How to do better than just stay afloat in construction?

Doing better than just staying afloat in construction is not always easy. The building game is a tough gig.  You operate in what economists call, “a fluid market”, driven by demand and a bunch of other stuff like, “interest rates, rapid population growth, Donald Trump’s election, the price of rice in china………”  You name it.  It all seems to affect your business and how you make money.   But regardless of what the experts say you still have to find work, price it, win it, build it, defect it, finish it and get it handed over on time, to budget and quality. SIGH

And all before Christmas, because as we all know, the world stops turning after Christmas Day.  That’s why everyone wants everything done by them!!!!!

So how do you plug the holes in the SS Construct, stay afloat and better still, make ‘bloody good’ margin?   After all you got into business to make more money than you did on the tools.

The experts will tell you to,

  • do to the basics,
  • keep it simple,
  • stick to your knitting,
  • focus on what you do best,
  • know your market,
  • know your competitive advantage,
  • what gets done gets rewarded…..

Your head starts to swim – there is water ingress.   Done the lifejackets!  MAN THE LIFE BOATS!!!!!!

But wait.  The pumps have kicked in and the fog is beginning to lift.

Crisis averted – for the time being. However we all know that there will be more stormy weather in the future.

And as a good captain, you need to carry out repairs and make your ship better equipped to handle the next big blow.

But better still, you want to make her not just a watertight ship, you want to make her a Flagship.  One that braves the elements and beats them.  You want to make your dough, take a long cruise to Tahiti and know you have money coming in while your sailing the high seas.  So what do you do?

You focus on the ‘key areas of influence’ in your business because you need to allocate your most precious resource carefully – your time.

Key Areas of Influence in Construction

The most important for builders are,

1. Time Management

Time is your most critical asset.  As they say ‘ They’re not making any more of it’. Of course builders are stretched for time. Having more time boils down to two steps: Identifying the essential and eliminating the rest.

2. Cashflow

Healthy cash flow is a vital part of running a business. It is, literally, the make or break for many business owners who need to stay on top of their finances, especially cash flow, to ensure they can operate successfully.

3. Subcontractor relationships

Subcontractors are interwoven into the fabric of your business. In fact they make up the major part of your business.   Good ones can make the difference between being a ‘hero’ or a ‘zero.’

4. Marketing and getting the right clients

Competing on price alone is a race to the bottom where the winner actually loses.  A builder needs to position himself as the prize and sell to the client on a Cost of Inaction basis.   If you are relying only on word of mouth your letting a large part of the market slip by you.  This includes social media and digital media marketing.  According to LinkedIn data, social media marketing was the single highest in-demand skill in Australia in 2015, closely followed by digital media marketing.

5. Processes

From hiring, onboarding, HR, running finances, payroll, procurement including estimating, tendering, document management, design, project management, job costing, accounting and paying bills, and then actually getting the job built.  Builders are stretched across many business functions.

6. Regulations

QBCC, Workplace Health and Safety, Taxation, Superannuation, Workcover, compliance to Australian Standards and the Building Code in tendering, design, construction, compliance to DA, BA, airspace restrictions for cranes, and local council by-laws.

Nobody likes red tape. Least of all builders with limited time and multiple aspects of a business to take care of themselves.Deloitte published a report “Building the Lucky Country #4 – Unleashing productivity” outlining that rules, regulations and red tape costs Australians $249B a year in compliance and loss of productivity. That’s the equivalent of everyone working 8 weeks a year just to cover the cost of following the rules.

7. R & D

Given the range of tasks above, it’s no wonder that innovation – tomorrow’s problem – is often shifted to the backburner.  But staying informed about new products and processes can be your unique selling point.

Subcontractors – Tips when starting

“To be.. a subcontractor.. or not to be” – that is the question.

So you’ve decided to go out on your own – or perhaps with a mate – and start your own business. You’re a tradesman so you’re probably familiar with licencing in your country/state and you’ve applied for and have one of those.  So now you’re ready to start making the big bucks!!  Where do you start?  You’ve possibly worked for a company that was a subcontractor or you’ve heard the term used but what does it mean?

So what makes you a Subcontractor?

A Subcontractor is an individual or company that is hired by a head contractor (eg builder) to perform a specific task as part of an overall project. This is usually for the ‘Supply and Install’ of a product and/or service eg Lifts, Roofing, Plumbing, Electrical services.  The main thing to remember here is that the head contractor sits between you and the Client (who pays the bills).  This means your cashflow can be affected by issues or holdups that lie out of your control.  It also contains a Contract. So because of structure of this relationship it is advisable to do some homework prior to undertaking any subcontract works, for anyone.

Step 1. Research who you want to work with. 

Ask around the industry and find out which builders are the best to work with on site and more importantly, who pays on time. You will find ‘talk on the street’ is usually a good source of information.  In Queensland there is also a handy service on the QBCC website called, ‘Find Local Contractor’ (link below).  Here you can get a list of builders by suburbs and surrounding suburbs with their phone numbers and email addresses.

You can also check the type of licence they have and whether they have any restrictions placed on them or whether they have had any claims under the BCIPA.

Other states have similar state government licencing websites with different searches for finding builders.  (Links below).  The Queensland website gives you more general information about a number of builders at a time.

Next visit the builders’ websites and get a feeling for what they do and who they are.  Most construction companies have websites even if they are only Facebook Business pages where you can see the size and type of projects they have undertaken.  Some even list projects they have coming up.  You can also read about their key people on their “About Us” page.

For more formal company financial and taxation checks go to the ASIC and ABN lookup websites (links below). ASIC also has links to credit rating agencies where you get additional information for a relatively small fee, depending on how deep you want to go into a company’s operating history.  This process is part of, what is known as, ‘due diligence’ and if large established companies do it then why not someone starting out.

Step 2. Send The Expression of Interest (EOI)

After you’ve made a list of builders you want to target create an EOI (usually in digital form) to send them.

This is not as daunting as it may sound.  An EOI can be as simple as a letter done in ‘Word’ saying you would like to be considered for work or, a more formal offering with a cover letter and a full glossy capability statement.  It can be project specific or more general, but remember to always include any references you have.

The EOI is the ‘Stock in Trade’ of the construction industry – just like the magic ‘carton’ is its currency.  When you call just about anyone in the industry looking for work they will ask you to send them one.  So be prepared.

Hint: Call first before sending anything by email

Even though it can be daunting calling the builder up first, it’s advisable to do so before sending them anything via email.  If they are not expecting something from you they may delete it.  It can also end up in their junk mail never to see the light of day.  SO CALL.  It will save everyone time and angst.

Once you have sent it call again or even text to make sure they received it.  This shows you are keen and professional.

Builders (like just about everyone these days) are very busy people so you might have to call and email several times before you’re even asked to price a job.  Remember be persistent but always courteous and polite, even if you feel quite frustrated at times.  And remember…….


Getting people to even take a call is getting harder and harder.  James Tuckerman, Successful Entrepreneur and Marketing Trainer from Melbourne, observed that today it can take on average 8 calls before someone actually answers their phone.  Google Market Analytics further state that on average people buying online need at least 14 ‘touches’ before they commit. So keep at it unless the contact actually tells you to stop.  Sometimes ‘Crickets’ can just mean they don’t have anything for you to quote on right at that moment. Remember timing is important.

And also remember the construction industry is as much about building relationships as it is about building structures.  To succeed as a subcontractor you need to not only, ‘do what you do, do well’, but also, build those relationships – on and off site. And good relationships start with the question, “What can I do for them?” not, “What can they do for me?”

There is no such thing as overnight success so take the time to reach out and start connecting face to face with the people you want to work with.

Helpful links


40 Hour work week? I remember my first part time job.

I recall a few years ago I was working 55 hour weeks. We all were and had been doing so for a few years. My project manager used to get in at 5 in the morning and leave late in the afternoon. I got in a bit later at 6.30 and left at 5 or 6, as did most of our team. One day I bailed him up in the lunch room and said,  “things have to change. I want to go back to working a 40 hour working week. We have to learn to work smarter not harder.” – or some similar platitude.

He stopped, looked directly at me with his head tilted to the side, you know, the way a dog does when it’s a bit confused, and said, “You CANNOT go back to working part time hours“. I’m pretty certain he issued a few expletives as well. We both laughed, a lot …..but he was serious.

People are not the problem……

Long hours, in pressure situations characterizes the construction industry. Both builders and their workers complain about the long hours they work. They are flat out, their staff are flat out. There are deadlines to meet and cost implications to face if targets aren’t met. However, its this human cost that doesn’t seem to be taken into consideration. With profit margins less than 5% (at best) the money just isn’t available to spend time quantifying this area. The sad fact is that people are the collateral damage.

The price of an inefficient system is one of the greatest hidden costs for any firm. Managers must also stop blaming staff alone for productivity issues. Highly customized, patched-up system are also responsible for much lost time.

To improve efficiency and claw back lost margin the builder must look beyond his staff for answers. If the labour component of the process is being used to full capacity, it’s time to look at his/her systems and procedures.

The good news is help is out there for companies that are interested in looking and we don’t all charge an arm and a leg for our services. etender is an example of such a company. We are not just in the business of streamlining processes and system implementation. We are in the business of giving people back their time.

Ipswich – a great place to live and invest

Dean Pegg of the Pegg Group is excited about their next development that is due to commence construction in May, 2017.  The development, consisting of 108 residential units in two towers, with ground floor commercial space and 5 basements for car parking, is the first of its magnitude in Ipswich.

Dean has been dedicated to the project for nearly 9 years, working closely with council to ensure the area gets what it needs to house and service its growing population. He has confidence in the area and the town’s leadership which he says is pro-development.   etender’s team is working with Dean to help him bring his goal to fruition.

Ipswich’s population is increasing at twice the rate of the rest of Queensland sitting at 190,000 residents.

Due to the $1.5 billion expansion of the Amberley RAAF Base, 2000 new base staff and their families will soon call Ipswich home; the current population is projected to increase to 435,000 by 2031. Tthat is just a short 15 years time placing immense pressure on the supply of housing in Ipswich. Planned growth to 2041 = 520,000 residents!

Think of the big picture : A population growth over the next 24 years of 330,000 new residents in Ipswich @ 2.3 persons per household; will require

  • 143,000 new dwellings in the next 24 years
  • OR 5,978 dwellings per year

Worlds tallest timber building coming to Brisbane

WHEN built, 5 King Street, in the RNA Showgrounds redevelopment precinct, will be the tallest engineered timber building in Australia and one of the greenest. The engineered timber has a lower carbon footprint than traditional building materials, and is sourced from certified sustainably managed forests. It enables precise offsite prefabrication and safer onsite construction.

At a height of 52 m1, or 10 levels, it will be the tallest building of its kind in Australia and the largest of its type, by gross floor area, in the world. It has been designed by architect Bates Smart and is expected to be completed by the end of next year.

Bates Smart director Philip Vivian, said timber buildings were the next generation of workplace design, aimed at enhancing wellbeing.

“The timber construction recalls the vernacular ‘Queenslanders’, as well as ­relating to the historic RNA pavilions, to create a site-specific and innovative tall building that connects with nature,” he said.

The building is also on target to receive the highest possible green rating and top energy rating through the use of new, sustainable cross-laminated and glue-laminated timber as well as energy-efficient LED lighting, occupancy ­sensors, optimized air conditioning and rooftop rainwater harvesting.



Safety – Home without harm is an essential goal and its your responsibility

Workplace Health and Safety Queensland is investigating a fatal incident that occurred on Monday 15 September 2014 at a workplace in Reedy Creek.

A worker died when he sustained a head injury while operating an item of plant as part of a process to weld large polyethylene pipes for coal seam gas related infrastructure.

Could this happen anywhere your employees are working?

This alert is a reminder for you and your organisation to consider the effectiveness of your safety management systems in preventing an incident like this from occurring at a workplace.

For information on workplace health and safety visit the Workplace Health and Safety Queensland website at

Workplace Health and Safety

There is no such thing as an accident on site –  just carelessness, lack of supervision and proper procedure.

As shocking as it may sound in this case a 4 metre block wall was blown over by the wind because it had no bracing or core filling.

Workplace Health and Safety – Collapse of Block Walls

What to do when unions want access on job sites

From 1 July 2009, most Australian workplaces are governed by a new system created by the Fair Work Act 2009.

Right of entry refers to the part of Commonwealth workplace laws which regulate the rights of organisation officials (such as a trade union) to enter work premises including construction sites. 

There are strict rules that must be complied with before a union official or other government officials eg Fair Work Inspectors, can enter a workplace.

They can’t just walz in under the guise of Work Place Health & Safety issues and start throwing their weight around.

To read your rights – go to –