This article is the first in a series written about real people who have started real businesses. We’ve asked them to share their top three keys to success – inspiration for new entrepreneurs.
Tom Smith knows all about sparks and how to prevent them. When this Professional Engineer was laid off during the economic downturn, he saw the opportunity to start his own electrical product safety and approvals business. In 2009, he started TJS Technical Services Inc. from his Airdrie base, and now helps companies around the world meet the safety and legal standards required to market and sell their electrical products. We asked Tom about his start up experience:
How did you get your first client?
My first client actually contacted me. I had done some work for them when I was employed and so they knew my areas of expertise and offered some contract work. This showed me the value of doing my best at all times and treating everyone like a customer, even when employed elsewhere, because pays off later on.
What was your greatest fear when starting your business?
Will anybody out there be interested in what I have to offer!? Plus, I needed to better understand the legalities and liabilities of working for myself.
What was the biggest surprise?
People that I knew decades ago have referred work to me. To me, this shows how important your reputation is, no matter whether you work for a company or for yourself. Your work ethic and record follows you for a lifetime. There is nothing more valuable if it’s good, and nothing more dangerous if it’s not.
What help did you find most useful?
Participating in the Self Employment Program took away a lot of the fear of the unknown and I learned how to avoid common new business landmines. I learned the basic tools of good business management, where to look if I need help. It was a great base to build from.
One of the best aspects of this program was the ability to learn and start my business at the same time. Personally, I learn by doing, so I liked the approach of having support, and applying new knowledge right away. It was a perfect situation.
Please share some highlights of being self employed.
It’s fantastic to have clients ranging from one to two man operations to large, multinational corporations. I’ve also had regular feedback from clients who say they appreciate the commitment I show to projects and the quality of my work. Being dependable is important to me.
I also find that no matter how many nights and weekends I work on my business, there is still a lot less stress than when trying to satisfy someone else. I have much more control over my own destiny. I remember working on my laptop on my picnic table during my early days – times have definitely changed, and now I often work on my laptop on planes, across Canada and the U.S or overseas.
Where are you today?
My company continues to grow and as we expand, more areas of opportunity are developing through partnerships. New business relationships also mean the chance to introduce new types of services and more business related to foreign markets. We’re excited about these possibilities.
What would you tell new entrepreneurs are the keys to success?
1. Become recognized as someone who takes the time to really listen to your client and understand what they want. Never assume you know what’s best for them.
2. Build and maintain a stellar reputation. It follows you forever.
3. Do what you say what you’re going to do. Commit and follow through.
Read more about Tom’s business on his website.
Click on any of the tabs above for more information about the Self Employment Program, offered by Community Futures Centre West – go from unemployed to self employed!