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  • Starting a business
    • Business planning

Engineers are skilled problem solvers: “Prioritise, plan, go for it”

  • Article

Richard Wheeler is the Director of NOFI Engineering Solutions, which takes on commercial, industrial and residential projects. It’s based in Doncaster, and hiring from the local area is key to its growth and sustainability strategy.

“Be open to ideas for growth”

Pay it forward tips

  • Brainstorm to keep your business innovative
  • Listen to people who work for you on the ground
  • Have a business plan that you constantly review
Richard Wheeler, Director of NOFI Engineering Solutions

Richard Wheeler has built ship loaders and bridges – and office and workshop facilities with vast square-footage. If any small business owner knows about operating on a large scale, it’s him. “Richard, who worked for large house builders in the UK, has also had experience overseas in heavy industry, working across civil, structural, mechanical and electrical engineering. “Where I saw a market gap in the UK, was the shortage of not just project managers, but also companies that will take on all aspects of a project.”

Richard wanted to offer a one-stop shop. “So, if somebody comes up to me and says, I have some design ideas but I don't know how to progress it, I can say, OK, I can instigate the design for you, look at the build, then bring all the trades, whether it’s a groundworker, joiner, electrician, tiler or decorator. I will do the scheduling for you, your budget analysis, all your evaluations, and I'll see it through to the final conclusion - I deliver the package”.

Big ideas need big ambition

According to Richard, the most successful engineers – and project managers – are skilled at problem-solving. He offers an example. “Usually, if you tarmac a motorway, you have to leave it 24 hours for it to harden. In an overseas project, we utilised a polymer-based concrete. Polymer hardens quicker, so we could have traffic – including HGVs – running back over it in 60 minutes. It improved efficiency at the install time and extends product life in environments where minimal downtime is critical to production.” Everything, says Richard, is about brainstorming and improving.

Innovation and ambition count for nothing without a motivated team. “I always say, I’m no better than anybody, but nobody's better than me,” says Richard. “Make sure you listen to people who work for you on the ground – they will have far more knowledge than you will ever have.” He believes it pays to treat people well, especially if they’re your employees. “I would know everybody on a first-name basis and I always listen. You might be the smartest person in the world, but it’s useless if you can't get people to work for you.”

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Keeping an eye on resources

Cashflow can be tricky when supply chains are fragile. “One client asked me to accept payment later than usual, which means you can be out of pocket for two, three months before you see any money coming back in,” says Richard. But, he says, over-committing when work is plentiful is to be avoided. “When another client gave me enough projects to generate 70 per cent of my projected annual turnover in less than a quarter of the time, it stretched my resources too far. It made me realise don't take everything that's thrown at you. Your reputation and the growth of the company is worth more.”

For Richard, sustainability is about aiming to use local resources and local labour. He aims to give back to the local community, too. “We aim to ensure no materials have travelled more than 25 miles to the site, and that labour is sourced as locally as possible,” he says. “And, at the end of the build, wouldn't it be great for them, for the community, to see that they can create something locally and show this to schoolchildren as something they can strive to be part of?'’

Make the leap now

Richard’s advice is to prioritise, plan and go for it. “Make sure you know where your key market is and have a business plan that you constantly review. The HSBC Kinetic Current Account* offered me what I needed as a company, to get established quickly.” And as Richard grew his business, he moved his finances to the Small Business Banking Account.**

"You have to make a leap of faith,” continues Richard. “There’s never going to be a good moment. I was in a well-paid job, but I needed to do it for myself: I didn’t want to look back with regret and say, ‘I wish I’d tried that 10 years ago’.”

*The app-based HSBC Kinetic Current Account is subject to application, eligibility and credit check. Terms and conditions and fees apply.

**The Small Business Banking Account is subject to application, eligibility and credit check. Terms and conditions and fees apply.


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