May 14, 2018

How to build a service business from the dirt up

"Blue-Collar Gold — How to Build a Service Business from the Dirt Up" by Mark Stoner (Next Century Publishing, $14.95).

The service sector of the economy isn't confined to retailing. People forget about the blue-collar trades until the plumbing leaks, the furnace dies, the washer won't wash, etc. Stoner, like many others with skills you can't learn in college, became a well-paid professional in the B2C and B2B skilled-trades markets. In 2003, he was a one-man chimney-sweeping operation; he built the operation into a multimillion-dollar chimney-service company.

Stoner touts the opportunity of blue-collar service businesses because, even in the worst of economic times, people need things fixed and preventive maintenance done. Also, starting a blue-collar business doesn't require lots of money. In addition to the requisite skills and credentials, you'll need the tools of your trade and a vehicle — and you can work from home.

While many trade businesses are prosperous one-person operations, they're also one misstep from going out of business. In 2003, Stoner learned that lesson when he fell off a roof while cleaning a chimney. He was "out of business" for months as the broken bones mended. During his recovery, he thought about building a bigger business by training/employing others in his trade.

Growing a business required a different mindset and skills from that of the sole proprietor focused on "staying busy." Instead of relying on himself to do everything, he had to lead, train and manage others. Stoner's new skills were acquired through reading, networking in trade associations and continuing education. Mastering those skills took time as he learned from trial and error, too.

Key takeaway: Imagine what a successful business looks like from your view and the views of your employees. Reference it often to guide your decisions.

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