When Patricia Mendoza started M&G Limousine Service three years ago, she banked on both of these differentiators when she made the move into small business ownership. M&G Limousine Service is a company that caters to customers moving in and out of Los Angeles International Airport area. Patricia also provides service to wedding parties, sweet 15 and 16 parties, graduations, and even tours of Los Angeles. Starting out three years ago as a single mother of two, and the desire to build her own business, Stephanie went out and secured financing, obtained the necessary permits and licenses, and opened her own limousine and sedan service. Today, Patricia has more than 100 clients, two limousines and three sedans, and the determination to make it in a highly competitive, and sometimes ruthless, industry.
How did you start your business?
Well, it was hard at first. I couldn’t get financing from a bank, but then my uncle and my boyfriend gave me a hand and I was able to start the business. My big responsibility was to get the legal paperwork in order. So I got the license and permits, and started to focus on the Los Angeles International Airport traffic. The airport is a big part of my success.
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How did you fund your business in the beginning?
That was the hardest part for me. I had to borrow money from family and friends and use their credit. I’m better off now, but they really helped me get started. I’m in debt, but the business is growing so I’m trying not to worry about it.
Learning to Run the Business
How did you learn to run your business?
At first, I really didn’t know what I was doing. I had to learn everything the hard way. But then I started making friends with chauffeurs, and they started helping me out. But that doesn’t mean you’ll be successful. I learned on my own that one good way to get customers is to be friends with the hotel concierges. Sometimes I even tip them a little to help corral customers. I learned a lot in the past couple of years.
Who was your first customer?
My first customer was an old lady who wanted me to take her up into the Hollywood Hills. She didn’t have an idea where she was going, and wanted me to drop her on a corner and she would call the people she was meeting. I talked with the people and got her to the front door. I remember feeling that she was my responsibility, and I didn’t want to let her down. I remember her well.
What’s the biggest mistake you made in the first year?
I made lot of mistakes at first. A couple of really bad mistakes include taking people to the wrong destination because I was really nervous. The other mistake I made once was to undercharge somebody who wanted to drive them to Santa Barbara. I remember losing money on that trip.
What’s the smartest thing you did in the first year?
Smartest thing I ever did was to just start my business. There were so many obstacles in front of me when I wanted to start it. For one thing, it’s hard to do this job when you are female. I am only one of two women owned limo services that run out of LAX. The vast majority of drivers are male. It’s a really, really competitive business. You have Uber, and taxis, and larger companies with better cars and more cars. I just told myself to put my foot in the door and start the business. It was the smartest thing I ever did. I have an advantage because our clients are very loyal and so we have a bond that the other people don’t.
What’s the most rewarding thing about running your own business?
I like being a driver. For one thing, I can take time off from this job to be with my kids. Like if I have a school conference at one of the kids’ schools, I can take time off work and make it. So the flexibility for me is the most rewarding. Of course, when I’m not working, I’m not making money.
What’s the most difficult/challenging thing about running your own business?
The other drivers are the most difficult. Some of these guys will play really dirty. They’ll steal your clients right out from under you. Sometimes they’ll call clients and tell them things to try and sabotage our reputation. It cracks me up sometimes because people think women are the devious gender, but the men are the worst. If trashing us doesn’t work, they will find out our prices and undercut us by just enough to take us out of the game.
What’s the most surprising thing about running your own business?
That’s easy, that I’m still in business. I fight every day to keep myself relevant in this industry, but sometimes it gets exhausting. Still, I’m still here, right?
What business owner or entrepreneur do you admire most? Who is your role model?
Myself. It is hard to be a women owner in this business. I am only one of two women-owned limo services in this area. You have be strong. The men out there will eat you alive.
What I’ve Learned
If you could go back to when you were starting your business, what advice would you give yourself?
I would diversify my area a little bit. I think I would focus on maybe Hollywood. That way I could grow my time to income ratio. Now, I can only charge a flat rate to take people to the airport, but in Hollywood you get a lot of well-paying clients.
What do you wish you had known before you had started your business?
I wish I were better at speaking to people. I don’t know why. I don’t have the best interpersonal skills. I’m shy. So I wish I was better with talking to my clients. A lot of my clients want to talk, but I am embarrassed.
Pro tip: What you don’t know can kill your business
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About the Author — Vincent Aviani has been a professional observer of life for nearly 30 years. Starting out his career as a reporter, and then as a community banking communications officer and public relations executive, Vincent has spent his career listening to personal stories and conveying the histories and wisdom within each story to his receptive audience. For the past four years, he has been running his own small business as a professional communications consultant and storyteller.