THE SERVICE VEHICLE:
Although it is a big advantage to have a traditional service vehicle like a truck, van, or even SUV, I will tell you it is not absolutely necessary. If you don’t have a truck or van already, you may not need to buy one right away.
As I said, I was really broke when I first started. I didn’t have a truck and could not afford it, so I worried about this, but I had no choice. I originally ran service calls right out of my four-door sedan. I know it doesn’t look as established as a truck, but I never had a single customer doubt my abilities once I got inside the door.
I filled my trunk with tools and inventory (as shown in the photo) and I also neatly filled my back seat with stuff. I think it looked to them like I was a subcontracted technician who worked on overflow business for the company. No one ever said anything negative to me or to the office about it, and by the time I was done with the repair, they always wanted extra business cards to stay in touch and share with others.
If you already have one, the advantage of a nice truck or van is obvious, and will certainly help establish a professional image. Adding magnetic door signs at about $100 is a very effective way to help promote and brand your image, well worth the money and will also get you extra business.
Be sure to declare a portion of your car or truck as used for business purposes with your insurance company. If you have a claim and they investigate and find you were out on a service call, they will deny your claim. I was able to add my vehicle to my existing policy with no increase in premium. Results will vary from state to state.
Inventory is a whole subject unto itself, but I started out with about $250 worth of the most basic parts and tools mainly based on the list from Uncle Harry.
I tried to carry the common things that the customer would expect me to have on hand like, fuses, thermostats, belts, and switches, with a few other, frequently needed items peppered in like motor couplers, universal inlet valves, and defrost timers.
Depending on the appliance parts vendors in your area, and turnaround times ordering online, you will be surprised how little you need to stock at first. Let the local parts house or online supplier hold your inventory for you until you get more established.
You will eventually get tired of running to the parts house or waiting for online parts to be shipped for your most frequent repairs, and making two trips to the customer’s home, and start holding more inventory yourself.
I started out with 500 nice, glossy, full color, two-sided business cards from nextdayflyers.com for around $30 shipped, 500 carbonless invoices from carbonlessondemand.com for around $50 shipped, and self-sticking magnetic business card blanks (in bulk) at about 30 cents each.
I also use an HP Netbook with mobile broadband for an on-site library of technical manuals and online support (any laptop or portable will do), and mobile broadband costs $50 per month.
I can’t imagine going out on calls without being able to read full-sized manuals and wiring diagrams and getting on the internet for downloads. A must have, in my opinion.
MARKETING AND ADVERTISING:
All of my marketing and advertising is via the internet using free search site business listings (Google, Bing, Yahoo, etc.) (Check out this article for more information.).
I do not buy local print advertising, phone book advertising (which is expensive and considered not worth the money by most service technicians), door hangers or signage. I’m not saying that there are not some viable things to do to get your name out there, I just don’t use them in my business. A strong internet presence is all that I have found necessary to get things going.
My wife is skilled at website design and internet marketing (that’s how I have this nice blog site!). If you feel you want to try doing your own website design and management, Lunarpages.com has some great deals for annual hosting, domain name registration, email, and website design templates. If not, it’s a tricky one for me to answer because, luckily, I have never shopped for website design or SEO (search engine optimization).
Good SEO is essential to drive traffic to your website, but free reviews from your satisfied customers are worth their weight in gold, and get you better search rank than anything else you can do!
Three important items are license, insurance, and business entity. I would not recommend attempting this business without all three. Get a business license from your local government – mine cost about $50. I have a business owner’s policy for $1,000,000 per occurrence in general business liability insurance which costs me $450 annually.
You will need to decide if you want to be a corporation or LLC (not all states offer this choice). My LLC cost $100 to set up, and I did it online in one day by going to the Secretary of State website for my state.
Carefully consider before choosing a corporation over an LLC. The paperwork and additional accounting services at tax time made this an unattractive choice for me.
I would suggest you NOT choose to operate as a DBA (doing business as). Spend the money and set up a corporation or LLC to protect your family from the direct consequences of events within your business. Remember you are going into other people’s homes, best to be on the safe side!
I spent, bare bones, around $1,000 to set up my business and don’t regret any of the choices I made in the process. Good luck and let us know how it’s going!