We built a house recently and I wanted to share a few lessons I had nailed home along the way - as well as how I apply them in business:

One – Don’t just talk to the sales guy. I had a good sales contact who listened to our needs and explained how the project would go. He did a good job. However, I didn’t spend enough time getting to understand the people and process after he stepped away. The build would have gone smoother if I had.

For a major transaction it's so important to do your research on how the process will work. A company's sales team will be smooth sellers - so you should try to get past them to understand what will happen from the point you sign the contract through to final delivery. Does the rest of the team back up the message of the sales department? Will you get passed from person to person as the roles and responsibilities change? Take the time to talk to people who’ve used the service before as this is the truest measure. As a business having real customer reviews and stories available is a great resource to back up that sales message.

Two - Measure twice cut once. An oldie but a goodie. It took us a long time to get off the ground due to planning and design changes. At times I despaired that we would ever get started building. However, if we’d gone ahead with our first plan the house wouldn’t be nearly as good.

How is that relevant to business? New businesses fail all the time. Stats NZ says that 48% of businesses founded in 2010 didn’t make it to 2016.

I believe much of this failure can be attributed to the poor planning i.e. fail to plan / plan to fail. As an Accountant I know that the people who take the time to make a thorough business plan, who really hash out their strategy and consider the risks and ways to mitigate them do far better then those who don’t. Hope you've all got your business plans nailed for 2019!

Three - Budget smudget. You would have thought an accountant could set a budget and stick to it. Yes I had one but of course talked myself into extras like that nicer benchtop etc. But by the time I’d added in a few ‘nice to haves,’ suddenly when there were some extras in the ‘must have’ column (here’s looking at you $20k extra on septic and drainage) things got tighter then they should have.

There are too many businesses out there who are effectively driving blindfolded as not only do they not have a regular forecast, they don’t even have a budget to start with. Having a budget is a core part of any serious business - but too many SME's don't bother with it. It’s essential as it gives you a guide as to where you could end up at the end of the year - and helps you keep focused on your results along the way. If you don’t like what it tells you then you have time to make some changes.

Every year Christmas, provisional tax and GST dates all fall within the same month - it can be planned for. However if the silly season caused your cash to be a little tight you may benefit from spending more time looking forward.

Four – #@$ happens. Mistakes and surprises will come with a big project involving a long period of time and lots of people. Everyone who builds knows it won’t all be plain sailing. We had our knocks and our build took 18 months from signing the contract before we moved in. Plans changed, surprises happened, and everything took longer than expected.

To me, the real test of a good business is in how you and your team resolves problems. Do you front up as soon as possible and take responsibility? Or do you delay till the last possible moment and then look sheepish and ask for more money. Do you try to hide and blame sub-contractors, or do you own the problem and turn it into a win by going the extra mile?

No business can ever be 100% error free if it has people in it. Therefore the true test of your teams' quality is in how they recover and get back on track.

Five - Taking ownership of the work really makes a difference. There are so many choices when building a house; you are literally building something from the ground up. Unless you’re a builder or in design you can’t know all the options that there are. The people who said – ‘what about doing it this way,’ or, ‘you could save a little by doing this’ - were worth their weight in gold. It would have been very easy to just follow everything I said, but I would have had a worse outcome through not being aware of my choices.

If my clients planned to do something that would cost them a lot of money and I could see a better way - I would tell them. I’d go out of my way to help them understand how to avoid a the whole. Firms that can encourage that same sense of ownership amongst their staff will be rewarded with much greater customer loyalty and we all know it costs so much more to get a new customer then keep one.

Building sure was an adventure and I wouldn't do it again in a rush. However, we've ended up really happy and, perhaps a little bit wiser for all the lessons learned!

Tom Beswick