Why it pays to work for free in the right circumstances
The big picture benefits of never compromising on quality
The core principles that took Kim from 1-10 million a year
Answering the question – Should you hire for a role before you can afford it?
How do you maintain quality as you scale?
2 key pieces of advice for young trades entrepreneurs
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Read a Summary of Episode 25
What’s the one thing construction leaders need today to ensure long-term success? Grit!
Just ask Kim Larson, director of award-winning luxury home design, construction and development company All Elements Design. Manage. Build and our guest on this episode of Contractor Evolution.
She spent 15 years hustling 7 days a week before her dogged determination paid off. It’s what allowed her to scale her business from 1 to 10 million a year in 3 years.
But Kim’s journey has been far from easy.
- She faced prejudice: In Grade 11 her drafting teacher told her, “You need to find a different career because there’s no room for women in this business.”
- She faced financial struggles: “I remember having to decide between filling my car with gas to get to a job or eating that day.”
- And she faced life challenges: The recession hit, her first entrepreneurial adventure went sideways and all this while she was going through a divorce.
But she refused to quit.
So, if you’re thinking of throwing in the towel, if the people around you are doubting your abilities to become a construction leader, then this episode is for you.
Kim shares her advice and shows why grit will get you there.
Tip 1 – Stay The Course
At a young age Kim knew she wanted to design and build homes. She started drawing homes at the age of 6, began working in local architecture firms at the age of 14, went on to study architecture at university in California (being one of only two women on the course) and then got her foot in the door doing CAD drawings for a furniture company in Vancouver.
Later, while travelling Australia, she hounded Robert MacKenzie from Robert MacKenzie Architect for a job. “I told him, ‘I want to work from you, I want to learn from you.’” Eventually, he offered her a position for $12 an hour. She jumped at the chance, moved back to Canada and found her love here for construction.
Why is this all important? Because, every single step of this journey was exactly how she pictured it. She knew what she wanted, and refused to give up.
Tip 2 – Love The Haters
In her early 20s, Kim made the tough decision to leave a job she loved. She was working as a construction project manager on custom homes, but it was 2009 and the recession had hit hard. She was asked to take a 15% pay cut. “I was supporting my husband through school. I had built a dream house for us and couldn’t afford to take a pay cut.” So she decided to walk away from the job and start her own business, despite the recession.
“I gave my notice and offered to help with the transition. The owner said, “No, we don’t need you. And if you’re going to go out on your own, you’re going to fall flat on your face.”
This just added fuel to her fire!
Tip 3 – Build A Team With Similar Values & Grit
While Kim is extremely independent, she says being surrounded by “your people” is essential on the often lonely entrepreneurship journey.
She met her first hire Stephan, a journeyman carpenter, while working on a $2 million showhome build. “He was the yin to my yang,” she says. “He had the same values as me. We started hatching a plan on how we could do things better; give clients a better experience and offer design build.” It was a dream team.
This philosophy extends beyond their inner circle. It’s a reason she says she joined BTA and one that also applies to her clients.
Tip 4 – Grab Those Opportunities, Even If They Aren’t the Big $ Makers
When Kim started her business, she accepted a complex project she knew would put her company on the map…even if, as it turned out, she ended up working for free.
“I wasn’t good at contracts in those early years. They were going to pay me $5,000 a month for 14 months – that’s how long we expected it to take. It took 4 years in total. After 14 months the well was dry, the cheques stopped.”
But Kim went into extra innings for $0 until it was finished. “I never give up and will never quit.” The project, Sin-Ceras, won awards across the province and skyrocketed Kim’s company.
Tip 5 – Hire (The Right) People First, Find The Work Second
There is no bigger motivator than being forced to find work for someone you have hired.
Kim took the leap after realizing she was the bottleneck in her company. “I couldn’t get the architectural designs out quick enough, so I hired a draftsperson. It was a tough decision to spend money before we made it.” But it paid off. Kim was able to take on all the jobs that were on the waiting list.
She does however say if you’re hiring, get your SOPs in order. “I made hiring mistakes and learned my lesson. It was expensive and it hurt my brand. Now I have an SOP for everything.”
Tip 6 – Accept Delayed Gratification
Kim’s path to entrepreneurship was looooong.
So many obstacles were hurled at her, but rather than dodge them, she grabbed and smashed them!
While she was extremely patient in the pursuit of her goals, she did make the mistake early on in the business of trying to scale up too soon. “The first time I tried to grow the business, I failed. I didn’t have the systems or knowledge, or the right people. So I scaled it back down again.”
Years later, with the foundations firmly in place, she was able to grow to a $10 million dollar company.
There’s so much more in this incredibly inspiring episode about one woman who rocked the world of construction by never ever giving up.