Hello everyone! Very long post (sorry), but hopefully it can give you insight on what happens within a month of starting a local service business.
If you didn’t see my post from last month, I was sharing how I spent $8 on flyers, and that $8 investment scored me a $100/month recurring client with my poop scooping business Scoops. I initially messed up with my phrasing (thank you Reddit users) by offering bi-weekly while meaning twice-weekly. Don’t do that. Even if it technically does mean both things. I was pretty bummed initially but I was still looking forward to crushing my first clients expectations and getting those referrals.
So I’m going to go through what I’ve needed to build, what I’ve needed to buy, how I’ve interacted with customers, and what that interaction has earned me. Hopefully it encourages you with your future simple service business.
What I Built
I built out a premium pet waste removal business in 7 days, while having a full-time job, a fiance, a dog, and a different side project. You can check that side project out here.
I was strapped for time, and time is really the only thing I want. This conundrum had stopped me from acting on something for years. “What if I’m wasting my time building something no one will care about” OR “I’ll just keep scrolling reddit” OR “I’ll just play Animal Crossing”. They never ended. I decided after years of thinking on a service business, that poop scooping was going to be the new thing. Low startup cost, low investment, low ass expenses, low TIME investment. It was just crazy how much sense it made. I made a goal for myself: build this in 7 days at the LOWEST possible cost and then release it into the wild and see what happens. Ended up doing the following:
Developing the logo and business name
Creating the site
Designing, proofing, and printing business cards
Completing Yelp and Google listings
Downloading Google Voice app as alternative number (this is free and it rules so hard)
Doing market research to find out what competitors were charging (I decided to charge more with less hidden fees)
Contacting local competition and pretending to be a customer to get intel lmao
Creating workflow for each job
It was a long 7 days, but I felt excited every day that I got to get off of work and work on this project. I also had the luxury of waking up with my fiance at 3 AM, because she consistently opens at Starbucks. She is the true MVP.
Startup Fees & Equipment
These are all the purchases I needed to make in order to get the business off the ground. Total below.
Registering LLC with The State Secretary – $80 something dollars
City Business License – $180 (WTF)
Construction Dust Pans (2) – $18 each // $36 total
Kids Rake (2) – $5 each // $10 total
Industrial Tote – $10
Misc Cleaning Supplies – $30
Flyers – $8
Total : $369 — for me
Keep in mind this is the lowest cost I could manage. But that’s because I did ALL of the work. I didn’t outsource anything. Most people do not believe they can build their own site, even with the amazing templates out there today. Most people aren’t comfortable with designing their own business cards. Most people aren’t willing to design their own flyers, thank you cards, referral cards & programs. Most people don’t try to push the limits of black and white in an attempt to save on DIY printing costs. Those who do it, most of the time don’t do it well. If you want cheap, you need to give up your time to learn the skills you would normally pay for. And that’s OKAY! I’ve learned everything I know over the last 4 years, and I would say those skills came in handy at just the right time.
After the original post, I realized I had a miscommunication with my first client. After going back and forth about the service, I realized he was looking for bi-weekly service, not twice weekly. Unfortunately, my first client was not as lucrative as I had assumed, BUT we ended up landing a second client very soon after the first who ended up wanting that twice-weekly service (and she reached out to ME for a review). Two clients a month got me hyped.
First client: Male around 30’s from the neighborhood where I dropped flyers. Two big dogs. They keep them locked up when we arrive. Text before we get there. Usually service this yard on Sunday after 6.
FIrst job: Large backyard. Unmaintained. Literally had to search for these piles. Dogs went all over the place. No consistent spots. The job took about 15 bags to complete. A lot of companies would charge by the bag (which I am now doing), after going over a certain amount, but I already had the client pay, and I didn’t mention it to him initially. No surprise fees 2020 YAFEELME? Job took my fiance and I 1 hour to complete because it was an initial clean. I gave my client half off of his initial clean to rope him into our subscription. He was a warm lead that went cold, so I pulled out the power of an irresistible offer and now he’s all in. I can almost guarantee he will convert to weekly.
Takeaway: Don’t be afraid to reach out to your leads with a personal offer. It can really pull someone back in.
Second client: Female around 20’s looking for bi-weekly services to keep her yard clean for the homeowner. Found us on Yelp. Two big older boxers. It’s a relatively normal sized yard for my area. Well maintained. Only concrete, dirt and grass. Very easy to take care of. Only takes about 10 minutes by myself (5 minutes with a partner). That time includes me pulling up, taking the equipment out, cleaning up, throwing away, and calling it a day. Second client was acquired through Yelp (because I’m the only scooper in my area, naturally, I will get all the calls if they’re interested in this kind of service).
A quick note on Yelp: someone once described them as extortionists. I have been doing this for only a month and I think I understand why. After my first review, Yelp decided to not recommend it at their discretion. All the while I’m getting bombarded with ads for upgrades and getting emails from their team trying to upsell me. Not interested. Do ya thing Yelp.
I’ve decided to focus my efforts on Google, as that’s where the real searching happens. Because Google boosts their own content, those Google reviews are FAR more important to me.
Second Job: For my first twice-weekly customer, I was going above and beyond to offer them value: offering 5th week free service, free startup fee, lowering visit prices, etc. YOU DO NOT NEED TO DO THIS. You should offer them something irresistible, but just one or two things.
I ended up only charging $80/month for bi-weekly services for my second client. It works out to about $10/visit. I normally will charge $12, but second client. Sold myself short. There was real potential to make $170 from that initial sale if I included the startup fee, but the client has cleaned most of the crap herself, so I couldn’t justify the startup fee being an initial clean fee as well. For the future, I think we’ll make that a more general fee related to admin work required to onboard the client.
While I may have been offering a lot of shiny value to my new client, I wasn’t offering value to myself. Clearly if she was willing to invite us over here, she’s willing to pay whatever she needs to get this problem taken care of. She is essentially buying back her time. People are willing to pay high for getting their time back.
I really encourage you to NOT short sell yourself. You are providing a service, and people are willing to pay for it. You’ve put a lot of time building your business. Get compensated properly.
Takeaway: Don’t undervalue yourself. But provide big value to your customers in exchange for big money.
So all in all, I’m only looking at $130 of recurring income every month at this point. This is for only about 2.5 hours of physical work throughout the month. That’s pretty close to my $50/h estimation. That works out to $1,320 for the year if I only kept these two clients. That ALSO works out to only 30 hours A YEAR to get that income. That number (while low) shows the income potential when scaled. I only make around $1,200 for 80 HOURS at my full time job. WTF is that ratio. It’s ridiculous. I can save 50 HOURS of my life and make even MORE than I was making? I’m all in. Nothing held back. When converted, those numbers are so stupid encouraging.
I understand the impulse to write this off as chump change, but for anyone who has goals and aspirations of paying down debt, actually building a service business, or working for yourself, that number can be motivating. For us lower level plebs, any amount is something. There is a future for you to make money.
My first client recently had a newborn baby. He wanted time with his child. He wanted his yard to stay maintained. He didn’t want to be embarrassed by it any longer. He wanted a clean slate to start planning the next phase of his backyard. These are ALL pain points that sell these kinds of clients. So that information alone is going to be helpful going forward with ads and all that junk. Very encouraging.
But the greatest things that happened to me all involve my second client. I got a chance to meet the owner of the house the other day. I noticed that he had a slight limp, so any number of things could make it massively uncomfortable for him to deal with that backyard. I walked up to introduce myself and the company and he just went off on a tangent about how happy he was that our contact found us, and said “I love the service. Please don’t EVER stop” (his emphasis, not mine). It was truly amazing. A lifelong client. The ability to genuinely help people like this is a fantastic feeling.
I consider myself a genuine person and I really try to put personality at the forefront of any business I do. I think I enjoy it most when it comes to service businesses. It’s way easier to be cool in person than over the internet lmao. I think that my attempt at stuffing this business with personality, responsiveness, and doing an awesome job have actually paid off.
I was going to wait to ask my second client for a review, but she ended up sending me a text after our FOURTH job, to ask if she can share our business on Nextdoor. Totally used that opportunity to upsell a service as well. You can see that and my other client exchanges below.
I’m going to leave you with this: pursue your dreams of freedom, of getting cash, or of spending time with your family. Be friendly, be over the top, use a lot of exclamation marks, be professional, and you will get posted by your clients as well.
Another couple clients like that and this market is more than mine.
Thanks for the encouraging conversations and questions last time, r/Entrepreneur! You all are the true MVPs. Maybe I’ll update in a year if this virus hasn’t taken me out by then.
How Valence Aims to Provide Better Access and Funding for Black Founders & Executives
“I gotta say it was a good day.”
I’m so fricking pumped today. Really, truly. Yeah, Valence announced > $5 million in funding led by GGV and Upfront. That IS a big deal, but I’ll get to that. But Kamala Harris was picked to be the Vice Presidential candidate for the Democratic Party. That means she’ll be the first female Vice President of the United States, the first female Black Vice President and the first Indian-American Vice President. I don’t take this for granted, be ready for a fight. But let’s be clear. WE WILL WIN. We might have to fight for it after the votes go our way but let’s get ready for the fight.
So let’s get it.
Valence. It is a company with a mission to create better access and more funding for Black entrepreneurs and executives. Valence is led by a talented CEO, Guy Primus and was the brainchild of my partner, Kobie Fuller. If you want to follow two great Black executives who work at the intersection of technology and venture capital make sure to click on those links and follow them on Twitter.
So what exactly is Valence and why does it matter?
18 months ago, my partner Kobie Fuller was inspired to build a solution for a problem he faced regularly: as one of the few Black partners at a VC firm (an estimated 3% of GPs in venture are Black vs 14% of the US population), he was consistently asked for warm intros to Black professionals, to Black VCs, and to talented Black operators and entrepreneurs.
Venture firms wanted to meet talented Black founders but didn’t know where to start to find them. And Black entrepreneurs wanted access to decision makers but didn’t always have the easy connections. In fact, one of the biggest criticisms I personally get when I suggest that founders should “get introductions to VCs” is that this might reinforce existing racial imbalances by providing easier access to White professionals than people of color.
An imbalance clearly exists in access and networks that has resulted in a tech industry where an estimated only 1% of venture dollars go to Black founders and only 3% of the workforce is Black and a country where Black individuals hold a disproportionately low amount of the wealth — only 3%. As Kobie says, he didn’t have a “magical database” of great Black talent, so he set out to build a solution not just for himself, but also for the community.
Personally I believe that to fund more people of color you need to put check-writing authority in their hands the same way that if you want to see more women funded you need more women GPs. My greatest criticism of our industry is that women and people of color feel the need to leave larger VCs to create their own firms. We have a responsibility to help propel them to the top ranks of our biggest firms to make our check writers more representative of our society overall.
There is a very clear economic rational and strategic advantage for doing so. There are amazing Black entrepreneurs, Indian entrepreneurs, Chinese entrepreneurs, female entrepreneurs, gay entrepreneurs and so forth. OBVIOUSLY! If 90% of the check writers are White, straight men then it’s clear if you are different than that you’re going to have an advantage. As I always say, being great as an investor is about having “edge” and edge means knowing somebody or something that very few others know. It’s about swimming in lanes where others aren’t present. Being diverse in the VC industry is a VERY LOW bar and a clear differentiator.
At Upfront we believe in improving access for founders and entrepreneurs to networking, professional development, and economic opportunities, and that’s what Kobie set out to do with Valence, which he incubated in our offices. Huge hats off to Kobie for the idea, energy, direction, evening hours and the foresight and salesmanship required to bring on Guy to take the helm.
Building a mission into a business
By the time Valence launched in late 2019, the team had built the necessary systems and technology to seamlessly engage and onboard the community — not just the users, but also some pilot corporate partners who also believed in the mission and opportunity and who wanted to leverage and support this amazing database of talent. It was also important to Valence to not only connect users, but also to celebrate the successes and spotlight great Black leaders through high-quality content and design.
As soon as Valence launched in November 2019, the business quickly had proven demand from the community, not only from senior business leaders but also from so many young, talented professionals who could benefit from the inter-generational networking that Valence supported so seamlessly. Since launch, the Valence platform has supported more than 5,000 micro-mentoring sessions (AKA Boosts)— allowing the kind of invaluable network support that’s so critical to success and advancement for even the most talented founders and operators.
You can hear more about the importance of mentoring from Kobie Fuller, Valence advisor James Lowry, and John Legend — yes, THE John Legend — in this video from the 2020 Upfront Summit.
So things were going well for Valence in 2020, amazingly even in a pandemic. And then in May the world was galvanized by the tragic murder of George Floyd (and Breonna Taylor. And Ahmaud Arbery. And Rayshard Brooks. And the many Black women and men before them whose lives were taken at the hands of the police.)
When the mission meets a movement
In these months, not only did we see widespread civic protests but so many industries, including ours, faced a reckoning that despite even the best intentions, lip service wasn’t enough. We all needed to take action to address the imbalance of access, and to literally put our money where our mouths are. Suddenly a spotlight was put on everything that the Valence team had been building, and there was even more energy around the business.
I always say that you can judge a startup’s future based on how fast they’re able to execute when it counts. Well, I can tell you that within weeks of the civil unrest, Valence had:
- Introduced the Valence Funding Network, where GPs from more than 30 of the top venture funds representing more than $60B in assets under management joined Valence with the goal of linking Black entrepreneurs on the platform directly to venture decision makers.
- Increased membership by more than 20%
- Hired a CEO, Guy Primus, who was previously the CEO of The Virtual Reality Company as well as the COO of Overbrook Entertainment. He’s been a leader at the intersection of media and tech for many years and we’re grateful to partner with him.
- Announced their Series A funding round, which Upfront participated in and which was led by Hans Tung from GGV. Hans has been a great peer and collaborator on other portfolio boards and we’re excited for him to join Valence at this pivotal time. We have worked closely with GGV for years and they were a natural fit for helping to build a network like this given their investment in Chief (for women) and The Mighty (which helps families with people facing health challenges).
Since day one we have anticipated great things for Valence and with this groundswell of support at the civic level as well as the industry level, we hope to see meaningful improvements in access and dollars for Black professionals. Please join me in congratulating Guy, Kobie and the team for what they’ve built so far, and what’s to come.
How Valence Aims to Provide Better Access and Funding for Black Founders & Executives was originally published in Both Sides of the Table on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.
The world can’t afford entrepreneurial extinction
We’ve seen more than our share of changes in the last six months, but one of the most disturbing has been the rapid disappearance of small businesses. While large corporations consolidate their power (and the stock market rises in response), entrepreneurs are becoming an endangered species. This has widespread implications for our economic future and the health of our world, and we need all hands on deck to reverse the trend.
Most people have no idea how much value entrepreneurs bring to the US economy. Before the pandemic hit, 44 percent of economic activity in the US came from smaller businesses. Since the pandemic, 42 percent of small business owners have reported shuttered operations.
That’s a recipe for stagnation. Innovation suffocates when the dominant force is an oppressive, controlling government or a handful of monopolistic companies. It thrives when entrepreneurs have the freedom to explore ideas, create innovation and jobs, and change the world. Entrepreneurs—especially minority entrepreneurs—are the key to getting us out of this tailspin. To use a more timely metaphor, entrepreneurs are the economic vaccine that’s going to prevent future illnesses and get us back to health.
Here are three strategies to protect you from endangerment and keep your innovative ideas, jobs and businesses alive and thriving:
1. Put your mask on first—figuratively speaking.
You’ve probably heard it a million times: When you’re leading in any crisis, you need to take care of your primary needs before you can take care of others’ needs.
In terms of navigating the entrepreneurial world during the pandemic, your top priorities should be keeping yourself healthy, positive and motivated. Only then will you have the strength and energy to be empathetic and compassionate to those around you.
Staying healthy includes checking in mentally, too. Ask yourself if you’re truly committed to navigating this crisis as an entrepreneur. Don’t simply ask yourself, “Do I have what it takes?” Make yourself answer the bigger question: “Do I want to do what it takes?” If the answer is “yes,” then it’s time to get moving.
2. Don’t overlook the importance of virtual meeting strategies.
When the world went virtual in early 2020, companies with existing strong meeting strategies transitioned operations online with relative ease. Those without them floundered.
This aspect of entrepreneurship might seem like a trivial detail, but it’s not. Meetings dominate our professional lives. Unfocused and out-of-control meetings chew up everyone’s valuable time and energy, and they can send your business spiraling.
To avoid this, focus on the structure, organization and frequency of all your meetings. Share your expectations and ground rules with attendees before every event. For instance, you may ask Zoom participants to turn off their cellphones and limit distractions. You may also want to make better use of chats, polls and breakout discussion rooms to promote involvement and avoid monopolizing every session.
3. Tap unrealized potential by getting serious about combating racial and social injustice.
COVID-19 isn’t the only disease we’re fighting right now. It’s nice to say that you’re all about inclusivity, but you have to back up your words with actions. Doing so isn’t just “PC” or politically wise. If you want to remain competitive and nimble, it’s the right thing to do and a vital business strategy.
For example, a Boston Consulting Group study found that companies with more diverse management teams have innovation revenue that is 19 percentage points higher. As an entrepreneur, you need to tap the full spectrum of talent and potential for your business. When you do that, you also fight injustice. A win-win!
One step toward more inclusivity is to rethink your traditional methods of recruitment and hiring, as well as your onboarding processes and policies. Invest in unconscious bias training for yourself and everyone on your team, and use what you learn to make interviews and job descriptions as nondiscriminatory as possible. Then generate an action plan that sets up diversity as a core belief in your organization.
Don’t just talk about equity; live it. You might be surprised to see how many customers (and talented employees) come your way when you align your corporate values with their personal ones.
The silver lining
We’ve never seen this kind of fear, uncertainty or health and economic stress felt around the world simultaneously. But here’s the silver lining: Many entrepreneurs are realizing that the ways they’ve been forced to collaborate and communicate during COVID-19 are actually an improvement. I’ve heard several say, “We should have been operating this way all along.”
Whether you’re already an entrepreneur or are taking the first steps into business ownership, stay the course. The road may be rocky at the moment, but survival isn’t just for the lucky few. It’s for leaders like you with the foresight to acknowledge the changing landscape and pivot with confidence.
At this point, you might be a little tired of hearing, “we’re all in this together,” but it remains true. It’s been a rough year, but we’re all figuring it out together. Now more than ever, we must keep supporting one another and moving forward. It’s not an exaggeration to say that the world depends on it.
Pam Kosanke is the global marketing leader for EOS Worldwide and a Professional EOS Implementer®. She has experience at both the corporate and small business levels and is eager to help entrepreneurial leadership teams and companies learn to champion brand skills, gain more control, and experience real traction in their business.
6 Ways To Incorporate SEO While Building A Business in 2020
There’s no quick fix, or “one and done” solution when it comes to search engine optimization (SEO). You have to be prepared to play the long game to see the full advantages of SEO when developing a site — and it’s worth it to see your site rank highly on search engine result pages.
That said, there are some methods that will give you a quick boost. Shift more attention to the most significant ranking factors and tactics that will give your site the ability to rise to the top of the search results this year.
Choose a Responsive Design
User experience is a big deal these days. Google loves to serve its users the best results possible. If your website isn’t easy to use on a mobile device, you’re going to suffer a setback in ranking. Think about it, have you ever landed on a site where you had to zoom in to read the text and scroll side-to-side to read all of the content? This was most likely the desktop version of a website. It was made for larger screens and doesn’t reformat to fit on different screen sizes.
Responsive sites will resize images and reorganize the blocks of content according to the size of the screen. If you want to test whether a website is responsive, open up a web page on a desktop or laptop. From the full screen, shrink the window by clicking and dragging, and you’ll see the sidebars move, the navigation and header will take on new positions and the content and images will line up differently.
Mobile search volume accounts for more than half of the total searches made online (see chart below). A responsive, mobile friendly site is no longer an option, but a necessity, when it comes to providing an enjoyable user experience.
Create Keyword Clusters
Making a list of keywords that your ideal audience would use to find the content you’re offering will also boost your SEO ranking. Plug each keyword into a keyword tool to generate additional ideas. Assess the best options for keywords to include in your content strategy by grouping them into pools based on search intent. You’ll notice that many of those keyword options will be subtopics large enough to write an entire blog post about, in which you can provide more detailed content optimized for a related keyword.
For example, if you own a home improvement business, a central page on your site would be kitchen renovation. And because there are so many choices to make when renovating a kitchen, you could then go into depth and create a new page for every option, from counter tops and backsplash tile to faucets and refrigerators. When you’re planning your content, structure the website to feature central pages that are optimized for the most central, competitive keywords and most important aspects of your business.
Publish articles on the related subtopics in full detail in order to provide as much information on those major keyword topics, to show your expertise in your field, and to demonstrate authority within the content of your site. Google looks for this as partial evidence of your status as an expert in your niche.
Google also loves when there is a distinct organizational structure. By linking the subtopic posts to your major product pages, you signal what pages are most important to your site by creating a keyword cluster.
Optimize Your Content
On-page optimization enhances the likelihood of your page being ranked for your target keywords. Avoid keyword stuffing and place your keywords strategically. For instance, use your target keywords in the front end of your titles, and keep your titles under 60 characters or they will get cut off in the search display.
Place your keyword in your URL. The most effective URLs are those that are under 5 words and summarize the title or content on the page. Keywords should also be included in the meta description. Using your keyword in the beginning of the meta description will improve the click-through rate for users. As will placing your keyword within the first 100 words in the first paragraph of your content, and using keywords and keyword synonyms in the subtitles.
Use structured data markup whenever possible. If you can provide a rich snippet, you may get a boost in the position your site is displayed.
Make Your Pages Quick and Nimble
With a heavy emphasis on user experience, page speed can make a huge difference in how your site performs. If you’re an ecommerce site, it becomes extremely important because every second your page takes to load will cost your business money from lower conversions.
mPulse Mobile Case Study on Page Speed Vs Conversion Rates, Image source: https://digitalducats.com/page-speed/
Test your mobile page speed here. You can improve your site speed by reducing image file sizes, using plugins, and using a content delivery network to give your website additional page speed.
- To reduce the size of your images use Kraken or Smush.
- W3 Cache is one of the most popular WordPress plugins that increase page speed, but you can decide for yourself by choosing one from this list.
- Choose a CDN (Content Delivery Network) to reduce your pages load time from a list of options here.
Get Other Sites to Link to You
Establishing credibility and authority is a necessity to be competitive in search results. Backlinks are a powerful way to prove that your content is credible and authoritative because essentially it is being endorsed by the websites that link to you. But stay away from paid links, or any link scheme used to manipulate ranking in an underhanded way. Unnatural linking will lead to penalties and should be avoided altogether.
One approved method of link building is to become a guest author. There are guest posting sites in every niche and having knowledge about your business is all you need to create an article that can be submitted to a site for publication. It may take a few weeks to get a response, and you may need a few submissions before receiving acceptance. Get into a routine for guest posting to build backlinks as fast as possible.
Ask People to Share Your Content
A social network is a priceless asset for expanding your audience and getting more traffic to your website. Build your network by being active on the social media site that has the most impact on your business.
Install social sharing icons on your site and include a call to action to get the most shares. A retweet study revealed that content with share icons received 4 times as many retweets with the phrase “Please RT”.
Although there is a lot to put together to achieve a first page result, it’s a long-term game plan. Start building your website with SEO in mind to give your site the best chance at the top positions in search results.
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