Any business -- whether it's washing windows or consulting -- needs to take advantage of technology or risk losing out on precious customers to faster and more connected competition. But that doesn't mean every business has to create its own technology.
Josh Downing, a Jacksonville, Fla.-based contractor, leveraged Thumbtack, an online platform "built to help skilled professionals, such as electricians, music teachers and handymen, establish a consistent customer base and run a successful small business," according to the company. Thumbtack, which has more than 230,000 active members, has declared Downing its first "millionaire professional."
After opening his construction business, Direct Movement Group, in September 2014, Downing says the business earned close to half a million within its first year. The company saw rapid growth, earning $2.3 million in sales in 2015. Downing says Direct Movement Group has already hit $3.2 million so far this year and is on track to reach $4.5 million before the year's end. It averages about seven to 10 projects a month, Downing says.
When the company first started, it was just Downing, his partner, Jason Horrocks, and the latter's brother. Direct Movement Group now employs 23 construction workers, three office staffers and a salesperson. It also launched a division in Orlando that employs two full-timers.
Entrepreneur wanted insights into how Downing has achieved so much success so quickly. Here are his responses to our emailed questions, lightly edited for style.
What differentiates you from other contractors out there?
I can't speak for all the competition, but at Direct Movement Group, we take a relationship approach to each job and focus on speed and quality at market rate pricing. To us, there are two types of contractors established: experienced and normally very expensive (you pay for the name), and a guy in a truck who undercuts and sub-contracts everything out.
Neither of these options offer employees/subs in-house work like we do. We have guys that can perform all facets of the construction business -- we call them working superintendents -- that manage and perform working duties throughout each job’s construction process.
Some of our most effective services have been speed-building. The quicker we complete a job, the more profit we preserve.
How much of your personality do you put into your business?
I would say 110 percent. I'm a very funny guy (so I've heard), and some would even say I missed a calling to be a stand-up comedian. So I use every first impression or walk with a client to my advantage. If I can make you laugh, it always allows those walls to come down, and you can see we want to make this process fun and light for you. Serious, but not too serious.
I'm also very energetic and passionate about what we are doing here at DMG, so I try and impart that energy to the clients.
Is there a line between being personable and being professional?
One hundred percent. My first meeting/impression is when I try and create laughter, but also gain a better understanding of why you want to do this work. How is this project going to benefit you and/or your family? What are the needs that I can meet for you?
This ties back to our relationship approach to each job. Don’t focus on money, focus on the person and meeting their needs, and the money will follow.
Why is using video important?
Video is so important. I’ve heard you have a 60 percent better chance of connecting with your audience through video rather than photos or words, so I really wanted to use video when we created the DMG site. Video gives transparency and connects a face to the name and the type of work we provide from the moment you come to the site. Also, it shows how energetic and passionate about the work we are, which can't be captured in photos. We continue to add videos every six to eight months to stay fresh and relevant.
What has been the most helpful piece of advice to you as an entrepreneur?
I've received advice as an overall entrepreneur in general, and then I've received construction-related advice as it pertains to me at DMG.
For the former, a couple years ago I was working for a company that was young and blowing up quickly. One of the owners told me, "If you’re not taking someone to lunch every day, or networking at an afternoon function daily, you’re behind." I didn't really understand it at first, but after I was let go from my position and started my own thing, I realized what he was talking about. I needed to be in front of as many people as possible because the more people who know you and what you’re doing, the more opportunities you have for work without having to “work” for it.
For the latter, it came from an older gentlemen who has had his own construction business from before I was in high school. He's seen it all, and his advice was what I later found out was a variation of a Warren Buffett quote: “When everyone in construction is oblivious and carefree, be fearful. When everyone is being careful, take risks and push the envelope.”
What piece of advice would you offer people who are just starting businesses now?
First piece: If you’re starting a business in 2016 in any category, you need to be tech-centered. In our company, everyone has iPads, we use iPhones and text all the time. We use Slack as a team communication app for our 24-plus people, internet-sourced lead websites (i.e. Thumbtack) and Google Drive/Sheets to give up-to-the-minute costs at any given time.
You need to know that lead and business generation is going to be so tied to a smartphone or technology, and you need to master it -- otherwise you won't know how to most effectively communicate.
Second piece: You’re giving up the 40 to work 80. It's going to be a long, hard road, but at the end of the day, be persistent and diligent in your craft. Ultimately, the passion will drive you (and hopefully the money will come, too), and it won't seem like you’re actually working at all.
Would you like to add anything else?
As we started our business, I was wary if it could carry me and my partner on salary, plus his brother as our first employee. We ended up flipping about three to four cars in the first couple of months to make ends meet because we only had one job, and I was turning over every stone for us to get work.