I’m fascinated by entrepreneurship. The process of someone creating a business out of nothing and using that business to support their family, or create more jobs, or produce a product that helps people in some way is an amazing thing. What better way is there to learn more about small businesses and startups than to interview the entrepreneurs that are in the trenches everyday. So without further ado here are some notes on my first interview. Below is a profile of the entrepreneur and his business to get us started.
- Entrepreneur: Ken Goodwillie aka my Father (Goodwillie isn’t too common)
- Business name: Divine Design
- Started: June 2008
- Business description: Handyman and home improvement
- Employees: 1
- Location: Tucson, Arizona
As you’ve already found out, Ken is my Dad, so I have some more insights into the business than I would normally have. I even had the pleasure of working for him part time one summer. I believe I find entrepreneurship so intriguing because my Dad did embark on this journey when I was a kid. Ken worked for a home building company when the housing market crashed and after multiple rounds of cuts was eventually laid off due to market conditions. Shortly thereafter, he and his wife (my Mom) decided after much prayer to take the leap and start a business. He had the skills, a truck, and an inventory of tools that allowed him to get started in the handyman and home improvement space. As a bonus, he enjoyed this type of work. People start businesses for many reasons, but my Dad’s start was somewhat out of necessity. So after consulting with an accountant on the legalities of starting a company, Ken took the plunge (spending less than $1,000 in startup costs) and entered the world of entrepreneurship.
ENTREPRENEURSHIP WAS NOT HIS PASSION
Ken does enjoy aspects of running his own business now, but I was surprised to learn that he has not always wanted to be an entrepreneur. I found this very interesting. Maybe I assume that most successful entrepreneurs had a childhood desire to start a business, but in this case that is not true. Through the years Ken has learned to appreciate the benefits of entrepreneurship, but his journey is different compared to someone whose life goal is business ownership.
GOD COMES FIRST
It is evident that God comes first in my Father’s life, both personally and in business. I knew this growing up, but it was made clear again during our conversation. He emphasizes that the chief goal of his company is to glorify God. Every aspect of his business reflects this, from his logo to his name, and he gives God credit for giving him the business. In addition, prayer precedes decision-making, and he prays for wisdom on the way to the job site everyday, asking God to use him for His glory. My Dad has stayed true to himself and continues to honor God by using his business as an opportunity to be a light to unbelievers that need Christ.
THE MAIN PERK
In Ken’s mind, one of the main perks of being a business owner is the flexibility. Setting his own routine has allowed him to do things such as attend sporting events that my brothers and I participated in. He has also had the freedom to go on vacations when he wishes, and even was able to take an extended three-month working mission trip to Africa with the family. Being his own boss is important, and I dare say that I assume it would be hard for him to go back to having one.
Ken admits that owning his own business has not always brought in a steady paycheck. Furthermore, as a one-man show, he wears all the hats of the business, which has pros and cons. He readily admits that it would help at times if he had some more help to do some of the behind the scenes tasks such as invoicing, bank runs, marketing and more.
During the early stages of the business, Ken took pretty much any job that he felt he could capably do. But nowadays he has adjusted to be more selective in what projects and tasks he takes on. His customer base has grown to a point where he has the freedom to pick and choose what suits him best.
Another subject of progress is his improved skill of estimating the time and cost that jobs will require. He admits that he has developed this skill over time, and that he left money on the table in the beginning due to bidding a job at too low a price. The main resource in helping to improve this skill has been simply learning from experiences and using those lessons to bid more accurately in the future.
QUALITY WORK LEADS TO REFERRALS
Ken emphasizes quality over speed. He prides himself on doing top-notch work and recognizes that excellent results help earn him repeat business and referrals. This has been key in expanding the company, as Ken is quick to acknowledge that word of mouth referrals have been the key to growth.
It also helps that my Dad believes that one of his key strengths in business is being good with people. Prospects “need to like you before they like the product,” he explains. Quality + Interpersonal Skills = Organic Growth Via Customer Referrals.
BEING PRODUCTIVE AND SETTING BOUNDARIES
If one is not careful, they can easily become slaves to email or any other technology and in turn be less productive on tasks that matter. It stood out to me that Ken does not typically take phone calls while physically working at a job. Instead he calls the person back during a break or while driving, and makes sure to respond within 24 hours or less.
In addition he schedules inspections of new potential projects at the end of the day, so as not to interrupt the earlier parts of the day where he is working on a current project. If he cannot get started on the new job immediately, he at least schedules the initial inspection shortly after a call in so that the customer is followed up with quickly.
On another note, he does not work Sundays, rarely works Saturdays, and puts family time above money. I say all this because it shows that you can simultaneously have great customer service with boundaries. Being a slave to your phone or email is not necessarily a cure all. Instead, business people should strive to be consistent in communicating with customers, following up with requests in a timely manner, and set healthy boundaries that allow for productivity to be maintained, and both God and family to be prioritized.
ADVICE FOR ASPIRING ENTREPRENEURS
In terms of coming up with an idea for a business, Ken advises that individuals should ask two questions:
- What am I good at?
- What do I like to do?
He points out that people should be happy running their business and should be selling something that they are passionate about. If and when someone settles on an idea, he simply would urge him or her to start, and if possible to just start small and begin operating a business on the side while he or she still has a full time job.
A SUPPORT SYSTEM
My Mom has supported my Dad throughout this whole process. He stresses that her support and inspiration has been key, especially at the beginning when the business experienced tougher times. Whether it be a spouse, close family member, mentor, or friend, all people can benefit from someone who encourages and supports them as they go through noteworthy life experiences.
Ken continues to run his business today and he remains steady in his workload. Entrepreneurs are amazing individuals, and I’m blessed to have learned so much about business from my entrepreneurial Father.