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 Jake Warner who started his first business, Jake’s Property Services, at the young age of seventeen, which brings in seven-figures in revenue to this day. Alongside his wife and children, today Jake manages five businesses and counting in the Granville, Ohio area, including Jake’s Property Services, Knuckleheads, Prospect St. Smoothie, Loudon Crest Farms, and Warner’s Pure Maple Syrup.
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 started Jake’s Property Services when I was 17 years old. Yes, you read that right — seventeen! I was a senior in high school. My friend’s dad sold lawn mowers to dealerships, and he sold me one at cost. I remember it cost me $2,650 for that mower, and I paid for it over the course of a few months.
I got 7–10 lawn accounts pretty soon, and my small business began to grow. I would help customers with whatever they needed me to do. I started with mowing and mulching, but soon I was doing all kinds of projects for people. I quickly got very good at landscaping, drainage, and even driveways, simply because people asked me to do it. I learned what I was really good at, and I got better at the rest.
What was the “Aha Moment” that led you to think of the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
Before I started my business, I worked for a construction guy making $6 an hour, as well as a horse farmer for $10 an hour. My “Aha Moment” was when I started doing the math! I realized I could have multiple mowing accounts and make much more money working for myself. Not to mention, working for myself came with more freedom, I could make my own schedule, and I could be outside and help people get stuff done.
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?
Did I mention I started the business when I was seventeen? There were a lot of them!
I didn’t have an employee handbook when I first started, and I didn’t know the boundaries I should put in place as I hired. I had an employee show up to a project wearing swim trunks and a shirt that said, “Don’t rush me, I’m paid by the hour.”
Needless to say, we now have an employee handbook… and a dress code.
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?
I wanted to create something that was bigger than just me with a truck and a lawn mower. I wanted to create a company that our community would think of when they needed help. I also wanted to scale it to seven-figures to provide jobs, give back financially to causes in our area, and be able to provide for my family. I wanted to create more than a job for myself — I wanted to create a legacy for my children and our staff.
What do you do to articulate or demonstrate your company’s values to your employees and to your customers?
Consistent communication is key. We are always hands on. I see my employees every single day. We meet each morning with the work crew, and we keep them updated on everything we’re doing as a company. We send monthly newsletters to our customers, and during the project we are in constant contact with customers.
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
One thing I always remind myself is that no business is better than bad business. That means even when the work schedule is light, you don’t take a bad deal or bad business opportunity just to fill it. Also, in every deal look for a win-win. It needs to be good for the customer and good for the business.
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?
Giving up wasn’t ever an option for us. This was our only source of livelihood. This company was how we provided for our family.
If I made a bad deal or estimated something wrong, we would email, call, or mail things to our previous customers to generate enough revenue to cover those expenses. We kept records, so if we ever got slow we would email or mail flyers to remind them about our services. Even if we were low on money, we would budget the mailings and market ourselves as available and ready to work. Every time we were ready to give up, someone would call, email, or mail in their deposit for the next job.
When you need it, it doesn’t take much to get excited about a job, even if it’s a project for $1,000.
So, how are things going today? How did your values lead to your eventual success?
We still do all of those same things today! We mail, call, and email customers. We are available, and we’re always ready to help solve problems and help customers. We learned how to manage the ups and downs, and we have gotten better organized and know what our services are worth. We figured out what we were good at and perfected it.
We changed our business name in 2005 to Jake’s Property Services which allowed us to compete in a broader category of services, not just landscaping. In 2012, we hit our first seven-figure year!
We operated with a paycheck to paycheck mentality in the beginning, but over the years, we had to learn to think bigger. We started looking for fragments and missed opportunities in our business, and we realized there were so many opportunities we were leaving on the table. For example, we got a job to remove a fence for a client. After we inspected the fence boards we were removing, we realized they were usable for another project on our farm. We stockpiled them, and in a month or so, I had the idea to use them for a remodel job we had instead of drywall. Long story short, we were paid full price to remove the fence, AND we saved around $1,000 on materials by repurposing the wood. That’s just one example, but this kind of stuff happens all of the time for us!
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.
- Find something you’re passionate about AND good at.
There’s problems everywhere. Find a problem you have the solution for, and get good at it. That’s a business. In my case, I didn’t have much, but I had a mower. I knew how to mow a lawn, and people needed their lawns mowed! And just like that, I had a lawn mowing business.
2. Always be feeding your mind new information.
Whether you learn through podcasts, books, or motivational speakers, keep business-minded speakers and education in your brain, and be willing to learn. I loved listening to Zig Ziglar and John Maxwell among many others!
3. Set up your company legally.
Set up all of the legal paperwork you need for your business — workers compensation, insurance — follow all of your state’s guidelines. You can’t be prosperous while cheating the system.
4. Make sure you and your spouse are on the same page.
It’s really important to get on the same page and build your business together. If you’re not in agreement, it’s a waste of time.
5. Embrace the changes in your industry.
Be a student of your industry. Study everything, from new products to better ways or systems to do things. Always be willing to adapt and change with the times. One of the biggest mistakes I made was saying, “Well, that’s just how we’ve always done it,” and my refusal to change cost me money. If you do the same thing you did yesterday, you won’t make any more money than you did yesterday.
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?
My parents are my biggest cheerleaders in the world (besides my wife and kids). They always believed that I could do whatever I wanted to. They supported my goals. Before I officially started my business, before I could even drive, my parents would drive me around with their trailer and their lawn mower and take me to mow lawns. My dad worked at Sears and he would give my number to anyone who needed a project done. My mom would answer the phones for me, because I didn’t have an office staff and I used my parent’s phone number as the office number.
I will also be forever grateful to my friend’s dad who sold me my first mower at his cost and let me pay him back over time. That was a big deal.
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 am passionate about reaching children with a message that they can do anything they put their minds to. Many kids don’t know any better than low-income housing, living paycheck to paycheck, and poverty. If we could tell them that they can find a problem, make a solution, and create a business that fixes that problem, they can do more than they grew up in. That changes future generations. The adults are the adults, but it makes a big difference if you can reach the kids. And the kids are receptive because they want more in life.
How can our readers follow you on social media?