On February 1, snow started falling in Chicago and didn’t let up until the city was buried beneath 20.2 inches of the white stuff. Chicagoans were urged not to try to drive. Everything ground to a halt.
Well, not quite everything. IJ Clinic client Just Us Lawn Care was working around the clock, plowing driveways and sidewalks clear for their customers.
Jimmie and Tiffany Williams began Just Us in 2008 because they needed to find a way to earn an honest living and support their kids. As teenagers, they had fallen prey to some of the all-too-common problems that plague inner-city youth. They had children when they were still unmarried teenagers. Jimmie ended up in jail for a while. But they had the love for one another and the strength of character to turn their lives around. They got married and Tiffany started working as a hair stylist. With a record, though, it was hard for Jimmie to find a job. Jimmie had to make his own work.
One day, the Williamses saw an ad for a pickup truck that they could afford, and they turned that listing into a business opportunity. Jimmie started knocking on doors and offering to plow snow for property management companies that oversee big apartment buildings. And when summer came, he taught himself about landscaping and lawn care to keep serving his customers. Just Us is hardworking and honest, and customers rave about their reliability and professionalism. People who knew Jimmie and Tiffany as kids are beginning to take notice, too, using them as models for their own self-improvement. They are beginning to say, “If Jimmie Williams can do it, so can I!”
Jimmie and Tiffany are constantly striving to learn more about running their business well. Jimmie took a class on entrepreneurship, and the professor referred him to the IJ Clinic for help with legal questions. Law students working in the IJ Clinic have counseled Just Us since September on issues ranging from the terms to include in a customer contract to the purchase of a second truck. Just recently, we helped negotiate the lease for an office where Tiffany will manage the accounting and customer communications for the business. We successfully refused terms that were extremely unfavorable to Just Us and we secured an option to renew at the same rent, so that Just Us can continue to grow with a secure business address. (Too bad the city requires them to pay for an entirely new license because they had a change of address—yet another item to add to our list of laws to reform.)
Just Us is a young business, run by first-time entrepreneurs. But it passed the biggest test of all by taking care of customers during the historic Blizzard of 2011. Three generations of the family went to work, with Jimmie’s father driving the second truck and their oldest son working a snow blower. They showed that this business has staying power. And they showed, once again, that the entrepreneurial spirit—the drive to build a better future for your family—cannot be beat. The IJ Clinic will do all it can to clear the way toward that future so Just Us and its owners can plow ahead no matter the season.
Beth Milnikel directs the IJ Clinic on Entrepreneurship.