The business of site: 10 things running a site can tell you about running a business.

Last week when we spoke about the reasons why we felt a career in construction was worth it, we started thinking a little about the link between working on site and running a business.  After all building sites might have the support of head office, but more often than not you’re pretty alone out there and the process you follow of setting up office, managing work and closing the site down is pretty similar to any small business with an exit strategy. So for those who have been caught out by the recession, or others seeking new opportunities, why not think about your skills differently and see how you can apply them to your own business.
This week let’s consider 10 things running a site can tell you about running a business.
Please note, I’ve written these from the point of view of a setting-out engineer/site manager, so please feel free to comment on how other roles might see this transition: –
1.     How to start.
So you’ve got a site and an idea of what needs to be done, but how do you do it? Think like a site and get a plan, establish contacts, collate the right information and find out what the critical path is. You already know how to ring people you don’t know, so just do it; try to imagine yourself as a business, not an individual, and this will be a lot easier.
2.     Managing finance
I know unless you work in America most sites will have a QS that handles this work, but that doesn’t mean there is no financial interaction; the basics are there – collecting information for contra-charges, checking day rate sheets and information learnt from progress meetings. Trust me, you know this stuff and, whilst some of it gets a bit more complicated, for about £100 a year you can hire an accountant to take the pain away.
3.     Managing staff
If you can motivate sub-contractors who don’t work directly for you, you have already got more skill in this area than you’re giving yourself credit for. Do be careful though, it’s much more difficult to manage people directly; you are paying them with money that could otherwise be going into your own pocket, which is why it’s even more important to build up trusting relationships and empower your employees.
4.     Managing programs
This is, kind of, our thing, which makes life easier – though do be prepared to find out that Microsoft Project Professional costs about £900 per computer; like me, you might have to go old school and use excel for, at least, the first few years.
5.     Producing a quality product
Again, you know what to check for and how to ensure quality; you know when a line needs to be drawn to mm thickness and when a can of spray will do. Apply this to your business to help you prioritise and not waste time on work that doesn’t need to be perfect; trust me, when you’re running your own business, time is not a luxury you will have to waste.
6.     Marketing yourself
Ok, so this is where my plan falls down a little. Most builders I know are not great marketers, but they do have a great base of hard work and quality product to build upon. The industry needs to up-skill when it comes to telling people how much it achieves so don’t take lessons from it here, instead look outside of the sector and see how other companies brand and sell that brand.
7.     Added value
Another thing we do a lot in construction. We look at the big picture; the building needs to get built so we put in extra hours, skills and money to make it happen, often without really considering it – it’s just got to be done. Think of your business in the same way, without being taken advantage of, and work with your clients to achieve their goals. If this means a small bit of additional work, weigh up what’s best in the long run.
8.     Entrepreneurial spirit
On site we find ourselves problem-solving as a matter of course, which is a great stepping stone into business management. Knowing how to overcome issues, seeing the bigger picture and knowing what needs to be done are tools you can’t afford to be without.
9.     Managing risk
In business you need to know which risks will provide a return and which are best left alone.  Again this is something we learn through health and safety training and the day to day experience of life on site.
10. Leadership
Running a site means leading a team. If you can get a site to follow your vision you should appreciate that as a valuable skill that is not as common as you think, and being able to apply that to your own business is a key factor in success.


Happy building, Chrissi