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Being The Best Builder

Being The Best Builder

This is a time of change and growth for our business, that has given us plenty of time for reflection over our direction and how best to align it with our values. Some 18 months ago we made a decision to grow our business, and grow we did, rapidly, but with that growth came troubles. Staff, clients and subbies alike, all brought trouble to the table which while not our fault, as business owners these are our problems. At that time, being the best builder to us, was about growth and enabling us to service more clients. We thought growth would equal financial freedom and happiness, but we found the opposite to be true.

With growth, came a lack of control. It was not physically possible for us to keep the whole business in control ourselves, we needed help. Help came in the form initially of a supervisor, who could also work on the tools, from there we grew to take on someone in the office to free me up, to further assist The Builder in the many things he needed to do each day.

The opportunity came for us to take on more staff, and we did with enthusiasm. We loved the opportunity to provide a comfortable place to work with security for our young team. By the end of last year, we had grown from just The Builder, an apprentice and myself to a full staff of 8 and many more subcontractors.

This is when we really began to notice the problems. We are too nice, we are too trusting and that created problems with staff, clients and with subbies. Now subbies are less of a problem, as when mistakes are made, they are liable and if necessary we don’t need to use them again. Staff and client issues are not so easy to work with.

It is important to know, that not all our staff gave us issues, in fact we had some fantastic staff, however those who did give us issues, went on to influence some of the others. Quality, productivity and morale suffered and over the past few months, we have either let some go, or encouraged others to move on. Unfortunately we did loose 2 great staff in the process of this change.

The financial implications are without a doubt the toughest we have lived through. Without staff you cannot grow, but with staff there are times in with that growth becomes so negative, you’ll be paying for it for a long time. The mistake was ours really, we trusted and we were too kind, forgetting how important it is to run a tight ship, preferring our staff to be working in a supportive environment. This meant the boys on site were often leaving early, or not bothering to complete the work expected of them, which in turn put more pressure on other staff members and of course The Builder and myself.

I now believe that a combination of running a tight ship, and respecting our staff to be the best way to encourage productivity. Don’t get me wrong, we employed both a HR company and a business coach to help us implement the cultural changes needed for our business to succeed through this growth, but we had left it too late. Change is rarely welcomed.

At the moment, we have implemented change in the form of running our business according to our core values, and they are family first and making a difference in the lives of our clients. This will dictate everything from the type of work we will take on, to the clients we will work with. We are spending more time qualifying our clients to ensure we are a good personality match, and more time being choosy about what kind of jobs we will take on, which has recently seen us returning to smaller renovations and extensions.

It has also positioned both Adam and myself back at the front and the rear of our business. A smaller scale of work, means we can tailor our clients experiences to what they need. This is what we now understand to be working towards being the best builder we can be.

Tell me about your experiences with builders? Anything you think we can learn from?

Nicole xxx




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  1. Hey Nicole,
    This sounds soo much like us! We too have found that quality work and staff who are like minded as far as what a good finish looks like..are what we are about. Clients well …we still get that one that you just cannot please and try not to forget about the other 99% that we do and have some self belief. We too used to be too kind and although we are still mindful of being kind, we are no longer pushovers and stand strong on contract items/conditions. We have done two major renovations/extension where the client lived on site and this was were the drama lay. Also both were to do the painting themselves and both had no understanding of just what that job actually involved and this led to drama – even though the contract special conditions stated the fact that this work was to take place after handover!! If you have any tips fire away! haha

  2. I seriously felt like I was reading a run down of our last 3-4years of my life. We also have scaled right back both on the client front, staff and project scale. We had scaled up our business moved onto less projects per year but but “bigger” and more challenging. Your story explains the rest word for word. My husband was never mentally available, working weekends and long days troubleshooting constantly,…… we had stopped working on our business because both of us were too busy working in the business. The kids were growing up in a household with no fun, no family time and two mentally fatigued parents. Christmas before last we changed the game plan. It was hard and a tough pill to swollow. The financial hit aside my husbands confidence and self belief was really compromised – that’s been the hardest hill to climb. I honestly thought I’d be raising 3 boys on my own. However the upside, two years down the track, after re-evaluating every aspect of our work and life, we both decided to give the building game another 3 years with 3 rules and one aim – to be client free by the end of it (i.e. Do our own projects lock stock and barrel, hand the key over to the real estate agent)
    Rule #1 we only work on projects that we are both involved with and we must feel 100% comfortable with client
    Rule #2 no staff for this time – only casuals and our most trusted contractors
    Rule#3 all projects must be cost plus projects – no contracts – no architects – complete transparency with client.
    Our little pledge was we would rather go broke camping with kids eating baked beans then going broke building some else’s dreams. Luckily no beans yet and camping isn’t top of my list but that attitude has given us freedom. The rules eliminated a lot of projects but wow there are alot of people out there looking for professional registered builder team to take on their projects start to finish. Little did we realise (because we had been too busy going broke working in our business not on it) with our combined knowledge, skills and reputation we are apparently the A-team. Get in, get it done and we have had the most enjoyable projects and clients. The clients love the transparency and control, we love the unique and interesting projects that are too hard for the cookie cutter building companies. And have been given more boxes of beer, champagne and praise in the last 18months then in 15 years of building for the ego driven client.
    I love your blog. Ironically I had a brainwave during a brain storming session with a girlfriend to register The Builders Wife – googled it and found you!! Yay. I’ve gone with Bird & Builder but the bird is still hatching…. kids,life etc. I’ll get there. Thanks for you article – it’s great to read we are not alone. X

  3. Nicole, this was a wonderful article. I understand exactly what you meant when you began to talk about the staff members who were an influential but negative part of the team. There’s sadly so little you can do to stop it once it begins too. I went through the exact same thing and it’s just a job to some people. They don’t realise the struggle we go through mentally, emotionally and certainly financially at times. It takes a lot of time to find a team that is trustworthy and reliable but once you do, you’ll be a lot better off.

    1. I have my own loft conversion company in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, England. I recently hired two ‘general labours’ (I call them this because this is how they sold themselves to me!) for small bits of work to test them out and see if they would be worth a hire later down the line. One day I asked them to deliver a few steel beams for a mansard conversion (these steel beams are worth quite a bit) from a local depot. They never came back. Never answered my calls. I had to purchase the beams again. Two days later a fellow conversion company called me letting me know that the steel beams that went missing were offered to them.

      That’s what happens when you hire the wrong people.

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