Recently Darren Tester, founder of Darren Tester Building Contractors based in Suffolk, talked to Professional Builder Magazine about how he’s evolving his business in the current economy and how using Build Aviator is making a difference.
“Like many builders, we’ve definitely seen a change in the last year,” said Darren who started his business in 2016. “We’ve gone from having a 15-18 month waiting list for customers to six to seven months. I actually prefer working at this pace and it’s easier to manage the knock-on effect of jobs running over, but it does make you wonder, ‘Is it going to get any worse?’”.
Before Covid, Darren employed 25 people through his firm that focuses mostly on domestic projects, but following the pandemic, he reduced his headcount to eight. “We’d grown and grown which was brilliant, but the speed and pace was a lot and I spent more time in the office and that’s not why I became a builder. The pandemic was a chance to re-focus, and we decided to streamline things,” added Darren.
Speaking about striking the balance between being on the tools and managing a business, Darren said. “It’s a hard balance between the day job and making sure you’ve got a pipeline of work. And as your business develops, you must make a choice: do you step away from being on-site? Do you employ a quantity surveyor? With the latter, you’d be looking at a £50-£60k salary for someone full time and in a downward climate like we’re in now, it’s just not possible.”
“I decided to use Build Aviator for my estimating service and honestly, it’s changed my business for the better. Now, I can focus on what I want to focus on. I want to be a builder, but I can’t warrant employing a QS. For a nominal fee, I’ve got an extension of my business through Build Aviator, with a dedicated estimator who knows my business – like an employed QS would – but without the overhead,” said Darren.
“As an example, Build Aviator has just costed up a project for me – a five-storey office block that’s being turned into apartments. That would’ve taken me two days to estimate at least. That’s two days where I’m not earning and am off another job. Instead, it was a few hours of talking it through with our estimator and under £300. Doing it yourself just doesn’t make financial sense.”

Accuracy and efficiency

Alongside the time-saving benefits Darren has realised, using an estimating service has given him more confidence in his pricing of jobs which he feels would benefit other builders in this economic climate. “With smaller jobs being few and farther between, some builders will be thinking about going after bigger projects but are apprehensive about getting costs wrong. I get it – getting your estimate on a big job could send you into bankruptcy, but that’s why I work with experts who’ve been pricing work of all shapes and sizes for years. Using an estimating service for each job, rather than say a price for sq ft say, means you’ve got the detail. It’s an added layer of protection.”
Darren continued: “I also think customers want that detail in this market so they’re also protected. They know what’s included and what isn’t. Everyone is a lot clearer and it helps you have a conversation if things need to change. We all know people don’t always have the best opinion of builders – we’re an easy scapegoat – but professionalising your pricing with services like Build Aviator can change that view and protect your business.”
Speaking about how to get the most out of estimating services, Darren added: “Using an estimating service has completely changed my business, but like anything, you only get out what you put in. Some builders say to me, ‘I don’t like estimating services because they’re a one-size-fits-all and it’s not personal to my business’. But I’ve spent time with my Build Aviator estimator – they know what I can do and what I need to sub out, what equipment and plant I have so they can plan to suit. For example, I have a two-tonne excavator, not a three, so there’s more time built into groundworks. By bringing my estimator into the business, I get more out.”
Working more efficiently has opened up new avenues for Darren, including new income streams. “As well as renovating my own house, I’ve got more time to broaden my business in the areas that interest me. I can see massive potential for solar so I’m about to start my MCS accreditation. I’m also developing a health & safety software app for builders called Safety Hangar. Not only has Build Aviator helped me protect my business, it’s given me the time and headspace to focus on what I love.”