Introduction
Through out the web you’ll find blurbs from one of the best selling books on understanding markup for contractors saying:
To succeed in a construction business, you have to price your jobs to cover all labor, material and overhead expenses, and make a decent profit. The problem is knowing what markup to use. You don’t want to lose jobs because you charge too much, and you don’t want to work for free because you’ve charged too little. If you know how to calculate markup, you can apply it to your job costs to find the right sales price for your work…(Note 1)
The problem with that is the markup method described in that book (a markup based on your Estimated Total Volume Based Markup) is it can leave you in a position where you will lose jobs because you charge too much and get plenty of jobs where you’re working for ‘free‘ because you charged too little.
This article explores just how that happens and compares that method against a Capacity Based Markup Methodology. under the same circumstances.
Article Navigation
 Introduction
 Article Navigation
 The Story Begins
 Part 1 – Labor Costs
 Part 2 – Fixed Overhead Costs
 Part 3 – Net Profit and Determining the Selling Price for a Job
 Part 4 – Comparing The Two Different Methods in Practice
 Job #1 – A Project with Labor, Materials, and SubContracting in the Same Ratio That Bill Used for Planning.
 Job #2 A Project with Low Relative Cost of Labor to High Cost of Materials, and SubContracting
 Job #3 A Project with High Relative Cost of Labor to Low Cost of Materials, and SubContracting
 Conclusions
 Footnotes
 Further Reading & Tools
 Get Help Figuring Out Your Company’s Markup
The Story Begins
Lets pretend we have two almost identical small solo operation contractors. They’re identical in that they have the same costs and operational goals but they are going about pricing their projects via two differing methods. One contractor, Contractor A, Aaron is going to work with a Capacity Based Markup while the second, Contractor B, Bill is going to work with an Estimated Total Volume Based Markup .
Part 2 – Fixed Overhead Costs
Both Contractors then go about figuring out their Fixed Overhead Costs (the costs of doing business that they have to pay regardless of whether they do any Billable work for clients at all). They come up with estimated budget of $18,254.10 for General Office Operation & Expenses which includes their office time spent estimating and bookkeeping as well as general office operation costs such as phone service, paper, postage, and trade association dues etc. They come up with an estimated budget for Capital Equipment for the year of $7520.00 Vehicle, Tool, and Computer expenses. They develop a budget of $5370 for marketing (cards, brochure, web site, advertising etc), they budget $700 to cover the cost of meeting with an accountant or lawyer and $100 for local business taxes. The then also put in a line of $8000 for Contingency & Reserves which is to cover for any potential overruns in any of the Fixed Overhead budget items or any Job Estimating and Bidding errors.
And then just for owning an operating the business they plan to take a draw of $8000 and they plan to compensate themselves $6000 for both the successful and unsuccessful the time they spend trying to sell their jobs to clients.
Fixed Overhead Costs


Overhead Item

$ Per Year

General Office Operation & Expenses 
18,254.10

Capital Equipment 
7520.00

Marketing 
5370.00

General Insurance 
2600.00

Professional Fees 
700.00

Local & Regional Business Taxes 
100.00

Contingency & Reserves 
8000.00

Owners Compensation (Draw) 
5000.00

Sales Compensation 
6000.00

Total Overhead Costs 
$54,544.10

The Total Overhead Cost of $54,544.10 works out to a weekly overhead expense of $1049.88 based on dividing that yearly figure by 51 weeks (the number of weeks in a year both contractors figure on working).
Part 3 – Net Profit and Determining the Selling Price for a Job
Both contractors in addition to the money they pay themselves as wages for field work or for salary for the behind the scenes office work still also want their companies to generate and earn a Net Profit. That Net Profit they can then reinvest in the company to grow it in some way or cash out with at the end.
Aaron, Contractor A:
Aaron, Contractor A, since he has chosen to use a Capacity Based Markup method then looks at what he has so far and says even if he doesn’t sell any Materials at all as part of my operation or hire any Subcontractors he still wants to make a Net profit of 10% on his Sales. Looking at that he sees the business equation of:
Total Labor Costs + Total Overhead Costs + Net Profit = Total Sales (of Labor)
$66,587.70 + $53,544.10 + Net Profit = Sales (Labor)
Figuring he wants his Net Profit to be roughly 10% of Sales he multiplies $121,521.70 (the sum of his Total Labor Costs + Total Overhead Costs) by 1.11 to give himself a number for Total Sales ($134,899) of which Net Profit ($13,367) will amount to 10% of those Sales.
Total Labor Costs + Total Overhead Costs + Net Profit = Total Sales (of Labor)
$66,587.70 + $53,544.10 + $13,367.00 = $133,498.80
So Aaron, Contractor A, then takes that Total Sales of Labor figure of $133,498.80 and then divides it by the total number of billable hours he plans to generate in a year (1892 hrs.) and he come up with $70.56 which then becomes his “Loaded” Labor Billing Rate.
Aaron’s, Contractor A’s,
Loaded Labor Rate Computation 

Total Yearly Labor Costs 
$66,587.70

Total Yearly Overhead Costs 
$53,544.10 
Net Profit 
$13,367.00 
Total Labor Sales 
$133,498.80 
Billable Hours 
1892

AARON’S LOADED LABOR RATE 
$70.56

Provided his estimates are relatively accurate if he works and generates 1892 hours of Billable time he will be paying himself a total compensation package of $73,460 for roughly 2750 total hours of work (2040 Total Field Work Hours plus in addition to those field hours he figures 255 of office work, 255 estimating, and 200 on sales) or $26.71 per hour (plus those benefits) for an average of 54 hours per week (2750 hours divided by 51 weeks).
Owner’s Compensation


Owners Wages for Field Work 
$48,960.00

Owners Compensation for Office Work 
$6,000.00 
Owners Compensation for Estimating Work 
$7,500.00 
Owners Compensation for Sales Work 
$6,000.00 
Owners Draw 
$5,000.00

TOTAL COMPENSATION 
$73,460.00

plus: NET PROFIT 
$13,367.00

While Aaron has created a “Loaded” Billing Rate or a selling price for an hour of his services ($71.30) that covers all his overhead, direct labor costs, and generates a Net Profit he hasn’t yet planned for what to do with the Materials and any Subcontracting he may need on his projects. If he wants to earn the same Net Profit ratio for Materials and Subcontracting that he does on his Labor where it is %10 of Sales then he can use the same method he used earlier and multiply the Materials and Subcontracting Costs by 1.11 to come up with a Selling Price and the difference between the Selling Price and the cost will amount to 10%.
So if Aaron lands a Labor Only job he can use the formula:
Estimated Number of Billable Hours the Project Will Take x Loaded Labor Rate = Selling Price
and for any projects that require him to provide Materials and Subcontractors he extends that formula to be:
(Estimated # of Billable Hrs x Loaded Labor Rate) + (Material Costs x 1.1) + (SubContractor Costs x 1.1) = Selling Price
Bill Contractor B:
Meanwhile Bill, Contractor B is taking a slightly different approach since he has chosen to use a an Estimated Total Volume Based Markup method. That method is simply described as:
Job Costs x Markup = Selling Price
or that same formula can be broken down into a little bit more detail as:
(Labor Cost + Material Cost + SubContracting Costs) x Markup = Selling Price
So Bill, Contractor B, knowing what his estimated Labor Cost for the year is going to be $66,587.70 (the same as Aaron) he then needs to estimate what his Material Costs, and SubContracting Costs for the year will be and having them in hand compute a Markup that will cover his Overhead Cost ( $54,934 also the same as Aaron’s) and return a Net Profit.
This is where we encounter the first real big problem with using an Estimated Total Volume Based Markup method. For the start up contractor just how do you go about estimating what your Sales Volume for your first year in business will be?
In his book Markup & Profit: A Contractor’s Guide, Michael Stone, a consultant who advocates and teaches the method suggests you talk with other contractors already in the business to “find out what volume of work they completed in the previous 12 months” (Note 2 ). Some of the problems with this kind of research method are:
 Most contractors you will talk to are not forthcoming with this information.
 If they do tell you what their volume is the figure they give you is probably going to be biased to make it seem like they are doing better than they really are.
 Or the numbers are intentionally misleading so as not to help out what they view as a potential competitor.
 They may not be performing exactly the same kind of work that you will.
 Without knowing how employees they have to execute the volume the numbers will be misleading. And…
 Without knowing the distribution of those sales dollars between Internal Labor, Materials, and SubContracting you have no way of knowing whether the ratio of Internal Labor to Materials to SubContracting will be the same for the kind of projects you are doing and how you decide to contract them.
While Michael Stone does acknowledge the problems with “jerks who wont tell you anything, or who might even lie to you” he says “with a little bit of experience you should be able to weed them out“(Note 3). I have my doubts about the effectiveness of that and besides that doesn’t deal with the items 4, 5 and 6 on my list.
Michael Stone then offers that the first year in business remodeling companies can expect to complete a volume of $150,00 to $300,000 and the problems I see with that relate both to how much SubContracting the contractor does in that a contractor who subs out all his or her work can and has to generate a larger volume of work and there are dramatic regional differences in what remodeling or contracting in general costs so those suggested volume numbers there I feel are next to meaningless.
What I would suggest to someone using this method (but I don’t really recommend using this method anyway) is instead to decide just what kind of work you will want to focus on and create a hypothetical cost estimate for that kind of project done how you would contract it and then see what the ratio of your Internal Labor to Materials to SubContracting will be. Take that ratio and then using the figure for your yearly capacity for labor hours extend out the number for Material and SubContracting Costs according to those ratios.
Doing this our hypothetical Contractor B, Bill, come up with a breakout of his Estimated Job Costs of:
Total Job Costs


Labor 
$66,587.70

Materials 
$54,752.20 
SubContracting 
$34,660.80 
TOTAL JOB COSTS 
$156,000.70

Like Aaron feeling that he want to earn a 10% Net Profit on his Sales Bill then adds to that estimated figure for Total Job Costs $156,000.70 the figure for Overhead of $54,544.10 (which is the same as Aaron’s) and then multiplies their sum by 1.11 to come up with an Estimated Sales Volume for the year that includes that 10% of Sales for Net Profit which comes to Total Sales of $228,154.72.
Bill’s, Contractor B’s, Sales Summary


Labor 
$66,587.70

Materials 
$50,752.20 
SubContracting 
$34,660.80 


TOTAL JOB COSTS 
$152,000.70

OVERHEAD 
$54,544.10 
NET PROFIT 
$22,609.93 
TOTAL SALES VOLUME 
$228,154.72 
To price his jobs Bill now needs a Markup figure he can multiply the Job Costs by to come with a Selling Price for any specific job. Taking the estimated Total Sales Volume and dividing it by the Total Job Costs for the year Bill get a figure of 1.50 ($228,154.72 / $156,000.70 = 1.501) and that then becomes his Markup.
At first glance it looks to Bill as though he has chosen the much better method. If things go according to Hoyle he will earn the same compensation as Aaron but will also have a company that will generate an estimated $23,202.82 in Net Profits to Aaron’s $13,367.39.
Bill’s Owner’s Compensation & Net Profit


Owners Wages for Field Work 
$48,960.00

Owners Compensation for Office Work 
$6,000.00 
Owners Compensation for Estimating Work 
$7,500.00 
Owners Compensation for Sales Work 
$6,000.00 
Owners Draw 
$5,000.00

TOTAL COMPENSATION 
$73,460.00

plus: NET PROFIT 
$22,609.93

But in Aaron’s planning he never had to make any pro forma estimates as to what he was going to sell in the way of Materials or SubContracting but if he did since both Aaron and Bill are going into the same line of work Aaron can actually use the same projected estimates for Material and SubContracting Costs. Looking at that if Aaron generates $50,752.20 in Material Costs and applies his 1.1 markup multiplier to those costs to come up with the Selling Price for those Materials of $56,334.94 with $5,582.74 of that being Net Profit. And looking at SubContracting the same way on Costs of he generates $34,660.80 in SubContracting Costs multiplying them by 1.11 to get a Selling Price of $38,473.49 with $3,812.69 of that being Net Profit. You then take Aaron’s Net profit on Labor of $13,367 and add to that $5,582.74 and $3,812.69 you get $22,762.43 a figure virtually the same as Bill’s $22,609.93.
Part 4 – Comparing The Two Different Methods in Practice
Now