Success Case Study
VERA ICONICA ARCHITECTURE
Revenue: Doubling each year
Number of Employees: 6
Length of time in coaching at Interview: 15 months
“Take the risk to change. It’s the hardest thing to do,
but it’s a lot better than being stressed out and being a slave to your company.
To see your own growth is incredibly rewarding.”
–Veronica Schreibeis, Founder of Vera Iconica Architecture
Veronica has rapidly scaled her company, while doubling revenue with strong profitability. In this Success Case Study, Veronica describes in-depth the ways she has utilized coaching to propel her growth.
Sabrina: Veronica, what was most difficult for you, or confusing about your business before we started working together?
Veronica: It was definitely having employees for the first time, and everything that goes with that—knowing how to hire the right employees to begin with, clearly communicating what their role is, and then giving up control over duties I used to perform.
A lot of the things you teach like doing the work ON your business, creating job descriptions, and knowing what you are actually asking of the person before you hire them are easy, but it’s surprising how long it takes to develop these skills and systems when you try to do it on your own. If you have assistance and direction, it literally saves months, if not years.
You walked me through creating my Ideal Employee Avatar and helped me clarify where I wanted the company to go, rather than focusing on where it was.
This was difficult as I felt uncomfortable claiming what I see the company’s potential to be (ie., a vision), because we had not yet achieved it. I think that is a really important lesson. You need to know where you want to be, and believe and act as though it is already happening, then it will happen. Hiring the employees and the staff for the future goals and projections of the company are a critical part to actually getting there.
As an owner, you need to clearly communicate that vision to inspire your employees and attract the employees who want the whole company to get there.
Sabrina: If you had tried doing all of these things on your own, how do you think it would have impacted you over the last year?
Veronica: I believe my business would have continued to grow, but as far as my personal lifestyle and well-being, I would have been stressed out, burned out and overworked, while I figured this out on my own.
These things take courage. There is risk in doing things differently. There is risk in giving up control. Having somebody encourage me to do things I should do, and being accountable to the things I said I was going to do, was an enormous factor in helping me grow.
Before we started working together, I had limitations based on false beliefs. Sometimes we limit ourselves to what we think is possible, and we automatically make assumptions that something will happen or won’t happen if we give up control.
If we keep control and we handle it as business owners and Type A people, we know it will be completed quickly and to the level of quality we expect because we deeply care about the customer service and the customer’s experience. We know the outcomes. We know that we can be successful. When you start having other people taking on these roles, it takes risk. I would wonder, “How much am I going to lose in productivity? Are my customers going to be satisfied?”
Those were limitations I was creating in my mind. I was asking the wrong questions. Instead I needed to be asking, “How do I empower my team to do their best?”
I needed to trust that employees want to do their best, and take pride in their work. They want to love their job, and they want to have fun coming to work. People want to do a good job. Changing your mindset helps a lot with that.
Sabrina: What led you to reach out to me?
Veronica: I am always looking for ways to expand beyond my limitations and improve. I have a continual desire to grow faster than I am growing. I have high expectations for myself. I recognized I want to learn more and be a better businesswoman. Whenever I see a lack of experience, or a certain personality trait that needs developed, I always seek somebody who can show me and my team how to get better.
When I reached out to you, I had 3 years under my belt in my business. I was beyond the start-up phase, expanding, growing and no longer the only person working in my business. Your services provided that next step.
I knew you help business owners who are overwhelmed and working really hard. I benefited by seeking your services as a preventative measure before there were major issues. Get Sabrina’s help before you need help! Actually, we could always be doing better. Life is easier and growth is quicker if you lower your pride and ask for help.
Sabrina: How soon did you start seeing results after we began working together?
Veronica: I had already hired two people before I came to you, and was advertising for more positions. At the time I was happy with my current employees, and recognized that we were so busy that we needed more. I wanted to do an even better job of hiring people and that’s why I came to you. That intuition was a blessing.
What I didn’t realize is there were already problems there with my two employees. I tend to be a pretty optimistic person, and I tend to put all the pressure on myself and make excuses for other people. Basically, I have very high expectations for myself, but don’t impose those expectations onto other people.
What I realized after we began working together was the first 2 employees I had hired were not a good fit. One was draining my energy because of a lack of belief in the company, and a desire to be in a top position without earning the role. That was exhausting, yet I tolerated it. The other employee seemed to need my attention all the time, but did not want attention from direct managers. That was also tiring.
It got to the point where one employee was completely misbehaving, and yet I continued to make excuses for that employee. I am very self-aware, and because I recognized areas where I could improve, I put the responsibility only on myself.
Instead of addressing the issue with the employee, I would make an excuse for the employee, telling myself, “If I do a better job as a leader and give the employee a couple of weeks to turn around, then I can address the employee’s issues. But, how can I blame them until I fix myself?” That is true to a certain extent, and that is a good quality to have in a leader, but what you helped me with is when I would talk to you, you would say, “This is completely inappropriate. Here’s what’s happening and that absolutely is not okay.” Then, I would see it really was not okay to continue to tolerate.
This was the first person I had to let go, and that is an extraordinarily tough thing to do for the first time. It is never easy, but it does become easier to see that this is a necessary move to protect the health of the company.
I knew about 4 months before I fired this employee that I needed to let them go, and it took 3-4 months with continually worsening behavior to gather the guts to do what was best for the company. In the meantime, the employee was hurting the company, both financially as well as its reputation. There were times I would talk to you, and you would tell me, “You need to let this employee go.” I just wasn’t ready to. If I would have done it when I knew it was time and when you encouraged me to, I probably could have prevented tens of thousands of dollars of intellectual property being stolen, as well as paying this person to basically start their own company on company computers and software during office hours while I was trying to manage other projects and grow the company. The value of time over those few months while I was busy making excuses for the employee is probably an additional $30,000 of loss.
The employee had actually started taking templates, software, projects, and even clients out of the office. The company’s proposals and templates had been developed with an outside contractor and are valued at over $10,000 when you add up their time, as well as our time.
If I would have terminated them right when I recognized it was not going to work out in the long run, I would have prevented mistakes, client dissatisfaction, and theft of time and intellectual property. After the incident, I found emails dating back to my initial doubts with this employee. One email even declared this employee was purposefully riding out time at the company to get a Christmas bonus. Similarly, a resignation letter was started weeks before its date of January 1. If I would have done terminated this employee when I knew I needed to and when you recommended it, I probably would have saved $70,000 over those 3-4 months.
Then, with the second employee, we all loved him. He was a great fit culturally, but he wasn’t learning because he was making excuses for himself. You were the clear voice who said you can’t train people who make excuses for themselves. If it’s always somebody else’s fault, they are not trainable and you have to let them go because it is not going to change. I might have kept him around a lot longer if this first situation wouldn’t have happened and if you hadn’t so astutely pointed out, “This isn’t getting better.”
Sabrina: So that was just 9 months ago. What is your situation like now?
Veronica: I just took 3 weeks off to go to Tahiti and the entire team was happy for me to go. That was really empowering, because I felt guilty leaving and going on vacation. To have a whole team of people who are excited for me to go and take care of things is so ridiculously awesome! You know, celebration dances, tears of joy… that’s an owner’s dream.
A lot of times we don’t open our minds to the possibility we can have a team take care of us and the company that well. We just assume they won’t, but that is the wrong attitude… well, you know that silly 90’s Nike saying, “You miss all the shots you don’t take.”
If you just assume people are going to operate or function at a lower-level, then they will because you haven’t given them the opportunity to grow, and it’s going to hurt you as much as it’s hurting them. One of the things we really work on is focusing on the helping everyone on our team become the best versions of themselves. I recognize I might train people or inspire people who could end up leaving me, and that is ok.
Another thing that is a fear of a lot of business owners is sharing dollar amounts with employees, because too often they falsely assume the owner is making a lot of money if they see a big number. That is ironic, because in most small businesses, there is no extra money. Business is hard, and the only thing there is a lot of is stress. Really we don’t want to show this to the employees, because we don’t want to admit the hard facts of business ownership to ourselves. Running a company is hard, and it’s hard to get it to a point where there is consistent, sustainable profit.
I learned that having good employee agreements and expectations is really important. I have nondisclosures and non-competes that my employees sign. This sets an expectation that the company is going to trust the employee and be open with them, and at the same time, the company expects ethical and forthright behavior from them during and after employment. As an owner who has had unpleasant experiences, it allows me to take a deep breath and say, “I will teach you everything I know. You can leave with this knowledge and it’s a value-add to you. What I hope is that I am creating a company that is better than anywhere else you go… that is more open, has more transparency and gives you more room for growth. I hope you will stay.” That trust is important.
Now, I not only share our numbers with them, I also share where the money is going and why profit is necessary to help all of us reach our goals. I dream with my team. I dream about where the company is going, and where each of them are going. We even established a fund for each one of them to use towards continuing education.
Recently, I got hit up for multiple continuing education requests. What was great was you had already given us the 3 filter questions that I shared with the entire office so they understand how decisions are made. We then added a 4th question: “How does this help you grow?” I implemented a policy that employees are not eligible for continuing education credits until they write their dreams and goals, and how this company can be a vehicle to help them reach their highest potential. As the company helps them reach their highest potential, this symbiotic relationship occurs where they’re helping the company reach its highest potential.
I think the support we give our employees is going to be very difficult for any other company to compete with. Everybody wants to work with a team of total rock stars, and we attract employees that are driven, because they know we have created an environment they can thrive in. This is a strong part of our culture and it’s working!
Another really amazing thing has happened. When I ask people to dream and share it with me, they sometimes get uncomfortable and squirm in their seats, but at the same time you can see they want to participate. About half the employees said, “I don’t normally dream. I’m not used to it.” Although it doesn’t come naturally to all of them, they appreciate that I believe in their future and it inspires them to determine what that future is. One employee who was struggling to identify her dreams and goals said, “I’m good at rolling up my sleeves and doing production, but I’m close to retirement…what I would actually love to do is train people. If we are going to grow the way we want to grow, there needs to be somebody who is teaching all of the production and systems to people and I think that would be really fun.”
Now, not only do I have somebody who gets my vision, but my vision just became that much more powerful with her energy, just visualizing it, which is invaluable. Now, we both have a 3-6 year plan for how she can contribute to the bigger picture. We both have goals, and are energized and happy to work towards them. That same kind of situation occurred with every employee who dared to dream a clear dream.
There were a couple of employees who were unable to state what they want, because they aren’t used to dreaming. However, they know they have my sincere support to help them become the best in the world at whatever they decide, to reach their highest potential, and that I want to keep helping them with this.
Sabrina: What are you now doing since your company can run without your day-to-day involvement?
Veronica: I have a lot more time to work on the growth and development of the company, rather than being bogged down by daily phone calls, small emergencies and putting out fires. It’s completely different work.
I respect, yet constantly question traditional methods for business. We live in a rapidly changing world, and it is important to me that our architecture company is nimble and adaptive. Formulating a flexible business model is time-consuming and challenging. I have more time to dedicate to that now.
Right now, I’m working on how our company could partner to be on the owner/developer end of projects. Ultimately, the decision making lies with the owner, and in order to have designs with the least amount of impact on the natural world, and the most positive impact on the well-being of the people it is important that the owner is motivated not just by the return on investment, but also by a return on the value to the community and planet.
As architects and designers, we are trained to make the built environment a beautiful, healthy place, and we care about the world that we live in. We care about the bottom line, but we also care about the planet and the human experience.
It would be really wonderful if more and more development in spaces that we live in were designed and thoughtful.
I also have questions I am asking, such as: What’s the business entity? Who’s going to own the company in the long run? What is the shareholder structure? Etc. One of the things that I’m researching with my time is B corporations, which are Beneficial Corporations. They have a responsibility to their shareholders, not just for the bottom line, but also for making the planet a healthier place to live. So from systematizing and having a good team in place, I have the time to evaluate that the entity structure we have selected reflects our company philosophy.
Sabrina: Let’s talk bottom-line. What has the impact been on your revenue and profit this past year?
Veronica: During our first year in business, we grew 400% in revenue, and we have doubled our revenue every year since then.
That’s one of the reasons that I came to you too, because the growth was inevitable, and I wanted it to happen in a way that was smart, manageable, and scalable. I wanted to make sure that as we grew, we could still perform at a high level for our clients, while keeping stress in check. We are continuing to grow, and I recognize that what got me here won’t get me there. Businesses take constant adaptation.
We’ve exceeded 10% profitability each year by being 15-17% profitable. We’re following Profit First to help ensure the company is profitable, even as we invest in our growth.
Sabrina: Any final words of wisdom that you would have for a business owner who is on the cusp of significiant growth?
Veronica: Take the risk to change. It’s the hardest thing to do, but it’s a lot better than being stressed out and being a slave to your company. To see your own growth is incredibly rewarding.
Sabrina: Do you feel like you have received value from your investment in coaching? Has there been a return on investment for you?
Veronica: Yes. If I didn’t feel that way, I would not have signed up for a second round. So not only is that my opinion, it also shows in my behavior and my actions.
Congratulations Veronica Schreibeis and Vera Iconica Architecture of Jackson, WY
for winning the 2015 Rule Breaker Awards!