Builders Blog

Create faster and more accurate quotes and estimates

23 June 2016 14:48

Our builders often find that they’re spending too much of their time trying to create accurate quotes for their customers. One of the primary reasons for this is that they’re trying to create estimates using their knowledge of previous jobs and putting this together on a notepad or an excel spreadsheet.

We asked Joanna Mulgrew, product director at HXBL Building Software, to look at ways our members can use IT and technology to streamline this process and produce more accurate quotes. 

Joanna said “The reason some builders take so long over their quotes is they still produce them based on their past experience and basic pen and paper methods. Even those who have taken the right steps towards technology have struggled to make it work for them.

On top of this research has shown that 88 percent of spreadsheets are known to contain errors, so this highlights the need for builders to up their game to make sure the prices they quote are a true reflection of how much a project will actually cost.  If not, many will not only spend too long putting together their quotes but also find their profit margins are continually squeezed, resulting in some making a loss on jobs they were hoping would give them a clear margin.

Those who insist on 'guesstimating' or using a pen and paper method to produce quotes will get left behind as their competitors adapt to new technologies. The recession became a real leveller for the build sector. With money so tight, those who were able to demonstrate to clients where the money was being spent were the ones to pull through and are now reaping the rewards. There is no need to be a busy fool and the sooner builders realise this, the better for their own business and their customers.”

Customer Dan Bull of Bull and Son Ltd Building Contractors agrees.

”We used to do our estimating the old fashion way using just pen and paper but soon found that HBXL’s EstimatorXpress was not only much faster but much more detailed in the final quote. We did consider using a quantity surveyor for a time but they can be costly and we are not always certain exactly where they pull their prices from! With EstimatorXpress we have more control to tailor our material costs as well as adjust our overhead to meet our business needs. The software takes a lot of the guess work out of estimating and ensures that we have a better chance to win work and turn over a profit. We don’t regret changing over to the HBXL software and would recommend others do the same.”

Research carried out by HBXL backs up the claim that by using EstimatorXpress not only speeds up significantly the time it takes to produce estimates but improves the win ratio and accuracy of the quotes.

With EstimatorXpress builders cut the time spent estimating by 39 percent, equating to a staggering 32 days a year!

Nearly 75 percent of EstimatorXpress users also reported an increase in profits once they had started using the software, the main reasons given being the accuracy of the estimate, plus the level of detail and professionalism of the reports.

And when asked if they would recommend using EstimatorXpress, a resounding 94% said that they would.

ROI Calculator proves value of software

For those still unsure on whether investing in HBXL’s EstimatorXpress will provide a decent return on investment (ROI), boss Adrain Wild has devised a handy online ROI calculator.

Taking seconds to fill in, it highlights the value of the time builders spend putting together their estimates. It quickly becomes apparent that by using software to assist with the estimates will soon save builders thousands of pounds.

For further information please visit or to work out the ROI please visit

CDM One Year On

03 May 2016 12:55

One year on since its introduction, FMB members are being reminded about maintaining a firm grip on their health and safety obligations and in particular rules related to Construction Design Management (CDM) 2015.

Joanna Mulgrew, product director at HBXL is all too aware of non-compliance with the rules while many businesses are still unsure on whether or not they apply to them.

Here Joanna looks at who CDM 2015 applies to and possible implications for non-compliance.

“CDM 2015 came into force on 6 April 2015 bringing a raft of new measures designed to improve health and safety on site. But one of the main misconceptions was who the new regulations would apply to.

The fact is CDM 2015 applies to all and includes small to medium sized build firms.

It’s easy to think that for smaller build businesses the CDM rules don’t apply, but the reality is all build firms come under its jurisdiction.

Now that CDM 2015 has been in operation for 12 months means builders cannot plead innocence and that they didn’t know what the new regulations meant.

All FMB members have to make sure they are now fully up to speed or risk facing the scrutiny of the HSE, with possible fines, site shut down or even prosecution.

Non-compliance really is non-negotiable as first and foremost it places undue risk on staff and members of the public.”

A common misperception we regularly come across is whether maintenance work or smaller jobs need a Construction Phase Health & Safety Plan (CPH & SP). The reality is under CDM 2015 every construction project should have one but proportionate to the risks involved.

It means whether it’s the installation of a bathroom, replacing a boiler, plastering a room, building a porch or an extension, an appropriate CPH & SP will be needed.

The vast majority of builders would have done this and put in place new work methods and systems to make sure they were compliant. However everyone has had long enough to put in place suitable arrangements in order to comply and the HSE will not take ignorance as an excuse.

The latest data shows that in Jun / Jul 2015 Fee For Intervention invoices totalled £609,312 in the construction sector alone, so the need for compliance couldn’t be more plain.

For many, the introduction of CDM 2015 might seem like an irritating distraction but builders have a legal obligation to demonstrate that they take their responsibilities seriously.

Those worried about what looks like a minefield of rules and regulations can rest easy by making the most of tools which keeps them right up to date with all things related to health and safety.

This includes the latest version of our Health & Safety Xpert 2016 software which not only saves them time but money and the anxiety of whether they are compliant with the latest regulations and in particular the new CDM 2015.

Many smaller building firms thought the new regulations wouldn’t affect them but it’s imperative they take CDM seriously.

Builders definitely don’t want to put themselves at risk of hefty fines or in the worse-case scenario of a stint behind bars!”

For further information on HBXL’s Health & Safety Xpert 2016 please call 0117 916 7898 or visit

Top 5 tips for marketing your business

11 April 2016 11:08

For many small business owners, marketing can seem like just another thing to do on top of the day job. But while the idea of marketing and getting acquainted with social media can fill many companies with dread, it is vitally important to ensuring future business. Here are our top 5 tips for getting to grips with the basics of marketing:

1. Know your market. There’s no point in producing great flyers or adverts and putting them in the wrong place. Work out where you customers are likely to be and target them with flyers through their letter boxes or in local magazine and shop windows.

2. Make your website your shop window. If you’ve not already got a website what are you waiting for? It’s estimated that 90% of the UK population use the internet and it is often their first port of call when looking for a local tradesperson. Your website doesn’t need to be huge; a few pages showing off some of your recent work and explaining what you do is better than having no online presence at all.

3. Don’t be invisible. When you’re on the job make the most of free advertising opportunities by putting a board up outside the house or a banner on any scaffolding. Your van is one of your biggest advertising assets so make sure you get it professionally Written with your company name and contact numbers plus your website (and don’t forget the FMB logo if you’re a member!)

4. Create relationships. Word of mouth is one of the greatest marketing tools in the construction industry. If you do a good job for one person the chances are they will recommend you to friends, neighbours and family who are looking to get work done. Ask happy customers for testimonials and included them on leaflets and websites to spread the message far and wide.

5. Make the most of freebies! Social media accounts have the potential to reach hundreds of customers and they’re totally free to set up. Investing a small amount of time in creating a Facebook page and uploading images regularly will pay dividends in the future.

Why our inspections benefit our members

08 April 2016 11:21

Since 2011 all new members joining the FMB have undergone an independent inspection of their work as part of the application process. What’s more, from the start of this year, the FMB took the decision to roll-out inspections to all members, however long they have been with us. Why? Because we want the FMB name to be synonymous with quality. The more membership is valued in the eyes of the consumer, the more work FMB members will get.

Inspections are carried out by the British Board of Agrément (BBA), the UK’s leading organisation when it comes to testing, inspecting and certification services for manufacturers and installers. Using independent inspectors puts credibility at the heart of our membership criteria. Our own research shows that fears over cowboy builders are preventing thousands of consumers from having work done in the first place – to the tune of £6 billion a year. That’s £6 billion of work that is lost because home owners feel unable to trust tradespeople to do a good job.

We want to be able to shout about how great our members are and the best way to do that is via independent inspections. By inspecting all firms, we can loudly proclaim that the FMB badge actually means something. We are the only building trade organisation to inspect all of its members and we’re constantly championing this so that would-be home improvers and custom builders know where to go for quality, trustworthy workmanship.

And that’s a message we’re getting out there all the time. In the last year the FMB has increased its consumer marketing activity and with 2016 being our 75th anniversary, there’s plenty more on the cards. Being able to say that FMB members are independently inspected gives us a unique selling point that other organisations just don’t have. We’ve lasted that long because consumers trust us to operate to the highest standard and that’s a strength we’re looking to build on.

Putting the customer first

08 April 2016 10:09

Good customer service is key to success for many small businesses especially those whose main source of business is recommendations. We've all experienced good customer service but the chances are it's the bad experiences you'll remember. Recent research shows that UK consumers are three times more likely to tell friends and family about a bad experience than a good one, so making your mark for the right reasons is vital to winning more work through word of mouth.

Here are our top 3 tips to delivering memorable customer service for all the right reasons.

1. First impressions count. Before you've even met your potential customer, they will have made a few assumptions about you based on the way you, or your voicemail, answer the phone. It's not always practical to pick up especially if you're up a ladder or demolishing a kitchen so more often than not your voicemail message will form the first impression. It sounds simple but make sure your voicemail is professional and states your name and your company name so they can be sure they have the right person. Let them know when you expect to return their call (eg. We'll get back to you within 24 hours) and don't forget to change your message if you go away on holiday. If you are able to pick up, again start with your company name so they know they have the correct person and keep your tone friendly but professional. For most people having building work done is not an everyday occurrence so putting them at ease will help.

2. Don't be judged by your cover. You've heard the phrase never judge a book by its cover but it's so easy to do. When you go out to quote for a job make sure you're well-presented and displaying your company logo proudly on your polo or jacket. Customers expect to see a bit of dirt on your boots but don't turn up caked in plaster and always offer to take your shoes off or wear cover shoes to protect carpets. If you're a member of a trade association such as the FMB make sure to display their logo too to show you've met the standards to be called a Master Builder.

3. Communication is key. Relationships often break down due to poor communication. Make sure you give your client regular updates of what you expect to achieve and if you do get called away to an urgent job elsewhere let them know when you expect to be back on site - there's nothing more worrying to a customer than a builder digging foundations then disappearing without trace for 3 days! Unexpected problems and delays can have the potential to derail a good working relationship so make sure you let your customer know of any issues or problems you encounter straight away. Explain to them what impact it will have on both timescale and budget and offer them a solution to the problem. If any changes are made once work commences put it in writing along with additional costs then of a dispute does arise further down the line you both know where you stand



The perfect cup of tea

15 December 2015 11:45

1)    Prep your materials and ingredients

As with any task, it’s essential to prep your materials and check you have the necessary ingredients before you even think about getting to work. We’ve all been there – you brew a delicious hot steaming cup of tea, nonchalantly approach the fridge in order to retrieve the milk and – oh dear lord, there is no milk (gasp). Or, worse still, you’ve just accidentally poured putrid cottage cheese into your mug – the damn milk is out of date!

In terms of materials, clearly you need a teaspoon. Dessert spoons don’t allow you to press the teabag against the side of the mug properly and using a fork can easily lead to a tear in the delicate lining of the bag. No, only a teaspoon will do – that’s why it’s called a teaspoon.

When it comes to choosing your mug, there are important factors to consider here too. Is it clean? Don’t ruin this fresh cup by allowing the aftermath of the previous cup contaminate it. You’re better than that. Find yourself a clean cup like the civilised human being that you are. Ideally, this cup will actually be a medium sized mug – not large as the tea will be too weak. The mug must have white insides as this helps the tea look as appetising as possible. Tea in a black mug (for example) appears before you as a mug of dirty dishwater. In a blind taste test, it may “technically” taste the same but most of us use all of all five of our senses when consuming something. It has to look the part and a white inside will show off the tea’s warm caramel shades like no other.

Last but not least – the teabag itself. I won’t waste either of our time by debating the type of leaf – obviously this guide talks you through how to make the perfect cup of English breakfast tea. But which brand? I’m glad you asked. Now clearly we can’t “pick a winner” but to say the superior brand is that of god’s own country hopefully steers you in the right direction. If you insist on using cheap and nasty tea bags then you don’t care about tea and I suggest you stop reading immediately. In fact, I insist you stop reading immediately.

Now you’ve prepared your materials and ingredients, you just need to fill the kettle with fresh cold water, flick on the switch and wait.

2)    Boil and pour

It might sound obvious to those in the know, but once the kettle has boiled you must decant it into your mug immediately. Not in ten seconds or even five – you must pour it as the boiling bubbles are still bursting within the kettle itself, ensuring that the scalding liquid hits the teabag at no less than 100 degrees centigrade. This is crucial in order to ensure a strong cup of tea – one that is full of flavour and gives you that pleasant caffeine kick we’re all searching for.

3)    No multi-tasking – just get with it

Yes we all live busy lives – I’m busy, you’re busy. Him over there’s busy. However, making a cup of tea warrants your full attention. Do not use this opportunity to tackle an odd job, no matter how quick and easy it seem. Some people like to brew tea while they get on with other tasks so let me be clear – this approach will definitely result in an inferior end result. We’re builders and we like our tea hot and strong (and without those weird dark floaty bits that come from over brewing).

Once you’ve poured the boiling water into the mug, that’s you committed – physically, emotionally and spiritually – until you’re drinking the damn thing. This might seem strict and a little over the top but for a task as important as this, it’s crucial that you concentrate fully.

4)    Squeeze – stir – repeat

So yes, we’ve established that we’re all busy people but that doesn’t mean we don’t have high standards for our tea. That’s why I’ve written this damn guide and I imagine that’s also why you’re still reading it 700 words later. But don’t worry, making the tea itself needn’t take up much of your time. As soon as the teabag is bobbing around in the mug of boiling water, take your spoon and get to work. Use the back of the teaspoon to press the teabag – which is now engorged in water – against the inside of the mug. Then stir until the teabag is once again engorged with hot water. Repeat this process at least five times and in quick succession. You’ll notice the silky brown liquid getting a little darker every time. You’ll also probably notice a warm glow deep inside of you as this happens – don’t be alarmed, this is normal and it just means that you really like drinking high quality tea.

5)    Milking your tea

The perfect cup of tea is both strong and with a reasonable amount of milk. Those who are new to making tea sometimes confuse the two – this is a serious error and if you notice someone making it, you have a responsibility to them to point tell them (in a similar way to if they had food in their teeth – you are doing them a favour). The perfect cup of tea uses semi-skimmed milk, not full fat (too creamy – we’re not making coffee you idiot) and definitely not skimmed milk (we don’t hate ourselves). Add a healthy dash as soon as you’ve removed the teabag. The colour you are aiming for here is terracotta – think plant pot or 70-something British expats living in Spain.

Now this might be controversial but I strongly urge you to resist adding sugar. You have just made the perfect mug of tea so please don’t ruin it – not now. Not when you’re so close. You are sweet enough and if you’re not, grow up. Not everything has to be loaded with sugar you massive child. Tea is a delicious drink and to dump a spoonful of granulated sweetness into it detracts completely from the delicate flavours.

So there you have it – how to make the perfect mug of tea. If you take a different approach to making tea, and think that the above guide is incorrect, I pity your ignorance and hope that your life isn’t too terrible drinking low-grade tea. Merry International Tea Day!

Our next guide will explore the social etiquette around tea-making – and you thought this guide was too long and detailed!

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