In Spring of last year I found myself at a crossroads: Either find new work in the nine to five or make the transition to full-time self-employment. The decision wasn’t an easy one. On one hand, the long term plan was always to be full-time self-employed, but on the other hand, that was a ten year plan and this was only Year 5.
Faced with a decision of how to position my life, I decided to take a chance on self-employment, for one full calendar year, so that I could see where it took me, and whether or not it was really for me. Along the way, I had a lot of wins, but I also had a handful of losses. Here were the top 5 mistakes I made with my motorcycle businesses this year.
2019/2020 was my first year self employed in the motorcycle industry, and these are the 8 motorcycle business startup mistakes that I made in my first year.
I had a lot of previous experience in the motorcycle industry, I worked for vehicle manufacturers, a dealership, and even parts manufacturers. In addition to that I had almost ten years of part-time online motorcycle business experience and four years of part-time offline motorcycle industry experience, but I had never really tried to make it completely on my own, until this past year.
I did a lot of learning and growing this year, and all things considered, it went pretty well! Of course, nothing is perfect, and learning and mistakes go hand and hand. These 8 motorcycle business startup mistakes could probably apply to any startup business, so whether you’re looking to start a business in the motorcycle industry, or in any other industry, these mistakes and lessons I learned might be helpful to you!
Buying based on ideals, rather than reality
I knew that if I was going to be making a full-time living without collecting salary, I was going to have to step up my blogging game. In my mind that meant more content with better photography, to make something truly visually stimulating.
So I did a very common blogger mistake, I guess it’s a common small business mistake too, and bought based on my ideals, rather than my reality.
I happened across a pretty fantastic deal on a D-SLR. So good that even if I bought it and didn’t use it much, I could still get my money back. The reality is that my content’s value has always come from the information it provides motorcyclists, and the amount of time it would take to do a photo shoot for every article was just a silly pipe dream.
Moral of the story: Wait until you know exactly what you need before making big ticket purchases, so that you’re buying based on reality, not based on your ideal situation.
Not spending more on better quality
The money I spent on a D-SLR should have gone towards getting better quality equipment that I would actually use. One area I didn’t take seriously enough was how quickly things can rust, especially here in Canada where we spray our roads with salt every winter.
I bought some really fancy, truly niche ratchet straps, that aren’t even available in Canada. I had to import them in. I thought I was being savvy by saving a few dollars going with the regular steel hardware. After one season, even with an occasional spray of WD-40, they still look pretty rough. Not rusted yet, but definitely worn. For an extra $20 I could have gone with a stainless steel option that would be a little more resistant to rusting and staining. Lesson learned!
To make matters worse, I didn’t get my motorcycle trailer rust-proofed this year, and it took on a lot of rusting. Granted, the trailer was already 10 years old and had towed hundreds of motorcycles many thousands of miles, but still. Options for getting the trailer sandblasted and refinished vary from $600 to $2,200 USD depending on if I want the trailer painted or sandblasted. Ouch.
Moral of the story: An ounce of precaution is worth a pound of cure. Sometimes it’s absolutely worth it to save a few bucks. Sometimes, you get what you pay for, and paying a little more goes a long way.
Not answering people sooner
For a long time, my businesses were just a side-hustle for me. Whenever something came in, an advertising inquiry, a prospective customer inquiry, it all took second place to whatever my nine-to-five career job required my attention on.
The problem was, when I transitioned to full-time self-employment, I wasn’t always replying to would-be sources of income with gusto. Sometimes I was getting back to them as if I still had a more preoccupying nine-to-five gig to focus on.
The end result was that I discovered on a few instances that, by not being quick to get back to potential money, I was losing out. Customers were finding other people who could respond to them and take care of them immediately, so by the time I got back to them, even if I had a better deal for them, it was already too late.
Moral of the story: Get back to would-be customers early and often. You’re only a business if you have a next customer already lined up, otherwise you’re just a business that used to have customers.
Not taking advantage of email enough
I still believe email is a great way of creating a connection with far away people. It’s one of the reasons why I personally write out all of the text in the YouMotorcycle newsletters I send out every two weeks (you can sign up in the sidebar).
But I should have done more to gather the email addresses of some of my customers, and to use that information to reach out to them about what I have to offer. When I hired a mechanic to start working for me, so I could offer motorcycle service here in Toronto for half of what the dealers charged, I had a golden opportunity to reach out to hundreds of customers and contacts to share the news with them. But I didn’t, because I had their phone numbers, not their email addresses.
Moral of the story: Email is still an important tool for reaching out to people, forming connections with them, and sharing your message. It’s worth having tactics in place for gathering those email addresses and making sure you leverage them once you have them.
Not adding notes to my customer’s files
The motorcycle community in Toronto, Canada, is small. On a long enough time line, sooner or later, you’re going to run into the same people over and over again. This is an absolute blessing when you get a customer inquiry and know right away it will be a fun transaction, like working for an old friend.
Unfortunately, the motorcycle community’s small size here can also make it a nightmare if you can’t remember the customer who was a real pain in the butt and keeps coming back to you. Just because you had a bad experience, it doesn’t mean your customer did, they might be happy to keep on coming back to you, even if it’s business that you don’t want.
These days when I have a private note on every transaction: Positive, neutral, or negative. The negative people get surcharged the next time they reach out to me (and a lot of them will come back because they’ve already been blacklisted from other places), the neutral people get charged and treated fairly and with my best customer service, but the people who got the positive checkmark (the ones who tipped, had me laughing, or were just a blast to be around or work for) they get bumped up to the highest priority.
Moral of the story: Keeping notes on how each transaction went helps me to ensure that I’m prioritizing my best and most awesome customers, and that I’m being compensated extra when I have to deal with the difficult ones.
Not networking enough
I was 30 years old when I became self-employed. I already had over a decade experience, but I still felt, at my age, I should have a solid plan for the road ahead, but I didn’t, I only had a general sense of direction.
I didn’t want to be boastful about what I was doing either, after all, for all I knew, it would be a failure that would see me tucking my tail and running back to the corporate world. So I stayed quiet. I had friends who needed my services who got a recommendation that someone named Adrian could take care of their problems, not knowing that I was the guy they were being recommended.
I had one or two local dealers/shops that were suggesting me to their customers, only now and then at first, but now there are a handful of dealers/shops that call me first. This has been a big help to my business, and in hindsight, I was an idiot for not reaching out to these guys proactively.
Moral of the story: A lot of people and businesses are so fed up with their current options that they will gladly take a chance on someone new and eager. If you prove yourself reliable and competent, they’ll be happy to refer their customers to you, without you even having to ask. All you need to do is be willing to step up and introduce yourself, and let people know what you can do for them.
Not having a strategy for collecting tips
How do you let a customer know that tipping is appreciated? It’s a hard question. It might paint you in a bad light in your customer’s eyes. It could also make your customer look or feel bad if they don’t have the means or simply didn’t think you were worth tipping.
At first I didn’t have a strategy for collecting tips, as a result, tips were hard to come by. When I started taking credit card payments, that changed. I have the option to tip built right into my transaction flow on the Point Of Sale device. Similarly, I went through my PayPal checkout flow and added a tipping option.
I still don’t have a solution for how to let customers know that tipping is appreciated on cash transactions, but when it comes to digital transactions, a subtle “Would you like to add a tip?” makes me an extra few hundred dollars per year.
Moral of the story: Figure out how you can communicate a subtle tipping suggestion in a way that still saves face for your customers. Assuming you’ve done an excellent job, they’ll appreciate your work and reward you generously. You just have to make it discreet and easy for them.
Putting off buying things I would eventually buy anyway
Some things, you know you need, but you put off buying them. For me, it was better audio and video equipment and software for my YouTube videos, and some new suspension components for my SUV.
I could have made my life a lot easier, spent more time creating, less time editing, and overall been much more productive had I just bought the right gear right from day one. My goal was to “start with what you already have”, as I heard so many people out there recommending. By the time I ordered up my gear, COVID hit, and it took months for what I needed to arrive.
Moral of the story: Start with what you already have, but once you know you’re going to need something anyway, just hurry up and bite the bullet.
All in all, it wasn’t a bad first year in business. Most of the mistakes I made hurt the ego more than the bottom line, and nothing was too costly. A lot of care went a long way.
If you or anyone you know need motorcycles serviced, inspected, or moved, around Toronto, give me a shout!