I started in the trade as a carpenter and joiner when I was 15, and I did a four-year apprenticeship. I worked extensively in commercial and domestic construction. Through my apprenticeship and then when I became a tradesman, I was predominantly doing commercial work for many years. In my late 20s, I started to manage site projects, as a site foreman and site supervisor.
I was involved in both domestic and commercial projects and ended up starting a job with the government when I was around 40. I soon discovered that wasn’t my forte, so that really pushed me into taking the step to begin my own building company.
It was a big step; it’s been a huge thing. We started our business in 2004 and we currently have three employees. The young apprentice that we have has just turned tradesman a couple of months ago; we’ve had three apprentices through our business.
I had always felt that I wasn’t that keen to go out on my own and have my own business, but I was pushed to that point by just different things that occurred during my career and sometimes the way I was treated. Now I’ve got no fear of having a go at building most things.
We had to work hard in the beginning. I did two years on a Fraser Island building development, which was a real learning curve, as a supervisor for another builder. They procured the subcontractors, they procured the materials lists. All of that stuff was done behind the scenes. All I did was deliver the project on site and deal personally with the clients on most occasions, but I had very limited interaction from head office. So, I took ownership of the projects. It was a big responsibility.
I started my business in the Maryborough region, about 300 kilometres north of Brisbane. It’s part of a bigger region called the Wide Bay-Burnett region, which includes Hervey Bay and Fraser Island. We call ourselves the Fraser Coast renovation specialists. This is our mantra with our work, as we constantly work on renovations, both domestic and commercial.
Normally, our jobs are under $300,000 in value.
When I started in 2004 on my own, I’d never really run a business myself, so we were lucky that our accountant was quite helpful with the business side of things. And we did try another coaching company about 18 months after we started, but I found it was generic to any business: a pizza shop, a hamburger store, a dress shop. It was not specifically for our industry and I couldn’t see how what they were telling me would work in a building company.
How I Found APB
I found APB through email and Facebook. It resonated with me what APB was saying about the systems and processes and how to get off the hamster wheel. I really related to that because I just felt like I was running on a hamster wheel and not really doing business well.
Looking after our clients, bending over backwards to make sure they were happy, getting repeat customers and all the rest of it was happening for us, but I was just getting worn out, juggling on-site work. Dealing with time-wasting clients was another thing. I’d spend so much time doing a quote, then after I’d worked my butt off getting a quote out to these clients, I’d find that they were going to go with a project home builder anyway. They were never going to accept a custom-built price from someone like ourselves who doesn’t do cookie-cutter homes. We don’t have the buying power of the project guys.
From APB I learnt that it’s important to make yourself look different from the rest of the pack, to make your company stand out and be the go-to builder in your area.
When we began with APB, we started on a lower membership and then we worked our way up and it’s answered a lot of those questions that we were wondering about.
I’m Now Off The Tools
As much as I enjoy being a tradesman, a carpenter and building things, I came to dislike the onsite stuff at times because I just had in the back of my head all this other stuff I’ve got to do. A good solution was that I’m off the tools now, probably 90% of the time.
I’m now training a young guy, Curtis, who’s our leading hand and he will hopefully step up to a site supervision role. It’s good learning to delegate more and trust the guys who have got my back.
But it’s critical you have the right person – and that didn’t happen straight away. This young fellow came into our business by coincidence; I did a bit of an extensive interview process with him which I had help with in the background from the APB training modules.
I’m In Control Of The Financials
Probably the second thing that we’ve changed is that I’m now a lot more aware of my financials.
Before I was with APB, I had to wait until the end of the financial year to see what the accountant brought back to us. Being able to better monitor all our financials has been great. We did the training for progress calculations from APB’s modules. It gives us a true picture of our financials, the work that my current coach, Andy, does with us has been hugely beneficial in helping us to get a good understanding of that.
Recently we purchased a vehicle for our company, a ute for site work. Now young Curtis is in that vehicle and I was able to look into that with a clear picture as to whether it was affordable for us. I didn’t buy a brand new fandangled, four-wheel drive with everything, but just an aluminium tray-back ute that services the job really well. It’s a modern vehicle, a 2017 model, so maintenance issues will be minimal. It was good to be able to make a clear decision and be confident that we could cover this as long as we keep to our plan and keep track of things.
The third goal that was a big achievement was the creation of our website. I had put off a lot of advertising because we were always busy. You get constantly bombarded by the radio station or the local newspaper to get into all these advertising packages, but I hadn’t. We had that much continuity of work I didn’t really need to spend money on that advertising but I knew that we had to get ourselves exposed to the next generation coming through and be a bit more modern with our advertising, so early this year we launched our website.
Growing Safely & Securely
We haven’t hit huge changes in our profit yet, because there have been the expenses of creating the website and other costs. The expenses that we are incurring for the training that we’re getting and all those expenses in the background are covered and we’ve maintained a status quo, but I can see our turnover is increasing.
I’m very happy because we’re covering our expenses through the growth with APB and what we’ve been doing. It’s been assessable progression; we’ve not been outlaying more money than we’ve got, and we’ve never operated on an overdraft, which I’m proud of.
There are some things we still need to work on: time management is one of my things.
Now that Curtis is on board and I’m not on site as much, I look forward to next year, implementing more of our sales process, to eliminate a lot more time wasters and get those jobs in the funnel ahead of us so that I can take the foot off a little bit and know that if I want to take a bit of time away from the business I can and know that things are happening without me being there.
Probably a big difference for us is that I give more information to my clients in our quoting. A lot of our jobs aren’t huge, but people like to have lots of information. It maintains their interest and often we get the comment that it’s great. Some builders send back a one-page quote, but you need to give precise information and the clients do appreciate it and we are seeing the dividends.
Detailed quotes and good communication with clients are some of our points of difference. We have ‘Keep in Touch’, which is a client management program that we use to send out emails and keep in touch with our clients.
You Run Your Own Race
A good thing about APB is that you run your own race. All the training is there, recorded and documented for us. So, if you’re not sure of something, 24/7 you can just go and have a look at it, check your notes that you’ve made; it’s all online.
Another good thing about APB is the group environment. It makes you more accountable because you meet each month with other builders from all round the world. To hear snippets of information that come from everyone is really priceless.
I think the support level that APB gives when we do have a problem is excellent. The coaches and staff are accessible at all times. It’s good that the team is always there if I’ve got any queries to be answered.
One of my favourite things is the monthly one on one coaching sessions, because it’s all interactive. I think is invaluable; it really makes you feel at ease after the session.
The key outcomes for me have been understanding the financials and getting on top of the marketing process. We can see the benefits of those little things that we’ve learnt.
I know APB cares about us, because we’ve had personable interactions with everything we do together. So, I know I’m not just a number in the system.
The coaches are flexible, too. You can pick a time when the coach is available; the earlier you get in to do that picking, the more options you’ve got to get the time you want.
Why I Recommend APB
At the end of the day, financially, our costs to be involved with APB have not been a burden on our final result. So, I’m comfortable to be involved with APB as long as I’m getting benefit for as long as I need to.
I would certainly recommend APB for support and for the systems behind the scenes.
– Paul Baldwin
Director, Baldwin Constructions