(c) December 21, 2009
One day, when Chuck Solomon was in high school, his dad announced to him: “You’re going to help me re-roof the house.”
Taken by surprise, Solomon asked his dad, a pharmacist, “What do you know about roofing?” to which his father replied: “I went to the lumber yard and asked lots of questions.”
The roof got built (and lasted for years) and so did a new do-it-yourself hobby for Solomon, who went on to do the occasional home repair project for friends and was frequently hired to do some painting for a few of his college professors.
After a circuitous career over the next decade as a social worker, nonprofit administrator, information technology recruiter and, later, a stay-at-home dad, Solomon eventually returned to his hobby handyman business when his son started school. Before long, it had grown into a full-time venture.
Today, Handyman Solutions is the go-to resource for homeowners in North Carolina’s Triangle region who are seeking help with everything from stringing Christmas lights to simple repairs to full-on bathroom remodeling projects.
Solomon is the editor of the HouseFixer blog and recently published a book, Building Your Successful Handyman Business: A guide to starting and operating a profitable contracting business (available for purchase on Amazon), to help tradesmen better hone their business skills.
He shares his three best tips with others who have recently started, or are considering starting, their own small businesses:
1. From losses come gains.
The financial crisis led to the collapse of many businesses, both large and small, but for Solomon, it’s also sparked innovation. Instead of bemoaning lost income streams, he challenged himself to be creative in exploring new ones.
“I saw the writing on the wall when the banks crashed, so I went back to the well,” says Solomon. Back in the real estate heyday, for example, a significant portion of business came from real estate agents who needed help with basic home repairs contingent on closing a sale. When real estate activity dried up, Solomon flexed in a new direction: providing “on the ground” repair services to homeowners who had moved out of town but were forced to rent their homes rather than sell the property at a loss.
“I consider myself lucky, but also purposeful about taking steps to counteract potential challenges,” he says. “And, even in this economy, people are still living in homes. We’re not going back to caves and huts. There’s still a need for help.”
2. Being the expert in your field doesn’t mean being an expert on everything.
There’s a lot involved in starting a small business—but many proprietors make the mistake of thinking they must go it alone. And that often leads to guesswork, which can be time-consuming at best, or costly at worst.
Take, for instance, taxes. Small business owners typically are required to file quarterly tax estimates with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and failing to do so can be a costly mistake.
“When you work for someone else, they take the taxes out for you before you ever see your paycheck and you never think twice about it,” says Solomon. “But when you start your own business, you alone are responsible for withholding the appropriate taxes. Guessing is hard—and I recommend that small business owners hire a CPA to work with you from the very beginning.”
And, if hiring a professional advisor is too costly for your checkbook, consider bartering services. Many small businesses are just starting out, like you, and bartering services is a great way to accomplish what you need, while also helping your collaborator build his or her own professional portfolio.
3. Be confident about pricing.
One of the challenges many small business owners face is what to charge for their services. When starting out, it’s tempting to panic and start cutting prices or offering discounts just to get business—but that’s often a bad strategy for long-term success.
“I tell my clients that I run an above-board business,” says Solomon. “I have insurance, I pay taxes, I pay the people who work for me. I need to be profitable, and my clients need me to be profitable. They want to know that when they call me in a year, I’ll still be there.”
Even so, it’s important to determine a competitive pricing model. Solomon calls competitors to see what they charge for similar services, and he keeps impeccable client records to keep tabs on what his clients paid in the past. “People tend to buy by price, not value,” he says. “And most people won’t choose the provider who charges top dollar or the lowest dollar—they select someone right in the middle. So, I always try to make sure my prices fall right in the middle, and I always give my clients my best price upfront.”
ABOUT THE EXPERT
Chuck Solomon of Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina, is the owner of Handyman Solutions, a small business specializing in residential home improvement services from carpentry, flooring, painting and general handyman repairs. He blogs about various home repair topics on House Fixer and he is the author of the recently published guidebook, Building Your Successful Handyman Business: A guide to starting and operating a profitable contracting business.