As a financial consultant to small construction companies, I've seen lots of cases where a builder finished a job and the bookkeeper closed the books on it — only to have a late subcontractor bill for that job show up months later. I've also seen cases where material costs on a job ran as much as $20,000 over budget, but the project manager didn't tell the boss until the project was complete. The owner thought he was making a decent profit and then got a nasty surprise.

The source of these problems isn't necessarily the bookkeeper or project manager; it's the process itself — which is, of course, determined by the company owner. The reason bookkeepers in construction offices often seem to be inefficient is that their bosses don't give them the information they need. In many companies, a bookkeeper handed a...

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