Canadian Contractor

Rob Blackstien   

Put me in coach, Part III

Canadian Contractor

The benefits of using a coach for your contractor business

Rob Allan (left) and his contractor 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.

You can read Part I of the interview here and Part II here.

In our third and final part, we discuss how Rob leverages Mike’s expertise, the impact coaching has had on the financial side of Rob’s business and why Rob decided to break free from a previous partnership and set out on his own.

Canadian Contractor: Rob, will you call Mike during the day on a specific point of business if there’s a specific conflict or challenge?


Rob Allan: Absolutely, I would call Mike a lot every day. But I don’t want to blow up his phone constantly. But Mike is very open to taking those phone calls, he’s been very helpful. It’s amazing just to have a quick chat. When you have a million things going on in your brain and 10 different projects, how distracted you can get and how someone from outside can really put focus to sometimes simple things. Again, it’s making us accountable. Mike’s decision process is “I don’t need to hear all that other stuff, but your goals are this, this and this.”

Mike Draper: I’d like to hear a bit more about on the financial side, how has your business changed over the years and what’s it done for you personally?

RA: Yeah, business is good. We’ve got great projects, really good clients. At a point in the business now, we can really select our projects. Not to sound arrogant, but I think it’s good to be able to have a good relationship going into a project with your clients.

MD: And clients are happier now?

RA: Clients are much happier. At the end of projects, I used to get a little worried, it’s a long drawn out process. Now, we have raving fans, the clients are very happy by the end of the project and business is good. Profitability is good. And it’s kind of on our terms now, in the sense that it meets the goal– it’s not just busy for the sake of being busy. It’s busy with a clean sight line to what we’re trying to achieve.

MD: What type of clients do you like to work with?

RA: I don’t know if there’s a perfect type of client for us. We’ll work with all different types of clients, different career paths, different types of projects. So I think a client that we’d like to work with and they would like to work with us, is someone that understands there’s a process to a custom home or custom renovation. They understand that they need a certain level of sophistication. You need someone that is comfortable dealing with architects and interior designers and organizing a whole lot of information into a successful project while trying to not overwhelm clients. We really try to underwhelm them in a sense that they’re not super stressed and we take care of everything.

MD: If they don’t have an architect already, how would do engage with them?

RA: That’s very common. A lot of people will engage us prior to even buying a property or really knowing what they want to do. What we typically do is quarterback that design-build process, work with a whole bunch of different architects and interior designers. I basically interview the potential clients and then connect them to architects and interior designers that I’ve worked with in the past or sometimes new architects or interior designers. I stay involved at an early stage.

MD: You’re involved with design stage as well as the construction phase?

RA: Yes we are.

CC: You were involved in a business partnership that went separate ways? Tell us about that, why you did it, and the role of coaching and making those decisions.

RA: It was a partner in a business. We ran the business for about six years, I think it was very successful. We took that business from zero to a substantial size, becoming prominent in the areas we were working. Part of the reason we brought Mike on was to help through the growth curve and see where we could take the business. Mike was a very big part of that and sort of seeing what we could do as a partnership together. What we discovered through individual goals of myself and my partner, was we had different paths that we wanted to go down. Mike was able to help us navigate through that. For me, what it did was, I determined that I really wanted to go out on my own and build a business with systems and processes that really could stand on its own in time. It was an incredible experience. Partnerships are tough, so that’s always difficult to go through. Mike helped me through that and I don’t hold any poor feelings towards my previous partner. We just decided it was time to go on a different path. I think some people get stuck in that for a long time and don’t do anything about it. Mike, without telling me what to do, was just helping me navigate what I wanted to do.

MD: I don’t think you’re the only contractor with a business partner that at some point in time has to look forward and say, “are we on the same path or do we want to go down different paths?” To make that change is very, very difficult. You guys loved working together and worked really well together. It was just time to go different directions. I’d say it’s as tough as breaking up a marriage, breaking up a partnership like that. Not an easy task.

RA: Not easy to go through. It’s doesn’t end in one day… you don’t make a decision and then it ends, it takes a couple of years to wind down something that was old and crank something up that’s new.

MD: You guys had a great reputation in the neighborhood, beautiful marketing and beautiful lawn signs and trucks, it was very impressive.

RA: It’s difficult, but short term pain, long term gain, that’s the way I look at it.

MD: Do you ever look back and think you made the wrong decision?

RA: No. I don’t think I made the wrong decision. I think maybe if I had done this six years ago, then that’s what I regret. Why didn’t I do that six years ago? But sometimes you have to go through things to learn and move forward. Again, that’s sort of where I would tie back to coaching. Anybody that’s going through this right now, there’s no bad time to start coaching. I think, for you to set your goals and determine if you’re in the right situation or if you’re not, get to the bottom of it sooner than later and then move forward.

MD: I remember one of the tough decisions for you once you had decided you wanted to go out on your own was to actually do it on your own versus try to find another partner and do something else. It took some time to overcome that and say, no, you can do this all on your own. You don’t need to be with anybody else.

RA: Yes, I think that’s very critical. I think it was my default to go and work with a partner. But yes, you helped me through that and it was very clear that that’s not what I needed.

MD: In fact, I think your clients like it better now too.

RA: I think so, yes.

CC: Let’s talk about the honesty thing. Nobody wants to tell their boss the actual truth, complete disclosure. How important is that to have?

MD: Part of coaching is the person that’s being coached needs to be completely open and transparent about what’s going on within the business. Sometimes, as a coach we get into some things that go beyond just the business itself, about their feelings and their goals and the impact it’s having on them emotionally. And without that information, it’s really hard to determine what’s the right path moving forward. So when I’m looking for clients or looking at a new prospect, I’m looking to see if they’re coachable, are they willing to be open and transparent about what’s really going on in the business? Many times I hear “I never even told my wife this.” It has come up many times because they need someone that they can truly, truly talk to about stuff they would not want to share with anybody else.

CC: Rob, what about full disclosure?

RA: As far as full disclosure with your business coach, I feel like I didn’t have a problem with that. I probably provided too much information.

MD: Never.

RA: The reason that I came at it from that angle was why wouldn’t you? If you want an honest answer and you’re spending the time to be coached, then get it all on the table. What are your personal goals? What are your financial goals, what are your business goals? Then everything in between. I threw it all up there to Mike and kind of said “Is this emotional or is this business?” And when you understand that, it influences your decision. It helps you get to your goal. If you’re going to do it, I think that’s 100 per cent the way you should be. I think it’s probably difficult for some people when they’re reviewing their financial statements. They’re maybe embarrassed or are very proud. But get it out there because it all ties together.

MD: If we don’t have the full disclosure on the financial information, as Rob mentioned, because the contractor’s shy about what the numbers are, how do we help them if they’re not willing to share those numbers? Those are critical. At the end of the day, it’s all about analytics and being able to make decisions based on the numbers that are in front of us. Contractors have personal goals and family goals that they want to achieve and the business is there to help them achieve it.


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