Have you ever wondered how other businesses got started? Have they faced the same challenges you have? Maybe you’re curious about starting your own business and are looking for advice from people who’ve been there.
We’ve had the opportunity to speak with some Estimate Rocket users about these topics, and we hope you’ll be able to take away some insight from their answers like we have. Whether you’re just starting a business, have owned one for 40 years, or never plan to.
Could you talk a bit about your business and what you do?
I've got a landscaping and hydroseeding business that I started 16-17 years ago. We do design, installation, hydroseeding, erosion control, and handle water problems. Four years ago, I bought a slab jacking business, brought it here to our community, and changed the name to Scritchlow Concrete Lifting and Slab Jacking. We lift concrete, do concrete grinding when it’s not justifiable to lift it, and caulking and sealing.
What were you doing before you started your business?
I was in college when I started the landscaping business. Throughout high school, I worked for a tree and landscape company in town. It used to drive me nuts that the hours were 7 a.m. to whenever we were done. When I was in college I went to work for the parks department, mowing and taking care of parks, because they had set hours from 6:00 to 2:00. I would do side work after 2 o'clock. Then I transferred from Southern to ISU for construction management, and decided I was going to go into that full-time. So I started my landscaping business when I was a junior at ISU.
What made you decide to start a concrete lifting business?
Concrete lifting was an interesting thing. 4 and a half years ago it was not on my horizon at all. State Farm, our major employer in town, opened hubs in Atlanta, Dallas and Phoenix, which concerned me. As a landscaping business in a town that's been very well insulated from national issues, that business doesn't travel well. If our major employer were to leave, we wouldn’t exist anymore.
With slab jacking, I can travel to Champaign, Peoria, Springfield, or Chicago or Indianapolis, if need be. It would give me the ability to survive if our major employer decided to leave. It was a way to diversify, and I stumbled into that particular industry.
What are the most difficult parts about running a business?
Finding good quality help, managing cash flow, and figuring out when to invest in new equipment are the main issues. The same types of problems everybody has. One of the biggest issues for me with running a business is that you feel a little isolated. You're the boss, and the buck stops with you. Joining trade groups or local chambers, and having good groups of friends and family that support you always helps. At the end of the day, though, nobody else has the same interest or love for your business as you do. It can be a lonely place at times even with good support networks.
Could you talk more about the chambers that you’re in?
I'm in McLean County's chamber and Champagne County’s chamber. I'm in a small business roundtable group in one and a CEO roundtable group in the other, and they are invaluable. Talking with fellow business owners is so nice and helps you feel like you're not so alone. For anybody starting out in a business, join your chamber. I know it's a couple hundred bucks as you’re getting started, but it's worth every penny. The caveat is that you get out of your chamber what you put into it. If you want to get referrals, you need to invest the time and go to all the events that will help drive referrals. I want more of the back end advice- learning about new systems, finding out what other people are doing, or talking about problems you're having. I use the chambers more from a learning perspective rather than an avenue to drive business. The chamber can do both, or one or the other, but it comes down to if you’re willing to invest the time needed to get results.
What do you find most rewarding about running your own business?
For me, it's the freedom. Like on Valentine's Day, in the middle of the morning I was able to go to my son’s school for his Valentine's Day party. That might mean I’m going to be working a little later than normal at night, but I can go to an event in the middle of the day. I don't miss my kid’s stuff because that's important to me and I get to choose my schedule. The work doesn't go away. I still have to do it, but I can pick and choose with some flexibility what I want to do when I want to do it. That freedom is just fantastic.
What advice would you give to someone starting a similar business today?
First, develop that support network. I'd also say you have to be wired for running a business, and not everybody is. When people say anybody can do it, that's true, but not everybody's going to be good at it. One out of ten businesses aren't going to make it to five years, one out of ten of those aren't going to make it to ten years. It’s about a 1% success rate and you’re crazy lucky if you make it to ten years. The more people you can get advice from that have made it to that ten year mark, the better off you're going to be. They truly understand and can help you navigate things that you don’t have any idea how to deal with yet.
I got lucky with landscaping. My first business venture worked, and that's enabled me to try other ventures that have failed, because I had one that could keep me moving forward.
One more thing to add is that if you're going to be a business owner you have to trust yourself. There's a quote that goes: “An entrepreneur jumps out of an airplane without a parachute, not because he's going to die, but because he trusts himself to build a parachute before he lands.”
You’ve got to trust yourself to make the right decision, to figure a way out of whatever hole you dug yourself into. You just have to trust.
Where do you see yourself and your businesses in the next 10 years?
That is a loaded question. If you had asked me that ten years ago, I wouldn’t be in slab jacking because it wasn’t on my radar. As of today, if all goes as planned, I won’t be in landscaping anymore, and I’ll be in slab jacking in some different marketplaces. We can't get very far out of our region with landscaping, the way we can with slab jacking.
I've got to be able to support my family because all the decisions that I make today are going to affect my wife and my kids in their future. I want to stay in Bloomington, because I absolutely love this community and want to live here my entire life, but I have to be able to make money. So I've got to figure out a way that lets me diversify in the construction world.
Update: Since the date of this interview, I have expanded into Lincoln, Nebraska through the purchase of Adams Mud Jacking and Footing Repair. It's been a challenge operating a business 7 and a half hours away, but it's been a worthwhile investment thus far.
Do you own a business? What tips would you give to someone just starting out? Let us know in the comments!