Startup Tips from Successful Association Management Entrepreneurs

Posted by Andrea Drennen, CMCA on August 13, 2013

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Starting a new community association business isn't easy. You have to put yourself out there and trust in your skills. Of course, it helps to have a few cheerleaders on your side! That's what we're here for! Here on the CAM Blog, we've covered a lot of the logistics of how to start a management company, but today we're bringing you something a little extra special. We've gathered together a collection of successful management company entrepreneurs to share tips and tricks that helped them achieve success with their startups, and we'll throw in a few cheers for you as well!

Successful Startup Tip #1:
Provide Personal Service

Jennifer Senffner of Classic Community Management has focused her business philosophy on spending most of her time with clients. “My goal is to offer a more personal approach than what some of my board members have experienced in the past.”

Carol and Scott Taylor of Spring Hill Associates* built their company on a foundation of personalized service: “We had a vision of building a boutique management company where we provided more personalized service to communities, without getting too big to service them ourselves,” said Scott. “We looked at other management companies and how each of their boards knew only that manager assigned to them.” In their company, Carol stays personally involved with community boards in addition to the community managers. “When one manager left, I contacted every single one of those board members and made sure they knew that their business was important to us," explained Carol. "I want people to know that we
really, really care!”

Successful Startup Tip #2:
Minimize Startup Costs

Mike Bono of Bono and Associates looked to the cloud to get up and running quickly without a large capital investment in IT infrastructure. “We decided to minimize startup costs and launch the business without a large capital investment. [With the cloud,] I don’t have servers running 24/7. I don’t need to have special cooling or any kind of special environment. It took all of the up-front IT-related costs away,” stated Bono.

Carol and Scott Taylor used their budgeting skills to prepare their business. “As a new business you have to make sure everything’s covered,” stated Scott. “In addition to preparing our business plan, setting up TOPS, and our banking, billing, accounting, website, forms and contracts, we planned our cash flow for several months in advance.”

Successful Startup Tip #3:
Leverage Technology

Mike Bono always takes a laptop to board meetings. “We talk about AR and we’ve got a lot of history and violation reports to look at,” explained Bono. “Instead of presenting static data, we can respond immediately to questions and requests for history."

Scott and Carol Taylor take their technology to a whole new level: “We put all of our information and documents on the Cloud using,” explained Scott. “We also email the board packages a week in advance.” Every month Spring Hill’s boards get their packages on iPads. “I set them up and they are distributed at the meetings with an impressive management report and agenda. Ninety percent of the boards are very excited about this technology. We don’t make money off of it but it keeps us green and saves money for the boards.”

Successful Startup Tip #4:
Manage Your Time

Jennifer Senffner uses mobile devices to better manage her time. “I have access to all of the
association’s accounts on my iPad,” explained Senffner. “So, I’m not carrying around file folders of rules and regulations, rosters and vendors. And, I’m not coming back to the office to spend an hour and a half on the computer documenting everything I already wrote down!”

Mike Bono takes his work anywhere he has an Internet connection. “If I’m at home, at work, out doing a drive-thru, or at a board president’s house, I’ve got full access to the entire TOPS system on my laptop or PC. Yesterday we had tornado warnings so I decided to work from home. I logged off, went home, and logged back on – so I didn’t have to worry about it.”

Carol Taylor offers some food for thought on this front: “Don’t give up too much of your life for the first couple of years. Was it worth it? In most cases yes, but I would try to have more life balance than I gave myself.”

Successful Startup Tip #5:
Research the Right Tools

Carol Taylor contacted an auditor that she had worked with since 1989 to get his professional
recommendation about software. “I really respected his opinion,” said Carol. “He felt that TOPS Software was the best of everything he had audited over the years.”

Jennifer Senffner got proposals for hosted solutions from TOPS and two other companies. “I noticed that people on LinkedIn, who said they needed something easy and user friendly, were recommending TOPS,” said Senffner. She projected CCM’s costs for one year and concluded that TOPS offered the best solution to get her company off the ground.

Mike Bono considered other hosted solutions but decided on TOPS. “The key thing was the short conversion window and the ability to bring over the history,” stated Bono. “We looked long and hard at other solutions. It was definitely the right call.”

Successful Startup Tip #6:
Never Underestimate Word-of-Mouth Advertising

Carol and Scott Taylor used their network of family, friends and associates to reach out to other communities. “We got the word out that we had started a management company and it spread quickly,” stated Scott. “Carol is very good at networking. We tried ads on the Internet and in trade magazines but they didn’t lead us to new clients. We were constantly surprised at how word-of-mouth helped us.”

Successful Startup Tip #7:
Practice Smart Growth

Mike Bono looks forward to expanding. “With a cloud-based system, I can bring [new managers] on-board remotely and provide them everything they need. I’d like to have the collaboration between everyone without a big corporate office. I could add another office within days. All I have to do is buy another user, a phone, and a laptop and they’re up and running in a town 200 miles from here.” Recruiting new community association managers will also be easier. “My growth is going to be in managers who work remotely and come into the office once a week,” said Bono. “The flexibility will be attractive for them, which will help in recruiting good people—absolutely!”

Carol and Scott Taylor relies on good screening and great working environment to attract new employees: “We think very hard before hiring an employee because it’s a risk taking on new expenses,” said Scott. “Carol makes sure they have worked in the industry a minimum of six years. We wanted great managers to improve the customer service experience that property owners and HOA Boards were receiving. We don’t pay more than other companies. A manager that we hired recently mentioned that it was our open door policy with Carol that attracted her.”


If you enjoyed these pearls of wisdom so graciously given by these helpful entrepreneurs, read the full stories of these three companies. Classic Community Management, Spring Hill Associates, Bono & Associates.

Case Study - Spring Hill

I promised you a cheer too, so at the risk of embarrasing myself mightily, I will reveal my former cheerleader roots with a take on this little ditty from my formative years:

Turn it to the left 
Turn it to the right
Stand up, sit down,
Fight, Fight. Fight!

So that's it! Now get out there and get going with that new management company you've been thinking of starting. You can do it! We believe in you! Fight, Fight, FIGHT!

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