Paul Banner is managing director of B-Trac Services, a small maintenance company in the West Midlands working for housing associations. He explains how his firm achieved Investor in People status

Two years ago, Mike Pearson, a training adviser from ConstructionSkills (see 'Tricky business' story and 'The training adviser' box), persuaded me sign up for Investors in People. We have 13 staff, but we started off eight years ago with just three and a van. B-Trac was set up as a not-for-profit company by the tenants of Black Country Housing Association. As a tenant myself I thought it was a brilliant idea – we had a stake in the company that maintained our homes. We could ensure quality and control costs to keep our rent down. But we didn’t know how to run a business.

Over the years we’ve learned a lot – often the hard way. We had cash flow problems, then the first manager left and I took over. As we tried to expand to work for other housing associations we found problems juggling service contracts, with routine jobs and emergency call-outs.

IiP gave me more confidence in doing my job. We had been given little support in running the business and so I had doubts about my ability. The course showed me that much of what I had been doing was correct, but it also gave me ideas – meeting other companies and hearing how they do things.

Mike has also given us advice on how to access funding through ConstructionSkills, so when we achieved IiP we got a £5000 grant and we also get a wage subsidy for our four apprentices, which is about 30% of the cost in the first year. And I keep my ears out for new initiatives. Last week we went to a conference about a government scheme that’s starting in the Black Country called ‘Train for gain’. This means that, for any employee over the age of 19 working towards an NVQ level 2, the firm would get money for the time lost at work. Mike was a real godsend and a fantastic help.

Now we have a business plan and each employee has his own training plan for a 12-month period. A profit-sharing scheme has also been introduced for staff, so that they can get 5-20% of their wages extra a month depending on our operating costs. The more efficient they are, the more goes in their wage packet. It’s small things like ordering materials in advance and picking them up on the way home instead of wasting a couple of hours’ production the next morning.

I have a weekly planner so staff know what is going on. We have toolbox talks on Monday to go over safety concerns we had the week before. I talk to senior operatives about their trainees and see if they’ve got any problems. We have also introduced appraisals, inductions and a company handbook. Everyone has health and safety training.

It hasn’t always been easy making changes. While IiP have suggested we do things a certain way, it’s a big change for the men. There are a lot of health and safety requirements that they find over the top for simple maintenance jobs – you have to insist that they wear their hard hats and boots.

For me personally, it’s made me more confident. Mike recently asked me to give a presentation to other companies doing the next IiP course. I spoke about the benefits it brought to the firm. Five years ago I wouldn’t have been able to do it. I would have been stuttering for words. I have also recently been on a one-day leadership and management course, which took some of the IiP principles a stage further.

The way I measure our success is if we’ve done better than the previous year financially. So, last year, we did £280,000 turnover and this year we are going to be close to £400,000. We have also been awarded the Quality Mark, which means we’re on a government website for private homeowners to find bone fide builders. It was quite a rigorous process to get it – of course we flew through it, because now we’re so good! This year when I take my two-week holiday in October I won’t have to worry about how the business will cope without me – it’s running much more smoothly.