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Beetroot.today had the pleasure of speaking to Svenja Marais, a female Project Manager and Consultant in the building industry. Svenja was born in Cape Town but stayed in several countries including Swaziland, Jordan, Namibia and the UK before coming back to settle in the Mother City in 2000. Svenja owns and runs a company called Nailed it Projects, here is what she had to say about recovering from a divorce and starting her own company.
SM- Nailed it Projects specialises in Project Management and Consulting in the building industry.
Our primary goal is to remove the hassle factor that often comes with building work. I guide clients through the design and plan process, either bringing in designers and architects if need be or personally being involved in the design process. I assist my clients with choices of finishes and ensure we create an end result that will tie all the elements together.
I source the contractors and put together work schedules and payment schedules for the project, managing the financial reconciliation throughout. The schedules and contractors are managed on a daily basis, ensuring we don’t go over time and that we stay within budget as much as the clients’ choices allow. Towards the end I draw up a comprehensive snag list and ensure the contractors complete the work and as a final handover I gather the relevant occupation certificates.
We pride ourselves in being a trustworthy, reliable and capable team. The aim is to offer a turn-key solution to homeowners or businesses who are looking at building new or renovating an existing spaces.
SM- I studied Public Relations when I came back from the UK and whilst in the UK I studied a long distance Psychology course. Never in my wildest dreams did I believe I would end up doing what I am doing now, but in retrospect the knowledge of those study modalities has aligned perfectly with what I offer now.
My entry into the building industry was by default. I had worked for an events organisation in Cape Town and that is where I met my now ex-husband. Shortly after meeting we decided to branch off and start our own business. An events company was a natural direction for us, which we did, but at the same time his father was in the building industry and we realised that there was a niche for reliable, trustworthy, efficient contractors.
Initially we started 2 companies, an events company and a building company. And we ran both for about a year and a half. At that point our building company far exceeded the events company and naturally we let go of the one. From there our building company grew and grew till in the end we employed 40 staff members and had 6 vehicles on the road.
SM- I was 32 years old when Nailed it Projects was born. I had an established building company with my husband, which we had built up over 9 years, yet when I was pregnant with my second child we went through a divorce and thus also closed our business.
That gave me a fresh start and an opportunity to do whatever I felt my calling was. I was clear about the fact that I loved the building industry, was passionate about it and I knew that I did it well.
The challenge for me at the time was that when I formed my CC and started the business I had to start my life over. I moved out of my home, my car was repossessed, I had no income, so employing staff and purchasing vehicles and equipment wasn’t really an option. I also had two small children (a 4 year old and a 4 month old) to consider and look after.
I was met with a fair amount of negativity around how I wanted to structure certain elements of my business but I wasn’t going to be deterred. One evening I had some of my closest friends come round for dinner and we had a business naming sessionJ. It was a hugely successful evening and from that time and my incredible network of support, Nailed it Projects was born.
When I entered the industry, it was very unusual to have a woman doing what I did. I found that staff and sub-contractors didn’t take me seriously, believing that I was just a woman in a male dominated industry.
The only way I knew how to change that view and educate myself was to work alongside them. I knocked down walls, carried bags of cement, stood in line with all the other workers to throw bricks up a few building stories. I plastered, tiled, painted with a fine brush alongside them. I tried my hand at almost everything they did until they knew that I was serious and knew what it took to get the job done.
SM- The two projects I have just completed have been the most exciting and the most challenging projects I have ever done in my career – the Tryn Restaurant conversion and the extensive renovations at Steenberg Hotel. In their own right they were the largest projects I had ever undertaken and then I had to manage them simultaneously as the hotel and restaurant closed for 4 months to allow for the renovations, so that was the only time frame we had.
The Tryn project was my biggest learning in terms of dealing with a huge variety of well-established successful firms in the building industry and I had to overcome my belief that I was a ‘little fish in a big sea’. My first site meeting with over 10 contractors (mostly business owners and project managers) as well as all four of my clients on the project was enough to make me suck up any doubts I had and just run with it. The project tested my admin skills with being up at 4:00am to draw up the site minutes and then being on site all day having to think on my feet at every given turn making sure that the decisions made were always in the best interest of the project and the client.
On the Hotel side we were faced with a multitude of challenges around budget, spaces and logistics around heritage and what we were or were not allowed to do. The property is large and the spaces that we renovated are far apart, so I found myself walking up and down the estate all day, taxing me physically along with the mental and emotional work that goes into a project. Working with such old buildings you also never know what you will find in relation to work previously done – so there were many decisions and changes that needed to be made on the spot as well as the spaces evolving and morphing as we opened them up.
The end result in both is absolutely incredible and I am beyond proud to have been an integral part of them.
SM- I am lucky that my mom lives close to me and she is an integral part of my children’s lives. She fetches them from school, does their homework and takes them to their extra-mural activities. I am also very blessed to have an incredible partner who is extremely supportive and fantastic with my kids, so he fills in the gaps when my mom or I are unavailable.
On days that are less pressurised or when there is a gap between projects, I get to be home for the afternoon with my children and spend quality time with them. That is probably what I love the most about working for myself.
My daughter is 13 and my son is 9. I am incredibly blessed to have children who are evolved and connected and supportive. They come to my job sites occasionally and they know my contractors well enough to the extent that they give them a hug when they see them on site.
My business and my home life are blended in a lot of ways and I feel that I am at the core of it, so it is important that they know and understand what I do, which I believe they do.
SM- The one thing that keeps me sane is Nia (non impact aerobics); it has offered me the most valuable tools for everyday life as well as a balance from the very masculine industry I operate in. I also love being in nature – it’s one of the most important tools to help me stay grounded and bring my soul back into balance- so my family and I spend as much time as we can in nature. Whether its hiking, mountain biking, camping or paddle skiing – just being in the sunshine or water and feeling the earth beneath my feet is vital and we all love it, which means we get to do it as a family.
SM- My intention for Nailed it Projects is to offer something that is unique and different to what is out there currently. I find that too often in the business world we operate like robots and tend to forget that we are all human beings with our own individual challenges.
I remind myself and others that we need to operate in this world with gentle integrity and come from a place of love and not fear.
My big dream is to offer Project Management Training programs both online and to organisations as well as write a book or two. The name of my first book will be Project Management with Soul.
SM- Being a woman in the building industry was most challenging due to people’s perceptions of what they think women know in the industry – but that limiting belief challenged me to better myself in best practice methods and manage from a place of knowing.
Being all alone with 2 young children and having to start most aspects of my life over from scratch again felt huge and overwhelming but it has gifted me with resilience and strength of character that has carried me through sometimes 5 months at a time of not having work.
Having to go out into the world with a crushed self-confidence and disbelief in my abilities has taught me humility and empathy to others and has allowed me to nurture work relationships that have become loyal and long lasting.
SM- Success for me is being able to get up every day and love what I do. Success is being able to recognise the small things as well as the big things and be grateful for all the lessons every day.
It is about setting achievable goals and ensuring I have the support of my family and friends in achieving those goals – but also being conscious enough to realise when the goal is not serving me and being able to change it or morph it to what aligns with my highest good.
Success is creating a life that feels good in my soul and that makes my heart sing – no matter what that looks like to other people.
SM- Women have been blessed with such a multitude of incredible skills and capabilities – let us tap into that rather than feel we need to be in competition with men. Every single one of us has the ability to achieve everything we desire.
As Deepak Chopra says – “What we place our attention on expands in our lives. Attention energises and intention transforms.” If you have a dream and a desire then go for it. Let nothing stand in your way
My motto that has gotten me through many tough days is ‘How it is today is not how it will be tomorrow.’
Every single day we get to start all over again – a brand new start and a brand new way of looking at things. Can you make that choice every day?
Get it touch with Svenja;