Looking back from where we started back in 2010, I have no idea how we made it to this point. When my younger brother Dalton and I started Sunco, we had no business plan, very little money, and not a whole lot of knowledge about the actual services we were going to offer. We scraped and borrowed from our dad to get an old van, a 2.1 gallon per minute pressure washer, and some basic window cleaning supplies. Then we were off. To say I underestimated the effort, it would take to turn it into a real business would be the understatement of a lifetime. Since then, the last 11 years have been a blur. But we sit here now busier than ever, somehow finding ourselves operating a 7 figure business, with an incredible staff, company health insurance, retirement plans, and more work than we can get.
I don’t say this to brag at all. To me, we still have so many things we can improve upon and so much more we want to do. It takes a massive amount of effort from our entire staff to keep things rolling. In this article, I tried to lay out a few critical decisions we made that, in hindsight, set us up to get to where we are now. Back when we started, I would have never believed we would have gotten to this point. It is just the culmination of thousands of small decisions and not giving up.
If we can do it, I promise… You can too!
Below, I will list the critical things we added or started doing to get us to this point. They are in no particular order, just all things that we couldn’t operate without. I am sure I will leave many things out, and I am by no means an expert. You may already know better ways to do something than I lay out here. If I had this list when we first started our business, it would have saved me a lot of time and money.
Customer Relationship Management Software(CRM)-One of the first things I can remember doing was signing up for a CRM. It felt silly when we didn’t even have 100 clients at the time, but this was one of the single best moves I happened to make at that time. I recommend a web-based provider, and you can find a bunch of options with different price ranges set up for industries like ours. It set the foundation for us to grow. On top of it getting us very organized, we were able to start compiling all of this customer data. Everyone we worked with has now been put into our little ecosystem. We now had their emails and phone numbers, as well as notes about the jobs, pricing, and every other piece of info we thought might be helpful. But getting us organized was only one part of how awesome this was. The true power of using software like this came from that we could now set up a client retention program; this is where the money is. Instead of relying on all new business coming in, we could send out an email or start calling past clients to see if we could get them to schedule again.
It got to the point where we sent a mass email to our customer list with one simple, plain text. We could put thousands of dollars on the calendar for basically no cost. We still rely on this to keep several trucks busy every month by just reaching out to all previous clients and prospects. We use several different client retention methods now, such as monthly emails, ringless voicemails, and the most effective for us at this time, mass text messages. If you send a mass text, don’t send thousands at one time as you would with an email because the response can be overwhelming(trust me!). You have to have some management software if you want to grow your business. Your client list and customer info are the lifeblood of your business. If you use it properly, it can generate hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue for minimal cost. While at the same time keeping all your appointments, invoicing, service records, and any other data you want to capture nice and neat. This is where we track our marketing, labor, and expenses which all get entered daily into our CRM. Keeping all your appointments and estimates organized is huge.
We are known for our reliability. We show up when we are supposed to for jobs and estimates.
You would be amazed how many service businesses cannot get this part right. We even get people calling us that already accepted another company’s estimate but failed to show up to do the work. They did all the hard work of getting the new client and then didn’t follow through on the easiest part: doing the work and getting paid. It’s mind-blowing how many clients we have gained because of people not showing up or returning phone calls. Answer your phone, organize client info, show up when you are supposed to. Those three things alone will put you ahead of about 95% of your competition. A CRM can help you make sure you are on top of it all.
Phone System leads me to another critical element we added to our business. When I realized if we answered the phone, we would get clients, I decided I never wanted to miss another phone call. Before we had full-time admin staff and I was still going out in the field, we had to find a solution to the phone calls coming in being taken care of. So we added an answering service. They pick up anytime we can’t, and we still use them now to catch any overflow calls. Having a real person talk to a prospect and get some of their info will net you many clients that you will miss out on otherwise. One job can pay for several months of this service. People don’t like leaving voicemails. Yes, people will go right to the next company when you don’t answer. So just don’t let that happen. It would help if you made communicating with you as easy as possible. We now have people responding in the office and the answering service for any time they are on other lines or after hours. 24/7, we have someone that will answer. We also are constantly getting texts, chats, and emails. We give our clients all the options available for how they want to communicate with us. The text has become extremely popular, and honestly, we prefer text or email over a phone call any day. Make it as easy as possible for prospects to contact you and get what they need.
Once we had these things in place, we still had the problem of finding enough work. Word of mouth is great, but if you want to scale truly, you will need many leads coming in. That’s where marketing comes in. We were at a point where we were doing 15-20k a month in revenue. We couldn’t break past that. So I decided I was going to start a marketing calendar. Every direct door mail seemed to work best for us back then, and it was effortless to scale. Instead of wasting days going door to door with flyers and getting like 150 put out, now I could hit 5,000 houses with a simple trip to the post office. Once I saw that this was making the phone ring, I decided to start sending them every month. I figured if we were going to fail, we might go down swinging instead of waiting for a long slow death due to not enough work. Month after month, these postcards started to produce more and more work. I would send so many that if we happen to skip a month, we would have people calling, making sure we had not gone out of business since they didn’t get our postcard that month. People would hold onto them for months, sometimes even years. You have to budget and plan this out, but once you get a system down, it can be one of the fastest ways to produce leads. There were plenty of times where I spent nearly our last dollar on sending these cards out because I knew if I could hold on long enough, it would work.
When it seemed that most people were pulling back from sending actual mail pieces, we doubled down. This method got us inside of the gated communities that you couldn’t go door to door in. It was the primary way we built our client list in the beginning. EDDM may not be the best option for you. It’s not our number 1 option either, but the point is that whatever method gives you good results is probably the one you need to focus on, instead of doing a little bit of this and that. You should take the method that performs best for you and go all-in with it. We now rely on several different lead generators.
Website/SEO/ Google AdWords/ Google My Business
Having a great website is an absolute must nowadays. It can be a little pricey, but you need to have a website that sets you apart from the competition. I cannot recommend enough to have a site professionally built with a search engine optimization(SEO) service to go with it. If nobody can find your site when they search for your services, then what’s the point of having it? Having a tremendous organic ranking website at the top of the page on google will generate calls constantly. This is our highest return on investment marketing as of now. We make roughly $25 for every $1 we spend on our digital marketing, but even those numbers don’t compare to the return from our Google My Business (GMB) listing. This is where people can see all of your reviews. It displays at the top of the page for the area it is set up for and sells more work for us than almost everything else we do combined.
People buy because of your reviews. Once we realized how critical these reviews were for our GMB listing, we added software to help capture as many reviews as possible. I cannot recommend this enough. We went from 5 reviews a month to 20-30 plus, just starting to use a review service. There are many great ones, and they are all very reasonable, some less than $100 a month. We ask for and send out review requests to every single client that we service. It provides us with outstanding feedback about how our staff performs and gives us the best marketing we could ever ask for. Actual social proof that we are what we say we are. The best part about google my business is that it is free to set up and use. You can post photos and information as well as have your reviews put there. If you don’t have this set up, please do it right now.
Building the right team
It seems like now, more than ever, people are having a tough time finding employees. Or at least outstanding employees. Our staff is what sets us apart from our competition. We have the most incredible group of people. All but one newer hire this year has been with us multiple years. In a high turnover industry, I am very proud of this. But here is the secret to getting these great people to be a part of your organization. You have to pay them real money! $12 an hour is going to get you $12 an hour results. Honestly, ask yourself, would I show up and work hard if my check wasn’t going to be enough to let me live a decent life at the end of the week? Have you been to the grocery store lately? Have you seen how much apartments rent? If your staff is constantly worried about how they will feed their family or pay rent, how can you possibly expect them to be all in for you every day?
Being broke sucks
Being broke when you work hard 40 hours a week sucks. If you are thinking, well, I can’t afford to pay $25 an hour, then you need to examine your pricing. Everyone in our industry will brag about $100 plus per hour rates and then at the same time talk about how they can afford to pay people more than $15 an hour. I know it is easy when you are slow to start doubting yourself and go to lower prices to help get work coming in. Sometimes that makes sense, but right now, the demand for our services is at an all-time high from what I can see.
You can scale a business that charges a premium price. You don’t have to pay the low price/volume game. And if you ever want to grow and have any peace in your life personally, you need to have exceptional people in your business that you can trust to show up and get things done right. I tried paying people $12 an hour. It only got me a crippling case of anxiety every day as I wondered what would go wrong next or who would show up to work. We couldn’t grow. We couldn’t be aggressive with marketing because we didn’t know if we would have the people get the job done. So by trying to save money on labor, all I was doing was digging myself deeper. We couldn’t charge the premium price if we didn’t have the people deliver the premium service. Pay your staff and take care of them. It will be the best investment you ever make.
Now we can offer health insurance and retirement plans. This comes at a pretty high cost. You don’t have to go right to giving benefits, but you can pay more, even if it means a slight increase in your pricing. The benefits are a massive bonus if you can add them at some point. This will help you attract and keep the absolute best talent. If you can’t find great people to work for you, it’s probably because you are offering a crap job. No offense. But good jobs rarely sit unfilled. I am thankful everyday that our staff chooses to spend their precious time with us. I would rather pay more and offer benefits over more money in my pocket. Because doing so translates into me not having to be in a constant state of panic, worrying about who isn’t going to show up every day.
It is all you hear, and for a good reason. You have to build systems. Systems for this thing and that thing. Honestly, all of our systems got the built-in reverse. I do not recommend this. If you build things out before you need them, it will save you a lot of hassle. We would wait until something kept getting messed up enough times until finally we would say enough, THEN put a simple system in place to correct the issue. Now, at this stage, we have a system for basically everything we do. When we see that a system is no longer working or needs to address something new, we add another method. I try to be more proactive about it these days and not wait for things to go sideways first. But it still happens, and that’s ok as long as it does get addressed. I am not a paperwork guy. I don’t like systems just for the sake of having them. That’s why I do this instead of a real job. I am also not a super organized person.
I try to make our company run as simply as possible.
I see owners get caught up in making these super elaborate systems. I am not knocking it. But sometimes, you can get so caught up in having these beautiful systems that you forget you need to produce enough work for the system even to be required. So please, build all the systems you could ever need but don’t get caught up thinking they have to be just perfect before you can push for growth. You could convince yourself that working 100 hours a week on building systems is what you should be doing when you need to go for it. Planning is excellent, but doing it is usually much more lucrative. Worst case, you can be like me and make all your systems after you realize you need them.
These are just a couple of topics that seem to shine through if I think back to how we got here. I am no expert. I usually have no idea what I am doing. My company is tiny compared to others still even at this point. I had this grand idea about what running a 7 figure business would be. I just knew that by this point, we would have everything figured out. All of our systems would be beautifully crafted. I am starting to realize the only thing I have figured out is that I will always have a lot to learn about growing a business. Sometimes, it may seem that your business goals are so out of reach that it’s impossible to get there. I have gotten up many mornings thinking that I have no idea how we will ever get to this next milestone. Always wondering what the significant change was going to be that would shoot us to the top. Now I know that there will be no magic breakthrough moment. Instead, it will continue to be thousands of small decisions over time. And if I keep going, eventually, all of those will build and build until we have reached the goals we have set. You have to take action. Failure to execute is a business killer. I still have a long way to go, and I won’t get there in one giant leap. Our goals will be reached by steady, daily action.
-By Brian Sauls