Sam Jones, Founder and CEO of Proworks Enterprises, radiates an inspiring blend of “can do” attitude, casual friendliness, and unflappable confidence that simply pulls people in. His company? A 100% veteran-owned general contracting company offering full service construction for residential, commercial, and public clients.
Entrepreneurship comes naturally to Sam. From serving in the military and starting his own licensed lawn care business at 19, to moving to a city he’s never seen to become a police officer and starting up his own handyman business on the side, he’s done it all. While those experiences might strike fear (or at least a healthy dose of anxiety) into the hearts of most people, Sam did it all anyways. Now he’s a general contractor, growing his own company, Proworks Enterprises, while still actively serving in the military and forging all kinds of new relationships at Vibe Coworks and throughout the community beyond.
Read on to hear more of Sam’s story, and some of his best advice for fellow entrepreneurs.
Tell us a little about yourself—what’s your story, what are you passionate about, and what made you decide to start your business?
Sam: I grew up in Minnesota. Joined the Marine Corps on my 18th birthday and spent nine years in the Reserves. In 2011, I was deployed to Afghanistan to Helmand Province for seven months.
After I got home, landscaping and mowing lawns had kind of lost its luster. So on a whim I decided I should be a cop instead. I sent an application to the Ketchikan, Alaska police department—a town I’d never heard of. A few weeks later I was there interviewing and not long after I had a job offer. I moved to Alaska in 2013 and was a cop there until 2018.
While I was working, I went back to school and got my degree in Entrepreneurship from American Military University (half a step below Ivy League I’m pretty sure!).
In 2018, I decided to move closer to family, but I couldn’t get away from the mountains and water. Puget Sound seemed like the right place. I also had a pretty good idea. I wanted to get back into business and I knew Kitsap would be a great spot to work my way into government contracting.
Three years later, I’ve gone from being a one-man show doing small repair work, to building home additions and big remodels with a team of four full-time carpenters, an admin assistant, my Dad, Tom Jones, as an estimator (also a Vibe member!), and myself.
How do you balance running ProWorks and serving in the military?
Sam: It’s a huge challenge for sure. The typical contractor is a critical member of their own business and most companies won’t survive without having the owner around. Knowing that I could be called away anytime, I knew I would either need to build a turn-key business that runs itself, or shut the thing down whenever I’m gone.
The nature of construction is projects that are spread out for months and a lot of planning goes into things, so it’s not realistic to be able to shut it down at a moment’s notice unless you’re doing really small work.
I’ve used a lot of what I learned in business school and business books to really focus on building the systems I need to make ProWorks turn-key. My strategy has pretty much been to figure out what’s taking up the bulk of my time, and then figure out who I can hire (or what service can I buy) to take it off my plate without sacrificing quality or service.
“I’ve learned that having the right people on the bus is probably #1 to success… you’ve got to be able to trust your team 100% when you’re out of town and out of service.”
Make no mistake though, it hasn’t been an easy process.
Being the stubborn Marine that I am, I’ve had to learn a lot of things the hard way. You think the right systems are in place until you leave town and come back to some new fire to put out. Then you make a new process and refine it until it’s working right. I’ve learned that having the right people on the bus is probably #1 to success… you’ve got to be able to trust your team 100% when you’re out of town and out of service.
Why did you join Vibe Coworks, and how does coworking fit into the kind of work you do?
Sam: Well, #1 is that I’ve got terrible internet at home! I can come here to Vibe and knock out work ten times faster than I can at home. There’s far less distraction, there’s great networking, and the environment really just helps boost productivity.
As an owner, my job is pretty paperwork intensive. I’m constantly writing up estimates, corresponding with customers, ordering materials, lining up subcontractors, dealing with permitting, etc. But I don’t need a full-time office, either. I’m on the go quite a bit, too, so coming here once or twice a week is just about right.
You’ve clearly made your work work for you. What advice would you give to other people who want to build a business or work life that works for them but are nervous about doing something new and aren’t sure where to begin?
Sam: Entrepreneurship is not for the faint of heart and you’ve got to be all in to make it happen. You’ve got to be very confident in yourself to know that you’ll make it no matter what. There’s a lot of risk involved in business and I’ve put my life’s assets on the line more than once to make it happen. I credit my military and policing experience for my ability to deal with the constant stress.
My motto is “nobody’s shooting at us” so it can’t be that bad (even though sometimes it can be bad!). If you let the little things bother you too much, you’re not going to be happy with this life. With that said, you can start your gig on the side and keep it small and easy. I’d say the transition from being self-employed to being an employer is where the risk-reward game really ante’s up.
I have to remind myself that while I’m busy looking at the next thing, I’m currently where I hoped to be a year or two ago.
What would you say to other active military who want to build on their entrepreneurial dreams but think they have to put them on hold until after they leave the military?
Sam: Side gigs are great starters to entrepreneurship. You can take nearly any hobby and make a business out of it. The military life is unpredictable so there’s a big challenge to doing it full-time (believe me I know!). But don’t underestimate the value of education either. I fully believe college is not the right path for a lot of people, but I learned a ton of business skills from school.
I’ve also spent years and years learning from every angle I could—business books, construction books, youtube, trade magazines, mentors. I even joined the Guard as a heavy equipment operator so I could increase my equipment skills for business. Off-time spent learning and preparing for entrepreneurship after the military may be the right route.