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11 Mistakes I Made In The Solar Business

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Starting a business is easy. Maintaining one, not so much. Well, not so much, without help.

And help can come in many forms. A mentor is usually what we all need. Someone that has been there and done that. Someone that is better at something, than we are. Skills we don't have, but have to acknowledge and humbly accept guidance.

Early on, I asked for a little help. It was with bookkeeping. Didn't know how to setup a chart of accounts. Unclear on how to do the data entry. What category? How do create an invoice? Inventory?

All of this was a mystery. After all, I had the technical background.

Having said all of this, here are the 11 mistakes I made and how you can avoid them.

1. Not asking for help.

This was a huge error in judgement. When you start out in business, you need to have the 20,000' view and the 3' view. Details matter. Figuring it out later could have been fatal.

2. Working 7 days a week

Sure, you hear it alot. Entrepreneurs should/have to work 7 days a week. While you should work hard, if you don't have any downtime, why are you doing it in the first place? You can go work somewhere else and make a paycheck. And, spend more time with your family/doing the things you love.

3. Learning marketing

Understanding a deeper rooted reason why people make decisions. Knowing that everyone is not your ideal client and they not being your service provider, is a humbling experience. Behavior matters. Knowing what triggers and messages you send out and the echo you receive will eliminate alot of wasted time (and maybe you can cut down to 6 days a week, working).

4. Learning how to hire

By far, this is perhaps the continuous thing that would pop up as a young business owner. Being able to write an ad, screen a candidate and understand their motives. Often it was tactical (I need someone now) versus strategic (how can I attract the best of the best). This cost me tens of thousands of dollars and months of my life.

5. Providing value versus giving a price

When you're just starting out, you really want the work. You are uncertain about the scope and often throw a number at a project, to get the job. When you provide a proposal, you get told you are too expensive. As a reaction, you back peddle and ask what is it going to take to get the opportunity. You just disintegrated your value for price.

6. Offering options

When a client contacts us to perform a specific task, we would go out and just do it. Invariably, we did two terrible things. We neglected the client, as they are not experts in our field. We know they need other services, just by looking around and observing. We also didn't give our client choices to upgrade their initial purchase, as it was all that they thought they knew they needed. We knew better. We just felt uncomfortable offering options.

7. Following up in 30 - 60 days

We were called to do something. We did it. We moved on to the next triage or client and their needs. The ironic part was, we had a satisfied client. They paid their bill. We'd see them in the community. But we neglected them. They were a great source of additional work and referrals. Our customer acquisition costs to do more work, were less than a phone call or post card away.

8. Business metrics

In the early days, it was all about what was permissible, via the building and electrical codes. All the nuances around getting the design, permit and inspection done. Did we have the right tools- ladders, drills, etc? We overlooked any kinds of business metrics. How much time was spent nurturing the relationship. Office hours tagged to the job. Field labor. Gross profit (what is that?). Fleet management? Huh? When we usually learned this was the following year, post the meeting with the accountant to do our taxes. By then it was too late.

9. Cash flow

When just starting out, the idea of cash flow was about as illusive as Big Foot. Waiting to get paid from clients, because we were shy to provide an invoice. Same for other companies we worked with and for. Over time, it seemed the more work we did, the more we fell behind. This caused many days/weeks of not receiving a paycheck. The simple cure was to get organized, provide proposals on the spot, with payments when work was completed. This new system answered 85% of our issues.

10. Sales goals

Yeah, even a techy kind of guy, I had sales goals. Something I dreamed about often. It usually started in the 6 digit zone and quickly creeped up to the 7 digit goal. It was part bragging rights and part of my mind saying bigger was better. Boy, was that an illusion. Eventually, we had zero sales goals. We had gross margin goals.

11. Get out of the truck

Business owners feed their baby- aka, their businesses. Letting go of things is never easy. For me, it was the truck. It was deeply rooted in a blend of being super service oriented with a mix of being a hospital/ambulance. The desire to be 24/7/365 service company was what we built our reputation on. And that reputation was our brand. Then one day, it happened. It was time to let go. And that guidance came from a good mentor over lunch one day. Once I stepped back and it was revealed how to address my concerns, it all became apparent to me. Was stuck in the business and not focused on working on the business.

 

While there's on 11 mistakes, there were definitely more. These were the ones that transformed my thinking and that shift gave me the time and money to think strategically. The tactical things were handed off (most were).

If you'd like to learn how to free yourself, drop me an email and I'll show you how.

Respectfully,

Keith Cronin

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