Q&A: The co-founders of Ryan Murphy Construction have successfully led their general contracting business through a few economic downturns.
Here’s how they've handled the pandemic.
Lara Murphy is one half of Ryan Murphy Construction, a woman-owned construction and contracting company based in Calgary, Alberta. Lara and her co-founder Karen Ryan met on a construction site in 2008. Acknowledging how rare it is to work with other women in the construction, renovation, and general contracting arenas, they teamed up to bring something new to the construction industry. Ryan Murphy Construction has been growing steadily and has been disrupting the industry with each of their corporate, commercial, and residential projects across Canada.
How have you managed your business finances through the pandemic?
Events like the global pandemic and fluctuations in the economy requires us to always maintain an in-depth working knowledge of our financial performance, and goodness knows there has been a lot of fluctuation in Alberta in the last 12 years! We launched our business during the 2008 global financial crisis, made it through the Calgary flood of 2013, and persevered during Alberta’s oil and gas market decline. Our team’s agility in accommodating these changes has been crucial to our momentum, and it continues to show throughout the pandemic.
Hard decisions had to be made about staffing; we decided that we had to put some team members on temporary leave to ease cash flow strain, and fortunately, we were able to bring people back in September of 2020.
Before the pandemic began, we were working with strategic consultants to evaluate the business and collaborate with our team on scalability. When the pandemic hit, we actually had the time to sit with our core team and personally evaluate our company goals and strategic direction, which wouldn’t have been possible without the “down time” during the pandemic. At the time, it seemed counterintuitive because we didn’t know how the pandemic would impact the company, but the insights we gained and the changes we made refocused our business and resulted in geographical and fiscal growth.
Has your approach to sales and marketing changed?
During the pandemic people were shocked, sad, frustrated, and unsure of anything. Some of our clients and friends lost their businesses, and many people had lost loved ones. We knew this was not the time for traditional marketing and decided that we’d share uplifting, optimistic, comforting, and supportive messaging. Our social media posts were inspirational, humourous, informative, and provided people with a much-needed smile and the reassurance that we were in this together and were going to pull through together.
Check-ins with clients, partners, and tradespeople were frequent and more focused on their well-being. Video calls with them became the norm and included a combination of laughter, vented frustrations, tears, and, occasionally, wine. This dedication to our clients resulted in strengthened relationships and new projects once the province began to reopen.
How has technology played a role in your business during this time?
Technology certainly helped prove to clients that remote work is effective, and it created an alternative, efficient work life balance for our team — a new hybrid model for people to move more freely while accomplishing their goals. We were able to encourage our team to continue feeling purposeful and supported during a difficult time, while placing emphasis on their ability to be successful — both individually and collectively. Video conferencing platforms replaced our in-person meetings for project and client management, and it was also used to check in with the team when we were all working from home.
At our sites, we wanted to prioritize the safety of our clients and people in trades, so we implemented and invested in a touchless QR code system as a new approach to an onsite safety measurement for required sign-in’s, health checks, meetings, and more. This allowed us to continue to work during the pandemic and was easy for our tradespeople to manage on their cell phones.
How have you managed your mindset (and that of your team)?
Because of COVID-19, I’ve learned to adapt to having a day-to-day mindset, and to appreciate small joys and achievements more fully. Pre-pandemic, I was constantly going from meeting to meeting, gone all day from the office and from home. Once lockdowns began, there were no more events or travel (and no hair colouring!), which was somewhat of a welcomed relief — I was able to spend time with my partner Liv and our dog, Ruby, during her final days. A few months after Ruby left us, we were lucky enough to adopt two new pugs, a mother and son — sweet Rosie and hilarious Bubba. Spending so much more quality time with Liv and the “kids” has been fabulous, and we even carved up the mountains on a ski trip together. This slower pace made me able to be more productive and focused, and allowed me the space to not only imagine new personal and professional goals, but to achieve them.
Our team felt the same way, at times choosing to work from home or adjust their schedules to better suit their work and their mental health during such turbulent times. We had many more check-ins, supporting each other and sharing our experiences. This work environment has lasted, as we saw that our staff were happier and just as productive — if not more so — when they are able to have flexible schedules.
What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to all entrepreneurs in your industry today?
Make time to strategize as a team — no interruptions, no rainchecks. Get everyone in a room — safely in person or virtually — and have them do exercises to define the company and ways to envision growth and enrichment opportunities. During a brainstorm session, everyone can call out words that define the company, or write down ideas for change. This dedicated time is priceless. It creates a real investment in the business, allows everyone to have a chance to share their diverse voice, and strengthens team bonds.