Stepping Out on Your Own: Gain Valuable Insights from Chris James on Recognising the Signs to Expand Your Construction Business

When did you get into construction?

After working for someone else since high school, I decided to go out on my own because it was like now or never really. Having been in the industry since leaving school and working for someone else, I felt like if I stayed where I was, I would just end up getting nowhere.

Was it scary making the decision to go out on your own?

Oh my god yes, it was so scary because you don’t know if the jobs are going to keep coming in. After learning a lot of things the hard way, and being on my own, I decided two years later to bring on a bricklayer and to expand my business. 

I made a lot of mistakes costing me money. A couple of the guys I hired weren’t doing what they were supposed to. 

And then I didn’t oversee it properly so that it all boils down to, you know, it’s my fault. Not organising jobs properly, and having no visibility on whether I was actually making any money meant my business started to show some cracks.

What lessons did you learn?

I learned from that and decided to take a step back. And instead of just running around all the time and not actually earning any money, I went back on my own and decided to get my ducks in a row.

With Buildertrend I couldn’t use timesheets, so I had to input all my team’s hours manually.”

Chris James

Owner Chris James Building Services Ltd

What software were you using?

I was also using Buildertrend at the time, and had no visibility into my profits. Then I saw an ad for NextMinute and decided to give it a go.

With Buildertrend I couldn’t use timesheets, so I had to input all my team’s hours manually. Input all materials and everything on a spreadsheet. So that was very time consuming, and when you’re on a big extension, you just lose track of everything quite quickly.

What happened when you switched to NextMinute?

When I moved over to NextMinute, the simplicity of it meant the guys found it a lot easier to use the app for doing their timesheets.

The back costing is great as well. Being able to price jobs and input all the info like materials and labour is great.

Have you started to expand your business again?

Because I have been inundated with work, I’m now at the level where I need to step back and spend more time in the office, using software like NextMinute.

So, I think mentally I’m at that stage where I feel comfortable being in the office, not so much on the tools.

I’ve decided to sustain it by focusing on profitability, having a better work life balance and having the right systems in place. 

I’ve been there and done that, working until ten o’clock at night…But I didn’t need to.

Now I’Il cut it off at about maybe seven o’clock if I do evenings.

“Being able to see at a glance the margin I should be making on a job helps keep me on the ball with the finances.”

Chris James

Owner Chris James Building Services Ltd

What would you say to anyone thinking of going out on their own?

I would say get a foundation set straight away. Work out what your overheads are going to be and make sure you’re charging the right hourly rate or day rate and making the right profit that you should be making.

Because of the trouble I got into initially, make sure you don’t get too emotional with pricing.

Otherwise you’ll quickly fall into the trap of looking at your expenses, labour and material and shaving off costs because you’re worried about losing a job.

Now I don’t do anything too cheap, otherwise you’re teaching all of your potential clients that you’re cheap, and this is important because they’ll tell their friends.

It’s just a vicious cycle. But once you know your labour, materials and expenses for a job, then if a customer comes out and says you’re expensive, you can say, well this is the breakdown, this is how much this previous job costs, and you’ve got the back up you need.

And use a system like NextMinute which is simple, and the timesheets and back costing reporting is great. Being able to forecast what sort of profit I am going to make on each job is important for growing and expanding my building business. And that’s what NextMinute does brilliantly.

Chris James Recommends

Back Costing

For your fixed price jobs, you can track section by section (stage by stage) as to your quoted costs vs actual costs so that you can stay on track and ensure you are profitable… in real time!

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