Professional Builder follows the fortunes of a new construction business over the year
Barry Kavanagh, of Camberford Construction shares his experiences of starting a business
No matter how much on-site experience you get, nothing can truly prepare you for how full-on running your own business is.
The 5am starts, cranky clients, the last-minute scramble to find a subby the day before you start on site – there’s always something new to deal with.
I’ll be writing a piece for Professional Builder every month to share how things are going for me and my new business – Camberford Construction.
Hopefully, I’ll provide some solidarity with those of you who are also starting out, and a bit of a laugh to those who have put those early days behind them but can still remember what it’s like.
I came into the industry the same way many of us do – helping my Dad out with bits and bobs when I was a youngster.
From there, I got a job with my mate’s roofing firm, which led to working for a national roofing company, where I was lucky enough to get some excellent experience.
I then worked my way up to a Site Manager position, and the chance to manage sites and contracts for several years meant that I was well set to go it alone, which, of course, was when the hard work really began…
One of the big things to overcome when you’re starting out is convincing potential clients that you’re not a cowboy.
It’s a leap of faith for them – you’re new, you don’t have many projects under your belt and you’re basically asking them to trust you despite all of that, which can be a difficult sell.
The fact that it’s a small world hasn’t done me any harm mind you. Someone I worked for while I was living in Ireland years ago ended up moving to England and developing some homes in the village next to mine.
Luck had it that they needed a firm with roofing experience. 70 roofs – and much backache later – I had the perfect start for a new firm, clocking up some invaluable experience and references.
The challenges of being new mean that you have to start thinking about the touches that help prove you’re a professional – things like always insisting on using a contract and having the right insurance.
Also I joined the Federation of Master Builders to get the credibility that comes with being a member of a professional trade association that inspects and vets its members. It all helps!
Still, despite all the talk about the dangers of cowboy builders, you get your fair share of cowboy clients as well.
I was talking to one homeowner about refitting her kitchen, as well as doing a bunch of other things to bring her place up to scratch.
It was certainly a big enough job and it would have helped me kick start my business by getting a substantial sized project under my belt.
However, the client didn’t have a big enough budget and was trying to do things on a shoestring. Thinking it could be a good project to do for a proper referral, I offered to do it for cost (plus labour and materials).
However, she was still short by around a grand. Her solution? She asked me if I could do it part-cash. As we all know, cash jobs and dodgy builders go hand in hand.
I walked away as I don’t want my business to be known for cutting corners – VAT or otherwise.
This is how lots of these TV documentary horror stories start, and as much as I like Melinda Messenger, I don’t want her and Dom Littlewood knocking on my door…
Next month, I’ll be talking about rubbing shoulders with MPs in the House of Lords and attending a big retrofit conference in Brighton aimed at builders like me!
For further information on the Federation of Master Builders visit www.fmb.org.uk