What started off looking like a rough year for the building and trade industry ended on a much more positive note. The Federal Government’s $25,000 HomeBuilder Grant, for example, was a much needed boost for the industry and has seen an impressive uptake in Victoria, NSW and Queensland in particular.

News of the Government’s recent traineeship/apprentice wage subsidies has also gone a long way towards boosting the sector.

We spoke with three small business owners making the most of these schemes and asked how they’re setting up 2021 to be theirs for the taking.

A pleasantly surprising year

Kate Cubitt, commercial director at Cubitt’s Granny Flats & Home Extensions, was pleasantly surprised by the blossoming interest in the construction industry during the tougher months of 2020.

Because people’s travel plans were put on hold this year, she believes, many decided to reinvest that money into home improvements and renovations.

Another unexpectedly positive outcome was the need to set up her staff to work from home.

“As an SMB in construction, we had been so reliant on paper processes prior to COVID. We had to invest in digital file management really quickly – and that resulted in greater efficiency and benefits to our staff culture.”

The HomeBuilder Grant saw enquiries increase astronomically, particularly with regard to home extensions, Cubitt explains.

“We also have an apprentice program that employs 10-16 apprentices at any one time. The apprentice subsidy allowed us to make sure the program remains full. We got a huge amount of applications this year.”

“People’s view of their house has changed. Everyone wants a dedicated study now.” – Sarah Wood, The Middlewoman

Cubitt’s advice to make 2021 yours for the taking

  • Develop a business plan – it doesn’t need to be too big or complicated – and revisit it weekly to make sure you’re heading in the right direction in terms of projected cash flow and predicted expenses.
  • Get social. A weekly blog post or a good Instagram account can be just as powerful as spending money on ads in a local paper.
  • Be available to talk to your clients and potential customers at all times, especially as you might get enquiries through social media over the weekend.

Make smart investments

Andrew Little’s successful landscape construction and design company, 2 Men and a Shovel, lost a number of garden-maintenance contracts when the pandemic first struck.

“There was a period of time when people were hesitant about spending money. We were all pedal to the metal to find more work,” he says.

Little’s plan to grow the business hinged around offering customers even better service.

“We made sure they were getting quotes really quickly and we’d book them in ASAP. Throughout the latter half of the year, I’ve been working on our website and getting more advertising happening.”

Little says the apprentice subsidy has been a big help.

“We now employ two [apprentices] and we’re looking for a third. It’s great to be able to be part of the process of improving someone’s career and getting them to the next level.”

Lockdown was also a blessing in disguise, Little adds. “I spent my time digitising processes, and getting a better quoting system and job-routing software to save traffic time. We’ve since seen a 30% increase in profit over last year.”

Little’s advice to make 2021 yours for the taking

  • Think of COVID-19 as a time when we were able to build our resilience Keep getting stronger and keep growing. Success is about having a great mindset.
  • Businesses often cut back on branding and marketing in times of uncertainty. But they definitely work. Invest some of your money into them.
  • Focus on creating better systems to improve customer service and speed of quoting. Doing this really saves time.

Jump on people’s new-found renovation excitement

As head of The Middlewoman, a licensed building company in Sydney’s inner west, Sarah Wood faced a number of challenges when COVID hit.

“Understandably, some clients got cold feet despite having finance approved because they lost their jobs and didn’t want to go into more debt. Other clients were anxious that their existing building project wouldn’t be finished if the construction industry closed down and they’d be stuck paying more rent.”

But when the government announced construction was an ‘essential service’, she was delighted to be able to forge ahead. “It was a big relief that we could keep working and helping the economy.”

Of the Home Builder Grant, Wood says, “In reality, $25K won’t make much difference when someone’s spending $400K on a project but it added a bit of excitement and motivation. Things really started to look up unexpectedly.”

Wood says they’re now seeing an influx of enquiries from people who want to renovate. “People’s view of their house has changed. Everyone wants a dedicated study now. They’re sick of working from the spare bedroom. There’s been an uptick in work this year by about 50%.”

Wood’s advice to make 2021 yours for the taking

  • If you’re under the hammer (pun intended), be more selective about the jobs you take on and try to streamline processes. For example, you could invest in payroll software to make paying wages easier.
  • Don’t try to do everything yourself. Bring in outside help if you need it.
  • Make it easy for bigger construction businesses to employ you. They’ll be under pressure to do things faster now. Always answer your phone and be clear about how you prefer to be communicated with. For example, if you’re a landscaper who works the land during the day, you might leave a voice message saying you’ll call back at 4pm or that a text is best due to noise.