Top Flight Electric of Polk County
After chasing his mid-life dreams to become a pilot – working both in the corporate world and for the military – Billy Bishop had a career-ending back injury that brought him back to his electrical roots.
“My dad was an electrician so I grew up being an electrician,” he said. “I got back into corporate jets and my back went out and I couldn’t sit for long periods of time, and that’s kind of important when you’re a pilot. So I dusted off my electrical contractor’s license.”
After being taken out of the cockpit, Bishop started thinking about what the rest of his life was going to look like, and what it looks like is Bishop is now behind the wheel of his own residential electrical service company – Top Flight Electric.
At the start of the venture, Bishop had an investor-partner and the duo looked at getting into a franchise. “Instead of franchises telling us what we could and couldn’t do with our company, we could do whatever we wanted.”
His partner then gave him a challenge. Prepare a business plan that was so good that if you presented the plan to a banker, he would write a check for the business. Knowing nothing about how to run a business, Bishop set out to learn how to write a business plan. Eventually, he was referred to the Florida SBDC at University of South Florida.
“They were great,” Bishop said of consultants Carl Hadden and Bill McKown. “Carl would give me assignments and homework, and I would go home and do them and show up the next week with all the homework done.” Throughout the months-long process, Bishop would routinely meet with Hadden to review his progress and make sure he was on track.
“Carl and I worked together for a while and then Bill McKown joined the team,” he said. “At that point, Bill and I started meeting in his office down in Avon Park [at South Florida State College] and he took me across the finish line and got the finishing touches on the business plan.”
When it was all said and done, Bishop had written a business plan that was so well put together that McKown thought he could get a small business loan. At that point, Bishop decided to launch the business without an investor and go for the loan.
“That was paperwork, upon paperwork, upon paperwork,” he said of the loan packaging. “In the end, it took me a couple of months to get that done also. I would fill out the forms and then I would meet with Bill and we would sit down and discuss exactly what I was trying to say to them and more importantly, what they wanted to hear, and he made some direct phone calls to the Small Business Administration on my behalf.”
In the end, Bishop secured a $150,000 SBA loan from Celtic Bank. He officially launched his business on January 3 and secured the loan in March.
While getting the loan was one of his biggest successes so far, it was also a major challenge. “You have a picture of what you want your company to be and Bill said, in the nicest way, that my first financials were basically fantasy land.” Through consistently reworking the numbers, the team was able to come up with reliable, accurate financial projections, which are still serving him well.
“[Bill] was tough but it was a talk we needed to have,” he said. “The reality is, when we opened, it was about what we expected it to be. It gives me a sense of everything’s going to be okay because I’m close.”
Bishop has already hired one employee, has work on the books and has plans for growth into home automation electrical services. Moving forward, he’ll continue to work with the Florida SBDC at USF by doing quarterly financial analysis check ups to make sure he’s still on the right track.
“I don’t even know how to put into words how much they helped me,” Bishop said. “When you’re struggling as a new entrepreneur…you don’t have the answers and you don’t know where to go for the answers because the people who have the answers are your competition.
“The Small Business Development Center wanted to help me and even if they didn’t have the answers, they found a place where we could find the answers, so I can’t thank them enough for everything they’ve done for me.”