The Indispensable Office Manager

Many business owners think that an office manager should be the last person you hire as your company grows. Those with experience say otherwise.

August 21, 2017
Seated man with with 6 arms each juggling a different task

Illustration: Pixabay.com

At the urging of a contractor networking group he joined a year ago, the owner of a Maryland roofing and gutter company hired his first office manager at the beginning of this year. Now, between running leads and visiting jobsites, he occasionally has something he’s had only rarely in the course of a day since starting his operation a few years back: time to think about where to take the business and how to get it there. 

If your roofing/siding/window company has grown to the point where you’re operating out of rented office space, you’ll probably find yourself stretched, as the owner, trying to take on and manage all the functions that need to happen in that office. For owners attempting to be their own office manager, those tasks will always fall to the bottom of the list.
 
Given the obvious demands of sales and production personnel, office staff tend to be the last employees a residential construction company hires. But there are plenty of company owners who will tell you that they wish an office manager had been their first hire. That’s because they learn that a good office manager is a bridge between the different parts and pieces of a company, and they come to rely on that person to keep operations running smoothly. 

Three-Step Plan

Whether you’re looking for your first office manager or filling an existing office manager position, put a three-step plan in place. First, figure out what you need your office manager to do, then, how much you can afford to pay, and finally, how you’ll oversee and support the office manager to ensure their success (and your own).

At a small, growing home improvement company—one with fewer than, say, ten employees—every worker wears multiple hats. That’s especially true for an office manager, so begin with a clear job description, or update the existing job description. “Think of your job description as the hook to lure the best candidates to your firm,” notes website wework.com. “[A good job description] ensures that your job candidates get the key information they need quickly. The best candidates are busy, so they want to be sure the job is for them before reading on.”

That description will generally cover clerical activities and accounting tasks such as bookkeeping. “Responsibilities could include data entry, reception duties, motivating and training an administrative staff, and some traditional human resources tasks, such as managing expenses, payroll or training,” notes Christine Lagorio-Chafkin, at Inc.

Think about what you actually need to have done. Office manager duties in a home improvement company could also include setting and confirming appointments, ordering product, processing contracts, scheduling employee time, tracking job progress schedules, collaborating with you or salespeople in preparing proposals, implementing new software—you name it. The list is almost endless because parts of the job will always be changing. Lagorio-Chafkin suggests you include in that job description the phrase “duties as assigned, just in case the job morphs over time or something is omitted.” 

For more ideas on what to include in a job desription, recruiting website jobhero.com comes at the issue from the other end, offering several sample resumes for people who have held office manager positions at construction companies. 

What to Pay

Now figure out what you’re going to pay your office manager. Payscale.com surveyed residential remodeling companies by state and lists median salary for an office manager at a remodeling company as $41,282. That compares with a project manager making $52,172 and a carpenter earning $45,495. These figures will be somewhat higher if your business is located in an urban area, and lower if in a rural area.

And now’s not the time to scrimp, advises Van Thompson at the Small Business Chronicle: “Pay a wage that is competitive with other businesses, and thoroughly vet employees by checking references and verifying experience prior to hiring them. An incompetent employee can cost your business lots of money, and high turnover poses a significant expense.”

Take-Charge Attitude

In hiring, skills and experience don’t always predict success. You’ll need to communicate in both your ad and in job interviews what working for you and in that office will be like. Some people thrive in a large, congested office environment. Others work well in a small, low-key setting. Chances are, yours is a small office with one or two people and you’ll be working with the office manager every day. Make sure that’s communicated in your ad.

In Nevada Small Business, Gina Blitstein lists a set of skills and temperamental qualities absolutely essential to running the office at a small business. These include time management skills to ward off a never-ending list of distractions, the ability to prioritize tasks and projects, people skills—to manage customers, suppliers, and subcontractors—and the ability to communicate clearly. But you also want someone who’ll take charge. “An ideal office manager ‘owns’ the position,” she writes. “He or she is assertive in asking for what they need and proactive when it comes to planning and organizing. He or she readily delegates duties in order to most effectively utilize resources and manpower.” 

Finally, make sure your office manager has the tools, authority, and resources that he or she needs to succeed. Writing at Quora, Gil Silberman advises: “Make it clear that you are the boss and she needs to stick to a budget and work with you (and maybe the team, or board) for major decisions, but that you have delegated most of the authority to her. Respect that authority. Don't micromanage her. Listen to any complaints and signs of trouble from staff, for example that she is playing politics or stealing, but don't let any of the staff (or customers, vendors, etc.) go around her to get to you to override her decisions or ask for favors.” 

Smart advice. To which he adds: “Make sure that she understands and is ready to enforce the law and workplace rules on things like fire safety, avoiding harassment, disabled access, cleanliness, professional work environment, and so on. Give her the tools to learn and know all this stuff.”

About the Author


About the Author


Philadelphia-based writer Jim Cory is a senior contributing editor to Professional Remodeler who specializes in covering the remodeling and home improvement industry. Reach him at coryjim@earthlink.net.

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