Identifying your team’s ideal communication processes

Welcome to “The Better Way: A podcast by Buildertrend.” Here you’ll learn to simplify and establish processes that will make meaningful changes to your company and help you achieve your goals. Because there’s a better way. The Buildertrend way. Tune in this season as Zach Wojtowicz, Pro Services education coordinator, chats with Nick Schiffer of NS Builders about how to boost collaboration.

Tune in to this episode to hear Zach and Nick’s conversation about the best ways to identify your team’s essential features within Buildertrend.

WHAT IS ONE OF THE MOST BENEFICIAL FEATURES FOR YOUR TEAM?

“Starting to utilize the features of job costing was huge. And that’s something that we’ve continued to refine, and we’ve been able to capture everything. Now, it’s a matter of how we’re organizing it through cost code structure. That’s something that we’re constantly kind of refining. The reality is that it’s being updated on a weekly basis, if not multiple times a week, but we’re, at the very minimum, looking at it on a monthly basis. And I think for us, that has allowed us to really understand the health and the profitability of our company, which has in turn allowed us to grow at the rate that we have in the last couple of years.” – Nick Schiffer

WHAT DOES YOUR PROCESS LOOK LIKE FOR USING THE DAILY LOGS FEATURE?

“We break it down by trade, really. What happened per trade? So, it’s, ‘Hey, there were three guys from NS Builders here today, and we focused on XYZ. And two guys from our plumbing company were onsite, and they got the half bath completely roughed,’ and making sure that we understand what all the trades got done. We’ve created, actually, a custom field that is hidden from the owner. So, if we do run into issues, right? The skylight was delivered, and it was smashed in a million pieces. Well, we’ll probably dump that into the issues hidden from owner because we don’t want to just toss it in the daily log because you’re going to get an email from the client saying, ‘So, what’s the plan?’ And maybe we don’t have a plan yet.”  – Nick Schiffer

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Nick Schiffer | NS Builders

Intro:

Welcome to season three of “The Better Way,” a podcast by Buildertrend. Here, you’ll learn to simplify and establish processes that will help you achieve your goals. There’s a better way to run your construction business, the Buildertrend way. In this season as Zach Wojtowicz from Buildertrend’s training team chats with Nick Schiffer, owner of NS Builders in Boston about boosting collaboration with Buildertrend. In this episode, Zach and Nick are chatting about the best ways to identify your team’s essential features.

Zach Wojtowicz:

Welcome back to “The Better Way,” episode two, essential features. This is Zach Wojtowicz here with Nick Schiffer. You heard in episode one how to get team buy-in, and now, we want to actually talk a little bit more about Buildertrend, which Nick you’ve already told us how much you love Buildertrend. It took a while to get you there. And now, we can get into the actual operations of how do you use it. And we alluded to the ocean, or I used the mountain analogy in episode one. I think that’s like Buildertrend in a nutshell is there’s just so many things that when you log in, you’re like, “Whoa, where do I start? Where do I begin?” And that’s my first question for you is where did you begin? Where did you grip onto first? What would you recommend people kind of steer towards? Are you going like QuickBooks integration number one or is it …

Nick Schiffer:

That wasn’t even on my list. Yeah, if you can get it.

Zach Wojtowicz:

Looking back like, “Yeah, I would have done that.”

Nick Schiffer:

Yeah, definitely that. Well, I mean, I alluded to in the first episode is that daily logs is what pulled me in. It was just the ability to go back and look at what happened on what day. And we had a scenario where we had a client reach out saying that we left her garage door open and etc., and I looked back on our log, and we weren’t even on site that day. And come to find out it wasn’t us, it was their daughter or something like that. And that’s a light example, but to be able to reflect back to what was going on each day of the job has been enormously helpful for us internally.

And now we share that with the client where, oftentimes they don’t live there, so being able to log in each day and see what’s going on really eases their mind and lets them know just how much work is getting done. Beyond that, QuickBooks integration was huge because we started running all our job costing through it. I think many people that are going to be listening are going to relate to me here, is that in the beginning there was no job costing. It was money in the bank account money, money out of the back account.

Zach Wojtowicz:

We’re making cash. That’s all we care about.

Nick Schiffer:

And it’s how did that job go? I mean, I think it went pretty good.

Zach Wojtowicz:

We’re in the black. That’s all that matters. You know what’s good.

Nick Schiffer:

Right and basically the only financial audit I ever did was when my tax accountant told me how much money I owed. And so, starting to utilize the features of job costing was huge. And that’s something that we’ve continued to refine, and we’ve been able to capture everything. Now, it’s a matter of how we’re organizing it through cost code structure. That’s something that we’re constantly kind of refining. It’s always these micro refinements that make it a better and better experience. And I would say that the biggest impact that any of these features have had for us is the fact that we’re able to see the health of each one of our jobs.

And we’re able to log in, even from the schedule function where we’re able to set a baseline schedule and then find out why are we a month behind? And every time that we’ve slipped the schedule or moved something there’s that audit trail where we can open up and lost last two days to rain, delayed appliance delivery, etc. So, the financial piece has been huge for us in the sense that if we’re entering every cost that we have for that job in there, it’s there. And we’re able to look right in front of our face and say, “This job, we have spent this much money. This is how much money we’ve collected from the client.” And you are either making money, or you are not making money. And it allows for us to course correct.

Now, in the beginning it was more of just dump it for your finished job and look at it at the end and then figure out how we did. But now, the more we have refined things and the more structure we’ve put into place, now we’re looking at it on a regular basis. The reality is that it’s being updated on a weekly basis, if not multiple times a week, but we’re, at the very minimum, looking at it on a monthly basis. And I think for us that has allowed us to really understand the health and the profitability of our company, which has in turn allowed us to grow at the rate that we have in the last couple of years.

Zach Wojtowicz:

Yeah. It can take a little bit. They bring up the fact that a lot of people look at Buildertrend’s budget at the end of the job still because they probably are still learning it. But once you really master it, and you see it, then you can start to really pull things. There’s still value in looking at the end of the job, but there’s even more to perceive and gain about how that project is progressing during once you can understand how things work and connect and move and change, and your actions have implications elsewhere. There’s a lot of places we could go in this conversation. I do want to just touch on your daily log process. It’s funny because I think a lot of people undervalue daily logs and not just from, he said, she said situations where you kind of have some ammo, but just the process and the ritual of keeping jobs up-to-date progress. In your daily log, do you have any standards that you put on your employees? I need to see this, this and this, this many pictures.

Nick Schiffer:

We break it down by trade, really. What happened per trade? So, it’s, “Hey, there were three guys from NS builders here today and we focused on XYZ. And two guys from our plumbing company were onsite, and they got the half bath completely roughed,” and making sure that we understand what all the trades got done. We’ve created, actually, a custom field that is hidden from the owner. So, if we do run into issues, right? The skylight was delivered, and it was smashed in a million pieces. Well, we’ll probably dump that into the issues hidden from owner because we don’t want to just toss it in the daily log because you’re going to get an email from the client saying, “So what’s the plan?” And maybe we don’t have a plan yet.

So, if we’re going to share unfortunate news, then we need to share unfortunate news with our actions in how we’re going to correct or work around that. And so, we’ve decided to have that there, so we can always reflect back to when did that issue come up and how do we resolve it? And pictures are a must. Take a few pictures up close and take some overall because the client is going to be looking at these logs and we want them to have a visual aspect of it.

Oftentimes, I had said it before is that I check them every day at six o’clock. If I log in there’s no pictures, I don’t even want to read the texts. I’m like that, that daily log isn’t done.

Zach Wojtowicz:

Right.

Nick Schiffer:

We need photos. I want to see photos. And then I’m going to go back and read what’s going on. But the consistency every single day, I really ask of my team that when they’re leaving the job, when they hop in their truck right before they’re headed home, it takes five minutes. And sometimes I’ll be on a job site or I’ll run to a warranty call, and I’ll do a daily log. And I open up my phone, I hit create new daily log, select the job, and I just voice text what happened, “Hey, I went onsite today to check out the powder room sink and put some hiring out on the rust stain and planning to head back there tomorrow.” Upload the photo, press save, and I’m done. And it’s for me, the biggest ritual is that it’s done every single day.

Zach Wojtowicz:

Yeah. Do you share every daily log with your client every day too?

Nick Schiffer:

We do. It was something that we, probably for the first year we didn’t, just so we can kind of get it down. And I wanted my team to understand how they should be writing stuff too. And John Hourihan, who’s a co-host on “The Modern Craftsman” podcast with me, I think he’s said it before is that it needs to be written in a way that your wife could read it and understand what’s going on, meaning, nothing against our wives, but they’re not in the industry. And we tend to explain things with industry terms, and it doesn’t make sense. No, write that as if you’re talking to a homeowner and so, when you read it, it’s positive, it’s explaining what got done, and it’s explaining the process in which it took. So, the client finds value in reading it and appreciates what got done that day.

Zach Wojtowicz:

Yeah. I think I’ve talked people through this process quite a bit on the road, custom fields, I’m glad you brought that up, but there are things that you want to create a form more or less. We have the ability to do so. And that’s universal throughout most features in Buildertrend. Are there other places, on daily logs that you’ve added custom fields to track information? You just customize the hell out of it.

Nick Schiffer:

Yeah, I think we have custom fields in pretty much everything. And even after our onsite consulting, it’s something that we’re likely going to implement even more because it is, there’s some things that you guys have done a great job building, something that is universal, but universal doesn’t mean that it’s perfect for everyone. It’s just, it’s adaptable for everyone. And we’ve been able to adapt a lot of what we need with the use of custom fields.

Zach Wojtowicz:

Yeah. I think that’s something that gets missed quite a bit for new users is, they feel like what comes in the box is what it is. And a lot of times, I’d say 9 out of 10 times, I can creatively solve a problem through a custom field if it’s actually available on that feature.

Nick Schiffer:

Totally.

Zach Wojtowicz:

So, on the scheduling, I’m also curious, was that the next place of, daily logs obviously, is obviously where you started, you move through our project management side onto the schedule after that?

Nick Schiffer:

Schedule was actually pretty recent, so I think financial is really the next piece.

Zach Wojtowicz:

Okay.

Nick Schiffer:

Schedule is something that I just never made the time to really dig into the process in which it should be set up. And it was just about a year ago, now, that we’ve really dove headfirst into scheduling. So, it went from daily logs into job costing and making sure that we were job costing accurately. Processing vendor payments through the PO process, linking it with QuickBooks, hiring an outside accounting firm that could manage the QuickBooks side and understand Buildertrend. So, after daily logs, I would say it was heavy into the financial side.

Zach Wojtowicz:

Which is great with the financial system, Buildertrend has a track we try to put people in, but it’s not that we don’t recommend going to the financials, it’s just there’s a lot of pieces to it. So, let’s talk about that process. You mentioned your cost code auditing, did you have your own set of cost codes that you were already were using? Did you …

Nick Schiffer:

Gosh, that is a sensitive subject.

Zach Wojtowicz:

Oh, no. It’s about to get controversial on “The Better Way” today.

Nick Schiffer:

I have changed my cost codes three times, and it’s …

Zach Wojtowicz:

I can see the PTSD in his eyes, ladies and gentlemen.

Nick Schiffer:

It’s funny. I thought we were going to do it again after the onsite consulting.

Zach Wojtowicz:

Oh right, here we go again.

Nick Schiffer:

Right now, we collectively agreed that what we have is actually pretty close to what we want, so we can just make some changes to adapt to the need. So, yeah, I mean, we did, we had a cost code structure. For anyone out there, just a general note there, there’s such a great network of builders and contractors that are so willing to share through social media, especially if you’re giving, people are also willing to give back. And I’ve been able to connect with many contractors and other builders and many of them have shared their structure from cost codes and the way they do things and why they do it. And pretty much like anything I’ve put into place, it’s been a collection of understanding how other people have done it and taking what I like about it and adapting it to fit my needs. So, I set those cost codes up and we dumped them into Buildertrend and ran with it.

Zach Wojtowicz:

During that revision process, what did you feel like was missing? Or what changes, just an example of that you needed to refine?

Nick Schiffer:

I feel like we were constantly coding things to categories that didn’t make sense because we didn’t have a category for it.

Zach Wojtowicz:

Right.

Nick Schiffer:

I didn’t want this commercial 54 division or whatever, 50 something division cost code structure. I wanted to base it around the 16 division. And then I did that, and I basically modified in between to outline material labor and subcontractor separately. And that’s where we’re at now, where it’s all right that covers a lot of it, but we can refine a lot within that and have a little bit more granular in some areas and then less granular in others.

Zach Wojtowicz:

Yeah. I think that was probably even where I wanted to go with it. Did you find yourself simplifying it or adding more detail in that process? Sounds like it’s a little of both.

Nick Schiffer:

I think we were adding more detail, but in doing that, we were simplifying process.

Zach Wojtowicz:

Right. When you’re going through this initiative, did you involve your people?

Nick Schiffer:

Yeah.

Zach Wojtowicz:

I think that’s huge. A lot of people make that mistake.

Nick Schiffer:

Yeah. And I look now it’s like, I’m thinking of one specifically we have interior door hardware, pocket door hardware, and they’re in different categories. And my team is like, “Which one do I put this under?” And I’m like, “Great question. Why do I have two?”

Zach Wojtowicz:

Thanks for bringing that to my attention.

Nick Schiffer:

Yeah. Right. And I’m just going to keep ignoring that. But the team involvement is huge and that’s really what ultimately why we decided not to redo them because the team was like, “No, we don’t need to. We’re pretty close. We just have to make some changes and add a couple to resolve the issues that we’re having currently. And we’re good to go.”

Zach Wojtowicz:

That ties into our first episode with team buy-in. Giving people agency to make these decisions, listening to their feedback, makes them feel like they’re part of the process and then it’s a community versus you’re going to do this because I told you to do it. And it just avoids that whole more conflictual approach. And be like, “No, no, we’re going to give your input. You’re the one using it, etc.” And then I think from an essential feature standpoint, once you get your cost codes down, that unlocks almost the whole program on the financial side, right?

Nick Schiffer:

Yeah. And that’s funny because that’s really what the meeting came down to is that everything revolved, like I talked to Brett yesterday, and he’s like, “Hey, so really the next action item is for you to fix those cost codes.” And I was like, “I thought that was on you, not me.” But it is, that is the core for everything. Everything revolves around it, your financials, your accounting, your schedule, your subcontractor grouping, everything revolves around these cost codes. So, I do think that needs to be number one priority.

Zach Wojtowicz:

And then thinking back to when you initially got the cost code set, where did you go from there? Did you estimate, did you start bidding? I mean, where did you kind of gravitate toward once you got the cost codes into the program?

Nick Schiffer:

So, I’ve always estimated outside of the program. It’s just how I’ve always done it. We ended up uploading our information into the portal in the estimate, but it hasn’t been something that we use as a working document. But yes, I mean, we took those codes and then built them into an estimating sheet that we use, and it’s like that checks and balance, right? If you list out all of the cost codes and when you’re pricing a job, you look at each cost code and say, “Does this job have bathroom accessories? Does this job have mirrors that I need to consider?” It’s one of those checks you can say yes, no and then attribute a cost to it. So, yeah, I think from there, it was making sure accounting was set up and then going right back to estimating, so any new projects coming in the cost codes aligned with how were going to track them financially.

Zach Wojtowicz:

Makes a ton of sense. It didn’t get done overnight, obviously.

Nick Schiffer:

No.

Zach Wojtowicz:

How long have you been with Buildertrend again?

Nick Schiffer:

I got to really look this up.

Zach Wojtowicz:

Do you get that question asked a lot?

Nick Schiffer:

Yeah. Two and a half years, at least.

Zach Wojtowicz:

Yeah. So, just looking from two and a half years ago to today, the strides you’ve taken are immeasurable probably.

Nick Schiffer:

Oh, for sure. Yeah. I mean, I think I attribute to where we are today to many things, but the structure and the procedures that we have in place are definitely at the forefront of that. And I say that, knowing that we’re still not operating at 100%. Probably not even at a 85, 90%, which means that we still have a lot of room for growth, but should we have not put these things in place I don’t know if we would have really survived the growth. I think we would’ve had to retract a lot because just the lack of systems that we really started with.

Zach Wojtowicz:

The other piece of that, and we haven’t talked about this, but I’m curious, did you use templates pretty early too? Or are you …

Nick Schiffer:

I don’t use any templates.

Zach Wojtowicz:

Oh okay. Now, we have to talk off air.

Nick Schiffer:

Yeah. We definitely have to talk off air because that’s actually a big conversation with Brad is that every job was a new job and he’s like, “You’re out of your mind. You need to set a template.” And I agree.

Zach Wojtowicz:

I’m nodding my head. You can’t see it, but.

Nick Schiffer:

What has been for us, and this is nothing but an excuse really, is that we have evolved and changed our company year after year, where stuff hasn’t been templatable, but we’re in a position now that we can really start to template things. And we also weren’t utilizing enough of the program where it’s like, “Hey, template that schedule.” Because it’s like, “No, that schedule kind of sucks. We never really set that up.”

Zach Wojtowicz:

We got to look at that schedule again.

Nick Schiffer:

Right. But now we’re in a position where we’ve done a lot of work and now, we can start templating these things. And I mean, it’s everything, man. Pre-construction agreements, I would delay sending them out because I had to write them up. And now, I’ve templated that with another program in a digital document where it takes me five minutes to fill in their information, it sends it over to them, they electronically sign, it kicks to accounting, says, “Hey bill them for a retainer.” It’s a no brainer. So, it’s the fact that I was making these processes harder by basically redoing them every single time was just asinine.

Zach Wojtowicz:

It can be hard to see the long-term vision. I think that’s why it’s great to have someone like you on the podcast to talk about it because even really successful people are still looking to improve and get better even though they’ve reached a very high level of success so.

Nick Schiffer:

Yeah, totally.

Zach Wojtowicz:

Well, that’s about it for episode two, we got into essential features. This got a little in the weeds, but I loved it, Nick.

Nick Schiffer:

Yeah. I mean, I think you knew that come with me coming on, I was just going to go down these rabbit holes.

Zach Wojtowicz:

I’m all for it. Hopefully our listeners are, too. Join us next time, where we’re going to get into the mobile app in episode three. Nick, thanks for joining me today.

Outro:

Thanks for listening to “The Better Way.” If you’re a Buildertrend customer, schedule a training to learn more. All listeners, be sure to rate, review and subscribe to “The Better Way” wherever you get your podcasts. Also visit buildertrend.com/podcasts to sign up for the email notifications when the next season drops and explore our other podcast, “The Building Code.” Don’t miss our next episode about collaboration between desk and field.


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