If you think running projects can be difficult, you should try running a business! On this episode of Time Limit, Shawn Van Dyke digs in to the many highs and lows of running a construction business. It’s a wide-ranging conversation that touches on a lot of points that will resonate for you, no matter your industry or whether you’re a business owner or a project leader. Topics discussed include:
Shawn Van Dyke is a construction business coach and the author of two books: Profit First for Contractors and The Paperwork Punch List - 28 Days to Streamline Your Construction Business. Most contractors are not profitable which makes them feel uncertain about what they need to do to grow their construction businesses. Shawn believes construction business owners should be as good at business as they are at their craft. That's why, after twenty plus years of owning and operating multiple construction businesses, Shawn became a construction business coach. He now works with construction business owners, executives, and managers all over the world and shows them how to stop losing profits and wasting time. Shawn helps contractors get their lives back. He is also a keynote speaker and Fine Homebuilding Brand Ambassador. You can find him all over social media sharing his knowledge and experience. He doesn't mince words and gives practical advice to contractors so that he can accomplish his mission: to change the way the world view the trades. He believes the best way to accomplish this mission is to help contractors run world-class businesses so that they are seen for what they truly are - business professionals who provide an extraordinary service through their devotion to their craft, their customers, and their communities.
- Get your copy of the #1 Amazon New Release in Finance - Profit First for Contractors - at www.ProfitFirstContractor.com or the audio version here (Audible and iTunes)
- Sign up to receive a FREE copy of his book The Paperwork Punch List: 28 Days to Streamline Your Construction Business
Brett Harned: Hey there, welcome back to Time Limit. This week, I'm happy to welcome Shawn Van Dyke to the show. If you've checked out TeamGantt's live classes, and you should if you haven't already, you might recognize the name, because Shawn has done two classes with us so far.
Brett Harned: He's a construction business coach and the author of two books. There's a ton of ground that I can cover with Shawn in this conversation because he's really knowledgeable when it comes to running construction projects and building construction businesses. He works with construction business owners, executives, and managers all over the world and shows them how to stop losing profits and wasting time.
Brett Harned: In this conversation, we talk all about everything from how to get construction businesses in order, to how to achieve work-life integration. Yep, you heard me right. It's work-life integration, not work-life balance. Keep listening to hear a little bit more on that.
Brett Harned: All right. Shawn Van Dyke, thank you so much for joining us on Time Limit today. How are you doing?
Shawn Van Dyke: Hey, I'm doing great, Brett. Thank you so much for having me on.
Brett Harned: Absolutely. It's great to have you here. You're a good friend of TeamGantt, and we really appreciate that. You've done live classes for us about planning and budgeting construction projects, so I figured we could talk a little bit about the construction business and how you encounter project management on construction projects, and even with some of your clients. Does that sound good to you?
Shawn Van Dyke: Yeah, that sounds great.
Brett Harned: Awesome! So let's kind of start at the top. Your business focus is on helping construction business owners to set goals and get organized and run more profitable businesses. What's the most common challenge those clients bring to you?
Shawn Van Dyke: I deal specifically with the construction industry, and even within that niche there, most of my clients are residential construction business owners. That could be either remodelers or custom home builders, or I even have several clients that are trade contractors that maybe work for other contractors or other professionals, whether it's maybe developers or someone else in the construction industry.
Shawn Van Dyke: And so, the residential and the commercial and certain aspects are completely different animals. And certain aspects of the business, not when it comes to the financials, or especially the project management, but just some of the interactions and some of the systems that need to be put in place. But so, most of my clients are, if not 100%, they're a majority in the residential space.
Shawn Van Dyke: So that gets into a little bit different management of expectations when it comes to the earlier systems, like sales, marketing, and those kind of things. But once a project is underway, construction's construction. It's all about setting proper expectations, the systems that allow you to operate and deliver what it is that you're selling, and then the structures around that delivery process.
Shawn Van Dyke: But I would say the most common challenge that my clients face really kind of ... It comes in two different aspects. One, what I call the tactical aspect, that my clients face, is just understanding the financial side of their business. Because a lot of construction business owners, especially in the residential, and this applies for commercial, too, but a lot of them start their businesses because they're really, really good at their craft.
Shawn Van Dyke: And so they go out and start doing work for other people, because they're known to be a very good practitioner of their trade, or their craft, or whatever it is, and then when you're good at something, then your reputation spreads, and they get busier, and they get more work, and they get more clients. And then they look up a couple years down the road, or they look back and they say, "Wow, I've never really had to go out and get any work. It's always come in. I've always been really busy, but here I am three years, five years into my business, and I don't have any money. It's not getting any better."
Shawn Van Dyke: And so once they kind of have that realization, they contact me. They kind of have this moment where they're finally admitting out loud to someone else other than themselves that they really don't understand where the money is, or how the money is made. Or they have a feeling of how the money is made, but they don't know how to keep any of it.
Shawn Van Dyke: And so, at a very tactical level, my clients are reaching out because they don't understand. And they think that they have done something wrong, because, as you'd know from owning your own business and being in the operations and helping run other businesses, is that we often feel very alone. Because we feel like we're the only ones with this problem.
Shawn Van Dyke: But when they talk to me, or they talk to other mentors, or their business coaches, they'll find out no, what you're experiencing is very, very common. People just don't admit it, or they don't say it out loud a whole lot, because they feel embarrassed, or they feel lonely. And, in my job, that's why I say I have one of the greatest jobs in the world, because their problems are very solvable, they just need some new information.
Shawn Van Dyke: And when you provide them with that information and a plan of how to execute that, then a lot of those fears and frustrations that they've been dealing with for years start to get solved, and they go away, and they see this massive amount of growth in a very short time. Because they've got all the tools in place, and they certainly know how to perform the work, and so filling in, understanding those financials, finally comes into play, and they finally start pricing their work right. They understand what their profit loss statement means, and they know how to charge for the value of their work, meaning they know what to charge that's going to make a profit.
Shawn Van Dyke: A lot of them are charging enough to make a living, but that's not enough to cover all of the aspects of running a business. So that's kind of the first tactical sort of challenge that we deal with. And I say, understanding the financials is just math. And once you understand the math of your business, and specifically the math of a construction business, then the great thing about math is you only have to learn it once. Math never changes, it's always the same. You just have to keep applying it, and you can really make some headway in your business.
Shawn Van Dyke: Now, everything else in your business is going to change. Market conditions, trends, products, and building signs, all these things are constantly evolving. And if you have employees, oh, man, employees will change your business. But the math of the business is never going to change, so you just have to keep applying it. So that would be the first thing that I think is the biggest challenge for a lot of construction business owners to overcome, is just understanding how the numbers work.
Shawn Van Dyke: But in order to get there, in order to carve out some time to understand that and to apply that, that gets into the bigger problem, or the bigger challenge, that a lot of my clients have, and I call this more the strategic problem, is the time management. It's saying, "Okay, now we know how the math works. We know that we have to apply the markup in this certain way. We know that we need to spend some time calculating the cost for any particular project. That's great. Well, because we're busy, when do we find the time to do that?"
Shawn Van Dyke: And so the time management part, that's why I say it's kind of a more strategic sort of thing, where you have to step back and plan for the time and create that time and that space in your, really, in your weekly calendar, to focus on certain aspects of your business, and that, ultimately, is the bigger problem.
Shawn Van Dyke: So we can solve some financial problems, and understanding the financial aspects. That's just putting in the work and learning those applications. But the bigger issue is, okay, when we're done with this coaching call, or next week comes around, the phone's going to start ringing, those little fires are going to pop up, and so we've got to be able to somehow organize what seems so chaotic, and that really comes down to organizing and planning our time before the universe turns everything into chaos. And that's the harder problem, is standing back and understanding how to manage your time.
Brett Harned: Yeah. I'm not surprised by any of this. So, me coming from the digital industry, I have faced and experienced the same issues with business owners. So you start out as a freelance designer, or developer. You start to gain a reputation, you start a business, you start getting great clients, things start to grow and expand, and then you have an oh no moment where it's like, "Okay, this thing can keep growing, but I need to wrap my arms around it and figure out exactly how to grow this thing properly, and how to manage it properly so employees are happy, clients, most of all, are happy, and that you're happy."
Brett Harned: But I think this is an interesting segue to ... So, you've written a couple of books. One of them is The Paperwork Punch List, which is really, to me, it's kind of like a 28-day guide to getting your business in order, which I think is really cool. Are those challenges kind of what led you to writing The Paperwork Punch List?
Shawn Van Dyke: Yeah. So, The Paperwork Punch List is really the result of, I guess, an epiphany that I had one day when I thought about starting this, specifically, this coaching and consulting business that I'm doing now. It's kind of funny how it came about. I had this idea. I thought, "Well, maybe I can become a consultant, and I can teach people what I have done for my own businesses, and other businesses that I've helped run and operate."
Shawn Van Dyke: And I really struggled for a while, thinking, "Well, what could I teach somebody?" And I always skipped over the stuff that I was doing every day, meaning the systematic stuff. The meetings, the invoicing, the estimating, the contract structure, the sales process. Because I automatically thought, "Well, if I'm going to really help businesses grow and do these sorts of things, it's got to be the big things, the big stuff."
Shawn Van Dyke: Then I had an epiphany one day, and I can't exactly remember where I heard it, but I realized that the key to success for anybody that's offering advice, or consulting, or some coaching, is what is common knowledge to me, someone that's been in the business and running construction businesses or owning construction businesses for over 20 years, that the stuff that's common to me is expert knowledge to somebody else.
Shawn Van Dyke: And so when I realized I don't need to come up with this big, elaborate plan to help construction business owners make these huge leaps, what they really need is the basic stuff.
Brett Harned: Yeah, absolutely.
Shawn Van Dyke: Like the sales, the scheduling, the estimating, the hiring process. All of these sorts of things that had become like second nature to me, just because I'd been in it for so long, and not because I was smart enough and had all this stuff figured out from day one. No, I say any success that I had came because I was too stupid to give up, and I just kept going, and I wanted to figure it out.
Shawn Van Dyke: And so, I had that moment, I said, "Wait a minute. I just need to focus on the basic stuff, because what's basic to me is exactly what other contractors or other construction business owners need to move their businesses forward." So I kind of took a step back and said, "Okay, if I was starting over again, what are the questions that I get most often from my network?"
Shawn Van Dyke: My network of other contractors, and other construction company owners, and just really people that would call me up and say, "Hey, Shawn, what do you do for your contracts? How do you structure this contract?" Or, "I had this client say this thing, as we were trying to sell this project, and they had this question. I didn't know how to respond." I say, "Oh, well, here's what I would say."
Shawn Van Dyke: And so I just realized that there's a whole bunch of information around the basic stuff. That's what people really, really want. You get them pulled into the basic stuff and executing really well on that, then you get the privilege to work on much bigger problems. Because once you solve the basic stuff, the problems just get bigger. But you get your time back, because the bigger problems take more strategic planning. They take more thinking and a lot of times, construction business owners are caught up with the basic stuff that helps move their companies forward.
Shawn Van Dyke: And so, for me, it was just like, "Just focus on the basic. Help people with the basic stuff, and then you'll earn the privilege to get to work on bigger problems."
Brett Harned: Yeah. And I think The Paperwork Punch List is really good at that. It basically walks you through the process of getting everything in order, and one of the things that really stood out to me was, you start with a statement in the beginning that says, "Change the way you act, work, and think." And then you basically outline three statements that are in all caps. Be happy, be persistent, be creative.
Brett Harned: So, to me, that caught my eye right away. I think it's really motivational, and in some ways, kind of unexpected, for me. I don't know that I would necessarily think to talk to a construction business owner in that way. But it feels like a really great way to prepare someone for the action plan that you lay out. So I was wondering if maybe you could share a little bit about your thoughts behind those statements, and maybe if there's been any impact, if you've seen any impact with those statements on business owners?
Shawn Van Dyke: Yeah. So, for me, that ... And you're right. It's like, "Oh, I wouldn't expect that from somebody that's in the construction industry." And really, that was more of a personal statement for me to remind myself to get out of my own way, and I don't know exactly where all of that came from, but each part of that, the be happy, be persistent, be creative, has a little bit different of a story to it, of how it got to be there.
Shawn Van Dyke: So I'll quickly run you through that. I was working as the COO for a trim and millwork company, and when I came on board there, we were doing high end finish carpentry in very high end homes, and I was brought in to help grow the company, because the owner, typical construction business owner, excellent at his craft, but had no idea how to manage or run this business that was about to run him over, because his work was so good. He had about eight carpenters out in the field, and in the first 18 months that I was there, we went from eight guys out in the field to about 20.
Shawn Van Dyke: So that's an extremely quick growth for a small trim and millwork company, and so I was putting in a lot of hours. Probably 60, 70 hours a week trying to figure out how to sustain this level of growth, and for me, the be happy part just came out because, 60, 70 hours a week for a year and a half, I was a miserable person. I was just physically tired, mentally tired, and I had a lot of pressure on me. And I realized that, for me, I was pouring everything into work, thinking once I got the business to this certain point, then I could take a deep breath and that would make me more happy, that accomplishment.
Shawn Van Dyke: Well, that never happened. Because, like I said, there were always bigger problems. We went from eight guys to 12 guys, then we went from 12 to 15, and then we had to work on management. And we got some guys in there to manage and lead the crews, but then those guys needed to be led. We were developing leaders. So it's like, "I've never done that before. I got to learn something more about leadership."
Shawn Van Dyke: And so it was always this ongoing thing, and I just realized it's not about putting in more time, and getting to a certain event, although we did achieve a lot, and that felt good. There was always something more, and I realized if I wait on the happiness, then it's never going to come. And so that first part of being happy, I just realized, happiness is a choice. I'm going to choose to be happy first, and if I can approach any situation, good or bad, and just be happy about that situation, then it didn't really matter what the outcome was. The outcome was either good or bad, but it wasn't going to affect my happiness.
Shawn Van Dyke: And so that's why I just kind of came up with be happy, and happiness is a choice. It's not an emotion, it's not a feeling, it's a choice. I wake up every day, so for me, what that meant was, is I decided that instead of working 60 hours a week, 60, 70 hours a week, I wasn't going to work any more than 45 hours a week.
Shawn Van Dyke: I was just going to turn it off, because working 60 hours a week wasn't making things great at home, because I was working all the time. So I said, "You know what? I'm going to dedicate myself first to my home life, and in order to do that, I need to work less. I'll make that choice." And so I limited the time that I was going to give to work. And when I did that, something that, I don't know, magical happened, was that my home life improved, because I wasn't working so much, but it also forced me to do the same amount of work that I was doing in 60 hours a week in 45.
Shawn Van Dyke: And so it's the whole Parkinson's law sort of thing that says that work expands to fill the time that it's given. So I just limited the amount of time, and the way that I limited that was by choosing to be happy and put some barriers in place to say, "I'm not going to work a whole lot." And it completely transformed everything.
Shawn Van Dyke: The owner of the company came in, I didn't advertise this, this was just something personally I was kind of going through. After a few weeks of doing this, the owner came in, we were having a meeting in the office one day, and he even said, he goes, "Shawn, what's wrong with you?" Or he said, "What's changed?" He was like, "You're completely different than you were a few weeks ago," and what he meant by that was like, "People like to interact with you, you seem happier, you're more joyful around the office. Things are kind of just rolling off your shoulders, it's no big deal."
Shawn Van Dyke: And I said, "Well, do you really want to know?" He said, "Yeah." I said, "I stopped working for you as much." I said, "I only work about 45 hours a week." And I thought he was going to be like, "Well, we need to talk about that." But he had exactly the opposite. He was like, "Well, that's great. I'm excited for you. Keep doing that." So that's kind of where that be happy came from.
Shawn Van Dyke: The be persistent just comes from like, things are going to suck, especially when you're growing a business, or you're managing a business. But it's persistence over a long period of time that's eventually going to pay off. And so that's where kind of just reminding myself to be persistent, and that's kind of my personality, anyway. A little bit about that is just to remind myself that it's not going to be easy, and you keep going, you get there one step at a time.
Shawn Van Dyke: And the last part of that little slogan, be creative, really came out of this time when I was thinking about walking away from this job. So I was at the trim and millwork company for about four years, and then when I decided to walk away, I had come across Ed Catmull's book, Creativity, Inc.
Shawn Van Dyke: And for those of you who don't know, Ed Catmull was one of the founders of Pixar, he worked with Steve Jobs. This was before ... Everybody knows Pixar for Toy Story and all the great animated movies that they make, but before, they were a software company, and reading that book really opened my eyes up to how to systematize, for lack of a better term, creativity.
Shawn Van Dyke: They have a creative process there. We often think of people being creative, are just these free thinkers, and they have these epiphanies. But it's really not like that. That, be creative, was just a reminder to say you can systematize creativity if you get the right people in place and put the right structures in place.
Shawn Van Dyke: And so he describes in that book, and one of the big things for me was, he had described going on, I think he called it like a five day personal retreat. Or silent retreat, that's what he called it. And that, to me, I was like, "That doesn't even make sense. How can you go somewhere and not talk, and you're just alone with your thoughts?"
Shawn Van Dyke: But he described this thing, and by that time, I had learned that most of the time, when I thought something was stupid, I thought, "Well, that's a stupid idea," I just said, "Okay, every time I have that thought, I'm going to try it. Because I'm probably not as smart as I like to think that I am."
Shawn Van Dyke: And for me, that's what really made the change, is when I got quiet with myself, and I started doing even things that I thought was weird. Like meditating, and just being quiet. I realized how the voices in our head and all of the stuff, all the busyness, all the chaos from day to day just kind of builds up in there, and sometimes, we just need to stop, turn that stuff off, and when we can, then the creative part of our brain kicks into high gear, and it really helps produce things both personally and professionally.
Shawn Van Dyke: And from practicing that, kind of getting out of my own way, and allowing this creative side, then The Paperwork Punch List came out very quickly after that. I was able to sit down and start writing that, putting together ideas for this coaching business, and now, here we are three years later, and I've got a book, published a book, and it just all comes out of that three part kind of system of, this is how we're going to act, this is how we're going to work, and this is how we need to think.
Brett Harned: Yeah. So I have to ask, how are you kind of managing to keep up with being creative? Do you set time aside to keep thinking about that stuff, or do you have recommendations for that?
Shawn Van Dyke: Yeah, so for me, it's turned into the really weird thing, which I like talking about, because people are like, "You really do that?" Yeah, so, what I did when I wrote The Paperwork Punch List, because I was also working a full time job, is I had to get up earlier. And so I just treated building this other business as my second part time job, and I also have five kids, so there is zero time in the day, and the only time in the day that I had was between about 4:00 o'clock in the morning and 6:30 before I had to get ready to go to my other job.
Shawn Van Dyke: I said, "Okay. This is the time that I work on my other job." And so I put in the time to write The Paperwork Punch List and start building some of the other things for the construction business, or my consulting business, and then when I left the trim and millwork company, went out on my own, I already had these two, two and a half hours every single day, every day, seven days a week, and I used that time for my creative time. Because, around here, with five kids, it's not really very quiet ever.
Brett Harned: I can believe that.
Shawn Van Dyke: Yeah, but that time in the morning really became sacred. And again, I use that to journal, I use it to meditate and pray, and I use it just as a time to get my thoughts down on paper, and I still, to this day, that's still my same routine. I'm up at 4:30. Now, it's not every day. I am a human being and I get tired, so I'll miss a day. But in general, I've just trained myself now.
Shawn Van Dyke: I get up and I go through my morning routine, and it's about two hours long, between getting in the right state of mind, and just quiet, and meditation, and writing some things down, and I'll go back to these notebooks or these journals that I have, when I say, "Hey, what's the next thing I need to work on? What's something I think that'll have an impact for my audience or for my own business?"
Shawn Van Dyke: And it's usually there, in my journal, written down. It could be weeks or months old, but it's all there. And so, for me, it's an extremely valuable time. And, just back to the time management stuff, sometimes planning our days or planning our weeks, which even gets into planning projects, I plan projects now, they're just not construction projects, they're projects as it relates to growing my business. But same thing, is creating that time, that focus time for planning or being creative or developing systems.
Shawn Van Dyke: You can get so much more done when I'm just focusing on that one or two type of tasks. And so, for me, it's just like, people will say, "Well, how has that been productive?" And I say, "I don't know, other than it just is." I'd never written a book before, and I spent two hours in the morning going through my morning routine, and now I've published a book. It works.
Brett Harned: Right. You're using that time to its fullest, yeah.
Shawn Van Dyke: Yeah, exactly.
Brett Harned: So I want to mention that you put out a really great newsletter, and I receive it. And I received one of the recent ones where you actually quoting Tony Robbins as saying, "There's no such thing as work-life balance. It's work-life integration." And in the newsletter, you basically agreed and said that you published The Paperwork Punch List to help people integrate work and life, and I'd imagine this is kind of along the lines of what we're talking about.
Brett Harned: But for most business owners, their business is their life, and kind of what you're talking about, you're waking up at 4:00 a.m. because your business is your life, and you're finding your time to squeeze that work in and to be creative. But finding the opportunity for some people to relax can be tough. I know that I'm one of those people that's always working, always thinking about work, if I'm sitting at a softball game watching my kid, or sitting in front of the TV, work's always on my mind.
Brett Harned: But what kind of advice do you have for people who are trying to integrate and trying to be more comfortable, I guess, with the balance, even if the balance is kind of a little bit of a bad word in this instance?
Shawn Van Dyke: Yeah, I don't like the word balance because it gives the impression that it's somehow got to be 50/50. And there's just way too much pressure, especially if ... It's a big difference if you've got 50 or 100 people on your team, you have very defined roles, and you have a structure in place that produces a profit for whatever it is that you're doing. But for most small business owners, we're wearing 17 different hats.
Shawn Van Dyke: And so to think that, "Oh, I need to be more balanced in my life," it can be very devastating, because I think you just have to step back and say, "No, I'm probably never going to be balanced, because I chose to be a small business owner." And so I think it's just too much pressure. But the way that I look at it, for example, is ... And I was just teaching this last week, at a trade show, when I was talking about teaching effective time management, we were talking about planning kind of your ideal week and doing the same thing week to week, at least having these blocks of time for certain things.
Shawn Van Dyke: And I asked one of the attendees there, saying, "What would be most convenient for you if you were in control of your schedule 100% of the time? When would you do sales calls?" And so we kind of mapped out, saying, for whatever reason, this person, "Okay, from Tuesdays, on Tuesday mornings from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., that would be a convenient time for me, as a construction business owner, to have sales calls. And then another time would be maybe Thursday afternoon from three to five."
Shawn Van Dyke: And I said, "Okay. So, that's when you should try to schedule most of your sales calls. Now, we're working with homeowners, and sometimes we have to be in their homes when they're home. So what would be another convenient time for you to do a sales call?" And this guy said, "Okay, Wednesday evenings from 4:00 to 6:00 p.m." I said, "Okay, great. So," and then he kind of interrupted me, and he said, he goes, "Yeah, so if I could plan that, then I could get a full day of work in and then go out on a sales call."
Shawn Van Dyke: And I was like, "Yeah, and that's the problem. We could just cram more work in. We could just make more sales calls in the evening so that we could work ten or twelve hours during the day, and then go do our sales calls." And I said, "This is part of where the work-life integration comes in, saying if you're in control of you're schedule, and you've got certain times that you're planning to go out on the site to meet with clients and do sales calls, and you end up working late one evening, let's say past 4:00 o'clock, 4:00 to 6:00 o'clock, then the way that you integrate work-life balance when those Wednesdays happen, and you're going to be working until 6:00 or 7:00 p.m., then as the business owner, anyway, plan on coming in later Wednesday morning. Don't come in at 7:00. Come in at 9:00.
Shawn Van Dyke: "Take the kids to school. Have coffee with your spouse. Whatever that thing is, just don't work. We can always do more work, but when you force yourself not to work, then you also force yourself to get focused on the time you do have to work, and you'll just get more done." And that's why I see a lot of business owners, we work Saturdays and Sundays, but I'm always very careful and look at it to say, "Okay, if I have to put a full day in on Saturday, is the work that I'm doing going to drive my business further?"
Shawn Van Dyke: If so, then yeah, we suck it up and we integrate that, which means, for example, I'm telling my wife, "Hey, honey, I'm going to take the ten-year-old to soccer. You take the other two to karate today, then I'll meet you at the dojo, drop them off, and then I've got to go do some work, because I've got this thing coming up. I've got a podcast with Brett on Monday that I really want to prepare for." That's going to help propel the business.
Shawn Van Dyke: And so you integrate those things into it as opposed to just defaulting, saying, "Well, I've got work to do, I guess I'm going to work all day Saturday," and asking yourself, "Does this work, propel my business forward? Does continually working Saturday, Sundays, weekends, evenings, whatever, is any of this ... Am I better off now for having done this?" And if the answer is no, then just stop doing it.
Shawn Van Dyke: And it will force all of the things that are not important, that are just urgent, it forces them out, and you just find that they were probably stuff that you didn't need to do in the first place, or you're being very inefficient with that time.
Brett Harned: Or maybe you're finding places where you can potentially offload work eventually. [crosstalk] hire another person. That's where those opportunities start to creep in, or you start to recognize that you're spending your time in better ways, and you can focus your energy in better places to propel your business forward.
Brett Harned: All right, last question for you. So, this is all kind of on theme with our show. It's called Time Limit, giving a nod to the fact that everyone's trying to get a lot of work done with limited time. No matter what you're doing, you're in construction, you're in digital, you're in retail, whatever it is.
Brett Harned: So, I'm curious, specifically within construction, what are your top tips for business owners who feel like they've got limited time to focus on the administrative side of their business? What are ways that you would advise someone to keep on top of things, like estimates and budgeting and finances and invoices? All of the things that you probably don't want to do, because you do want to focus more on the creative stuff, or the tactical stuff and helping someone, or helping a client.
Shawn Van Dyke: Yeah, so, I often tell my clients this, and it's kind of back to what I mentioned before about designing your week. We just kind of default into this, "Well, Monday through Friday is when everybody else works, so I guess I have to work Monday through Friday on producing work, and then I'll spend whatever else time managing the business." And I just kind of say, "Just throw all that out. You're in control. Set proper expectations." But pick a day. Pick a day that is your ... I'm thinking of small construction business owners. Pick a day and make that your office day, and manage around that.
Shawn Van Dyke: Now, some people, they're already in the thick of things, and they're like, "That's crazy, I couldn't do that next week." Okay, if you can't do it next week, then just start with two hours. Just two hours of focus time in the office, wherever your office is, and pick the most important things. And if you can not have to be on site for two hours, you'll realize that the wheels aren't going to fall off, your customers aren't going to hate you.
Shawn Van Dyke: Now, you need to set some expectations, saying, "Hey, I'm not going to be out on the job site at Friday until 10:00 o'clock, and the reason is is I'm going to be in the office, doing invoicing for your project," or, "I'm going to be doing some research on selections," or, "I'm going to be talking to sub-contractors and setting them up for the next week."
Shawn Van Dyke: Everybody else has got crazy schedules, too, so they'll understand, but sometimes we just have to set the proper expectations, and our clients, if they love us, which they should, if they're giving us money to do something, then they'll understand if you give them enough time. That's why I say you need to start with two hours. Because if you could do two hours, then you can get it up to four. If you can get to four hours, then you can do a whole day. If you can do a whole day, then you can do two days, and if you can do two days, then you can get it up to three days.
Shawn Van Dyke: Now, what that's going to require you to do is to say, "With one day in the office, I don't have as much time to be out in the field producing, so I might need to hire somebody else to do that. But if I could do that, and find somebody else to produce for me, then I can focus on the things that drive the income to the business. The sales, the marketing, the business development, the estimating system. Everything else in the business."
Shawn Van Dyke: And so that's why, I think, the thing that small construction business, really any business owner or manager can do, is pick a day and call it your office day, your admin day, and then just train everybody around you, "This is the day that I do X, Y, and Z. So I'm not going to be available to do those other things." And what that does, automatically, starts training your team.
Shawn Van Dyke: And what I mean by that is, if I'm going into the office on Fridays, Fridays are my estimating day, say, my invoicing day, I'm cranking through a bunch of numbers, and I've got a team of people out in the field that I'm normally managing that I'm just going to tell them, "I'm not going to be available on Fridays." So what that automatically trains them, and you have to tell them to do this, saying, "Whatever you need on Friday, and I'm not available, then you're going to have to get that information on Thursday."
Brett Harned: Right. Yeah, so it sounds like it's really about controlling and managing your own schedule, making the time to do that stuff far in advance, and then communicating about it so that everyone around you is super clear on what's going to happen. Because I think the thing about the administrative work is that a lot of people don't want to do it, and it falls by the wayside, and then when that happens, you get backed up and you have to work even more.
Shawn Van Dyke: Well, here's the funny thing about the administrative stuff, too, and especially for construction business owners, and this is what's so odd for us to think about, is, we can't imagine sitting in an office and punching numbers into a spreadsheet, reconciling the books, or spell checking contracts, or sending out emails to other people to get them to buy stuff from us. That's just foreign to us, because who wants to do that?
Shawn Van Dyke: But the thing is, is there are people called executive assistants, and account managers, and office managers, and accountants, and software developers, and they love to do that stuff. They can't imagine being out in the heat or the cold or the dust or the dirt. So it's just a mental shift. It's a mindset sort of thing, where we say, "Well, I hate doing the bookwork." Great, you probably suck at it anyway, so there is somebody out there that loves to do bookwork, and they're looking for an opportunity to do exactly the work that you have.
Shawn Van Dyke: And you're not doing the bookwork good, you're not doing it well anyway, so get somebody that's a ninja at it, and you'll find that your business will grow so much faster if you can do it. But it's a mindset thing. So I'll talk to a lot of construction business owners, and they say, "Shawn, I just don't know if I can afford to hire somebody to do that." And I'll say, "You're looking at it the wrong way. It's not that you can't afford to hire them, it's that you can't not afford to hire them."
Shawn Van Dyke: For example, you could pay a bookkeeper, and again, I'm just making up a number, 50 bucks an hour to come in, work part time, even, even remotely these days. Your bookkeeper does not have to be next door, or in your same time. But that person you might hire for 50 bucks an hour enables you to go out and stand in front of a homeowner for two hours and sell a project that's going to net $10,000 to the company.
Shawn Van Dyke: So the thing is, is you're spending time at what you could pay somebody 50 bucks an hour to do at the cost of ... If it takes two hours to net $10,000, that's an average of $5,000 an hour. You can't afford not to bring somebody in. But when you look at it like that, and that's what it takes, is to say, "Okay," and that's what I help my clients with, is say, "Okay, get that. Now, but I don't have any money right now." They say, "Okay, now we're thinking. Let's go do some things that generate income now, provide cash now, and so that we can hire that person, so that you can continue to do the things that are providing that cash, or that income, and that's where the systems come in."
Brett Harned: Yeah, interesting. I'm sitting here thinking his advice all ties back to those statements. Be happy. You're not going to be happy if you're doing the admin work and you're just not good at it. So find someone else to do it. Be persistent, find other ways to make that work. Find another person. Find more time. Do what you can to make your business do well. Be creative, find different ways to go about the problem. Is it finding another person? Is it finding more time? What are the ways that you're going to make that happen?
Brett Harned: So I thought that was really interesting and also really good advice. And I think we're just about out of time. I'm wondering if you've got any final advice or things that you want to mention to our listeners.
Shawn Van Dyke: Yeah, so, back to the first thing that we had talked about, was the understanding the financials. That's a really, very tactical sort of thing, and that's where a lot of construction business owners need to start out. And so, I've got a book for you. It's called Profit First for Contractors: How To Transform Your Construction Business from a Cash-Eating Monster to A Money-Making Machine, and I've been blown away by the response to the book.
Shawn Van Dyke: If you are a construction business owner and you're struggling with anything on the financial side, I do not have an MBA, I'm not a CPA, there are no letters at the end of my name. But this book is for you, it's written by somebody that was too dumb to know the difference, like I said, to give up, and figured out how to manage the cash in a construction business. And I received so much feedback from the book that people saying, "I thought you were writing this book for me."
Shawn Van Dyke: So I'm not saying that to brag, I'm saying it is the key for construction business owners to understand one of their biggest problems in their business is the financial side of it. And it's not just a book of financial. You're going to hear stories about contractors just like yourself that walked through this cash management system and it completely transformed their business.
Shawn Van Dyke: But if you don't do anything else with the book, the main point of the book is when you get money into your business, some of that money has got to be set aside for your profits. That's the reason that you're in business. Don't let anybody tell you anything otherwise. If you don't have profits, then you can't serve your family, your employees, and your community.
Shawn Van Dyke: So when you bring some of that money in, you're going to take some of that, and you're going to set it aside in a bank account, and you're not going to touch it. And when you don't touch it, that money will still be there at the end of the year, or at the end of the quarter, or the end of the month, or whatever. And people say, "Managing your cash can't be that simple. It's very complicated. My CPA says so." Your CPA's wrong. It really is that simple.
Shawn Van Dyke: And so when you take some of that money, you set it aside, and you don't have enough money to pay your bills, it's not because of your profits. Your profits aren't the problem. It's the way you're operating your business. And so it forces you to do things different in your business without sacrificing the most important thing in your business, which is profit.
Shawn Van Dyke: So that would be my biggest advice. I know it sounds kind of self-serving, but buy my book, Profit First for Contractors, and within three months, you will completely change the way that you look at the money in your business.
Brett Harned: That's awesome. So, Profit First for Contractors. There's a link to that on our website at Teamgantt.com under podcasts, as well as your bio and some other ways for people to get in touch with you. I would love to have you back on the show to talk more about estimating and planning construction projects. So hopefully I can get you back. I know you're a super busy guy, but hopefully I can get you back some time soon. Thank you so much for being here, Shawn. Really appreciate it.
Shawn Van Dyke: Hey, Brett, thank you so much, and any time, anywhere, you just let me know. I'd be happy to keep putting out good information for construction business owners. Thank you so much.
Brett Harned: Excellent. Thanks. Wow, that conversation was jam packed with inspiration, ideas, and even tactics. Shawn has a wealth of information about running construction projects and businesses. Honestly, we didn't get to everything I wanted to discuss, so you can expect to see him back on Time Limit in the future.
Brett Harned: In the meantime, check out the show notes for more information on Shawn Van Dyke and all of the great work that he's doing. And please don't forget to share, rate, and like our podcast on your podcast listening service of choice. And come back for the next episode, which is going to be all about dealing with social politics. Thanks.