Canadian Contractor

Put me in, coach, Part I

Need help achieving your goals?


January 30, 2020
By Steve Payne
Steve Payne

Rob Allan (left) and his coach, Mike Draper.

Canadian Contractor recently sat down with contractor coach Mike Draper of Renovantage, and one of his clients, Rob Allan, to discuss the dynamics of their relationship, how this all works, and the benefits contractors receive from having a coach.

In Part I, we talk about what Mike does, how he and Rob met and how Mike has helped Rob’s business.

Canadian Contractor: I’m here with the contractor coach, Mike Draper. We want to review what contractor coaching is. What do you do with Renovantage?

Mike Draper: Basically it’s working with contractors to help them achieve the goals they have for their business or help them overcome challenges they may face in their own business that they haven’t been able to do on their own. And they just need an outside advisor or coach to help them through it.

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CC: So the majority of your business is renovators and custom home builders?

MD: Absolutely.

CC: You have different types of coaching. There’s a thing called…

MD: One-on-one coaching.

CC: How does that work?

MD: One-on-one coaching is working directly with the owner of the contracting business and working on an intense basis together to help achieve the goals at a faster rate than they would have if they just did it on their own.

CC: And then you have peer groups?

MD: Correct. The difference with peer groups is it’s other contractors within the industry, typically noncompetitive contractors. So they’re willing to openly share information and share their books and procedures and systems and things like that with each other. Those tend to be less intense, but they’re good in that they give the contractors an opportunity to look at others and compare what they’re doing.

CC: How many contractors are in a typical peer group?

MD: It can range from three to eight.

CC: Then there’s probably constructive criticism that comes?

MD: Absolutely.

CC: Right? So contractors sort of have a board of directors.

MD: That’s actually a great way to look at it. It’s a board of directors from the outside and they’re people within the industry that all have slightly different ways to run their business. And each contractor can pick out the best of everybody’s.

CC: So now we’re going to bring in one of Mike’s clients, Rob Allan. Tell me about his business.

MD: He does custom homes, custom renovation work, typically at the higher end of the marketplace. It’s really, really good quality work. We helped him put systems in place so the business can run a lot more without Rob having to be there all day long every day on site.

CC: Now Mike’s going to talk to Rob about some of the things they’ve been able to do together.

Rob Allan: RBA is a construction management company. We run higher end projects, new builds, restorations, renovations, that type of business. As far as the range of project, I never say there’s a project too small or too big. I kind of frame this up as if there’s a need for project management, we can help.

MD: What do you mean by project management? That’s kind of a loose term.

RA: Construction management, which means we’ll help do preliminary budgets, we’ll do tendering, we’ll keep the project on track, we’ll make sure it’s built properly at a high level of quality, deal with all the consultants from city inspectors, architects through to engineers, and final survey. That’s what we do. Start to finish. I think for us, coaching and really understanding what you want to do with your goals focuses you on the business. For me in particular, what’s important is to really spend time with clients, be very accessible, communicate a lot to them. I think that’s very important. That’s a simple sentence, but it can change how you set up your business. I spend a lot of time in front of my clients. I visit all my job sites every single day. I think that’s a point of differentiation and our clients really appreciate that. A simple walkthrough of a site. For me, it could be two minutes, but you capture a lot. When you’re speaking to someone, it’s obvious you’re engaged in the project. So that’s what I really try to do and stay involved from start to finish.

MD: If there’s two contractors going down to the wire with a homeowner, why would they select you? What’s your differentiation from most?

RA: I think again, communication, build a company in a way that we have a resource to pick up the phone or to answer questions. That’s very important. Never take on too much work. I’ve got a cap on how much work we’ll do at any given point. So I’m not too diluted and can still be there for the client from start to finish and making sure we answer all the questions. Another thing that we do is we’ll work with many different architects and interior designers, so we’re not restricted to one style of architecture or design. Often you’ll find some contractors that will use the same architects and designers and end up with the same product.

CC: You’re not a design-build guy then?

RA: No, we’re not in the sense that I don’t have an architect on staff, but I do get hired early in the process so that I’m involved with the design and will consult with the architect and interior designers. So essentially pull the team together earlier… pre-construction through feasibility. If you get the team together early so you collaborate, you end up with a better project in the end. So it’s not design-build in the sense that I have a designer in the office, we just do it a little differently.

CC: How did you guys meet and what’s the basis of your coaching relationship?

RA: I actually was searching for a long time to find a coach to work with and I found Mike through a network of other contractors online and through some pretty strong recommendations.

MD: That’s a pretty typical way that I find most of my clients. It is through recommendations from clients I’m currently working with or have worked with in the past.

CC: What was the key thing that led you to believe you wanted to get some business coaching?

RA: The reason for me looking for a coach was I felt that I was at a certain level of sophistication within the business and I was looking to take it to the next level. I come from a bit of a corporate background through 15 years of corporate experience. So I’ve seen how larger companies operate. I couldn’t see why we couldn’t get there, but I didn’t want to go through the long, drawn out learning curve or timeline. So I looked to find a coach and found Mike to help us accelerate through that.

MD: Rob is unique in that he does have a corporate background. As you know, most contractors are self-made and were trades that were on the job and decided to go into contracting for themselves. Rob came at this from a completely financial background perspective and it was on the operational side where some of the challenges were. It wasn’t so much on the financial and marketing sides, it was operational… how to streamline the business so it could run without Rob being there daily, all day long.

CC: What are the big achievements so far in the coaching relationship? What problems have you been able to solve through this process?

RA: A lot, to be honest… Mike’s helped immensely. The coaching process is fantastic right off the hop. I think really for me the biggest thing is sort of looking in the mirror and setting your goals. That was the first thing Mike did was say, “you’re telling me all this stuff, but put it on a piece of paper.” Goal setting is huge. It sounds easy, but it’s not. We got through that process and then we focused on what it is I wanted to do with my business and in my personal life. That was huge for me, and it trickles down to everything. For me, it was really doing the things that I would procrastinate with. Mike makes you accountable and it sort of forces you to do the things that are easy to tuck away and forget about. You know they’re important, but when you know you’re meeting with Mike, you have to get it done. So those are the two biggest things along with a lot of others.


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