Alistair Dorward - AJF Construction
Tell us about yourselves
Andy and I run AJF construction as a partnership and we are both family guys, each with a wife and 2 kids. My background is in Construction Cost management, having spent 10 years in London UK for large general contractors; Andy’s is in sales and marketing, although he is currently also studying for a degree in Business Administration.
Tell us about your business
AJF Construction is in its 3rd year now and we are showing signs of healthy growth. We are a residential exteriors contractor, offering renovations to homes by undertaking all aspects of repair, maintenance, new installations and replacements to everything on the outside of a home; windows, doors, capping, siding, fascia, soffit, eavestrough, roofing, brickwork. We even do some interior work when the weather gets too cold. We now have an employees and are looking for a 2nd; we have 2 company vehicles and 2 trailers.
Has your business been impacted by COVID-19?
As a small business we did not qualify for and government subsidies, so we took 8 weeks off and each went on CERB. This was not ideal but it gave us a chance to pause and plan for the rest of 2020 when we went back to work in late May. The 2 month shut down was a necessary frustration, but all it did was reduce our turnover when looking at the whole year. We are short of our original target but the rest of the year has been very promising so far and 2021 should be better. As we work outside at all times, we have not had many major adaptations to make, although when we speak with clients we always undertake the necessary good practice.
What led you to start this business?
My business partner and I both became unemployed around the same time in 2018, so decided to try a few things out to keep ourselves busy. Both being reasonably handy, we decided to go down the general construction route and here we are.
Was there something that drew (or pushed) you into being an entrepreneur?
Being in control of our own direction was the biggest pull for Andy and I. Neither of us wish to go back to working for someone else, or in an office as we both did before. We control our time, or schedule, our movements and everything else about our business. That’s not to say it is easy, but having our own control of it makes up for all the extra hours we put in.
What’s the best business advice you’ve ever received and why?
“Records, Records, Records…”
I learned this early on in my construction career in the UK and apply it now here in Canada. Photos, email trails, daily diaries, time sheets and expenses, to name a few. Everything is recorded daily so that we can look back over a month and see how much we’ve spent to enable forecasting for the next month; or we can easily recall when we were at a certain location or when we spoke to a client.
What advice would you give to someone starting a small business today?
I believe the most important thing is to understand the money as that’s the most important element to any start up. Tax, HST, WSIB costs, expenses, receipts, invoices, quotes and contracts. If no one is managing the money, then there is no business and it is more likely to fail. Before starting a business it is imperative that there is a forecast in place or at least a business plan with a map of expected costs and expenses, and targets for cost and value.