Cleaning & Restoration Association News

The Carpet Cleaning Triangle

September 9, 2001
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The Carpet Cleaning Triangle of the Homeowner, the employee and the business owner is a complex tangle of conflicting priorities and emotions. Your success will be defined by how well you balance the needs of all parties involved.

"Success means that we can go to bed at night knowing that our talents and abilities were used in a way that served others." Marianne Wilson

"A man is a success if he gets up in the morning and goes to bed at night and in between he gets to do what he wants." Bob Dylan

Serving others well versus being served well by others; perhaps true success lies in finding the right balance in your own life. Yes, it is time to focus on you, the long-suffering, burdened owner of a carpet cleaning business.

This series has focused so far on two of the three 'points' of the Carpet Cleaning Triangle -- your customers and your employees. Both want two very basic things from you: 'Solutions' to their perceived Problem(s) and 'Good Feelings.' My guess is you struggle to help both your customers and your employees solve their problems and feel good emotionally.

But the other essential factor in this complex Carpet Cleaning Triangle is you. Sure, it's great to give of yourself. But at some point it's time to ask, 'What's in it for me? Why am I beating myself to death?"

The time is now. What do you and your loved ones need and deserve to acquire from your involvement (obsession?) with business?

No one can dictate their life goals and definition of success to another person. But, too often we get so dragged down by the daily grind that we forget the big picture. More than 200 years ago, Christopher Martin called this "not seeing the forest for the trees." For carpet cleaners, I call it "getting all wrapped up in hoses." Either way, this dangerous trap is all too common. The daily crises we face not only robs us of our joy, they can divert us from achieving our personal definitions of success.

Remember: The reason your company exists is to serve you, not the other way around. Let's reflect on what any business should provide the owner and his or her family.

Let's start with money.

It's true: Money does not bring happiness. But all things being equal, it is better to have money than to not have money. And for most of us, financial resources are part of how we achieve our personal life goals. So what 'money solutions' should your business provide?

A good living -- You not only work hard, you work long. As Sioux used to complain to me, "Steve, when you're not working you're thinking about work. The only time you're not thinking about the business is when you're asleep. And then you dream about it!"

I plead guilty as charged. And our dirty little secret as entrepreneurs is we love it this way. For most of us, our business, in truth, is a hobby; a game. But playing this game of business extracts a very real price on our health and our family.

Therefore -- at the very least -- you should be earning more, a lot more, than you could by working for someone else. If you're barely scraping by as an independent business owner, something is seriously wrong. You (and your family) should be financially compensated for those late hours and high pressure mornings. If not, either change your business or go to work for General Motors and enjoy decent pay, great benefits, security and no worries. Leave the job at work and go home to enjoy your life.

Daily security -- The poor small-business owner. In its infinite wisdom, government has taken most personal risk off of the individual employee with its various 'safety nets,' such as unemployment benefits (even when they deserved to be fired or don't want to work), Worker's Compensation, food stamps, etc. But as an entrepreneur, you're on your own. Have you covered yourself if you are hurt or can't work? Financial consultants say small-business owners should have at least six months living expenses tucked away in liquid funds. Do you?

Of course, even six months living expenses can vanish faster than a plate of ribs in front of George Foreman if you face unexpected crushing medical expenses. Are you covered by a major medical plan? Do you have disability insurance? (Hint: Many states offer surprisingly low Worker's Compensation rates for owner-operators. Since the odds are any injury you suffer will be work related, this may be a good stop-gap measure until you can find an affordable full disability policy.)

An appreciating asset -- I love this saying, "Everyone leaves. Your only choice is how and when." It's true. One day you will leave your business. But the sad truth is, far too many carpet cleaners have no 'exit plan' on how and when to gracefully retire. If you do it right, your business will not only bring in a good living, it will grow in value over the years to provide a major part of your retirement. This is the 'hidden bonus' that you and your family deserve for all your years of hard work.

On the other hand, if all you own is a job that provides an immediate living but has no future sales value, you are in a dangerous spot. As a prudent financial planner of your family's future, you have three options:

* Develop your business into a 'real company,' which buyers will fight to purchase for big money.
* Continue 'owning' a job, charge really high prices and plow your money into long term investments that will provide a comfortable retirement for you.
* Get out of owning your own business and find a real job with benefits and a pension plan.

What's 'hell on earth' for a carpet cleaner? It's called having 'the worst of both worlds,' and too many carpet cleaners live there now. It's the pressure, agony and risk of owning your business but without enjoying any of the financial or emotional benefits and rewards. If you're there now, let these reminders on what life should be like serve as a wake-up call for change. Life is too short-and too precious-for you to not take action.

So how about you? Owning your own business should be gratifying, fun and extremely rewarding financially.

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