Cleaning & Restoration Association News

Hiring Employees: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

“Every man is guilty of all the good he didn’t do.”
Voltaire (1694-1778)

It’s not easy charting a course in life. With the wisdom of hindsight, my own business life course best resembles the confused stumblings of a drunken fool. I think of my false starts and the dead ends I encountered, not to mention the wasted energy and time, and I cringe.

Nowhere is this agony better illustrated than in my on-again, off-again romance with hiring employees. But maybe my missteps will help you save a lot of flailing about in business with “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” of hiring employees.

The Good
Make no mistake about it. Hiring employees may be the best thing you have ever done. But why? More time. It’s very likely your “highest and best use” in your company (not to mention with your family) is not pushing a scrub wand, not matter how much you are charging for your time. Employees can relieve you of the drudge work of carpet cleaning so you can invest your efforts in sales and marketing, planning, attending business seminars or maybe even taking your family to the lake.

You’re not Superman. A solo operator has no back-up for sickness, family emergencies or an on-the-job injury. These things can and do happen. Employees are your back-up when problems occur.

More money now. One of my mentors in this business told me 30 years ago, “Steve, all I sell is people.” So obviously, the more people you have to “sell,” the more money you should make (assuming you are managing the business correctly). More money later. The simple fact is, without employees your business will very likely not sell for enough to provide for your retirement. This is not a problem if you have stashed away adequate retirement funds over the years. However, a larger company with trained employees that has a history of steadily increasing profits will sell quickly and at a high premium. Sounds good to me.

The joy of a shared vision. Not to wax eloquent here, but few pleasures match the sheer exhilaration of working toward a common business goal with quality people that you look forward to seeing each day. And yes, this business model is attainable in the cleaning and restoration field. The growth potential in your market is very likely limitless.

Your job is to surround yourself with good people who want to be part of something great. Then all you have to do is follow the timeless principle enunciated by Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton: “I always found that if I helped enough people get what they wanted, they in turn would help me get what I wanted.”

The Bad
Make no mistake about it. Hiring employees may be the worst thing you have ever done. But why? People will always be your biggest problem. Your employees are likely the one factor in your company you will never completely control. Accounts receivable, inventory, marketing, production – these are all possible to systematize. People are another matter. Humans are complex beings. When you hire someone you are also hiring their history, their emotions, their problems (both past and present) and maybe their mother-in-law.

It’s tough to clone yourself. Chances are, you are a success due to your sparkling personality and superior customer service skills (Really. No sarcasm intended here). But when you hire employees they will not have the same vested interest you have in creating advocates, or Cheerleaders, that will help create your future financial security. This is especially true with the sort of folks who are interested in a career pushing a scrub wand. It is normal for the repeat- and referral business you have come to depend on to drop dramatically on jobs your employees do instead of you.

Waiting for the next shoe to drop. As noted above, employees are a complex variable, with both current and pre-existing problems affecting their performance. In addition, they will never care as much about your business as you do. These two “employee facts of life” lead to the next hiring problem: All too often, the owner of a larger company is literally afraid to pick up the phone when it rings because it is sure to bring yet another crisis! Many cleaning professionals make the conscious decision that this daily parade of problems isn’t for them, and decide instead to go the solo route…and who can blame them?

Employees up the stakes considerably. You can successfully run an owner-operator business out of your hip pocket (mind you, I don’t recommend it). But when you add even one employee your paperwork, your expenses and, yes, your exposure to legal problems rises exponentially.

The Ugly
The absolute worst thing? To waffle back and forth between going it alone or building a business staffed by highly motivated, well-compensated employees. Simply put, hiring your first employee is much more than a staffing question; it is a business- and lifestyle decision that will affect you and your family for the rest of your life. Whichever path you choose to follow, beware the road in between.

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