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Unique Industry Insights from Three Female Construction Leaders

In honor of Women's Entrepreneurship Day, we caught up with three women who built businesses and thrived in the traditionally male-dominated world of construction.

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Amy Straub

Amy is the owner of Amy Straub Design, a New Jersey-based business specializing in the design and installation of custom residential built-in solutions.

Family Handyman: How did you get started in the construction industry?

Amy Straub: From the time that I was very young, I loved watching construction projects take shape and was very fortunate to have a father and grandfather-like figure that included me in anything they were working on. They never acknowledged any kind of gender barrier — they just took me under their wing and put a tool in my hand. As a result, I was never afraid to dive in and get my hands dirty.

In my career as an expert space planner and designer, I always felt like something was missing — I loved the creation, but ached to be a part of the hands-on execution of my designs. So I dove in and created a business model that allows me to be involved from conception to execution of my projects.

FHM: What is the most important lesson you’ve learned as a construction business owner?

AS: Confidence. In my line of work, I am constantly reminded that I am a woman. From comments at the lumber yard — “Well, you sure look like you know what you’re doing”— to the “Wow, your husband has a nice set of tools!” to the inevitable “How did you learn how to do this?” question.

For a woman starting out in the construction industry, it is easy to feel as though you do not belong. But we do. Women bring a unique point of view and approach to problem solving to construction projects large and small. When faced with challenges, we don’t panic and throw our hands up in despair; we pivot and drive towards creative solutions.

FHM: Is there any advice you have for women who might want to follow a path similar to yours?

AS: Believe in yourself. Trust your skills. Own your right to be in this space!

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Joan Barton

Joan is the founder and owner of Dirty Girl Construction, a full-service general contracting company based in Los Angeles that serves residential and commercial clients.

Family Handyman: What would you say was the biggest challenge you faced starting a construction company?

Joan Barton: The biggest challenge was probably figuring out how to self-fund and grow my business simultaneously. I had to work three different jobs for about four, maybe five, years while I created enough capital to have a proper shop, all the tools and materials I needed to function at a professional level, and the funds required to not only build my projects, but to live day-to-day.

It’s no small venture building a construction company, but I didn’t want to be indebted to a bank or paying interest. So I squirreled away every extra cent to ensure the future of the company. I worked 20-hour days, seven days a week, until I felt like I could maintain the business as a stand-alone career.

FHM: What is the most important lesson you’ve learned about operating in the construction industry?

JB: Maintain flexibility and educate yourself constantly; the construction industry is not static. Also, don’t count your profit until the last check clears.

FHM: What piece of advice would you give to someone looking to start their own construction company?

JB: Run away. Just kidding. Run far away.

But seriously … spend time working in the construction industry —both in the office and in the field — before deciding if you truly want to run your own company. While I find it very rewarding on every level, it’s not for everyone. Most people don’t know what owning a construction company really takes until they’ve seen it from every side.

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Amanda Valente

Amanda is the founder and CMO of Renovation Sells, a renovation company that focuses exclusively on pre-sale renovations with the intent of delivering high impact cosmetic improvements that result in quicker and higher-priced home sales.

Family Handyman: How did you get started in the construction industry?

Amanda Valente: My husband was in construction, development and real estate investments for close to a decade. As an entrepreneur, the lines between home and work were blurred and I found myself helping him behind the scenes on a day-to-day basis. I created his operations processes, proposals, timelines, marketing and business plans.

With a full-time corporate job myself, eventually I decided to take the plunge, leave my job and formally go into business with him. Shortly thereafter, we formed Renovation Sells.

FHM: What is the most important lesson you’ve learned as a construction business owner?

AV: One of the most important lessons I’ve learned as a construction business owner is that relationships are everything — relationships with your subcontractors, relationships with your clients and relationships with your referral sources.

You must always think about the long term vision, and bend in areas where you can to cultivate those relationships. Treat your sub-contractors well, cater to your client’s every need, and be truly helpful to your referral sources. This takes a lot more time and energy. But in this business, your reputation is everything and you have to keep everyone happy in order to be successful.

FHM: Is there any advice you have for women who might want to follow a path similar to yours?

AV: It looks like a man’s world, but it doesn’t have to be. Women are great multitaskers and this industry relies on that fundamental skill in order to be successful. Be smart, and treat your construction business like you would any other small business. This means you need to plan and execute.

Set up softwares that can help streamline your day, in every department. Systems for contracts, accounting, sales processes and marketing (including social media) can help you stay organized and focused on client satisfaction. This allows you to utilize your team talents in their areas of expertise. Keep your focus where it needs to be and you will be ahead of your competition in every way.