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Lighting for Profits Podcast with James

James Solecki - Unveiling Illuminating Innovations!

July 01, 202473 min read

Lighting for Profits - Episode 154

This week on the show we welcome James Solecki, a lighting industry veteran with over two decades of experience. He founded INTEGRA Bespoke Lighting, a leading outdoor lighting company in Ontario known for its eco-friendly solutions. In 2015, he expanded to the Turks and Caicos Islands with Island Villa Lighting, offering cutting-edge designs to high-value clients. James is also active in community service and lives with his wife in the Turks and Caicos Islands.

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Episode Transcript

We discussed everything you need to know to start and grow a successful landscape lighting business

Welcome to lighting for profits.

All Light, All Light, All Light. Powered by Emery Allen. Get rid of your excuses.

Your number one source for all things landscape lighting. That's where the magic can happen.

You can really scale a business.

We really had to show up for each other from lighting design, install, sales, and marketing. You're a scaredy cat salesman, Kurt. We discussed everything you need to know to start and grow a successful landscape lighting business. What do you think a hippo has to do with your business, Ryan?

Usually it's some weird childhood thing.

Some bully kicked your butt. I think the key factor here is trust. Here is your host, Ryan Lee.

If you're looking to start or grow your landscape lighting business, this show is perfect

a lot, a lot of light. What's up, everybody? Welcome, welcome, welcome to the number one landscape lighting show in Turks and Caicos. We are going international today. absolutely love doing this show. Love hanging out. And, look, if you're looking to start or grow your landscape lighting business, not sure that there's a better place to be right now. This is the place we're here to educate and motivate to help you dominate. So, guys, got a great show lined up for you today. I'm super excited. We got Mister James selecki coming on with island villa lighting. And I say excited, but am I? I was like, wait a minute, wait. What do you want to talk about, James? And, we're going to talk about something that I feel like is a little bit against my religion. Like, I was not born this way. And so, but I actually think it's a super awesome topic. And we're going to talk about, I think we're phrasing it, like, how to stay small but win bigly, something like that. So, James has an awesome resume, of work in the lighting industry, and provides a lot of value to the industry and just happens to know a lot. So I'm like, dude, let's go. So stick around. You're not going to want to miss this episode. There might be some controversial things that come out of it. Okay, just, just kind of teasing that a little bit of, you get me and select you in the room. We might say some things that piss some people off. So I'm excited about it. just as a reminder, guys, we got secret summit coming up. And if you've been on the fence about joining landscape lighting secrets, now might be your best time, because we're coming out with landscape lighting secrets 2.0. Oh, my gosh. I'm so excited. And, we're teasing it because it's not ready yet, but we are launching it this summer, and, we're going to launch it at the secret summit, which is our members only event here in park city, Utah, September 9 and 10th. So if you're like, yeah, maybe I should join, well, maybe you should. And, then you can come hang out in park City also. Guys, thank you so much for your reviews. I was actually just reading a review, today that we got. I don't know if we got it today, but, this was, unbelievably valuable. Thank you to Marvel nerd nine nine on yt. The information I've gleaned from Ryan and other industry titans on this show is worth thousands. Huge thank you to you and all the guests you've had on for sharing your wealth of knowledge. Keep the episodes coming, my friend. You got a big fan here in South Carolina. Thank you for that awesome review. Really, really appreciate it. Marvel nerd nine nine on yt. So that's awesome, guys. Thank you so much for your reviews. it keeps me going, you know, and, I really do appreciate it. So if you've not jumped on the bandwagon, we're still accepting your five star reviews. also do want to thank, Emery Allen, for their, support, really kind of over the years now. And what's the best way to stand out of the crowd? Well, being different. So set yourself apart from others in the lighting industry and impress your customers by installing Emery Allen lamps on your next project, you'll discover a higher level of quality across the board, from the lamps themselves to the top tier customer support you can expect to get. If you have any questions, issues, problems, right now is a good time to make the switch. All you got to do is email tom garyallen .com. he will hook you up with your discounted contractor pricing. All you got to do is mention lighting for profits when you email tom garyallen. com. and, again, he'll get you that discounted contractor pricing. Don't waste your time going to their website. Get their single source led, which is like, a super clear led, guys. It's hard to explain until you see it in person. So go check out that. Just email tom g@emoryallen. com. dot.

We're gonna have Mister James solecki on to talk about lighting

Okay, guys, again, just a minute. We're gonna, have Mister James selecki come on. And, he is actually live from Turks and Caicos right now. Like, how cool is that? We are gonna have a conversation. I love technology. I'm grateful for it. Sometimes you hate it, but sometimes you love it. Today I love it. And James and I are going to talk about his, his, his success in the lighting industry. Without this like big this big mindset of you. You have to grow, right? and you have to be the giant and everything. So I'm excited to have him on.

What's your two biggest expenses in life? Ask yourself this question

Before I have him on, I do just want to mention one thing. So last week I had a fairly busy week. I've been trying to control my time and say no to lots of things and just really be intentional about everything I do. But you know, some weeks are busier than others and a lot of coaching calls, a lot of strategy sessions and it felt really good, actually. I did not regret that week. It was awesome. And I was reminded, after I got off one of these strategy sessions with someone of a speech that I heard actually saw by Myron golden. And if you don't know who Myron golden is, just look him up on YouTube. He's super awesome guy, super smart, talented marketer and stuff like this business guy. But I was reminded of this because at the end of this strategy session, this person really wanted, they said they wanted to join the landscape, lotting secrets. And so we kind of went through everything and like here's what you get and here's what's expected of you and here's how we deliver it and all this stuff. And at the end they go, wow, I really want to do it, but I just can't afford it. It's just too expensive. And they said they'd have more time to work on it and more money in a few months.

Right?

Have you guys ever heard that from your clients? Like now's not a good time or it's too expensive. I'm like, wait, what, what are you saying? Right? And I was reminded of this Myron golden speech because I was at this conference and there was, it was a click. Funnels had this conference. There was probably 5000 people there, or more, maybe 6000. And Myron's up on stage and he goes, hey, what's your two biggest expenses? And you know, I'll ask you guys that, like if you're listening right now, what's your two biggest expenses in life? And you know, for me I was like thinking, well, different stages of my life. You know, sometimes it might, might be your m mortgage as a business owner, it might be payroll, might be just materials. I mean those are the things that come to my mind. And he, he has like this paper he's writing on, he's like, number one. And he writes down number one. And number one is taxes. I was like, oh, I don't know what I'm talking about because I actually agree. It was, it was taxes. He's like, you got personal taxes, property taxes, income taxes, you know, employment, tax, self employment tax, employee, like, all this stuff, right? Capital gains. He's like, by the time you actually, like, earn money and then make it, and then, like, pay it all out, you're really paying about 50% in taxes in your life. It's like, dang it. Like, why is he right? But, I think that was right. I agree with it. Tax is number one. Then he goes, and then, what's the number two? And then I was like, well, it's got to be the one that I'm thinking of. It's got to be one of these, right? And of course I was wrong. And he writes the second one, and he says, the cost of not knowing something. The cost of not knowing something is my second biggest expense. And, you know, really, there's lots of different ways to phrase this and word this, but it could be for you, maybe have heard the term opportunity cost, right? So what is it costing you to not take action on something? You know, opportunity cost doesn't show up on a p and lithe, it doesn't show up on these financial analyses. Right? let's say you're considering attending a lighting conference. What's the cost of going to it? Well, it's, you know, the dollars, the time, the airfare, all this. Well, what's the cost of not going to it? Like, what's the cost of not having a conversation with someone that potentially changes the trajectory of your business, your life, your career, whatever, right? What's it, what's it costing you to get education on better lighting design on, on other products? educating yourself on anything? Reading a book. Right. So is it. Is it the cost of that $15 audible audiobook, or is the cost of not listening to that book? Or maybe it's the cost of listening to it and not implementing what you hear, what you listen, what you learn. Right. and I was reminded of this because I'm like, wait a minute. Like, if this person doesn't join my coaching program, like, they're going to be fine. They figured it out this far. It's not like if you don't join, you're going to die, right? But maybe, maybe you will. Like, I am so obsessed with helping people that I truly know that if they don't move forward with us today. We can't change the trajectory of their life. They're going to continue on that path. Right. We had this, this training a couple weeks ago in our, in landscape lighting secrets. Jonathan, Wisman, he's the author of the sales boss, this book, and it was awesome. And one of the quotes he said was something like, you know, you can have ten years experience in business, which is basically one year repeated ten times, or you can do hard things and have ten different years experience, right? And, unfortunately, a lot of people are living that same year over and over and over and not progressing in any manner, right. And so I just want to encourage you guys to do hard things. You know, time truly is our greatest asset. it's interesting because it's our true, it's our greatest asset. It's worth the most to all of us. But then everybody in the world has the exact same amount of time every single day, and it resets every day, right? So no matter how rich, no matter how poor, like, we have the same amount of time. So what are you doing with your time? And the wealthy people, potentially the people that you look up to, they figured out a way to leverage their time, right? And I say wealthy, let's say wealthy happy, like, insert whatever you're striving for. The people in ahead of you, what have, what have they, what have they figured out? They've figured out how to leverage time. That's it.

The key to making money is doing the hard things that you don't want

And so how much time are you spending scrolling? I'm going to show you. How much time are you truly spending working and doing hard things? Like, do the hard things, guys, everyone wants a vacation but isn't willing to pay for the trip. And I've seen that time and time again, and it's true. I do too. I want the vacation. I don't want to pay for the trip. But I've also learned that you got to pay for the trip. Like, that's what, that's what has to happen. So if you want to be in shape, start working out. Okay? I started doing push ups a couple years ago now. And now I do 150 a day. And there's some days it's so easy, I just, it's just, it's like a habit now, and I just do it. And then there's other days where I'm like, dude, I don't want to do them. I'm tired, and I did all this stuff, and I don't want to. And I do them because I don't want to do them. Okay. Because I want to be in shape. You want to be happy and give more time to others. You want to make more money, rob more banks. Okay. there's, there's ways to make more money without robbing banks, but if I'm just asking this, if I were to come out with bank robbing secrets, would you be interested? And the key to making money is do the hard things that you don't want to do, guys. You know, maybe it's hiring someone. Maybe it's role playing your sales process to get better. That's awkward. It's so awkward, right? Maybe it's asking for referrals, which can also be awkward. Maybe, it's calling on a landscape architect, which can also be awkward, like, do these hard things. And I promise you guys, if you will get comfortable being uncomfortable, you're going to find yourself having more success. And it's all, that's what it's all about. Just moving the needle, getting a little bit better every single day. So, anyway, that was on my mind. And, that person, by the way, has not joined landscape lighting secrets yet. So, but I was reminded that story, and they might, you know, I probably wouldn't bet money that they would. It's like a 50 50 chance at this point. So, if it was like a 70 30 chance, I'd put money on it, but probably 50 50. But, you know, it. It's not for everybody. Not everyone's ready all the time. And, you know, people need to make decisions in their own time, and they need to be ready for it. And, we're here when you, when you're ready. So enough about me. I'm ready to get to our guest, Mister James Selecki. If you guys are here live, let us know. And if you guys have questions, throw them in the, chat as well. And, if you are here live, we'll try to get those over to James. Let's get this show on the road, huh?

James Selecki will moderate a panel discussion with Ryan Reynolds next week

Welcome, welcome.

Mister James Selecki.

Hey, Ryan. How you doing, man?

Oh, man, I'm fired up. Thanks for being here, man. I appreciate you taking time out of your day.

Oh, I've been looking forward to this for weeks, ever since you gave me that call and said, you know what? That thing I said at conference, I want to do it. Let's put you on the show. I'm like, all right, fine.

I loved it. No, yeah. You know, I think it's, it's going to be a good discussion. You know, I think, we tend to get kind of the blinders on. And whatever we're doing in our life, we think that is normal for everybody. And then when someone does something different, it's kind of like, wait, what? Like, why? Why would they do that? Right? And so I'm guilty of it too. It's like, hey, I've got my way. This is what I've done. This is what's worked for me. Why would you do anything different? But I am always open to ideas. I love learning. And, I think you offer quite a bit to the industry and interested to hear some of your perspective. So it's going to be awesome.

Adam Adam's passion for lighting started when he was 14 years old

Cool.

Maybe just do a quick introduction of yourself. You've been on the show before. For those of you, for those people that don't know you, just a quick introduction of who you are, how you got into this industry, and why you're in Turks and Caicos right now.

Well, my passion for lighting started a long time ago. I was 14 years old. I got an opportunity to join what essentially was a community theater. And, my role in that was to run the lighting stage lighting. So I fell in love with it right away. by 15, I was the crew chief of the lighting crew of this theater. by 16, I had a spawned off into mobile, live event lighting, concert lighting band, lighting stage lighting, got right into it. And then life happened. I went away to university, did a whole bunch of stuff. And, after my first failed business, I happened along this lovely young lady, and, Kate, now my wife, she was like, you know what, I really like you, but man, you need a job. and so she introduced me to her father and Alan owned and ran, Adam irrigation and lighting in Burlington, Ontario.

Oh, wow.

he hired me, he hired me and basically it's like a summer laborer. And I started doing irrigation work and I wasn't very good at it, wasn't very happy with it. And after flooding out a underground parking garage, one night, oops. Oetiker boy, that's me. he said, maybe you'd be better at landscape lighting. And I'm like, what's landscape lighting? People pay you to put Noma moon rays, like in the ground. And he's like, get in the truck and come with me. By this time, he had won several landscape Ontario awards of excellence. This is a long time ago, so there wasn't like lvlia or Ily or any of these great organizations we have now. This is back in the, in the early nineties. And so he took me on a tour and I was blown away. I just got the bug immediately. So I started doing that with Alan for a little bit. And then, life took another turn. Ended up marrying his daughter. So that was good. And, when we needed to make a move out of Toronto, we moved up to, ah, Muskoka, Ontario, which is like lake country. So, I had a chance to open my own business, which I did. Integra lighting. Owned that for 24 years. And, built a. Built a really good career up there doing. Doing landscape and then architectural lighting.

Nice.

So you really wanted to be at first, just a stay at home husband

So you really wanted to be at first, just a stay at home husband? Is that what I'm hearing?

Oh, no, no, that wasn't really the plan. No, no, no. That wasn't the plan.

So that's awesome. So you start the business and how did it go? I mean, it was really rough, man.

Like, for a few reasons. I'll get into it. We were in a super affluent summer market. Best, described as 16 weeks to live or die. We had 16 weeks a year to sell your year and essentially install your year. and it was affluent in the summer. These are beautiful homes. They call it the Hamptons of Canada for a reason. But the rest of the year, there's. There's nothing. There's no market. So I had to. I struggled at the beginning and then I had to adopt architectural and interior lighting in order to give me winter work.

Okay.

we're also in, you know, central Ontario, so the winters are brutal. You know, it was typically we were closed November 15 and we would not. On a good year, we would open April 1. Some years. There was mid may before we could open again. So, a long, long winter. So anyway, I persevered and I figured some things out and I'll get into that, too. Sometimes we can't always grow along a spectrum of, growth and bigness as prescribed to us by so many different models, approaches, and coaching and ideas. There's a whole bunch of reasons why some businesses are destined to be small businesses. And by small. You know, I love how the government just finds small. Oh, are you under 100 employees?

I think it might be 500.

I'm under two employees. Is that small? Do I count for a package? So, yeah, the market was tough, but we. Wow. Made a go of it, did very well, built a great business, great clientele, and got, and joined everything there is to do with landscape lighting. I got involved in every association, every group, sat on most of the boards, wrote code for municipalities, invented product, developed product, perfected product. It's been a great run yeah.

Very cool.

You started your business in Ontario and then moved to Turks in 2015

So at what point did you decide to. I'm not even sure, actually, if I remember. Did you sell that business and move to turks or what happened with that?

We had an opportunity to, open a business down here in 2015. but I wasn't. I wanted to proof of concept before I picked up my life and my family's life and moved here. So I ran both for three years. I commuted for three years. I did two weeks here and two weeks back in Ontario, and built this business here slowly. Built it on cash. And, once it was proof of concept was here. We sold the, integra in Ontario.

Cool.

How did you sell a business that was under 500 employees

So maybe let's talk about that. How did you sell a business that was a small business that was under. Under 500 employees?

Very smallly, yes. I had accountants, I had all these people telling me what my business was worth. And, at the end of the day, a business is worth exactly what you can get for it. And sometimes those numbers are going to be shockingly low. my sale price was shockingly low. And at the end of the day, it gave me the opportunity. Just what you talked about in your preamble, man. It was the. If I had held out for a higher price, which could or may have never come, and we would have ran right into Covid, I wouldn't be here or there right now. I'd be bankrupt. So everything happens for a reason. I'm a firm believer in that. I'm a firm believer in, opening your mind and your eyes to opportunities and not letting them slip by the. Doing the hard things to make that opportunity. You see an opportunity. I'll tell you one thing, man. It's never going to present itself again. If you don't take it and do the hard work and do the hard decisions, that opportunity is gone. And so this opportunity came up. And it wasn't easy. It was the hardest thing I've ever done in my life. Opening this business here was the hardest thing ever. for m so many reasons, but incredible, opportunity. And if we hadn't sold integra for what we sold it for at the time, we would have lost another opportunity. So, you know, opportunity cost is a really big thing. And I think in some ways, the smaller you are, your operation is. I mean, the more aggressive you have to be at, doing the hard work. Not necessarily on the end of a shovel, although there's that, too. But the hard decisions, they're harder when you're small. Cause you don't have the cushion that you might have you certainly don't have investors behind you or any financial cushions other than if you built one. but you also don't have the people cushion that can step in. You know, I can't tell you how many times I would get on a plane. I'd leave Turks and Caicos, I'd land, I'd turn my phone on on the Runway in Toronto, and there'd be a phone call down here. Hey, James, where are you? We got a problem on a site. I mean, I just landed in Toronto. When are you back? Two weeks. Not gonna work. Turn around, spend a night, get on a flight, fly back down here, put the fire out, turn, around, get on a flight, fly back there.

Wait a minute. When are you gonna get to the point where this is what we should do?

No. No. All right, so that's my story. That's how I got here. You asked, not me. Yeah, that's the story.

So often I see there's so many small businesses out there

What I want to talk. So often I see there's so many small businesses out there, and so much of the programming and advice and books and seminars and coaching and all. It's all. It's all very much focused on growth. It's like growth is the magic word. You got to grow your sales. Once you hit 1 million, you got to do two, and then you got four. And then when you're going to be at 8 million, it's about growing your staff and growing your operations. You got to get bigger. You got to get to a point where you replace yourself. Catchphrases and terms. But, you know, not everyone is predisposed. To be able to do that. Took me a lot. I tried. I did coaching. I read the books. I tried so many things. And for a long time, I. For a long time, I was just, often disappointed that I couldn't bring those concepts and processes to fruition. sometimes I blame others instead of blaming myself, but it took me a really long time to realize that built into me the guy I am for a whole ton of reasons. Bottom line, I got trust issues. I am a fully mature adult. Before I come to a reckoning with this, I am challenged at trusting other people with that which I care for the most. You know, my business is my business. And to trust someone else to do it as good as I can or as completely, or to talk to the clients the way I talk to the clients, to have my design eye or any of those tasks I got, I have. I'm held up by that process.

So I would say this, though, James. I'm pretty sure everybody feels like that. Like you start a business and it, instantly becomes your baby. And, like, no one can outsell you, no one can out serve you. Like, no one can out design, like, whatever it is, the thing you're doing. Like, we all feel like that getting started. Like we're the best. We can't replace ourselves, right?

Yep. So, there's also this, like, there's all sorts of reasons why some people can't follow that path. I touched on one m. I got notes over here on the other screen. sometimes it's market conditions. I had brutal market conditions in Muskoka. They inhibit traditional growth strategies. Limited, revenue season. Limited market for what you're selling. I was selling to a market of 40, I think 45,000 people lived in my region. you know, Toronto's got 6.2 million people. That's a way different market. Three hour drive away. Limited labor pool can really inhibit your ability to grow a business where, you know, you've got a labor pool of 45,000 people. All the amazing ones are working, and the ones that are left maybe aren't well suited for the jobs you have available. So that can really inhibit your ability to grow a business.

95% of entrepreneurs are not good managers, Nic says

Personality, traits, passion plays. Not everyone out there is a people person. Not everyone out there is going to be able to manage their own people. they might be horrible at it, actually. Or they might be one of those sort of savant type in words. what are the words? They're reclusive, a little bit introverted.

Personality.

Makes it really challenging to have a CEO who's reclusive and introverted. Right.

Well, I think this is, this is one of the things that people underestimate about. Like, okay, I'm going to start my own business. And we think we're starting our own business because we love landscape lighting. Right. And. But what we're really doing when we're saying we want to start a business to grow, and I don't know if this supports your case or doesn't, but when you want to, like, start a business, to grow a business and not have, like, a job for yourself, you do need to hire people. And in order to do that, you got to be a good manager. And I would say 95% of entrepreneurs are not good managers. It's like they're different traits. So that's why I would say, like, exactly. I agree with what you're saying, James. But then hire the manager to be the manager so that you don't have to do it. Because we are terrible managers?

Yeah. Well, it can be a thing. So there's lots of reasons why not everyone is going to be able to fulfill their mission of growing big. So then once you've assessed that, and some people also, maybe they were involved in a small, big business in the past and they didn't like it, maybe they're just not interested. Maybe they're end of career people, that have already had a career and now they've decided to own their own business for their sort of sunset career, and they're not interested in building a big business model. They need the keys to success, too. So, that's, that's my whole message here. So then, you know, we need to help everybody, right?

Well, and would you say, like, I think a lot of, for a lot of people, you, it's not that the end is always the same, but I think starting to with the end in mind is, is good. Because, like, for me, when I started, I didn't know that, like, I had a marketing degree, I had an MBA, and I never thought, I never thought, it never crossed my mind that I was starting my business to sell it. I was just starting my business because I wanted to pay my mortgage and I wanted to do something fun and not work for somebody else. I truly was probably going to go down the path that you, that you are talking about. It was like, I just want to own a job. I just wanted, just want to work for myself. I don't. That was the only thing. But then, you know, as I started to learn things and I see things and I meet different people, I started to go, well, man, I wonder if could I sell this business? And I would say this. I mean, if you, if your goal is to sell your business, I mean, you have to build a team. Like, there's, there's, there's not much to sell when it's just a client list, for example. You know what I mean?

Agreed on that. I would say if your path is one of staying small or succeeding while you keep the organization small and manageable for yourself, don't have, big, dreams that you're going to be able to change that or lever that into something that someone's going to pay millions for, because it's simply not. You don't have the structure that generates millions. what you can do and what I would advise any, it doesn't matter what business you're in, if you're small, get processes. Do you make sure you have your processes documented. That is something of value to. What you will find is if you're at a point where you want to sell your small business. Some guy comes along who a doesn't have any experience in that realm or is interested in buying what could be a low entry point, well established business by having your processes documented and in place so that they're duplicatable, so that the next person who owns this can build on your own success and all your lessons, everything you've learned.

I love that.

Super critical.

Yeah, I love that. I think, yeah. Regardless of what the, the end game is, like, build those processes, I'm just gonna translate for everyone who's not from Canada. That means process. but basically, yeah. Niche. A what? but like, that's one of the things I'm like, people reach out to me like, dude, I want to. I want to sell my business. I'm like, why? And like, well, you did. I'm like, you don't know my story. I didn't even want to sell my business. Like, I basically was breaking up with my brother.

Right.

And if you want to sell a business, like, you have to go even bigger than what, like, I did. Like you. A one location business that has a small team is not going to have the same multiple that will. A multi location business that actually has more systems, processes. So I say build your business like you're going to sell it and then don't sell it. Enjoy the mailbox money. Enjoy the fruits of your labors. It took you so long to build it up to that.

Yeah.

The number one thing that you gotta understand is profitability is king

So, so we need some strategies for, for these, all these hundreds. What have we got now? Five. For all these hundreds of people that, that have come to realization that, hey, man, I might only ever get this thing to be like three employees and me, you know, some strategies. the number one. My number one thing that you gotta understand is profitability is king. It's the first line item. Every single action, every task, everything you do in that business has to be profitable. You cannot afford to be giving anything away or not realizing the cost of providing a good or service within a small business, because your opportunities, well, it's time. The limiting factor, which is the same everywhere, but it's amplified more when you're in a very tiny business. People, is time. We only. That's my number two thing. Time is your most important asset. If you're not being paid to do it, stop doing it immediately. You can build up to a point where you can be charitable and you can be giving and use your time differently because you've got to a point and you have a reputation and people know you that, that even when you're giving and even when you're using your time to benefit others, that it's being actually seen as a benefit. And it becomes a marketing type thing where people go, that's amazing. That company over there just donated a lighting system to this park so that, you know, the kids are safer in the evenings. But when you're, when you're getting going, you have to, you have to be profitable. That's the most important thing. No, all.

What did you do to, like, a lot of people, especially in those first, I'd say three years and maybe, up to five years, they don't understand what you just said. And they're like, they're willing to give deals, they're willing to do everything just to get revenue.

Yeah.

How did you, like, what are some tips you can give us there on, like, how to command that profitability, how to, how to be in your time.

Never, ever, ever discount.

That's so simple.

You can give it away and you can never get it back. Once you have lowered your price to your neighbor, that's your new price. So I never discounted. Your dentist doesn't discount. Your lawyer doesn't discount. Now your accountant doesn't offer you 20% off because he's a nice guy. so never discount. Just straight up charge a fair price and what you need to survive. And when people ask you for a favor on price or, James, this is our third year with you. we've got a great relationship. How about, we get 20% off this year on, you know, zone four or whatever you're doing, I would just be completely frank and say, look, I'm not here to gouge. I'm not here to take advantage of anyone. And I know exactly what I need to stay in business to run a solid business so that I'm here for you next year, that I'm not out of business. And if someone else can offer it to you at a discounted price, you may take that, but it might be a really foolhardy thing to do because they might not be around next year after a five month winter or whatever your market dictates. So never discount. That was.

Do wealthy people ask for discounts?

Sure they do. Yeah, absolutely. I've been asked by. I've been asked for discounts from everyone. From a lady who needed a $2,500 pathway done to a guy that ended up, you know, we, we did just over 15 acres of lighting for it. So, yeah, every, everyone. There's no rhyme or reason to that, you just have to be polite and have a. Have a rational reason why you don't give them.

I love that. I. It's such a hard lesson for people to learn. I ask everybody for a discount. Like, if you come to my house and try to sell something, I'm like, all right, cool. Well, you know, can you do it for this? And, like, I do it now kind of, to test their abilities, but I I actually respect them more when they. When they holded their guns. And I'm like, heck, yeah, this is my guy. He's like, you know, I'm like, this. This guy's awesome. So if they give me. If you give you too big of a discount, you're like, what? Like, we. So you were just gonna, like, overcharge me? Like, that doesn't even make sense.

Yeah, there's that, too. And then there's the other school of thought, which I never subscribed to, and I think part of it's just because I can't, because it's wrong, and that is. Well, James, just. Just don't tell anyone. Just mark up, get, your number, and then add 20%, and then go to your call. And then when they ask for a discount, you can offer them, you know, 10% off, and if they're happy with that, you just made an extra 10%, or if they have, you know, there's just no ethics in that. But, you know, I don't want to be treated like that by anyone who comes to my home. So the last thing I want to do is behave like that. That's. That's just bad business.

Yeah, well, it's interesting because I put myself in the perspective of the buyer, and I'm like, usually when I ask for a discount, it means because I want to go with them. Like, I'm not going to ask a disc for a discount if someone. If I'm not going to go with them. Like, I'm like, all right, send me the thing. We're done, right? So a lot of people think they're asking for a discount. I'm slow. I got to get work for tomorrow. I. Oh, man, I got to feed my family. I got to do this. And so they're willing to do it, but it's like, no, no, that's, like, one of the best things you can hear from someone is, hey, can you do it for this? that means they're ready to go. Just tell them no in a polite way, like you said, and sign them up. Let's go.

Everything.

By focusing on larger jobs, you're making more efficient use of your time

Another thing you got to do. when you're small, and I don't mean like sole operator small, like, my staff have fluctuated, but I've never had more than three staff straight up. So that's pretty small. You got to be efficient. it's sort of, it's. Yes, it's time management, but that's not the only efficiency. So by focusing on larger jobs, you're making a more efficient use of your time and therefore building more profitability in each job. It can take longer to sell the small job than it does to sell the big job. You can do more trips to site on a small thing, because at the end of the day, that client is probably on the outer edge of their ability to afford this. Whereas when you're focusing and doing, making the hard decisions, I got a great story to tell you. So when you're making the hard decisions, by focusing your small efforts on big projects, when you land them, you're using your time more efficiently. Instead of ten items on a purchase order, you got 110 items on a purchase order, you still got to type out the purchase order. Right. Instead of sending a wire transfer for $1,000 to pay a vendor, it's sending a wire transfer for $10,000. It's just, it's more efficient. So when I started my business in muskoka, I was driving a truck. I was a full time truck driver. And, I started integra with the idea that it would supplement my income. And, my wife was pregnant with our first child, and we had a mortgage. And I, had this good truck driving job. And I started integra. And, the phone would. And I was advertising on bulletin boards and stuff. This is almost pre Internet. we get these calls. I'd answer the call and someone said, hey, I'm looking for a lighting system for my back deck. And this comes down to qualifying and being efficient. And I say, oh, where's your home? And this is before Google earth, any of that. Oh, it's 123 Sesame street in town. And I say, okay, and what do you, oh, I want to put some lights on my deck. And, ah, I got a party coming up in a couple weeks. And, and my response would sort of be, well, you know, I'm super busy right now. I could probably get out there in a month or month and a half's time to take a look at it, if you're interested. And they'd be like, oh, no. I just said, we got a party and we want you to come out and I said, well, I'm sorry, I won't be able to help you, right? And I'd hang up, and my wife was like, what are you doing, man? We just opened a business. Someone wants what you do. And you literally told them no. And I said, I, how many? I remember saying this. How many $5,000 jobs would I have to do a year for us to make $50,000 profit? I'd literally have to do, like, 200 jobs. Right. You know, you'd have to work every single day. $5,000 job after $5,000 job. That is not an efficient use of my time. But how many $50,000 jobs do I have to do, you know, to make a good living? Oh, ten, you know, one a month type of thing. So from the very beginning, I focused on those larger jobs, and it didn't take very long before one came along. And as soon as you've done one, they had a party to it. They had a wedding, and their builder went to that wedding. And the Monday morning, the phone call came, and the builder had another job for me, and that builder turned into nine other jobs. And then if I'd accepted the $5,000 deck project, I would have been doing $5,000 decks all summer long. I accepted doing the $35,000, you know, cottage job, and I ended up with a backup of, you know, very large landscape lighting projects to do.

Yeah.

So be efficient on your marketing and what you want to do, only do you want to do.

I have a hard time imagining you as a truck driver. That's awesome. We need to see some photo evidence of this. That's cool.

I drove a school bus first.

That's awesome.

Big yellow school bus.

I'm going to put together some type of lighting event, and we're going to get a big bus, and we're going to see if we can hire you to drive us around.

The people who know me best will tell you the stories of busiers.

That's awesome. Well, you know, you're totally right. we've, we've been fishing a lot lately here in Utah. We've got some property right by this lake, and the fishing is phenomenal. And, we're trying to catch these bigger fish, and I've learned. Yeah. Like, bigger bait, bigger fish, you know? And, that's essentially what you're talking about here, is like, you know, if you're fishing for the. If you're. If you're doing $5,000 jobs, your referrals are most likely going to be a bunch of $5,000 jobs. 35,000, 50,000, whatever.

How did you break into landscape lighting with your first few projects

I'm curious how you. It makes sense how you laid it out. Like all sudden they see it and then the builder and then you can talk to them. But how, how do you get started in that? Especially when you feel like, who am I? I'm just some small company and no one knows who my brand is. And how did you, how did you break into your 1st, 1st handful of big projects like that?

The very first one came to me. Another awesome story, actually. I'll never forget this man. So, ah, he was, he was in a little village at the grocery store. He saw my piece of paper with, one of Al Marachuk's photos from Burlington, Ontario, my father in law. I borrowed a photo. I had no photos. And, he pulled the little piece of paper with my phone number. He called me on the phone, asked me to come out to his cottage. And, his name was Todd. And, so I went out to this guy's cottage. He's a young guy. He was one year older than me, so he was 31. He happened to be a director of, ah, an it company, back in those days. And, he just bought himself a $3.5 million cottage. And I meet him and I jump out of my beaten up old truck and he goes, so you're the lighting guy? I said, I am. Yes, I am. I said, how can I help you today? He goes, well, I got scotophobia. And I just looked at him. I'm like, what? He goes, it's a certifiable fear of the dark. So I need this entire property illuminated. And I mean, he goes, I don't want it bright. I know what landscape lighting is. I want this entire property litanous because, you know, I've scored a phobia. He goes, one other little thing. I'm getting married here. An outdoor wedding in, you know, three weeks time. I like. Wow, okay, well, I don't know if I can get it done in three weeks time. He goes, well, get me some numbers work. So I did a, I did a. Not a drawing. I did a proposal. Pen and ink. I didn't even have a computer man. Pen and ink. Stayed up all night type thing. Got back to him the next day. It was like a $26,000, proposal. And I'm tired. I've been up all night writing this thing up on graph paper. No kidding. and I, show up in the morning and we're walking through it. He goes, this all looks great, but what about behind the garage? I said, well, that's a septic bed. You're not going behind the garage. He goes, man, I literally told you I need everything lit from the gate to the dock. I said, all right, can you give me 20 more minutes? So I grab a pen, and I go back there, and a lot of down lighting, da da da. I, come back to him, and he goes, where are we now? I said, we're, like, 32 grand. And he's like, okay, all right, I'm fine with that. He goes, so, you have this in by my wedding? And I said, absolutely not. I can't do it. There's no way. He goes, what's the problem? I thought you were a lighting guy. I said, well, I actually drive a truck all day long, and, you know, this is my, my evening and weekend gig. And he says to me, he remember, he's a year older. He says, you know, you got to make a decision in life. Are you going to be a truck driver? Are you going to be a lighting guy? And I said, well, you know what, sir? This really probably easy for you to say that, standing where you are. But, you know, I got a mortgage. My wife's pregnant, first kid, and this truck driving jobs, you know, they pay me pretty well and with benefits and all the rest of it. And he said to me, you know how much they pay you to drive that truck? And I used to not tell people, but I don't. So long ago, I don't care anymore. And I said, well, they pay me 35 grand a year. He pulls out a checkbook. He writes a $60,000 check. He says, there's 30 grand to drive the truck, and there's 30 grand to do my lights. He goes, if you cash it by 09:00 a.m. i assume you've quit your job. And that was how I got my first big job.

Holy cow, dude. That's epic. Did you, like. I mean, did you quit the job?

I did. I went home, obviously. I said, I can't decide this. I have to talk to my wife. He goes, you go talk to your wife.

I had a job for a year while I starting my lighting company

But I need to know by 09:00 a.m. I gotta find someone else. So I go. I go home talking to Kate, and she's just like, wow. Like what? I don't know what to tell you. Like, you, it's a decision you need to make. And. And then, just then Jerry Maguire, the movie, comes on tv. I'm sitting there watching Jerry Maguire, you know, show me the money.

Show me the money.

And by the end of the movie, I'm crying. And I look at Tate, and I said, I'm gonna quit my job tomorrow. So I go into the job at 08:00 a.m. and I didn't have time to give him two weeks notice or anything. I probably should have, you know, I regret that, but I did what I had to do. Quit the job, handed in the uniform, was out of there by 09:00 a.m. called up my, my vendor, my, my, wholesale company. I'll get to that in a bit. There's a cue in there for staying small and being loyal. and I called them up and put in a per. Called him. I cashed the check, I put in the purchase order, and I had the system done on the Thursday before the wedding.

Oh, my gosh, dude. So you. He gave you Runway. He gave you the ability to make the decision like an angel. Yeah. That truly is because most people in that situation, they stay there for so long. I I think. I don't know why I was fortunate. I was. Only did that for a year. I had a job for a year while I starting my lighting company, and then pulled the trigger. But I think, you know, I don't know. There's. There's no right answer for everyone. I'm sure you look back and are eternally grateful to. Was it Todd?

Yeah.

Shout out to Todd for, like, that's freaking awesome, man. That's so cool. I think I want to do that for somebody. I'm going to. When someone comes to do something for me, and we. I'm going to. I'm going to do that for them one day. That just gave me an idea.

It's sort of like. It's sort of like paying it forward in the best way possible, you know, without that guy, I wouldn't be sitting here right now. And that's. But that's not just bad. And people go, oh, you're so lucky. Oh, you've got all this. All this bestowed upon you. I take it back to being open minded, and I really, really believe in serendipity, which is a really hard concept for a lot of people to grasp. I think if you walk around with negative thoughts and negative ideas, and I feeling downtrodden a lot, that that gets ouch. You know, you sort of surround yourself with an aura of negativity. People see it. I've had periods in my life where I was really unhappy, and my close rate would dive. Like, it just, people don't like to be around that. When you're open minded and you can see opportunities and you're excited by them and you take them, it breeds this incredible positivity around you, and, and that's when more starts falling, you know, and serendipity is wonderful. We've been blessed by it by at least three, if not four times in our life. We're just a moment where things are falling into place, you know?

I love it. Yeah. I mean, the whole luck thing, I've never met someone that's that lucky that isn't also, coincidentally, a hard worker that believes in, you know, positive mindset and opportunity and preparation and all those things. It's like, okay, whatever your definition is, so, That's awesome, man. That's so cool. There's so many people that struggle.

I don't know, like, I feel like. So take me, for example. These last few years, since I started doing this, they're the people who have been in the industry a long time, tend to go, what the heck? Who's it? This guy's bringing in these people into the industry. He's bringing truck drivers in. Like, how, how does someone determine whether it's good or not to enter the lighting industry? I mean, you were a truck driver, you know what I mean? Like, and now you're like this very established, highly respected lighting designer who's got amazing projects under his belt. Like, I just think it's awesome. So how does someone know when they're coming into it? They hear about landscape lighting. Like, how do they know if they should take it serious if they're meant to be, be a lighting designer the rest of their life?

so I got some words to say on this for sure, and it does. It's not just lighting. I used to, I had an opportunity for a number of years to coach 15, year old high school students in a career paths course at their high schools. It was a really cool opportunity, and so I had to come up with a. And I did it for a number of years. So I talked to hundreds of kids about, you know, career paths and entrepreneurism and all these concepts, and I distilled it down to do what you love to do.

If you're passionate about lighting, success will follow you

So how do you know whether you're going to be a great lighting person, have a successful business, and be able to last the, go through time and enjoy it? Do you love it? Do you love it? I think if you're passionate about it, a lot of the other, all the other people can go away if you're passionate about it. I don't care where you come from or what you do. And how does that passion display? Willingness to learn, a willingness to listen, a willingness to let us old guys who've been doing this for 30 years help you not make the same mistakes that we all made. We didn't have these forums and the Internet and groups and associations and design programs offered by manufacturers, and we're passionate. There wasn't a lot of passion in the room, man. So if you're passionate about it, I don't care if you're a plumber, a roofer, a truck driver, a lighting person, doesn't matter. That's, that's the key. Love what you do, and success will follow you. Yeah, I love that people love to hire passionate people. I've had, I can't tell you how many times I've had a proposal out, and the clients had a couple other bids, because that's what they do. That's fine. And they're like, you know what? You were, like, 35% higher than the other guy in price. But we've decided, you know, we wouldn't, we were, we don't want anyone else to do this job. And I'd be like, well, why is that? For one thing, we've never talked to anyone who's as passionate about this as you are. It's, you know, clearly, all you talk about, like, your heart is in this, and you, and we can tell that you are just, you're going to do the best possible job you can do. And so we think that's worth it.

That's awesome. It's that passion truly is contagious. Like, they, they, you can say all the right things and not be passionate about it, and it's going to come across completely different. And when you're just speaking from passion, people have no choice but to go with you, though. They'll find a way to pay that 35%, 50%, whatever it is, like, they'll find a way to go with you for sure.

And there's nothing wrong with, you know, this. And, it's no secret, it's nothing I invented, but people say all the time, well, man, how do you have the balls to. Pardon me. How do you have the, nerve to present some of these proposals? I presented some crazy proposals, and immediately, rather than put up with any kickback, which is say, look, you tell me what's most important to you, and let's do it to the best of our ability and then, zoning, that's what it comes down to. Break that proposal down. Go in with that proposal zoned as knowing that you're going to get pushback on it. Knowing immediately. So even if it's a suburban front yard, even if it's a $12,000 proposal, go in with it zoned in three mini zones so that if you get hit with the pushback on that client, you can say no problem at all. You know what, I get it. You had only thought you were going to spend five grand on this, and I'm blowing your mind at twelve. Why don't we just spend the five? But let's spend the five really, really well and you'll get them immediately. And more often than not, as soon as the five is spent and put in the ground, they're going to call you. Two nights later, they're going to call you back. You know what? We want you to finish this job. It's amazing. We love it so much, you know, and you didn't do anything wrong. We didn't rip anyone off. you did a great job. and you're rewarded for it.

But in loyalty, I like that. I know a lot of, the lot of people struggle. They'll try to take that budget and spread it out. And then the clients disappointed, going, well, this doesn't look like the pictures you showed me. You know, this doesn't look like your website, your magazine cover stuff like, well, yeah, because you were cheap. And it's like now they're blaming the client and it's like, no, no, no.

Yeah, I always, you can sort of tell, you know, after, well, after this long, you can sort of tell when you've got someone in your first presentation and they're, they're sort of going, whoa, this is gonna be expensive. So I always tell people, look, I'm gonna break this down into achievable zones based on geography or features or whatever. and one thing I asked, we can play around with what zones you want to do, but one thing I won't do is, we don't play around with the zones. Like, nobody ever told Monet how to, how many brush strokes to put on a painting. So I don't mind you not doing a zone or two, but let's not muck with the zones. Right? Don't start telling the lighting designer how many fixtures it's going to take to light a blue spruce. Right. and if you're upfront about it like that, people will take you more seriously on your bid, too. If you put it. I found if you put things in terms of art and get it out of the realm of contracting and put this whole business into the realm of art, it translates easier to the clients because, well, my clients, a lot of my clients are used to buying art and arts. Not priced like decks are priced, let's face it.

Right?

So we're doing art, you know, price it as such.

Yeah. Well, that's cool. It gets them out of that mindset of, like, that. Now they're not in the home improvement category.

Yeah, exactly.

If they're in that category, it's like, yeah, it's probably going to be under 20 grand. You go to art, it's priceless.

You don't know what it's going to be until the artist tells you. Right.

That's cool. I like that. No one ever told Monet how many brushstrokes to use. I like that.

What are some other advantages of staying small? Advantages

What are some other advantages of staying small?

Advantages? Well, being CEO is great, especially when you got no one under you to, you know, push back.

But aren't you the worst boss ever to yourself?

No, I'm really. I've learned to be a great boss to myself. I really have, lately enjoying things now.

I think. You have. I mean, I have only known you for, like, maybe five years, and I feel like you are a good boss to yourself. But, like, early on, were you, were you that good or did you torture yourself?

I worked my ass off. It was. It was tough. It was. I'm not, I'm not gonna lie. It was hundred hour weeks. For real. Like, week in, week out, April to November, 100 hours weeks. That's 16 hours a day, seven days a week, for people who are a little slow on the math, was a grind, but, it wasn't that way forever. And then I finally hired my first employee, and so now we'll talk about that. Absolutely. Hire people. You can't do this alone, so hire great people. I've learned the hard way, piecework and subcontracting when you're small don't work. And why? Because the people willing to do that work are too entrepreneurial, and you're just going to be teaching your company competition how to be small and successful. So either. Either the person willing to do piecework or subcontracted installations is too entrepreneurial, or they're so non entrepreneurial that they can't manage their money without a salary. Those are the two realms I found. So subcontracted. The stuff you hate to do, bookkeeping, you might not be big enough to have a bookkeeper on staff, but you can certainly go to fiverr and find a freelance bookkeeper who will put in the 3 hours a week your little company needs to keep the books. as you grow and you incorporate. Absolutely. You're going to get accountants. You have to, m marketing. I did it all for way too long. Get that out to a great social, ah, media, you know, like a website social, consultant, to handle for you. I waited way too long to do that, and when I did it, it was such a relief of hours. I wasn't efficient at it. I wasn't very good at it. And it doesn't cost a ton of money to farm it out. So get rid of those, those admin tasks that you don't actually like doing, but, get them contracted out. Don't, don't, you don't have to, you don't have to grow big enough to support the salaries of in house people.

So that's, and those, those are categories that tie into that opportunity cost, bookkeeping, marketing. Like, when you try to do it yourself, it's costing you more than the money it would cost you to hire someone else, because that's not the thing that lights you up. Like, the thing that lights you up is going and doing designs and meeting with people and selling jobs and installing jobs and changing people's lives. So people just screw that up. The expense versus investment. They're like, oh, I don't, I can't afford that, James. I can't afford to hire a marketing company. I can't afford to hire these people. In reality, they can't afford not to.

Yeah. I had a great friend of mine, Paul, told me years ago, also an entrepreneur, arguably way more successful than me. And he's like, james, if you're doing the job that you'd pay someone $20 an hour to do, you're earning $20 an hour straight up.

Yeah.

So, don't be afraid of hiring people. That's how you're going to become more profitable. scheduling, you got to schedule like a demon. And you don't let anyone mock with the schedule. That's what I did. My schedule was the guidebook to the week, and I would schedule to the half hour. and then once you get practiced at keeping a schedule, a one great thing, you're never late, because you're just, you're addicted to the schedule. So you're not, you're not late. You're not showing up 20 minutes late for a sales presentation or a proposal delivery. You're not wasting your clients time. and then when things come up, you've already prioritized your time into profitable segments so you don't get distracted by the little things that come up. You need to push it down and make a hard decision whether you're going to do it at all or not. So scheduling is super key.

How often do you stick to your schedule? Let's say you've got your weeks, your two weeks planned out. Someone calls James, I got to meet with you. This is going to be a huge project. I need you there Thursday, 03:00 but you've got something with your wife scheduled. Maybe you've got another meeting with, a marketing company. Like, how do you prioritize your schedule?

It all depends on your stage. So back in the early days, if it was a conflict with a social thing, I would bump the social thing for the business thing. The key was to grow the business, make the business a success. Ask my clients. I'll say the number one thing that set me out of all the rest was the service. The attention of service, getting there within 24 hours, you know, being on time, that was all key. Now, later in life, I've seen enough come and go, and I also now, greater than ever, appreciate my time and, put a value on it, know how important it is to my health and my well being to take my time and that it does have value that I, you know, I'll take each one as it comes, but I really scheduled tightly and, and I don't let things get in the way of that. I don't go two weeks out. It's usually a week.

Yeah, yeah, I've seen. I've found that for myself, too, is I value my time a lot more as I get older. I used to just do whatever. I mean, if you asked for it, I'd be there, I'd make it happen. And, I just move things around. But it adds so much chaos, anxiety, and stress to your life. You can't operate at a peak level. When you, when you learn to value your time and hold it, you'll find that people also respect that, and they value your status and your, your authority. So it's like, I can't do that, but I can do next Tuesday or Thursday. Oh, yeah, let's do that.

You don't have to meet their demands all the time

And again, it kind of goes back to like, can you give us a deal? And you feel like you have to give them a deal. You don't have to meet their demands all the time. First, there's situations where it's like, no literally, they're leaving the country for two months. This is your chance. Okay, I, might, might change it, but a lot of times you'll be surprised when you just push back like, I can't do it. There's no way I can do that. But I can do next week. Oh. Or sometimes they don't know that you're willing to meet at night and you're like, well, now there's no way I can do that. But I can meet you at seven at night. Oh, you work at night?

Okay.

I work at night. I'm a lighting person. Like, what are you talking about? And they're like, oh, that's awesome. And then both decision makers are there. Whatever. I mean, a lot of times there's advantages by just holding your time, so that's cool.

Another, another thing to do is finding your niche, or niche

Another, another thing to do is along this same topic, really, it's finding your niche, or niche, as you guys would say. what I mean by that, you're already a small operator, so don't try to be everything and do everything for everybody. Find a segment in this incredibly big, diverse business that you're passionate about so that your passion comes through for that. I tried holiday lighting for one, one fall. I didn't. I did a great, oh, man. I did this one project. It was that I rented a zoom boom before anyone was renting zoom booms. I lit this place. It was magnificent. Why? I never did it again. I absolutely grated on my soul to take it down. It was like this creation and it was a fortune. It was a small fortune fortune for the client. And then he's like, you know, christmas was over and I get the call, hey, when are you taking all this stuff down? And I'm like, oh, I don't know. I was thinking April. And he's like, I'm thinking January 3, like, when are you going to be here? And I did. I hated taking it down. And like, deep down I hated it. Not the work, just the whole notion of creating something and then having to remove it. So I realized that that's not for me. So focus on your niche. You'll find your niche, what you love to do most, and do that. I dabbled in product. I invented, one of, if not the first line of led lamps for the landscape lighting industry. And, invented the first IC driver for miniature led lamps. I got into product pretty big. I had contracted factories and I electrical engineers, and I was running this whole thing on the side of everything else. At the end, I sold it because I came to the realization that I don't inventing products fun, but selling product, it's not for me. For me, it was boring, right? It wasn't anything. I was passionate about the operating of a, product business. So I'm happy to design stuff for people. That stuff's fun. But I don't like doing product. So find it. Find your thing in this industry and stick to it. If you're gonna be small, you only have a limited amount of resources.

Yeah, I like that. Ah, well, it's like they think it's called shiny object syndrome. So, you know, now it's like it was holiday lighting, now it's like permanent lighting. And then it's that, you know, the color change stuff. And then outdoor audio is getting bigger, which I'm not saying don't do, but like, a lot of people are using the new thing as an excuse not to succeed in their main thing, right. It's like instead of hitting their revenue there, whatever their goals are for their business, they're like, oh, instead of like trying to figure this thing out, I'm going to take the easy path over here and ride this wave. And then they, they never find, it's like a, guy told me the quote, they're going to just live their ten year experience. Every year is going to be the same. Every ten year for ten years in a row. Instead of like really doing the hard thing, like, figure out your process, figure out what you're good at, figure out what your passion is, do that thing really well. And then if you've, if you're an expert at that and you've got your process down. Sure. Like bolt on audio, bolt on this, whatever you really want to do. But I just see people really distracted doing lots of little things and not doing one thing well.

Great idea for anyone with a small business, get a volunteer board of advisors

So here's one that's going to probably raise some eyebrows. So a long time. So one thing I did, great idea for anyone with a small business, get a volunteer board of advisors. And it's sort of like a board of directors. You can't call them that because there's legal issues, but volunteer board of advisors, I had one for ten years. It was five of my best clients. These were all captains of industry in their own right. I had the, I was given the idea at a business forum. I was sitting on a panel in front of a high school class and this business consultant beside me like a coach. Basically. The last question on the panel was, give us one piece of advice that all small business owners should do. I'm sitting on the panel trying to think of what should I tell these kids? And this guy, Jim Stewart next to me says to me, everyone should have a volunteer board of advisors. Or he called it a board of directors. That's a really good idea. So I wrote it down, my notebook, and then the next week, I'm like, well, how do I do that? So I called up one of my clients. I said, hey, peter, would you mind being on a, a board of directors for me? He goes, well, I can't do that, but I could be an advisor. I'd be happy to help you. Awesome. He goes, who else are you going to call? Oh, yeah, call this guy. Call this guy. Within a week, I asked five people. I got five yeses. So for ten years, we would meet. I would borrow a boardroom in Toronto. I'd limo the guys in. I wasn't playing around. I didn't want to waste their time. Two weeks before the meeting, I'd send them my agenda. It was typically a three hour meeting at a boardroom, and it took me a few years to open the books up. But, for the first few years, it was all marketing and sales and product ideas and all this stuff, and they coached me.

That's awesome.

It was life changing.

How often were you meeting with them? This three hour meeting?

Once a year.

Just once a year? Okay.

Like serious captains of industry type accounting, land development. one, was, not a hedge fund, venture capitalist, really smart people. So, that taught me how to be open and listen, because the year I opened my books to them, that was crazy, because I'm opening my books to my clients, right?

That's nerve wracking.

Yeah, it was nerve wracking. And one of them took exceptions. He had no idea how small I was, and he was like, oh, my God, if I'd known how little you were, I wouldn't have wasted my time. This is ridiculous. He got up and walked out, and, I was offended, and I was shocked. And then one of the other advisors went and got him and called him back in. He calmed down, many. Then he went through things and he taught me, you'll love this, Ryan. He's like, all right, tomorrow he goes, if you don't do this, I will never meet with you again. He goes, tomorrow you're going and raising your prices by 25%. Tomorrow. Everything. Labor, materials, everything. You're raising your prices tomorrow. I'm like, I can't. I'm already at the top of the market. I can't. I'm like, nobody's gonna buy. My close rate went up. That's all there was to it. As soon as I did that, he changed it. Changed my life.

That's so cool. That's amazing.

Referrals are everything when you're small. Referrals have always been. Everyone should do this

So I, It's actually just so genius. Like, I remember meeting clients, and I. I did not do what you're talking about, but I would always ask them tons of questions, and I call them and I'd meet with them and, like, I would just, like, they were. They were so successful. Like, why would I. Why would I not try to get help? But what was cool is they. They thought I was cool. Like, they're. They were, like, envious that, like, dude, this is so cool. You get to go and, like, pick the brain of all these successful people and, like, you guys do the coolest job and you're outdoors, they're, like, envious.

Everyone should do this. Everyone listening, everyone who's going to watch this tomorrow or next week, go get yourself a volunteer, volunteer board of advisors and pick them from your clients. People you respect, big businesses. I guarantee you, unless they're completely not a nice person, they're going to agree to it. Just don't waste their time, you know?

Yeah, I like that you're organized and you have an agenda and all that stuff. You can't just show up and, like, all right, sit in this room. But, I don't know, did you get. I imagine you probably got referrals from them, too, right?

yeah, absolutely. Referrals have always been. That's. Yet, you know, when it comes to marketing and being small, you know, you're not. You're not mercedes, you're not taking up tv ads, you're not putting billboards up in the communities, and even the cost of, like, a major dork. I never did door hangers because I've never lived in an urban market. But, I listen to some of these guys and the costs of their marketing efforts, I'm like, wow, that's insane. another thing that I would encourage every small business to do is read. it's old now, but read it anyway. Seth Godin's purple cow teaches you how to be remarkable. when you learn how to be remarkable, what that means is literal. It means people will talk about you and you. When you get your clients talking about you, you can stop advertising and you can invest the money necessary into your job to make your client tell everyone they know about you. And there's your marketing for the year. Referrals are everything when you're small.

Love it.

For the listeners today on staying, uh, small, winning bigly

Well, as we kind of land the plane here, anything else that you want to leave? For the listeners today on staying, small, winning bigly.

Nope, I think I covered it all. Look at that.

That's awesome. Well, it's cool, man. You know, it's kind of interesting because in a weird way, we actually are, like, talking about the same thing. Like, a lot of the stuff you talked about, I was expecting it to be maybe a little bit different messaging, maybe. I don't know. I don't know what I was expecting, but, and maybe I don't know what a small business is. You know, I'm like, under. As long as you're under 500 employees by the IR's, you're a small business. But, you know, I think for me, like, the shared message that we have is around profitability. It's around building a team. It's, it's, it's building those processes. And the goal, I believe, of every entrepreneur should be about freedom. You know, if not, then why do this, you know, unless you're just so passionate that you like working hundred hour weeks your entire life. and besides, you might not be able to do that. What if you get sick? What if you get hurt? What if you want to go on vacation, you know? So that's the goal.

You have to, as you mature into your business. You know, my business looks nothing like it did ten years ago. Nothing. We could. Way smarter.

Oh, yeah. Well, that's, that's where, you know, hopefully people out there listening are not doing the same business every single year for ten years to get ten years experience, and they're actually making changes, making moves, and it's, it's not easy. Gosh, it's so hard. It's so hard. Especially when you hire someone and they don't work out the first time.

You know, one other really quick tip. It's really important. At least it helped me, find as few vendors as you can. Find one great distributor, if you will. I know there's a lot of companies going direct and all that. That's fine. They're good, too. But my point here is loyalty. When you build, when you're loyal to your vendors, they're going to go the extra step for you over the course of a long term, and it's going to help you be profitable in your small operation. So I've been blessed. Well, I've given a lot of loyalty in this path to manufacturers and vendors, and it's reciprocated. You know, they really help. They come to the they help you out when you need help. I've had in Ontario, you know, my distributor that I used the whole time I was there. By the end there, man, they were jumping through hoops just. And not to keep me happy just because we were friends now, you know, and they were helping. So, it's really important in the lighting industry, we have so many inputs and possibilities. Narrow it down. At the end of the day, you need what, five fixtures to do. Most jobs get loyal.

That's well said. How do you do that? Because in my experience, it was the same thing. We started off really awesome. Distributor, their local became friends. They bend over backwards for us, you know, then we started buying direct from garden light. They were also a loyal relationship, just not, not right there. They can't do what a local, you know, distributor can do. And so we actually had both and we had loyalty with both. And then it's hard because like, you got new manufacturers, you got new products and like, how does someone determine like how, how do they stick with what they know and keep these limited products or do they want to shoot for the stars and be lighting designer of the year and use 50 to 56 different styles of spotlights on a project?

Like, yeah, Bill Lachlan taught me a long time ago, man, that the fixture is just the toolbox that holds the tool, the lamp is the tool, the fixtures, the toolbox, the art comes out. The yard is in our hands. Right? So, you know, for an uplight's an uplight's an uplight. As long as you're buying quality stuff, you want to make more money in this business, buy better quality stuff. But that loyalty is super important. And when you're small, the last thing you want is 50 skus on your truck because two years from now, something's going to break and you're not going to moved on. And it's just a nightmare. Loyalty is a good thing to keep, stay small and profitable.

Love it, love it. Well said, man. Well, thanks so much for coming on here. I really appreciate it. Great, conversation and, let's keep it going, man. of course you're active in the Facebook groups. I'm active there too. So, just, yeah, thanks for coming on here, guys. And if you guys didn't learn something, then that's on you. So go back, listen to it again, take some notes, lots of good things. And I just thought it was kind of ironic. I was like, wait a minute, like we're, we're speaking a lot of the same language. Here. So I think, it, a.

Lot of the afraid of me, right?

I was like, why are we doing this? Why are we telling people to stay small? But I think, honestly, a lot of the principles are true. Like, regardless of whether you're going to stay small and whatever your version of small is, like, the principles remain true. So great conversation. I appreciate you, James, thank you very.

Much for having me on. It's been. It's been fun.

Okay. Awesome. All right, guys, everyone have an awesome week. We'll check in next week

Okay. Awesome. All right, guys, everyone have an awesome week. We'll check in next week. And, don't forget, keep moving forward.


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Ryan Lee

Ryan Lee has started and grew a multi-million dollar landscape lighting company in Fort Worth, TX. In 2019 he sold his lighting business and founded the world's only coaching program dedicated to helping other grow their landscape lighting business. He is an expert at helping lighting contractors double their profits by helping them increase their number of qualified leads, close more deals, and increase their price. If you're interested in growing your landscape lighting business or want help adding a lighting division to your business, then reach out and request a free strategy session today.

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Lighting for Profits Podcast with James

James Solecki - Unveiling Illuminating Innovations!

July 01, 202473 min read

Lighting for Profits - Episode 154

This week on the show we welcome James Solecki, a lighting industry veteran with over two decades of experience. He founded INTEGRA Bespoke Lighting, a leading outdoor lighting company in Ontario known for its eco-friendly solutions. In 2015, he expanded to the Turks and Caicos Islands with Island Villa Lighting, offering cutting-edge designs to high-value clients. James is also active in community service and lives with his wife in the Turks and Caicos Islands.

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Episode Transcript

We discussed everything you need to know to start and grow a successful landscape lighting business

Welcome to lighting for profits.

All Light, All Light, All Light. Powered by Emery Allen. Get rid of your excuses.

Your number one source for all things landscape lighting. That's where the magic can happen.

You can really scale a business.

We really had to show up for each other from lighting design, install, sales, and marketing. You're a scaredy cat salesman, Kurt. We discussed everything you need to know to start and grow a successful landscape lighting business. What do you think a hippo has to do with your business, Ryan?

Usually it's some weird childhood thing.

Some bully kicked your butt. I think the key factor here is trust. Here is your host, Ryan Lee.

If you're looking to start or grow your landscape lighting business, this show is perfect

a lot, a lot of light. What's up, everybody? Welcome, welcome, welcome to the number one landscape lighting show in Turks and Caicos. We are going international today. absolutely love doing this show. Love hanging out. And, look, if you're looking to start or grow your landscape lighting business, not sure that there's a better place to be right now. This is the place we're here to educate and motivate to help you dominate. So, guys, got a great show lined up for you today. I'm super excited. We got Mister James selecki coming on with island villa lighting. And I say excited, but am I? I was like, wait a minute, wait. What do you want to talk about, James? And, we're going to talk about something that I feel like is a little bit against my religion. Like, I was not born this way. And so, but I actually think it's a super awesome topic. And we're going to talk about, I think we're phrasing it, like, how to stay small but win bigly, something like that. So, James has an awesome resume, of work in the lighting industry, and provides a lot of value to the industry and just happens to know a lot. So I'm like, dude, let's go. So stick around. You're not going to want to miss this episode. There might be some controversial things that come out of it. Okay, just, just kind of teasing that a little bit of, you get me and select you in the room. We might say some things that piss some people off. So I'm excited about it. just as a reminder, guys, we got secret summit coming up. And if you've been on the fence about joining landscape lighting secrets, now might be your best time, because we're coming out with landscape lighting secrets 2.0. Oh, my gosh. I'm so excited. And, we're teasing it because it's not ready yet, but we are launching it this summer, and, we're going to launch it at the secret summit, which is our members only event here in park city, Utah, September 9 and 10th. So if you're like, yeah, maybe I should join, well, maybe you should. And, then you can come hang out in park City also. Guys, thank you so much for your reviews. I was actually just reading a review, today that we got. I don't know if we got it today, but, this was, unbelievably valuable. Thank you to Marvel nerd nine nine on yt. The information I've gleaned from Ryan and other industry titans on this show is worth thousands. Huge thank you to you and all the guests you've had on for sharing your wealth of knowledge. Keep the episodes coming, my friend. You got a big fan here in South Carolina. Thank you for that awesome review. Really, really appreciate it. Marvel nerd nine nine on yt. So that's awesome, guys. Thank you so much for your reviews. it keeps me going, you know, and, I really do appreciate it. So if you've not jumped on the bandwagon, we're still accepting your five star reviews. also do want to thank, Emery Allen, for their, support, really kind of over the years now. And what's the best way to stand out of the crowd? Well, being different. So set yourself apart from others in the lighting industry and impress your customers by installing Emery Allen lamps on your next project, you'll discover a higher level of quality across the board, from the lamps themselves to the top tier customer support you can expect to get. If you have any questions, issues, problems, right now is a good time to make the switch. All you got to do is email tom garyallen .com. he will hook you up with your discounted contractor pricing. All you got to do is mention lighting for profits when you email tom garyallen. com. and, again, he'll get you that discounted contractor pricing. Don't waste your time going to their website. Get their single source led, which is like, a super clear led, guys. It's hard to explain until you see it in person. So go check out that. Just email tom g@emoryallen. com. dot.

We're gonna have Mister James solecki on to talk about lighting

Okay, guys, again, just a minute. We're gonna, have Mister James selecki come on. And, he is actually live from Turks and Caicos right now. Like, how cool is that? We are gonna have a conversation. I love technology. I'm grateful for it. Sometimes you hate it, but sometimes you love it. Today I love it. And James and I are going to talk about his, his, his success in the lighting industry. Without this like big this big mindset of you. You have to grow, right? and you have to be the giant and everything. So I'm excited to have him on.

What's your two biggest expenses in life? Ask yourself this question

Before I have him on, I do just want to mention one thing. So last week I had a fairly busy week. I've been trying to control my time and say no to lots of things and just really be intentional about everything I do. But you know, some weeks are busier than others and a lot of coaching calls, a lot of strategy sessions and it felt really good, actually. I did not regret that week. It was awesome. And I was reminded, after I got off one of these strategy sessions with someone of a speech that I heard actually saw by Myron golden. And if you don't know who Myron golden is, just look him up on YouTube. He's super awesome guy, super smart, talented marketer and stuff like this business guy. But I was reminded of this because at the end of this strategy session, this person really wanted, they said they wanted to join the landscape, lotting secrets. And so we kind of went through everything and like here's what you get and here's what's expected of you and here's how we deliver it and all this stuff. And at the end they go, wow, I really want to do it, but I just can't afford it. It's just too expensive. And they said they'd have more time to work on it and more money in a few months.

Right?

Have you guys ever heard that from your clients? Like now's not a good time or it's too expensive. I'm like, wait, what, what are you saying? Right? And I was reminded of this Myron golden speech because I was at this conference and there was, it was a click. Funnels had this conference. There was probably 5000 people there, or more, maybe 6000. And Myron's up on stage and he goes, hey, what's your two biggest expenses? And you know, I'll ask you guys that, like if you're listening right now, what's your two biggest expenses in life? And you know, for me I was like thinking, well, different stages of my life. You know, sometimes it might, might be your m mortgage as a business owner, it might be payroll, might be just materials. I mean those are the things that come to my mind. And he, he has like this paper he's writing on, he's like, number one. And he writes down number one. And number one is taxes. I was like, oh, I don't know what I'm talking about because I actually agree. It was, it was taxes. He's like, you got personal taxes, property taxes, income taxes, you know, employment, tax, self employment tax, employee, like, all this stuff, right? Capital gains. He's like, by the time you actually, like, earn money and then make it, and then, like, pay it all out, you're really paying about 50% in taxes in your life. It's like, dang it. Like, why is he right? But, I think that was right. I agree with it. Tax is number one. Then he goes, and then, what's the number two? And then I was like, well, it's got to be the one that I'm thinking of. It's got to be one of these, right? And of course I was wrong. And he writes the second one, and he says, the cost of not knowing something. The cost of not knowing something is my second biggest expense. And, you know, really, there's lots of different ways to phrase this and word this, but it could be for you, maybe have heard the term opportunity cost, right? So what is it costing you to not take action on something? You know, opportunity cost doesn't show up on a p and lithe, it doesn't show up on these financial analyses. Right? let's say you're considering attending a lighting conference. What's the cost of going to it? Well, it's, you know, the dollars, the time, the airfare, all this. Well, what's the cost of not going to it? Like, what's the cost of not having a conversation with someone that potentially changes the trajectory of your business, your life, your career, whatever, right? What's it, what's it costing you to get education on better lighting design on, on other products? educating yourself on anything? Reading a book. Right. So is it. Is it the cost of that $15 audible audiobook, or is the cost of not listening to that book? Or maybe it's the cost of listening to it and not implementing what you hear, what you listen, what you learn. Right. and I was reminded of this because I'm like, wait a minute. Like, if this person doesn't join my coaching program, like, they're going to be fine. They figured it out this far. It's not like if you don't join, you're going to die, right? But maybe, maybe you will. Like, I am so obsessed with helping people that I truly know that if they don't move forward with us today. We can't change the trajectory of their life. They're going to continue on that path. Right. We had this, this training a couple weeks ago in our, in landscape lighting secrets. Jonathan, Wisman, he's the author of the sales boss, this book, and it was awesome. And one of the quotes he said was something like, you know, you can have ten years experience in business, which is basically one year repeated ten times, or you can do hard things and have ten different years experience, right? And, unfortunately, a lot of people are living that same year over and over and over and not progressing in any manner, right. And so I just want to encourage you guys to do hard things. You know, time truly is our greatest asset. it's interesting because it's our true, it's our greatest asset. It's worth the most to all of us. But then everybody in the world has the exact same amount of time every single day, and it resets every day, right? So no matter how rich, no matter how poor, like, we have the same amount of time. So what are you doing with your time? And the wealthy people, potentially the people that you look up to, they figured out a way to leverage their time, right? And I say wealthy, let's say wealthy happy, like, insert whatever you're striving for. The people in ahead of you, what have, what have they, what have they figured out? They've figured out how to leverage time. That's it.

The key to making money is doing the hard things that you don't want

And so how much time are you spending scrolling? I'm going to show you. How much time are you truly spending working and doing hard things? Like, do the hard things, guys, everyone wants a vacation but isn't willing to pay for the trip. And I've seen that time and time again, and it's true. I do too. I want the vacation. I don't want to pay for the trip. But I've also learned that you got to pay for the trip. Like, that's what, that's what has to happen. So if you want to be in shape, start working out. Okay? I started doing push ups a couple years ago now. And now I do 150 a day. And there's some days it's so easy, I just, it's just, it's like a habit now, and I just do it. And then there's other days where I'm like, dude, I don't want to do them. I'm tired, and I did all this stuff, and I don't want to. And I do them because I don't want to do them. Okay. Because I want to be in shape. You want to be happy and give more time to others. You want to make more money, rob more banks. Okay. there's, there's ways to make more money without robbing banks, but if I'm just asking this, if I were to come out with bank robbing secrets, would you be interested? And the key to making money is do the hard things that you don't want to do, guys. You know, maybe it's hiring someone. Maybe it's role playing your sales process to get better. That's awkward. It's so awkward, right? Maybe it's asking for referrals, which can also be awkward. Maybe, it's calling on a landscape architect, which can also be awkward, like, do these hard things. And I promise you guys, if you will get comfortable being uncomfortable, you're going to find yourself having more success. And it's all, that's what it's all about. Just moving the needle, getting a little bit better every single day. So, anyway, that was on my mind. And, that person, by the way, has not joined landscape lighting secrets yet. So, but I was reminded that story, and they might, you know, I probably wouldn't bet money that they would. It's like a 50 50 chance at this point. So, if it was like a 70 30 chance, I'd put money on it, but probably 50 50. But, you know, it. It's not for everybody. Not everyone's ready all the time. And, you know, people need to make decisions in their own time, and they need to be ready for it. And, we're here when you, when you're ready. So enough about me. I'm ready to get to our guest, Mister James Selecki. If you guys are here live, let us know. And if you guys have questions, throw them in the, chat as well. And, if you are here live, we'll try to get those over to James. Let's get this show on the road, huh?

James Selecki will moderate a panel discussion with Ryan Reynolds next week

Welcome, welcome.

Mister James Selecki.

Hey, Ryan. How you doing, man?

Oh, man, I'm fired up. Thanks for being here, man. I appreciate you taking time out of your day.

Oh, I've been looking forward to this for weeks, ever since you gave me that call and said, you know what? That thing I said at conference, I want to do it. Let's put you on the show. I'm like, all right, fine.

I loved it. No, yeah. You know, I think it's, it's going to be a good discussion. You know, I think, we tend to get kind of the blinders on. And whatever we're doing in our life, we think that is normal for everybody. And then when someone does something different, it's kind of like, wait, what? Like, why? Why would they do that? Right? And so I'm guilty of it too. It's like, hey, I've got my way. This is what I've done. This is what's worked for me. Why would you do anything different? But I am always open to ideas. I love learning. And, I think you offer quite a bit to the industry and interested to hear some of your perspective. So it's going to be awesome.

Adam Adam's passion for lighting started when he was 14 years old

Cool.

Maybe just do a quick introduction of yourself. You've been on the show before. For those of you, for those people that don't know you, just a quick introduction of who you are, how you got into this industry, and why you're in Turks and Caicos right now.

Well, my passion for lighting started a long time ago. I was 14 years old. I got an opportunity to join what essentially was a community theater. And, my role in that was to run the lighting stage lighting. So I fell in love with it right away. by 15, I was the crew chief of the lighting crew of this theater. by 16, I had a spawned off into mobile, live event lighting, concert lighting band, lighting stage lighting, got right into it. And then life happened. I went away to university, did a whole bunch of stuff. And, after my first failed business, I happened along this lovely young lady, and, Kate, now my wife, she was like, you know what, I really like you, but man, you need a job. and so she introduced me to her father and Alan owned and ran, Adam irrigation and lighting in Burlington, Ontario.

Oh, wow.

he hired me, he hired me and basically it's like a summer laborer. And I started doing irrigation work and I wasn't very good at it, wasn't very happy with it. And after flooding out a underground parking garage, one night, oops. Oetiker boy, that's me. he said, maybe you'd be better at landscape lighting. And I'm like, what's landscape lighting? People pay you to put Noma moon rays, like in the ground. And he's like, get in the truck and come with me. By this time, he had won several landscape Ontario awards of excellence. This is a long time ago, so there wasn't like lvlia or Ily or any of these great organizations we have now. This is back in the, in the early nineties. And so he took me on a tour and I was blown away. I just got the bug immediately. So I started doing that with Alan for a little bit. And then, life took another turn. Ended up marrying his daughter. So that was good. And, when we needed to make a move out of Toronto, we moved up to, ah, Muskoka, Ontario, which is like lake country. So, I had a chance to open my own business, which I did. Integra lighting. Owned that for 24 years. And, built a. Built a really good career up there doing. Doing landscape and then architectural lighting.

Nice.

So you really wanted to be at first, just a stay at home husband

So you really wanted to be at first, just a stay at home husband? Is that what I'm hearing?

Oh, no, no, that wasn't really the plan. No, no, no. That wasn't the plan.

So that's awesome. So you start the business and how did it go? I mean, it was really rough, man.

Like, for a few reasons. I'll get into it. We were in a super affluent summer market. Best, described as 16 weeks to live or die. We had 16 weeks a year to sell your year and essentially install your year. and it was affluent in the summer. These are beautiful homes. They call it the Hamptons of Canada for a reason. But the rest of the year, there's. There's nothing. There's no market. So I had to. I struggled at the beginning and then I had to adopt architectural and interior lighting in order to give me winter work.

Okay.

we're also in, you know, central Ontario, so the winters are brutal. You know, it was typically we were closed November 15 and we would not. On a good year, we would open April 1. Some years. There was mid may before we could open again. So, a long, long winter. So anyway, I persevered and I figured some things out and I'll get into that, too. Sometimes we can't always grow along a spectrum of, growth and bigness as prescribed to us by so many different models, approaches, and coaching and ideas. There's a whole bunch of reasons why some businesses are destined to be small businesses. And by small. You know, I love how the government just finds small. Oh, are you under 100 employees?

I think it might be 500.

I'm under two employees. Is that small? Do I count for a package? So, yeah, the market was tough, but we. Wow. Made a go of it, did very well, built a great business, great clientele, and got, and joined everything there is to do with landscape lighting. I got involved in every association, every group, sat on most of the boards, wrote code for municipalities, invented product, developed product, perfected product. It's been a great run yeah.

Very cool.

You started your business in Ontario and then moved to Turks in 2015

So at what point did you decide to. I'm not even sure, actually, if I remember. Did you sell that business and move to turks or what happened with that?

We had an opportunity to, open a business down here in 2015. but I wasn't. I wanted to proof of concept before I picked up my life and my family's life and moved here. So I ran both for three years. I commuted for three years. I did two weeks here and two weeks back in Ontario, and built this business here slowly. Built it on cash. And, once it was proof of concept was here. We sold the, integra in Ontario.

Cool.

How did you sell a business that was under 500 employees

So maybe let's talk about that. How did you sell a business that was a small business that was under. Under 500 employees?

Very smallly, yes. I had accountants, I had all these people telling me what my business was worth. And, at the end of the day, a business is worth exactly what you can get for it. And sometimes those numbers are going to be shockingly low. my sale price was shockingly low. And at the end of the day, it gave me the opportunity. Just what you talked about in your preamble, man. It was the. If I had held out for a higher price, which could or may have never come, and we would have ran right into Covid, I wouldn't be here or there right now. I'd be bankrupt. So everything happens for a reason. I'm a firm believer in that. I'm a firm believer in, opening your mind and your eyes to opportunities and not letting them slip by the. Doing the hard things to make that opportunity. You see an opportunity. I'll tell you one thing, man. It's never going to present itself again. If you don't take it and do the hard work and do the hard decisions, that opportunity is gone. And so this opportunity came up. And it wasn't easy. It was the hardest thing I've ever done in my life. Opening this business here was the hardest thing ever. for m so many reasons, but incredible, opportunity. And if we hadn't sold integra for what we sold it for at the time, we would have lost another opportunity. So, you know, opportunity cost is a really big thing. And I think in some ways, the smaller you are, your operation is. I mean, the more aggressive you have to be at, doing the hard work. Not necessarily on the end of a shovel, although there's that, too. But the hard decisions, they're harder when you're small. Cause you don't have the cushion that you might have you certainly don't have investors behind you or any financial cushions other than if you built one. but you also don't have the people cushion that can step in. You know, I can't tell you how many times I would get on a plane. I'd leave Turks and Caicos, I'd land, I'd turn my phone on on the Runway in Toronto, and there'd be a phone call down here. Hey, James, where are you? We got a problem on a site. I mean, I just landed in Toronto. When are you back? Two weeks. Not gonna work. Turn around, spend a night, get on a flight, fly back down here, put the fire out, turn, around, get on a flight, fly back there.

Wait a minute. When are you gonna get to the point where this is what we should do?

No. No. All right, so that's my story. That's how I got here. You asked, not me. Yeah, that's the story.

So often I see there's so many small businesses out there

What I want to talk. So often I see there's so many small businesses out there, and so much of the programming and advice and books and seminars and coaching and all. It's all. It's all very much focused on growth. It's like growth is the magic word. You got to grow your sales. Once you hit 1 million, you got to do two, and then you got four. And then when you're going to be at 8 million, it's about growing your staff and growing your operations. You got to get bigger. You got to get to a point where you replace yourself. Catchphrases and terms. But, you know, not everyone is predisposed. To be able to do that. Took me a lot. I tried. I did coaching. I read the books. I tried so many things. And for a long time, I. For a long time, I was just, often disappointed that I couldn't bring those concepts and processes to fruition. sometimes I blame others instead of blaming myself, but it took me a really long time to realize that built into me the guy I am for a whole ton of reasons. Bottom line, I got trust issues. I am a fully mature adult. Before I come to a reckoning with this, I am challenged at trusting other people with that which I care for the most. You know, my business is my business. And to trust someone else to do it as good as I can or as completely, or to talk to the clients the way I talk to the clients, to have my design eye or any of those tasks I got, I have. I'm held up by that process.

So I would say this, though, James. I'm pretty sure everybody feels like that. Like you start a business and it, instantly becomes your baby. And, like, no one can outsell you, no one can out serve you. Like, no one can out design, like, whatever it is, the thing you're doing. Like, we all feel like that getting started. Like we're the best. We can't replace ourselves, right?

Yep. So, there's also this, like, there's all sorts of reasons why some people can't follow that path. I touched on one m. I got notes over here on the other screen. sometimes it's market conditions. I had brutal market conditions in Muskoka. They inhibit traditional growth strategies. Limited, revenue season. Limited market for what you're selling. I was selling to a market of 40, I think 45,000 people lived in my region. you know, Toronto's got 6.2 million people. That's a way different market. Three hour drive away. Limited labor pool can really inhibit your ability to grow a business where, you know, you've got a labor pool of 45,000 people. All the amazing ones are working, and the ones that are left maybe aren't well suited for the jobs you have available. So that can really inhibit your ability to grow a business.

95% of entrepreneurs are not good managers, Nic says

Personality, traits, passion plays. Not everyone out there is a people person. Not everyone out there is going to be able to manage their own people. they might be horrible at it, actually. Or they might be one of those sort of savant type in words. what are the words? They're reclusive, a little bit introverted.

Personality.

Makes it really challenging to have a CEO who's reclusive and introverted. Right.

Well, I think this is, this is one of the things that people underestimate about. Like, okay, I'm going to start my own business. And we think we're starting our own business because we love landscape lighting. Right. And. But what we're really doing when we're saying we want to start a business to grow, and I don't know if this supports your case or doesn't, but when you want to, like, start a business, to grow a business and not have, like, a job for yourself, you do need to hire people. And in order to do that, you got to be a good manager. And I would say 95% of entrepreneurs are not good managers. It's like they're different traits. So that's why I would say, like, exactly. I agree with what you're saying, James. But then hire the manager to be the manager so that you don't have to do it. Because we are terrible managers?

Yeah. Well, it can be a thing. So there's lots of reasons why not everyone is going to be able to fulfill their mission of growing big. So then once you've assessed that, and some people also, maybe they were involved in a small, big business in the past and they didn't like it, maybe they're just not interested. Maybe they're end of career people, that have already had a career and now they've decided to own their own business for their sort of sunset career, and they're not interested in building a big business model. They need the keys to success, too. So, that's, that's my whole message here. So then, you know, we need to help everybody, right?

Well, and would you say, like, I think a lot of, for a lot of people, you, it's not that the end is always the same, but I think starting to with the end in mind is, is good. Because, like, for me, when I started, I didn't know that, like, I had a marketing degree, I had an MBA, and I never thought, I never thought, it never crossed my mind that I was starting my business to sell it. I was just starting my business because I wanted to pay my mortgage and I wanted to do something fun and not work for somebody else. I truly was probably going to go down the path that you, that you are talking about. It was like, I just want to own a job. I just wanted, just want to work for myself. I don't. That was the only thing. But then, you know, as I started to learn things and I see things and I meet different people, I started to go, well, man, I wonder if could I sell this business? And I would say this. I mean, if you, if your goal is to sell your business, I mean, you have to build a team. Like, there's, there's, there's not much to sell when it's just a client list, for example. You know what I mean?

Agreed on that. I would say if your path is one of staying small or succeeding while you keep the organization small and manageable for yourself, don't have, big, dreams that you're going to be able to change that or lever that into something that someone's going to pay millions for, because it's simply not. You don't have the structure that generates millions. what you can do and what I would advise any, it doesn't matter what business you're in, if you're small, get processes. Do you make sure you have your processes documented. That is something of value to. What you will find is if you're at a point where you want to sell your small business. Some guy comes along who a doesn't have any experience in that realm or is interested in buying what could be a low entry point, well established business by having your processes documented and in place so that they're duplicatable, so that the next person who owns this can build on your own success and all your lessons, everything you've learned.

I love that.

Super critical.

Yeah, I love that. I think, yeah. Regardless of what the, the end game is, like, build those processes, I'm just gonna translate for everyone who's not from Canada. That means process. but basically, yeah. Niche. A what? but like, that's one of the things I'm like, people reach out to me like, dude, I want to. I want to sell my business. I'm like, why? And like, well, you did. I'm like, you don't know my story. I didn't even want to sell my business. Like, I basically was breaking up with my brother.

Right.

And if you want to sell a business, like, you have to go even bigger than what, like, I did. Like you. A one location business that has a small team is not going to have the same multiple that will. A multi location business that actually has more systems, processes. So I say build your business like you're going to sell it and then don't sell it. Enjoy the mailbox money. Enjoy the fruits of your labors. It took you so long to build it up to that.

Yeah.

The number one thing that you gotta understand is profitability is king

So, so we need some strategies for, for these, all these hundreds. What have we got now? Five. For all these hundreds of people that, that have come to realization that, hey, man, I might only ever get this thing to be like three employees and me, you know, some strategies. the number one. My number one thing that you gotta understand is profitability is king. It's the first line item. Every single action, every task, everything you do in that business has to be profitable. You cannot afford to be giving anything away or not realizing the cost of providing a good or service within a small business, because your opportunities, well, it's time. The limiting factor, which is the same everywhere, but it's amplified more when you're in a very tiny business. People, is time. We only. That's my number two thing. Time is your most important asset. If you're not being paid to do it, stop doing it immediately. You can build up to a point where you can be charitable and you can be giving and use your time differently because you've got to a point and you have a reputation and people know you that, that even when you're giving and even when you're using your time to benefit others, that it's being actually seen as a benefit. And it becomes a marketing type thing where people go, that's amazing. That company over there just donated a lighting system to this park so that, you know, the kids are safer in the evenings. But when you're, when you're getting going, you have to, you have to be profitable. That's the most important thing. No, all.

What did you do to, like, a lot of people, especially in those first, I'd say three years and maybe, up to five years, they don't understand what you just said. And they're like, they're willing to give deals, they're willing to do everything just to get revenue.

Yeah.

How did you, like, what are some tips you can give us there on, like, how to command that profitability, how to, how to be in your time.

Never, ever, ever discount.

That's so simple.

You can give it away and you can never get it back. Once you have lowered your price to your neighbor, that's your new price. So I never discounted. Your dentist doesn't discount. Your lawyer doesn't discount. Now your accountant doesn't offer you 20% off because he's a nice guy. so never discount. Just straight up charge a fair price and what you need to survive. And when people ask you for a favor on price or, James, this is our third year with you. we've got a great relationship. How about, we get 20% off this year on, you know, zone four or whatever you're doing, I would just be completely frank and say, look, I'm not here to gouge. I'm not here to take advantage of anyone. And I know exactly what I need to stay in business to run a solid business so that I'm here for you next year, that I'm not out of business. And if someone else can offer it to you at a discounted price, you may take that, but it might be a really foolhardy thing to do because they might not be around next year after a five month winter or whatever your market dictates. So never discount. That was.

Do wealthy people ask for discounts?

Sure they do. Yeah, absolutely. I've been asked by. I've been asked for discounts from everyone. From a lady who needed a $2,500 pathway done to a guy that ended up, you know, we, we did just over 15 acres of lighting for it. So, yeah, every, everyone. There's no rhyme or reason to that, you just have to be polite and have a. Have a rational reason why you don't give them.

I love that. I. It's such a hard lesson for people to learn. I ask everybody for a discount. Like, if you come to my house and try to sell something, I'm like, all right, cool. Well, you know, can you do it for this? And, like, I do it now kind of, to test their abilities, but I I actually respect them more when they. When they holded their guns. And I'm like, heck, yeah, this is my guy. He's like, you know, I'm like, this. This guy's awesome. So if they give me. If you give you too big of a discount, you're like, what? Like, we. So you were just gonna, like, overcharge me? Like, that doesn't even make sense.

Yeah, there's that, too. And then there's the other school of thought, which I never subscribed to, and I think part of it's just because I can't, because it's wrong, and that is. Well, James, just. Just don't tell anyone. Just mark up, get, your number, and then add 20%, and then go to your call. And then when they ask for a discount, you can offer them, you know, 10% off, and if they're happy with that, you just made an extra 10%, or if they have, you know, there's just no ethics in that. But, you know, I don't want to be treated like that by anyone who comes to my home. So the last thing I want to do is behave like that. That's. That's just bad business.

Yeah, well, it's interesting because I put myself in the perspective of the buyer, and I'm like, usually when I ask for a discount, it means because I want to go with them. Like, I'm not going to ask a disc for a discount if someone. If I'm not going to go with them. Like, I'm like, all right, send me the thing. We're done, right? So a lot of people think they're asking for a discount. I'm slow. I got to get work for tomorrow. I. Oh, man, I got to feed my family. I got to do this. And so they're willing to do it, but it's like, no, no, that's, like, one of the best things you can hear from someone is, hey, can you do it for this? that means they're ready to go. Just tell them no in a polite way, like you said, and sign them up. Let's go.

Everything.

By focusing on larger jobs, you're making more efficient use of your time

Another thing you got to do. when you're small, and I don't mean like sole operator small, like, my staff have fluctuated, but I've never had more than three staff straight up. So that's pretty small. You got to be efficient. it's sort of, it's. Yes, it's time management, but that's not the only efficiency. So by focusing on larger jobs, you're making a more efficient use of your time and therefore building more profitability in each job. It can take longer to sell the small job than it does to sell the big job. You can do more trips to site on a small thing, because at the end of the day, that client is probably on the outer edge of their ability to afford this. Whereas when you're focusing and doing, making the hard decisions, I got a great story to tell you. So when you're making the hard decisions, by focusing your small efforts on big projects, when you land them, you're using your time more efficiently. Instead of ten items on a purchase order, you got 110 items on a purchase order, you still got to type out the purchase order. Right. Instead of sending a wire transfer for $1,000 to pay a vendor, it's sending a wire transfer for $10,000. It's just, it's more efficient. So when I started my business in muskoka, I was driving a truck. I was a full time truck driver. And, I started integra with the idea that it would supplement my income. And, my wife was pregnant with our first child, and we had a mortgage. And I, had this good truck driving job. And I started integra. And, the phone would. And I was advertising on bulletin boards and stuff. This is almost pre Internet. we get these calls. I'd answer the call and someone said, hey, I'm looking for a lighting system for my back deck. And this comes down to qualifying and being efficient. And I say, oh, where's your home? And this is before Google earth, any of that. Oh, it's 123 Sesame street in town. And I say, okay, and what do you, oh, I want to put some lights on my deck. And, ah, I got a party coming up in a couple weeks. And, and my response would sort of be, well, you know, I'm super busy right now. I could probably get out there in a month or month and a half's time to take a look at it, if you're interested. And they'd be like, oh, no. I just said, we got a party and we want you to come out and I said, well, I'm sorry, I won't be able to help you, right? And I'd hang up, and my wife was like, what are you doing, man? We just opened a business. Someone wants what you do. And you literally told them no. And I said, I, how many? I remember saying this. How many $5,000 jobs would I have to do a year for us to make $50,000 profit? I'd literally have to do, like, 200 jobs. Right. You know, you'd have to work every single day. $5,000 job after $5,000 job. That is not an efficient use of my time. But how many $50,000 jobs do I have to do, you know, to make a good living? Oh, ten, you know, one a month type of thing. So from the very beginning, I focused on those larger jobs, and it didn't take very long before one came along. And as soon as you've done one, they had a party to it. They had a wedding, and their builder went to that wedding. And the Monday morning, the phone call came, and the builder had another job for me, and that builder turned into nine other jobs. And then if I'd accepted the $5,000 deck project, I would have been doing $5,000 decks all summer long. I accepted doing the $35,000, you know, cottage job, and I ended up with a backup of, you know, very large landscape lighting projects to do.

Yeah.

So be efficient on your marketing and what you want to do, only do you want to do.

I have a hard time imagining you as a truck driver. That's awesome. We need to see some photo evidence of this. That's cool.

I drove a school bus first.

That's awesome.

Big yellow school bus.

I'm going to put together some type of lighting event, and we're going to get a big bus, and we're going to see if we can hire you to drive us around.

The people who know me best will tell you the stories of busiers.

That's awesome. Well, you know, you're totally right. we've, we've been fishing a lot lately here in Utah. We've got some property right by this lake, and the fishing is phenomenal. And, we're trying to catch these bigger fish, and I've learned. Yeah. Like, bigger bait, bigger fish, you know? And, that's essentially what you're talking about here, is like, you know, if you're fishing for the. If you're. If you're doing $5,000 jobs, your referrals are most likely going to be a bunch of $5,000 jobs. 35,000, 50,000, whatever.

How did you break into landscape lighting with your first few projects

I'm curious how you. It makes sense how you laid it out. Like all sudden they see it and then the builder and then you can talk to them. But how, how do you get started in that? Especially when you feel like, who am I? I'm just some small company and no one knows who my brand is. And how did you, how did you break into your 1st, 1st handful of big projects like that?

The very first one came to me. Another awesome story, actually. I'll never forget this man. So, ah, he was, he was in a little village at the grocery store. He saw my piece of paper with, one of Al Marachuk's photos from Burlington, Ontario, my father in law. I borrowed a photo. I had no photos. And, he pulled the little piece of paper with my phone number. He called me on the phone, asked me to come out to his cottage. And, his name was Todd. And, so I went out to this guy's cottage. He's a young guy. He was one year older than me, so he was 31. He happened to be a director of, ah, an it company, back in those days. And, he just bought himself a $3.5 million cottage. And I meet him and I jump out of my beaten up old truck and he goes, so you're the lighting guy? I said, I am. Yes, I am. I said, how can I help you today? He goes, well, I got scotophobia. And I just looked at him. I'm like, what? He goes, it's a certifiable fear of the dark. So I need this entire property illuminated. And I mean, he goes, I don't want it bright. I know what landscape lighting is. I want this entire property litanous because, you know, I've scored a phobia. He goes, one other little thing. I'm getting married here. An outdoor wedding in, you know, three weeks time. I like. Wow, okay, well, I don't know if I can get it done in three weeks time. He goes, well, get me some numbers work. So I did a, I did a. Not a drawing. I did a proposal. Pen and ink. I didn't even have a computer man. Pen and ink. Stayed up all night type thing. Got back to him the next day. It was like a $26,000, proposal. And I'm tired. I've been up all night writing this thing up on graph paper. No kidding. and I, show up in the morning and we're walking through it. He goes, this all looks great, but what about behind the garage? I said, well, that's a septic bed. You're not going behind the garage. He goes, man, I literally told you I need everything lit from the gate to the dock. I said, all right, can you give me 20 more minutes? So I grab a pen, and I go back there, and a lot of down lighting, da da da. I, come back to him, and he goes, where are we now? I said, we're, like, 32 grand. And he's like, okay, all right, I'm fine with that. He goes, so, you have this in by my wedding? And I said, absolutely not. I can't do it. There's no way. He goes, what's the problem? I thought you were a lighting guy. I said, well, I actually drive a truck all day long, and, you know, this is my, my evening and weekend gig. And he says to me, he remember, he's a year older. He says, you know, you got to make a decision in life. Are you going to be a truck driver? Are you going to be a lighting guy? And I said, well, you know what, sir? This really probably easy for you to say that, standing where you are. But, you know, I got a mortgage. My wife's pregnant, first kid, and this truck driving jobs, you know, they pay me pretty well and with benefits and all the rest of it. And he said to me, you know how much they pay you to drive that truck? And I used to not tell people, but I don't. So long ago, I don't care anymore. And I said, well, they pay me 35 grand a year. He pulls out a checkbook. He writes a $60,000 check. He says, there's 30 grand to drive the truck, and there's 30 grand to do my lights. He goes, if you cash it by 09:00 a.m. i assume you've quit your job. And that was how I got my first big job.

Holy cow, dude. That's epic. Did you, like. I mean, did you quit the job?

I did. I went home, obviously. I said, I can't decide this. I have to talk to my wife. He goes, you go talk to your wife.

I had a job for a year while I starting my lighting company

But I need to know by 09:00 a.m. I gotta find someone else. So I go. I go home talking to Kate, and she's just like, wow. Like what? I don't know what to tell you. Like, you, it's a decision you need to make. And. And then, just then Jerry Maguire, the movie, comes on tv. I'm sitting there watching Jerry Maguire, you know, show me the money.

Show me the money.

And by the end of the movie, I'm crying. And I look at Tate, and I said, I'm gonna quit my job tomorrow. So I go into the job at 08:00 a.m. and I didn't have time to give him two weeks notice or anything. I probably should have, you know, I regret that, but I did what I had to do. Quit the job, handed in the uniform, was out of there by 09:00 a.m. called up my, my vendor, my, my, wholesale company. I'll get to that in a bit. There's a cue in there for staying small and being loyal. and I called them up and put in a per. Called him. I cashed the check, I put in the purchase order, and I had the system done on the Thursday before the wedding.

Oh, my gosh, dude. So you. He gave you Runway. He gave you the ability to make the decision like an angel. Yeah. That truly is because most people in that situation, they stay there for so long. I I think. I don't know why I was fortunate. I was. Only did that for a year. I had a job for a year while I starting my lighting company, and then pulled the trigger. But I think, you know, I don't know. There's. There's no right answer for everyone. I'm sure you look back and are eternally grateful to. Was it Todd?

Yeah.

Shout out to Todd for, like, that's freaking awesome, man. That's so cool. I think I want to do that for somebody. I'm going to. When someone comes to do something for me, and we. I'm going to. I'm going to do that for them one day. That just gave me an idea.

It's sort of like. It's sort of like paying it forward in the best way possible, you know, without that guy, I wouldn't be sitting here right now. And that's. But that's not just bad. And people go, oh, you're so lucky. Oh, you've got all this. All this bestowed upon you. I take it back to being open minded, and I really, really believe in serendipity, which is a really hard concept for a lot of people to grasp. I think if you walk around with negative thoughts and negative ideas, and I feeling downtrodden a lot, that that gets ouch. You know, you sort of surround yourself with an aura of negativity. People see it. I've had periods in my life where I was really unhappy, and my close rate would dive. Like, it just, people don't like to be around that. When you're open minded and you can see opportunities and you're excited by them and you take them, it breeds this incredible positivity around you, and, and that's when more starts falling, you know, and serendipity is wonderful. We've been blessed by it by at least three, if not four times in our life. We're just a moment where things are falling into place, you know?

I love it. Yeah. I mean, the whole luck thing, I've never met someone that's that lucky that isn't also, coincidentally, a hard worker that believes in, you know, positive mindset and opportunity and preparation and all those things. It's like, okay, whatever your definition is, so, That's awesome, man. That's so cool. There's so many people that struggle.

I don't know, like, I feel like. So take me, for example. These last few years, since I started doing this, they're the people who have been in the industry a long time, tend to go, what the heck? Who's it? This guy's bringing in these people into the industry. He's bringing truck drivers in. Like, how, how does someone determine whether it's good or not to enter the lighting industry? I mean, you were a truck driver, you know what I mean? Like, and now you're like this very established, highly respected lighting designer who's got amazing projects under his belt. Like, I just think it's awesome. So how does someone know when they're coming into it? They hear about landscape lighting. Like, how do they know if they should take it serious if they're meant to be, be a lighting designer the rest of their life?

so I got some words to say on this for sure, and it does. It's not just lighting. I used to, I had an opportunity for a number of years to coach 15, year old high school students in a career paths course at their high schools. It was a really cool opportunity, and so I had to come up with a. And I did it for a number of years. So I talked to hundreds of kids about, you know, career paths and entrepreneurism and all these concepts, and I distilled it down to do what you love to do.

If you're passionate about lighting, success will follow you

So how do you know whether you're going to be a great lighting person, have a successful business, and be able to last the, go through time and enjoy it? Do you love it? Do you love it? I think if you're passionate about it, a lot of the other, all the other people can go away if you're passionate about it. I don't care where you come from or what you do. And how does that passion display? Willingness to learn, a willingness to listen, a willingness to let us old guys who've been doing this for 30 years help you not make the same mistakes that we all made. We didn't have these forums and the Internet and groups and associations and design programs offered by manufacturers, and we're passionate. There wasn't a lot of passion in the room, man. So if you're passionate about it, I don't care if you're a plumber, a roofer, a truck driver, a lighting person, doesn't matter. That's, that's the key. Love what you do, and success will follow you. Yeah, I love that people love to hire passionate people. I've had, I can't tell you how many times I've had a proposal out, and the clients had a couple other bids, because that's what they do. That's fine. And they're like, you know what? You were, like, 35% higher than the other guy in price. But we've decided, you know, we wouldn't, we were, we don't want anyone else to do this job. And I'd be like, well, why is that? For one thing, we've never talked to anyone who's as passionate about this as you are. It's, you know, clearly, all you talk about, like, your heart is in this, and you, and we can tell that you are just, you're going to do the best possible job you can do. And so we think that's worth it.

That's awesome. It's that passion truly is contagious. Like, they, they, you can say all the right things and not be passionate about it, and it's going to come across completely different. And when you're just speaking from passion, people have no choice but to go with you, though. They'll find a way to pay that 35%, 50%, whatever it is, like, they'll find a way to go with you for sure.

And there's nothing wrong with, you know, this. And, it's no secret, it's nothing I invented, but people say all the time, well, man, how do you have the balls to. Pardon me. How do you have the, nerve to present some of these proposals? I presented some crazy proposals, and immediately, rather than put up with any kickback, which is say, look, you tell me what's most important to you, and let's do it to the best of our ability and then, zoning, that's what it comes down to. Break that proposal down. Go in with that proposal zoned as knowing that you're going to get pushback on it. Knowing immediately. So even if it's a suburban front yard, even if it's a $12,000 proposal, go in with it zoned in three mini zones so that if you get hit with the pushback on that client, you can say no problem at all. You know what, I get it. You had only thought you were going to spend five grand on this, and I'm blowing your mind at twelve. Why don't we just spend the five? But let's spend the five really, really well and you'll get them immediately. And more often than not, as soon as the five is spent and put in the ground, they're going to call you. Two nights later, they're going to call you back. You know what? We want you to finish this job. It's amazing. We love it so much, you know, and you didn't do anything wrong. We didn't rip anyone off. you did a great job. and you're rewarded for it.

But in loyalty, I like that. I know a lot of, the lot of people struggle. They'll try to take that budget and spread it out. And then the clients disappointed, going, well, this doesn't look like the pictures you showed me. You know, this doesn't look like your website, your magazine cover stuff like, well, yeah, because you were cheap. And it's like now they're blaming the client and it's like, no, no, no.

Yeah, I always, you can sort of tell, you know, after, well, after this long, you can sort of tell when you've got someone in your first presentation and they're, they're sort of going, whoa, this is gonna be expensive. So I always tell people, look, I'm gonna break this down into achievable zones based on geography or features or whatever. and one thing I asked, we can play around with what zones you want to do, but one thing I won't do is, we don't play around with the zones. Like, nobody ever told Monet how to, how many brush strokes to put on a painting. So I don't mind you not doing a zone or two, but let's not muck with the zones. Right? Don't start telling the lighting designer how many fixtures it's going to take to light a blue spruce. Right. and if you're upfront about it like that, people will take you more seriously on your bid, too. If you put it. I found if you put things in terms of art and get it out of the realm of contracting and put this whole business into the realm of art, it translates easier to the clients because, well, my clients, a lot of my clients are used to buying art and arts. Not priced like decks are priced, let's face it.

Right?

So we're doing art, you know, price it as such.

Yeah. Well, that's cool. It gets them out of that mindset of, like, that. Now they're not in the home improvement category.

Yeah, exactly.

If they're in that category, it's like, yeah, it's probably going to be under 20 grand. You go to art, it's priceless.

You don't know what it's going to be until the artist tells you. Right.

That's cool. I like that. No one ever told Monet how many brushstrokes to use. I like that.

What are some other advantages of staying small? Advantages

What are some other advantages of staying small?

Advantages? Well, being CEO is great, especially when you got no one under you to, you know, push back.

But aren't you the worst boss ever to yourself?

No, I'm really. I've learned to be a great boss to myself. I really have, lately enjoying things now.

I think. You have. I mean, I have only known you for, like, maybe five years, and I feel like you are a good boss to yourself. But, like, early on, were you, were you that good or did you torture yourself?

I worked my ass off. It was. It was tough. It was. I'm not, I'm not gonna lie. It was hundred hour weeks. For real. Like, week in, week out, April to November, 100 hours weeks. That's 16 hours a day, seven days a week, for people who are a little slow on the math, was a grind, but, it wasn't that way forever. And then I finally hired my first employee, and so now we'll talk about that. Absolutely. Hire people. You can't do this alone, so hire great people. I've learned the hard way, piecework and subcontracting when you're small don't work. And why? Because the people willing to do that work are too entrepreneurial, and you're just going to be teaching your company competition how to be small and successful. So either. Either the person willing to do piecework or subcontracted installations is too entrepreneurial, or they're so non entrepreneurial that they can't manage their money without a salary. Those are the two realms I found. So subcontracted. The stuff you hate to do, bookkeeping, you might not be big enough to have a bookkeeper on staff, but you can certainly go to fiverr and find a freelance bookkeeper who will put in the 3 hours a week your little company needs to keep the books. as you grow and you incorporate. Absolutely. You're going to get accountants. You have to, m marketing. I did it all for way too long. Get that out to a great social, ah, media, you know, like a website social, consultant, to handle for you. I waited way too long to do that, and when I did it, it was such a relief of hours. I wasn't efficient at it. I wasn't very good at it. And it doesn't cost a ton of money to farm it out. So get rid of those, those admin tasks that you don't actually like doing, but, get them contracted out. Don't, don't, you don't have to, you don't have to grow big enough to support the salaries of in house people.

So that's, and those, those are categories that tie into that opportunity cost, bookkeeping, marketing. Like, when you try to do it yourself, it's costing you more than the money it would cost you to hire someone else, because that's not the thing that lights you up. Like, the thing that lights you up is going and doing designs and meeting with people and selling jobs and installing jobs and changing people's lives. So people just screw that up. The expense versus investment. They're like, oh, I don't, I can't afford that, James. I can't afford to hire a marketing company. I can't afford to hire these people. In reality, they can't afford not to.

Yeah. I had a great friend of mine, Paul, told me years ago, also an entrepreneur, arguably way more successful than me. And he's like, james, if you're doing the job that you'd pay someone $20 an hour to do, you're earning $20 an hour straight up.

Yeah.

So, don't be afraid of hiring people. That's how you're going to become more profitable. scheduling, you got to schedule like a demon. And you don't let anyone mock with the schedule. That's what I did. My schedule was the guidebook to the week, and I would schedule to the half hour. and then once you get practiced at keeping a schedule, a one great thing, you're never late, because you're just, you're addicted to the schedule. So you're not, you're not late. You're not showing up 20 minutes late for a sales presentation or a proposal delivery. You're not wasting your clients time. and then when things come up, you've already prioritized your time into profitable segments so you don't get distracted by the little things that come up. You need to push it down and make a hard decision whether you're going to do it at all or not. So scheduling is super key.

How often do you stick to your schedule? Let's say you've got your weeks, your two weeks planned out. Someone calls James, I got to meet with you. This is going to be a huge project. I need you there Thursday, 03:00 but you've got something with your wife scheduled. Maybe you've got another meeting with, a marketing company. Like, how do you prioritize your schedule?

It all depends on your stage. So back in the early days, if it was a conflict with a social thing, I would bump the social thing for the business thing. The key was to grow the business, make the business a success. Ask my clients. I'll say the number one thing that set me out of all the rest was the service. The attention of service, getting there within 24 hours, you know, being on time, that was all key. Now, later in life, I've seen enough come and go, and I also now, greater than ever, appreciate my time and, put a value on it, know how important it is to my health and my well being to take my time and that it does have value that I, you know, I'll take each one as it comes, but I really scheduled tightly and, and I don't let things get in the way of that. I don't go two weeks out. It's usually a week.

Yeah, yeah, I've seen. I've found that for myself, too, is I value my time a lot more as I get older. I used to just do whatever. I mean, if you asked for it, I'd be there, I'd make it happen. And, I just move things around. But it adds so much chaos, anxiety, and stress to your life. You can't operate at a peak level. When you, when you learn to value your time and hold it, you'll find that people also respect that, and they value your status and your, your authority. So it's like, I can't do that, but I can do next Tuesday or Thursday. Oh, yeah, let's do that.

You don't have to meet their demands all the time

And again, it kind of goes back to like, can you give us a deal? And you feel like you have to give them a deal. You don't have to meet their demands all the time. First, there's situations where it's like, no literally, they're leaving the country for two months. This is your chance. Okay, I, might, might change it, but a lot of times you'll be surprised when you just push back like, I can't do it. There's no way I can do that. But I can do next week. Oh. Or sometimes they don't know that you're willing to meet at night and you're like, well, now there's no way I can do that. But I can meet you at seven at night. Oh, you work at night?

Okay.

I work at night. I'm a lighting person. Like, what are you talking about? And they're like, oh, that's awesome. And then both decision makers are there. Whatever. I mean, a lot of times there's advantages by just holding your time, so that's cool.

Another, another thing to do is finding your niche, or niche

Another, another thing to do is along this same topic, really, it's finding your niche, or niche, as you guys would say. what I mean by that, you're already a small operator, so don't try to be everything and do everything for everybody. Find a segment in this incredibly big, diverse business that you're passionate about so that your passion comes through for that. I tried holiday lighting for one, one fall. I didn't. I did a great, oh, man. I did this one project. It was that I rented a zoom boom before anyone was renting zoom booms. I lit this place. It was magnificent. Why? I never did it again. I absolutely grated on my soul to take it down. It was like this creation and it was a fortune. It was a small fortune fortune for the client. And then he's like, you know, christmas was over and I get the call, hey, when are you taking all this stuff down? And I'm like, oh, I don't know. I was thinking April. And he's like, I'm thinking January 3, like, when are you going to be here? And I did. I hated taking it down. And like, deep down I hated it. Not the work, just the whole notion of creating something and then having to remove it. So I realized that that's not for me. So focus on your niche. You'll find your niche, what you love to do most, and do that. I dabbled in product. I invented, one of, if not the first line of led lamps for the landscape lighting industry. And, invented the first IC driver for miniature led lamps. I got into product pretty big. I had contracted factories and I electrical engineers, and I was running this whole thing on the side of everything else. At the end, I sold it because I came to the realization that I don't inventing products fun, but selling product, it's not for me. For me, it was boring, right? It wasn't anything. I was passionate about the operating of a, product business. So I'm happy to design stuff for people. That stuff's fun. But I don't like doing product. So find it. Find your thing in this industry and stick to it. If you're gonna be small, you only have a limited amount of resources.

Yeah, I like that. Ah, well, it's like they think it's called shiny object syndrome. So, you know, now it's like it was holiday lighting, now it's like permanent lighting. And then it's that, you know, the color change stuff. And then outdoor audio is getting bigger, which I'm not saying don't do, but like, a lot of people are using the new thing as an excuse not to succeed in their main thing, right. It's like instead of hitting their revenue there, whatever their goals are for their business, they're like, oh, instead of like trying to figure this thing out, I'm going to take the easy path over here and ride this wave. And then they, they never find, it's like a, guy told me the quote, they're going to just live their ten year experience. Every year is going to be the same. Every ten year for ten years in a row. Instead of like really doing the hard thing, like, figure out your process, figure out what you're good at, figure out what your passion is, do that thing really well. And then if you've, if you're an expert at that and you've got your process down. Sure. Like bolt on audio, bolt on this, whatever you really want to do. But I just see people really distracted doing lots of little things and not doing one thing well.

Great idea for anyone with a small business, get a volunteer board of advisors

So here's one that's going to probably raise some eyebrows. So a long time. So one thing I did, great idea for anyone with a small business, get a volunteer board of advisors. And it's sort of like a board of directors. You can't call them that because there's legal issues, but volunteer board of advisors, I had one for ten years. It was five of my best clients. These were all captains of industry in their own right. I had the, I was given the idea at a business forum. I was sitting on a panel in front of a high school class and this business consultant beside me like a coach. Basically. The last question on the panel was, give us one piece of advice that all small business owners should do. I'm sitting on the panel trying to think of what should I tell these kids? And this guy, Jim Stewart next to me says to me, everyone should have a volunteer board of advisors. Or he called it a board of directors. That's a really good idea. So I wrote it down, my notebook, and then the next week, I'm like, well, how do I do that? So I called up one of my clients. I said, hey, peter, would you mind being on a, a board of directors for me? He goes, well, I can't do that, but I could be an advisor. I'd be happy to help you. Awesome. He goes, who else are you going to call? Oh, yeah, call this guy. Call this guy. Within a week, I asked five people. I got five yeses. So for ten years, we would meet. I would borrow a boardroom in Toronto. I'd limo the guys in. I wasn't playing around. I didn't want to waste their time. Two weeks before the meeting, I'd send them my agenda. It was typically a three hour meeting at a boardroom, and it took me a few years to open the books up. But, for the first few years, it was all marketing and sales and product ideas and all this stuff, and they coached me.

That's awesome.

It was life changing.

How often were you meeting with them? This three hour meeting?

Once a year.

Just once a year? Okay.

Like serious captains of industry type accounting, land development. one, was, not a hedge fund, venture capitalist, really smart people. So, that taught me how to be open and listen, because the year I opened my books to them, that was crazy, because I'm opening my books to my clients, right?

That's nerve wracking.

Yeah, it was nerve wracking. And one of them took exceptions. He had no idea how small I was, and he was like, oh, my God, if I'd known how little you were, I wouldn't have wasted my time. This is ridiculous. He got up and walked out, and, I was offended, and I was shocked. And then one of the other advisors went and got him and called him back in. He calmed down, many. Then he went through things and he taught me, you'll love this, Ryan. He's like, all right, tomorrow he goes, if you don't do this, I will never meet with you again. He goes, tomorrow you're going and raising your prices by 25%. Tomorrow. Everything. Labor, materials, everything. You're raising your prices tomorrow. I'm like, I can't. I'm already at the top of the market. I can't. I'm like, nobody's gonna buy. My close rate went up. That's all there was to it. As soon as I did that, he changed it. Changed my life.

That's so cool. That's amazing.

Referrals are everything when you're small. Referrals have always been. Everyone should do this

So I, It's actually just so genius. Like, I remember meeting clients, and I. I did not do what you're talking about, but I would always ask them tons of questions, and I call them and I'd meet with them and, like, I would just, like, they were. They were so successful. Like, why would I. Why would I not try to get help? But what was cool is they. They thought I was cool. Like, they're. They were, like, envious that, like, dude, this is so cool. You get to go and, like, pick the brain of all these successful people and, like, you guys do the coolest job and you're outdoors, they're, like, envious.

Everyone should do this. Everyone listening, everyone who's going to watch this tomorrow or next week, go get yourself a volunteer, volunteer board of advisors and pick them from your clients. People you respect, big businesses. I guarantee you, unless they're completely not a nice person, they're going to agree to it. Just don't waste their time, you know?

Yeah, I like that you're organized and you have an agenda and all that stuff. You can't just show up and, like, all right, sit in this room. But, I don't know, did you get. I imagine you probably got referrals from them, too, right?

yeah, absolutely. Referrals have always been. That's. Yet, you know, when it comes to marketing and being small, you know, you're not. You're not mercedes, you're not taking up tv ads, you're not putting billboards up in the communities, and even the cost of, like, a major dork. I never did door hangers because I've never lived in an urban market. But, I listen to some of these guys and the costs of their marketing efforts, I'm like, wow, that's insane. another thing that I would encourage every small business to do is read. it's old now, but read it anyway. Seth Godin's purple cow teaches you how to be remarkable. when you learn how to be remarkable, what that means is literal. It means people will talk about you and you. When you get your clients talking about you, you can stop advertising and you can invest the money necessary into your job to make your client tell everyone they know about you. And there's your marketing for the year. Referrals are everything when you're small.

Love it.

For the listeners today on staying, uh, small, winning bigly

Well, as we kind of land the plane here, anything else that you want to leave? For the listeners today on staying, small, winning bigly.

Nope, I think I covered it all. Look at that.

That's awesome. Well, it's cool, man. You know, it's kind of interesting because in a weird way, we actually are, like, talking about the same thing. Like, a lot of the stuff you talked about, I was expecting it to be maybe a little bit different messaging, maybe. I don't know. I don't know what I was expecting, but, and maybe I don't know what a small business is. You know, I'm like, under. As long as you're under 500 employees by the IR's, you're a small business. But, you know, I think for me, like, the shared message that we have is around profitability. It's around building a team. It's, it's, it's building those processes. And the goal, I believe, of every entrepreneur should be about freedom. You know, if not, then why do this, you know, unless you're just so passionate that you like working hundred hour weeks your entire life. and besides, you might not be able to do that. What if you get sick? What if you get hurt? What if you want to go on vacation, you know? So that's the goal.

You have to, as you mature into your business. You know, my business looks nothing like it did ten years ago. Nothing. We could. Way smarter.

Oh, yeah. Well, that's, that's where, you know, hopefully people out there listening are not doing the same business every single year for ten years to get ten years experience, and they're actually making changes, making moves, and it's, it's not easy. Gosh, it's so hard. It's so hard. Especially when you hire someone and they don't work out the first time.

You know, one other really quick tip. It's really important. At least it helped me, find as few vendors as you can. Find one great distributor, if you will. I know there's a lot of companies going direct and all that. That's fine. They're good, too. But my point here is loyalty. When you build, when you're loyal to your vendors, they're going to go the extra step for you over the course of a long term, and it's going to help you be profitable in your small operation. So I've been blessed. Well, I've given a lot of loyalty in this path to manufacturers and vendors, and it's reciprocated. You know, they really help. They come to the they help you out when you need help. I've had in Ontario, you know, my distributor that I used the whole time I was there. By the end there, man, they were jumping through hoops just. And not to keep me happy just because we were friends now, you know, and they were helping. So, it's really important in the lighting industry, we have so many inputs and possibilities. Narrow it down. At the end of the day, you need what, five fixtures to do. Most jobs get loyal.

That's well said. How do you do that? Because in my experience, it was the same thing. We started off really awesome. Distributor, their local became friends. They bend over backwards for us, you know, then we started buying direct from garden light. They were also a loyal relationship, just not, not right there. They can't do what a local, you know, distributor can do. And so we actually had both and we had loyalty with both. And then it's hard because like, you got new manufacturers, you got new products and like, how does someone determine like how, how do they stick with what they know and keep these limited products or do they want to shoot for the stars and be lighting designer of the year and use 50 to 56 different styles of spotlights on a project?

Like, yeah, Bill Lachlan taught me a long time ago, man, that the fixture is just the toolbox that holds the tool, the lamp is the tool, the fixtures, the toolbox, the art comes out. The yard is in our hands. Right? So, you know, for an uplight's an uplight's an uplight. As long as you're buying quality stuff, you want to make more money in this business, buy better quality stuff. But that loyalty is super important. And when you're small, the last thing you want is 50 skus on your truck because two years from now, something's going to break and you're not going to moved on. And it's just a nightmare. Loyalty is a good thing to keep, stay small and profitable.

Love it, love it. Well said, man. Well, thanks so much for coming on here. I really appreciate it. Great, conversation and, let's keep it going, man. of course you're active in the Facebook groups. I'm active there too. So, just, yeah, thanks for coming on here, guys. And if you guys didn't learn something, then that's on you. So go back, listen to it again, take some notes, lots of good things. And I just thought it was kind of ironic. I was like, wait a minute, like we're, we're speaking a lot of the same language. Here. So I think, it, a.

Lot of the afraid of me, right?

I was like, why are we doing this? Why are we telling people to stay small? But I think, honestly, a lot of the principles are true. Like, regardless of whether you're going to stay small and whatever your version of small is, like, the principles remain true. So great conversation. I appreciate you, James, thank you very.

Much for having me on. It's been. It's been fun.

Okay. Awesome. All right, guys, everyone have an awesome week. We'll check in next week

Okay. Awesome. All right, guys, everyone have an awesome week. We'll check in next week. And, don't forget, keep moving forward.


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Ryan Lee

Ryan Lee has started and grew a multi-million dollar landscape lighting company in Fort Worth, TX. In 2019 he sold his lighting business and founded the world's only coaching program dedicated to helping other grow their landscape lighting business. He is an expert at helping lighting contractors double their profits by helping them increase their number of qualified leads, close more deals, and increase their price. If you're interested in growing your landscape lighting business or want help adding a lighting division to your business, then reach out and request a free strategy session today.

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