Professional Pest Controller Magazine Issue 110

21 February 2023

The good, the bad and the ugly: my first year as a pest controller

PPC110 | Your Association

Jonathan Ely is the Director of Three Counties Pest Control, based in Devon, England. Jon set up Three Counties and joined BPCA membership in 2021.

Here he talks about his experiences as a new pest control business owner and why being a BPCA member is important to him.

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"Well, what do I know about anything?” is the nagging question running through my mind at the outset of writing. Why would anyone want to read this?

To counter this negativity, I am thinking that every industry and sector needs new blood. Maybe there is someone considering a pest control career or a newbie like me that reads this and finds it helpful in some way.

If so, I hope it encourages them to push on through those early challenges. 

Perhaps the person reading has been immersed in pest control long-term and can empathise with the newcomer “in the often difficult world of pest control”.

Even if no one else reads this, categorising my first year’s memorable experiences is a really good exercise in perspective. I already know that the good outweighs the bad. And the ugly…?

What were the highlights?

THE GOOD

the good

Location

I live just near the convergence of Somerset, Devon and Dorset and had the idea that the business name should give strong locality clues to any potential customers.

Finding a suitable business name and website URL was a big deal: I had to get it right and get the business off to a good start.

I was lucky enough to be able to consult with some friends who work in website development and SEO. Their advice gave me the confidence to go ahead and secure the company name and web address. 

I definitely recommend running ideas past different knowledgeable professionals if possible. Do some opinion testing with friends – “if I called my business ‘The Animal Killer’, would that make sense or put you off contacting me?”.

Later on, I realised that there were some other pest control companies using the ‘Three Counties’ moniker, but they were in another part of the country. Phew  got away with that one!

Google is definitely helpful for businesses when it comes to providing local populations with trades on their doorstep.

Before I started, I realised that providing a service that could help local communities was what I envisioned for my new company. 

Within my first few weeks and with appointments still quite sporadic, I followed a lead from one of those relentless lead generation companies.

The job was about a two-hour round trip, and I had to visit a number of times. So I learned the lesson very early on that a few miles’ radius is the optimal use of time and fuel, and working hard on Google has placed my service in a well-defined area.

BPCA membership

There is no paid promotion here. People have asked why I chose to get into pest control, but it was a simple recommendation from my brother-in-law.

He had been doing it for a number of years, was enjoying the work, the challenge and made a decent living. Crucially, he was a BPCA member, and from the beginning of my journey I had in mind to become a member.

The fees might seem offputting especially when initial income is low, but I am glad I joined for a number of reasons:

■ You cannot just pay the fees and be a member. The criteria for membership that make you a professional are well worth facing up to early on in the life of the business. I wanted to be known as a professional, and the support provided was crucial, especially working alone.

■ Going back to that “what do I know about anything?” feeling, I found all the content for continuous professional development to be vital in my progress and understanding. All the videos, webinars, and articles have been invalable, and the more I understand and learn, the more I feel I am adding value to the service.

■ I recently came across a word in an article about the climate crisis that I had never seen before but is obvious in its meaning. Solutionist: someone who provides solutions, a problem solver. I could never have foreseen that pest control could be so problematic, and I have had some real moments of anxiety in just not knowing how to deal with a situation.

■ The technical team at BPCA have helped me many times, and they enjoy being involved. They’re always happy to take a phone call or reply to an email. Often, they have an angle that I do know, but am unsure of its application in a given situation or they have ideas I’ve never heard before.

BPCA has played a vital role in getting me through the first year. Definitely one for the good category!

80/20 Rule

I’d read about the 80/20 rule, or Pareto principle, years ago, and it really helped me to counteract those times of feeling overwhelmed with it all.

The rule or principle is that 80% of outcomes result from 20% of inputs. It can be used in business settings or in life generally, where prioritisation and focus are beneficial.

How did this help me in practice? Before I qualified and went on to establish a business, I knew that 80% or more of my work as a pest controller would be two things: rodents and wasps.

The business was starting in autumn, so I had seven or eight months where I didn’t even need to think about wasps or spend any precious budget on all the gear.

There was one exception as I had purchased a really decent pest control suit, and that enabled me to train with my brother-in-law, but it meant that I could concentrate on the majority of work I was going to do – rodents. 

It took the pressure off and enabled me to have the head space to gradually add to my knowledge and equipment base rather than be overcome by the idea that I need to know everything immediately and cover every eventuality, which is a tendency of mine.

I have to say that other pest controllers have been very forthcoming with collaboration and advice on the other 20%.

Suppliers

I have used a number of suppliers and know how important they are. My experience is that as a new business with a low turnover, you tend to find out which ones are more suitable and willing to embrace the start-ups. But I have to say the support and advice have been excellent. 

Free of charge

British people seem to have an innate sense of value for money, me included. It has been a challenge to know how to price treatments. I’m sensitive to a deteriorating economy and would hate to think that a customer feels ripped off, but I need to stay in business and make a living.

You might think doing work for free doesn’t make much sense. I’m not a hard-nosed businessman, so FOC isn’t a calculated loss leader or promotional gimmick.

Occasionally, I have been called out, and there just isn’t a treatment to be done, but have given the customer a little of my time and some advice.

More often than not, they ask how much they owe, so they’re surprised when I give them my card and tell them to call me when they actually need a control measure. I get a good review or a recommendation out of it, so it’s worth it.

We are encouraged to add value to our services, and I just think doing something for free in certain circumstances adds more value to the long-term reputation of the business than insisting on a callout fee does. 

You can please most of the people most of the time

I did have concerns about how customers would respond to my service. Would they be happy with my approach? Would they allow me to manage their expectations? Would they pay me?

Happily, the answer to all three questions is ‘yes’. In the area where I live, most people are glad to have someone local and are interested in finding solutions for future prevention.

On the odd occasion, I have had to text someone with a kind reminder for payment, but it nearly always has been responded to with a sincere apology and funds transfer. 

It certainly has contributed to growing confidence in the business and a positive customer experience.

THE BAD

the bad

You can’t please all of the people all of the time 

There is a reality check here. In reviewing the memorably good experiences from my debut year, there were a couple of customers with an unfavourable attitude.

Perhaps there was some naivety on my part, but they weren’t open with me and just didn’t want to listen. An understanding of human and animal behaviour is still an ongoing process.

Labels

I do understand manufacturers wanting to provide some latitude for pesticide use, but often it seems so vague and ambiguous. As an example: wasps.

As above, for suppliers, they have been excellent, but even they seem to disagree with or contradict each other: “Yes, you can use the product externally,” then “No, you can’t use the product externally.”

Then I re-read the label for the umpteenth time to see if I missed something to find that it just isn’t explicit and is open to wide-ranging interpretation or misinterpretation.

I do want to be responsible about how I use pesticides, but I’m not sure the ambiguities and lack of clarity on some labels really helps.

Of course, some are better than others, but what a frustration when a product seems to have a strong industry reputation and is so non-specific about the most obvious application needs of general pest control.

Bureaucracy 

I accept that this is a profession that has serious health, safety and environmental implications. But being new to the industry, I find the bombardment of bureaucracy and the lack of coherent, straightforward direction on how to implement it frustrating.

Human beings seem to prefer simplicity to complexity, especially this one, but somehow it seems unattainable. Or maybe, it’s there, and I just haven’t found it yet. I’ll keep searching!

...and THE UGLY

the ugly

My worst moment, which to this day I still don’t really know how it happened, involved the trigger of a compressed DR5. I don’t really want to talk about it! 

To sum it up? 

Pest control is a challenging but rewarding career. There have been many ups and downs so far, but I look forward to seeing what the future has in store!


Looking at starting your own pest management company?

Contact the BPCA membership team today to find out more.
membership@bpca.org.uk
01332 225 112
bpca.org.uk/membership

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