Could kindness be costing Welsh businesses almost £6 billion a year? What’s seen as a quick favour here and there or simply relationship-building may be leaving Wales’ SMEs short-changed, something that could prove “make or break” during uncertain times. This is something construction project management company, Deacon Marriner, discovered when it turned to digital to better handle client work.

Whether it’s a quick email out-of-hours or ‘scope creep,’ going the extra mile for your customers may seem part-and-parcel of securing repeat business. But as economic uncertainty continues and cash flow is put at risk, looking after the pennies is the first step to keep the pounds rolling into your business.

The Colwyn Bay-based construction management firm spotted the potential cost of kindness early on and turned to digital to ensure they safely navigated any cracks in the foundations of project management.

Efficient service and going the extra mile

Deacon Marriner, founded by Katrina Deacon in 2016, pride themselves on delivering an efficient, focused service for their clients. However, this level of service often included doing unpaid, unquoted work for clients under the guise of ‘going the extra mile.’

“I couldn’t believe the amount of time we were spending on jobs we weren’t charging for”

Katrina said: “I couldn’t believe the amount of time we were spending on jobs we weren’t charging for. It’s just not sustainable, particularly for us as an SME. It’s easy to fall into the trap and I would urge all Welsh business owners to take a look at their operations and put a plan in place to stop it happening to them.”

Unpaid work adds up

For Deacon Marriner, this unpaid work could add up to 8 hours over a working week, the equivalent of working a whole month for free every year. Based on the national average GDP, not charging for one month’s work per year would cost Welsh businesses £5.9 billion.

With the ONS showing that construction was the strongest performing sector in Wales in 2018, with growth of 3.3 percent, businesses in the industry should consider what they can do to make sure they’re not losing out.

For Deacon Marriner, digital has been essential in tracking costs and working efficiently. A construction-specific Superfast Business Wales workshop was “ideal,” says Katrina, as it took the time to understand the concerns of a traditional industry not used to working online.

“Digital helps us work smarter and has freed up time”

“Digital helps us to manage a large number of jobs. This is key as it means we can now work smarter. It’s freed up our time, so we have the capacity to deal with increased demand from our customers. And this put us in a great position to take on more clients and grow the business further,” she said.

Key to this success is software, namely a time keeping programme, Harvest, and project management package, Asana. By linking the two systems together, Katrina is able to quickly see how much time is being spent on client work for billing purposes, as well as have a complete audit trail of all jobs completed for a client – minimising the risk of taking on more, unpaid work.

“The project management system we now use provides a complete audit trail of what tasks are added, when they are added and completed, and who they have been assigned to.

“We used to lose up to two hours a day – now, digital pays for itself”

“The fact that it is integrated with timekeeping software means that the time it takes to complete is more accurately measured, allowing us to quickly and accurately bill clients. Previously, we would lose between 30 minutes and two hours a day doing ‘free’ work but now we can track it, it means the software essentially pays for itself.”

While tracking software lets business spot trends and react, Deacon Marriner were already being proactive in their office management by adopting Office 365 to make collaboration and remote working easier. It also allows the firm to access documents from anywhere, making on-site client meetings more productive as files can be accessed within a few clicks.

“We’ve had more visitors and enquiries through the website”

It’s this close-working, collaborative service that the firm wants to build with new clients. Following a 1:1 with a digital business adviser, they saw how improving their SEO could make their website more visible to potential clients. Katrina said: “as part of the support from Superfast Business Wales we received a website report, which highlighted best practice areas we should focus on for SEO. We implemented the changes our adviser recommended to improve our visibility in search results, and it’s working. We’ve had more visitors and enquiries through the website.”

And with a growing customer base; keeping clients’ data safe is vital to ensuring that the company maintains its strong reputation as well as its customers’ trust. This is especially important following the introduction of the GDPR laws in 2018.

Katrina admitted, “I wasn’t aware of GDPR and wouldn’t have been ready for the deadline but the advice helped me get to grips with what I needed to do to make sure that, not only the company was compliant, but also that I could pass on key advice to clients.”

“Superfast Business Wales helped me appreciate the importance of keeping data safe and secure”

Katrina added: “I didn’t place value on data at first, but Superfast Business Wales helped me appreciate the importance of keeping data safe and secure. And this has had the added benefit of reassuring our customers that we are committed to protecting their information. The next step for us will be gaining our Cyber Essentials certification.

“Embracing digital has helped us move forward successfully”

“Embracing digital has had a huge impact on our business in a number of key areas and it’s helping us move forward successfully and grow the business.”

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