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Where is the line between friendship/trust and professionalism with contractual obligations?

I’ve been in this industry long enough to say that it’s never about what you know, how experienced you are and or how well you do your job. It’s always about who knows you and how much they like you. Sad but true.

We all have done this at least once right? It seems easier to work with someone we know and like to start with. Plus we probably have the trust that they wouldn’t take us for a ride. In the construction industry this trust is probably more important because we are putting ourselves in the most vulnerable position we can - handing over keys to our house, our clients house, our castle to someone else. And if there is one piece of advice I could share from my experiences and mistakes it would be that any time there is money involved in the relationship - be contractual. Have agreements in place. Follow processes and communication channels that keep your interests secured. Because more often than not when money gets involved even the most trusted people may disappoint you.

I was managing a project for someone recently in a post covid reality. What that means is the contractors market happens to be very much against private owners wanting to refurbish their properties. Prices are high, demand for contractors is high and the quality of delivery low. Not only in terms of materials or workmanship but the general process is painful. What is also worth realising is that more often than not the average builder has very little to do with the business side of things. Usually the owners of construction companies are people who either grew from a trade or management position and ended up in business rather than having carefully planned, strategized and built a business. They often look short term. Here and now is what counts.

I was managing a project for someone where the first round of tender took us almost 3 months. To get quotes from companies was next to impossible. Everyone was so busy that a £1.5M project was not interesting enough. But we ended up in the final stages choosing between 2 companies. We ended up choosing company X instead of Y. Fast forward 4 months later and the prices were going up in such speed that company X ended up in a position to file for insolvency (I have later found out that company Y had also gone bust but that’s irrelevant in this story). So What this meant for my client was lost time and delays to the project while we found a new contractor. But because we had followed robust processes, financially they were in a fair position. No one was overpaid, no defective work was approved.

We ended up tendering the project again. This time the market had slowed down and the interest was much bigger than before but the price range was still huge. I wasn’t born yesterday, I know taking on a project after someone comes with the risk of issues. But not to that extent we were experiencing. So Even with a fair and thorough tendering process I wasn’t sure what to recommend to the client? I knew the Director of one of the companies that was tendering for the project. We had worked together before and I trusted him. I voted for his company and they got the job.

Here is the disclaimer bit. I want you to understand that I did not hand them the job JUST because I liked that person. I did all of my due diligence, I ran the tender fairly and only when it got to the point that all the credentials were similar and the price difference at 0.1% the deciding factor ended up being my trust in that one person. First and last time.

As you can probably imagine, it didn’t work well. Because I’m me, I had all the documentation in place anyway just for security. But how many people can really say that? How many times do we wave our hand ‘later’. It’s all good and well when I’m there to monitor and manage everything. But at the end of the day – I'm just a human. If I get hit by a bus, my job is to protect my client’s interests, not my friends. So even though I had trust in this one person, I still required all of the communication channels to be kept and paperwork in place. Guess what?

It has later turned out that the shares my friend had in the company were very little. His opinion or whatever he has agreed with me personally was completely invalid as the project was run by a team he had no influence on. Let’s not go into detail of the competences here but basically my lovely ‘friend’ (the sales man) vanished and I was left to deal with all the mess, lack of knowledge or experience on site.

The only thing that saved the project, AGAIN, is my work ethics and qualities. I do my work to the best standard regardless of who the contractor ends up being. Because a decent contractor will follow contract procedures anyway. The same procedures will protect you from a poor contractor if that happens.

So what is the moral of this story and why am I sharing it here? You can't predict everything. Even the most trusted person may leave you in a mess if they suddenly see a bigger pot of gold at the other end of the rainbow. So what you can do is make sure that you have the right contract in place from the start and if things don’t go to plan you can book and emergency session with me here 👇

Yes it ended up being a stressful job. Especially for me. Yes I cut all communication with the so-called friend. Would I do this again? Knowing what I know now, I probably wouldn’t vote when deciding on the contractor. But then I wouldn’t really be fair leaving a poor client with such a decision if I wasn’t able to make it.

All I'm trying to say here really is that there is no right or wrong answer. We all have our reasons and struggles but we all can make sure that we are reducing those risks that we are in control of.


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