05 Jan Advice for Entrepreneurs
Over the course of the past 30 plus years of my professional and business life, I’ve had the opportunity to try many ideas, experiment with what works best, take classes, consult with mentors, and make lots of mistakes along the way.
I started in construction when I was 15 years old and was able to gain lots of experience pouring concrete foundations, working in a saw mill, painting buildings, running and working on light and heavy equipment, sand blasting, forestry, and installing wells and septic systems. Construction was in my blood and it has become the centrepiece of my career.
I went to university to become a civil engineer because I was intrigued to learn about all aspects of construction. With this background I was able to find an opportunity in technical sales, designing, and bridge sales and install. This is where I learned the true art of sales which is simply providing clients with a solution to their problem. I am an extrovert and have always found meeting new people and building relationships to be second nature. As I advanced in my career, I took on positions of management and learned many hard lessons on how to manage people, projects, production, and especially how to manage my own expectations.
When I was 38 years old, I had finally decided to set out on my own and become self-employed. Before this, I had purchased rental properties, renovated them in the evenings and on the weekends, and been a landlord. I still do today even though my path has changed from residential to commercial. This also provided a lot of experience in dealing with people, setting expectations, and learning how to service every client with respect and consideration, even when your mind said they don’t deserve it.
For the past 12 years I have been growing our residential renovation company and commercial property investment company. I continually expand my knowledge and experience through life lessons as I continue to grow. The following are a few things I have learned and believe to be the basis for an entrepreneur:
1) Don’t wait for the perfect scenario… just start! When I started my company, I did some research and decided that there were lots of companies and individuals renovating but only a few who were truly professionals and doing amazing work. I knew that this was the space in the construction industry that I wanted to fill. So I quit a perfectly good job and started at the bottom, taking on many not so glamorous projects to ensure the bills were paid, and working many hours to ensure that projects were completed to a high standard. Eventually, this lead me to build a positive brand and reputation which allows us to complete more incredible home transformations.
2) Sales is everything! If there is one thing that I know for certain, you must always be quoting projects in order to build your company and brand. It is important to remember that before anything can be manufactured, built, or shipped, something must be sold first. Therefore, a constant priority must be finding leads, marketing, meeting clients, estimating projects, and signing contracts. Then, you can worry about fulfilling your commitments.
3) Always trust your gut. The gut instinct is something that we all have and it has been developing ever since you were born. It tells your brain whether something is right or wrong before you can even process the data. Data is important, however, if something “feels” wrong, then trust your gut. Have I missed opportunities that could have been good? Yes but I have also walked away from several situations that could have been detrimental to me or my company. I will trust my gut any day of the week, even if the data says otherwise.
4) Focus on your business, not anyone else’s. I learned this from two sayings: “Keeping up with the Jones” and “the grass is always greener on the other side”. It is one thing to see a good idea and incorporate it into your operations – this is healthy. What I’m talking about is seeing a company that appears to be doing extremely well, maybe been in business less time than you, but they have newer equipment, more people, and everything seems to be better. The thing is, you’re on the outside looking in – they don’t share their financial statements or personal struggles with you so you can’t truly evaluate their success. You don’t know the debt they are carrying or the margin on their sales or other potential challenges they may be having. I recommend staying focused on your own business and not getting caught up in the “bling” of another company.
5) Be patient and frugal. Remember, “Rome wasn’t built in a day”. It takes time to learn the lessons required to succeed. I have never been overly patient and I’ve always wanted results sooner, and pushed to move forward faster, however, I have learned that “patience is a virtue” and can be learned. Be responsible with your cash flow, remember a job isn’t done unless the final invoice is paid. Borrow when needed, however be responsible with the money, it must be paid back to a bank or investor.
6) Treat your people & clients with respect and honesty. Trusting your people does not mean you should not verify their work or provide guidance. If you give people the tools and trust their ability to make good decisions, they will. The same applies to clients, when they are provided with respect and honesty, they typically respond in kind. Honesty is always the best policy and will continue to be mine.
I will not pretend to be a sage of business wisdom or someone who knows it all because I am far from it. I have learned a few things over the years and, God willing, I will continue to learn, grow, and become an even better entrepreneur in the coming years. The advice I give is free for the taking and may only be worth what you paid for it. However, if you want to be a successful entrepreneur, don’t learn all your own mistakes as they can be expensive and painful, so take advice from reliable sources, people who have done what you want to do. Those are my two cents and I hope you remember a few lessons from this article!
Dan Monk, P.Eng. / Red Seal Carpenter
Owner – MONK Renovations