Starting a Construction Contracting Business

Interview with Julie Eaton, Founder of Eaton Realty Advisors, Inc.

Julie Eaton hasn't let being a women in a "man's" field stop her! She founded Eaton Realty Advisors in 2010 in Thousand Oaks, California.

Julie Eaton opened her own home building business after years of experience.

Tell me about your current business. What are you doing exactly?

Eaton Realty Advisors is building out new tenant spaces and remodeling condo's and homes.

How did you come up with your business idea?

I have been building out tenant spaces for over 20 years for other companies. The company that I currently manage and lease property for has been contracting it out. Since I'm a Licensed Contractor I asked them if I could bid out all of their projects. Not only would it help them save on costs but they also know my work habits and know that any projects will be supervised properly and will be done in a timely manner. Since they manage over 100 properties this is a built in clientele.

What were you doing before this, and is this your first business?

No this isn't my first business. I ran a packaging company, a retail shirt company, a farm, a thourghbred horse breeding company, a gift basket company and a mosquito machine company. I have a lot of experience in running businesses.

As a commercial real estate broker I have been a licensed contractor for over 20 years - worked for several other companies as a broker but took some time off from the real estate industry to raise my son - now that he is in high school I went back into the commercial real estate full time and just launched my own construction company as I'm a license General Contractor - one of the few woman in California.

Have you hired additional staff? What is your greatest human resources challenge?

I have a college student who has been helping me with my other real estate demands, so I asked her if she would like more hours to help me in this venture. She is very excited - so much that she's going to get her real estate license so she can help me in a larger capacity. I know from experience (I had over 100 employees at one of my other companies) that the less people you can get by with the better you can sleep at night. With employees come forms, forms and more forms!! So hopefully I can put my current assistant on full time.

I've also needed to hire painters, electricians, plumbers, handymen, etc... I ran an ad on Craig's List and received over 100 responses. I've narrowed them down and made sure that they all have the proper papers as I NEVER hire anyone who is not legal and who could put my company at risk. I carry workman's compensation on EVERY employee so they need to know what they are doing.

For women entrepreneurs, what specific advice would you have for young women who would like to become an entrepreneur? Are there specific advantages, disadvantages to being a women business owner?

Yea - this is me!!! You will begin seeing more and more woman's businesses because our world is changing. I think if you're a woman in a "Man's" business like I am - A Contractor - then it has both advantages and disadvantages. I don't focus on the disadvantages I focus on the advantages.

I think woman are a little more organized than men - but the men are a little more knowledgable in the construction end of it. My goal is to hire the right people, men or women, who know what their doing in their trade. I know the majority of my employee's in the field are going to be men so I think the challenges are going to be for them to accept me as their boss. I've always managed the crews in the buildings I managed but I've always showed them the respect they deserve and in return they showed me respect.

My advice to future entrepreneurs is something I have always remembered in a speech given by Winston Churchill "Winners Never Quit and Quitter Never Win"!!

What have you done that has been very effective in helping to grow the business?

Show up when you say your going to show up, do a good job, and finish the job when you say you are going to finish it and don't nickel and dime your clients for extras. This will go a long way!

How has your experience in running the business been different from what you expected?

I think when you're an employee you think "I could run this business" - you only see what is on the surface. You don't see the sleepless nights you have when you don't know how your going to make payroll because your clients who promised they were going to pay don't, you don't see all the hours a business owner puts in at home, you don't see them crying when the stress because unbearable. You also don't see the satisfaction of taking a $5,000 start up becoming a multi-million dollar company, or the lessons your kids learn from your dedication to something, or the passion it takes to be a business owner.

What advice would you give to somebody else who wanted to start a similar business?

Make sure that you know your business! Make sure you have all your insurances in place - liability and work comp before you take on ANY work - make sure you know what type of work you can do under your license classification and make sure your licensed - you'd be surprised how many contractors out there try and cut costs by eliminating these steps.

Thank you for your time, Julie. Good luck with your business in the future!

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