IT ALL BEGAN with an afternoon phone call between Andrew, my twin brother, and me. I made an off-the-cuff comment about starting our own company. For the previous eight years, both of us had worked at a large lawn care company and then, for a few brief months, at a medium-sized landscaper.
Neither of us doubted we would be successful. But we were taking a large financial risk: Starting our own company meant leaving the security of a regular paycheck, health insurance, a workplace retirement plan, a company vehicle and more. We both had mortgages and, of course, utility bills to pay and groceries to buy. I was single at the time, but Andrew had a family to provide for, so it was important for him to have a salary from our new company.
Meanwhile, I drew on savings to cover personal expenses. In earlier articles, I have mentioned that I am frugal. Not only did I know how to keep my expenses to a minimum, but also being careful with my money had allowed me to accumulate a healthy amount of savings, so I was well prepared for the lean months that lay ahead. I wouldn’t take a salary for the entire first year. Fortunately, health insurance was a relatively modest expense, because of my young age, and I never considered going without. To do so would, in my opinion, be penny wise and pound foolish.
At our previous employer, we both had a company vehicle. Rather than buy a new vehicle, I gave Andrew my car to make sales calls, while I used our new company’s first truck not only to perform the fall work that we had been contracted to do, but also for my personal use.
Ensuring that we had sufficient work during the fall months was important, so we would have enough money going into the following spring. There would be large upfront costs, such as trucks, trailers, equipment and materials.
Thankfully, there was a lot of work that first fall, most of it coming from a company whose owner we knew from the lawn care company that had previously employed us. I worked 12- to 14-hour days to get all the work done. It was an exhausting time. Over those fall months, we were able to bring in sufficient money to pay cash for the trailers and equipment needed for the spring, though we borrowed to buy the trucks. We also asked each of our parents for a $10,000 loan, which we repaid within a year.
The short-term personal financial sacrifices that we both made allowed us to avoid having to take out bank loans, which benefitted the company in the long run. In that first year, we had a very small loss. But there was never another year when we weren’t profitable.
Nicholas Clements is one of Jonathan’s older brothers. He is retired and lives just outside Washington, DC. His previous articles include Growing Up (III), Less Green and Not a Good Time. Follow him on Twitter @MDScaper.