No-one starts a new business and ever gets away without making mistakes. Hopefully none are too costly, but all can teach you lessons. Here are some lessons I've learnt along the way.
Never leave home without all your tools- On my very first job I had to travel an hour to the customers house. The weather was going to be very hot and so I'd started early. I washed the car, got all the preparatory work done before starting polishing, and then found I'd left the polisher at home!! The two hour round trip to go home collect it and come back, meant it turned into a long day, and had me working unnecessarily longer in the sun that I'd started work early to avoid. Lesson learnt!
Drink, eat and take occasional breaks- Sounds simple, but my modus operandi is to work and not stop, rarely even for toilet breaks. The problem with this is that unless you drink plenty of water and eat a sandwich or two, you get dehydrated, and on a long job start to flag towards the end. Luckily most customers offer coffee or tea during the day, although the odd one or two don't, which is disappointing over an 8 hour day, so now I take plenty of water, the wife packs a lunch box, and I take the occasional break to recharge the batteries.
Make sure the customer agrees the price beforehand - I've only been caught with this problem once. Normally the customer signs that they agree the devis/price and gets a signed copy. This means there can be no dispute later on. On this occasion I forgot to get a signature as the owner was moving house and was otherwise preoccupied. When I came to collect payment at the end of a very long day she argued that the price I gave her was not what I was now asking for. In the end she paid, but I've not made that mistake again!
Manage expectations and over deliver- I always ask a customer before booking any work what they use their car for, and how they intend to maintain its condition. If I find problems with a vehicle when I see it, I discuss the issues and tell them what I can and cannot realistically do to address them, whether it be stained seats or scratched paintwork. Generally I ALWAYS add in something extra over and above what the customer has paid for. Whether that be an extra polishing pass to try and remove swirls, some form of additional coating, or just extra time spent on something, I try and overdeliver, as that way I'm happy I've done my best and the customer gets greater value from the work.
Check car battery condition- Leaving car doors open for long periods of time can drain car batteries. Even though lights may not be on there may be a drain, and the customer not being able to start their car at the end of the day can be stressful.
Animal hair- This is the bane of my life and genuinely adds a lot of time to a job. When I first started I didn't charge extra for hair removal, but changed my policy after trying to remove dog hairs from a Range Rover Vogue boot took an hour, plus another 20 minutes on the parcel shelf. Eventually the hoover hoover expired and I determined never again, so now I charge extra, sorry!
Declining work- I decided that I probably wouldn't work on motorhomes again after a Transit camper conversion took me 19 hours to complete. Issues of height and polishing were a nightmare, so when another potential customer came back wanting to confirm an earlier enquiry for his 23 foot van to be cleaned, I politely declined. I've yet to decline working on "normal" vehicles, but a couple have been borderline, and I think if such vehicles surface in future I'll amend my pricing accordingly to reflect the extra time and effort required.
Leaning when to stop- When I've spent 8 hours working on a car, hopefully it's being left in as good a condition as it can be. The problem though, is that when a vehicle is transformed from its previously less good state into near perfect, then every little bit that's been missed stands out like a searchlight on a dark night. If I walk around after I've finished I'll find tiny things a customer would never see, and I can't help but go back and fix them. Learning to walk away is a skill. I'm sure my 95% satisfaction rating for my own work is probably way over 100% in the customers view, so I forcefully have to stop myself and go home!