Is geography really a limiting factor? Is it possible to start and manage a service business 100% remotely? (ep 59)

Show notes from podcast episode 59.

I received a recent question via email

I want to set up and run a service business from outside of the USA. I have some capital and some experience. What service would be best? What should I consider? What steps should I take to build a business from scratch 100% remotely?

Is geography really a limiting factor here when we talk about these local service businesses? Is it absolutely required for the founder to be on site?

On one hand yes. We talk a lot here about the main advantage to starting a local service business being the fact that you can control your risk. If you can properly execute there is a very high probability of success. Competing and operating in a low risk way requires a presence. You have to build something yourself. You have to learn the ins and outs of the service and the city and the population and their needs. In the early days you have to do a lot of the work yourself to keep overhead low.

On the other hand no. If you have experience, capital and you do things right it can absolutely be done. My partner and I have branches of our business that have been profitable for years that we haven’t actually visited in years. I have never been to many of the cities we operate in. My partner went a hand full of times in the early days and that was all it took to set it up so we could manage it remotely from then on.

Today we manage the company remotely 75% of the time. Dan goes to Boston to meet with our main manager every other month and hits the road during busy season.

Let’s discuss the possibilities and start with the most extreme example of starting and building a business 100% remotely.

The entire country is your oyster. You can launch anywhere. So instead of doing a market study where you begin with a city and try to find a business that works there lets start by choosing a business and then choose a city where it would thrive.

What type of business should you consider targeting?

Let’s start a business with recurring revenue, scheduled services and repeat customers. Those are all really good. The businesses are more valuable if you ever wanted to sell, your income is more predictable and you can schedule out your work in advance. All making your logistics and growth a little easier.

Since you aren’t going to be there we also want to reduce the “emergency factor”. The emergency factor means damaged things, equipment malfunctions, employee error, anything that creates a fire that the owner typically has to put out in person. Think about a lawn care company with a lot of moving parts and a high probability of damaged items, missed spots, equipment malfunctions, getting stuck in a yard after a rainstorm, you get the point. You mess something up its very noticeable.

Needing the customer to be present to interact with your crew also adds another variable that can easily be messed up. You have to be on schedule and on time all the time in that case. So let’s find a business that doesn’t require the customer to be present.

You need something relatively low skilled. Remodeling basements or niche carpentry won’t work here.

Let’s go with something with just enough barriers to enter to keep the fly by nights out and the craigslisters away from the space. Some minor certifications would be great. Just enough of a barrier to give you some insulation from low cost providers entering the market like crazy.

So what is an example of a service that fits this bill?

Pest control is one that comes to mind.

Customers sign up for monthly services so your revenue is predictable and your customers can stay with you for a long time. There is a low emergency factor because your employees are less likely to chop off a sprinkler head or spill paint on someone’s carpet. You won’t be getting “missed a spot” calls. There isn’t a huge risk for equipment breakdowns. You can do the perimeter treatments for the customers when they are not home on your schedule. There is some certification to complete so you won’t have craigslisters willing to do your work for half the price.

90% of the time you show up to the house, spray the same chemical in the same spots in about 20 minutes and leave. Done. No hassle. No razzle dazzle.

I watch all of my neighbors pay for this stuff. A guy shows up in a small truck or a car. He gets out in his blue polo and puts on a breathing mask. Sprays the house for 10 minutes around the soffit and foundation. Gets back in his car and leaves. Then they hit the credit card for $50.

This is something that can be managed from afar.

Obviously it has its challenges that you shouldn’t overlook. You need to be able to treat indoor on 24 hours notice if there is a pest issue. You need to learn how to do it in a safe way around families and pets. You’ll need different chemicals in your arsenal for different situations and different pests. You’ll need to take an online course and pay fees to get registered. You’ll need a nice insurance policy.

Ok so you’ve decided you are going to launch a business like pest control. Now you need to find a city where the competition is backed up with customer demand and has a weak online presence that you believe you can outrank.

Here is a link to the full on market analysis but I’ll touch on the basics.

You need to CALL THE COMPETITORS AND PLAY A CUSTOMER. Ask 50 questions. How busy are you? How does your service work? How many crews do you have? How long have you been in business? How long would it take you to come out and treat my home? How much would you charge me? This is the best market research you can do and you’ll learn quickly wether this company is starving more more business or has it running out their ears.

Find out how hard it would be to outrank the competitor on Google. You can do this yourself by watching a few online tutorials and getting an subscription. I recommend this when you are early on. When you have it narrowed down you should consider hiring an SEO specialist to analyze this for you.

Don’t fall into analysis paralysis. Remember that you don’t need every customer. A single strong competitor is okay. You’ll never find the perfect opportunity. You just want to analyze it and be sure that you can carve out a piece fo the pie.

Ok so you’ve found a city that is ripe for your new business and you believe you can get some customers. What now?

You don’t need to register your LLC, get certified, get insurance and hire someone on the ground right away. You have a lot of work to do from the comfort of your own computer screen.

Start working and doing these things at least 6 months or more before launch. The earlier you can start the better.

Build your website. Write a bunch of great content targeting the local keywords. Record videos for youtube. Your website and your content needs to be 10x as helpful as your competitors websites. Design it as a resource meant to help people learn first and sell second. Consider working with a content marketer or SEO specialist to really set up your site structure the right way so you can rank well as early as possible. Work on building backlinks. Work on creating new content consistently.

What content do I create for a pest control company?

Answer any question anyone who is interested in your service might ask. Then answer any question a DIY pest control person might ask. Be very open book about how it all works. Aim to help them learn. While it is a risk they’ll take what they learn from you and do it themselves its much more likely they’ll start to trust you and be more likely to hire you. The DIYers likely aren’t your potential customers anyway. Add value first!

Creating this content will not only help your customers it will also really help you. You will do a ton of research and you’ll become an expert on pest control. Which is good because you are running a pest control company after all.

Get a Google My Business location in the heart of the town you are targeting.

You’ll need to get creative here. Convince a friend to let you send a postcard to their home. Send a postcard to the home of your first hire. Pay someone to let you park your Google Location on your home. Constantly add photos and post on this platform.

Ignore social media. Don’t make a yelp account. It’s not worth your time or money. Focus elsewhere.

Run through the rest of the items on this list to get your entire business appearing totally 100% operational and professional from the outside.

Don’t incorporate yet. Don’t offer your service yet. Don’t get insurance yet. Just develop your web presence and build it and work on it. Set up your google voice number and answer the phone when customers call and track the calls but let them know you aren’t launching yet.

You aren’t very deep money wise. You’ve got some time sunk in but you haven’t started to take on significant overhead yet. Its low risk so far. The longer you can let this grow and nurture it the better.

The pre-launch planning phase.

The leads are starting to arrive and you are on the first page of Google. Your Google My Business location is ranking for customers in certain areas and you are generating some traffic to your website. The phone is ringing. When do you make a hire, hit the ground and start spending some money?

It depends on your bankroll and your risk tolerance. You can start right away if you are confident in the market and willing to take the risk.

What do you put in place first?

You need to get registered with the local government. Get insurance. Get everything in place to run payroll. Get your certifications to legally offer your service.

Here comes the risky part.

You need to make a part time hire or a full time hire on the ground. Part time can be a great option to save money but they are often unreliable because they desire something consistent and will leave if you can’t provide that.

I recommend spending at least a little bit of time on the ground. The more the better.

Leading up to this time on the ground you should create your job descriptions and really think through the tasks that you will need your on the ground person to take care of for you. Once you have the descriptions you should make your job postings, advertise them if necessary, recruit some applicants, do your first round interviews on the phone or Skype. When you show up on site you need to be fully prepared to do your final round interviews, make your hire and get started working together.

If you do go the pest control route make sure you research your local regulations about employees using your license. They may need to become certified themselves. In this case you can either invest the money to certify them or you can recruit and pay a certified tech with experience.

Once on the ground spend some time with your employee. Go out and service some customers if you are able to do so. Spend time with your hire and make sure you are confident in the organization and setup before you head back out of town. Get organized with your supplies and equipment.

Management and operations…

From your remote location I recommend doing all of your own customer service at first. All of your own billing. Scheduling. Don’t take any cash so you can manager your money all online and control all of that.

From here on its about management and operations. Everything else on the block and podcast can be applicable here just as if you were running a business in person.

Make sure you organize a guerrilla marketing campaign with your first hire.

Being incredibly lean in the early days will be an advantage. Buy equipment used. Save money wherever possible.

Standardize your processes. This chemical for that situation. This flow of actions should be taken place upon each service. Everything action should have a standardized reaction. Build out a training video library. Take out the guesswork and simplify the job of your employees.

Embrace technology because it allows you to really control everything. A great CRM like GetJobber would be a good option. Take as much off your employee’s plate as possible. The more you can do from your remote location the better. Make sure they have a time tracking app on their phone that also tracks their location so you can analyze their efficiency, manage time theft, and also get data on how long each service is taking and how you can charge for that.

Grow from there at whatever pace you feel comfortable with!

A few additional options to explore:

A local partner. Find someone on the ground who wants to found the business for you. Handle the web build, customer service, billing, quoting, sales etc and have them carry out the service and manage the equipment. This is less risky from a financial perspective but also less rewarding. Partnerships can also turn south quickly when fairness and contributions are in question and there is big money involved. If you go this route make sure you lay out how everything will work and have all the hard conversations off the bat. If this happens then what? If that happens then what? If you go get a job then what? If we don’t make any money then what? If I need to come to town then what?

Subcontracting out the work is an option. You could explore hiring a company already operational and certified in the town to do your jobs and take a cut. This should be temporary if you decide to go this route at all.

Don’t forget this is risky business but it can be managed and I’m 100% certain it can be done with the right plan and the right execution.

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About Me

I started the Sweaty Startup in December of 2018 because I believe the Shark Tank and Tech Crunch culture is ruining the real spirit of low-risk entrepreneurship.