Staying in sync with subs

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.

During this episode, Zach and Nick discuss methods and systems for staying connected with your subs.

WHAT IS A TACTIC YOU USE TO GET YOUR SUBS TO START USING BUILDERTREND?

“No. 1, the sub isn’t going to be using Buildertrend the way the builder is using Buildertrend. That’s not how they’re using it. When they’re logging in, they’re seeing a reduced amount of information that is what they’re required to know. So, it’s really just a place where the information is held for them to access. A great tip that I got from someone early on is, ‘All right, well, what if my sub doesn’t sign up?’ No problem, here’s the trick. You switch the email to your email. You go in, you set up their account, you turn on notifications. You switch the email back to their email, and now they’re getting the notifications. If they hate it, so be it. But the point is that’s usually the only thing that they don’t want to do is take the time to sign up.” – Nick Schiffer

HOW DO YOU GET YOUR SUBS TO TRUST USING BUILDERTREND FOR COMMUNICATION?

“Now, the expectation side of it, if you’re going to set a schedule, and you’re going to utilize that as a tool that better be accurate because the moment your sub calls and says, ‘Hey, I’m outside.’ ‘What do you mean?’ ‘Well, you had me on the schedule for tomorrow, right, for July 2nd to do rough plumbing.’ Oh, you know what, framing got delayed, and we didn’t get our inspection, ‘Well, why didn’t you tell me that?’ ‘Well, why didn’t you tell me that?’ ‘I know I’ve got to update to Buildertrend, I just haven’t had a chance.’ Now, it’s out the window. They’ll never look at that and trust it again because it’s like, ‘What is the point of looking at this if it’s not accurate information?’ So, it’s a Catch-22. It’s a really great tool, but it has to be accurate. You need to be updating it, but you also need to continue to use this human interaction of phone call, email, regular, again, it’s just not a replacement in this case.” – 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. Tune 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 discussing methods and systems for staying connected with your subs.

Zach Wojtowicz:

Welcome back to “The Better Way.” Zach Wojtowicz here with Nick Schiffer, as always in this season. Today, we’re going to talk about syncing with subs. Nick, thanks for joining me.

Nick Schiffer:

Thank you.

Zach Wojtowicz:

So, when it comes to subs, it’s a topic at Buildertrend just amongst our employees that when we’re talking to clients, it’s kind of one of those things that there’s a, you know.

Nick Schiffer:

My old school plumber, he’s not going to join any of these app things.

Zach Wojtowicz:

He’s not going to do it.

Nick Schiffer:

He doesn’t have an email address.

Zach Wojtowicz:

We’ve heard everything. We’ve got some things I want to talk about today, but I’m really excited to talk to you as someone who is actually gone through that process.

Nick Schiffer:

Well, let’s talk, before we get into Buildertrend, what about, let’s talk about what I did before Buildertrend. Soc, everything was a phone call. A phone call, and that’s where it started. “Hey, Mark, I got this job. It’s a full renovation of this house looking for pricing on the plumbing. And yeah, no problem. Can you email me the plans?” Email the plans. Week goes by, “Hey, any chance? Oh yeah, I haven’t had a chance to look at those yet.” Two weeks go by. “Yeah, I haven’t had a chance to look at that. All right, well, I need a price. All right, I’ll look at it tonight.” Then you get an email back, “Hey, it’s $37,000.” Okay, for what?

What are we talking about? $37,000. “Did you include the hot water heater? No, no, no, do you want me to include a hot water heater?” And then you get into the job, and it’s, “Hey, when do you need me there? I need you next week. I just don’t know if I’m going to be able to get there next week. Can we do the week after?” And it’s this back and forth, really overly organic process, which is great. The phone. I never want to get rid of the phone calls and the human-to-human interaction. But I knew that there had to be just a better way to do it. And that’s where, the sub thing, we haven’t even talked about in the previous episodes, but …

Zach Wojtowicz:

I’m avoiding it. Remember, for me, this is the topic that I’m like, ah, man.

Nick Schiffer:

But it is really important, and it has been a huge part of setting expectation. Because I say it all the time, expectation and communication are the two most important things in our industry. And that’s something that we strive to be really great at. And if we can be a really good communicator and set really clear expectations, the project tends to go much better on all accounts, but specifically with subcontractors.

Zach Wojtowicz:

I assume, if I were a builder, the client doesn’t really care who’s the one installing the water heater, using that example. But if something goes wrong …

Nick Schiffer:

Not usually. Yeah.

Zach Wojtowicz:

… You’re the one who gets held accountable for it, right?

Nick Schiffer:

Right. Most of the time, they’re not usually, very rarely are they communicating directly with the subcontractors, for no reason other than that they don’t need to, and having any weight in the decision of who we use. You’re always going to have that client, like hey, my brother’s a painter. Can we use him? And it’s like, maybe. I’m never going to say automatically no because, who knows, maybe her brother is the best painter I’ve ever dealt with and then he becomes my new painter. I’m not going to say no just because it’s someone’s brother. I’m always open to working with people, and I’m going to go through the same process. Interview them, check out some of their work, understand their process, what sets them apart. But generally speaking, we’re hired as the contractor. And as a contractor, your job is to contract the work.

Zach Wojtowicz:

Yeah. When something, like a delay or any sort of situation happens, I guess my point is we kind of have to get the subs on board because we’re using this tool, and if they’re not using it at the same level or even close to you guys, that’s going to lead to logistical delays or problems, like you were outlying, trying to get a bid or whatnot. And I always push back on people when they say, my subs won’t use it. I’m like, you’re not even willing to try? Because you probably have some subs that you know actually would use it, right?

Nick Schiffer:

And you know what, I hear where they’re coming from. And I think there’s a couple of things here. No. 1, the sub isn’t going to be using Buildertrend the way the builder is using Buildertrend.

Zach Wojtowicz:

Great point.

Nick Schiffer:

That’s not how they’re using it. When they’re logging in, they’re seeing a reduced amount of information that is what they’re required to know. So, it’s really just a place where the information is held for them to access. A great tip that I got from someone early on, is that, all right, well, what if my sub doesn’t sign up? No problem, here’s the trick. You switch the email to your email. You go in, you set up their account, you turn on notifications. You switch the email back to their email, and now they’re getting the notifications. If they hate it, so be it. But the point is that’s usually the only thing that they don’t want to do is take the time to sign up. So, it’s like, hey, no problem, Mark.

Zach Wojtowicz:

I’ll do that for you.

Nick Schiffer:

Yeah. You’re all set. You’re going to get notified with the information you need for this job. And the last, not the last point, but another really, really, really important point is that none of this software is a replacement. This is not a replacement for project managers. This isn’t a replacement for communicating with your trades. This is not a replacement in any way. What it is, is it’s a communication tool and an expectation tool. So, when you are setting a schedule for a project, yeah, your sub is getting notified. But that doesn’t mean that you send them an automatic notification, and they’re just going to show up on the day that they need to come and do rough plumbing.

No, no, no. You’re still calling. You’re still, “Mark, hey, just wanted to let you know. I just turned that schedule on on Buildertrend. You are slated for July 2nd. Hoping to get you in here. That’s about three months out. Just making sure you have a plan. If anything changes, I’ll make sure I update you and send you an update. We’ll touch base in a couple of weeks. Do you need anything from me?” There’s still this back and forth communication that will never, ever, ever go away. But when he hangs up the phone and Mark was on a job site underneath the house, and yeah, he talked to you, but he’s like, I don’t remember what date he said. You know what, I can log into Buildertrend and double check. Here it is. Here’s the schedule.

Now, the expectation side of it, if you’re going to set a schedule, and you’re going to utilize that as a tool that better be accurate because the moment that he calls and says, “Hey, I’m outside.” “What do you mean?” “Well, you had me on the schedule for tomorrow, right, for July 2nd to do rough plumbing.” Oh, you know what, framing got delayed, and we didn’t get our inspection, “Well, why didn’t you tell me that?” “I know I got to update to Buildertrend, I just haven’t had a chance.” Now, it’s out the window. You have totally, they’ll never look at that and trust it again because it’s like, ‘What the hell is the point of looking at this if it’s not accurate information?’ So, it’s a Catch-22. It’s a really great tool, but it has to be accurate. You need to be updating it, but you also need to continue to use this human interaction of phone call, email, regular, again, it’s just not a replacement in this case.

Zach Wojtowicz:

Yeah. I’d always kind of joke with my client that if Buildertrend was something that would do your job for you then you’d be replaceable. And that’s not the intention behind it. It’s to make you better at your job not do the work for you.

Nick Schiffer:

Right. It’s still a robot.

Zach Wojtowicz:

Yeah, exactly. But I’m glad you brought up that example of the sub holding the project manager accountable. And I think that’s huge. If you can onboard your subs right, you create this relationship where you might lose them, obviously, if you don’t do it, but there’s that other skin in the game side for your project manager to stay on top of it because he knows that the sub’s looking at it. I had a couple builders tell me a similar story in different parts of the country where they were like, I’ll never forget when my plumber called me and said, “Hey, what’s wrong with your schedule?” And he’s like, “Wow. I don’t know. I need to be better.” It kind of pushed them to be better builders because their subs were holding them accountable to it.

Nick Schiffer:

Yeah. It’s a mutual relationship. And people, I think, sometimes ignore that. Where there’s no hierarchy here, it’s this mutual relationship that needs to be respected on both accounts. And you walk any job site, and you talk to any of the subcontractors, and on “typical job site”, you ask them about the schedule, they’ll laugh. It’s like, yeah, right. Yeah, they’re moving in next week, too, right? Uh-huh. I think humans in general are just wildly over optimistic. And I forget the podcast I listened to, but it talked about this. And it’s like, why are we so optimistic? Why aren’t we more real with ourselves?

And we tend to be optimistic for the sale. And whether that’s with the client or that’s the sale with your own internal mind. Like, “I want the plumbing done in a week. I need two weeks. I don’t care, figure out how to get it done. I said it’d be done in a week, and we’re going to move in next week.” It’s like, what is driving that over optimism of how quickly oppression can work? Because you’re basically, for whatever reason I’ve come to the conclusion that, especially on the sales side, if it’s going to be about schedule, someone would prefer to be lied to upfront. Tell me it’s going to take six months upfront and then have it take nine, then me tell you it’s going to take nine upfront and have it take eight or take nine. They don’t want to hear that. They’d rather hear in the beginning that you’re going to move faster. I literally had a client tell me, point blank, he’s like, “Hey, I know you’re telling me 18 months, but is there any way that we could target 12? And then if it goes long, it goes long.”

Zach Wojtowicz:

Just hope it works out.

Nick Schiffer:

And I was like, let me make sure I heard you right. You want me to target 12, but if it goes long, it goes long. Yeah. I’m like, so if it goes to 18, it goes to 18. “Well, yeah, right.” I’m like, why am I lying to you? What is this benefiting? It was such an important part for that client to be okay with the project. And I was like, this is crazy. Here’s my rabbit hole that I just went down. I don’t remember what the question was.

Zach Wojtowicz:

Well, I think when it comes down to it, getting your subs onboarded, it is important to paint a positive picture for them to use it because you are selling it to them, more or less, right?

Nick Schiffer:

Right.

Zach Wojtowicz:

And I think that’s a struggle when we’re talking about onboarding the subs is. How do I even approach it? And you’ve talked a little bit about swapping their emails out. When you were getting your subs to use it, did you target specific people or did you take a wide net? Like I’m just going to try and onboard everybody.

Nick Schiffer:

Oh, it was, if you’re working with us, this is how we’re working.

Zach Wojtowicz:

Drew a line in the sand, and said, you’re going to use it.

Nick Schiffer:

Yeah, it was like, great example, anyone that works for us is direct deposit. And I had a kid working for us a couple of years ago, and he’s like, “I don’t have a bank account.” And I’m like … he’s like, “Can I just get a check?” I’m like, “No, I don’t know what …”

Zach Wojtowicz:

How would you cash it without a bank account?

Nick Schiffer:

I guess you go to my bank and cash it.

Zach Wojtowicz:

All right. Whatever you figure it out.

Nick Schiffer:

I was like, “No. You’re just going to have to go get a bank account, man.”

Zach Wojtowicz:

I thought you were going to say like, “Can you pay me in cash?” What kind of relationship …

Nick Schiffer:

Yeah, no cash. But it’s the same thing. Our subs, it’s like, “Hey, can I grab a check this afternoon?” I’m like, “Did you submit an invoice? I don’t have an invoice.” We don’t even have physical checks in our office. It goes through a process. That’s being communicated in our agreements upfront. You work for us, this is how we’re going to communicate. This is how we process a payment. You pay, here’s the chain of command. This is what the invoice has to go through. It needs to be in this format. And you’ll have that check within X amount of days. And we have the option where our trades can sign up for e-payment. So, rather than waiting for it to come in the mail, it’ll be a direct deposit right into their account.

We’re trying to make it as easy as possible, but we still need to go through the due diligence of when that invoice comes in does it match the PO? Do we have updated certificate of insurance? Is the work actually done? Is the work done to our standard? The PM signs off on it. Then it goes into accounting. And make sure that they have the right information. It has to go through the commands to make sure that it’s not just being paid without being considered, without the work being considered.

Zach Wojtowicz:

With that, you’re in Boston. So, your sub market’s pretty wide. Do you change your subs much or are you using the same guys you’ve used for a long time?

Nick Schiffer:

No, we don’t change them a lot. I say it all the time, I’m always interviewing, whether it’s for people that …

Zach Wojtowicz:

Find the best.

Nick Schiffer:

… work for us, or subs, or trades, or anything. I’m always talking to people. And if I feel as though they’re a good fit, I might give them a shot. And then we might have to sit down internally and say, “How did they do? How does it compare to who we’ve worked in the past?” And then we start kind of categorizing people in making sure that we’re putting them on projects that they’re going to be great at. I hate putting people into a project that they’re not going to do a good job at or that it’s just not what they want to do, so they’re not going to put the effort into it. And I want to make sure that I’m cognizant of that and that we’re not asking someone to do something that they don’t enjoy doing.

Zach Wojtowicz:

Have you used any of your vendors with Buildertrend as well? Or are you primarily using it just for people who are installing?

Nick Schiffer:

We don’t have any vendors set up in it.

Zach Wojtowicz:

Just curious. Some people do and have had some success as well, even getting it to that level, in various ways. It’s kind of one of the lower things on the priority list. When you’re talking to people in your community, do you work with other Buildertrend or do you know other Buildertrend users in the Boston area that are using it at all?

Nick Schiffer:

I don’t. It’s rare. I would say a handful of our trades when I mention Buildertrend, they’re like, oh yeah, I’ve worked with it.

Zach Wojtowicz:

They’ve worked with it before.

Nick Schiffer:

It’s usually architects that are familiar with it, which is great. I feel as though it is becoming more relevant, and as we continue to use it, our trades continues to understand the value behind it, especially as we continue to refine the accuracy of what we do.

Zach Wojtowicz:

Yeah. So, what are the typical challenges that you experience with a new sub that maybe is coming on? Probably, you have kind of the policy, like you’re going to use it and …

Nick Schiffer:

I think the challenges in general are just, here’s how we operate and is there questions. We’re going to put together a subcontractor agreement that was written by a lawyer. There’s just a bunch of legal jargon in it. So, they’re making sure that they’re not signing something that they don’t agree with. But in that we’re going to outline the insurance requirements that they have. Why do we outline that? Because we work in buildings that require particular insurance. We also want to be covered should something happen. So, we have to make sure that we have those things in place and that we’re accurately tracking them. So, as we get that information it’s like, all right, well, there’s an expiration date on that. So, we to set, Buildertrend’s great, you set a little reminder in there where it’s like this expires on this date. And it’s going to let the sub know it and let us know. And then if we go to pay them, it’s going to say, “Hey, you can’t pay them.” We don’t have a updated certificate from them.

And then beyond that, it’s just getting them to understand the invoicing and billing process where it’s like, “Hey, this is how we expect to be invoiced.” In the beginning of the job, we’re going to agree to payment terms as far as basically a percent complete on different line items. And let’s use that for invoicing. We break it down by, plumbing, bathroom, one, two, and three, and you’re 50% on one and 20% on the other, bill accordingly. And then that way, when we come in, we can look at that and say, yeah, that’s right. That’s accurate. Approved. And then that process can go through accounting as quickly as possible.

It’s usually just walking them through the process. And that’s something that we’re doing right now is writing up a tear sheet, as I call it, where it’s like, “Hey, new sub, this is our process. This is what we require. Here’s our payment structure. Here’s the payment schedule. Invoices are due this date in order for you to get paid by this date. If you miss this date, then you’re realistically going to get it at this date.” Again, going back to expectations, we’re trying to set those expectations up front so there really is no question as to how we’re going to go about this.

Zach Wojtowicz:

The billing cycle that you brought up, I’ve met so many builders that just are, we pay them when they invoice us.

Nick Schiffer:

Oh yeah. That’s how I was. I was the fastest payer.

Zach Wojtowicz:

Yeah.

Nick Schiffer:

It was like, he’d send me an invoice, I’d bring a check in the next day. And then my insurance company was like, do you have a certificate for him? I’m like, I don’t know.

Zach Wojtowicz:

Do we need that?

Nick Schiffer:

Yeah. When do we need that? He’s like, yesterday.

Zach Wojtowicz:

Before he did the work. Oh.

Nick Schiffer:

Right.

Zach Wojtowicz:

We’re good.

Nick Schiffer:

Yeah.

Zach Wojtowicz:

Well, was that a challenge for your subs to adopt when you put in that you have to bill us by this date? What was that transition like?

Nick Schiffer:

That particular item is something that we are drafting right now. Prior to that, there was a challenge in kind of just understanding the process. And we were communicating it on case by case and just saying, this is how we’re doing it. This is why it takes, I think we target 14-day turnaround for sub payments. Obviously, aim to do it sooner, but we try to give ourself a buffer there, but we just try to get them to understand the process in which it takes. Because if they understand the process, then they’re going to be more diligent about getting us an invoice. Because most of the time they’re in a rush to get a payment once they send the invoice. It’s like, I know you sent it because you need it, and you want to get paid ASAP, but if you had sent when the work was done, we would have already been through the process. If we communicate that upfront and set that expectation upfront, then they know that, “Hey, I need to get this invoice out right away in order for me to get paid in 14 days.”

Zach Wojtowicz:

Yeah. So, in a lot of ways you kind of have to coach them about proper processes and business tactics for …

Nick Schiffer:

Totally.

Zach Wojtowicz:

It can’t be just pay as you go, which again, is what I’ve seen a lot of builders do in that transition. Buildertrend, lot of times, helps them with that because now the PO has a date. It has the terms. It has notifications letting them know when the work’s completed that you actually have targeted to be paid by this date. And I think it can really help. But learning those financial systems we talked about in episode two, can have a residual effect to make your billing process that much better.

Nick Schiffer:

Yeah, absolutely.

Zach Wojtowicz:

Do you get feedback from your subs about Buildertrend and the usage of it or anything?

Nick Schiffer:

Yeah, usually it’s, “Hey, you’re sending me too many notifications.”

Zach Wojtowicz:

We can manage that. It’s good for people to know you can turn on notifications. Just call us.

Nick Schiffer:

Yeah, usually, it’s because I set something up wrong. That’s usually on me, and then I get like my whole team messaging me being like, “Hey, Brad is getting notifications for a job that you just started on the other side of the state.” And I was like, “Dang it.”

Zach Wojtowicz:

How do you handle that? I’m curious. That’s really important because I think people have a lot of fear and anxiety, and they’re nervous about that. What do you say?

Nick Schiffer:

Well, I immediately fix it. It’s a great point because you don’t want to be setting up these incorrectly. And it was completely my fault. I had not realized going into it that there was this button that said, give access to all new jobs going forward when you are setting it up. And I kept clicking off, yeah, give it access. But it was like, wait, my plumber doesn’t need to know every job going on if he’s not on every job. So, it was very much on me. Other than that, it was very clear cut. It’s like you fill out, and you can go through and decide what notifications they’re getting. Whether it’s an email or a text, we shut off all the texts notifications. It’s strictly email. And they’re getting notified based on what we feel as though is important.

It’s easy for us to kind of set that up and then anytime we’re doing a new job we just automatically keep them out of any new job. And then when we go to assign them, when we’re in that new job and then we decide to assign that vendor to a job, that’s going to ask you like, “Hey, this vendor is not part of the job. Do you want them to be?” And then, “Yes.” And then, “Do you want them to have all the documents that are in this job?” “Yeah.” It’s pretty streamlined. The one mess up that I had where I was kind of just letting them, it was just an oversight on my part. And more probably because I was just in a rush to get them uploaded and wanted them to be getting notified.

But I think it is important to note that it’s easy to go in there and just click off all notifications. But at that point, if they’re getting notified for everything, now they’re ignoring it. Where it’s like, you need to really decide what you want them to be notified on. Because if they’re getting notified for everything, to do, assigned to someone else. Oh, that to do is now complete. It’s like, I don’t need to see that. And the more that they see, the more it becomes this noise, and then it just becomes completely ignored. So, I think that’s a really key part is being strategic and intentional with the notifications that your subcontractors are getting because it will get them to buy in sooner.

Zach Wojtowicz:

Yeah. It takes a little work to get that set up. And I think that’s where people are, they get a little bit annoyed where they have to go through every new sub and set it up. But yes, you do because the system is going to pump out as much as it possibly can. That’s the point, drawing people’s attention to it. But you can always curate that list. And if you do, you’re going to have a much better experience. So, put it in early rather than wait. And I know exactly what popups you’re talking about when you’re adding subs to the jobs. Pop-ups, for whatever reason, speaking of psychology. Remember we were talking earlier about just the psychology of being lied to, psychology with pop-ups, you’re like, nope, skip, skip, skip, skip, not reading. And all of a sudden, you just boom, gave them access to jobs they don’t need or documents they’re not supposed to have, or things like that. So, pay attention to your pop-ups people are really …

Nick Schiffer:

I think the other side of it is when you are setting up someone new, it doesn’t hurt to hop on the phone and make sure that they’re just, “Hey, can you see what you need to see?” It takes again, you don’t need to eliminate the human to human interaction with this. Get on the phone, make sure that they’re seeing what they need to see, and then you can set it on autopilot from there.

Zach Wojtowicz:

Yeah, for sure. Well, this was a really great conversation, Nick. Any last thoughts on sub usage or syncing with subs?

Nick Schiffer:

I’m going to say the same thing I ended episode three with is that it’s not as hard as I thought it would be.

Zach Wojtowicz:

I love it. All right, well, join us for episode five, the final episode. We’re talking about client involvement, which we’ve kind of alluded to throughout our process here. It’s very important. So, I’m excited to get into that, Nick. Thank you, again. We’ll see you the next episode.

Nick Schiffer:

Sounds good.

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/podcast 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 building strong client relationships.


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