Working in the construction industry has given me the opportunity to meet some amazing women, and also men. In the early days, I didn’t think I would ever find men who would respect my role, but over time that changed, most often with new sub-contractors who we actively found, that matched our work ethic and morals. Shannon’s husband is one of these subbies, hands down the most polite and reliable person we have come across in our industry. A natural extension was for us to also work along side his amazingly talented wife, Shannon. Shannon is like a breath of fresh air that our industry needs, and I am thrilled to share her trade story today.
My Trade Story by Shannon Chalk
If you had told sixteen-year-old me that in little over ten years I would be running an electrical contracting company, I would have scoffed at you. If you told me I’d be doing so while working full time, restoring a hundred-year-old Queenslander and getting ready to welcome a child into the world, I would have packed my Discman and Lipgloss and run for the hills. Well, fast forward thirteen years and here we are. My experiences entering the trade industry have been as the wife and business partner of an ambitious, good natured electrician named Corey. Since first meeting at eighteen we have shared a dream of one day owning a business, which came to realisation in 2015 when we started Chalk Electrical in our hometown of Ipswich, Queensland. At the moment the company remains a dynamic husband and wife duo with expansion on the horizon. My challenges in the construction industry have centred around balancing professional and personal roles – employee, business owner, home owner, wife, supporter, friend and most recently, mother-to-be.
As with many small business owners, the complex challenges we face really boil down to a few key concepts. Firstly – time, or lack thereof. There never seems to be enough minutes in an hour, hours in a day or days in week. Working at my actual job (as a speech pathologist), while finding time for the business, working on the house and trying to accomplish the barrage of domestic tasks brought about by a husband who works eighty hour weeks, is like a constant high wire balancing act that I am yet to fully master. We have found the administration load associated with running a trade business huge, and streamlining this is a goal of ours for 2017. We also aim to expand our business by hiring employees, freeing up Corey to work on business growth and infrastructure. One thing that we have found crucial in managing our time efficiently is having a clear vision, with specific goals and with action steps outlining how to achieve them. Once we’ve done this, we simply don’t invest time or energy in any activity that doesn’t directly help us achieve those goals.
The second challenge we have found is demand. In any business, too little demand for work is terrifying. But too much demand? Also terrifying. Executing our business vision by seeking new opportunities is contrasted against struggling to keep up with the amount of work we have coming in. We chose to start our business by targeting the domestic electrical market, which seemed appropriate given growth in Ipswich continues to be fuelled by residential development. Our advertising, promotions and work practices all prioritise community and consumer engagement with a strong focus on enhancing the customer experience. This has proven a successful approach and we have experienced more demand than we anticipated or were ready for. While this may sound like a welcome dilemma for business owners, add in the demands we place on ourselves to always deliver and we are back up there on the high wire, balancing precariously and hoping for the best.
The third challenge is expectation. Meeting deadlines, negotiating jobs and managing the expectations of others has been something we have had to learn, at times the hard way. Recognising our limits and sticking to them has been our key to building sustainable business practices, but it doesn’t come easily to two died in the wool people pleasers. Perhaps an even greater test has been managing what we expect from ourselves and each other as we navigate vastly different roles and responsibilities – me juggling competing agendas and Corey being our primary front line employee. Supporting him at the ground level while trying to keep myself afloat and the business moving forward, leaves me feeling like a ship captain navigating choppy waters, always needing a hand at the helm and an eye on the horizon. Somehow, it all works though. We are each other’s champions, challengers and soft place to fall. By far the most valuable lesson we have learned by working together is that we are partners in life first, and in business second.
In life we often face challenges so constantly, it’s not until we pause for a moment that we can reflect on where we are and how we actually got here. Whether it’s a period of just months, or reminiscing about your sixteen-year-old self, change can seem both sudden and gradual at the same time. Life for the Chalks in the coming months and years will be filled with new experiences. Our goals will focus on further establishing our position in the electrical contracting industry and developing innovative ways of better serving our customers and our community. We will also become first time parents, which is likely to be the most arduous task yet, but will add meaning to our journey as we build a legacy for our family. At the moment though, we tackle each day with hope and persistence, a little luck and big dose of humility. It has given me great pride to share with you my trade story so far, a story that, challenging though it has been, I hope is only just beginning.
Thank you for sharing your story Shannon.
Are you a woman working in the construction industry? Would you like to share your story?