Case Study of a start-up consulting firm

The story of a coaching a small consulting company

Two brothers, both electrical engineers, had just quit their positions at long time electrical engineering firms.  They quit with the intention of starting their own firm which could offer electrical engineering services.  They came to my architectural firm, looking for work.


Since they had just started their practice, the brothers were interested in how my business was run.  In our early discussions, I told them how I had converted my business to a systems-based officer, and how that helped me achieve unprecedented success.  I related that, when I began my firm many years ago, I had no business background and as a consequence, my early years in business were very ad hoc and only marginally successful. 


I told the engineers that I was preparing to pass my firm on to the next generation, and that I wanted explore a different role,  mentoring & coaching young, small start-up firms.   I had developed a program of studies, which was ready for a beta test.


During our second meeting, they asked if I would help them set up their business.  One conversation had showed them that they really didn’t know where to start.  Ultimately these brother electrical engineers and their new up-start firm, called ABE, became my clients.   The first thing that they told me was that they didn’t want to operate their business as their former employers operated theirs.    The brothers were concerned  that if they didn’t have coaching and guidance, they would drift back into conducting business as their former employer; it was the only way they knew how to run and office.   I made a commitment to them, that if they engaged my services, I could help them develop as strong business model with which they could achieve business success beyond their dreams.


Their story was familiar; their situation reminded me of my own, when I began in my business years ago.  I had no clue howset up or run a business.  The only thing I could think to do was recycle the practice of my former employer. Needless to say, replicating a poor business model won’t get you far, when even the flawed model wasn’t your own to begin with..  This is the classic mistake for many a technician or professional on their entry into the business world, repeating the same mistakes you saw your previous employer make.


But back to the story of my electrical engineering clients, ABE!  Following our original discussion, I contemplated how I would mentor engineers, as my experience was in architecture.  Upon reflection, I realized that the business aspects relative of small practices were all the same whether dealing with architects, engineers or any other small business.   All these businesses, however, were faced with unique challenges no matter what they were selling or what services they were offering.


My proposal for ABE was a program spread over one year. The model for coaching was to divide the business into 6 centers of attention.  We went through each center one at a time and applied the learnings directly to their business. We met every two weeks with an agenda and recorded the discussions as meeting notes.  Each meeting had an assignment which was reviewed at the subsequent meeting.  The assignment was based on the current lesson, but the example was relevant to their experience and their business.


There were some aspects of business where I was short on expertise, so for these areas I referred them to someone with a degree of specilization to help them.  Some of the lessons were not initially fully integrated into their business, but we moved on, noting that we were would come back and take another look at what we may have missed.  These lessons went on, with great enthusiasm, for one year.


Our founding premise was that ABE had no background in business, and would be open to my over 40 years of experience and learning, having myself gone into business without any business background and yet emerged on the other side.  The challenges we tackled were ones that both parties identified with.


In the first year, they enthusiastically completed their assignments.  They were experiencing progress and success in the 6 areas of business.  As students, they easily understood the fundamentals of business, however applying them to their own business was quite another challenge.  This is where my experience helped them the most. 


Key Frustrations Process

With one year under our belt,  I asked them “what is the most valuable thing that you learned so far?”  They both agreed it was the “Key Frustrations Process.”  With this process they could solve any problem they encountered in business.


The Key Frustrations Process is a systematic way of steering any problem towards a satisfactory solution.  Following the steps in the process, a solution to the frustration will be identified.  These frustrations are often complex and can only be resolved with focused effort and openness to trying something out of the ordinary.   Without this tool, the frustrations will continue to plague the business unless it is dealt with.  During my first year working with ABE, the engineers occasionally asked me to guide them through the process on dealing with recurring frustrations.  Once we went through the process together a number of times, they were ready to apply this crucial process on their own.


By year end the Electrical Engineers had grown their revenue, client base and their confidence.  However, much of what we had covered was not yet fully integrated into their business.  I asked them “where do you want to go from here?”


After a few weeks they got back to me, asking if I would create a second-year program of helping them as a mentor/coach.


Dividends of working with a business coach

As of today, we are nearing our 3rd year working together.  They indicate that the fees paid for the coaching is reaping dividends, and that each year they are bringing their business to another level.  Today they have mastered the following:

-       they are confident with their vision and where the company will be in 10 years

-       they have a revenue and income forecast based on their historical information

-       the have a staff of 2 who are fully trained in the company systems

-       they are confident that they can recruit, hire and train new staff members

-       they are able to define, write and integrate systems for their business

-       they can constructively deal with ‘frustrations’

-       they identify recurring mistakes and take action to eliminate them

-       they are learning from mistakes

-       they are confident in their ability to find new work and clients

-       they have systems that create efficiency in their production and the systems ensure that their work is always being completed on time in a consistent manner

-       they are confident about the future and how their company will provide them with a comfortable livelihood in their chosen profession

-       they can see down the road through their systems approach in their business where they can grow, expand and diversify if they choose.

Benefits of coach/mentor

Always interested in feedback, I recently asked them what benefits they get from my input as a coach/mentor?  They listed the following:

1.      The 40 years of experience in business offers many examples to draw from

2.      An outside, yet informed view of the business brings fresh and alternative ideas

3.     Developing their systems based business, continuously strengthens all 6 aspects of the company: leadership, management, financial, marketing, business development and client fulfillment.

Free assessment of your business

If you are considering starting your own business, or if you are already in a business that is experiencing difficulties, visit our website where you can arrange a free, no obligation assessment of your situation.  We will develop a program together, to address challenges that your small business faces and put you on a path towards success beyond your wildest dreams!  

Phone: 780 490 8831



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Blog: Architecture+Business Blog

Author:  The E-Myth Architect   Why Most Small Architectural Firms Don't Work and What To Do About