HST Ep 28
Brian: You are not alone. We are going to talking about how to pivot from the old school ways and why choosing to embrace technology is going to set you apart from your competitors. So stay tuned for the twenty-eighth episode of the Home Service Toolbox.
Male Speaker: Welcome to the Home Service Tool Box, a podcast dedicated to helping home service providers. Every Wednesday, your hosts Brian and Olivia will interview leading experts in both the home service field as well as companies who support the small business owner. Our guests will help you nail down what will and what won’t work to grow your business, whether you are on a job site or taking a break. There is no better time to sharpen your small business skills.
Brian: Well, welcome to our podcast. We are excited to have Spencer on. How are you doing today, Spencer?
Spencer: I am doing great, could not be better. I am sitting at home I am comfortable.
Brian: And of course, we have Olivia our co-host and we are all in our home/apartment/working from home life that we find ourselves in with this coronavirus. You know, obviously we book our, you know, guest months in advance and who knew that, you know, when we were talking to people in January that we would be in today’s season. I mean, you know, pre-show Spencer, you were just kind of speaking about the craziness that we find ourselves in you know, you are kind of running seven days a week talking to people, doing podcast, you know. So what would you say in just a sentence or two, just about kind of the season that we find ourselves in?
Spencer: It is one of uncertainty, no doubt about it. You know the builders that I speak to and you know I am probably into the high hundreds of builders in the last three weeks, maybe four weeks now. They are just uncertain about the future, uncertain about what to do today, uncertain about where they are at and how to move forward.
Brian: Well, I think the uncertainty is definitely a common phrase that we find ourselves thinking about but the goal of kind of our podcast is to be able to, you know, talk about the reality of where we are.
Brian: But then find ways to pivot. You know, I have been hearing the word pivot a lot and I am sure that is definitely a conversation you have been having but Spencer, you are the director and builder in residence at CoConstruct. You joined a company in 2018, but you are also a builder and remodeller and it says that you have both enjoyed and suffered the experience of home building.
Spencer: Have not we all.
Brian: Over the past nineteen years and, you know, you said that you were a captain, in the Marine Core. So first and foremost, thank you for your service.
Spencer: You are welcome.
Brian: But, you know, you find yourself now in the builder role and speaking to people with CoConstruct. What are some common denominators between like the Marine Core and where you find yourself today in the uncertainty that we find ourselves in?
Spencer: Well, I think that, you know, the Marine Core certainly teaches you to plan on uncertainty. Do not plan on your plan always working and you know, the lessons of the Marine Core apply to like the 2008 timeframe and they apply to now very similarly in that? You have to have perspective and try to keep a clear mind in order to make good decisions when you are under duress, like most, most of the country and a lot of the world is right now.
Brian: Well, that is great. So for those viewers, that are listening and tuning in that may be unfamiliar with what CoConstruct is. Can you kind of just give a little bit of information about what CoConstruct is and the company that is and what you guys do?
Spencer: Sure. So CoConstruct is an online software that we have both a web based and a mobile based application. That is what I call a best business practice for the residential construction industry for anybody that touches it, whether you are remodeller or a builder. I did a lot of land development using it, construction of new homes and remodelling projects. We have essentially every tool that you need between your first touch of a client like they’ve come in your door, you’re interacting with them all the way through, estimating, communicating, writing proposals and contracts, looking at specs, making selections, looking at your financials. We intersect with two-way sync with QuickBooks and Zero we have a link to and then we handle warranty and maintenance of homes through our system as well. So we have about fifty five hundred builders around the world. Most of them in North America and we do about twenty-one billion worth of projects going right now in terms of active being managed by our customers. So we cover the whole gamut of tasks that you need in the operations side of your business and we do it from the web, which is really useful right now, obviously, when people are out of their offices and trying to exist in a new environment.
Olivia: Wow that is certainly incredible.
Brian: Go ahead.
Olivia: Sorry. That is certainly incredible. I mean, given the season we are in and obviously, we are so much more relying on technology than we ever have before. Earlier you kind of, touched on uncertainty that your clients have been experiencing. I mean, how have they been really, able to utilize CoConstruct during this time? Have you seen any significant changes since the virus outbreak?
Spencer: Well, you know, I think the most significant change that we have seen in CoConstruct and understand that we have a unique perspective and view of the entire industry, both nationwide and around the world among all our customers. We see what interactions people are having and, yes, usage has gone up. People are realizing and new users have gone up significantly in the last several weeks because people realize I have had to turn the key in my office door. I do not have access to my three ring binders. I do not have access to my whiteboard. You know, we are not sitting around a place where I have all my process and my paperwork. So I need to figure out a way to get this online, get it distributed in a way that my entire project team, even when it’s not sitting in the same room, staring at the same wall or the same people are able to operate effectively decentralized. That is what folks are realizing and they are just making much more better use, much more efficient use of this system because they’re starting to spread out into different areas. The system is relatively wide. It provides a lot of solutions. You know, not everybody uses all the solutions, but people are starting to recognize that there is value in being able to execute and not have to be in the office or be in front of a customer in order to do any of the tasks that we all had to do.
Brian: I think it is certainly in this time forcing people to make changes.
Spencer: It is.
Brian: Have you found that there are still people who are kind of, fearful to make this jump into technology or struggling to, you know, maybe even people that have been customers, but they are still struggling to make this jump and, you know, if so, what are some way to encourage people to jump in? The reason why I actually asked this is because I was going to say pre-podcast. So I am selling my house, I am moving, and I’m about to do a bunch of renovations and the people I’m contacting are still like so focused on going to my home, coming and seeing this thing and calling me and I’m like, no.
Brian: Like, if you do not have to do this. I am just curious what you are seeing.
Spencer: Yeah. So they say that necessities the mother of all invention. Right. So we have people, like I was saying before, that don’t use the whole system and when we look at a contractor who has done a great job of solving problems over their career and bringing in a group of solutions that they can use to run their business but they’re still falling short somewhere. The projects are taking too long. They need to move their schedules back to the left a little bit and be more efficient or maybe they are missing some things. They are not getting change orders signed. They are not having a good enough budget. They are not making the money margin that they think that they are going to make it in the project. We listen for those problems. We do not try to tell people at CoConstruct, you have to use the whole system or you are not going to be successful. What we try to do is have an empathetic ear. We try to listen to the problems because we do not call people. We do not solicit. We wait and when people have a problem, they call us. We offer solutions across the twenty-eight different things that are available for you to do in our system.
We say pick the most acute present pain. What is keeping you up at night right now? We most likely have something that will help you solve that problem. We say start with that. Identify that there is value in the system for you and then you can kind of land and expand out as other pains present themselves. You know, as you fix one thing, other things become priorities and we have ways that you can spread into those other priorities. Now, you know, talking about selling your house and you know, my thoughts are with you on that. It has been tough. You know, I know showings are down and things like that. I am not telling you anything you do not know but what I will tell you is, you know, I speak with builders all over the country in various stages and when I say builders, I’m talking builders, remodellers the whole project team that uses our system. We have a remodeller in Pennsylvania and they are one of the first folks to get completely shut down. Larger-scale remodeller about forty-nine employees and he said that I used to spend four hours before the shutdown. I used to spend four hours going to a customer’s home, first visit, you know, preparing, driving, meeting, and taking notes afterwards, writing messages afterwards, driving back to the officer or back to home.
He says I am doing those same meetings right now using Zoom and CoConstruct to make a presentation. I am doing them in forty-five minutes. I am documenting while I am going giving the client an example of what it is going to be like to work with us because we have this system and a process that has clearly outlined its online we do not have to touch. You can make your selections. You can see your budget. You can communicate with us in one spot. He says it has been a total mind set shift for me, says I am not going back and he recognizes there is value in the human connection and looking people in the eyes. He says for initial qualification, I am going to save myself three hours on everything moving forward and I am just going to use these tools that I’ve discovered through this process. And that’s the thing we’re seeing is people realizing they have to be ready to turn the key in their door, in their office, whether it’s another pandemic, a local, regional, national disaster of some sort. Whether it is an economic collapse in the future. No the matter how you are being impacted or not. This is not going to be unique moving forward and so many contractors are recognizing I did not have a plan before. I am going to have a plan next time and having a good process and system is, you know, the backbone of that plan.
Olivia: I mean, I think that is incredible because over the past few weeks on every podcast and just in general with people, I talked to or is like, well, hopefully this is not the new normal, but in reality, it is. I mean, technology’s already been so prevalent in all of our lives but to be perfectly honest, I mean, we’re never going to really go back from this working from home or taking online classes kind of perspective. I think it is incredible that your clients have really been able to channel their forces, just put so much heart and soul into their work, put it forward, and just make changes for the better. That is a true testament to the craftsmanship of your company and like the resources and processes set up in place. That leads me to another question. Obviously, we are all brainstorming and trying to produce resources for our clients to really, help them through the season of change and I was just wondering if you could shed some light on a couple of great resources I saw that you guys put up.
Spencer: Sure. Yeah, we decided immediately and CoConstruct has been doing work from home for over a month. We were very quick to go work from home because, number one, we are flexible because, you know, we are internet based. We decided immediately that this was a moment that we needed to capture and make sure that we were serving our customers well because the company has been around before. The company has been through it is fifteen years old. We have been through the last downturn. The company was formed at the beginning of the last downturn and understands the pain that people are going through and you know, the horrible decisions, you know, laying people off. How are we going to extend our payroll and make this work? We get it and so we made the decision quickly that we were going to try to help reach out and create webinars where we have talked about what we believe based on what we are speaking with our customers are important topics to the industry. Things like, oddly enough, marketing. Like what do you need to do right now to make sure that you are messaging correctly? You know, the first thing is stop, stop your old messaging, stop your old social media campaigns, because you have the risk of being tone deaf. You know that you have to pay attention to the messaging that your company sending out right now. It is not something that people were thinking about when they were trying to figure out how to shut down job sites but we wanted to get that message out.
A similar thing was we collected and put it in our online community on our website. All of the resources, paperwork, documents, messages that our customers were sending to their clients, their trade partners, their suppliers, their team about how they were acting and taking action towards the Covid-19 issues that were presenting themselves in their offices and job sites. We have created a series of webinars. We have talked through, we have brought in experts on how to fill out the PPP paperwork, how to look at the EIDL, how to make sure that you do not end up with a payroll loan at the end of three months, if you do not do stuff correctly. How to run your system, how to run your company, how to provide leadership while you are not face to face with your customers. When we first started talking about Zoom it was not the thing that everyone was doing or in any kind of interaction online. So we tried to bring that to bear quickly and we’ve posted all of those webinars on our website that you can just go there and watch. So if you are interested, just go to CoConstruct.com and look for resources and there all posted right there.
Brian: Well, that is great. I mean, I think being able to provide support to people along the way is going to be helpful so we will make sure that we link up in our show notes, and our captions to, you know, for those resources. You know, you mentioned messaging and I think, you know, being that we are a marketing company and we, help people I think you are exactly right that you have to change the message. I think the message that I have been seeing for people that have been doing it right. I would say people doing right are is one of empathy.
Brian: You know, I think people, businesses that are helping their customers or their potential customers understand that, you know, we are in this together and we are going to get through this together you know, it is an important message. I think pausing your campaigns and making sure that, you know, as you said, not being tone deaf, you know, is critically important. And, you know, I’ve seen some other examples of bad companies jumping on the bandwagon and try to, you know, take advantage of this situation. That is definitely not.
Brian: Certainly not encouraged, you know, but we have spoken to lots of people on the podcast. The thing that we are finding or the thing that they are kind of saying and we are kind of seeing with our own customers is you know that there is a pent up need that, you know, there may be obviously a downturn on quoting or estimates and things like that right now. There is kind of, you know, this need that’s been pent up. Are you kind of experience in that? Do you feel like the people who are using CoConstruct, you know, are going to be finding that once these restrictions are lifted, that there is going to be this need that has been built up along this journey?
Spencer: By need, do you mean from our customers clients, right?
Brian: Right. Yep.
Spencer: Yeah, to get projects going. Absolutely. There is no question. If you look at the economic data that was out there for the housing industry, the whole residential industry doesn’t matter which section of it that you’re in prior to this brick wall that we just hit, we were not anywhere close to meeting the demand curve that the country was presenting us with. In terms of new residential structures and remodelling. We are members of the NAHB Leading Supplier Council and so as part of that, I get to sit on some boards with the NAHB and their economist and some other economists that we brought to our user group conference down in Florida last year all have the same graphs. That shows that we were not even going to be building enough units or doing enough remodelling work in this country until 2025 to meet the curve demand that people had. Now, clearly, there will be an adjustment in that curve, but when things shake back out and the oscillation of that curve dies back down and we get back to normalcy, you can absolutely expect that the population of this country is antsy. You know, there is people staring at their four walls for weeks. You better believe that they’re going to want to put a screen door through one of those walls when we’re done, you know, or they’re going to want to move.
I think that, you know, you are going to see some shifts in priorities. I think that people are going to recognize that, wow I am living in a building with fifteen hundred people I cannot go into the hallway because I might get sick. I think you are going to see some shifting from urban to suburb and again, where people can get single family homes or get a little space. That is just a guess and just talking with other builders. I think there is going to be a shift. I think there is going to be some dynamics and as I say, you know, it is an old quote but you know you want to prepare your fields for rain. Now is the time that if you are not prepared to handle volume, get those systems in place. Look at the things that are stressing your company, whether it be cash flow, assets that you have available to bring to bear on opportunities such as cash or lines of credit and the systems in place to allow you to lever opportunity to grow into the opportunities that are present themselves. So absolutely, there is going to be a change. We may I am not smart enough, nor would I ever try to guess when that oscillation is going to end. We are going to hit our stride again but it will, in fact, absolutely positively, come back.
Olivia: Well, that’s a lot of really, awesome information which leads me, I was just kind of thinking and it’s always really, compelling to ask someone why they get into the field they are in. So do you mind sharing with us a little bit more about what compelled you to enter the construction field and eventually join this amazing company that’s changing lives for so many people?
Spencer: Yeah, it is an interesting one. I did not grow up in the traits like so many builders and remodellers do. I did not pick up nails when I was eleven on job sites. My dad were in a company called Pratt and Lambert Paint and they made paint that was as close as I got to it. I went to Naval Academy. Then I was a captain as an officer in the Marine Core and overseas I got a little bit of opportunity to do some logistics and construction related stuff and that got me interested in the nuts and bolts of construction. I came back to the U.S. I was stationed in Washington, D.C. I had the opportunity to put my entrepreneurial hat on a little bit and I started remodelling homes, had a crew, and I just was, you know, looking for an opportunity to make some money and this was back in 1999. One thing led to another, I ended up getting out of the Marine Core 2003/2004. It was my last actual paycheck from the government but I had built up a really, substantial remodelling business on the side oddly enough and started to do some land development. I had an opportunity to buy some lots and then lots became large tracts of land. And then next thing you know, I look back at my career, I’ve done about twenty two hundred acres worth of residential development and tons of I mean, just hundred a hundred and fifty million, whatever it is worth, of custom homes and production homes through our system.
I joined with an architectural firm out of Chicago who is designing and putting up some really amazing homes and brought my construction system in process to their business and so that was in Chicago about seven years ago. Then we operated out of the D.C. market, South Florida market, the Chicago market and I was just, you know, growing using process and a little bit of luck to make things work. I was always talking with builders, finding builders, either with IBS at the trade show or at any other event that I would go to and we would just honestly grab a beer and talk about how our businesses worked. The CEO of CoConstruct noted that I was working with a bunch of his customers and said, hey, I need a builder who understands our system and has operated a good level and so the rest is history. I joined the company about eighteen months ago and I am serving. It is a great role. I feel like I could not be in a better place in the world from my experience for the moment. Right. Like I went through the downturn. I was in the valley of the shadow of death. I spend a lot of time looking at myself in the mirror in 2008 to 2010, wondering how I was going to make it through the day. I was managing cash twice a day. You know, I was making the very difficult decisions of who to keep on, who to let go.
The unfortunate part about last time and the fortunate part about now was that it was a slow thousand-cut kind of situation in 2008. This one was super quick. Right? I have a perspective having been through that last downturn that many builders and remodellers who are out there today, who have been in the business for ten or twelve years, who have not been through that, have not experienced, and because of the platform that I am with, with CoConstruct and the unique connection to so many builders. I have this awesome opportunity to share some good news with people that this will not last forever, that there is light, that there is always hope for tomorrow. But to also share tactical lessons that I learned about how to protect your business now, when you are in the middle of it or if you are doing okay now, how to learn from the lessons of other people that are suffering to make sure what I call hard target your business against failure for the future. So there’s so many lessons to be learned right now. This is the moment when people need to be paying attention to the things going on around them so they can learn the lessons and accelerate out of this and protect themselves for the next time this happens because it will happen again.
Brian: I think you are so right. I mean, be able to use lessons from the past, you know, and earlier in the conversation, you mentioned a little about the company in Pennsylvania and how they said they were not ever going to go back to the old ways.
Brian: And how breaking hours of additional time per coding project, you know so those are listening. You know, there is probably a good bit of people out there like they haven’t even tried that and they’re scared to try it.
Brian: What are some of the hiccup? What are some of the reasons why they do not want to embrace something new? Why are the people there trying to give a quote for all my renovation projects, wanting to come to the house, spend all these hours doing this thing, like what is the like? Is it just old school ways or is it something else? What are some of the things that are going on?
Spencer: Let us think about we are all human beings, right, and it is human nature to want to continue on a path that you are comfortable with and as worked for you. Right. And so many, many of the folks that might be listening maybe you’re second generation in this company or maybe you had your tool bags on and you came and you put your tool bags down and you started running your own business and what you saw was personal interaction. I’ve got to look someone in the eye and I’ve got to get their trust and they’ve got to see that I’m a good person and I’m genuine. You know, that is the way this business has been brought up in terms of the industry. It is personal interaction. It is trust and confidence. You are not going to get someone to give you twenty, fifty, five hundred or a million dollars, right, I mean, to do a project, unless they have confidence in you as a person that you’re going to be able to execute. Right. And so what people are doing is they’re relying on what they’re used to. And what I like to tell people is that, you know, the next customer you go into are going to gain confidence from you having a process and you being able to be professional in your approach, no matter if I’m two dimensional here on a screen or find three dimensional staring you in the face across your kitchen table.
If you have a process, then you can affect that process and give people confidence and it’s important to recognize for all the folks that are wanting to take that first step into maybe a virtual meeting with the customer, that that next customer every single one of them consumes their entire life on a phone. Right. Everybody does this. They are used to consuming information on a phone or on an on screen. They are used to it. They are more used to it than you give them credit for and your next customer that you proposed to does not know anything about what your last hundred customers got. Your last hundred customers got face-to-face interaction. Well, you just mentioned it yourself Brian, you do not want people in your house. And so you will appreciate the forward leaning tech advanced folks that come in and say, hey, we got this under control because what processes are so under control otherwise, we’ve been able to pivot, right, and adjust to this new reality. So we’re here to serve you. You tell us how you are comfortable and we will adjust out your comfort level. That is the thing just step out and try it and I think that it is going to be a business winner for the folks listening.
Brian: I know I love technology and obviously, I am in technology business but like, I can embrace that. Like if businesses were approaching me the way you just kind of, approached this conversation, you know, speed. You know, I had someone that came out to my house, like my new house. I am buying two weeks ago, they still have not gotten any quote, and it is like, really? I have people who have not been to the house, who have been able to have conversations via text or via email and got quotes within 24 hours.
Brian: And so I do not have time to waste. You know, I mean.
Brian: And I think that the person that embraces that is going to get the job. I mean, that is just my personality and I think that most consumers are probably going to be in that same way.
Spencer: Well, I can tell you that I have discussed with remodellers that use CoConstruct in the last week, how they are doing FaceTime interviews with customers as they are walking through the house like this is the kitchen. We have another kitchen over here in the basement. We are going to be fine while you do this and the builder or the remodeller says take a linear
Measurement you know pull out your tape measure, go side to side over here, measure your cabinetry, and measure your island. Let us talk about, you know, what you want on the floor and they did they do the thing on the camera and it is all good. That builder is able to then, go take those rough measurements that they are their owner or potential client has given them put them into our templates that we have CoConstruct that is built by the remodeller, and within an hour, they have a proposal back to him. It is accurate and it has got here is what your allowances are going to be. Here is what your selectable items are going to be because it is already there. It is done and you know yeah, it is going to be it is the way of the future. It really is and there’s no more there’s no more clear moment that I’ve been aware of in the history that I’ve been doing this for about twenty years now, that it’s been apparent that this method of like doing it, using technology, getting projects done, using the tools that have been come available to make it more efficient. It is the time to get on board.
Olivia: I think the biggest drawback for so many people who are resistant to technology is losing the empathy. Losing the face-to-face interaction because it is so daunting when in reality I feel like having, you know, my remodeller constructor be willing to face time me and walk me through those measurements and make me feel comfortable and confident throughout the process. It really does give off the security and the trust and the empathy, you know home service providers need to make their clients feel.
Olivia: And that is ultimately, what lands them the job. It is not just about the efficiency. It is about the fact that they are willing to adapt and change and be more empathetic and compromise on things and go the extra mile or take the extra five minutes to really, give back homeowners the peace of mind they need, when their homes are the only place they can really find a safe haven in right now. Even though it might feel like the walls are caving in all the time, too.
Olivia: I think there is a lot of reality to what you are speaking to that as well.
Spencer: Olivia, if you have if you have a contractor who has a system in place and has a process and I do not mean just people using CoConstruct if you have a real system. Right. If you are process focused instead of just people focused, your business is going to react the same, whether it is good times, bad times. You have a process that you could explain to people that you can that you can lean on when you just need to follow the next step. Right. The contractors that have that process in place are going to get things done more quickly for you. They are not going to be the ones that cannot get to your take off for your estimate on your project until ten o’clock and they are working on it until 4 a.m., which means that they are so doggedly tired the next day that they cannot think clearly, clearly enough to get back to you. The day goes by. I mean, this is the life. I mean, I have lived it. I know what I am talking about, right, and you are so tired that you forget that one nuanced thing that would have made all the difference in a customer and contractor relationship. That one little touch point or one thing that you could remember that, hey, tomorrow is my daughter’s birthday and this guy remembered that from a week ago and actually sent a message, hey, here’s my proposal. Hope your daughter has a good birthday party or whatever. Right. It is whatever is happening nowadays in terms of birthday parties but the point is that if you have your stuff together and you can go execute and just block and tackle the main functions of your business to make your business run better, you have room, you have space to be more empathetic, you have time to go.
What I always like to do was speak with my owners. I like to be in the field. I would like to give them the confidence that we were handling the problems. Talk to them about their concerns. Walk them through the job sites. If I am back at the office managing financials, managing proposals, doing all that. I am not out there in the field. Being more empathetic gives you more time to be empathetic. I have sold I mean, I am not going to say how much. It is one hundred million dollars under, under, over. I do not know where it is worth of homes sitting right here in my office in Maryland to clients in Chicago or other parts of the country using our system and a proposal that we would make using our system and just doing it virtually just like this has been years we’ve been doing this. It works. It is a game changer in terms of a competitive advantage. Only fifteen percent of contractors in the country before the downturn right before this whole thing happened. I guess I am calling it a downturn. It is whatever it is only fifteen percent of contractors in the country were using an online system, on CoConstruct. There is a huge amount people with room for growth.
Brian: You know. So when you are estimating and you are not really seeing the location with your eyes like physically.
Brian: Do you recommend ways to help them feel more competent in the quote that they are providing? Are there allowances? Is there an asterisk that you know, you’re encouraging your contractors to use because obviously, you know, seeing something face to face is going to make a difference at times and you might find things that you didn’t expect.
Spencer: You bet.
Brian: So my guess is if I’m saying this and I’m an owner of a business like this and I can’t physically see it, that’s what I’m afraid of. I am afraid I am going to lose my shirt on this job because of that. What are some ways that you can help people understand how they can embrace this without losing a shirt?
Spencer: Sure. That is always a concern. I have had remodel projects where we did not do invasive investigation and we thought that the joists in the ceiling were running one direction and when we got out there and did the demo, they were running the other direction and we had to do headers and a bunch of LVLs to hit that often make it work. It was more expensive that happens. There is no doubt. There is leaks in pipes and things happening behind the walls and so know, what I would recommend is to find a good unknown conditions clause and just have an open, honest conversation with your customer about the fact that, hey, this is a unique time. I would love to come in and guarantee you a price but here is what is going to happen is we are always going to be surprised by something when we start doing the demo work on your house when we start working on something. You know, and we have to be realistic about that. That is going to happen. So if you’re looking for a fixed price, I can’t put my company at risk unless I’m able to come into your home and do some investigation.
I need to be able to cut some holes in drywall maybe. I need to be able to walk above and below and around all these parts of the project and I need to be able to make a more solid estimate for you without that ability you need to have an unknown conditions clause that says anything behind a wall. Anything I have been able to see that is not something I would recognize as could possibly be. You know, there is some legal terms that will be eligible for a change order. Then what is important is to quantify give a left and right limit of that change or it’s not going to be an open check book, but it’s going to be exactly whatever it costs to do the work, plus a fee or plus a percent. So you can give your customers confidence that if they are signing a contract with you, it has a clause like that and that the initial price isn’t the opening salvo and you’re looking to double or triple it because of change orders. That is just a forward business practice.
Olivia: It seems like you certainly know the ins and outs of the business. So that leads me to ask you what are couple things, obviously in your years and years of experience that you have learned that you feel like would be valuable feedback and pieces of advice to share with our listeners who might be hesitating to start their own business? Or there might be hesitating to make changes that they are not always familiar with, that you have learned and you can share with them?
Spencer: This is a twenty-four hour long program, right? We have time. You know, I will tell you this, that if you are thinking about starting a company, be conservative, recognize that the things that you think are going to happen probably won’t. You are not the smartest person in the room. The economy is and you know you cannot control any of it. Most of your spreadsheets won’t turn out the way you think they’re going to turn out so be prepared for that. You know, the other thing, I am just going to get on a quick list of things that come to my mind here so it might not be in the best order. But if you don’t know your numbers, I think that everybody recognizes now that you need to know your numbers because the folks that knew their numbers had their P&L and their balance sheet squared away, knew what their reserves were, knew what their AP and AR was, what their quick ratio is. Right. Those are the folks that filled out their PPE information more quickly got the EIDL applications in and those are the ones getting funding right now. Those are the ones not worried about whether they can pay their folks for the next couple of months while we figured this whole mess out, right.
Know, your numbers, if you do not already make that a focus, its own project is to figure your numbers out and I hate numbers. I hated, hated the financials but it was the lifeblood of my business. Right. I had to answer to banks had large loans mean, you do not develop twenty-two hundred acres worth of land without a lot of zeros, at least on loans. That was extraordinarily painful but you have to do it. It is the thing as a business owner that you have to attend to. Another thing that applies to everybody that you might not think about and this is going to be different coming from a builder and a Marine and all that kind of stuff but is you’ve got to think about maybe writing everything you’re going through down. You do not have to call it a journal and we’re not selling essential oils here but grab a notebook or a or a legal pad for all you old school folks and just start writing down the pains that you’re having right now, thoughts that you’re going through. As you try to solve problems, the solutions drawn them out mapped them out and say, here is the problem I have today. Here is the five problems I have today. Here is the steps that I think I am going to take. Here’s what happened when I took those steps and keep a log or a journal or a book of wisdom, if you will, about what you’re going through right now.
This is the time when everybody is learning. There is acute pain, there is real pain that is happening right now and you do not learn. You do not learn when everything is going well. You learn when the chips are down and the storm is brewing. Right. And so write it down now and what you’re going to do is you’re going to give yourself mental time. You are going to give yourself some stillness and some space to think through your problems but what you are going to really, do is pay it forward. Because ten years from now, someone that buys your company or it is your daughter or your son that takes over, or maybe it is one of your employees takes over is going to have the same thing happen. They are going to want to be able to pull out your book of wisdom and look at the problems that you went through, because everything everyone is going through right now. We all went through this in 2008, 2010. It was just protracted, right. We had the conversations with banks. We had the conversations with our equipment companies, our vendors, our suppliers, and our clients that were very tough. And so write that stuff down. Now, there is just so much there is so many things to talk about but I think that those are the ones that come to the top of my mind.
Brian: Well, you know, we talk a lot about, you know, how to protect yourself in the current season you know of the worry. Obviously, you are in business because you enjoy it and you talked about how there is the pros and cons of that. What is the best part about running your business that you have been able to gain over the years?
Spencer: You knowI think the most rewarding part of it is being with people that love what they are doing and you are providing them with a framework in which to do something that they love. Whether it be the craftsman that that do the trim work, you know, or your project managers that take something that they’ve never built a million dollars out before and they’re able to go buy the house for the rest of their life with their family and say, I did that. You know, that was the juice that I really enjoyed. Of course, I loved making beautiful places for customers but it was really the team that I have put together as a business owner that I was most proud of and most concerned about during the times that I needed to be concerned about them.
Olivia: That is great. My guess, one final thought that I had. You know, what right now is your biggest piece of advice to people who are continuing to combat Covid-19 and their business in this season of change that they can keep in the back of their minds as they keep moving forward and adapt into everything going on?
Spencer: I am going to say it is two things. I mentioned it before. One of them is keep putting one foot in front of the other and spend time looking at yourself in the mirror and doing the gut check and taking the gut punches you need to take because you’re going to take them and that’s all part of being a business owner. It is not all about, you know, hundred thousand dollar checks coming in and having big bank accounts. Unfortunately, you know these are the times that try us and we are in the middle of them. You know, the other thing that I will tell you and this is the more critical piece to survival of your business is if you have not yet taken money off the table and put something away for yourself and your family. Please consider doing that if you can, especially if you are not in one of the areas where you are not able to work and things are spiralling. Right.
So if you are able to do that, even if you are not right now, plan on it in the future. I was running hard until we hit a brick wall and then I realized, you know, I probably have not done much for my family. I have done a lot for the company and that was a huge lesson that I learned. The last thing I will say is that you have to take decisive action. You have to understand what your risks are to stay open, understand what your risks are, to try to push your staff out to customers’ homes if you are trying to do that, to continue to work. But you have to understand the overarching risk that you have by not putting people on unemployment or not taking advantage of the PPP and trying to continue to pay out cash from your savings or from your reserves to try to keep things afloat, because no one knows how long this is going to go on. And if you pull in 2008, 2009, 2010 and used to slowly bleed out at the end, you’re not going to have anything and so you need to be decisive and you need to make tough decisions and to eat that frog unfortunately, as the saying goes, as quickly as you realize that you need to take that action. Take it do not hesitate and that will get you through.
Brian: I think you are that decisiveness that you are that you are referencing is obviously coming from your background in the military. I think so. That is obviously playing into this but you know, earlier in the podcast, you mentioned all the resources. I certainly want to mention, you know, if someone is tuning in now, listening to the podcast, watching, how can they learn just get some of these resources that you guys at CoConstruct is offering.
Spencer: Well, you can go to coconstruct.com, C-O-construct.com and go to the resources tab right at the top, right in the centre and you will see builder resources. It has a bunch of articles; it has a bunch of the webinars that we have put on. The webinars are full of locations, documents, and things like that and there is links to those as well. And, you know, if you want to actually get in and see what a system looks like, we’ve got this thing for the rest of April where it is forty-nine bucks per month for three months, which is unheard of and you get access to whole thing, unlimited everything. Just so you can see what it’s like, what people are using to stay in business and keep their teams busy, even though they can’t be in front of them. That is a resource in itself. It is unbelievably available right now. So take advantage of that. If you are ever thinking about doing something.
Brian: Yeah, just taking a look at the site right now and I mean, you guys have a lot of different resources. That is incredible.
Spencer: Many more loading up the rest of this week. If you are on the team, at CoConstruct like if you are a part of our community as a builder, remodeller or whatever, you have access to our online community, which as soon as you log in, there is a community button right at the top of your screen. We have thousands of builders and remodellers out there asking questions, running their businesses, and getting answers from their peers, essentially all over the country, around the world people are asking questions. What are you doing about Covid? What does your contract look like? What language you are using with our trade partner agreements? How much are you charging? An unbelievable amount of information being shared by other contractors with each other, not from CoConstruct and that is my biggest value. That’s the juice that I love about working with CoConstrcuct because 2008 I was on an island making decisions all by myself. 2020 the builders are together. It is a big, big island and there is a lot of people on it. We are all six feet apart but it is a big island. We have so much stuff going on. I mean we even have a Covid countdown playlist for music it is actually pretty, funny but it is a really, cool playlist and people are sharing memes about construction in the time and it is fun if you can believe it. And it’s very helpful. So those are some of the other tools that alone get out there. I am not trying to sell CoConstruct here, but I am a builder who understands the value of it. That alone is worth forty-nine bucks. Just to test it out.
Olivia: I think it is great that you guys are champing community right now. We need it more than ever and fact that so many people can still access your resources. I think a handful of our clients probably have utilized it before or currently utilizing it. I mean, this is just something great. Another thing for them to look into and really dive in deep when they need it most, so thanks for all you are doing. We really appreciate it.
Spencer: No problem. Our pleasure.
Brian: Well, on next week’s episode, we are going to be interviewing Lechelle Yates. She is with the centre on Northwest North Carolina Better Business Bureau. A mouthful, but the BBB is a great resource to be able to make sure that businesses are staying true to their word. We think that she is going to be able to bring, you know, some great advice to be able to stay strong and united just like us Spencer has been talking about building that community around so she is going to with us next week. So, Spencer, thank you so much for joining us today and good luck us with your own business. Appreciate you sharing all the nuggets.
Spencer: Thanks for having me on. It was great.
Olivia: Yeah. Spencer, we really appreciate it. Thank you so much and be sure to like and subscribe and leave comments on our Facebook page. If you guys like what we are putting out and until next week, we will see you next time.