So there’s this guy I know. We’ll call him Charlie because, well, that’s his name. Charlie is an older gentleman (seriously, older. This guy is in his 70s or 80s) who retired to South Florida after spending his career as a New York City bus driver (I know you are in shock that a New Yorker retired to South Florida. It is quite a surprise). He had made a good living, bought an apartment in a retirement complex (again, I know you’re shocked) and was ready to spend the rest of his years in retirement bliss.
But as Charlie socialized with his neighbors, he noticed that a number of them, for whatever reason, could no longer drive. The trolley and shuttle that catered to his neighborhood only goes to certain places and those places are not necessarily where the more…active residents wanted or needed to go. Also, seniors kind of live on their own schedule and that schedule didn’t necessarily jive with the shuttle.
So Charlie got an idea.
Since he could still drive, liked to drive, and had an impeccable sense of direction from his years a bus driver, Charlie realized that he could start his own car service company. He already had a built in market; all he had to do was advertise. (It is at this point in the story I make complete assumptions and guesses because I don’t really know the details of how he gained most of his clientele). He found some of his friends, like my grandmother, who don’t or can’t drive and he started offering them car service to their doctor appointment, hair appointments, the mall. He even makes airport runs! Which is amazingly convenient for the seniors and their visiting families.
He then developed a pricing plan, offering discounts to loyal (and frequent) customers. He provides excellent customer service (no joke. When I was in his shuttle, he refused to let me pick up my own suitcase. It was a little weird watching this old man lift my bag but he really wouldn’t let me do it). He’s available when his customers need him and he’ll even make special accommodations. And, from what I understand, he’s even hired a few extra drivers because he can no longer handle the demand on his own. I also understand that he’s making quite a nice living.
We can all learn some things from Charlie:
Identify a need. And then fill it. Charlie figured out that his friends needed reliable transportation because it was missing where he lived so he started his own car service company.
Ask yourself: where do you see gaps? When you talk to friends, online or in real life, what do they often say they wish they had? What services or products do you think are missing but are necessary? Once you answer those questions, you have your business idea (or ideas)
Use your skills. Charlie spent his career as a driver. He’s good at it, he likes to do it, and he was able to parlay that into a business because people need to get around.
Ask yourself: what are you good at? What do you like to do? Are your skills profitable? Do people need your skills? Once you answer those questions, you have your action plan (and possible your marketing plan).
Be fair. Charlie understood that his customers live on a fixed income, with some budgets tighter than others. He developed a pricing strategy that was comfortable for his customers but still allowed him to turn a profit.
Ask yourself: what is a good price to charge for this service or product? How can I be fair but still make money? At what point do I raise my rates? How can I make my customers comfortable with my pricing but still turn a profit? Once you answer those questions, you have your pricing structure.
Don’t be an ass. Charlie is so nice and helpful. He likes to talk and tell stories which makes him fun. It’s a pleasure to ride in a car with him (although maybe a little scary. He is around 80 after all). His customers really seem to like him, too, which is why they keep using his service.
Ask yourself: How do I want to treat my customers? What have learned from both good and bad customer service interactions? How can I put them at ease and make it so they want to keep working with me and recommend me to their associates and friends? Once you answer those questions, you have your customer service strategy (and possibly your advertising strategy).
All of these are great, important lessons to learn. But the main lesson we can learn from Charlie?
It’s never too late to start your own business.
So what are you waiting for?