percent.

But don't worry, we will show you how to improve profitability in construction. You can move the needle in the right direction with carefully thought out strategies. Let's take a further look into profit margins.

Profit Margins in the Construction Industry

Given the low-profit margin, you must play your cards right to boost your profits and avoid tumbling down into the negative. You need to consider all costs, including direct and indirect (including calculating your overhead) expenses. Also, be mindful of your competition and don’t shy away from technology, as it helps streamline processes and get business through the door faster. Calculating your net profit margin helps you find your current position. That way, you can better understand how to steer your business into a brighter future.

Key Terms in Determining Profit Margins

When understanding your profit margins in the construction industry, there are several key terms that are important to get to grips with.

  • Gross Profit Margin: The difference between revenue and cost of goods sold (COGS) divided by total revenue.
  • Net Profit Margin: Subtract all expenses, including taxes and overhead, from gross profit margin to calculate net profit margin.
  • Direct Cost: Expenses directly related to your project. They include materials, rent and labor costs.
  • Overhead Expenses: Also known as indirect costs, overhead expenses aren't directly related to your construction projects but are necessary to keep the business running. Examples include administrative, utilities, phones, insurance, marketing, staff salaries, rental equipment and legal and maintenance costs. Generally, you should track this in your job costing report. Reducing these costs can help improve your average profit margins, just as increased overhead can decrease your construction profitability analysis.
  • Cost of Goods Sold (COGS): Adding together both direct and indirect costs to determine the total cost of providing a service.
  • Revenue: Total revenue is your income from delivering your construction service and jobs over a certain period.
  • Markup: This is the amount you charge on top of your overhead expenses to maintain a profitable business.
  • Competition: A competitive market may force you to reduce your profit margins to grab bids. But you can use other tactics to ensure your margin is left intact- such as delivering unique services, improving productivity, laser-targeting a specific audience (niching down), and offering top-notch customer service.
  • Technology: Embracing cutting-edge construction technology can offer a one-stop platform for managing costs, revenue and activities.

Understanding these key terms can help identify potential areas for improvement when increasing profitability on construction projects. By being aware of what affects each element of the calculation – such as labor costs, material costs and overhead fees – you can ensure you have an accurate view of your profits. Allowing for well informed decisions about how best to increase profits moving forward.

Factors Affecting Construction Industry Profit Margin

It’s important to understand what factors can have an impact on your profitability. Getting a firm grasp on these can ‌maximize profitability on construction projects and ensure that your business stays ahead of the competition.

Price: Of course, price is an important factor when it comes to profitability. The cost of materials and services will have a direct impact ‌on your final profit. But while increasing prices can improve profitability, it can also cost you jobs.

Productivity levels: If employees are not able to work efficiently and complete tasks within a reasonable time, this could lead to higher labor costs and longer completion times for projects.

Location: The location of a project can also impact its profitability. Different areas across the country may require different labor rates or materials costs due to local regulations. Additionally, even within the same area, travel and costs getting your employees and equipment can impact costs and profit. Keep this in mind when calculating margins in order to remain competitive and profitable in any market you operate in.

Contract terms and payment schedules: Delayed payments from customers can significantly reduce profits on certain projects.

Project Size: The overall size of a project should also be taken into consideration when calculating margins - larger projects tend to have lower overhead costs, but may take longer to complete which could mean reduced profits if deadlines are not met.

Material Costs: Every industry continues to see fluctuating material costs. Without insights into material costs and availability, this can swing your profits into the positive or negative very quickly.

With accurate planning and analysis of each factor affecting your profit margins, you can identify areas for improvement and increase your bottom line while reducing overhead fees.

With accurate calculations and analysis each time, you will boost your bottom line and enhance your overall succes.

Average Profit Margin in Construction

So what is the typical overhead and profit margin in construction? The average net profit margin for the construction industry, for the first part of 2023 in the U.S. ranges from two to twenty percent. But, for home builders, the average profit margin is closer to ten percent.

So, what is a good profit margin for construction? If 10% is average, 15% is ideal and the minimum shouldn’t be any lower than 8% net profit margin. Of course, many factors come into play when calculating overhead and profit. Including the type of trade or general contractor doing the project, equipment used, project type, technical work required and your organization's size. That said, the profit margin in the construction business is tighter than those in other industries. But employing tried-and-true strategies can help skyrocket the figure and improve profitability in your business. Some of them include setting goals, analyzing expenses, and assessing efficiency.

How to Calculate Your Profit Margins

In the construction industry, calculating profit margins is a key component in gauging and improving profitability. Assessing this accurately requires tracking several elements such as labor costs, materials, subcontractors and overhead expenses.

Step 1: First determine your gross profit. Take your total revenue–this should be what you estimated, bid and the customer approved. Then subtract your overhead costs for the same period.

Revenue - Overhead Costs = Gross Profit

Step 2: Next, take your gross profit and subtract your job costs to determine net profit.

Gross Profit - Direct Costs = Net Profit

Step 3: Finally, calculate your net profit margin by taking your net profit and dividing by your revenue. Then multiply by 100 to see the figure as a percentage.

Net Profit / Revenue x 100 = Net Profit Margin

This indicates the percentage of revenue that represents your profit.

Let’s take a look at a profit margin calculation example with real numbers. Let’s say you bid and received $100,000 USD for your latest job. You have already calculated your overhead expenses and know this is about $5,000. So your gross profit would be:


Next, you will get your net profit by subtracting your job costs of $70,000.


Finally, divide your net profit by revenue and turn it into a percentage.

0.1 x 100=10
Profit Margin = 10%

Tracking profit margins regularly provides insight into areas where you can make improvements and become more profitable over time.

Having a good understanding of how to calculate profit margins is invaluable for businesses working in the construction sector. Knowing which factors affect job costs helps plan ahead more efficiently while staying competitive in the market space. With accurate calculations and analysis each time, you will boost your bottom line and enhance your overall success.

Calculating this regularly (by job, quarter, month) helps you analyze your project's performance and trend over a given period. Are you improving or just treading water? Simply compare it with your previous periods' net profit margins to get the answers.

A yellow hard hat is filled with dollar bills.

8 Ways of Increasing Profit & Reducing Overhead in Construction Projects

Did your number-crunching reveal that your profit margin needs improvement? It's time to slash overhead costs. Identifying specific gaps and inefficiencies in your business processes helps cherry-pick the most suitable methods. Here are our tried-and-true tips:

1. Safety first

Let's face it- the construction industry is among the most notorious ‌when it comes to unexpected workplace-related injuries. Those resultant compensation, legal fees, downtimes, and other related costs often eat into ‌total revenue.

But with robust safety measures, you can keep incidents at bay, safeguard your most crucial resources (employees), and save money. In fact, OSHA reveals that you can save $4-6 for every dollar you invest in safety.

So ensure everyone on the construction site wears proper PPE and adheres to safety precautions. Don't forget to regularly train and brief your workforce on safety matters to instill a culture of "safety first."

2. Employ job costing and management system

A multitude of issues haunt construction projects and profit-creation dreams. But with robust job management software, you can bid farewell to a lot of them.

A centralized software tool is a must-have if you want to prioritize efficiency by:

  • Estimating your budgets
  • Managing cash flow
  • Planning materials and equipment for every job or project
  • Acquiring and managing crucial data
  • Managing time wisely

In today's data-driven world, a cloud-based platform allows you to know your current position and the steps you need to take to succeed. You get a bird's eye view over your job costing capabilities, boosting your estimation game and reducing unexpected overruns.

3. Streamline Processes

Automating certain tasks or using mobile apps to track data in real-time cuts down time spent manually entering data into spreadsheets or other systems. Utilizing voice commands on hardware devices like headsets also streamlines processes by allowing workers to get critical information quickly while remaining hands-free. Using automation reduces overhead and helps your business be more efficient.

4. Negotiate payment terms wisely

You want your profit margin to shoot through the roof, right? Prompt payment from customers keeps cash flowing. Payment terms should be negotiated prior to signing any contract as delayed payments can cause cash flow issues. Having accounts receivable processes in place to safeguard cash flow and automating where possible. Including things such as:

  • Preliminary notices
  • Payment reminders
  • Notice of intent to lien
  • Engaging collection agency
  • Early payment coupons

A robust accounts receivable policy ensures you're ready to recover the maximum profit possible.

5. Be mindful of accounts payable

Your accounts payable needs attention too. Late payments to suppliers and subcontractors can attract penalties that bite into your profit margin.

Construction management software helps control these fees. You can easily monitor pending invoices and pay as soon as possible. Pro tip: Remember to inquire if the subs and vendors offer early payment discounts.

6. Keep track of job costing and inventory control records carefully

Accurately accounting for labor, materials, sub-contractors, and overhead expenses associated with each project, is a great way of obtaining an accurate picture of profits and losses from each job. Additionally, having detailed inventory records ensures that only the necessary materials are ordered to reduce waste and increase profitability.

7. Leverage new technologies when possible

The use of technology has revolutionized the construction industry by providing more efficient ways of completing tasks, such as estimating costs accurately using Building Information Modeling (BIM) software programs. Incorporating new technologies into your workflow also reduces human errors often occurring due to manual data entry.

There are a lot of moving parts and people in field service businesses so keeping communication open is key. The solution to avoiding a communication breakdown is pinpointing what went wrong and finding ways to not repeat mistakes. Invest in better communication technology, such as online messaging and mobile tracking, to help reduce the likelihood of miscommunication. Additionally, hold regular meetings, provide detailed instructions for tasks, and request regular progress updates to stay on top of projects.

8. Analyze bids sensibly

Construction contracts involve bidding from multiple parties, so analyzing bids carefully before selecting one is important. Not doing so could result in inaccurate estimates leading to poor decision making, overspending and reduced profitability. Comparing bids side by side and assessing risk levels associated with different contractors should always be taken into account when selecting who will handle the next project.

Pro tip: have a good system to keep track of contractors you can trust, to prepare accurate estimates and even weaknesses so you know who to go to next time.

What Next?

The construction industry's low-profit margins are due to high costs, low revenue, outdated management tools, and competition. But embracing the practices in this guide helps you stay on top of your margins.

Additionally, if you need to sharpen your job costing skills. Dive into our article about the job costing formula for tips on increasing your profits today.