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The inspiration for this episode came from an email. A simple note from our guest, a Project Manager on the path to ownership, to the owners of his company. It’s one of those messages that as a business owner you hope to receive. And when you get an email like this, you realize that you’ve created something that is attracting the right people to your mission.

Show highlights include:

  • Why it’s less stressful and more profitable to only run 2 projects a year instead of 30+ projects (9:41) 
  • How discovering your highest and best use instantly makes all your work more fun than your favorite hobby (14:53) 
  • The “4-Pronged Success Plan” that helps you attract top talent who are genuinely happy to work for you (21:08) 
  • The “Brake Pedal Method” to leadership that prevents your most gung ho employees from biting off more than they can chew and burning out (21:26) 
  • Why the best project managers in the world fail because of an impossible business model (23:25) 
  • How running your construction business like an undefeated criminal trial lawyer evaporates all your stress, headaches, and frustration (25:56) 

To get the most out of this podcast, head over to https://buildernuggets.com  and join our active community of like-minded builders and remodelers.

Read Full Transcript

Any good leader knows that there's a reason. The brake pedal is twice as wide as the gas hub.

Welcome to another episode of Builder Nuggets, the show where builders and remodelers discover how to build thriving businesses while working less. I'm Duane Johns and together with Dave Young, we share the elements of success that have helped hundreds of contractors like you build better lives.

(00:31): We have such a great job. We get to hear so many stories about personal transformation and growth. In today's episode, we're going to share one of these stories with you from a builder nuggets list there, who's going to open up about his personal journey. It's the type of story we all need to hear. The

(00:40): Inspiration for this episode is actually an email, a simple note from our guests project manager on the path to ownership to the owners of his company. It's one of those messages that as a business owner, you hope to receive, and when you get it, you realize that you've created something that is attracting the right people to your mission. This is proof. So we welcome Corey Norris with a layer homes, Markham, a custom home building company that's just outside of Toronto, Canada. So Corey, if 2021 in the middle of a global pandemic in general world chaos was your best month ever. And that that's the title of Corey's email, by the way, my best month ever, you must have some pretty months in your business to say the least I'm now 20, some years into the career. I think I can honestly say there's not a whole lot that that I haven't seen or been through.

(01:36): And most of those bad, and now finally things are turning around and in the worst year possible for most people has actually been one of the most productive and enjoyable years for myself and our business. Yeah. And it sounds like that's what compelled you to write this? Yeah, yeah, no, it was, I was sitting there. It was the end of the month. I think it was the last working day of the month. And I was just reflecting my God. I was sitting back and I was just in awe. I was like, I don't think I've ever had a better month in my career. You know, we've had some great, you know, sales months and, and some big wins, but as far as overall enjoyment productivity and, and that's spells a lot of success for myself, I cannot remember a time where I've thought I'm here.

(02:21): I'm doing it. I'm finally at that level where I want to be playing in the league, that I want to play that old saying wish I could soar with the Eagles instead of running around with the turkeys. Well, it finally feels like I'm flying with the Eagles and that's great. And you mentioned leagues, you didn't start out in a construction league. You started out in a hockey league. Walk us back to that. How you go from playing pro hockey to being in the construction industry? Well, right off the bat, it wasn't much of a pro career. I am from a smaller place in in new Brunswick on the east coast. And the accent is sorta come out sooner or later during this podcast. But I was a like every kid out there know, eat, sleep, eat, sleep, breathe hockey. You know, my actually when I finished high school, I was smart enough to, to go get a degree instead of pursue the hockey.

(03:08): So I took some time off that, but my first degree is a science degree in kinesiology and I put that into action for about a year after I graduated. And all the while, you know, playing around in the minor leagues, down south in the minor professional leagues. Again, I wasn't there for a big goal score. I'm six foot three and over 200 pounds. So you can imagine what my role is. Work three, five penalty, minutes in 12 games are that perfectly suited for the job site? My friend zero goal zero is this, but it's funny. We just being raised the way I was raised was you know, my father was very hands-on with things. I remember changing the brakes in the car, you know as six years old and dad taught us how to build a family cottage and things like that.

(03:58): So I always loved construction. My first job at 16 was with an industrial sandblasting company. And I remember I had to my brother and I went to work for them at the summer and we were turning 16. And it was our neighbor that owned the company. And this is big water towers, bridges, things like that, industrial sandblasting. And I don't know if anybody knows about that job, but it is one of the most dangerous jobs out there. One of the hardest jobs out there and a real good summary of that is go have a nice workout, get all sweaty or go for a swim, get out, roll around in the sand and then put your coveralls on and go to work for 12 hours. And that's your day. So I remember Dan saying, you work them hard. I want them to have degrees, so they want, so they want to go back to school and that sure did work.

(04:47): But after I finished university, I did that for about a year. And I quickly realized that I was not the type of guy that could be stuck in an office or in one spot every day. And I really loved construction. I loved working with my hands and I had very high energy levels and I also had the travel bug. So it started off with a tour of Canada. And I ended up out in the west coast and got right back into construction. And it was able to be a part of some really good crews where we built houses from the ground up. And, you know, it wasn't just a framing crew or just a concrete crew. So I got some great experience and out west at that time, the oil, the oil fields were blooming. The money was great. And you could climb the ladder if you had, you know, a head on your shoulders and came to work every day and did what you said you were going to do.

(05:35): You really got to to move up in the ranks, but I could only get up to about a foreman level. We're running quite a few guys on a large hotel project. And and I knew you know, the old hockey injuries were starting to come back and, and I knew that I wouldn't be able to swing a hammer. So the the idea was to get back and get some civil engineering under my belt because I saw the project manager walking around on site. And I, and, and that's, you know, I said, that's where I want to be. I love working with my hands, but I also like using my brain, you know, and I consider myself an academic and I quite a reader and love to learn. So, so the actual construction part of it was limiting in and fulfilling my, you know, my mental sort of aspirations and challenges from there.

(06:17): I went and got my engineering and then I, I still had the travel bug. So most of the way through my thirties, I was basically a contract project manager. And I work from everywhere from BC to, to new Brunswick, Ontario. And even as far up as new events up in the middle of nowhere working on some ICI projects. And then a few years ago, I landed back here in Toronto and finally ready to go out on my own. And I had this crazy idea that I could open up a business just by myself. I was sick of having all this bloated staff that all these companies have with office of mens and coordinators and everything else that it involves. So they just want to do it myself. I want a couple of big jobs a year, a custom home. And I had this wild idea that I could be completely transparent with the client.

(07:04): And by transparent, I mean, you know, maybe I won't tell them how many, two by fours they're going to have on their site, but they're going to see the cost of that framing. They're going to see the cost of the materials. They're going to see the costs of if the discounts that I get from my vendors and my suppliers and my trade partners. And I want to pass that along to the client. I want them to see how much markup I'm charging, you know, and everything completely transparent. And I couldn't understand why this wasn't possible because with the other business models, I would literally go home and not be able to sleep at night, you know, full well, knowing that, you know, this company policy is we've got to change order. It's a hundred percent markup or whatever it's going to be, and there's no ifs, ands or buts.

(07:44): And I've got to look the clients in the eye and tell them this stuff, you know, and not tell them what's going on behind the scenes. But when I, I got my company off the ground and things are going pretty good. I had some, some it was building up nice 2020 was looking like it was going to be a great year for me. I had a million dollars lined up and that was two jobs. And I still had a couple more going, and that was going to be my year and COVID hit. And then nothing, everybody backed out and I quickly realized, well, I've got to have some kind of business model. That one is going to be a bit more stable and and a scalable part. Well, I was just going to wing it. I knew that that was the day was going to come where I'd have to tackle those, those objectives of accounting and marketing and all that stuff.

(08:32): But you know, I, I happened to be at an architecture workshop and I had met a couple of people there with with the business I'm with now. And we just got talking and, and turns out we have the same business model. And I couldn't believe that there was another company out there that was into being transparent and honest with the clients. You know, they, they paid their project managers, what they're actually worth. You know, they're completely transparent with the, with the clients and their, and their invoicing and their trays and the, and the quotes and everything. And, you know, finally, I don't have to, you know, have a $20,000 budget for framing set by the owner of the company and then told to go beat it by 5,000. Well, the client didn't get that $5,000 the owner did. Plus he already got his insane markups, you know, and I literally couldn't sleep at night.

(09:18): So you have this initial conversation and it sounds like you're excited because what you tried to implement in your own business on your, on your own was that visibility and a client experience and a business model that where you could execute and still, still uphold your values, the way that you wanted. And you hadn't had much experience with that with, with the companies you were with before or issues with the companies I was with was the workload was always, always unreasonable. The last company I did management for here in the GTA, we're running about 30 projects a year right now, I'm running two and it's night and day. My project managers are running too it's night and day. Just the other day, we had a problem at a site, you know, upon demo, same thing, where you coming to stuff that was completely unexpected, 40 year old home, some really bad framing.

(10:12): We got some beans hanging with with no point loads last year or a couple of years ago, that would have been an absolute stop. The presses. This is gonna ruin my whole week because my schedule is already booked 14 hours worth of work here a day, no room to deal with these kinds of issues. So whenever I stopped that other clients are failing, that's how I see it. Whenever I take time away from one job to focus on the other job, I feel like I'm robbing Peter to pay Paul. Yeah, I can't sleep at night. Well, it feels like you weren't able to deliver the best version of yourself or the best service that you could. You weren't in an environment where you could do that. Now you're in an environment where you can do that. So we'll, we'll back up in a second and, and get to just how you put that in place.

(11:00): Great. Well, I remember, you know, I met these, we had a meet you architect and an architect workshop, and lo and behold, I didn't realize that this architect was actually starting. He was thinking of recruiting me too, because their architecture company wants to open up a production division. They designed all these new laneway houses in, in GTA and whatnot, and they were looking to, you know, get into the construction aspect of it. And he also wanted to introduce me to Andrew and Evelyn from their home sports tilt. One of the best things I remember about that conversation with Andrew, we're talking about scaling the business and things like that. And then project management, whatnot. And he looks me in the eye and he says, well, what you got to ask yourself, Corey, he goes, do you want to be a project manager, or do you want to be a business owner?

(11:45): And that really stuck with me. And I said, you know what? I'm doing been doing project management for about 10 years. I was on the tools for 10 years before that. And I'm both, you know, my business is open and I want to, I want to grow that. And I've got a pretty good idea how that goes from working with all these other businesses in the past. But that's what really excites me. Building a project is, is fun and everything, but it's the next progression. It's the, the evolution of us in construction. And that's where it really hit me. And then I weigh all the factors of I'm not from Toronto. You know, these guys have a marvelous trade base. They've got a fantastic reputation. And as we started talking sure enough, they were completely transparent with everything about the business. Any question I had, they would open up the books and say, here you go, here it is.

(12:30): They let me sit in on meetings, you know, and it was just completely transparent. They had their roles and responsibilities, clearly delineated. I got to meet their staff. Everyone's happy. They're getting paid what they deserve. They're not overworked. And I just, I couldn't believe it. It took about six months of back and forth like that. And and then we said, let's do it. And we decided to do that in the middle of a pandemic. So then it was all rainbows and unicorns right after that. Right. Your first three months, the first three months were that typical 12, 14, 16 hour work days. And you know, I hadn't managed a project in a little bit because of the COVID and whatnot. And it just felt like a fire hose was put down my throat. And I said, oh, here we go. I'm overwhelmed. Why can't I get this thing?

(13:18): You know, I don't know whether I've lost my edge and really it's. I was a bit out of shape work-wise to get into the, you know, the the methods and procedures and policies and all that stuff. And then for the first time I realized for the first time in my career, I'm not just driving around and job site to job site, putting out fires. I'm actually able to sit down for the first time in a few years and actually plan out these projects proper. So most of the extra hours were just, just getting the feel of things. And once we got those bugs worked out, we went through a software change during that time and things like that. And, you know, learning the accounting and the invoicing and stuff. And I said, you know, I wasn't too too concerned, but it was definitely, it was a little overwhelming at times, but I knew there'd be an it, but the big, the big picture is that was October, November, December.

(14:11): We had a good Christmas break, came back January and every day was just a win every single day in January, wasn't winning. And if there was a problem, like I had mentioned earlier, it wasn't, it wasn't a problem. I mean, if I expected to wake up and there'd be no problems, that's, that's a fantasy life. But what was nice was that I was able to deal with these problems and deal with them with professionals and take the time to sit down and draw things out and not be hasty. And even if I need it two or three days, and to give the clients the best options for their hosts and the best value, I was finally able to do that. And I've got goosebumps right now. It just tells you guys about this because the, the sense of of joy and enjoyments internally, I I've honestly never felt this at a sustained level.

(15:02): Everyone has a good day, but a good month like this. So when I sat down and wrote that email, the change from January, I don't think in the month of January, I worked more than an eight hour day of actual work. And the other stuff, you know, looking into business development and extending trade partnerships and things like that, that is not work anymore. That is passionate. That is like enjoying going. I enjoy that stuff as much as I enjoy going fishing from a guy from the Western new Brunswick. If you knew me, I like my fishing. Your enthusiasm is clearly coming through and it comes through loud and clear in the letter. And the fact that you take the time to write a letter like this, and very succinctly and map it all out. If you're a business leader, this is absolutely what you aspire to hear from somebody on your team. If you care about your people and they share your mission with you, this is absolutely what you are shooting for. So it's important to see what this looks like. And we, we called it the the proof

(16:05): A quick reminder that the best way to get the most out of this podcast is to engage with the builder nuggets community, visit our website@buildernuggets.com and follow along on Facebook and Instagram.

(16:19): But one of the things that was prevalent in your email was the number of times you referenced Andrew and Evelyn talked to us about how they encouraged you, the leadership that you got from them and their role in helping you to succeed, you know, you're on the path to ownership. You're going to be, you're going to be a co-owner with them in this business very soon. And you're overseeing production of a business that you've just come into and having the best day of your life or the best month of your professional career. That doesn't just happen on your own. No, no, it certainly doesn't before I get, I want to answer that question, but I'm going to forget something if I don't bring this up. All right. When I, when I wrote that email and I finished it with the only intention of one telling Andrew and Evelyn, my experience, we started with clear, open communication channels, and I just, I was feeling great.

(17:13): And I knew that that would make them feel good. You also mentioned that it was mental health awareness month in a prime time where that's something that's near and dear to all of our hearts. And we're going to, we're going to talk about some more, so yeah, we get it. You can tell when you read this thing that the whole intention was, Hey, I just want to share my experience in case it can help others and you didn't expect it to go viral or, you know, whatever. But the reality is this. We're seeking these stories out in our community and we heard about it. And the next day an idea started, Hey, we got to share this because we want it to happen to more people. And to learn that you can find your, you can find your place. This is what it looks like.

(17:58): It's out there because your story is important to share. So it all started with Andrew and Evelyn, like I said, at that architecture workshop and Andrew and everyone were presenting and they were presenting some laneway pro jobs that they've done. They were running the show for this, this workshop, and they got up and they started talking. And I remember clear, I remember what they were wearing and everything up there. And I said, geez, those guys are so professional. They are presenting themselves so well, that's the next level for me, that's where I'm stuck at. And how do I get there? And then when we started talking and planning, it, wasn't just, oh, we're going to, we're going to give this a go. Or, you know, we're, we think we're going to do this. They had everything planned out. We knew how much money we were going to spend each month to the dollar, you know, our forecasting because of the great accounting that they have.

(18:48): And he'd been through this, there was no scrambling to let's get the jobs and then find the people to do them. They had that all in place, everything was templated and planned out. The change was going from two people running a business to three. And how are we going to share that? So we plan that out. You know, we had Evelyn doing finance administrative contract work. That's, that's her wheelhouse, that's her, her chair. That's where she's sitting Andrew director of sales. He's handling the sales. And if you've met Andrew, there's not a better decision to keep him in sales and then myself director of production. That was a good fit with my experience. Now I do love sales. I do find some excitement in there. And as we progress into the market, and as it grows, I will get involved in that. But for now I was completely happy with it.

(19:36): I wanted to conquer the world with them and I've I've got a habit of doing that. Let's start a new endeavor. Let's go all at it. And they kept on ringing me and saying, no, no, Corey, hold on, just worry about this production. Let's get this straight. Let's get our project health reports at a hundred percent every week. Let's make sure that our, you know, our safety and stuff was top notch. Our, our systems and our, and our clients are all happy. And I said, for the first time in my career, I have to worry about my aspect and my job only. And I was, I was shocked that I could actually, you know, and I see these guys working alongside me and they're doing everything in the backend. And the first time in my life, I can actually say, and, and granted, I worked with people that have been in the business for decades, and I've never had the professionalism and trust in these two people like I've had in anybody else.

(20:27): I know that I can rely on them. I know that I can ask them a question. And I know that if I get into problems, that they are going to be there for me. I don't have any other words to describe it. When I, when I look at the story that you're, that you're talking about, you're, you're at a place now where you've clearly found your spot and Dwayne and I, anybody who's listening to the show, we talk about your highest and best use often, which is basically, you know, you're, you're doing what you love. It doesn't feel like work clearly. That's happening to you. So you you've found the right spot. You found the right group, you found the right systems and infrastructure and everything that works for you. But if w if we're to back this whole thing up, you found a leadership group that shared the same vision and mission that you wanted to go on.

(21:13): Then they put together a plan for you that gave you confidence that you could do it with them. They surrounded you, they put you in the right seat. And then they surrounded you with the power of collaboration so that you could grow and be successful in the role. And I think one of the key things in that plan that you pointed out here, and you also talk about in the email is Andrew putting on the brakes and reeling you back in because you wanted to come charging out of the gates and go running out of the barn into the field. And you could trip on a gopher hole as soon as you get out of the gate and rack yourself up. But any good leader knows that there's a reason. The brake pedal is twice as wide as the gas pedal. You got to tap that thing every once in a while.

(21:55): And he was able to keep you focused and on track there's project managers, listening to this. There's a couple of things you can do right now. If you're inspired by Corey's story is you can figure out how to have conversations with your existing leadership team to bring some of the stuff in here, maybe listening to this, give and get access to resources. So you can do that, or find a spot where a company is doing this. Like they're out there. There are thousands of good contractors out there that are using a transparent business model that invest in their people. It's just, you don't hear the stories that much, if you don't know how to find them. So you were, you were fortunate that you put yourself in positions where you're meeting these leaders. I'm interested in what your advice to others would be. Well, I shouldn't toot my own horn quite, quite so quickly, because let's remember for 10 years, I didn't find those leadership people.

(22:52): I put myself through absolute hell, but you didn't know they existed, but I didn't know they existed. So to speak of, of my, you know, what I went through for project managers out there where you're handling, you know, if we're talking major renovations and custom homes, there's no way you can handle six projects at a time. It's not possible. It's just not possible. And I didn't realize that I always had that. I said, geez, you know, but then the business owners that I'm with are, well, we can't afford it. And this, and it's, so we've got to get to the root of the problem. You can be the best project manager in the world, but if you don't have a business model to work with and work under, that's going to support you and understand that, then it doesn't matter. You know, where you are.

(23:35): It's, it's just not going to work sooner or later, you're going to burnout. And, you know, we get into this and we try these ideas. I mean, I've tried everything under the sun. I've implemented so many and, you know, pick an aspect of construction. I can talk for a whole podcast about it and how we, you know, the good and the bad and the ugly that I've gone through. And now we've got a business model that is just in my mind, it's stripped bare of the, of the bloat. You know, we don't have all this extraneous staff. We've got a very small core team and a project manager is a project manager. Wouldn't it be nice if you could just do everything. And this is when I went off on my own. I labeled my company, a project management company, touted it as a project management firm where I would take care of everything.

(24:22): I'm not outsourcing anything because I really feel that, you know, the only way to know my client's job inside and out is that I'm, if I'm given the time, if I'm not just showing up on site with a Flipboard for 15 minutes, you know, and you've got to do this, this, this, and then taken off, you can actually spend some time on site, set up the laptop, do some other work. But when you're the questions come, you're there. Yeah. It's not the projects that kill you. It's the clients, no project ever gave a review, no project ever phoned you at three o'clock in the morning. It's the relationships because you, you were, you know, you were talking about in your email about looking clients in the eye and, and sleeping at night. To me, that's one of the biggest differences is your clients get the right amount of attention from you.

(25:05): You're getting paid for your time with them, but they appreciate that relationship with you much more. And it's clear that you feel like you can deliver more value. Yeah, there's, there's, there's some other really great points about this business model that we have going one where we've got an avatar. We've got an ideal client that we're looking for. We did get into planning with one client, for example, this past year and right away, red flags came up and the best decision that we made Andrew and Evelyn ally, where I think we've got to drop this. This is going to be a complete drain to us mentally, financially. It's, it's just not the fit for us. And those again, this is probably the first time I've been part of a, an organization that will actually do that and not just see dollar signs. You know, there's a reason we've got five out of five reviews everywhere we're picking.

(25:57): Our clients are at as well as our clients are picking us in some of our training sessions. We hear, we talk about a story of the criminal trial lawyer. Who's like 28 and oh, and everybody, everybody wants him because he's got a perfect record. And you ask him the secret to his success is he only takes cases he can win. And that's exactly what you're talking about. You know, that's how you get the perfect record is to take the cases that you can win, take the ones that are lined up right for you that, you know, you can execute on. And the client is a huge part of the team. So yeah, if the client doesn't line up, you just shouldn't go down the road at all. So th there is one thing I'll say about that is if I was still in a, with previous business models and the stress that I was having, and then in the middle of this pandemic, I think that the enjoyment that I'm having with work, the fact that I wake up every day at 5:00 AM with no alarm.

(26:58): And, you know, I'm working out, my mood is through the roof every day. I think it's more of, you know, the effect that that has on her because she, she has a high level. She is a director for the business that she's in for an it company. And they're under an incredible amount of workload and stress right now, keeping that business running because she does it for the power companies. The stress that she's having right now is, is unbelievable. They're expected to work twice as hard in the same amount of time to keep these, you know, this train on the tracks. And I think that me being in the, the position I am and the moods that I have in the, you know, the enjoyment and the motivation and the, and the love for life right now, I think that's really helping her up. And I know that it's contagious with the guys on site.

(27:45): You know, my, my excitement and my enthusiasm. I know it's coming through with the clients. We do a weekly project health report, and we asked them to rate us not one health report. Since October 1st has been anything less than five and a five. Well, we talked about it, you know, with respect to your clients, that they're getting the best version of you. It sounds like the people you care about the most are getting the best version of you. The trades are getting the best version of you. Your leadership team is getting the best version of you, and you're getting the best version of you. And that's pretty cool, man. This is the first time in my life where I think I am finally reaching my potential. And that's always been my goal. Everyone goes through ups and downs in their careers and their personal life.

(28:32): We go through problems with families and personal and everything, and I'm no different from anybody else, but there was one thing, especially through my thirties and just, I'm not reaching my potential where whatever company I'm working with here, they're holding me back in some respect, or I'm too stressed out to make another aspect of my life better like my health or my work balance life or, or anything like that. And this is the first time where I am honestly, truly completely 100% believe that I am reaching my potential. Great. Well, it's nice for you to wake up and know that you don't have to be a fighter anymore. You can actually be a goal score. Now we know you can still fight if you had to, but your goals are different in your mind. And you're just filling the net right now, man. So yeah, way to go, congratulations on your success.

(29:27): And thank you very much for sharing this story with all of us. Any of these stories take courage, and we want to, we want to use you as an example to other people who have been through these struggles. It wasn't all rosy for you, but this is what we all need to hear. Many of us are going through difficult times, and it doesn't matter what aspect of the business is that you want to share or talk about. There's a group of people here who want to help amplify that story so we can help others. And we really appreciate it. Dwayne, I've got some closing remarks and some summaries. What were your takeaways? And biggest thing for me is just that he has seen the things that have changed in his life to make it the best month ever. One of the things he said early on resonated with me was, you know, as a project manager, getting things thrown at you when you don't have the information, when you've got too many projects going on, there's just the amount of stress that can be thrown onto a project manager.

(30:21): And then the expectation of, of what needs to be done in a given day is extremely daunting. The fact that you guys are, you know, taking a hard look at how do you remove that chaos and insanity out of the day-to-day and make it a manageable task? You know, how can you not start to love your job at that point? So that, that was, that was the, probably the biggest takeaway for me do it on your own. And there is a better way. There's a better way. You don't have to do it all by yourself, man. Great episode, dude. You nailed it. That's awesome.

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