EP 109

Why Subcontractors need to be better at saying no (EP 109)



This week, Paul is joined by his close friend and QS, Chris Barber. Chris is a Co-Founder at Prosper, a platform helping subcontractors to scale their business and also a passionate advocate for subcontractors on his YouTube channel, School of Sub

In today’s conversation, Chris talks about how main contractors need to start managing subcontractors with empathy and, if they do not, why subcontractors should push back. Chris has worked as a Main and Subcontract QS and leans into his experience on both sides to share his best practice advice.

A must-listen for all Quantity Surveyors and anyone doing procurement.

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Paul Heming: Hello and welcome to episode 109 of the Own the Build podcast with me, Paul Heming. Today I’m doing something a bit different, a bit of a giveaway if you like, for our loyal own the builders. In the podcast description today, you’ll find links to three free resources that I wanted to share with you. One is a vesting certificate template if you’re ever doing offsite valuations. Then we’ve got an EOT template letter. And then the third one is my very own clause by clause guide to the JCT Designer Build contract, a real beauty of a document, even if I do say so myself. So I want to put all of those links in the podcast description just for you guys. Hope you enjoy them. Feel free to give me some feedback, ask for other things. We are producing lots of resources, so be happy to share with you. Onto today’s show, in the studio today we have a close, I have a close friend of mine, Chris Barber, who is actually my fellow co-founder at our business. As you know, we’ve created software that connects main contractors and subcontractors and actually saves main contractors 600 hours of quantities of Anton. I am very much the lead founder for the main contractor side C-link, which I think most of you will be very much aware of. And Chris very much leads the subcontractor side business is called Prosper. Both businesses kind of go into the same backend software. But Chris is someone who has sat on both sides of construction. He is a QS and he has been on main contractor side. He’s been on subcontractor side and he has a great understanding of both sides. And he is also a man who loves to give his opinion even when I usually don’t want to hear it. And so I thought I’d get him on the show particularly because we’ve been talking so much in the recent episodes about subbies and how main contractors interact with subbies. He’s got another great perspective on this. But anyway, Chris, how you doing mate?

Chris Barber: Ah, it’s great to be back, mate. Delighted to be here. Didn’t think you’d let me back on after last time, but yeah, here I am.

Paul Heming: Yeah, if anyone wants to listen to, I think it would be episode 14, Episode 15 was many, many moons ago. Chris came on the show. And actually, look, the important question Chris, is how is your head doing, mate? We had a few Guinnesses last night, didn’t we?

Chris Barber: Yeah, no, luckily I think we cut it off at the right point after four pints, I think any more than that, it’s a bit dangerous. 

Paul Heming: Tilting, wasn’t it? 

Chris Barber: Yeah. He was ready to go. That train was going to get missed.

Paul Heming: Indeed, mate. So anyway, I’ve given you a bit of or the listeners a bit of a rundown to you. Just talk about kind of first your experience as a QS and the journey that you went on and then just talk a little bit about Prosper and what you do at Prosper now.

Chris Barber: Okay, yeah, so my lovely journey construction started October, 2006. I kind of left college halfway through an accountancy degree slash kind of course, wasn’t really for me and a family friend actually had a construction company in the Midlands and they had an opening for a trainee QS role. And I went for that and we were working for like, I’d say like a market leader in a precast concrete industry. So we were working a lot with kind of tier one contractors building large scale projects such as like prisons and hotels and things like that. So yeah, and then a few years in, started my iconic surveying degree part-time and that’s where I met you. 

Paul Heming: You lucky man.

Chris Barber: I am a lucky man, yeah. And after I think seven years of working there, I kind of made the jump to go to main contracting because there was a lot of reasons why I wanted to move out of subcontracting, but it was a big deal. 

Paul Heming: You went to the dark side

Chris Barber: Mate, it went to the dark side and I went into high end residential maker tracking, which is particularly tough. A lot of responsibility, a lot of contract packages that I’d never been exposed to. Stuff like leather wallpaper. I was procuring lots of intricate –

Paul Heming: Leather wallpaper?

Chris Barber: There was leather wallpaper. Yeah. Very tasteful, as you can imagine. And yeah, we were responsible for procuring around 50, 60 packages on a project and I really learnt a lot during those kind of three to four years working there. I worked some of the best experience of my life. And you know, here I am. It inspired me for our discussion with C-link and Prosper.

Paul Heming: Excellent. Okay. And so my background, we actually had very similar starts to our career. In that, you were working for quite a large subcontractor turning over in the tens of millions. I was at exactly the same. You were in pre-cast concrete. I was in walling cladding. I always was. So, I was always a subcontract QS. You were a subcontract QS. And then I’m facetious saying you went over to the dark side, but that’s what my first boss would’ve said, the main contract side was the dark side. You taught there about actually wanting to go over to the main contract side, why did you want to go to the dark side?

Chris Barber: I was working on a prison project with Kia and I got on really, I was managing like a huge variation account. It was a couple of million pounds. It was massive, like 200-300 variations. I was literally pricing it day in, day out, new changes, et cetera. And it was a really nice QS who worked for Kia, called Tom. And I remember some of that really stuck out for me. He said, he was talking about fake dry line in QSs and he said, God, when you speak into Dry line QSs, they know all the intricate details, really understand it. But then he said, yeah, I look at that and think that’s great, but I’d rather know a little bit of everything for the whole project than a hundred percent of everything. And that really stuck with me. And I thought I really want to kind of go out there and expose myself, put myself in a deep end.

Paul Heming: To a leather wallpaper. To know more about it.

Chris Barber: I really want to know how to procure leather wallpaper. So yeah, it is always stuck out for me. That kind of conversation I had with him. And yeah, it did inspire them cause I think about a year after completing that project, I decided to come and meet you down in London, my friend.

Paul Heming: Yeah, indeed. And it’s funny because I always, and as you know, I’m not the most technical person when it comes to understanding the intricacies of construction details, etcetera. But I always thought it was a bit of a superpower as a subcontract QS. Exactly what Tom was saying there as about dry lining is that I knew a lot about the specifics of curtain walling and cladding and yada yada yada. You would’ve done the same for precast. You still do. And then moving to the main contract, you were more of a jack of all trades, aren’t you? And perhaps master of none to some degree because you are spread across all the packages. What is the fundamental difference for you between subcontract QSing and main contract QSing?

Chris Barber: Obviously where you are in the food chain plays a big difference. We were kind of reporting to PQSs and then managing subcontractor QSs downstream. I think the fundamental difference would be how kind of, you’re responsible upstream and downstream, if that makes sense. So upstream variations and client management and then subcontract management as well after that. So whereas, when I was a subcontractor, you know, very similar principles to a certain degree, but I would be putting a monthly application in changes, doing some bits of procurement, but nowhere near the levels I would be as a main contract to QS and upstreaming them to the main contractor or whoever that was.

Paul Heming: I never asked you this actually, but did you feel more in control or less in control of your own destiny? Because as a Subbie QS, I always felt that a project could almost be determined by the quality of the main contractor and almost the main contract commercial team. So talking about variations, if your main contract counterpart is good at agreeing their variations and working with you, that’s going to make your account better. Everything’s going to be a lot better. Whereas if they’re not, it almost fails completely out of your control. They’re not getting the money into their account, which means it’s not coming down into your account. But is that wrong? As a main product or QS, is it even harder?

Chris Barber: Yeah, so it depends who the clients are, right? We worked, when I was main contracting, worked a lot with kind of people like the Crown estate, the big estate companies in London as well as some private individuals. You’re kind of, you’re immediately at the source of money, if that makes sense. But when you’re a subcontractor, in some instances we would be subcontracting. When I was a subcontractor, you could be really at the bottom. And we used to do a lot of technical installations on big schemes for a couple of concrete cladding businesses. And if they were struggling, you were struggling at the time. So I definitely think it’s way more in your control. It’s natural because you’re further up the stream of the revenue stream. 

Paul Heming: Yes, I knew it, I knew it was easy in the dark side, much hard being a subcontract.

Chris Barber: It wasn’t easier. Definitely not easier. It’s harder be a main contractor QS. All the additional admin and stuff that you have to do, you in charge of way more stakeholders. 

Paul Heming: Why?

Chris Barber: I think it comes down to, you know, you’d be responsible for probably two projects. We would always be responsible two projects at a time. During each say like 12 month period, you’d have two project teams who’d be made up of QSs, structural engineers, Emily engineers, architects, PQSs, all those people. Then you’ll have your own supply chain to deal with. And like I said, at that level you were dealing with so many changes and with the high end resi game working in existing buildings and fit outs, there’s always anomalies. There’s something you won’t know or understand that’s going to happen. And yeah, more often than not, an extension of time request goes in on day one for some kind of design issue or something new found in the ground. So yeah, it’s quite tricky. 

Paul Heming: So harder to be a main contract QS than a subcontract QS. Well, I never, I’ve heard it all now, Chris, I’ve heard it all. I’m not sure if I can believe you, but you’ve had experience on both sides so I will be happy defer to you. We’ve talked on this show a lot this year with people who are subcontractors or are looking after subcontractors, representing subcontractors, actually a job that you are doing yourself now, mate, which we’ll get onto, but who have been telling us or their experience of being treated by main contractors in a certain way. And you know, we’ve almost done a subcontractor mentality pushback on main contractors just to kind of shine a light on the way subbies perceive their role and how they’re being treated. Did and Angela Mantle taught a lot in her episode, episode 103, about how she manages her supply chain, her suppliers, her installers, etcetera. So her subies, let’s say, and how that mentality that she takes to that relationship is very personal. She knows them much more and it doesn’t feel like she has the same from a main contractor. You have sat in both sides. You know what it’s like being a subbie, wanting a great relationship with the main contract QS, i.e. Tom at KI, you obviously saw something in that relationship. How did the fact that your experience was a subcontractor impact how you treated your supply chain, do you think?

Chris Barber: Probably empathy, which the industry lacks quite a lot of, don’t realize that they’re affecting, you know, the industry’s very transactional, Paul and it lacks collaboration, feels like subcontractors and making contractors in the SME world, definitely some as you go upstream into bigger tier, you know, there is a bit more of a collaborative approach, but it does feel in the SME side that there’s two just opposing forces working together a lot of the time, pushing risk around and ambiguity and relying on those two things to kind of generate some kind of profitability and margin, right? From when I came up as a subcontractor QS to main contracting, I understood some of the reservations you’d have before you start working with someone new, stuff like getting paid on time, changes and stuff like variations, how are you going to manage it? So it was evolving process. It definitely wasn’t perfect from day one, but as you get to have conversations regularly with these subcontractors, I would often say, look, these are the payment terms on this payment date, you will get paid. Do not worry about it. If you don’t get paid on that date, just call me. So that was like a bit of a reassuring conversation to have with a subcontractor because the first thing they’re thinking is, am I going to get paid by these guys? Or they going to shaft me and go 45 days, 60 days, or come up with an excuse not to pay me? So, that would be one thing. And then another thing we used to approach subcontractors with, I was always very thorough. I think the guys at Foresee who I worked previously, the main QS there, Gareth, he was really, he pushed on us, you have to really understand the package before you send it out. You know, go into the detail, read the specs, and then extract all that information out. So, I approached my procurement in that way. So when I tended with the subcontractor, I said, look, we’ve all been through the information together. This is a hundred percent comprehensive. I’m not accepting any kind of wishy-washy variation saying you haven’t allowed for everything because I’ve been thorough, I’ve been through it with you, we’ve had a meeting, it’s all closed off. But I said, if there’s a change for me, it’s a change for you and we’ll work together on it. And again, that was how I’d approach my kind of, if there is a change, I’m here to help you, not work against you.

Paul Heming: I think that the interesting thing that you said there is empathy going right back to the starting point. Why does a subcontractor need to be treated with empathy?

Chris Barber: A lot of them are small one man bank guys, aren’t they? At the end of their day, they’ll be employing five or six people, have a couple of gangs that work with them, you know, you’re affecting their lives and they don’t make massive margins. I think it’s quite clear to see and you know, one bad job and that’s someone’s family that you’re affecting if you are messing around with payment. And it goes back to the point of everyone sees it as a transaction and it’s much more than that. Like, subcontracting, you’re building something together and empathy is something that people should have. And empathy doesn’t mean you’re a pushover, but it also means that you probably won’t operate with crass practices to try and make your role, justify your role as a QS.

Paul Heming: Yeah. But also, and that makes perfect sense and I think it’s quite an interesting use of language really, that you would act with empathy and it is a much more and some subcontractors are going to be bigger and have much better cash flows. Some are going to have much worse cash flows, right? So can’t group them all together. The companies that we both work for have massive cash flows comparatively, right? But something as simple as saying, this is what I used to always feel as a subcontract us, right? I would always make sure I paid my supply chain on time. It was like the one fundamental thing that I would ensure happens. And, you know, it couldn’t do it absolutely every single time, sometimes out of your hands, but if you showed them that I know how much that payment date matters to you, the date is the 14th and we are going to hit that date and if we don’t hit that date, I’m going to tell you that we’re not going to hit that date. I’m going to tell you when we are going to hit that date because these things matter. That is, I hadn’t thought about it in the context of the word empathy, but that’s something that I always tried to do with my supply chain because I knew how important it was because if I didn’t get paid, it was incredibly frustrating as what then followed on for me to manage down the supply chain as well. So it is empathy, its simple things a lot of the time, and its building that relationship and really actually being close to them and not transactional. They’re here to do the lovely leather wallpaper, but other than that, I don’t really care, which I think is really interesting. Now you also talked about kind of the creation of ambiguity in tenders and in inquiries as a way to profit, make money in this transaction. And that’s what we’re going to focus on. But we will do that Christopher, right after this break now.

Christopher Barber and empathy, two words I would never, or three words, I didn’t think I’d ever be putting together, but here we are. We’ve done it, we’ve done it. We’re breaking ground here, Chris. So today, you wanted to talk about finding the middle ground in construction. What on earth are you going on about?

Chris Barber: I think, you know, we talked earlier about, you know, two opposing forces working together in the SME world, it feels like, and I know from my experience and discussing with various subcontractors, it does feel like that it’s us versus them. It’s nothing new. And I think it all starts, I think a lot of things start in terms of problems with construction, with the procurement, and it’s well known in the industry that subcontractors will receive really poor quality tenders from main contractors. There will be little description of what they need to price a document dump of every single piece of information and, you know, less than two weeks to return the price. Just really poor quality procurement process, I would say. Hence what we do is C-link, right? We try to stop that. So subcontractors for some reason accept this poor quality tender. They’ll price it and there’ll be lots of ambiguity, lots of unknowns, exclusions, inclusions, etcetera, that neither party of –

Paul Heming: From the sub or from the main contractor?

Chris Barber: Kind of from both sides that no one’s really understanding it at this point. And it’s gone out to several contractors. So you’ve got this really gray tender that’s gone out to four or five subcontractors. They all come back with different prices. Some have been really comprehensive, some have been less so comprehensive. And it’s these less comprehensive people who immediately stand out to the hungry QS looking to justify his position with a margin.

Paul Heming: What do you mean?

Chris Barber: The cheapest always stands out, right? It always has to, for a layman QS who’s just starting out, they’ll look at something, it’s way cheaper. I’m going to go for this. Let’s drink, dig a bit deeper into this one. And they will probably evolve the scope. I’m not going to say that they’re completely incompetent, but they will probably evolve it with the subcontractor, but there’ll probably be some glaring emissions or they might just look at it and think there is a light for light item there, but it’s way cheaper. And think probably knowing that they’ve messed up that price, but not actually even saying, look, this is quite low, this item here, are you sure you’re comfortable with it? Have you priced it correctly? Those kind of conversations don’t happen. And I’ve seen them, I’ve seen it firsthand as a subcontractor myself. It happened on a couple of schemes where we’d mispriced it.

Paul Heming: But wait, just stop it on that. So yeah, being there myself, know exactly what you’re talking about. Say you got three prices back and one of them we’re talking about a rate here, one is 10 pounds and the other two are 30 pounds. And you say to that subcontractor, are you sure you’re comfortable with this rate? And they say, yeah, it’s absolutely fine. 10/10 quid. And you say, you know that it’s not right as the main contractor, they’ve said, yeah, I’m fine with it, I’m comfortable with it. What’s your advice in that spot as the main contractor QS, do you say fair enough? Well, they said they’re all right with it. 

Chris Barber: Yeah, I mean, what you could say is you could say, look, this is 50% out this element of works compared to others. You seem right on these elements, but this one, are you comfortable with it? And then in your pre-lab meeting, you know, if they say, yeah, that is surprise, I’m comfortable. And you don’t know any different, you just think, well, maybe it is the right thing then at this point. But I’d write it in a pre-let meeting minute saying, we discussed this item highlighted that it was x percent more that we left. We asked them if they want to review the element and they declined. You know, something as simple as that. You put into a pre let meeting minute. So we’re then go into an order. But going back to the example, we see it all the time, there’d be something missing and then you’re into the job two weeks, you’ve won the –

Paul Heming: World War III.

Chris Barber: Yeah, yeah. And you’re like, oh we haven’t allowed for dewatering the excavations because we didn’t know the water levels were here, you know we’re so high. Oh, but I sent you this like, random bit of information that said, like in the –

Paul Heming: In the thousand documents.

Chris Barber: In, in the document.

Paul Heming: 997 covers this unlucky.

Chris Barber: Yeah. Rather than saying, you know, in those pre let meeting minutes or even in like the pricing schedule or whatever documents they send to them, say, look, the water level is at this high, allow for dewatering excavations or something like that, right? So that’s a more pragmatic way of doing it, but you seldom with that, does that happen? And they’ll let that kind of go through and push all the risk onto the subcontractor. So yeah, in terms of when I’m saying ambiguity, they go, you QS, there is a bit of a, they do a half-assed job. 

Paul Heming: Purposefully built the ambiguity in.

Chris Barber: Yeah, exactly. And they built it in.

Paul Heming: But so I hear what you’re saying, mate. I really do hear what you’re saying. And you’re saying that, you know, you were a subbie and then you became a main tractor and you were a main track to QS with empathy, right? When you reflect on your time as a main contractor, QS, because I recognize this myself and I taught the talk, right? I give a good spiel on this and it is easy to do, isn’t it, when you’re thinking about it away from the day-to-day realities of the job. But there’s things I did in the past on projects or procurement where I’d look back on it and think it wasn’t the right thing to do now. What’s the worst tender that you did?

Chris Barber: Good question. I think it was probably my first one.

Paul Heming: Good answer. 

Chris Barber: Yeah. I kind of thought, well, I’ll just send things –

Paul Heming: Could only get better from there, right? 

Chris Barber: Yeah. Although I did kind of value engineer it back after a period because I didn’t really know what I was doing. And being a young QS just starting, you want to prove yourself and not ask too many questions, which is the wrong thing to do, right? Sent it out. And then I got the, it was a waterproofing package and basement waterproofing and I called the subcontractor in just to go through the design. And during those conversations, I actually managed to get to the right scope, if that makes sense of works. But that was only through real good conversation with the subcontractor. And from there, kind of a bit of a light bulb moment thinking actually, if I lean on these guys a little bit more and have an open discussion with them, I might be able to just get like one, I’ll really understand the package itself and what to look out for next time I tender it. And two is like, you know, you can really lean on their experience to help kind of potentially value engineer projects for you in the future and that package.

Paul Heming: Yeah. And I think I know the answer to this question, cause I speak to you a lot, but let’s go back to your thousand document tender where it’s just a document dump, document number 997 is the one that talks about the level of the water, blah, blah, blah. Or you get my idea. That’s the specifics. You told me before that you think if a subbie gets that kind of a tender, they should respond to it and say for one of a better phrase, this is a rubbish tender, I’m not interested in it. Why do you think they should do that?

Chris Barber: So I mean, this goes back to the middle ground and the two opposing forces of back to the original point. So they’re obviously working against each other. You get a really rubbish tender. This happens a lot. I’d love to see what the data would be on it, but we know it happens a lot, right? And there’s still people out there willing to accept it, trudge through the documents and just go through it and then go through the same cycle of start a project, carry on. And why I think they should push back is the fact that if people continue to accept these poor quality tenders, main contractors will never change and I don’t want to, and no big change happens without a kind of big statement, right? And without making it like political or BLM or anything like that. You know, if every subcontractor refused tender, say you can be really polite and diplomatic about it, right? You could just say, look thanks for the tender, it’s not very descriptive or the scope’s not very prescriptive.

Paul Heming: There is no scope.

Chris Barber: Yeah, no scope. Also probably no tender return date or really short time scale, all the drawings. You could just say, look if you could offer me a bit more of a detailed scope of what you’re looking for and fill with the information that’s actually relevant to my package and can you give me, you know, three weeks or four weeks to price, you know, if everybody did that, main contractors have to level up their game. It’s quite a simple thing to push back. But if you don’t do it, QSs will think I can just keep on sending this shit out basically. I could just literally send really bad stuff out and I’m just going to trudge through the grind.

Paul Heming: Yeah, I agree. I think that’s quite an interesting point that you make actually as to what the polite response could be, right? The polite response could be, thanks for sending this. I note that there’s a thousand documents, I am the roofer. It’d be great if you could direct me to the roofing specific documents. Also note there’s no bill, is there a bill available? Also note that the scope doesn’t really have a scope, could you let me know? And also I need two weeks or three weeks or whatever to return this, can that suit? Because so often, and I see this a lot with, so you’ll see it even more on Prosper, but they will not look at it for ages, not communicate for ages and then get close to the perceived deadline date and just hash something together. So, it works both ways. It’s easy for us to sit here and say, our main contractors often do a document dump, but the subcontractors often just kind of think whatever and just piece it together. What do you actually think would happen if every subbie rejected? Is it never going to happen? Or maybe it will over time, but what would happen if every subbie rejected?

Chris Barber: I think this could be a seminal moment of a change.

Paul Heming: Change could happen now. People are going to listen to this and be like, right, we’re going to go viral. 

Chris Barber: We could only pray, right? But if every subcontractor did it, main contract, the QSs would have to just level up their game. They’d have to, how we used to do it when I was main contracting, I would say, I know what packages I’ve got to send out, I’d lit immediately. Go to the drawings, look at the drawings, mark them up, just look at any reference to specifications and pull the specification out and make any reference to like real key items. So, like say something like structural like steel work for example. If it had a, you know, if painted on site or was powder coated, I know those two things would have a massive price difference. So it’s really something as simple. I’d pull it out and say it’s powder coated to a row color or it’s paint painted on site. Don’t make just really descriptive and just put it in their face. It’s really simple stuff to do rather than saying, oh here’s the drawings, go and deal with it. And you build up as well. What make attractive QS is probably don’t value as much is you could build some really great relationships with subcontractors and they’re there to help you. If you help them by giving them good quality tenders, put your arm around them and when there is the changes, you can work together on them. You know, you pay them on time. You know, so if there is a small variation of a grand or something like that, they might say, don’t worry Chris, I’ve got you back. Paul, don’t worry, it’s on me. I’ll get this sorted.

Paul Heming: Yeah. And actually, going back to your use of the word empathy, actually the way that you start the relationship with a subcontractor through any project is with the tender, right? Often, the first bit of contact, particularly if it’s a new contractor with you, will be the tender. And often it’ll be a link to an OneDrive on an email and say we want to price back in four days. Instantly, there is no empathy there for the life, the business of that subcontractor because so often, main contractors or people doing procurement have said to me, ah, they need a week, right? They think, well no actually in more cases, they need two weeks, sometimes even more than two weeks, right? And you are pushing your problem, the fact that you are late down the chain and actually, again, that isn’t particularly empathetic because there’s so much going on in these businesses. And if you want the skillful and the best subcontractors, we say is every week it feels like at the moment. You need to present yourself in that way a professionally in helping them. But it’s actually empathetic to say, right there isn’t a thousand documents there, there’s 50 there, these are the ones that are relevant. I’ve gone through that cause I care about my job and that will make your job a lot easier. And I think that’s absolutely crucial. You speak just for context, I’ve explained Prosper at the top of the show. It’s the subcontract side of C-link is where the subbies all come in and tender and manage their side of the portal. What is Prosper just briefly, Chris?

Chris Barber: So Prosper is a lead generation service for subcontractors, to put it quite simply. It’s connected to C-link so when users post projects and opportunities that they’re looking for a brickwork contractor, groundwork contractor, those opportunities are filtered into prosperous kind of project pipeline. For listeners, who are familiar with lead generation services where you kind of pay lots of money for basically cold data that you kind of have to cultivate that into a warm lead, spent hours and days trying to do that. Prosper does it, it takes all that legwork out, it’s a high quality opportunity on the end. We connect you to a decision maker on a prime opportunity. And that is pretty much how it works.

Paul Heming: Yeah. And we create tender documents, make it really simple for the QSs, right? To make those empathetic tender documents which have everything that the subbie needs within it. And so that’s why, empathy is actually quite an interesting word. Maybe that’s something we should talk about more in our business because I think that’s actually something we’re doing. Outside of C-link can prosper where we know our tenders are up. What do subbies say to you before they see how we work at Prosper about the state of tendering? Do they say, I always get tenders like this, I don’t want tenders like that? How do they describe the current state of play?

Chris Barber: Well, it’s funny, I just go back on the point you made a little bit earlier about like needing two weeks, three weeks. I think that would make contractors a bit blurred vision with thinking that the subcontractor’s waiting on their email for their tender just to drop in and they can jump on it straight away. It’s just, you know, without being a little phone call but a consultation saying, Hey got this project in Essex 250’ish groundwork package, would you be interested in pricing it? Something real easy step to build in, warm them up and send it out? You know, you’ve made contact at that point but you know, that just doesn’t really happen in the industry. And I’ve seen some really poor quality tenders and helps some subcontractors in the past and I’ve advised them and say look that’s really not a good quality tender that they’ve sent everything over. You sure you want to price for them? And its weird cause if you are in that growth stage, they’re kind of willing to accept it. And I think it’s that, I don’t want to use the word desperate, Paul, but like it’s a bit like they’re kind of taking advantage of subcontractors who’ve got a workforce to keep busy thinking they’ll accept anything and it is that bit of a mindset that they will accept it. But when you get to the more established subcontractors, like the ones that don’t need the work, they’re the ones who will push back a lot of the time. They will say not interested, sorry guys, like basically try again.

Paul Heming: Well, just the good subcontractors, the ones that really run their business well, they’re the ones that will say I’m not interested in this. Again, we talked about this a few weeks ago, right? Subcontractor, like you said, they’re not sat there waiting for your tender to land. Mr. Main contractor, they actually probably have received five tenders that week. And what they will actually be doing is sitting down on the Friday looking at all five of them and saying, which one should we price next week? We can’t price them all. We don’t want to price them all. We’ll price the good ones, not okay there’s one with a thousand documents dumped. No, thank you. Ah, there’s one where the guy called me up, explained to me the project has actually gone to some detail and it’s shown a bit of empathy. I’m going to keep on using that because I think it’s right. It’s actually showed that they care and understand the process. I’m going to do that one. That is what I’m going to do.

Chris Barber: Construction’s a funny game. You know, there’ll be significant transactions with probably little care going from one side or the other in terms of actually genuinely caring about who they’re working with and the end result, right? I think when I go back to the QSs being very, you know, it’s margin based, it’s transactional. It absolutely is. And I think there’s definitely a topic to discuss around maybe changing the way QSs are kind of measured in the future, in terms of beyond margin.

Paul Heming: Do you think? What would be your alternative?

Chris Barber: I personally feel that QSs should be managed definitely on nurturing supply chain relationships help cause, you know, sometimes when you work in a tier one contractors, they’d have like a pre-construction team and they’ll be honestly lovely. A lot of the time, they’d get you on board, they warm you up to place the order and then you get given to the QS and you’ve got no relationship with that person. And it is feels a bit hostile at times. The archetypal QS can be a bit hostile, it feels at times. And if you know, they were measured more on nurturing that supply chain and then perhaps maybe not the whole overall project delivery of a project. You know, was there many snags and things like that and then how many non-client variations came through the account? 

Paul Heming: It’s interesting to think about it like that, isn’t it? As in cause perhaps this is a way to zoom out for main tractors, right? There is a lot of main tractors looking at partnering, looking at how do they foster this amazing supply chain. Perhaps one way to do that is to get the feedback, you know, get a feedback loop from their supply chain on how the QS was, how the site was except all these different things to get feedback and data on how they are actually interacting as a business in the same way we do with our software. Like do you like this, et cetera. And then from that, yeah you are right. So yes, QS, you did deliver, you increased the margin from 5% to 6% on this particular package or project, but that was to the detriment of our supply chain, who we’ve now got a score of one from instead of five. It actually gives you a much more rounded and interesting perspective and understanding of how you are, how that surveyor or PM or whoever is performing. Right? Makes perfect sense. Really interesting. Last question for you, mate. As someone who has been on both sides, main and sub, what is your advice to main tractors on tender?

Chris Barber: Do the work front end. And what I mean by that is make sure you understand the package you’re sending out and what you’re asking as of contractor to do. You know, you could spend a couple of hours pre sending out a tender just going through the detail so you understand what they’re going to price and put together a, you know, we don’t all have the time for a to put together a pricing document and that’s not the world we live in at the moment. It is best practice in my opinion. If you can outsource that, great. If you can speak to your bosses, just say, look, can I have a bit of a fund to outsource the pricing documents? It will really speed up my tendering and I’ll get more prices back because it’s more attractive. You know, definitely build that in but make attractive QSs, they need to understand what they’re sending out because they’re just going to deal with problems later down the line. Whether that’s coming down to tender analysis or when they’re on site.

Paul Heming: Sounds like your boss Gareth had a real impact on you in terms of before you send anything out the door, I want you to understand that package before you ask subcontractors to understand it because it makes sense. How can you analyze something that you don’t fully and properly understand as well? So, I mean, amazing. We’ve rattled through this show even better conversation this was than in the pub last night, mate. What I will do is I’m going to share links to Chris’s LinkedIn, I’ll share links to Prosper as well for any subcontractors who want to check that out. I’ll also share links to Chris’s YouTube channel, which is called School of Sub, very applicable to subcontractors that really helps them through all different stages of the project lifecycle. So, I’m going to share that, don’t run away from own the build just because I’m sharing schools so you can like us both. And of course guys, I will also share links to those three free templates. See, I’m buttering you up to keep you all interested in own the build as well. But Chris, thank you for coming on the show, mate. It’s been really good chatting to you and highly valuable, mate. 

Chris Barber: Thanks for having me, Paul. Pleasure. Cheers.

Paul Heming: All the best, mate. I will speak to you soon and everybody else, I will speak to you as always next week. Have a good one. See you later.

Procurement Routes

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