Coach Russ met Ian at a local coffee shop. He was concerned after hearing how frazzled Ian was over the phone. Ian was an acquaintance of Russ’s for the last 10-years and have never really wanted to seek Russ’s advice or coaching. As far as Russ knew, Ian was some sort of engineer and ran a successful engineering firm. Whenever Russ asked Ian how things were going, Ian would always give the response, “Fine, fine. We’re busy. Always good to be busy.” But this time, Ian sounded like he was in a panic. Russ was worried about his longtime friend.
When Ian entered the coffee shop, he looked a wreck. His hair was disheveled and it looked like he hadn’t slept for weeks.
After they got their coffees, Russ asked, “Ian, I’m worried about you. What’s up?”
Ian took a sip of coffee and said, “I think I’m in trouble.”
“For the last ten years, you’ve told me that you’re busy. I assumed that your business was doing great.”
Ian interrupted, “I was busy; and still am busy, but with all of my busyness, I’m not really making much money and I’m working myself to death.”
It was hard for Russ to act surprised. Ian had been in business for 10-years and had started hiring employees around year 5. It was usually around the 5-year mark that a company either crashed and burned; or the owner learned how to be a leader and led the company to greater things.
Russ offered, “Tell me the whole story. I want to know how you started your company, when you hired employees and what kind of situation you find yourself in today.”
Ian took a deep breath and unloaded, “I started off as an independent consultant. I remember that I was scared going out on my own at first. I worked out of a home office and eventually gained the reputation as an expert in designing ice rinks. At first, I did a few community center rinks; then some schools and then started consulting on some of the large sports arenas in Minneapolis.”
Russ had to interrupt, “Why did you become so popular as an Ice Rink designer?”
“It’s really tough to keep the people in the stands warm while keeping the ice cold, and preventing fog inside the rink area. I had developed some neat tricks to accomplish all of these things. They aren’t patented or anything, but rink designers know that I’ll take care of them.”
“Thanks, Ian. Please continue with your story.”
“Well, I seemed to be doing pretty good on my own, but my customers were frustrated that I couldn’t keep up with their demands. That’s when I decided to hire an assistant. I had to get a real office and stop working from home; and my new assistant wanted health benefits, an IRA and the whole works, so I then hired an administrator to work on all this extra stuff. Before I knew it, I paying for all kinds of stuff that I didn’t need when it was just me in my home office. That first year in the new office, our company increased from $300,000 to $400,000, but my pay went from $300,000 to $100,000 because of the office rent, added people and the other costs that go with hiring new people. I told myself that it’d be worth it because my company would grow and I would be able to increase profits.”
“Did your company grow?”
“It sure did. We figured that we could do more than just design ice rinks, we could build them. I hired construction managers, sales people, more engineers and rented a bigger place. On paper, it looked like I could increase the company revenue to $5,000,000 per year and I could increase my personal income to $500,000 per year.”
“How did it work out?”
“That’s the frustrating part, Russ. Every time I’d hire another employee, I had less time to do engineering and had to dedicate more time to managing employees. I eventually learned that this was the way it was. I’d have to spend all of my time managing other people. But, Russ, I’ll tell you, I’m not sure if this is the way it’s supposed to work, but I ended up doing the work for most of my folks.”
Russ smiled, “That’s not the way it’s supposed to work. Why couldn’t your people do the work?”
Ian responded, “It’s not that they’re incompetent, but they aren’t doing things the way I would do them. And it drives me nuts to put my name on a product that doesn’t have that something-special that I want to provide my customers.”
“So, that’s why you look like you haven’t slept for weeks. Since you’ve been so busy, I’m guessing money is pretty good, right?”
“Wrong! I’ve got two other engineers, two construction managers, an administrator and a salesman, and I’m working harder than ever, but we only have two small clients. With all of the salaries and overhead it takes, I’m barely making a profit at all. It seems like when I try to help my salesman sell more deals, something goes wrong on the construction side. When I try to help out my construction managers, our sales decline. I feel like the plate-spinner at the circus trying to keep all of the plates spinning… and I’m simply worn out. What am I doing wrong?”
Russ could hear the emotion in Ian’s voice. He knew that Ian was genuinely frustrated and emotionally exhausted.
Russ responded, “Ian, you first have to take a deep breath. I have seen countless business owners get themselves into the same jam as you, and there is a way forward. How’d you like to engage me as your business coach and we can work through this together?”
Deep down Ian knew he needed help. He also trusted Russ as a longtime friend. He even knew that Russ had helped several small business owners through discussions they had in the past. But he was not convinced Russ knew anything about the Ice Rink construction business and all the unique things that made Ian’s company special.
Ian asked, “I know you’ve helped a lot of small business owners, but building Ice Rinks is quite unusual and I’ve added a twist to our process that is quite rare. Do you really think you can help me?”
Russ tried to stop from smiling, but he couldn’t, “Ian, You’re a good friend. I wouldn’t offer you my help, if I didn’t think it would do you some good. I’ll tell you what. If in the first month, you don’t see progress, you can end our engagement, no hard feelings. What do you say?”
“I guess we got a deal. I really hope you can help.”
– – –
After looking at the Profit & Loss Statement, it was clear that Ian’s company was overstaffed given the amount of work they had. The first place in Ian’s company Russ investigated was SALES. Russ met with Ian’s sales person, Thomas, in private. Thomas shared that he had sold pipe in the past and had not been up to speed on ice rinks, but that he was learning from Ian. Russ had Thomas do a sale call by pretending Russ was a prospective client. Most of Ian’s clients were not technical people and so it was not necessary for Thomas to know a lot of technical jargon. Russ felt that Thomas had a lot of capability as a productive salesman for Ian, but he lacked the knowledge of Ian’s special process.
Russ met with Ian and shared his perspective about Thomas. At first Ian was heart-fallen. He claimed there was no way he could teach Ice Rink engineering to Thomas, but there was also no way he could find a knowledgeable engineer who could sell.
Russ asked, “You have accurately defined the situation. Thomas cannot become an engineer. Chances that you find a person with Thomas’s sales talent and the engineering expertise is doubtful. With these constraints, what can you do?”
Ian shrugged, “I really don’t know.”
Russ commented, “I guess I failed to tell you one of my rules. You can’t say ‘I don’t know’. You have to use the mind God gave you and think about what your most likely solution could be. Try again.”
Ian paused for a while, ” I guess I could teach Thomas why our engineering and construction process is unique.”
Before Russ could talk, Ian continued, “.. but that won’t work, Thomas will be questioned and won’t know technical details about our unique processes.”
Russ offered, “Ian, have this great epiphany and then you shoot-down your own idea. It’s quite common for sale people to speak the language of features, functions and benefits. They need to stay on message with customers so that their customers understand what makes your company uniquely better than your competition. They really shouldn’t know technical details like an engineer would.”
Russ worked with Ian and Thomas to develop a simple checklist of why Ian’s engineering process was far superior to anything they could find elsewhere. A big proposal was coming up with the City of Edina, and Ian felt like it was a big chance to build their backlog to improve their revenue for the coming year. They couldn’t blow this one, or Ian’s company would be on the brink of financial disaster within a year.
Russ had been working with Ian on stopping his micro-management of Thomas. Russ had convinced Ian that Thomas had superior sales skills and now had a strong selling proposition to any prospective customer with his new check lists. Still, Ian was reluctant to let Thomas do this sales presentation alone. Russ made Ian a deal. Ian could go on the sales call with Thomas, but would pay Russ an additional $1 for every word he spoke in the upcoming sales call. Ian was convinced that if Thomas could sell on his own, Ian would be freed from ever having to do sales calls again.
It must have worked because Ian paid Russ a mere $40 for a few sentences at the first and last of their sales call.
Thomas did an amazing job. Ian acknowledged that Thomas performed better on that call than he ever had. Best yet, Ian got the order. Ian was starting to believe in Russ’s coaching methods.
Ian was convinced again when he promoted one of his veteran engineers to Lead Engineer to be responsible for quality engineering. Ian had now relieved himself of engineering and sales. Now, if he could get his construction managers and administrator to work without him, he’d be a free man.
As Russ tried to get Ian out of construction, they ran into some unique problems. It turned out that both construction managers were hard-headed. They had their way of doing things and they were not willing to listen to input from Ian or Russ. While each construction manager seemed to have a lot of experience in construction, they each did their job different from the other; and were not willing to make changes to the way they operated. It turned out that one of the construction managers, Frank, felt like wining and dining his sub-contractors was the way to get a quality job done; and the other construction manager, Alice, felt like she needed to be a strict disciplinarian with her sub-contractors to meet aggressive deadlines and budgets.
Sub-contractors were complaining about both construction managers. Because they were so different, sub-contractors didn’t know how to bid jobs, because they didn’t know which construction manager would be overseeing the job. After a meeting with both construction managers, Ian explained that they needed to get some consistency with how they managed construction and they couldn’t continue to do things their own way.
The inevitable happened. Frank handed in his resignation and got a job with the competition. Alice stayed on, and decided to work with Ian, establishing a consistent process to manage subcontractors. Frank’s leaving reduced the immediate stress on their budget and allowed Ian to hire a better replacement to help with the increasing work load that was building from his successful salesman, Thomas.
– – –
It had now been six months since Ian hired Russ. They met back at their coffee shop to go over next steps in their coaching relationship. It was evident that Ian was sleeping again, and had less anxiety about his Ice Rink Business. They had made it through their last year with a $150,000 profit; and Ian was convinced they would more than double it the following year with the projects that Thomas had recently sold.
Ian started the conversation, “I first want to tell you how grateful I am to you, Russ.”
Russ smiled, “I’m glad I could help you out friend. What have you learned over our six-month engagement?”
“I’ve learned that I need to let go and let my people do their own thing, their way.”
“But not everyone. Remember what happened with your construction managers?”
“I sure do. I guess, I have to document policies to cover the areas where too much creativity can sacrifice consistency and quality.”
Russ added, “You also learned that you need to train your people so they can do things your way, right?”
Ian smiled, “Right you are, coach! So where do we go from here?”
“It’s really up to you, Ian. You can semi-retire, now that your people are running the show; or You can hire a manager to run your company while you gather profits from your successful firm; or You can duplicate your success in a different metropolitan area or two by branching out; or You can sell your company to some large conglomerate.”
Ian could not believe the options he had now… and just six months earlier was ready to hang it up and go back to engineering Ice Rinks on his own. He smiled as he responded to Russ, “You know… now that I’ve got this leadership and management stuff figured out; I think I’m going to branch out into other cities. I have some great ideas for southern Ice Rinks those guys haven’t even considered. Plus, now that I have systems in place, I can hire and train the right people; and continue to build additional Cash Machines.”
My name is Jeff Schuster. As a business coach, I help my business owner clients generate the profit they need and the time they currently don’t have. I become super-excited when one of my clients has an epiphany that makes all the difference in their company and their personal life. If you’re serious about moving your company forward, please download my 5-Part Formula to Business Success eBook below; or contact me at email@example.com.
Note from the Author
My name is Jeff Schuster. I am a certified Life and Business Coach serving small business owners, corporate executives and others who want to transition from “expert” to “entrepreneur”. I have been a small business owner for most of my 30-years in the workplace. I grew an energy efficiency and renewable energy engineering and construction company from nothing to over $10-million/year and sold it in 2013. I now help other business owners make amazing progress toward their own dreams of business ownership independence and success.
As a long-time small business owner, I know how hard it is to create the business of your dreams while struggling with the financial realities of attracting prospects, converting those prospects into high-paying customers, and making money for you and your family. My biggest mistake in my past was not seeking the advice of wise counsel sooner than I did. I don’t want you to make the same mistake. I use a simple 5-Part Formula to Business Success in my approach to coaching business owner clients that will help you immediately improve your business’s profitability. Download this eBook to see how this 5-Part Formula will work for you.