Eureka! Mission accomplished!
I would say that after four years of trading I have achieved a sustainable repeat customer base being independent and self reliant.
Local recognition, within the chauffeur driven car hire section, as a provider here to stay.
Regular income has been used to maintain and invest in keeping the standard expected for chauffeur driven car hire.
Built and developed a strong business presence through website, social media and search engine optimisation. A website strategy to protect and maintain 1st Page search engine results.
Get your company name 'out there' and keep it there.
To have achieved a source of reliable and trustworthy colleagues for subcontracting purposes.
Most importantly, the knowledge and experience obtained has enabled me to move forward knowing the path I need to keep and the detours to avoid.
Knowledge and Experience
One of the most difficult aspects which, unfortunately, can only come in time.
There are no books and you will be lucky to find a generous sole trader or company who can mentor you.
I was very lucky as a colleague, from a previous job, who had set himself up as a sole trader, offered advise and work.
In the beginning work started to trickle in via the website together with customer recommendations to other providers.
Learn, build upon your experiences, be sensible with your finances and develop.
Vehicle choice and equipment.
Chauffeur driven car hire with executive standard cars is the equivalent to the highest standard of private hire. Prestige and status is associated with the vehicles you operate. Your discerning clients will be charged a higher rate and they expect the equivalent service. A Ford or Vauxhall, whatever the model, won't do. Mercedes, BMW and Audi are the expected pedigree.
The little things make a difference. Water is water but remember prestige and status so brand is important. Supply Evian not Tesco Value.
Records reflect your professional competency. Accurate and up to date spreadsheets and invoices are essential and minimises mistakes. Cross reference invoices and spreadsheets. Employ a good accountant and take advise. Submit your invoices for payment the same or next day and pay your colleagues their subcontracted fee quickly. If you pay your colleagues quickly they are more likely to work for you and you will have the reputation of being a good and trustworthy trader.
To subcontract or not to subcontract that is the question.
There is nothing wrong in either but both have positives and negatives. Some sole traders obtain all their work through subcontracting. Some are self sufficient and take work when it suits.
Subcontracted work means that you will get a reduced fee as commission is subtracted from the customer's fee. This can be 10-20%. Taking subcontracted work can mean you have a higher work load but with less profit for each job. You will be representing the company employing you and will not obtain customers for yourself other than repeat customers for your employer. You can not develop your own business identity if the majority of your work is given to you by other companies.
The up side to subcontracted work is that there is no effort or expense in getting work. All the expense and effort in advertising, website design and maintenance etc is from the job owner. The job is all set up and given to you to complete. A straight forward invoice and you get paid.
Unfortunately, through lack of experience, others will try and take advantage of your naivety. Don't accept a job unless you are happy. Phone call job offers are the worst for getting trapped into accepting a job that you are not sure about.
Some pointers to phone call offers -
If the first thing you are asked is 'Are you free on (a certain date). If you answer 'yes' then it will be difficult to turn down and make an excuse.
If they are vague with the pick-up and drop-off addresses. Most cities sprawl over large areas so the transfer distance could be 20 miles more than expected.
If times are not mentioned. A 03.30hrs collection time or getting to Gatwick on a Friday afternoon. Do you want to get up that early unless the pay is good. Travelling on the M25 at the wrong time can add hours to your journey.
The biggest omission I have come across is what the job is paying! This is common, not just in phone calls, but texts and emails. The amount of times I have had to throw in a final question 'How much is it paying?'
How should you react? Easier said than done but if you act politely and constructively you will be able to make an informed decision.
If you can not make a decision at the time of the call then don't make a decision. Take all the relevant details and call them back as soon as possible. The more experience you gain the quicker you can respond and less call-backs.
Ask for all the details to help you make a decision - Date, time, post codes, fee.
Be aware of the other considerations like expenses - parking, London Congestion Charge, traffic congestion on route, late night passengers affected by alcohol.
Don't be afraid to say 'No thank you'.
If you solely wish to take work from others then subcontracting is for you.
Subcontracted work to kick start you business.
If you wish to be self sufficient and independent then receiving subcontracted work is a great start. In the beginning you will be invisible to the public and other providers. Your website and social media pages will be in their infancy and it will take at least 6 months for your company identity to become established with your website reaching a healthy search engine page listing.
Take subcontracted work and learn the trade. A good sole trader is a valuable asset to other providers and recommendations will be passed resulting in more work.
Initially 80% of my work was given to me. The rest came from my own company name.
As time has gone by this has been reversed to 90% owning my own jobs.
The benefits of building your own corporate identity.
Having total responsibility of every part of your business is so rewarding with no one to answer to. It is so refreshing to be your own boss. Learn, adapt and develop.
Owning your own jobs means that you have 100% of the fee. You can set your fees based upon the service you supply. Customers can give you repeat business and add to your customer base to assist with a reliable income. You will be free to issue business cards and promote your business name in which ever way necessary.
I have aimed my services at the high end chauffeur driven car hire market. Work load is less but profit is higher per job. However, I need to keep my vehicles current and up to date. Higher fees demand the best service.
What do customers expect.
Good communications from initial enquiry to invoice submission. Quick and efficient response to quote requests whether by phone or email. Be helpful and offer advice, if needed. Cover all aspects of the hire so there is no ambiguity and the customer knows exactly the service that will be supplied.
Punctuality is appreciated by the customer. Don't be early and cause panic when you pull up outside the collection address. Of course, don't be late and cause concern as to whether you will be arriving. If you are late, through unforeseen circumstances, contact the customer to update them.
Your vehicle and your image. An immaculate vehicle inside and out impresses and is expected. The same goes for your appearance.
The transfer will be critical as a smooth, relaxed journey delivering your customer on time will be noted and appreciated. Be mindful of your customer's wish for conversation. Learn when to speak and when to keep quiet.
I.T. and it's importance for your company identity and presence in the market place.
Company identity starts with a name. The name you create will be critical in attracting your targeted customers and being relevant and marketable. I would suggest that your choice of website domain name has your highest priority. I could complete a separate blog upon this one subject and would highly recommend that you research and learn about domain names and search engine optimisation.
Your chosen company name will then be replicated and registered thoughout the required authority and commercial sites.
Having a successful business name attracting prospective customers and its resulting income can make your own company identity an attractive target for other providers.
Protect your company name and identity. One way is to buy similar domain names to stop others imitating you and drawing customers to another website. I bought 20 similar domain names. For example if you sell fruit and mainly supply apples and oranges and own www.fruit.co.uk then also buy www.apples.co.uk and www.oranges.co.uk. Consider the other .com etc.
I hope that I have assisted with aspects which I consider very important for a starting and developing successful private hire business. These are my experiences and governed by my own personal circumstances and background. I am not motivated to grow and develop a fleet of vehicles and employ drivers so my blogs are purely for the sole trader.
Southampton Chauffeur Hire and Southampton Cruise Tours supply a high quality service using Mercedes S & E Class and Viano vehicles.