Turn your project into your profession


This week I answer a question I’m regularly asked.  ‘How do I turn my project into a profession?”.  

During the course of the lock down period a few friends  have contacted me as they know I’ve run my own international design and fit out practice and wanted to talk about a career change into house refurbishments, interior design and project management.  Basically they wanted to turn their own renovation, their own project, into a new profession.

So here is a guide on making that change.

1. Decide which bit of the project you enjoyed the most.

If you loved sourcing, buying and negotiating – then perhaps Quantity Surveying and procurement is the route for you.  This is a role which is in almost every level of the design, fit out and construction sectors from a small business where you might be in charge of buying all the materials for the whole business, through to huge developers and main contractors where you might be able to specialising in buying an element you are most interested in such as roofing or internal finishes.

If you enjoyed the process of planning the layout, the spacial orientation, then consider Architecture or Interior Design.  Be aware that there are architects who become interior designers and there are architect practices with interior designers, but the only people who can call themselves interior architects are people with architect qualifications! See RIBA for more information.

If the finishes were the most exciting then Interior Design is likely to be the perfect route for you, however if there was a particular room which you really loved to design you could consider specialising in this, such as kitchen or bathroom design.  Amazing kitchen and bathroom designers develop a series of exceptional technical design skills as well as the aesthetic and a good designer is worth their weight in gold as these spaces are used so regularly that mistakes are unforgivable (to me anyway!)

If you really enjoyed upgrading your electrics or plumbing and liked the problem solving element, then there are the trades of electrician or plumber or MEP design which is the full systems design (including ventilation and public health too).

And don’t forget about the specialisms – there is acoustic, insulation, swimming pool design, AV/ Audio and the list goes on.  If you found yourself fascinated by the area – then perhaps this is the world for you.

There are the ‘trades’, dry-liner / plasterer / decorator / joiner and various fitters of flooring and units.  

If you were drawn to the garden over and over – Landscape Architecture might be for you, or something more niche such as green roofing specialist or even children’s play area designer!

And finally, if you love pulling all of the detail together, on time and co-ordinating the various trades then perhaps Project Management is for you.

2. Would you like to do this new profession as an employee or self employed?

If you would like to be employed I would suggest you get training from a college or professional association which has links to placements / apprenticeships or at least links into industry as this is where you are  likely to get your first job from.

If you would prefer to be self employed look for a course which covers business management as a module.  You will need to learn how to market yourself, to quote, negotiate, deal with disputes, employ people, write and manage contracts and deal with HMRC!

I recommend KLC for people interested in going into interior Design or landscape design as they have wonderful connections into the industry with world leading companies.  You can find their website here

3.  What do you want to be known for?

There are two schools of thought here. 

1. Have a very strong and clear look / style and sell that – people know what they are getting and they either resonate with it or not.  Your portfolio will show a common theme which will give customers reassurance of the look you are going to provide.

2. Be a consultant and listen to their needs first and offer them a solution which is unique to them.  This is harder to showcase as their project will be individual and might look like nothing you have every done before, but you might have a wider customer base.  If you develop your business through word of mouth, this is a really good model as you can work with a range of people and a range of tastes.

There is no right or wrong, but don’t switch between the two – it’s confusing for everyone!

4. Are you aware you won’t be the client?

On your own project you can take as much time and be as big a pain as you like – it’s your project after all, but would your methods work as the professional.  And are you expecting everyone to act like you when they are going through their project, as confident to make decisions or as accepting of the disruption?  You have to prepare yourself for some challenging customers as any work is a huge life undertaking.

5. Build a team of trusted contacts.  

We all need experts to make us better, through chatting and sharing experiences, to referring work and collaborating.  Choose your experts well, work with them and find out if they share the same value system and professionalism as you.  

6. Don’t take on something you aren’t qualified to do.

Even with Professional Indemnity insurance you still can’t undertake work yourself for which you are not qualified.  The risk of ‘trying’ something is too high to be worth it.  If your client would like you to undertake something which isn’t in your field, then use those contacts to collaborate with.  It might turn into a nice and regular partnership.

7. Get to know your industry as it is huge.

My career has taken me from interior design through to becoming a technical design expert, I’ve worked in residential fit out and new build through to heritage restoration.  The process of Design it – Buy it  – Build it / Refurb it applies to every structure you see – so you just have to find the ones you love.

Recomended extras

  • I have personally recommended KLC as a  brilliant college for those interested in design.
  • Side Hustle is an amazing podcast about taking your side project and making it your main source of income.
  • RIBA has a website which is useful for everyone in the industry
  • and for electrical expertise I always go to the NICEIC.

For more information on this podcast and other episodes please visit www.EDDPodcast.com and follow us on Instagram @EDDPodcast and Twitter @eddpodcast

If you have enjoyed this episode please rate, review and subscribe as it helps other home owners design their happiness.

The Test it stage – How to snag your project

This week we talk to construction professional Siobhon Niles about the final stage of a project; The ‘Test It’ stage where you, your architect or your project manager will snag the work done by your contractor and sub contractors.

Siobhon has worked on building sites for over a decade but doesn’t hide the honest truth that if you don’t give the test it and snagging stage sufficient time, you are at a loss.

She talked about daylight being the most critical light there is. So you have to plan this in, if you need to wait until Saturday until you have the time to snag during the day, then make sure you plan this in.

Siobhon talks about acclimatisation, lots and lots of materials (we talked about vinyl flooring) needs time to settle in the environment it is going to be used.  If it is installed straight away there can be folds or creases in the installed product which you will identify during the snagging stage – so you can be creating a defect.

As mentioned by our expert Quantity Surveyor in the buy it stage podcast here, the programme is everything, so snagging is built in as the programme goes along and any acclimatisation is planned in too.  So snagging is not done ONLY right at the end, it’s part of the build process.  

‘The key is continuous snagging throughout the build, to each stage in the programme.’

Siobhon talks about how to use samples – having a physical example of what you are buying so you can test this against the finished installed product.  This helps take the emotion out of a snagging discussion as you can hold the sample up to the element which has been installed and it either matches or it doesn’t!

Siobhon also talks about the importance of having in place a performance specification (which would be covered in the design it stage where the specification is created) as you might think at the test it stage that an electrical or mechanical item isn’t right- you can go back to the spec to confirm what’s right and wrong. 

Communication with the builder / contractor is best in a list – with a photo.  Siobhon likes spreadsheets as it keeps all the comments in one place, a photo can be associated with the comment and (most importantly) the builder won’t get overwhelmed by 50 different messages over the course of multiple days.  Its far better to collate all comments and send them over for each area or product being snagged and then allow the time for those comments to be digested and responded to.  That time to capture items, send them and the time to respond should all be planned in the programme.

Siobhon recommends taking a steer from your contractor on any specific software or apps for snagging.  As there is a learning curve of how to use the software and your contractors time is best used on doing what they do best, your extension or refurb.  If you love a piece of particular software please ensure you include this requirement in your specification and design pack when you tender.  You can then find a contractor who will accept this from the start.

Finally Siobhon recognises how emotional this stage is, when you are tired and just want to move back in or simply get the builder out.  She recommends to take your time, not to rush and to remember that your contractor wants to do a good job and for you to be an ambassador for them.

For more information on this podcast and other episodes please visit www.EDDPodcast.com and follow us on Instagram @EDDPodcast and Twitter @eddpodcast

If you have enjoyed this episode please rate, review and subscribe as it helps other home owners design their happiness.

What’s a Quantity Surveyor & how to Value Engineer your project.

This week we talked to the seasoned Quantity Surveyor Millie Lucas about the role of a QS in a renovation or extension project and what lessons we can learn from her years in the construction industry.

We start by learning that we are all capable of making minor omissions in the project but they can have expensive consequences!  The devil is in the detail and never take something just on word alone.

Millie describes how the Quantity Surveyor is the ‘purse strings’ of a project and they are obligated to work to get the best value for their client during the ‘Buy It’ Stage. (see here for a link to a short podcast on the 5 stages of a home renovation or extension project).

We go through the reasonable level of information to receive from your contractors Quantity Surveyor and Millie reminds us if there is no programme then it is likely that the costs have not been calculated accurately. 

We discuss the use of Gumtree, Freecycle and NextDoor to sell ‘left over’ materials, but we also talk about how to avoid this in the first place!

Millie spills her secrets on getting the best price through shopping around, going straight to the manufacturer and if possible getting your contractor to purchase it, as they might well have much stronger buying power than you.  And watch out for those fancy showrooms as that fancy thick brochure and free drinks are being added onto the cost of your product!

We cover What Value Engineering is, which is an elegant way of saying cost saving.  Millie tells us there are 3 fundamental ways to Value Engineer: assess if there is a better cost method of installing the item, a different and lower priced product or a reduction in the finish to a cheaper specification.

BUT Millie reminds us that we need to have conversations with the people we are doing the project, your partner or other home users.  The value engineer options are easy to come up with but, unless you know what each uses ‘need to and nice to’s’ are for the home design, you might cut something which you later lead to regret. We are trying to design happiness, not anger and animosity!

And remember, if you find that the project value is simply more than you can afford, even after value engineering, it isn’t that your dream won’t happen, it is just postponed until you can save the funds.

To find an independent QS please visit the professional bodies RICS and CIOB, if in doubt call up and have a chat about your project.

If you have enjoyed this episode please rate, review and subscribe as it helps other home owners design their happiness.