Most people wouldn’t see losing their engineering job as an opportunity. But Shawn Van Dyke isn’t most people.
He’s built a successful career out of systematically taking the curveballs life throws his way and turning them into opportunities. He’s taken risks to find a career he loves that gives him and his family freedom — and now he helps contractors do the same thing.
Shawn’s relentless determination is something you might expect from a business coach, but it’s his dedication to understanding the processes, systems, and “boring old math” of contracting that make him stand out — and ultimately, succeed.
When Shawn graduated from the University of Tennessee with a degree in civil engineering, he probably imagined himself spending his entire career in engineering. In fact, he followed his undergrad degree with a master’s degree in structural engineering.
Then, he got laid off from the engineering firm he was working for. He took that as an opportunity to look around and figure out what he actually wanted to do — because he felt like it wasn’t engineering. He realized he wanted to know how stuff actually works, so he started working for some commercial contractors, HVAC contractors, and landscapers.
Eventually he ended up working as a construction manager for a real estate developer. He loved it, but it wasn’t perfect — his job was keeping him on the road, away from his wife and kids.
So, Shawn did what any extremely-motivated, energetic, self-sufficient, risk-taking person does — he started his own construction management company, followed by his own construction business. He was able to lean on his experience in engineering and real estate, and being new to contracting allowed him to have a fresh perspective on how things are done.
Strength in Systems
Running his own business made Shawn identify his greatest strength: that he thrives in the aspects of running a business that some contractors struggle with — the systems, paperwork, documentation, and math.
Other people noticed it too — eventually one of his subcontractors asked him to help him out with the “business” side of his contracting company so that he could focus on the actual work in the field.
Eventually, Shawn agreed. He was given 100% authority over running the business as the COO, and the owner of the business shifted his focus fully to the field. That business grew from 6 or 7 people to 18. The business got out of debt and started making profits.
Shawn’s secret to success is a willingness to focus on the “boring” stuff:
“I think the unique value is that I am a systems guy, and systems are the unsexiest thing to talk about. But in the end, the bottom line is the only thing that matters. And the way I see it, the only way to get from the top line to the bottom line in a healthy way is through systems. I’m not trying to make the business side of things what it’s not, and it’s not sexy. But I love boring businesses, because they’re efficient. I call it the boring success formula. When you make a business as boring as possible, that’s where success and innovation happen.”
Change is a constant in Shawn’s life, but some change is life-altering — especially when his wife was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS). That’s a change that Shawn says made him and his wife evaluate their priorities and what they wanted from life. Ultimately, it was one of the reasons he decided to take a leap of faith, quit his job, and start his coaching business.
“I would not wish MS on my worst enemy, and don’t get me wrong, it’s hard, but when you have to deal with stuff like that, it can be extremely clarifying. I think it became a superpower for us, to be able to get really clear on what’s important and what’s not important.”
So, with a clear view of what was important, Shawn got to work on building his own business. To get started, he wrote a book called The Paperwork Punch List, which he used to grow his client list and his business.
Author, Speaker, CEO
Even with his first book under his belt Shawn still wasn’t done learning. After reading Profit First by Mike McCallotiz, he decided to go through the Profit First certification program. Through that he ended up writing his second book, Profit First for Contractors, which takes the financial systems of Profit First and adapts them specifically to how a contractor would use them.
In Profit First for Contractors, Shawn addresses why he decided to write the book.
“I am on a mission to change the way the world views the trades. I believe the best way to accomplish my mission is to help construction business owners make a profit and build world-class companies. I intend to elevate society’s view of construction professionals from the unsophisticated ‘couldn’t‑do-anything-else-so-they-ended-up-in-the-trades’ stereotype to what they truly are — business professionals who provide an extraordinary service through devotion to their craft, their customers, and their communities.”
Now Shawn is the CEO of Built to Build Academy, which creates confident construction business owners through business training and mentoring programs. Now he can help more businesses than ever as they build systems to make more money and become a “boring” business that succeeds.
When Shawn isn’t writing a book, spending time with his family, or coaching a business, you might find him speaking at a conference. Public speaking is how we came across Shawn here at CompanyCam — we reached out to him about speaking at Blueprint 2023 — now he’s the Blueprint keynote speaker! If you want to hear him talk about his system for designing a customer experience that creates raving fans, join us in May in Dallas, Denver, or Chicago!
Interested in learning more about Shawn Van Dyke or Blueprint? Visit the links below!