Ed Earl on the Protractor Podcast with Martin Holsinger



Ed was a recent guest on Martin Holsinger’s Protractor Podcast, also known as A Podcast By Contractors for Contractors. Martin is the man behind Contracting Simplified, a website designed to helping contractors run and grow their contracting business with relevant and actionable inspiration, motivation, and education,. Co-Construct in Miami helped Ed and Martin connect and start to collaborate.


Listen to the podcast below or you can find the show notes detailed below.


In this podcast, Ed shares how you can eliminate stress during construction projects. He also discusses the tools that he uses when managing a construction project, and his best practices for hiring the right employees. Ed shares 6 hiring myths that hold contractors back from success.

In this podcast Ed shares his path to working in the construction business. His first experience with construction was actually after he graduated from college. Ed was working for his dad who is in the industrial business in Los Angeles, before deciding to build his own 16,000 square foot commercial building. Ed was out there every day watching it go up and that's really when he fell in love with construction.

At that time - that was in the 80's - Ed had already been accepted to business school at Stanford where he got his MBA. While at Stanford, he took real estate classes, construction classes and engineering classes. After that, he and his wife moved to San Diego because he got a job with a large commercial developer as a financial analyst. Back in the early 90's there was a big crash in real estate, so the company laid people off and kept giving their responsibilities to Ed. He took over the jobs of the leasing manager and then the construction manager, so he took over the construction part and by the end of the crisis, he learned the whole process.

When Ed lost his job in commercial construction, he started remodeling his own house, and that was when his love for the job - managing the construction project reignited. That was also when he decided to work in residential construction while also doing property management.

Ed’s next project management job was for his brother in law who was from South Africa where it is common to have a project manager or an Owners Rep on residential construction projects. His brother in law was building his second home in San Diego, and at that time, he was not living locally and was always out-of-town, so he needed someone to communicate with him and the sub contractors. He hired Ed to be his representative and that was the start of Ed’s 30+ year career being an Owners Rep.

Key Takeaways

Owners Rep vs. General Contractor. An Owners Rep is hired by the homeowner to manage the whole process of construction and to communicate, coordinate, and integrate between the general contractor, the interior designer, the architect and all of the subs. General contractors should be responsible for bringing the project in on budget and on time, but not necessarily coordinating the meetings between the client and the interior designer or the architect or the other subs.

The construction business remains resilient to the pandemic. Residential construction was designated as an essential industry which makes it one of the better industries to be in during a pandemic. In fact, contractors seem to be as busy as ever. Contractors started advertising and recruiting for positions outside of the construction industry. It was during the pandemic that they found out that many people without construction industry experience can still do a beautiful job running a construction company even though they have no experience running a construction building. This shows that a lot of people from other industries have transferable skills, and can bring in new perspectives, new ideas and new ways to approach a problem much as insiders do.

How to eliminate stress and deal with the emotional rollercoaster during the construction project:

1. Understanding the homeowner's perspective. The Owners Rep needs to understand that the homeowner does not know anything about the construction process, and much of what they know about the construction process is not accurate. They often think everything just goes so smoothly and so easy, which is not the case.

2. Build trust first. Owners Reps and contractors must realize that there is a lack of trust inherently within the construction industry. Most homeowners have this thinking that contractors are dishonest and that they can't trust them. To build trust, you get to know someone by knowing who they are, what they do, their perspective, and have an understanding that their ideas, values and perspectives are probably different from yours.

Building trust also includes being realistic and realizing that we all have faults and weaknesses, including contractors. Homeowners should know from the beginning that contractors can also make mistakes, and it is okay to make one and admit it because we need to understand that every construction project is a prototype. No one has done an exact job in exactly the same conditions with the same client before. No one's done this before and so mistakes are going to be made and it's just part of the process.

3. This leads to another concept called the emotional homeowner. It's really important for contractors to understand that their clients will invariably go through this emotional roller coaster during their construction project.

Ed shares a chart with his homeowner clients as an Owners Rep before the project starts. It basically tracks the homeowner's mood level at various stages of the project. This is where you can get your copy of the Homeowners Emotional Rollercoaster.

4. Collaborative construction. Ed developed an approach called collaborative construction as a result of his work on the Zen Buddhist monastery. In collaborative construction, the Owners Rep integrates everyone together into the project as one team, bringing everyone together, which makes the general contractor's role easier by relieving him of having to do all of that coordination, of having to educate and advise the homeowner. The Owners Reps are responsible for reducing stress in the construction process and eliminating conflict and drama with the homeowners.

5. 6 Hiring Myths that hold contractors back from success:

  1. You only need to recruit when you need someone right and this is something that many many contractors are guilty of. What Ed tells people is it's like you should always be building your bench. You shouldn't just wait until your project manager takes another offer, or gets relocated which will surely catch you off guard. You must be constantly recruiting.

  2. Employees are expensive. Contractors see employees as expensive, that's why they don't want to hire people. The truth is really the opposite. Contractors really should look at employees as an investment and as a way of generating additional income. If you've structured your business in such a way where you're actually billing for your project manager's time or your site superintendent or whoever that is, well now that you have another site super or project manager, it allows you to take on another project which should make you more money.

  3. Contractors believe they don't need to hire a service, and just do it by themselves. A good contractor knows they need to hire subcontractors and pays them to do what they’re best at.

  4. Contractors have to hire from within the construction industry, and only hire people with construction experience. Ed debunked this myth by sharing how companies were able to get this incredible pool of talent as a result of the disruption that has occurred because of the pandemic.

  5. People take the approach of hiring fast and firing slow. Ed says this is really the opposite of what contractors should do. Contactors should be slow to hire and fast to fire, but you really can't do that unless you have an ongoing recruiting system going

  6. Contractors approach recruiting like any other project in construction. However, recruiting doesn't work that way. Recruiting has to be seen not as a project but as a process that should be continuously undertaken in a construction business.

6. Ed's best advice he's ever given.

  • Be compassionate and understanding. Realize that each of us have different perspectives and it's really important to have an understanding and a compassion for another person, not only their perspective but what they've gone through. Know that other people don't see the world the way you see it and it's really important for us to walk a mile in someone else's shoes to really understand that other person, whether that other person is a homeowner that we're working with or an employee or a colleague.

7. Ed's advice to Young Contractors who are just getting started. Trust the process and recognize that there will be various twists and turns which will all come together in a pattern and for a purpose. As Steve Jobs says "You can't connect the dots looking forward, you can only connect them looking backwards."

"Realize that with every every situation that you have, in every adversity there's an opportunity, and each one of those steps in your career may look like a setback but there's an equal opportunity that's hidden in that setback... find that opportunity, seize on that opportunity, be confident in your skills and your abilities and know that it is a journey. It will take twists and turns that you didn't anticipate and there'll be ups and downs, but if your intention is correct and you have a positive approach, you can continue and you'll make your way through."