Season 3, EP 7: Robin Hayhurst
Robin Hayhurst is a construction business mentor and coach. Robin is also host of the Bust & Beyond Podcast.
In this episode Robin shares his experience in recruitment, culture and general business skills he has acquired through his own experience and working with many construction companies through his business coaching services.
You’re very welcome to another episode of the Time and Materials podcast. This week we’re joined by Robin Hayhurst.
Robin is a business mentor to a lot of construction companies. He’s also a podcaster. He runs workshops for construction companies and networking events, soon to be both online as well. So we wanted to get Robin on.
He brings a wealth of experience, a wealth of knowledge to running construction companies. So we dig into a lot of Robin’s experience. It’s his second time on, so we’re grateful to have him back for his second time around. So we dig into all things construction, all things networking, some of the issues that construction companies are finding in the market at the moment. So sit back, enjoy, and I hope you get some value from my chat with Robin Hayhurst.
Robin, you’re very welcome back to the podcast. Great to have you back your second time around. So thanks very much again for giving us your time.
Well, thanks for inviting me. In fact, strangely enough, I still get people quoting me for things I said on your last time I appeared on your podcast.
I mean, for anyone that hasn’t listened to that one, can you just maybe kick off with just a little bit about yourself, what you generally do, and a little bit about your background?
Well, I’m Robin Hayhurst. I’m a construction industry coach and mentor. I run workshops. I’ve just started networking evenings, and I’m a podcaster. So I run a podcast called Bust And Beyond where I have people on that perhaps have failed in life or in business and kind of find out what they learn from that and what they do next.
Is that like a construction-only podcast?
It’s absolutely not nice for any business. So I had failure in my business in 2015. I learned so much from that. In fact, I can only do what I can do now because of what I learned from that failure. And I use that in the podcast for any business to understand that failure is just a part of success. Everyone’s failed. So you look at all the icons out there, the Richard Bransons, the Alan Sugars, they’ve all failed. They just don’t talk about it a lot.
As you say, it’s difficult to spin out consultancy and stuff, especially when you don’t have that experience. Without focusing on the negative too much, can you talk about that little failure you had? I mean, what was the business? What were the reasons for it not working out?
Well, it’s a construction development business, and my father had started in 1969, so it was like a member of the family. The business was. In fact, my mother always said that if they ever got divorced, she’d cite the business as the other woman. So I took over the business in about 2005, 2006, something like that. But in 2015, we’d come out of the recession. We didn’t have a lot of money. We were doing partnerships because we couldn’t fund projects ourselves. So we become more of a contractor, but in partnership with other people, and someone didn’t pay us large amounts of money.
Now, at the time, I blamed it completely on that, and there were certain individuals I blamed it on. And I’m not saying they didn’t have some part to play, but looking at it in hindsight, and after about three years, and I’d calmed down because it was the most terrible thing that ever happened to me in my life. I said it on my podcast, but I lost my father two years ago, and me and my father were just so close. But going bust was worse because I had no control of my father dying. I couldn’t do a lot about that.
Whereas I had to kind of get up every day and fight to make sure no subcontractors went bust with us. So it was a really hard thing to do. But in hindsight, I look at what I did. I got us in that position. I signed certain contracts I shouldn’t have signed. I gave people power over us. I employed some of the wrong people. So there is all that stuff that I now know I did wrong.
Is there one thing you would have done differently, that you think would have avoided that?
There’s no one thing. I wish it was that simple. It’s a combination of things that I did wrong. And I think that’s what I do now, is I work with people to do that, to make sure that they don’t make those mistakes. And business is about profit, but it’s also about processes, people, and product. So it’s really important to get those things right. And in fact, profit should always come last, because if you get the other three things right, you’ll make a profit. Really it’s about those three things.
It’s about the product you’re producing – are you really into a quality product? Because unfortunately, the industry is known for cowboy builders. And I think other industries have their equivalents.
Have you got the right people around you? Because the attitude often is you interview three people for a job and you go, well, yeah, that was the best one. Number three was the best one, but that’s fine. But were they good enough to work for you?
Yeah, that’s an interesting one there, right, because all you hear about at the moment is we’re walking through a skills shortage and we can’t find good plasterers, brickies, whatever the case might be. Right, so when it comes to recruitment then, if we’re in this sort of reactive state of we just need to get a classroom gang on site quickly or else we’re going to fall behind schedule or we need to employ a good project manager, but it’s none available, so I’ll just take whatever I can get.
What recruitment mistakes do you see contractors making out there from the groups that you’re advising at the moment?
They’re all very common mistakes. In fact, the great thing about workshops is you get to speak to other contractors and when you think you’ve got one problem and no one else has got that problem – everyone else got that problem. So it’s really a difficult thing for people to get the head round that everyone else got the same problem. And that’s the great thing about workshops, because it’s in person, because you can speak to other people and because it’s a bit of a banter going on, you learn from other people as well because they might not only have the same problem, but they’ve solved it.
So the problems they have are teams. They kind of say, well, yeah, we should really get rid of this guy, but we don’t know if we can replace him. That’s not a good enough reason not to get rid of him. So teams are really important, getting the best people around you.
Knowing what to price. So many people waste their time pricing stuff they’re never going to win.
And understanding their figures, their key performance indicators. KPIs are so important and they kind of tell you how your kind of business is going.
So if you drove your car without looking at Speedo and without looking at the speed on the road, the signs, you’d get in all kinds of trouble, wouldn’t you? People run their company without looking at the Speedo, understanding what they’re doing.
I literally only had this conversation with a recent customer we onboarded for the other day job, which is LiveCosts, and they had described to me how they tracked projects, right? And they basically said, listen, generally speaking, to be honest with you, we would look at the bank account and we’d run a general quarterly P&L across the company and that would give us a performance indicator to say that, listen, we’re doing okay. But we knew it wasn’t great and we had to get into not just project level tracking, but phase level tracking.
And they said they came across something interesting, which was they had carpenters in house and that was their decision. They wanted the carpentry held in house and the carpenters were all rounders. They do the first fix, second fix, roofing, whatever – they could put their hand to pretty much everything, all the joinery, all that type of stuff. But one of the feedbacks they give us as a company, they said, we started to carve that out into first fix, second fix, roofing, joinery elements. And we realised that our guys are terrible on the roof. He said, we realised that they’re okay at first fix.
We’re getting through that on budget, we’re hitting the milestones. Second fix, they are actually really good. We’re making good money there. But when they go up on the roof, they just weren’t performing right. But until we carve that out and we said we’ve got X amount allowed on the BoQ on the roof, until we actually track the time and materials against that, only now we can start to see that we’re not making money on that. So they just made a quick decision. We just bring in a subbie to do the roof, right? And a subbie comes in, gets a fixed price, delivers the roof and off they go to making money.
But I suppose to your point then, by not looking at those indicators, but not actually taking stuff down and having a sort of helicopter view on the company, rather than looking at where you’re actually making money. And then what are we pricing for here? What are we actually pricing for? Stay away from the stuff that we don’t make money on, sub that out, concentrate on the stuff that we can do. So fully agree with that. The other thing that came to my head there, as you were talking to that, Robin, was culture.
And I know from speaking to you last time, you were big on creating a culture, creating a good working environment. Again, if we think about that skills shortage, how can we do that right? If we just need to be reactive and we can’t get a hold of good staff, how do you maintain that culture when it’s just really difficult to find people?
Well, that’s really interesting because I don’t think it’s difficult to find people. I think we go around it the wrong way. So if you’re going to get someone, bit of value here, right? So if you’re going to get someone to work for your company, you’re not getting them off the couch, they’re not sitting at home looking for a job – they’re already working for someone. So you’ve got to think about what they’re missing.
Why would they move and work with you? So if we don’t lead adverts for people saying, I want a carpenter that’s got this skill, that skill, City & Guilds, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, you’ve got to be hardworking, you’ve got to work ten hundred million hours a day, and it’s not really what people are looking for. So you be a bit disruptive. So you start with, do you feel valued where you are now? Would you like to work for a company that not only value you, but will support you to be the very best you can be? Straight away, it’s a different advert, isn’t it?
So most people, the reason they move is because they feel undervalued. And that’s not just about money. In fact, if it’s just about money, they’re not the right person for you.
But it’s about recognition, it’s about progression through the business. It’s about them feeling that they’re important in the team. There’s all those kind of things that are really important. So if we advertise for people in that way, that changes everything. But we don’t do that. We’re builders, so we just go van provided, good rates of pay, etc.
So I think there’s people out there unhappy where they’re working and there’s lots of companies that don’t value their staff. Lots of opportunity for other people.
It’s such an interesting point, because again, we’ve transitioned from running a construction company to running a tech company. And the recruitment in tech is very different.
It’s all about going headhunting, right? Go and find people that are in jobs. It’s all about finding people that are currently employed. They’re the ones that you want. Whereas in the construction company, you are almost nearly taking someone that’s just coming off, finishing up a project, or they were just available, right? Very rarely do we actually go head hunting, I would say.
You mentioned the workshops. Tell us about the workshops. What sort of people are there? What’s the sort of content? How often do they happen?
They’ve just started so they happen monthly. Once we kind of get the concept really sorted, we’re going to roll them out around the country. They’re held at the moment in a lovely place called the Hitchin Prairie, which is Hitchin, Hertfordshire. And it’s really for subcontractors, for contractors, developers. They already have building skills. They might have a trade, they might be in the industry, they might have management skills – they don’t know how to run a company.
So what it is about giving the skills to have the vision of where the company is going. So rather than just kind of start a company, and it grows, and it just kind of meanders on and you push it and you have a good year and a bad year, we could say, right, okay, where are you going? Where are you going to be in five years time? How are we going to get there, what pace you’re going to get there at? What do you have to do to get there?
So we actually plan the journey. So there’s different workshops. So we started yesterday, very successful workshop on the 24th of January.
The next one is on the 28th of February. So the first one was about planning your five year business. The second one is about what I call customer’s journey. Very few people have a really robust process in place to deal with their clients, whether that be a professional client or a private client.
How do you manage their expectations? How do you make sure they’re fully informed? And we take it from the absolute benning: you receive a tender all the way through to handing over the finished project. And there is templates, there is decision making process taken away from you because it’s all done.
So it speeds everything up. It means that you manage your client and it means that you take on the right projects. Because of course, taking on the right projects is so important, because if you’ve got a win rate, say, and win rates are a very important KPI of, let’s say you had a win rate of 25% and you wanted to do a million pounds worth of work, you’d have to tender 4 million pounds worth of work. That’s a lot of work to tender. But if your win rate was 50%, you only have to tender 2 million pounds worth of work.
The quickest way to get your win rate up is not to tender stuff you’re not going to win. So you’ve got to have a really robust criteria of stuff that you’re not going to tender. So the criteria what you’re going to tender and what you’re not going to tender. So if you’re not in the office, someone else can come along and go, right, okay, yeah, we got that, doesn’t conform to that, yeah, we won’t tender that one. Simple as that.
It’s about having that criteria where you’re basically ticking boxes, essentially that says, we will go for this, we won’t go for this. And making sure that you’re focusing on stuff that you can actually deliver, that, you know, you can essentially make profit on once things are wrapped up.
Absolutely. And it might be geographical area. Some of my clients have the criteria that they haven’t met the client. If they haven’t met the client, are they just being used as a test price / check price? So I’m not saying that’s the right criteria to have, but it works.
Would you be bringing in guest speakers on these as well to talk about particular experts in certain subjects we might.
Do in the future? At the moment, there’s a lot to get through every day, but we combine it with a networking event in the evening. So that works quite well. So lots of people come to the networking event. So we had our first one again on the 24th of January and we had over 40 people. And it was great because there was people there. There was contractors looking for electricians, there’s electricians looking for contractors, people just talking about software. So what software are you using to control your costs? And having discussions about that. There was lots of really helpful, supportive discussions going on in the room.
And will they eventually go online as well?
The next one on the 28th of February will offer a virtual option because we have people coming from all around the country. A lot of those people are very keen to attend, but coming 300 miles every month is a lot to ask. So they’ve asked us to do an online option. So we will be doing that for the 28th of February.
Fantastic. Yeah, we’ll make sure we get that linked up in the show notes as well. So if anyone’s interested in signing up for that, we can certainly get that linked up when it comes to the contractors, and I suppose one of the unique positions that you’re in is you get to speak to a lot of contractors, you’re networking face to face with a lot of these contractors as well – what problems are they having? What are you hearing on the ground there? What’s their biggest concerns with the market as it stands today?
Well, it’s very different. If people have got everything right, they’ve got no problem with getting work at the moment. But you do hear people say, I’ve got a problem getting work, most probably because you’ve got what I call branding. Branding isn’t about, by the way, your signage. Branding is about how you’re perceived by the outside world. So I’ve got clients who literally are so busy it’s ridiculous. But their clients in the area they work see them as an aspirational purchase. If they’re going to have an extension or a house built, they want them to do it because they’re seen as being the very best in the area. The Harrods of construction.
And other people are struggling a little bit. No one’s actually got too little work. No one’s kind of really struggling, but they’re struggling a little bit and they’re kind of trying to ramp it up and find out ways of doing it. It’s a long process because you’ve really got to get a name for quality and you’re only as good as your last project. So one of the things that I kind of tell my clients to get a bit of value is to make sure you get testimonials from your clients.
But all testimonials aren’t equal. So your clients, I can tell you, rather than working it out, are worried about three things. They’re worried about the quality that you’re going to give them. And remember: cowboy builders. It’s on the news, it’s on social media. That’s all they’re thinking. So they’re really worried about the quality.
They’re worried that you’re going to go over time, because they’ve always heard that’s going to happen and they’re worried about the budget. So if your testimonials, you can get your clients to cover those three areas that you performed really well on budget. You were bang on time and the quality was superb. You will get work when other people won’t. So you have six, seven, eight testimonials saying that someone will pay more for you to do it than someone who hasn’t got those testimonials because they’ve got surety.
They know it’s going to be done to the quality they want, they know they’re going to get it on time and they know they’re not going to kind of. The costs aren’t going to run away with them.
I had this conversation recently as well. The whole social proof thing. It’s so good. Let’s say you’re talking about a private job and in that private know we’re dealing with Mr. And Mrs. Jones, let’s call it a one off buill or whatever it might be. If we can show evidence of previous projects or a latest project know Mr. And Mrs. Smith down the road talking about how we performed on time. We’ve done what we said we would do. We came in on budget, everything was managed. I mean, the confidence that’s going to give the next client, it’s there.
The other thing we spoke about recently was, do you think there’s an opportunity being missed with contractors not documenting that and by I mean creating content for social media and their own website, of actually documenting projects to show evidence of: this is us on site, this is where we’re up to on this project, now we’re delivering this. Are any of your guys leveraging the social tools and some of the advantage we have now of documenting what we’re doing on a day to day basis for the sake of using that as a business development tool?
Absolutely. I mean, I’m quite jealous of one client. I mean, I’ve got about 1,500 followers on Instagram, and it’s a slow build. If anyone’s listening to someone to follow me, I’m after followers. I just like to kind of get people to see the stuff I’m putting out there, which is of value.
One of my clients has got 20,000 followers on Instagram because they document things in the right way, but they also talk about the charities they’re supporting and the other work they’re doing. Instagram is where it is. Look at Instagram as a website. Don’t think about it as a lead generator. It will do, but it’s a slow kind of build. But it’s a website, but it’s constantly got to be up to date. If you look at someone’s website and you can tell that they haven’t changed things for the last five months, what do you think about the business? Whereas Instagram is really easy to update and keep updated. So Instagram, social media, showing how the projects are going, showing what projects you’ve won, being proud of your projects. I mean, that’s a simple stop. Just being proud of your projects is really important.
We were speaking with someone recently. It’s such an opportunity. He had documented something very simple on a project, on a TikTok, which when I think of TikTok, I sometimes think of younger kids, but it just ain’t that anymore. 400,000 views on a simple video, which is phenomenal like that. That many eyes on the business for something so simple. It’s just huge. Always an interesting space, that. I do think is a huge opportunity for construction. I think we’re slightly behind other industries that are using that when it comes to online. Robin, if anyone wants to reach out to you, if anyone wants to figure out more about these workshops, some of the stuff you’re doing, you also do consultancy, is that right?
Yeah, consultancy coaching. Mentoring really is what I like to call it. I’ve always been told consultants are people that you spend loads of money with to tell you what you already know. So I mentor people. I have huge experience in the industry. I’ve got a huge experience of life. And it’s strange enough, sometimes it’s just personalities, it’s a people thing that people are struggling with.
But if people want to get in contact, then the best way to do is mostly through my website, which is www.RobinHayhurst.com. I’m also on Instagram and Facebook.
I offer virtual coaching, but I also offer face to face coaching. So I’ve got kind of something for everyone. And even if you’re just starting out and you just want to kind of make sure you got a few things right. I’ve got a digital course which people can do at their own pace. So we’ve kind of building something to help everybody because that’s really the kind of what I’m in it for.
I love seeing the results my clients get. I love seeing them go from kind of overwhelmed and perhaps a little bit not sure about the future, to having a really clear vision of where they’re going and what their future is. But I also work with clients that are doing really well, but they want to do better. So I work from people that are really at the end of the tether and kind of want to know where to go to people that are actually at the top of their game, but they understand they need that mentor, they need that kind of. That backup to move even better forward.
Last question, and I’m slightly putting you on the spot here. Suppose I’m a bit all over the place. Let’s say I’m doing residential developments, right? I’m doing small developments. I’m turning over 6 million quid but I’m all over the place. Not sure exactly where money is coming in, where money is coming out. I’m looking at the bank account. I’ve got high fluctuation of staff numbers. Where do you start with me?
Oh, I’d always start with the same place for that. So there’s no point if someone is in that situation looking at five year plan. It’s important, but not at that point. First thing you do is you build the cash flow forecast. So cash flow forecasting is something so many people don’t do because it seems difficult. It’s not because we know it’s a guess, but you build the cash flow forecast, start to understand the figures, and then you can start to fix things.
So you definitely always start with cash flow forecast, understanding the figures, where you are, what date you’ve got, and then you can start looking at the team, you can start looking at all the work, you can start looking at the processes. And once things settle down, you can say, right, ok, now we can start looking at where we’re going.