No one starts a business to lose money, but construction companies are among the smallest in the world when it comes to profit margins. The average profit margin for general contractors is between 1.4 and 2.4 percent. Subcontractors are only marginally better off at 2.2-3.5 percent.

So, how can you keep your construction business profitable? It’s essential to accurately account for overhead costs and identify your ideal profit margins. Many general contractors need to properly account for their overhead and other related expenses when estimating, resulting in sub-par profit margins.
Understanding how to calculate and improve profit margins is essential for any homebuilder who wants to stay in business and thrive. This article will provide a comprehensive overview of construction profit margins, including:
  • What is the profit margin?
  • How to calculate profit margin in a construction project
  • The different types of costs that affect profit margins
  • How to determine your ideal profit margin
  • Strategies for improving profit margins

What is Profit Margin?

Profit margin is a financial metric that measures how much profit a company makes on its revenue. It is calculated by dividing the company’s net profit by its income, expressed as a percentage.
Profit margin is an essential metric for construction business owners because it helps them to:
  • Track the financial performance of their business over time
  • Identify areas where costs can be reduced or revenue can be increased
  • Make sound pricing decisions
  • Attract investors and lenders
A healthy profit margin is essential for a construction company to grow and thrive. It allows the company to invest in new equipment, hire new employees, and take on larger projects. It also gives the company a financial cushion to withstand unexpected setbacks, such as bad weather or material delays.

What are the Key Factors that Affect Profit Margin?

Several factors can affect your profit margin, including:
  • The type of projects you work on: Some projects are more profitable than others. For example, commercial projects have higher profit margins than residential projects.
  • The size of your projects: Larger projects tend to have higher profit margins than smaller projects. This is because larger projects can be more efficient and benefit from economies of scale.
  • Your experience and expertise: The more experienced and knowledgeable you are, the better equipped you’ll be to manage your costs and deliver projects on time and budget.
  • The level of competition in your market: If you’re operating in a highly competitive market, you may have to lower your prices to win projects. This can reduce your profit margin.

How to Calculate Profit Margin in a Construction Project

To calculate the profit margin for a construction project, you need to know your total revenue, direct costs, and overhead costs.
Direct costs are directly related to the project, such as materials, labor, and equipment rental.
Overhead costs are necessary to run your business but are not directly tied to any specific project, such as office rent, salaries, and insurance.
To calculate the profit margin, use the following formula:
Profit margin = (Total revenue - Direct costs - Overhead costs) / Total revenue * 100
For example, let’s say you have a construction project with a total revenue of $100,000. Your direct costs for the project are $70,000, and your overhead costs are $15,000. Your profit margin for the project would be:
Profit margin = ($100,000 - $70,000 - $15,000) / $100,000 * 100 = 15%

A deeper dive into costs that affect profit margins

Two main types of expenses affect profit margins in construction: direct costs and overhead costs.
Direct costs are the costs that are directly related to a specific project. They can be divided into the following categories:
  • Materials: The cost of materials used to complete the project, such as lumber, concrete, and electrical supplies.
  • Labor: The cost of paying workers to complete the project.
  • Equipment rental: The cost of renting equipment needed to complete the project, such as excavators, bulldozers, and cranes.
  • Permits and fees: The cost of obtaining the necessary permits and paying applicable fees.
Overhead costs are necessary to run your business but are not directly tied to any specific project. They can be divided into the following categories:
  • Administrative and executive payroll: The salaries and benefits of managerial and organizational staff.
  • Office upkeep: The rent, utilities, and other expenses associated with maintaining your office.
  • Marketing and advertising: The cost of marketing and advertising your business.
  • Insurance: The cost of liability insurance, workers’ compensation insurance, and other types of insurance.
  • Equipment and vehicle maintenance: The cost of maintaining your equipment and vehicles.

Construction Markup vs. Margin: What’s the Difference and Why Does It Matter?

As a construction business owner, you must price your jobs correctly. But with so many factors to consider, it can take time to figure out where to start. One of the most important things to understand is the difference between markup and margin.
What is markup?
Markup is the percentage you add to your direct costs to cover overhead and profit. For example, if your direct costs are $100,000 and you want a 20% markup, you would add $20,000 to your direct costs, giving you a selling price of $120,000.
What is margin?
Margin is the percentage of revenue that remains after direct costs have been paid. So, if your selling price is $120,000 and your direct costs are $100,000, your margin would be 16.67%.

Why does the difference between markup and margin matter?

The difference between markup and margin matters because it can significantly impact your profitability. Let’s say you have two jobs with identical direct costs of $100,000. On the first job, you use a markup of 20%, giving you a selling price of $120,000. On the second job, you use a markup of 25%, giving you a selling price of $125,000.
At first glance, the second job is more profitable because it has a higher selling price. However, the first job is more beneficial when you factor in overhead. This is because the markup on the first job covers both overhead and profit, while the markup on the second job only covers overhead.

How to calculate your markup and margin

You need to know your direct and overhead costs to calculate your markup. Once you have this information, you can use the following formula:
Markup = (Overhead costs + Profit margin) / Direct costs
You need to know your direct costs and selling price to calculate your margin. Once you have this information, you can use the following formula:
Margin = (Selling price – Direct costs) / Selling price

Tips for pricing your jobs

When pricing your jobs, you must consider several factors, including your direct costs, overhead costs, profit margin, and the competition. It’s also important to be realistic about how much time and effort will be required to complete the job.
Here are a few tips for pricing your jobs:
  • Use a markup formula that accounts for both overhead and profit.
  • Be realistic about your direct costs and the time and effort required to complete the job.
  • Consider the competition.
  • Don’t be afraid to negotiate.

How to Boost Your Construction Profit Margins

In the competitive construction industry, finding ways to boost your profit margins is more important than ever. Following a few simple tips can increase your bottom line and position your business for success.

Understanding and Reducing Operational Costs:

One of the most important things you can do to improve your profit margins is to understand your costs clearly. This means tracking everything from labor and materials to overhead expenses. Once you know your costs well, you can start identifying areas where you can cut back. For example, you can negotiate better prices with suppliers or find ways to streamline your operations.
For example, consider investing in estimating software if you spend much time and money on estimating. This can help you automate the process and save time, freeing up your team to focus on other tasks.

Ensuring Accurate Pricing to Cover Costs and Generate Profit:

Another important tip is to ensure you’re pricing your projects correctly. This doesn’t mean that you need to charge the highest possible prices, but you do need to ensure that you’re covering your costs and making a profit. To do this, you must factor in your expenses, including labor, materials, overhead, and profit margin.
For example, if you’re estimating a project to cost $100,000 and want to make a 20% profit, then you need to price the project at $120,000. This will ensure you’re covering all your costs and making a profit.

Effective Project Management for Timely and Budget-conscious Deliverables:

Finally, it’s essential to manage your projects effectively. This means staying on track with timelines and budgets and communicating regularly with your clients. By managing your tasks effectively, you can avoid costly delays and overruns.
For example, if you’re running behind schedule on a project, you must communicate this to your client as soon as possible. This will help to avoid any misunderstandings and potential disputes.


In navigating the maze of construction industry challenges, where profit margins are notably thin, it becomes imperative to be armed with precise, actionable insights into one’s business operations. Small Business Growth Partners’ exclusive Business Diagnostic and Plan of Action (BPA) emerges as a beacon of strategic clarity in this landscape. Tailored specifically for small business builders, remodelers, and trade companies, BPA is not just a mirror that reflects a business’s current operational and financial health but a compass that points toward the path of enhanced profitability.
The synergy between Small Business Growth Partners and the U.S. Home Builder Associations amplifies the reach and accessibility of this invaluable resource. With the BPA now offered as a member benefit at no extra cost and also available through direct client referrals, the pathway to enhanced profit margins and sustainable business growth becomes significantly more navigable for construction businesses. The insights garnered from the BPA are not merely theoretical but are rooted in the real-world dynamics of the construction business landscape, rendering them practical and implementable.