As part of my series about the “5 Things You Need To Know To Create a Successful Service Business,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Daniel Smith.
Daniel Smith is the owner and operator of Asbury Electric, based out of Gloucester, Virginia. With thousands of five-star reviews and an A+ rating from the Better Business Bureau, Daniel and his team at Asbury have developed a proven track record of excellence and dedication to customer satisfaction with over 10 years of service to the Gloucester community. Daniel firmly believes his success came not only through hard work and a commitment to continued learning but was primarily built on a set of core values that inform his every decision: Integrity, Faith, and Excellence. These values have set Asbury Electric apart in the community and have helped its team provide consistently superior service to its customers.
Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I always wanted to own my own business from the time I was young. I watched my dad run his own business as a handyman and while he wasn’t particularly successful at it, I was still enamored with the idea of being my own boss. I think the freedom most appealed to me at first — being able to set my own schedule and make my own rules — but as I got older and developed my skills as an electrician, the idea was really more about what I could give back to the community and to my customers. I was driven by the desire to provide more opportunities for my family and my future team. And, even though I started with no capital, no customers, no previous business ownership experience, and no experience with residential electrical codes, I knew there was a need for what we could provide as a company, something bigger than just electrical services.
What was the “Aha Moment” that led you to think of the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
Honestly, I don’t think there ever really was an “Aha moment.” As I said, I always knew I wanted to own my own business and I had a talent for electrical work, so it seemed like a very natural step to take my skills and turn them into a business.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
The mistakes I made were too numerous to mention! As mentioned, I had no experience with residential electrical code when I started. I had worked in the commercial and industrial electrical field for over 10 years but there is a difference when it comes to residential code. So, I had to teach myself the changes as well as how to be efficient. I was very fortunate to have worked with a master electrician who taught me how to work through my mistakes so that I could not only fix any mistake quickly but would also learn not to make the same mistake twice. It is a skill I’ve carried with me through my whole career — Mistakes don’t have to be a roadblock. You can learn a lot from them. In fact, you can sometimes learn more from a mistake than you can from doing everything perfectly.
Thank you for that. Let’s now pivot to the main focus of our interview. Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven business” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?
When I first started, I just wanted to survive. We were coming out of a recession in 2009 and I decided in my mind that there was no going back to the old way. Tony Robbins says, “Burn the boats!” and that’s exactly what I did. In 30 days, I quit my job, took a job that was 100% commission so that I could make my own schedule, married my wonderful wife with 2 children, moved to a new house. We had just enough money in the bank to make one month’s rent when we came back from our honeymoon (which my mom paid for.) There was only one choice: Make It Happen. And it was definitely tough — I hired an apprentice and there were a few times that I struggled to pay him and pay the bills. But I knew what I was fighting for and that kept me motivated. I decided to give 10% of my personal income to the church — something that had been on my mind for a while, but I had kept telling myself I couldn’t afford to do it.
I am a man of faith first and foremost and so I trusted that God would fulfill the promises He made in the Bible. And wouldn’t you know, I never had a problem paying the bills or payroll again. There were many times I would worry about how to pay everything, and I would be driving down the road praying, telling God that I trusted Him despite how it looked. And then I would get home and find checks in the mailbox or unexpected commission checks coming from the sales job I had before I started my business. We saw so many miracles in that time that I knew I was doing the right thing. Within 8 months I was able to quit the commission-based sales job I was still doing part time and focus only on running the business. A couple months after that, my wife was able to quit her job as a medical assistant to help me run the company. That’s when the real purpose and passion came into play, because up to that point it had all been about survival. But once we started finding success, we were able to sharpen our focus on exactly what kind of company we wanted to be. We began to work towards becoming the largest, most successful electrical company on the East Coast that is employee-owned. And we’re definitely getting there!
What do you do to articulate or demonstrate your company’s values to your employees and to your customers?
Our core values are represented in something I call I.S.E.E. Faith and they are at the center of everything we do. The acronym stands for Integrity, Servant Leadership, Excellence, and Efficiency which all point to our Faith in a God that loves and cares for all of us. We don’t try to force our beliefs on the members of our team — we fully respect that each person is entitled to their own beliefs. We simply ask that they commit to those four values and respect our beliefs as we do theirs. Every member of our team has accepted our set of core values and continues to demonstrate them both in the office and out in the field with our customers. I think it’s something that really sets us apart in the service industry.
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
Have faith! A really good mentor of mine said, “It’s never as bad as it seems and it’s never as good as it seems, it just seems that way.” All that means is, you will have ups and downs and your future will be determined by the way you perceive those circumstances. Don’t get too discouraged when it’s bad and don’t get too excited when it’s good. Just keep going.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
As I mentioned previously, I started with literally nothing. That in and of itself could have stopped me in my tracks. I could have said, “Well the money’s not there to pursue my business,” and walked away from the thought or I could have waited until I had all my ducks in a row, so to speak. But life doesn’t always work that way and sometimes you have to take the leap. My ability to take that leap comes entirely from my faith in God.
So, how are things going today? How did your values lead to your eventual success?
It has now been 10 years since I took the leap of faith to start my company and in that time, we’ve grown to a team of 14 people. My wife no longer needs to work and is able to focus on homeschooling our 4 beautiful children and we are approaching 2 million per year in revenue. We hope to open 2 more offices in the next 5 years and be completely employee-owned in 8 years. Business is good and we are very blessed.
Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a founder or CEO should know in order to create a very successful service-based business? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Do what’s right even when no one is watching — I remember early on, I dropped a part to a ceiling fan, and I failed to move the glass coffee table because it was really heavy and I was trying to rush. No one saw it, it was a little chip. I could have walked away and left the customer wondering how it happened. I didn’t do that. I told them what I did. I told them I would do whatever it takes to make it right even if it meant that I needed to buy them a new table (I didn’t have the money for that, but I didn’t tell them that). They forgave me, appreciated my honesty, and became a long-time customer.
- Serve your people so that they will want to serve you back — I’ve had instances of my team members telling me things I said I would do that I completely do not remember saying. Instead of arguing or asserting my authority, I do them. My people need to know that I care about them and want the best for them. I hold them to the same standards because accountability is important from top to bottom. As a result of how I serve my team, I have seen loyalty in them like I never could have imagined.
- Quality over quantity — The business model of providing a quality product for a fair price will always succeed over the business model of doing as much as possible for a cheaper price. When we focus too much on the price, we get caught in the cycle of chasing dollars, which is extremely frustrating for the consumer and the business owner.
- Always work toward easy — It’s important as a leader and business owner to always be mindful of ways that we can make the team’s job easier and make the experience easier for the customer.
- Have a coach or mentor — There is always someone doing it better than you that you can learn from. Find someone that will help you get better. My first coach was my brother-in-law who didn’t charge me because he wanted to practice being a business coach. There are a lot of people out there who want to pay it forward because they benefited from working with a mentor and they now have knowledge to share with someone else. I’m one of those people — I’m always willing to work with someone and share what I’ve learned so if you’re reading this and you need help — reach out!
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
I listen to a lot of great teachers and coaches: Jim Rohn, Tony Robbins, Les Brown, Art Miller, Eric Thomas, but I always come back to the Bible and the teachings of Jesus. His words of love, wisdom, and grace brought me from a dead man walking to a person who has it all. Money is the least of those things. Having a life with purpose, love, respect, fulfilled dreams, goals, and a future with Him is where you see true joy, peace, and happiness.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I really want to start an organization that gives opportunities to orphans and street kids by building housing and educational facilities that will give them a safe environment to learn and become something they never dreamed possible.
How can our readers follow you on social media?