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034: Building Better Construction Companies – Adam Cooper

 
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This episode features Adam Cooper, President and Founder of Ascent Consulting. Adam discusses how he works with construction companies to make them more efficient, more profitable and increase growth. He talks through his process from diagnosis to implementation to help companies make financial gains and cultural improvements.


Sam Schutte 0:00
In today’s show, we have Adam Cooper. He is the President and Founder of Ascent Consulting in Atlanta, Georgia. I met Adam in the consulting success coaching program, and we’re going to talk about helping commercial construction companies grow and operate more efficiently. Adam, welcome to the show.

Adam Cooper 0:15
Hi, Sam. It’s a pleasure to be here. Thanks for the invitation.

Sam Schutte 0:18
Absolutely. So, Adam, tell us what does your company do and who do you work with?

Adam Cooper 0:24
So we work specifically with construction companies all across the United States. Most of our clients are commercial contractors, either general contractors or specialty trade contractors like plumbing, framing, drywall, electrical concrete. Typically, they’re in the 5 to 50 million in annual sales volume range. And we help them in a variety of ways. There’s two different kind of sides to our consulting practice. There’s the operations and performance side where we’re helping our clients improve their internal operations become more efficient, more profitable, more streamlined, expand their capacity. And then we oftentimes help them also on the growth side. So that’s marketing, business development, sales, market share, expansion, and sometimes even exit strategies.

Sam Schutte 1:17
Cool. And so what background Did you have before this? And how did that lead you into starting your firm? Oh,

Adam Cooper 1:25
So I came out of college with a degree basically in Electrical Technology and went to work as an electrician in the field. And rose up, became a superintendent became a project manager, went back to college, got a business degree, and worked in the commercial and industrial construction space for over 20 years. for about eight of those years, I had my own electrical contracting companies. I had one in the late 90s and one in the early 2000s and then left those and went back to a back and forth between those and big corporate national contractors. I learned a lot about how to run a construction company, one through trial and error on my own. And then also by going to work with these big national companies, I saw how they had really scaled up. And it was about 2014. And I, I was looking for something different I was I wasn’t really happy building anymore. I’ve been in the field running projects for 20 something years and was looking for the next opportunity, the next step in my evolution, and had the idea to take all the I had learned at these big companies and as an entrepreneur, and scale it and see if there was a way I could teach it to other contractors so they can run their businesses more efficiently and more profitably. And, and that’s how I got started working out of my living room and going around to a bunch of events and telling people what I was up to. And, and here we are coming up on six years later.

Sam Schutte 3:00
And you know, contracting in construction is kind of a broad field and was there any particular specialty of type of projects you did when you had your own firm I’m just curious like, type of niche you were into in terms of what you were building.

Adam Cooper 3:12
So when I had my own companies, I did a lot of industrial automation. So that looked everything like everything from designing and installing conveyor control systems. I did some some GUI programming I used to do a lot of PLC work programmable logic controllers, which is you are used in automation and manufacturing and a lot of that experience was in as a manufacturing with and then the specialty was automotive. So I did probably seven or eight auto plants, General Motors, Volvo Ford, things like that. I got a lot of experience installing paint systems and conveyor systems and automation systems in automotive manufacturing. Then I also did pulp and paper. I did some chemical plant work, even did some food packaging down here in the south, chicken plants, Tyson chicken that was a lot of what I did on my own. And when I worked for big national companies, a lot of my work was multifamily high rise medical office. And, and I did a couple of paper mills for them as well. But predominantly it had some type of a either a office or living space in it. So it was like a medical office or a high rise office or a hotel, condo towers, things like that.

Sam Schutte 4:34
Okay, so you and then you start your own from about six years ago, how did you get your first customer to really get that off the ground?

 

That’s a really great story. So I have been in the construction industry in Atlanta for almost 20 years and I have a pretty good network of connections. I know a lot of the big contractors in town, a lot of the big people a lot of those big players in the industry here. And I had been a member of the ABC, which the Associated Builders and Contractors Atlanta chapter for a long time either on my own or with bigger employers, I was usually somebody who went to a lot of the ABC events. And I was going around to networking events and talking to a lot of people that I knew telling them I was trying to, you know, get started as consultant. And and I couldn’t find anybody who was interested in hiring me. And finally, one day I call the woman who was involved at the ABC and membership development, Brenda. Brenda and I had been friends for a long time. And she was getting close to retirement. But she let me take her off for lunch. I told her my idea. She said, I’m going to connect you with three people, you should call all three of them. I’ll tell them that I told you to call and just pitch them your idea. Tell them what you’re up to and get their feedback. So I called the three people that Brenda gave me and one of them said why don’t you come up to my office and we could talk about this in more detail. I’m interested in what you’re doing. And maybe there’s an opportunity that you could help me and he was a plumbing contractor. And so I went up to his office. And I walked out of there with a tentative handshake agreement to start helping him and put a proposal together out of the consulting success playbook. And a week later, I had my first consulting client, and that’s how it kind of got started, but it was it was a connector. It was a referral from somebody in the industry who saw the value what I was doing and was gracious enough to make an introduction for me.

Awesome. Yeah. And I think as I mentioned in the opener, we met in this Consulting Success Coaching Program, which is run by Mike Zipursky . Vancouver. So when you joined you were just sort of, I guess you were just kind of getting that off the ground a little bit. And like you said, using some of that proposal system, I guess, what was your sort of experience with that program? And what did you learn from it?

Adam Cooper 7:05
So, I first found out or heard about Mike Zipursky and Consulting Success. When I first started the company in 2014. I, I had been in construction management and operations and business ownership, but I’d never been a consultant before. So I had this idea I came home, I googled it, you know, how do I be a consultant and I found the Consultant Success Program online. And I think I spent $300 and downloaded his forms and got his book and some and some podcasts and stuff like that. And that was kind of the beginnings of how I started building my business. And I was about a year in I had probably eight or nine clients at that point, and I had hired somebody to help me as an assistant and Sam reached out to me Sam Zipursky, who co runs the program with his cousin, Mike, and Sam reached out and said, I think you might be interested in our in our actual program. Our coaching program and I talked to him about it. And I think I signed up that same day. And that’s, that’s how I got involved, it was wildly beneficial for me. Those two guys really taught me a lot about how to structure proposals and how to structure offers and how to get out of time based selling and into value based selling.

Sam Schutte 8:22
Yeah, that’s interesting, because I think so many people try to transition from their past career of employment and such into the consulting world. And they think, well, I don’t know, it’s just, I just have to figure out a way to pay myself my salary and just bill hourly. I mean, it’s, you know, there’s such a, like a sort of, like, simple, almost dumb approach that most people sort of take right. In the beginning, and it’s, you know, it’s like, the question I start asking myself is like, what am I how am I being innovative? You know, like, what products am I creating? What services am I creating, really, right? If you’re just if you’re just billing yourself out as an hourly person, it’s almost just like a just another job.

Adam Cooper 9:02
Right? It is, you know, it’s it’s, it’s a it’s a distinction between consulting and contracting.

Sam Schutte 9:10
Yeah. Absolutely

Adam Cooper 9:11
a lot of times people come out of their job and they want to go say they’re going to be a consultant or they really want to do is just be a contract employee, just doing the same job but doing it from home or remotely or working different hours getting paid differently, but still trading time for money, as opposed to a consultant who truly trades value for energy, value for money.

Sam Schutte 9:34
Yeah, no, you’re absolutely right. That’s I think that’s a key thing is the difference between contracting and consulting and so, as you’ve developed this consulting business, you know, what are some of the, you know, products and such that you sell to your customers to help them solve things that they’re they’re facing?

Adam Cooper 9:54
So we have a few ways that we start with clients typically, not always, but typically On the operations side, a lot of times our clients are, you know, functioning construction companies, they’re making money. But they they’re struggling, they’re putting out a lot of fires, as we call it, the industry. They’re running around, you know, just trying to handle things that are coming at them. Instead of being proactive and planning and managing their business. They’re just reacting to their business. So a lot of times when they call us they don’t even know exactly what’s wrong. They just know that it’s not right. They know that they know there’s things to fix, but they don’t know what to focus on first, or what areas actually needed or what would have the most benefit. So, we’ve created well, it’s a diagnostic basically we call it an operational assessment. And so this is like a four week project with two days on site. We come in, we ask a bunch of preliminary questions, get some information, then we come on site to our clients location. Spend two days going Through a structured discovery process, then we come back to our office and we take about 10 business days and we write up a full report of what’s right, what’s wrong, where the improvements can be made, we make recommendations. And that’s typically the starting point for us to then talk about more deeper consulting work that we could do. It’s, I like to say it’s the equivalent of going to the doctor to get an exam before he writes you a prescription. So that’s a way that we typically start with clients on the operation side. The other way that we’ve been doing now for about six months is we’ve gotten really good at doing strategic business planning. So if the client doesn’t have any things, typically it’s going wrong, but they want to figure out how they’re gonna, what they’re gonna do for the next year to amp up the business. It’s a great way for us to kind of start on more of the marketing growth side of their business. It’s and we do it using the SWOT methodology strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. It’s about the similar length and time about three to four weeks, there’s prep, there’s two days of workshops, and then there’s a write up that we do. And then that comes with three, six and nine month check ins as well with the client so that we can make sure that they’re staying on track. It also opens up opportunities for us to go and help them more in depth with some of those strategies they want to put in place. So today, over the upcoming year,

Sam Schutte 12:22
What percent of customers do you think once you’ve done one of those two engagement analyses and such moves on to some further project with you?

Currently, it’s about three out of 470 5%.

Yeah, it’s really good. I’m curious, you know, when you’re doing these operational assessments, so you’re coming in, in a pretty short period of time. Now, obviously, you know that industry really well. So you kind of know the the pitfalls, right? Do you get you know, so if you if you present like 10 ideas like Well, here’s 10 things that you could fix, and maybe you don’t do that many? I don’t know. Do you get a lot of folks that go “no, we’re fine there. You don’t understand.” You know, And sort of like, I don’t know, run into doubt of like, well, how could you learn my business and know what I need in a month? Because I’ve been here for 35 years? Or do you find that mostly because of your background in it? They’re like, wow, you know, everything’s dead on or I mean, I guess where do you kind of end up typically in those assessments?

So the assessments have been developed and, you know, over time, when I first started doing them, they were a day, and they became more like two days and then we, we started breaking things down more and more. So now when we do an assessment, it’s typically two days for a smaller company, if it’s a large company, over 20 million will take three days if they’re over 40 million, it might be four days depending on how many people we need to meet with. What I what we’ve learned is that construction businesses all operate similarly, there’s similar processes they have to perform they have to buy material, they have to manage labor, they have to hire or interact with subcontractors, they have to work with a schedule. There’s just some basic blocking and tackling that comes with running a construction company. Our job is not to figure them out from scratch, we basically take their business, and we ask a lot of questions, structured questions that are designed for us to uncover what’s different about them, compared to the industry standard. So we’re looking for the variations, we know how material is typically purchased at a general contractor or trade contractor. So now we’re asking them, how did they do it? And we’re looking to see if what they’re doing is what we expect. Or if they’re doing something different. And if they’re doing something different, we want to understand why it does look different. And does that make sense for them? Or are they doing it differently because they don’t know a better way. And so we’re looking for those variations. We’re able to build a lot of credibility really fast because we’ve seen so many different companies now that we can usually equate how we see them doing something to a past client that was doing it that way as well. Or we can point out the variance, we can oftentimes ask them or show them a better way of doing it on the spot in the assessment in the workshops, and then we just write it up later. We don’t get a lot of pushback from clients. after the fact, we take enough time to ask enough questions and dig deep enough that we understand why they’re doing it a certain way. And we’ll, we’re pretty good judges of whether that makes sense for them or not. And a lot of times, we’re kind of spitballing ideas in the workshops, live with them, and then we’re just kind of capturing what they agreed to in writing later in the report.

So when you’re looking at all those things that construction companies do, what do you think the what’s the biggest one that they all sort of need help with like they all struggle with or is there one that really stands out is More often than not, folks are not doing this in an optimal way.

I would say the there’s there’s a couple of pain points that we see pretty typically. The first is they haven’t clearly defined the roles and responsibilities of the people in the organization. And by that, I mean, I’ll give you an example they might have four project managers. One project manager does all the things inside of the job. The second project manager does almost everything the same, except that he doesn’t know how to do one piece. So he hands that off to an administrative person to do for him. And then the third PM, knows how to do everything but never does the reports because he doesn’t he’s not good with paperwork, but he’s good at running the work. So they have four people in project management and not all four of them are not held to the same tasks, processes and responsibilities. They have different definitions of what their job is. So it’s not standardizing the roles and responsibilities for the different positions in the company that’s pretty typical that we see. So there’s a chance to get everybody kind of doing the same things. And then the second is the way that they do them, which we call the processes or the tasks, they don’t use consistent processes. So one guy does it in the software, the other guy doesn’t know how to use the software. So he’s keeping it all on a spreadsheet, the third guy’s doing it all with phone calls, and he’s gotten his ad, he’s got his admin filling out paperwork form, and you get this kind of mishmash, so it’s not consistent. So one of the most typical things that we help contractors do is establish formal roles, responsibilities, processes, systems, and tasks for their business. It’s the old e myth theory that if you get everybody doing the same thing the same way, then you don’t have to worry so much about people leaving and joining the company. It’s easy to teach people a system if everybody’s on the same system, and it’s easy to replace somebody in a system if everybody’s on the same system.

Yeah, without a doubt. And when you’re when you’re talking about consistent systems, I mean, that gets into our world without a doubt. I mean, just, you know, and I always tell folks, I mean, people really have no ability to have any visibility into what they’re even really doing at a company. If you’ve got one guy on paper, one guy in Excel, one guy in email, one guy in the earpiece system, and it can be hard to effectively force everyone do things one way, because sometimes, you know, people will try to skirt those rules. But it’s, but it’s interesting to me, because when you talk about that problem with roles and responsibilities, right, and basically, it’s more than just job titles, you know, because it’s skill sets. And it may be that one, you know, they’re not all really project managers. One is a Data Manager. One is a schedule manager. One is a file manager something or whatever, right records manager, but that’s, you know, that’s exact same thing. We see really probably in any, any teams, we look at software development teams, management teams, sales teams, right. And it’s like, you know, there’s this great book called secrets of consulting by Gerald Weinberg, I think his name is. And he says, like, you know, no matter what anybody tells you, it’s always a people problem. All problems are people problems, right?

Unknown Speaker 19:20
It’s right. Even if it looks like software, it just means that the people don’t know how to use the software properly. They haven’t been trained, they don’t understand the benefits of the software, or they’re ignoring the software typically. Yeah. Right.

Sam Schutte 19:31
Yeah. And I think, you know, you see in very entrepreneurial organizations that, particularly, you know, if you’re talking about ones that are five to, I think you said, what, five to 50 million in size, something like that. So, you know, these are organizations that, you know, it’s in their recent memory of being a small company, I’m just gonna say that and that might not be true, but they probably sort of remember it. Well, 25 years ago when I it was me and my brother started this right and I know in my experience It’s a little bit like, Well, I mean, this is not that company anymore. Like, this is a $50 million or 100 $200 million organization. You can’t run it, like it’s you and a couple of your buddies, you know, back in the day, right? And but yet, you know, because they sort of have that entrepreneurial DNA, then everybody sort of gets to be their CEO. Right? Which means they can all do whatever they want.

Yeah, I mean, what’s what’s been really great for us is that the way our clients come to us is that they go looking for us, we’re not out prospecting so they know they’re looking for improvement or change. So by the time they find us, they know that they are going to have to take some medicine, maybe that’s a good way to put it. They know that we can’t fix it without breaking it a little bit. We have to kind of get people out of there. Like you said, like their “everybody’s a CEO role”. We have to kind of break that down, which is really a people problem. It’s an it’s change management. So a lot of what we do, which looks very analytical on paper, setting up a process defining a role. That’s the, that’s the paper side of it. But the real consulting is, is in leading them through the change management process to come out the other side. Having implemented all the stuff that we put on paper, because it was, what was it, Peter Drucker said, “culture eats strategy for breakfast”. Yeah. If we don’t help them change the culture, then all the strategy in the world isn’t gonna make a difference. We’re just gonna keep doing it the way they’ve been doing it once we’re gone.

Yeah. And if you just give them a, you know, a strategy, plan a document and say, “Here implement this”, right, it’s not gonna happen. And I’ve had clients, you know, because I mean, in my field, of course, everybody wants to be agile and stuff, right? And you’ll hear, well, we bought the books. We did the training and it didn’t work. And so we’re not it’s like, well, because it’s not enough to just read the book. Yeah. And you do a lot more than that, right? You mentioned how people that you’re getting people mainly that are finding you. Obviously that takes a long time to build up what what’s been most successful for you in terms of systems and content and everything else to make that happen.

Adam Cooper 22:18
Oh, wow. So when I first started the company, I knew that content was the way to build a brand. I mean, it’s been that way for quite some time. But I was very familiar with brand building and creating a voice , positioning our company as the experts in our industry and carving out a niche for ourselves. So I started writing articles, blog posts that I put up on our website, my website at the time, it was just me for the first year. And, I also threw the Zipursky book that I mentioned that I downloaded that first, that first month. figured out how to reach out to some of the national trade magazines for the construction industry and got some of my articles published in those, which gave me some more visibility. So I’m I was in the magazines, I was on the website, I was on LinkedIn publishing stuff. And I was trying to write like an article a month, I figured I had some stuff I could teach people and I started running some very friendly pieces to try and explain things as if I was trying to teach a younger project manager how to do the stuff that I knew how to do in construction management. That’s where I started. Some of those early pieces that I wrote are still some of the most popular blog articles on our website. As far as number of visits per month, and dwell time on the page, we still get a lot of traction out of those original content pieces. So that was how I started building our SEO. It was just through writing. And then now we try and publish at least two articles. A month. So 24 articles a year, we write about industry trends we write about kind of the blocking and tackling sometimes we have a topic that comes up recently, we wrote a three part article about downturn strategies. We wrote it in January before all this happened, because we knew that eventually, it was going to be a downturn in the in the economy, we just didn’t expect it was going to happen 45 days after we started publishing, so those have actually gotten a lot of traction. We’ve written and modified them a little bit for the COVID-19 situation to make them a little more topical. But the strategies themselves are evergreen content. So a lot of our content is evergreen, it never goes out of style. There’s always going to be schedule management or there’s always going to be ways to build your brand with digital marketing. So we write content about all the different things that could help construction companies that has really driven us to the forefront of The industry for construction if you search, you know, two or three dozen keyword combinations that we that we should rank for will be on the first page. And a couple of years ago, if you search construction business consultant on Google, we became number one. And right now it’s us and another company that kind of go back and forth. we flip flop on any given day for that, that keyword combination, which is really our prime keyword combination.

Sam Schutte 25:30
Nice.

Adam Cooper 25:32
And then we use some Google ads to augment our rankings on a few other things. And we’d become the featured snippet on Google for some content we’ve written in the past and it’s just been a lot of organic, just good old fashioned brain dumping and sharing knowledge and providing value to people and putting it up online.

Sam Schutte 25:52
Yeah. And have you considered, you know, we were talking about consulting businesses and such and you mentioned training or you know, writing articles for new Project Managers, have you consider doing coaching programs and masterminds and all that sort of approach that people could people could join or have you thought about adding that to your kind of services.

Adam Cooper 26:11
We have thought about it and looked at it. There are a couple of companies out there that offer kind of their project management excellence courses is a video series that people can self manage themselves through. And we’re not looking to get into a competitive market space with them. What we have been kind of toying around with for about six or eight months now is some sort of a partner program or an affiliate program. So if they’re, once they’re done being a client on a project with us, we were looking at ways that we continue to support and help them and so we thought about having them become like an affiliate, or a partner program where they would pay a small fee per month. They get special content, they get a topic every month. And then we would either hold a roundtable discussion where they could get a one on one, 30 minute coaching call with me or one of my consultants about that topic for their business. So we are going to talk about, you know, you know, for example, if we wanted to talk about websites for construction companies, that would be the topic, we read an article about it that they would get, and then they would either be able to be part of a roundtable discussion or a one on one call with us as part of their kind of monthly membership fee. And then we would then offer that for like six and 12 month memberships.

Sam Schutte 27:36
Cool. Yeah. And so you mentioned, you know, what construction company websites, and we talked about a lot earlier about looking at their operations and that sort of analysis, but I know you’re also the other half of what you do sounds like kind of an even mix between operational analysis and consulting and, and growth consulting. So when you’re trying to market your clients and working with them on their growth in their marketing and that sort of stuff. What are some of the, what have been some of the most fruitful things you suggested? What are the typical strategies there, I guess, for companies in that space?

Great question. So so for the way I think about marketing is that you need three, three pieces, you have to know who you’re talking to, you have to know who your client is, your ideal client, you have to develop a message that speaks to that client that would interest them, that would provide value for them or make them interested in talking to you more about, that service. And then the third thing is you’ve got to have a delivery vehicle to get that message in front of them so they actually hear it. So if you’re trying to reach homeowners about roofing, you might put a billboard up on the highway. But if you’re trying to talk to general contractors about, you know, wiring up their commercial buildings, projects, a billboard isn’t the way to go. You need to you need to figure out who you’re talking to and how you’re going to talk to them, and then what you’re going to say. So, we usually start with the ideal client who, who is buying the services from our our client. So if our clients a general contractor, it’s an owner or developer typically, if our client is a trade contractor, that’s typically a general contractor who hires them. If you’re a residential contractor, it’s a homeowner. So we have to figure out who we’re talking to. The other thing that it might be, is an architect. So architects oftentimes help hire general contractors or trade contractors. So there’s lots of different people in the ecosystem, we have to know who we’re talking to. What we have found in our industry in the construction industry is that a blend of digital and actual print or mail marketing seems to have a really significant impact. It drives a lot of traffic to the website. You have to have a updated, you know, clean, refreshed WordPress website that looks like it was built in the last 12 to 18 months. You don’t want anything that’s too cluttered or outdated. And it really needs to these days people don’t just buy on price anymore. They really do buy on value they buy on culture. They want to know that, you know, that they like people like to do business with people that they like. So we have to make you and your business appear fun, friendly, personable, attentive, customer service oriented. But those are the those are a lot of the baseline strategies we start with to help our clients grow their business. The other piece of it, you know, Sam is we need to understand what our client’s growth goals are. What are they actually looking to do? Are they trying to increase project value? Are they trying to increase the quantity of projects? Are they trying to expand geographically are they trying to diversify to get more market share? We need to understand what strategy we’re going to use as well. That helps us more with what’s the messaging, who will be going after? It all kind of plays together

Yeah, I imagine, you know, cuz. And I think one thing that’s kind of unique about construction companies maybe is that they have a lot of like very local brand recognition. I mean, I think no matter what city you live in, you could probably name the top three construction companies in your city because you see their signs, you see their cranes, right, you know, and so we have, you know, Schumacher and Neyer and these others, you know, in Cincinnati, for instance, right? And once they’ve achieved that, it’s like, Okay, well, do you want to just go to a battle to the death with your biggest competitor? Just, that’s what you want to do is try to slice portions of them away, right? Or do you want to get into solar, you know, and whatever other, you know, renewable energy of some other kind or something, I think, did you did you mention earlier to me that you had started working on some solar companies and stuff as well?

Yeah, we’re actually getting ready to start a project with a solar company up in Connecticut. So we’re going to be helping them on the internals on the estimating and project management side of their business. They felt there was an opportunity to really kind of up their game, they’ve got a good team that could use some additional training, maybe some better tools. So we’re getting started with them next week.

Yeah, it’s interesting, because that industry has gone from sort of nascent, you know, infancy to pretty robust and exploding everywhere. Yeah, you know, and just in the last, you know, three or four years, really a very short period of time, which I imagine has made a lot of small companies into big companies, you know, that they all of a sudden have to sort of figure out a run, you know, for real, right?

Adam Cooper 32:40
Yes.

Sam Schutte 32:41
So when you’re when you’re doing projects with companies, you know, really on either side of the house operations or growth, you know, what kind of ROI do you typically try to target for them and what what do you try to return to them? What are they getting out of that?

We typically try and give them a three to five times ROI on their investment with us. So we you know, through some of the calculations, you would expect to increase the gross profit increased in net profit, expansion of market share additional project opportunities, reduced working hours, higher efficiency and throughput for their departments, all that kind of stuff, we can typically give them a good idea of what their, what the expectations for ROI would be. And then our price for our projects are based on, like I said, typically a three to five or five x ROI. Nice.

Yeah, I mean, I always believe that, you know, if you can demonstrate that, and if that’s backed up by numbers, and it’s not made up, you know, then it kind of becomes a bit of a no brainer, sometimes right? As long as they believe you can deliver, then that should be that should make sense to them.

Adam Cooper 33:50
And what’s interesting is, they don’t get our returns right away. That we have to get done before or at least be partially done before they can even start to see the benefits of what we’re doing. And they understand that. So our ROI is typically projected over two years, because we’re going to be involved for anywhere from four to eight months, depending on the scope of work, the size of the client, the number of people scope of work, all that kind of stuff. But typically four to eight months is a typical is a regular engagement for us on the operation side. So we know that they’re not going to get that ROI right away. They know that it’s rare that they will let us back in to see the numbers a year after we’re done. So instead, we just asked them to let us write us letters of recommendation or to tell us that they’re happy with what we’ve done. We do get some type of a closure out of them a closure document that says we’ve fulfilled and everything we were there to fulfill on and they were satisfied with what we’ve done. And they let us write case studies. I know they’ll even give us quotes for the case studies. A lot of times about the benefits that they experienced, not always data driven. But just as valuable I feel in the eyes of prospective buyers. And a lot of our clients, allow us to use them as references and introduce them to prospective customers and give us real time validation and references. So I find that to be more rewarding than knowing that I moved there bottom line is that I made them happy, and that we made a difference for them in their business, so much so that they’re willing to tell others about it.

Sam Schutte 35:34
Yeah, it’s interesting, because earlier, you mentioned that some, you know, the companies, you’re working with your ideal clients, they often are making money and are profitable, they don’t assume they’re necessarily struggling terribly, perhaps in that regard. But they might be exhausted, I imagine, you know, they can, they can be making really good money but they’re just, you know, working crazy hours or you know, And so like you said, there’s a lot of value on just having a normal life. Yeah. If you’re an executive in an organization of that size, because it’s not, it’s not scalable to say, Well, you know, as we triple in size, I’m just going to triple my workweek. Right? That doesn’t work.

Exactly, and the other time The other thing sometimes is, not only are they working so many hours that they don’t have much of a life, but they’re not even enjoying what they’re doing anymore, because they’re doing things that aren’t part of where what they enjoy. They’re doing the accounting and the bookkeeping, because they haven’t handed it off. And we can come in and say you need to hire at least a part time bookkeeper, and let’s show you how to hand that off and we’ll teach them how to how to delegate a lot of business owners are very bad at delegating. I know I struggled with it myself from time to time

well it’s interesting cuz I talked to a lot of I hear often from you know, probably smaller companies than you’re dealing with that want to sell their company, because they’re just exhausted. And that’s kind of the wrong reason to sell your company, probably you want to sell it when it’s at a high value, and it’s got a lot of recurring revenue and you know, get a really attractive price for it from a large competitor, so on so forth, not just that you’re burnt out and you want to. So I mean, you know, there’s there’s a lot of return, there can be a lot of return down the road from it even, you know, there again,

you know, one of the biggest challenges with selling a business is that if the business doesn’t run without the owner, it’s not very saleable. Yeah, so part of what we do in a lot of our operations work is that we have to get the owner out of the day to day and get them more into an ownership leadership role, and not into an operate and out of the operations. They can’t be the only salesperson they can’t be the Operations Manager. They can’t be the only project manager. If they are they can’t sell the business. So even if they’re burned out, a lot of times they bring us in to help them optimize, but also to restructure the organization so that it can run without the owner so that it has more value and it could be sold or handed off to an heir or even just allow the owner to leave for a couple of weeks and go on a vacation with their family so that they can enjoy their life and the business won’t fall apart while they’re gone.

Yeah. And what kind of relationship do you have typically, a working relationship with clients, you know, is it is a very formal regimented, where you’re having meetings and during presentations and such, or is it something where they’re calling you know, folks can call you up on a Sunday afternoon with something they’re worried about, you know, what kind of access I guess do you provide to you personally? And how do you kind of, I mean, I guess, what’s your preference how you would like to work there.

So we give, we basically hold standard business hours, eight to five Monday through Friday, we offer a 24 hour response in our contracts Monday through Friday. So if you email us on Friday afternoon, you’re going to get a response by Monday afternoon. If you call on Tuesday morning, you’ll get a call back by Wednesday morning, we typically have same day return. It’s rare that things last go 24 hours before we respond. I used to give people more unfettered access. I don’t anymore. I have staff and I have team members and none of us wants to be taking calls at seven or eight o’clock at night. I’m probably the most guilty party and that if I have a client on the west coast, I’ll take their call up to like eight or nine o’clock at night East Coast time, just because they’re not finished until eight o’clock my time typically. So I try and make myself available. And Jeff one of my consultants is working with a client in California right now. So he’s either up really early to get into their software before they get up so he can play around in it. Or he sometimes schedules like five or six o’clock conference calls with them when their workday is finishing up on the job sites. Okay, but typically it’s Monday to Friday. We don’t we don’t work on weekends. I do have a couple of clients here in Georgia that were from the early years that have become friends. So I will go meet up and you know, have a beer or something like that on the weekend with them watch a game occasionally.

Sure. You mentioned we’ve talked about software a couple times. Are there any particular type of software packages that you see a lot of your customers need to get or are looking to get? How are they sort of leveraging software applications?

Adam Cooper 40:46
So in the construction industry, the most widely used software is probably QuickBooks contractor version, which is great for small growing businesses. But by the time they get to us, nine out of ten are ready to up their game and they need a better software that’s more suited to the intricacies of construction management and accounting. Construction accounting is not as simple as a standard business. They have things like retainage reductions, there are progress Billings lump sum Billings, TNM billing, there’s all sorts of different structures inside of it. And then there’s whip reporting and over under forecasting, and there’s a lot of complexity to it. And QuickBooks contractors does not do that stuff. And some of it does very well. But when you get to, as I said, about four or 5 million, you’re probably ready to get to something more advanced, that’s more construction centric. So a lot of what we’re doing on the technology side, if they’re still in QuickBooks, and they’re ready to make a change, we are an unbiased consultancy that will help them evaluate their needs. We will go out and research the best software’s out there for the industry, we will help them make a very smart and informed decision. And then they work directly with the software companies to implement and train and we typically assist with that. And we follow along. We attend their training sessions, we support them because we’re doing other things that interact with the software. So that’s one of the biggest changes and biggest things I see is getting people onto the right platform for their business. The software companies will all tell you that they’re perfect for your construction company. But the honest truth is some of them are really more designed for general contractors who have a different structure than a trade contractor that’s managing labor. There are different levels and different types of mobile apps available for these software’s a big one right now that’s been very popular and is probably the number one mobile platform out there is a software called Procore. It’s um it was designed originally to work with Sage 300 and then it works with a lot of other software’s as well through API’s. But the functionality between Procore and all these different software’s varies and Procore will tell you that they’re what you need, but they may not talk to your accounting system, so you can’t get real time financial data. So helping people navigate this entire ecosystem of different software’s that are available for different types of companies, and making the smart choices is frequently part of our scope of work.

Sam Schutte 43:27
Yeah, it’s interesting because in Cincinnati here we have a little sort of local economy or industry with several construction estimating and quoting manufacturers, Stack Technologies and iSqFt was actually right across the street from where I am right now. I was sort of like their headquarters. I think they were bought, I think, well, I think they’re maybe they renamed themselves or something, right. So there’s several vendors in that space that that you know, the whole estimation tools, things like a big concern,

Adam Cooper 43:59
Then ComputerEase is up in Ohio as well. That’s another construction accounting software.

Sam Schutte 44:05
Yeah, exactly. So do so I guess do you help people implement those estimation tools as well, for with your customers.

So we used to help with the implementation of several different software’s. We were not certified by the software companies, they offer certification for third party implementers. But we had enough experience with our client base in these software’s that we got into that. I found that it was really not a strong suit of ours. It’s a little too technical. It’s, it’s very software centric, and the software companies really do a pretty good job of that. And so what we decided as a group was that we were not going to do implementations anymore. We would assist our clients with the implementations but we felt that it was more beneficial to have them do that with the software company. It also made us more unbiased. Because we don’t accept any type of finders fees or anything from the software companies. If we help a client pick a software and they want to reward us, we had them give that to our client. We didn’t want to seem like we were partial to different software’s, and also by being an implementer of three or four of them. I felt that was also making us look a little bit partial to those because hey, we can do the implementation for these. So why not push them towards that? By getting out of that we definitely can stand behind our impartiality and our unbiased recommendations.

Yeah, I think a lot of times customers need, they need that guide to help them whatever they choose to help them. Like you said, assist with that implementation. If the software company isn’t taking the time to really listen or whatever the problem is, and i know folks who resell or our partners with basically every product on the market, you know, like, including ones that are bitter rival rivals of each other. And it’s always like what how do you go and sell one like these? You know what I mean? Like you’re how do you do that because in the background, those companies are constantly trying to steal your switch it you know what I mean to their product, which is still your customer gets very confusing. So, it is good, I think to have, you know, to be able to give impartial advice without a doubt. So, what are what are some of the sweet spots sort of outside of your standard areas of focus you’ve been in that you’re looking to get into in the coming months, you know, new services or new markets, what what are you kind of trying to get into?

Adam Cooper 46:45
So there’s a couple of new service offerings that we’ve been rolling out over the last six to eight months. The first is, we’ve been getting more and more into employee incentive and retention program design. So up until a few months ago, the construction industry has been going through a labor shortage. It’s actually they have a demand problem, there’s more demand than there are people to work in the industry. So talented people are in high demand. And there’s been a lot of kind of thieving of employees between companies, they’ll steal their competitors, best project manager or a couple of superintendents because they’ve got the work and they’re willing to throw cash at them, to get them to change companies. So what we started working on were performance based incentive and reward programs for some of our clients. So they could, you know, dangle a carrot in front of their employees that would make them not only perform better, but incentivize them to stay. You can do this to a lot of different strategies vesting, you know, year end bonuses and midyear bonuses, and performance based bonuses, and there’s also two ways to do this, so we wrote, I wrote a series of articles on these a few years ago. And we really started getting into delivering that as a standalone service, not just part of a bigger project. So that’s one thing that we’ve kind of been offering now. And then a new one that we’re rolling out right now this year, is we’re taking our operational assessment, and we’re shifting it a little bit. And we’re now offering it up as part of a due diligence assessment for investors. So the investors are looking to buy an existing company that’s operating, they’re going to go through a Financial Review, which is going to tell you that their books look right. And they may go through a, like a pro forma or something where they’re looking at the sales pipeline, and they’re trying to look at the backlog and they’re trying to make sure that that business isn’t about to stall financially on the sales side. What they rarely do, or have the expertise to do is to go look at the company how it functions. How the people interact and how the processes and systems work inside of the business, to know if they’re buying something that’s actually very efficient and effective, or if they’re buying a catastrophe, that’s bickering and people not doing things the way they’re supposed to, or it’s archaic or outdated, you know, so we can very much like our operational assessment where a business owner that owns the business, we can do this, for an investment group that’s looking to buy a business or a single buyer that’s looking to buy the business, we come in and basically become part of the due diligence team. And either we can confirm that they’re making a good buy, or we can offer the same types of recommendations for what they would need to do before you buy what the current owner should do. Or the recommendations we would say after you buy, this is what you should do. And then we’re available as consultants to actually help at any of those phases with the current or the future owner.

Sam Schutte 49:57
Nice. Yes. And that’s smart. I mean, you’re opening yourself up to an entire different, totally different type of client because you know, you could market to every private equity group in America. And if for whichever those want to buy construction companies, which is a subset, but they’re out there, you know, those are those are customers and clients and aren’t even, you’re not necessarily on their radar right now that you can then specialize your messaging or content, everything, so it, you know, it’s hard for them. Because that’s definitely a that’s definitely a problem. You know, I have people all the time, or not all the time, but sometimes asking me, you know, to evaluate code or look at, you know, some SAS companies model and there are people that that’s all they do, for sure about that reputation expertise in doing that. So it’s pretty interesting.

Yeah, we actually got the idea because I had an investor in Texas reached out to us about doing, you know, some type of due diligence after he bought this company that he was looking at buying and I said, Why don’t you have us come in and look at the counter before you buy them, why do you have us tell you what’s wrong with them after you already own it? I’d rather help you avoid a bad situation or have a plan before you invest in know how much you actually need in capital, because you’re going to buy it to fix some stuff. Yeah. That kind of sparked the idea. And like you said, we’re writing content about an hour during the middle of a website redesign for ourselves. And then that’ll be going out as part of a strategic campaign probably late 2020 or early 2021. To the those we’re trying to identify more of those types of investment groups that buy or were interested in buying construction companies.

Very cool. So what’s been the most rewarding, personally rewarding project you’ve worked on recently?

Oh, I’ve got a couple right now. I just finishing up a project with a high end pool contractor in Florida, so they do both residential pools. And they do. pools for general contractors who are doing subdivisions or we’re putting in a high rise or something like that they’re putting in a big, big fancy pool. So my client does those kinds of things. They do 10 to $15 million every year. And we were started with an ops assessment and then came out of that to do a big consulting key engagement. That was a lot of change management and personnel shifting. And as I said, just finishing up with them and their business looks so different than it did eight months ago, when I started with them. salespeople are no longer involved in project management. They’ve got new people helping out in the construction department. They’ve got a whole scheduling system that we helped develop and put in place and everybody there is just in much better spirits. There was a lot of kind of finger pointing and yelling and cursing going in the back office. And the last time I went down there, just everybody’s just so much happier to be going to work there and the owner couldn’t be happy. You know, he’s just like, it just feels so different here. He’s like, I love coming to the office now. Whereas I used to try and find reasons to skip out early or close the door to my office and work in silence. And now I’m just happy to be engaged. So that’s been really great one personally. Yeah. And then we are working with a general contractor right up the street in Canton, Georgia, that does a lot of medical office work. And he started with them right around the same time. I think it was October, we started with them. And we’re finishing up over the next few weeks with their operations, manual deliverables. But they we help them select and implement new software like we helped them select it. Then they went through implementation we’ve been co training with them, and teaching, they hired another project manager, the owner was able to shift work off of his plate. And they were so happy with the work that we’ve done that they just hired us on to do a big marketing project for them for the rest of the year. So that’s really rewarding. We, when we help a client so much that they’re like, great, you got our operations turned up now help us grow. Like that’s really rewarding for me personally, when I was a big PDF parser, that big piece of that, of that project, I was doing a lot of the lead consulting on that one. So

It’s neat, I think, as a consultant, and you know, obviously companies that are much smaller than our clients are typically in terms of bodies or whatever. We how much you can come in and make a really big impact and just look back at it and see this changed organization they use sort of single handedly did.

Adam Cooper 54:49
It is kind of like a magic trick, isn’t it?

Sam Schutte 54:51
Yeah. And I mean, it’s it’s very, you know, it’s very empowering to be able to have that ability as a consultant. Whereas if you were hired as an employee in the organization? It’s much harder to do that, I think sometimes, right? So right, very cool.

Adam Cooper 55:04
I’m the I’m the specialist they flew in to make changes of the company. Now, as I said, a lot of our clients are in other states. And I think you asked earlier about kind of format. So typically been out of state clients up until two months ago, things are starting to get back to normal. But typically, we would visit an out of state client once a month, we’d be on site for a couple of days with the workshops that were structured and planned out in advance. And then that would be complemented with phone calls and zoom calls on the weeks that we weren’t there. So we keep progress moving forward. And the local clients we typically meet with twice a month because they’re easier to meet with so we would see them every other week. And we might have a phone call in between. And then of course, email for everybody. And then on demand, if clients have something come up that they need to talk to us about that’s germane to our our engagement than we are that’s what we’re here. We’re here to help them in any way we can while we’re here. whether an active client, and a lot of times we get calls from past clients, they’re just like, Hey, you got 20 minutes to talk about something with me. I want to have the buy in, of course, once a client always a client. Sure,

Sam Schutte 56:12
absolutely. Awesome. So just to wrap up, what are the three main things that if folks are out there listening in, in the in the construction industry, that they should reach out to you for help with

Adam Cooper 56:24
three main things, if you are struggling to figure out what’s wrong with your business, or you figured out what’s wrong, but you don’t know how to fix it, call us. The second would be if you’re looking to grow your business, and you’re not sure how to grow it, or what you should be doing differently, or you’re not sure what works and what doesn’t, and you’re looking for ideas about how to expand top line revenue, then give us a call. We’d love to talk to you about that. And I think the third is and it’s gonna sound a little vague, but if you’re in the construction industry, And you know that you’re there’s something you don’t know, if you have questions about the industry if you have questions about how to other contractors do things or what is the industry standard for this, if you’ve never had anybody show you how they do it at their business that you’ve mimicked, and you just kind of figured it out on your own and you just don’t know if if you’re doing it right. Give us a call. We offer free performance consultations. You can book right on the homepage of our website and we just love to talk to you see if there’s anything we can do to help.

Sam Schutte 57:30
Awesome and what is your website?

Adam Cooper 57:32
It’s ascentconsults.com

Sam Schutte 57:44
and what about your email address

Adam Cooper 57:47
So you can email us at info@ascentconsults.com my personal email is acooper@ascentconsults.com And then our office number 404.566.5855

Sam Schutte 58:03
Awesome. Well, Adam was great to catch up with you. It’s been a couple of years since we’ve seen each other last time in person. And just really awesome to see how much you’ve evolved with the company and grown and sort of structured out the systems. And had, you know, quite a lot of customer success stories happen since we last met. So thanks for sitting down and talking to me and hope we can chat again sometime soon.

Adam Cooper 58:29
Yeah, Sam, thanks so much for inviting me to be on your show. It’s been a pleasure. It’s been great to catch up with you and I look forward to continue our conversation in the coming months.

Sam Schutte 58:38
Thanks.

Adam Cooper 58:39
Thank you.

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  • Adam Cooper
    Reply

    Hi Sam, thanks again for invite me on your show! I had a great time catching up with you, ‘talking shop’ about consulting, and sharing what we’re up to over here at Ascent Consulting. I really enjoyed your interview style and wish you continued success with the podcast!

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