Are you thinking about striking out on your own? Becoming an entrepreneur? A landscape business owner? Sometimes starting a company and doing it successfully can be intimidating and difficult. Mark Maslow of Southern Landscape Group, Inc. in Evington, Virginia, was awarded the National Association of Landscape Professionals Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award for 2017. Here’s some insight into his successes and journey to being a business owner.

TURF: How did you hire your first employee?
MASLOW:
I was in high school at the time and was talking to a good friend of mine. I said to him, “Hey, you need some work this summer?” and he responded, “Sure.” I said, “Great, you’re hired!” That was in 1998.

What do you look for in a potential hire?
First impressions are huge for me. When someone applies, or comes into my office, I audit their appearance and personal hygiene. I ask myself the question, “Would I be comfortable with this person working at my home?” From there, it is all about attitude. Do they want to learn? Are they good listeners or do they just talk over me the entire time? What are their hobbies outside of work? What are their personal core values? We can teach the skills they need to perform their specific trade; that is never a concern. The concern is always, do they want to be here and if so, how bad?

What do you take with you everywhere you go (besides your cellphone)?
I carry a small journal and an ink pen with me. You would be hard pressed to catch me without it. I learned a long time ago that I can’t remember everything and when I make a commitment or a promise, I write it down. I tell my entire team that a sign of intelligence is your ability to actively listen and the best way to actively listen is to take notes. It shows you care and that you want to get things right.

What’s your advice for young people who want to be entrepreneurs?
The rise of an entrepreneur isn’t overnight. I was in business for seven years before I started making a true profit (I mean paying myself a salary and still having money left at the end of the year). Your willpower and determination must be unparalleled. You must be willing to sacrifice fun and leisure when others are not. You have to be willing to learn lessons the hard way. If you can commit to never giving up, and you truly have a passion for people and your work, anyone can be successful.

What do you enjoy most that has also benefited your company?
I love meeting people and helping them solve problems and grow. Whether it is a client or a team member, I enjoy learning about them, finding out what makes them tick and aiding them in their success.

How do you resolve issues with employees or with customers?
I learned early on, take your ego out of the situation — no matter what. Listen first and listen with empathy. Nine out of 10 times, situations get resolved just by listening, hearing the client’s concern and letting them know that you do care about their concern and they are important. It is the same with your team members. Everyone has their own issues going on in their lives that can be distractions from the work. The better you are at listening to them and showing empathy, the more they will trust you and want to work harder for you. It can’t be fake either; people see right through that.

What is the best part about being your own boss?
Own boss? I tell folks I work for about 1,500 people with many different personalities. However, as it relates to my team, I enjoy sharing vision and goals with my team. I enjoy being able to create something we can all rally around and watch it come together.

Were your friends and family supportive in the beginning?
Every step of the way. My parents taught me so many valuable lessons about hard work, money management, being trustworthy. At the time I didn’t understand it, but the older I get the more I realize how critical those lessons were early on in my life. To this day, my mom and dad are still incredibly supportive of me and my company. In fact, when my dad retired from his post as an electrical engineer with an MBA, he came to work with me for two years to help us develop better systems and processes. It was a huge contribution to our growth. My wife and kids are also incredibly supportive. They understand that we have to sacrifice some things in order to get to our goal. I will tell you, it takes an incredible spouse to be married to an entrepreneur.

What or who was your inspiration? Do you have a mentor? If so, how did you find them?
I had several mentors growing up that inspired me. One was a local lawn care service provider and one was my dad. The many mentors that I look up to have been teachers, peer group advisors, other successful business owners and coaches. Anytime I have an opportunity to meet with someone that can share real life experiences and provide guidance and advice, I am there. They help shorten the learning curve. After all, two heads are better than one, right?