Building A Strong Local Business
A strong local business doesn't just happen. It takes a large personal investment. It takes a passion to build something from nothing. In this article, I will be writing about my personal experiences in designing, building, and opening my own local business. The investment I made in time and money was substantial but I found at the end of the process that building a business sounded a lot more difficult than it actually was.
I was incredibly blessed since I knew successful people that had built businesses and gave me very solid advice. Some of it I followed to the letter and some of it I just couldn't make sense of and, to my sorrow, disregarded. First I would like to outline some of the advice that I did listen to and a little later I will outline the extremely valuable advice that I did not listen to that I wish I had taken to heart. Understand that there are many different businesses and many ways of building the structure of each business. I opened a home exteriors business and this is my experience with this particular business.
The first piece of advice I was given that I listened to was "have a plan". At the time I was working full time for a very successful home exterior company. The majority of the advice I was given was by the owner and GM of this company. As a division manager, I had a very in-depth understanding of running the operations of a large remodeling company. Before that, I was a general contractor for the same company which gave me a deep understanding of people management and leadership as well as money management. Before that, I was an installer working for small roofing business and gained a general understanding of building codes, installation processes and common mistakes made in construction and remodeling.
HAVE A PLAN!
Just like building a house, the foundation is the most important part of the build. The house can be the best home ever built but if the foundation is bad then it doesn't matter how good the house is, there will be issues for the life of the home until the issue is addressed. The first thing I did was decide on what kind of business I wanted to grow. Since I knew and enjoyed management and construction, I decided of a home exteriors business. My focus was roofing but I understood that the rest of home exterior was going to be needed at some point. I focused all my energy on developing a roofing system I wanted to install. I designed a company and install structure that was extremely scalable and was good for any volume of revenue. I wanted a company that could grow without many issues. Growth is extremely painful for certain businesses that are not prepared for it.
GET A GOOD ATTORNEY
This step isn't strictly necessary but having a good attorney did help make setting up the legal aspects of the company easier. The process of filing your business as a legal entity can be very daunting and though I figured I could do it myself, I decided to get an attorney to ensure the process was done properly since this was my first company. I asked around, talked to people I knew and got several referrals before I settled on an attorney. The fees were very reasonable and my attorney worked very quickly. Do you "need" an attorney? Not strictly speaking but it does shift liability for mistakes to the law office and since I was still working full time, it freed up valuable time I could be doing other things.
HAVE MONEY SET ASIDE FOR MARKETING
I severally underestimated the amount of money I would need for a successful marketing campaign. Marketing is very expensive no matter what business you decide to be in and my business is very competitive. In my state there are several large and established home exteriors companies all competing for the same customers. At the end of the day, the company spending the smartest dollars doesn't always overshadow the company spending the most dollars. You can absolutely spend marketing money poorly but most established businesses are spending huge amounts of money in the places that work. Free marketing can only get you so far. Free marketing is defiantly a must but don't expect free marketing to do anything like what paid marketing can do. There are hundreds, if not thousands of people out there that want what you are offering but if they have no idea you exist...
QUALITY OF SERVICE/PRODUCT
My company has "premium" right in the name and I decided early I was going to give my customers a superior service and product. That being said, I priced my services accordingly. Now I want to spend just a moment on this point. I absolutely believe in delivering the best possible product and service but that is not the end all be all of business. My local restaurant makes a burger that can beat anything McDonalds can put out the window any day of the week but my local restaurant has 2 locations and makes a tidy living whereas McDonalds is one of, if not THE most profitable restaurant in the world. Why, if my local restaurant can produce a far superior product and service, is McDonalds by far a stronger business. My opinions on this are irrelevant but it really is something you as the reader should consider. That being said, since I settled on a specific price point, I alienated a portion of my customer base. There are plenty of local contractors that work in the lower price point so that demographic is not under served but just something else to consider.
WHAT I DIDN'T LISTEN TO
In my state the construction industry somewhat grinds to a halt during the winter. It's not completely necessary these days but it's just what happens. I decided to leave my job and focus on my business completely in November. Many people told me not to leave my job with winter coming on but I didn't listen. I was so excited about the possibilities and wanting to start growing my presence in the community that I put my heart and soul into it from day 1 after I left my job. Guess what happened... What jobs there were to be gotten in winter were mostly going to the big guys in the industry who were spending those big ad dollars and had been established for many years. I sold a little work here and there but mostly due to established contractors and companies I knew who were gracious enough to give me some referrals. The first year is hard. I had a very good reputation from my days contracting but after just 2 years being employed, my old customer base had moved on to other service providers. I was starting from nothing.
The next piece of good advice I did not listen to was to start where you are. Don't try to start by being a major player in your industry right out of the gate. I designed my business to be very professional and scalable from day one. What I did not really need was an LLC, Website, uniforms and custom promo material right away. I could have started back into the industry as a contractor and rebuilt my reputation while saving a lot of money! I was enthusiastic and had the knowledge to be a major player but being established is huge for a business. It takes time to develop a Customer base and it's far easier to grow your business up than it is to scale it down. It's just down right hard to swallow that you got ahead of yourself! I was extremely fortunate that my best friend is a website designer so I spent far less with him than if I hired a company to do it but If I had it to do over again, I would have waited until I grew enough to justify needing it. Looking very professional is fantastic but one of my biggest mistakes was thinking I'd open the doors and dominate the market the first week. although, If I do become a big player in my area, it'll be because of the support of the people helping me!
DO WHAT YOU LOVE
Lastly, I love what I do and that makes such a huge difference in the love I have for my business and the customers I serve. It makes a big difference in my attitude when I come home from a job, inspection or repair. I've had jobs I didn't like and I felt like I was flushing valuable time of my life down the toilet for money I didn't even get to keep. It felt very counterproductive for my life. I had to do it so I did but loving what you do makes a real difference in your quality of life! I hope this helps someone out there in some small way. I intend to do a more in depth article on my business and how I structured it soon so please check back soon! Thank you