Pursuing A Dream
By Roberta Griffin
I had an opportunity to sit down with Frog Environmental founder and CEO Terry Balog to get some insight into the inception and growth of his business.
As I walk to Terry’s office, I pass employees busy working on their computers or talking with clients on the telephone. While this is a familiar scene with most businesses, there was something more with this group. I observed collaborative discussions and laughter. I felt their positive energy, and could tell people were genuinely happy to be there.
And when you see that, you know that something very right is happening here.
I walk into Terry’s office as he wraps up a call with a client. After taking a sip of coffee, I’m ready to learn about Frog Environmental and its creator, Terry Balog.
So, let’s dive right in.
Did you grow up in California?
I was born and raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, within the steel mill industry where my dad worked 40 years for US Steel. And for those that don’t know, working in a steel mill is demanding. Watching my father’s work ethic played a significant role in my decision to attend college after high school and earn my Bachelors degree in Environmental Resources.
While on summer breaks in college, I took a job with a landscaping and nursery business. There were long, hard days, and the work was labor-intensive. I quickly learned that a lot goes into the creating and upkeep of landscaping and maintaining a 100 acre nursery.
“The customer service Buck Drake gave to his clients struck me and stayed with me.”
Buck Drake was the owner of the company I hired on with. I still recall how Buck would create these landscapes for his clients and return yearly to maintain them. Buck was committed to excellent customer service and his clients loved him for it. I have to say I learned a lot from Buck without even realizing it.
What was the inspiration to create Frog Environmental?
A year after graduation, I made a move to California with the plan of becoming an environmental consultant. Initially, I was hired for a telemarketing position but was quickly promoted into the field to begin meeting the company’s clients. I enjoyed the work, but I could sense something was missing.
“I decided to start Frog Environmental with a focus on customer service and creating solid relationships with my clients.”
I saw that though the company had a great business model, they were lacking in customer service and relationship building. So, after a year of working for this company, I decided to make the jump into business ownership.
What was the process of taking Frog from concept to fruition?
It was a matter of giving it a try. I knew I always had back east with my family and friends to turn to if things didn’t work out, so there was no downside. In the early stages of the business startup, I made do with a fax machine, phone, computer, and dial-up internet service.
I began the marketing process with personalized business cards and letterhead, keeping busy with daily cold calls and mailings. I knew I was on track when I landed two clients within the same month selling Storm Water Pollution Prevention Plans (SWPPPs.)
“I did my homework. I researched all that I could about Industrial Storm Water Permits and services and the different types of businesses I would soon service.”
With a target number of sales to hit each month, Frog Environmental was on its way. It was a matter of jumping in with both feet and submerging myself into my business. I also put into practice the point of engaging with our clients regularly; it’s a crucial component of excellent customer service.
What were Frog’s early days like?
Those first years were a learning curve. I quickly recognized my limitations and weaknesses. The first SWPPP contract I sold took me three weeks to write when it should have only taken me eight hours to complete.
“It was a matter of getting the right people into the right positions.”
For me, selling was not the problem. The administrative side of the business was where the help was needed. For example, I could have three thousand dollars in my savings account and somehow manage to overdraw my checking five times!
The first person I ever hired was my sister. She wrote all of the SWPPPs along with Frog’s annual status reports. In those early years, I was in the field selling while my sister took care of all the paperwork.
The next step was to hire an administrator. We needed someone that could organize and run our accounting system. And to this day, this person has been with Frog for nearly twenty-one years.
“I still say to this day, in business, I’ve done everything wrong at least once. It’s about trial and error.”
I remember the first check I received. It was made out to Frog Environmental. I couldn’t cash it because I hadn’t set up my Doing Business As (a DBA) yet. I learned a lot on the fly.
So, what were some of the challenges you faced?
Believe it or not, there weren’t too many struggles. Fortunately, I understood early on the importance of a hands-on approach. From San Diego to Redding, I was out there, in the field, lining up the work-and doing it.
Another challenge we faced, as with many business startups, was maintaining a positive cash flow. I had a great team, and everyone was doing their part, but there were those times when we struggled to sell any of the SWPPPs, and our finances ran thin.
“It can be challenging to realize and overcome your limitations.”
From all of the challenges that have come our way, I came to realize that no matter how tough things can get, you keep plugging away. You have got to know that things will get better. That was something I discovered about myself, and it still holds true today.
This mentality is something I try to instill in my team.
Can you recall a moment that validated your decision to launch Frog?
The growth of our customer base and income made it clear that this wasn’t a fly-by-night thing. Creating Frog allowed me to buy a better car, live in a better place, and pay my debt. That’s a huge thing.
“The first year of Frog was validation for me.”
Realizing that my father worked for forty years at a steel mill was a total revelation. He was a hard worker, and he instilled that in me. That sank in. I remember my father saying that he was proud of me for creating a business and working for myself. It was pretty special.