Coming off the tools as a business owner and tradesman can be a controversial subject, but I often tell my clients it is a vital step to growing your business. A lot of us start in a trade background, maybe in our family business, and there is no getting away from the fact that to earn an income in the industry you generally need to start on the tools. Gradually as we build a good reputation and get busier our construction business starts to grow and we start earning better money and increasing our prices. Once our business is growing at a nice pace, if we are hungry for success and growth, we will continue to take on more work and increase our customers.
Eventually, there is a switch that happens when we have too much work for just one person. We take on an employee or a few employees that can maybe work on a separate site, but when we do that things can stop running as smoothly as they were before. Our employees can sometimes cause more time wasted than time gained, and leave you running between two sites and trying to fight fires whilst doing the work too. The money you may hope to earn on that day on the tools is actually wasted.
So you end up in a tricky spot. You know you want to grow but it can be difficult to know what to do. Sound familiar? Well, I can tell you that coming off the tools is the only way to grow and reach your long-term goals. In this article, I will talk about the main reasons why you should come off the tools and also how you can manage it while staying in control of your business.
Why come off the tools?
I’ve been there, done that and it’s painful to grow a business when you’re stuck on the tools. Many will struggle on for years and years thinking that is the only way, but really if you are going to continue working like this it will affect all areas of your life. You need to have a mindset shift to make this work, and this can be half the battle. So here are three reasons why you should think about maybe hanging up your tools, to help you get in the right space mentally.
It is virtually impossible to gain wealth when you are on the tools. Let’s assume you earn £200 a day profit and you work 5 days a week. But the thing is you’ve got evenings and weekends pricing, sending out estimates or doing general admin, so it’s more like 6 days a week. Your income is capped as you won’t have enough time to grow and manage staff. The best thing about running a team is that you can leverage other people’s time, and that is where you can make your financial goals happen.
If you have been in the trade for a while you know someone who has been injured in the trade, lost fingers, bad knees or a dodgy back. If you think about all of the potential injuries, you would have a big list. The construction industry is tough and physically taxing. This is a fact reflected even in things like health insurance, which for tradespeople is expensive. If you are in the game long enough, you will likely have a long-term health problem due to wear and tear. So even if wealth wasn’t motivating enough, is health not a reason to get off the tools? I’m 100% positive your family would say so.
What do you really want out of life? What do you want to achieve in business and life? Do you want to stay on the tools? The three things that come up the most when I ask people this question is we want more time, freedom and money. The only way to do that is by coming off the tools. Time and freedom is impossible when you are working on the tools, time is so precious and goes so fast, especially the older you get. When you get other people to do different aspects of your job, you will get time and freedom to do what you are passionate about. Maybe like many of my clients that is property development. If you have these goals but don’t have the freedom to pursue them then it isn’t really a life. Real freedom in business is knowing that it’s not all going to fall apart if you step away for a bit.
How to get off the tools?
But how is this possible? How can you manage to step away from the tools and still encourage your business to grow?
There is typically a three-step plan that you can implement to reach your goal of getting off the tools.
- Make a financial plan
- Build a great team
- Put in place effective systems
It can also be helpful to speak to a construction business coach about the best way to put this plan into action in your own business. If you are not quite ready for that step then read on for some top tips.
- Make a financial plan
Your financial situation is not one that you want to leave to chance, especially if you are going to be focusing on coming off the tools. You need to start thinking now about your long term plan. I like to call this your FIRE (Financially Independent Retire Early) figure. This is the lump sum amount of money you need to make now to eventually retire or focus on other projects, and not have to worry about supporting yourself.
So what is that figure for you? How can you work it out? And how can you work out a sustainable and realistic way to reach this figure? As part of my coaching process, I have worked out a system to help answer these questions. First of all, before making a plan on how to get it, you need to think about your FIRE figure. The best way to start with this is to ask yourself what are your annual living expenses? You don’t want to start by making the mistake of underestimating this. Some people may retire and they might have saved up £200,000, but their annual living expenses is £40,000, they are not going to get far on only having five years living expenses. Often as construction business owners, we may not be investing in a pension, so we need to work out how to create a lump sum figure that will give us what we need.
Now you know what your annual living expense is for you and your family to live comfortably, you can work out what you will need to support yourself when you retire, your FIRE figure. It is just a case of some simple maths. You just divide your annual expenses by 0.03.
So for example if you work out that your living expenses for a year are £50,000, if you divide that by 0.03 = 1,666,666. So your FIRE figure would roughly be £1.6m. This is what you would need to have in the bank before retiring comfortably and not having to worry about working again.
If you continue working on the tools then you will hit a bit of a bottleneck in your business and not be able to expand. This will mean you won’t be able to save up enough money to get to your FIRE figure. You need to start creating a strategy now. This could look like a variety of things. Maybe you could go into property development or alternatively sell your business. If you want to sell your business you need to get up to boardroom level within your company and have a turnover of around £4m-£10m. This figure is different for everyone but it’s good to plan now, and have a strategy to get you there.
- Attract and retain the best staff
In order to come off the tools, it’s massively helpful to be able to have in place a strong team that you trust to give you some peace of mind. You need to be able to attract and retain the best staff, but this can be easier said than done. I have found that there are two keys to this, firstly you need to be able to attract the perfect candidate psychologically and secondly, you need to invest in their career so that they stick with you.
Attracting the perfect candidate will mean attracting them to your company culture. Who you are and what your values are needs to be clear to prospective employees. So this information must be part of your branding and your identity. If a prospective employee went to your website or your social media would they be able to describe your company culture? Making sure that your culture is communicated clearly is one way you can attract the right kind of people.
Keeping staff loyal often comes down to how invested you are in their career and future. When you ask what keeps staff at a company for a long period of time they will often say that they want to see forward progression in their career. Could you help an employee to upskill? Send them on some courses? Train them in an area they could take on more responsibility? This can also work out to your advantage too, as training people you trust to move up into more responsibility will help you reach your goal of coming off the tools.
- Put in place effective systems
Along with great staff you need great systems to ensure that you are working in the most efficient way possible to take pressure and jobs off your shoulders so you can focus on the more important things. Three main systems that are vital to have in place are:
A basic operations system could be a basic spreadsheet or a pre-built system. Either way, keeping track of the basic data will mean that you can answer the question: what is the most profitable area of your work? Knowing the answer to this question will help you to be able to focus on that area as you grow, but you will only know the relevant information if you have kept track of the basic operations of your company.
2- Sales and marketing
Marketing and sales systems are essential as you scale. CRM (client relationship management) systems are widely known to be very important. Why? The first reason is that as your business grows it can be hard to keep track of all the interactions you have with customers. This can include, email, texts, site tracking, social media channels, having a system that’s integrative and is there in front of you can take a weight off and ensure you stay on top of customer relations. You want to have in one place that is easy to access, all relationships in one place. It’s like getting an extra employee, a tool that helps you organise all the different conversations.
3- Finance and accounting
There are so many resources to help you keep track of the money side of the business, but time and time again I ask business owners how much money they think they are owning, but for them then to be shocked when a big tax or VAT bill catches them off guard and affects their cash flow. You don’t want to be in that position, especially if you are scaling up and stepping away from the tools. In order to be able to access the information you may need quickly and to be able to give that to the relevant people requires a strong system as soon as possible.
There are other more advanced systems that could be good to think about like social media scheduling systems, which can free up more of your time to focus on the larger things. There are so many useful applications on the market now to help streamline your process and the different hats you need to wear as a business owner.
In the big conversation about coming off the tools, my view will always be that it is a necessary part of scaling as a construction business owner. It’s a big decision, but one that you need to be thinking about now, and making a plan to implement the tools that will help you achieve that goal.
Remember to keep in mind:
- Have a look at your finances and make a FIRE figure plan.
- Make sure you are communicating your company culture to attract the best people, and invest in their careers.
- Work on making your processes as efficient as possible to save you time to focus on bigger things.
I have helped many clients make the leap into coming off the tools as part of my coaching program for construction business owners. If you would like to have a chat with me to see how I could help you further your career then get in touch here.