The most essential element of a business isn’t revenue or investors or employees or even customers. The most essential element of a business is trust.
At least that’s what I realize looking back at the last decade of building my business. When I started hauling junk in 2011, it was just my wife, Tracy, and me. She handled the back office and I would go sit in my truck in a Home Depot parking lot trying to find the next job. Now, JDog Junk Removal Hauling has nearly 200 active franchises serving over 40 million Americans.
The way we got there was trust: Trust between us and our customers. Trust among our employees. And our trust in a set of principles that have allowed franchises to sprout up across the country.
Every entrepreneur has an endless stream of opportunities and decisions to focus their attention on. But at least in my experience, the most important is always building levels of trust.
Trust level 1: Getting off the ground.
In the early days, my entire business strategy was basically, “I’m your neighbor and our kids go to school together, so you can trust me when I enter your house to haul off your junk.” But that’s just surface-level. The deeper level of trust comes when you consider the reason behind the interaction — in my case, why people are getting rid of stuff in the first place.
Maybe their parent died, and they need to clean out the house before they sell it. Maybe someone is moving into assisted living and needs to shed some of their belongings.
Showing up on time with a positive attitude and treating everyone with respect might seem like basics, but in an emotionally charged situation, they mean so much more.
No matter what business you’re in, trust should be at the core of every customer interaction. Customers trust that your products or services will solve their problem. Break that trust and you’re done. Deliver on all your promises, own and fix your mistakes, and you can win customers for life.
I quickly built credibility with those first customers by showing up on time, treating everyone — and everything — with respect, and being a trustworthy neighbor. Because I built trust with customers, referrals came easy.
Trust level 2: Building a team.
Soon I had more business than I could handle. It was time to hire additional help, so I immediately sought out veterans.
It took me a while to realize it, but part of the reason customers trusted me so much was because I’m an Army veteran. The military instills certain values, which I strive to live by, including service to others.
In looking to scale, I started hiring other like-minded veterans to help with a growing workload. I’d hire vets through the VA as a sponsor of their work release program. By hiring veterans, we were not only doing something good for the community, but finding people who embodied the ideals of respect, integrity and trust that we built the business on.
Best of all, there was an inherent trust among team members. They had all learned to rely on each other in the service, and those shared experiences meant trust was there from the start.
It was certainly an advantage in building trust with customers, but you don’t have to be a veteran or hire one to gain that level of trust. What’s most important is that you hire people who live and work by the same principles you do. They need to be people you trust to do the job, and you need to be someone they trust as their boss.
Any new employee has a transition period as they adjust to a new environment and new coworkers. But by hiring around principles and around culture, you can accelerate the process. The groundwork of building trust is already there.
Trust level 3: Giving others the reins.
Once the business was established, we realized we could multiply the success and hire more veterans with a franchise system that would allow veterans and their family members across the country to build their own businesses using our model.
At a certain point, for your business to grow, you have to relinquish some control. One person in a truck can only do so much. Giving others the opportunity to use the trust and reputation we had developed requires its own amount of trust.
That time comes for every successful business, whether you’re pursuing a franchising strategy like us or simply scaling operations to offices in other cities or countries, or even expanding your services or taking on more business.
If you really want your business to thrive, you have to delegate, and that takes trust. But if you’ve been building a business based on trust from the start, there should be no question that your team is up to the task. Trust between your company and your customer and trust among your employees culminates in a trust around your shared principles.
Trust manifests in many ways.
It’s easy for me to tell you that trust should be at the core of your business, but actually embedding that in your culture — especially if you’re well established — can be incredibly difficult. Trust can be broken in a moment, but takes years to build. It accumulates with every action.
However, trust can be demonstrated in little ways. It’s showing up on time. It’s addressing people with respect as sir or ma’am. It’s cleaning up after yourself. It’s holding your employees accountable for living up to the standards you promise. It’s thanking customers for their business, their references, their reviews. It’s working to rectify bad reviews and underlying issues when they arise.
It’s little things that are too often overlooked in the hustle and bustle of business but that speak to your character. It’s not out of reach for any other business, but it requires a conscious commitment from the top down.
Ultimately, it’s worth it. Principles are at the core of every great company. Especially as a business grows, it needs a guide, something that every employee can embody, and chief among them is trust.