17 Characteristics of Successful Contractors – How Many Characterize You?

Oct. 16, 2015
Matt Michel has started four international contractor organizations and worked with thousands of contractors. He describes 17 characteristics of the most successful contractors.

What traits do successful contractors share? After starting four international contractor organizations and literally, working with thousands of contractors, I’ve identified 17 characteristics of successful contractors. It’s the rare individual who possesses all, but all successful contractors possess most.

1. Curiosity

Successful contractors are curious about things. They never stop learning. They never stop questioning. They retain an open mind because there is always something new to learn. They read. They watch TED Talks videos. They listen to podcasts. They hang out after contractor meetings and talk business to learn what other contractors are doing.

2. Humility

Successful contractors are humble. They are willing to acknowledge a mistake, apologize when necessary, and recognize the talent of others. They recognize that anyone can contribute, though not in the same way. After all, a belief in personal omnipotence is self-limiting for a company. By contrast, humility is expansive.

3. Self-Awareness

Closely tied to humility is self-awareness. Shakespeare advised, “To thine own self be true.” Successful contractors are true to themselves and know their limitations. They know when to stop and recharge, when to “sharpen the saw,” when to relax.

4. Vision

Successful contractors have a vision for life that can be accomplished through the business. This leads to a vision for the business, which is shared with the team. As Solomon warned, “Where there is no vision, the people perish.”

5. A Calling

Related to a vision, successful contractors feel a calling. The calling is difficult to describe, but it means they see a bigger picture and higher purpose. For many it is spiritual and faith based. For some it is service oriented, involving caring for the people in the community. For others, it relates to the people and families dependent on the success of the business. These are not mutually exclusive.

6. Servant Leadership

Related to a calling is servant leadership. Successful contractors demonstrate leadership by serving others in their company and communities. They give and serve. Because they give and serve, more is given to them. It’s not why they give and serve. It’s just an inevitable outcome.

7. Persistence

Successful contractors are resilient. When times are tough, they tough it out. They may not do everything right, but they keep trying to do more right today than yesterday. They simply do not give up.

8. Integrity

Successful contractors have integrity and never compromise it. They know that a person unwilling to stand for something will fall for anything.

9. Optimism

Successful contractors see the glass as half-full. They make conscious choices to view the world positively, even when faced with setbacks. They see challenges as potential. They see mistakes and lessons learned, paving the way for a better future. They correctly see an economic downturn as an opportunity to grow market share.

10. Communication Skills

Contractors are not always natural communicators, though successful contractors learn how to become good communicators, both one-on-one and in a group setting. Whether natural communicators or not, successful contractors work on becoming better communicators.

11. Risk Tolerance

An ability to tolerate risk is part and parcel of any business, but especially a contracting business. Successful contractors know that risk is necessary for rewards and do not try to save their way to prosperity.

12. Innovativeness

Successful contractors embrace industry innovations, even if they do not create them themselves. They are the first to try flat rate pricing or performance pay. They are the contractors who are among the first to brand their companies, to operate extended hours, to embrace social media, and offer customers the option of set appointments.

13. Flexibility

Innovativeness goes hat in hand with flexibility. Where you find one, you almost always find the other. It takes flexibility to try new things and more flexibility to make adjustments when the new things do not work as expected. Flexibility means looking at the big picture and long range objective, rather than the near term minutia.

14. Focus

The opposite of “bright shiny object syndrome” is focus. Contractors who fall victim to bright shiny object syndrome are always dropping everything to branch out into a new trade, to buy the latest contracting gadget, to invest in the newest software, not because it helps the business achieve its objectives, but because it is the latest and greatest. They are the guys who can’t wait to change lanes on the highway, without considering whether the lane leads to an exit ramp. Successful contractors, by contrast, stay in their lanes. They stay focused. They may invest in the latest and greatest (after all, they innovate), but only because it is the next step in the progression.

15. Discipline

Focus requires discipline and successful contractors are disciplined. Despite the hectic nature of a service business, they carve out time for financials, for networking, and for personal growth. Additionally, they are able to delay immediate gratification for greater rewards down the road. They reinvest in the business rather than taking all of the profit out for personal use every year, effectively liquidating the business on an annual basis.

16. Thick Skin

As pioneers, successful contractors often have arrows in their back. These can be launched by bitter former employees, jealous competitors, and the occasional customer. Successful contractors are not only comfortable in their own skin, it is thick enough to absorb the arrows of criticism that will inevitably be shot at them.

17. Dissatisfaction

Successful contractors practice creative destruction. They are never satisfied with the status quo and always seek improvement. This native dissatisfaction with the way things are today, helps fuel their desire to continually grow the business into all it can be tomorrow.


Successful contractors also seek out organizations that can save them time, help them grow, and boost their bottom line. Two excellent contractor alliances are the $50/month Service Roundtable and the Service Nation Alliance. Visit the websites or call 877.262.3341 for more information.

About the Author

Matt Michel | Chief Executive Officer

Matt Michel was a co-founder and CEO of the Service Roundtable ( The Service Roundtable is an organization founded to help contractors improve their sales, marketing, operations, and profitability. The Service Nation Alliance is a part of this overall organization. Matt was inducted into the Contracting Business HVAC Hall of Fame in 2015. He is now an author and rancher.