>>Here’s the Full Blog Post of the Interview With Jon Fitzgibbon>>>
Martin: Before we get started I’d like to hear a little about yourself. Like, where are you from, what is it that you do specifically, and how long have you been in business?
Jon: I’m from Ireland and I came to San Francisco probably 11, 12 years ago. Worked with several contractors and four years ago I branched out on my own, got my license and started up a small construction company working from the San Francisco Bay area.
Martin: Do you build houses or do remodels or decks or what is it that you do/
Jon: Yeah. We do remodels, houses from scratch, bathrooms, kitchens, everything in construction.
Martin: The question that came in goes like this. What makes for the best contractor/client relationships, particularly when your project spans several months or even a year. What do you think about that?
Jon: Well, I think inviting someone into your home or to literally what will be your home is a big deal for somebody.
Jon: I think from our end, contractors first of all understand that this is the case at the outset because it has to succeed the concerns and their needs from their point of view. We the contractors are hired for our expertise but we’re also in service to listen to our clients to ensure their vision is relied. All the projects that we’ve worked on and we’ve taken on, from the start … We sat down with the clients at the start, made up a project schedule with a time line to go with it and we put that up where we have our office or our tools. We hold a weekly meeting with our clients and we sit down, talk to what happened for the week, look at our schedule, keep everything on schedule and see if we can pull anything in, see how it goes from there, you know?
With that schedule we also do a payment schedule. The two are connected together where we get paid for the work we perform. We don’t have extra money in the bank, we don’t hit them with huge bills, we don’t milestone. We bill for our work performed every two weeks to go with our schedule that we have up in our tool room. Just say if we had an order of doors to come in, we’re ready to order doors, we bill them for that on the two weeks before. We have the money in our account, we buy the doors. We work like that, which I think is a really good system and the clients really like it.
Martin: You mentioned at the beginning understanding client’s views and their needs. What are some other needs that come up with a contractor and a client in their relationship? Maybe some potential problems and ways that you can circumvent that or see it coming beforehand and prevent it.
Jon: Yeah. From my experience I see change orders has been a big problem with clients. I feel like a change order has to be hit on the head straightaway. That if we have a change order my guys call me and say, “Hey, we’ve come across something, it’s not in our scope, it’s not on the schedule. They give me the call, we have a look at it. I contact the homeowner straightaway and say, “Hey, we have a meeting this Thursday. I want you to take a look at this with us,” and we go over what has to be done. We write up the change order straightaway, “This is what it’s going to cost,” and give it to them that day.
If I feel … Well, I’ve learned from the past and experienced that if you let it go, if you leave it run on and then you’re a month down the line or if you think you’re going to leave a change order until the end of the job it doesn’t work. It’s tough on the client and you’re not guaranteed that you’re going to get your money if it’s left until the end of the project.
Martin: Take care of change orders right away. Just be up front about it.
Jon: Be up front about it, sit them down. I think a weekly meeting with a client no matter what size project you have going on, I think a weekly meeting is very important. It keeps that relationship between you, your crew, the client, everybody on the same page. If you’re all on the same page every week at the weekly meeting … You set out a time at the very start of the project, say, “Hey, what works for you? Does Wednesday morning, does Thursday afternoon? Whatever works for everybody, sit them down. We lock in that date and we sit down every week at that time.
That has worked for me at Norwood Construction for the last four years and I haven’t had a bad client or a bad problem with anybody because of it. I think that would be a good tip for anybody starting out right now is to secure … No matter what size job is to secure that meeting every week. Bring up the problem, bring up the change order, discuss it with them, have them sign the change over. That change order you put in a bill, we bill for that on the next billing cycle. Goes in straightaway, you get paid. We don’t leave your change orders build up until the end of the project and you’re hitting these people with a stack of change orders. It doesn’t work, it’s a bad client and contractor relationship, I feel.
Martin: Yeah. Are there any other issues besides change orders that you’ve seen maybe mess up a relationship between a contractor and client?
Jon: I’ve seen misunderstandings where clients have dealt with subcontractors themselves where the client has said, “Okay, we know this Tyler and we want to use this Tyler for our project. We’re going to deal with him directly.” For me I’ve seen that it’s happening right now where it’s causing a lot of misunderstanding. The client meets with Tyler, whoever it is, and they’re on the same page but we’re left out of the loop because the client and whoever the subcontractor is is chatting independently from us, you know?
Martin: Yeah. I feel like that’s probably a very common scenario, so speak to us about how to make that contractor/client relationship better in situations like that.
Jon: Again, I go back to our weekly meetings. Weekly meetings have everybody at the meeting, whoever the subcontractors are. We’re all sitting down together. Everything’s on the same page and nothing gets blown away. We all sit at the table, electricians, plumbers, Tyler’s, drywall guys, everybody’s there and there’s nothing missed. I feel it’s the only way. Things can blow out of proportion without having that meeting every week. I can’t stress how important that is for our company, especially on the larger projects.
Martin: On those larger ones that go on for a year or even several months, if you’re not talking, man, things can really get blown out or proportion. Your mind starts playing tricks on you.
Jon: Definitely, definitely. We’re actually doing a really high end remodel, a 6,000 square foot house at the minute. There’s a couple of situations like that where the owner has gotten a subcontractor they’ve liked. I feel like our meeting, our weekly Thursday morning meeting has cleared up any problems that would have arisen from that situation.
Martin: Real quickly, talk to us about if a client doesn’t want to pay.
Jon: If a client doesn’t … I feel like I’ve avoided that problem through my career by having the project schedule and the project payment to go with it. It has ruled out any problems of clients not paying. I get paid every two weeks, it goes directly into our bank account and there’s no mistakes. We’re not waiting for a check, we’re not … I know some contractors out there, some friends who like to milestone where they say, “Okay, after a demolition we get a big payment. After the framing we have another payment.” I feel like if there’s a problem, if they’re waiting on their subcontractor, if something’s gone wrong, you’re hanging on waiting for that payment. Your guys are waiting, there are other subs who are waiting and it doesn’t work.
I feel like for anybody, get your payment schedule, get paid. There’s no reason why you shouldn’t get paid every two weeks. We’re not a bank, you’re a contractor. The homeowner wouldn’t fund somebody else’s project so why should we? You get your money up front and you get paid every two weeks as you work, for the work you perform. I feel like it’s bulletproof and I’d advise anybody to do it.
Martin: All right, so it’s time to wrap this up. Why don’t you just say a word or two to any contractor who might be struggling in their contractor/client relationships right now. Just give a word or encouragement or whatever advice and then we’ll wrap this up.
Jon: A weekly meeting, guys, and a project schedule, and a project payment is the best advice I can give to anybody.
Martin: There you have it. Jon, where can people find out more about you and follow your journey online?
Jon: My website is norwoodconstructionsf.com. I’m on Instagram of course, it’s Norwood_Construction and we’re on Facebook at Norwood Construction SF.
Martin: The SF is for San Francisco.
Jon: San Francisco, it is, yeah.
Martin: All right, guys. Go say hi to Jon and, Jon, thank you so much for your time today, really appreciate it. Blessings on your work, good luck with your client meeting, and we’ll talk to you later.