Starting A New Pool Company
The reality is that, for the most part, there is a very low barrier of entry to starting a new swimming pool company. It is a little harder to start up a new pool installation company than a pool service or pool maintenance company, but even still there will be a lot of "new players" in your local market every year. This is something that I have noticed going back almost 30 years in the areas that I operate. Every year there are dozens, sometimes a hundred or more, new companies that begin advertising pool and spa associated services. By the end of the first year most of these will be gone, and phone calls and emails are not returned, or just bounce completely.
Some areas have a more strict licensing procedure which requires contractors licenses, and looks to oversee business practices and provide some measure of quality control over the people who claim to be service workers. Even in these more strictly regulated areas the industry is overrun with unlicensed, unskilled, under skilled, and downright criminal element operating as "legitimate companies". If not even the more regulated areas are safe, then you can imagine how bad some of the worst, unregulated areas are. This climate breeds customers who are wary of new companies, rightfully so, and so it can be hard for a legitimate new business start up to get off the ground. Fortunately this same unstable industry climate also breeds swimming pool owners who are loyal. If you find a new customer and strive to treat them well, and fairly, there is a good chance they will always be your customer.
Everyone has a different approach to business, and life in general. There is no one-size-fits-all answer to the best way to start or run a company. You will need to decide for yourself early on what kind of business owner you want to be. Many times the difficulties of your job will get in the way of your goal to treat customers a certain way. If this road was easy then everyone would own their own company and that is certainly not the case. While you may not have the ability to control every situation that comes your way as you begin your new business, there are some core and fundamental ideals that you can adopt that will help to see you through some of the more difficult of times.
The very first piece of advice that I ever received when I first started my own business was to be honest. My grandmother told me that you do not want to have to cross the street one day when you see an old customer coming your way. The best and most reliable way to avoid this problem is just adopt a policy of 100% honesty when it comes to business. Sounds easier than it is.
There will be times when you are faced with a very easy path, and a much harder path which is the honest path. Decide now, before you start, what kind of business owner you intend to be, and then stick to it.
Learn to say no
Almost universally the first big mistake that people will make when starting a new business will be to say yes when really they should say no. You are inexperienced. You will make mistakes. More experienced people may get the better of you in negotiations or contract deals. Even if you operate with 100% integrity and honesty, this does not mean that other people will honor or value this method of doing business.
When a deal does not favor you then you must be willing to say no. When you are asked to perform work that is outside the scope of your comfort level you will be inclined to say yes. Chasing revenue is one of the most important jobs for a new business owner. It can be hard to turn down work that is being offered to you but you need to respect your experience level and operate a low risk business. Walk before you run some might say.
Trust your gut
If you are going to be in business for yourself you had better learn to trust your gut instincts...sometimes that will be all you have to make important decisions based on and you should hope that yours are sharp. Truthfully they won't be. Gut instincts take time, and experience, specifically negative experiences, to develop.
You are going to take some lumps going into business for yourself and you need to know that this is coming your way. Be ready for it and be ready to roll with the punches. If a little voice inside your head is telling you to walk away from a potential customer then there is a good chance that your subconscious is picking up on some subtle red flag that you are not perceptibly aware of. Trust yourself.
Value your time
The mantra of a new business owner should be to under promise and over deliver to ensure that every one of your first customers is thrilled with the services that your company provides. Even one bad review early in business can ruin your budding reputation, and one bad contract can see you on the brink of financial ruin when you are just starting out. This is why you must learn to value your time. Yes you can strive to over deliver, and you can cut discounts wherever you calculate it is an advantage for you to do so. You are the boss now after all...but it is harder to charge money than to offer free or discounted services. You must recognize that part of being a good business owner, and a good solution for your customers, is stability in your business plan.
It is not good for your customers if you go out of business suddenly because you mismanaged your funds, or did not value your billable time enough. You need to bill as much time as you can every day and you should have a shop rate that you use as a multiplier for any additional work that arises throughout the day. Also fixing the filter since you were "here anyway" is not what you include for free with a pump service call. You can offer a discount, since you are there already (assuming you can fix the problem without a trip for supplies), but otherwise this is a filter service call and needs to be billed accordingly. People will try to take advantage of you...especially when you are new and less confident in how you value your time.
Take ownership of every problem
This is a very big point where many new companies fail to make the grade. Working on pools is a lot of responsibility. They are very expensive, and usually attached to very expensive properties, and it would be prudent for you to adopt a mentality of ownership for the problems that you encounter on the job. It is very easy to say that something is another persons problem. It is also easy to bury problems and they probably will never come back to haunt you.
If you are endeavoring to be a professional within the pool industry then people are counting on you to have their best interests at heart. If you miss something important when quoting a job then tell them that you did. If something breaks or you think there is a problem developing with the pool then you should bring this to the pool owners attention even though there is a reasonably high likelihood that they will blame you for the problem one way or another. Do not shy away from difficult problems. Difficult problems are the ones you will learn the most from. When you are old and looking back on the early days it will be these challenging projects that you remember and credit for your success the most.
If you say you are going to do something then you damn well better do it. Maybe I should have put this up in the number one position since it is so important. Really this goes for life in general, in addition to starting a pool and spa company, but being reliable is a rare commodity these days. If you tell a customer that you will meet them at 3:00 then you had better be standing there at five minute to three, or phoning them with a very reasonable explanation as to why you will be a few minutes late. Sure, things will come up all the time that will play havoc with your daily schedule, but it is how you react to these day to day problems that will determine how reliable you are.
It is crazy to me how poorly pool companies communicate with their customers when some clear communication could resolve, or head-off, potential problems that could be brewing. You have a super computer in your pocket 24/7. There is no reason to be missing appointments or not calling someone when you said that you would. Answering your phone, and returning messages and emails might be the number one "trick" to starting up a new pool company. Customers will not even know what to do when a real person answers the phone during the peak of the busy season. Being on time for meetings usually just boils down to managing your time properly and deciding in advance that you will not be the type of person who is late all of the time for their obligations.
This is the first thing that a new company owner is going to forget to do. Work-life balance is real and needs to be respected for long term success. The amount of work on the plate of a new business owner is staggering for any industry. The physical toll of working on pools does not leave much left over at the end of the day for quoting, pricing, ordering, bookkeeping, payroll, taxes and project management...which does not even factor in that you need to market and advertise your company somehow and get out there to quote a ton of jobs all while managing ongoing projects in an efficient manner.
At the end of the day, figuratively, you need to take some time off. No matter how determined your resolve is there is a finite amount that a person can give before the cracks start to show. Again, part of being a responsible business owner is developing a platform of stability and longevity and if you need to work 100 hours per week just putting out fires then you are doing something wrong and you need to look again at your business model and find something that makes sense in the long term. If you burn out and end up sick there is nobody to take care of you as a business owner. You need to be proactive and take care fo yourself in the best way possible and that means taking time away from work regularly so you can stay happy and healthy.
Helping those you are able to help is something you can either choose to do, or choose not to do. It is up to you what kind of person you want to be. As the owner of this website which offers free advice about how to work on pools and spas properly I can easily say that I have made my mark and earned my living by sharing information. Not everyone shares this sentiment.
You can be the kind of person who laughs to themselves as they pass another pool truck who has a flat tire on the side of the road, or you can choose to pull over and offer some help. The old school way when I started in this industry was to spurn your competition at every opportunity. I much prefer to live in a world where we help each other and grow together as a whole. The world is a big place and there are a lot of pools to go around...but not all that many pool workers.
Pay your bills
Look if you are going into business for yourself you are going to need to get your finances in order. Some people will have no trouble with this since it is not all that hard. Other people however get their cell phone shut off ever 60 days for not paying their bill even though they have the money. In business it is important to pay your debts.
Paying employees is a sacred thing since they are the ones you are making money off of. If you owe money to someone then do not make them beg for it, and do not make them wait for it. Go out of your way to establish your reputation, with employees and also credit accounts and suppliers, that you are the type of person who does not miss payments - ever. This will come back to pay dividends for you time and again over your career.
Don't take shortcuts
If you only ever needed to build one pool then, at least in theory, you could take a short cut and maybe you could beat the odds and not have a problem. When you decide to do something for a living then the odds change. If you cut corners all the time then it would simply be a matter of time before you get burned. Do you want to start a company just to have it go down in flames just when things were starting to get rolling? Probably not I would imagine.
If you are going to make a living working on pools then you will need to adopt the idea that shortcuts are not acceptable. If you start to accept shortcuts in your work, for any reason, then you start a ticking clock counting down to the impending disaster. Better off to just take the high road and avoid all short cuts so you can sleep soundly at night.
Most new swimming pool and spa companies fail within the first year. This is a cut-throat business fraught with difficulties for new business owners to navigate. There is a lot that can go wrong at any time for a pool company owner but your risk will never be as uncontrolled as it is in your early days in business. When you do not have experience, and you do not have a long list of established clients, you must rely on your integrity. If you are persistent and true to your ideals then you should rise above the median average. Honestly it is not all that hard to be a superstar within the pool and spa industry. Those who want it, and work for it, will achieve it.
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- Swimming Pool Steve