Canadian Contractor

Brynna Leslie   

Having a positive mindset equals a successful renovations business

Canadian Contractor Business Environment Fire Professional

A positive mindset can make the difference between a successful business and one that’s just slogging along, says contractor Ian Szabo.

“This industry is the most underappreciated there is – for the amount of work you do and the time you invest,” says Szabo, owner of FlipSchool and author of From Renos to Riches. “The number one thing you have to do is remember why you’re in this business in the first place.”

Szabo admits he found this out the hard way. The former chef came to his second career as a renovations contractor ten years ago. About halfway in, he was starting to feel burned out. He was 65-pounds overweight, “drinking too many beers,” and attracting sub-standard trades to his business.

“In any business, you – the owner – are the beacon,” says Szabo. “You attract people to you that are like you. I wasn’t respecting myself. I got lazy. I was attracting the wrong workers and the wrong clients.”



At considerable cost – and debt – Szabo hired a professional mentor. Over six months, he worked through the process of change. The core message? It all starts with mindset.

“The only way you can make more money is by being clear, systematic and organized with happy employees,” says Szabo. “You can’t do that unless you have support – otherwise you waste a lot of valuable time because you think your time isn’t valuable.”


“From my background as a chef, I am very regimented and organized,” said Szabo.  Formalizing systems helped Szabo to attract a different kind of sub-trade.

“I’m attracting the guy that wants to work hard in an organized environment,” says Szabo, “because  I’ve got all the systems in place to allow them to do their jobs effectively.

Szabo also realised there were elements of his job he didn’t like.

“I never thought I could have a business where I could eliminate or fire my customers,” said Szabo.

But that’s exactly what he did. Instead of doing renovations for homeowners, Szabo changed his business model. He now buys houses, renovates them and flips them.


Every new project begins with a thorough cleaning of the workspace – when the crew arrives on-site, they already have all the supplies they need and a schedule in place.

“And on a Friday we’ll shut the whole job down early, clean-up and order supplies for next week,” explains Szabo.

This helps to pre-set his employees for the week to come. “If they don’t have to spend the weekend worrying about returning to a messy job site or not having the supplies they need to do their jobs, they can spend the time in a much more productive way – relaxing with their families.”


People often start projects with a lot of enthusiasm and interest, says Szabo, but the daily grind – the inevitable problems and delays — starts to get them down.

Szabo says it’s essential to hit the reset button frequently throughout a project, by fostering employees’ time for personal reflection and appreciation.

“We live in a world of instant gratification,” says Szabo. “Everyone wants everything today, and no one takes the time to look back and see what you’ve come from.”

After the early Friday afternoon shut-down, Szabo frequently takes his entire crew out for pizza and beer.

“Giving yourself and your employees the chance to reset and say, “look what you guys have accomplished this week – and never mind the delays and the problems – but the 40 or 50 great things that actually got done, is a very powerful thing.”


Szabo also likes his employees to give their input on the next phases of the project, understanding that each has the potential to make a unique and valuable contribution.

“I’m spending a lot of time investing in my sub-trades, mentoring them, and if eventually they become really good and leave, I’m okay with that.”




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