At some point, every tradesman has to become a businessman. And to do so, he has to stop running around like a headless chook, take a deep breath, and work out how to get there.
In the business of bringing builders into business, we find it challenging to get past their “busy-ness” long enough to:
- work out how to transition from tools to office and then
- absorb the training required to operate a professional new home building firm
Phase 1: Getting off the tools – The first basic business
I can remember the exact time it happened to me. I was doing carpentry work on an ‘out there’ architect’s home in Hurstville. He stopped me one afternoon and said “I’m happy with your work, you just need to get more done”. It was a hot day and I had been dragging the chain a little so I promised him I’d pick up the pace tomorrow. He said “no, you misunderstand me – I want you to hire a carpenter to work with you”. I remember asking my wife to put the ad in the local paper – it seemed like an odd thing for us to be doing at the time.
So I popped an ad in the local paper and within a week I was an employer! The first carpenter I ever employed was a giant of a bloke named Marty. Although it seemed strange to be directing someone about, I soon worked out that I had gained some significant advantages:
- Marty carried all the heavy stuff. Sweet!
- I earned a small profit on Marty’s time.
- Most important of all, I now had small windows of time to find work. You see, if we needed a box of screws from the hardware store, I went for the drive and Marty kept working. The drive in itself gave me the opportunity to win more carpentry work! I got in the habit of stopping at anything that looked like a building site and offering my carpentry services.
As it turned out, I was pretty good at chasing up work and before I even realised what had happened – I had scaled up to a team of 5 carpenters. I was still busy chasing work, organising material and handling invoicing – but being on the tools was soon a thing of the past. I’d made the leap!
Looking back, I’m pretty grateful I listened to that Architect. I was already busy, and I didn’t immediately see the point of hiring someone. It didn’t take long to see I’d gained some big advantages in dollars, time and reducing wear and tear on the body.
Phase 2: Getting off the site – Operating a new home building company
Soon, running a team of carpenters became routine, no longer representing a challenge. Builders were leaving me in charge of their projects, and I could see they were earning a margin on the materials I was assembling.
I’d got my feet wet as a builder with a couple of messy reno’s. I couldn’t see how I was ever going to scale up to the point where I could get off-site. I couldn’t see much of a business in reno’s.
So we started looking into how I could get into business as a new home builder.
Having learned a lesson the first time around, I understood I’d have to put some time into finding my way out of the rut I was in.
I learned to put a big value on any small time slots I could set aside to build my business.
I knew I’d need software, plans, know-how, financial support, a trade base, buying power – the list seemed to grow longer the more I investigated. I met with software salespeople, accountants and tried to talk my wife into using her art skills to create a range of facades and standard plans. It seemed like the mountain I had to climb to get set up as a builder was just too big. I thought I might be trapped as a half chippy/half builder for the rest of my life.
Somebody mentioned that I might be able to “work in” with some of the bigger companies. I had meetings with a range of building firms who offered several types of arrangements. Some passed the contract to a builder after selling from a display, others had a licensing agreement and there were a couple of franchise organisations around at that time.
Software, plans and general setup are not cheap! Working in with an existing builder started to look like a pretty good idea. I ended up signing as a franchisee with the firm that had the highest level of requirements – if I was going to do this, I wanted to do it properly!
Within months, the growth of my business exceeded my expectations and I was able to get off the tools entirely. More importantly, I learned a whole new world existed – sales, marketing, quality control, recruiting and management. It started to seem like apprenticeship #2, but I was pleased to be picking up new skills that would take me places!
The key to unlocking it all was getting around the “busy”.
I was already busy, but I knew I’d need to get around the busy if I were to break through to the next level. We love our work at Stroud Homes franchise support – it is hugely rewarding to help builders break through to the next level, but we are always battling the “busy” .
When my franchisor laid out the path to launch, it seemed like a ridiculous proposition. Fit-out a shop, set up accounts, learn a computer system and set prices on a full range of plans – all the while running a team of carpenters and a few reno’s and shopfitting jobs?!? Madness! At the very least, I was glad I was practiced at getting past the “busy” and investing time in business growth – because I was clearly going to need every spare minute!
I kept putting one foot in front of another one and got the job done. It was a pretty good feeling when I was ready to ring the Mayor and ask him to cut the ribbon to open our new shop.
I can tell you I’d do it all over again. Getting past the “busy” and dragging myself out of the rut has (as corny as it sounds) changed my life. I’ve been able to go places and do things that would not be possible on a carpenters income. I suspect there would be a few more aches and pains in my bones too.
Believe me, when a builder inquires about our franchises – we know how busy they are. By the same token, we can’t really do much to get them on the road to success unless they can get themselves freed up to at least sit down for a couple hours to listen and learn.