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Spotlight on Helen Houston

Helen Houston

Houston Constructions is a Coffs Harbour based building company specialising in Renovation, Additions and Alterations.   They have been in Coffs Harbour for 32 years, involved in Residential, Commercial and Civil constructions.

Staff numbers vary from 6 to 8 depending on workload with preferred subcontractors in their specialised areas. Their service area is Corindi Beach to Glenreagh to Urunga in the south.

Five questions with Colleen:

  1. How did you get started in the building industry?

    Actually it started when I was just 17 going out with David as an apprentice carpenter. We married when I was 20 and David went working as a subcontractor and I did the books, thrown in a shoe box style. We have always worked together, even in times when I have had another job as well.

    At that time we did not have the insurances and regulations and taxes governing us as they do now.
  2. What is a typical day?

    There is no stock standard day really. I have a daily to-do list with all the jobs to be done, even the too hard basket ones. I get a great satisfaction crossing off the jobs I have done at the end of the day. Doing this I know I am on top of the business. I do a letterbox drop of a decorative coloured flier to houses around the new project we are starting, I take photos of the job prior to start. Otherwise keeping tabs on purchases and job costed postings is a priority for me.
  3. What lessons have you learnt?

    Having a daily to do list is crucial. As the work in a small business is so varied, one must keep a daily list of all jobs needing to be done.

    I have learnt the business is a living entity; it has to be looked after constantly, if not it starts to break down. How to work in a partnership business run from a home office, how to create work time and home time boundaries.

    I have learnt we need to have time each week to discuss business, what is happening within the business as well as reviewing finished jobs financial results. We have meetings every Thursday. This has been a really good decision to do for us. To run so many projects and not keep control of progress and costs is a recipe for trouble we feel. Since doing this we are in touch with all aspects of our business, this includes upcoming advertising programs and our web page updates. We spend time together to create advertising worth the money spent and not a poor that will do effort because time did not allow to make changes to the sample given.

    I have learnt to be self-motivated to “go to work”, I feel this can be a problem when the office is at home and a do it later mentality can ensue.

    I have learnt we need to stand out from the norm, find our Uniqueness and show that at every opportunity.

  4. Any tips for new business partners or those starting out in business?

    Have a plan of what you intend to do, the scale of the business, if you intend doing it yourself or hiring / letting out the work.

    Approach the business as if it was already established and much larger.

    Talk to each other all the time, sometimes you have to take instruction from your partner as he is the builder and knows what’s happening at the coal face.

    Treat your clients like your best friend, sincere and truthful. Stay in contact with them throughout the project, don’t avoid difficult or uncomfortable conversations. People appreciate honesty.

    Ask for help, don’t be afraid to ask someone how to do something new. You can be self-taught in so many areas and getting guidance along the way from those that have been there and done that is precious. Even simple book keeping can be a challenge & stressful if you have not done it before, you won’t be the first or the last to get someone to help get you sorted.

    Don’t be perceived to be like everyone else in your particular industry. Don’t write your yellow pages to be like the others. Make your business stand out in some way which is particular to your business and that you can uphold long term. Be genuine.

    See the accountant more than just once a year. Find an accountant you can have quick email questions answered and have them meet with you mid-year and prior to end of year to discuss the progress of your business.

    Find a great bank, which you can work with, feel comfortable to discuss the situation your business is in and be part of the future.

  5. Future plans for the business

    Helen HoustonFor the mainstream of our business the area of construction we have chosen is still the area we are most happy to continue in, for the near future at least. From there we are looking at opportunity to purchase property and develop or renovate as fits the project. 

    Continued involvement in the HIA awards keeps us aware of our quality standards and pride in our workmanship.

    Further growth in customer perception through web page, advertising and customer word of mouth is always our plan.

    Employ more staff. Develop a client loyalty program. Develop a home maintenance section to our business.