Cleaning & Restoration Association News

Delegating or Shirking? You Make the Call! - Part I

Delegating responsibly pays off handsomely

“If you want a thing done well, do it yourself.”
– Napoléon Bonaparte

“What is worth doing is worth the trouble of asking someone else to do it.”
– Ambrose Bierce

The majority of carpet cleaners out there are owner-operators working alone against incredible odds. My hat is off to all of you brave solo entrepreneurs! But even the Lone Ranger had Tonto. Who has your back? Maybe more importantly, how can you delegate at least some of your responsibilities so that:
  1. You can focus better on the tasks you keep, and
  2. Maybe you can even spend some quality time with your family instead of hammering the business 24-7!
The word “delegate” just means to “entrust, assign or transfer a task, function or power to someone else.” Usually, when a solo entrepreneur thinks of delegating, he or she immediately thinks they must have employees to do so. Wrong! In fact, given their very limited time, it is even more important for the “Lone Wolf” owner-operator to delegate. So how can you do this? Above all else, you must…

Recognize the Value of Your Time and Energy

In these difficult economic times you should constantly be analyzing one very important business question: “Where is my highest and best use?” Even with the super-human effort you throw into your business, difficult choices need to be made on how you invest (waste?) your time. The first step, especially if you work alone, is to realize that time is the only resource you cannot buy more of! So be sure to choose your priorities wisely, husband your energy and delegate everything you possibly can. You do this by asking …

What is My "ROTI?

Any time you invest something of value (and there is nothing more valuable than your time) you want to make the greatest return on investment (ROI) possible. Remember as a proactive business owner you are building for the future and therefore want a lucrative “Return On Time Invested.” So you must focus not only on short-term ROTI, e.g. personally running the truckmount all night to make your Yellow Pages payment, but the even-more-important long-term ROTI, e.g. meeting with your CPA to discuss whether to incorporate your business. A great ROTI has two big enemies that you must avoid…

Displacement Activities

It has been said that, “Nothing good comes easy,” and this goes double when building a business. Soooo…all of us naturally gravitate to what are the easiest and/or more enjoyable tasks while we put off (delegate?) the unpleasant work we dislike! For example, you know you should get out and sell during your Dedicated Sales Morning (DSM). But few of us (me included) really enjoy cold-call selling. So you trudge like a condemned man toward your car, when suddetnly inspiration strikes! Yes, to avoid the dreaded duty of route selling, your subconscious has invented a Displacement Activity! So you suddenly realize that your business space is filthy and you tear into cleaning and organizing your entire shop. Now by 5:00 pm you are filthy dirty, but your workplace is immaculate and you feel great! But what was your long-term ROTI for the day? Pretty dismal, right? But there is another even more insidious enemy of your ROTI…

Time Flies By

Another critical aspect of time is the “Opportunity Cost” of the weeks, months or years flying by as you diddle around with a much-needed business project. This often is a huge but unrecognized loss for a small-business owner. For example, even a cave man knows it is “essential” for every carpet cleaner, no matter how small, to have a professionally designed web site. Sure, you personally can learn HTML, PHP, PERL, AJAX, FTP, JAVA, Flash,, Ruby, Jscript, SQL, XML and a whole “alphabet soup” of other programming languages. (Heck, you might even enjoy this stuff!) And when your web site is done I’m sure it will be a thing of beauty.

But how long will this process take before you are able to roll out this important new Internet advertising medium? Three months? Six months? A year? Two? Now just calculate how many jobs and potential referrals you will gain during this time period if you delegate this task to a professional web site developer while you focus on what you do best. Conversely, how many customers and referrals would you lose with you hacking your way through developing a web site? Don’t underestimate the “Opportunity Cost” of time (and customers) passing you by. Now, if you absolutely must be hands-on with a task, at least always get…

Maximum Bang for Your Buck

When you must physically plunge into a big task, always leverage your efforts by bringing in help. For example, in the Displacement Activity illustration above, you personally might have to be on-site to make organizational decisions. But why not pay a few of your son’s friends to come over and do the drudge, dirty work for you? Suddenly, for a small investment, a full day (or three) of physical drudgery magically transforms into a few short hours, giving you both time and energy to focus on the more important things – including spending time with your family.

Develop Temporary "Mini-partnerships"

The business world is a very impersonal and rushed place. Yet if you deal with service providers in an open and sincere manner, they often slow down and focus on how to actually help you. Your goal is to “engage their heart.” Do this by showing personal interest in their life while also opening up a bit about your needs and throwing yourself on their mercy. Example: “So what drew you to become a cell phone rep?

Hmmm…that’s great, because I’m going to entrust my entire future into your hands. You see, I’m opening a small business and…” People often have the skills and the power to help you, if you can get them to view you as a real person sincerely seeking their advice and counsel.

Build "Strategic Partnerships"

You can’t be all things to all people. (And this principle goes double for your employees!) The age of the Renaissance Man is dead. Every time I tried to take the company out of my employees’ and my “comfort zone” I would pay a bitter price.

But instead of just giving a flat “no” to your customer’s requests, why not build a stable of qualified and professional companies that will complement what you do? These business owners should do two things for you
  1. Watch your back if you are sharing a job. This means a quick private phone call or e-mail giving you a “heads up” on any upcoming issues they can see on the horizon and never trashing you to the homeowner.
  2. Your strategic partners should also return the favor by referring your services to all of their clients. This concept works beautifully if you choose your “partners” carefully. Of course, not all partners are free, so you must …

Your time is valuable; use it to your best advantage

Hire Experts in Their Field

Carpet cleaners can be such hypocrites. With a modern truckmount, most any carpet cleaner can easily gross $100 or more per hour. And we are shocked when a prospect questions this high dollar-per-hour average return. But then we turn around and “bottom feed” by looking for the cheapest supplier/mechanic/accountant/lawyer/web site developer, etc., and suffer accordingly! Or, even worse, we try to do this stuff ourselves, and it turns into yet another very expensive and frustrating Displacement Activity. So look for the very best professional advice out there using these parameters:
  • Excellent references and professional qualifications
  • Used to working with small service businesses
  • Takes a personal interest in you and your company
  • Someone that you have a close personal rapport with.
Remember, a talented and qualified individual like this won’t come cheap. But if you choose wisely, the management team you assemble will let you delegate many of the nuts and bolts and will return your investment many times over. (And don’t be shy about working trade-outs. Lawyers’ carpets get dirty too!)

All of the delegating above can be done with or without employees. However, getting a good ROTI is even more important if you are a solo owner-operator! But even the most hardened Lone Wolf eventually finds that pushing his or her scrub wand isn’t as much fun as it was 20 or 30 years ago. So the typical obsessive/compulsive/controlling and very often neurotic small entrepreneur must painfully learn how to delegate their beloved tasks to others. And that is exactly what we’ll discuss next month in part II of this “Delegating or Shirking” series.

Author’s Note: For a free Special Report on how an owner-operator can set up a DSM, just write me at and put the phrase “DSM” in the subject line.

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Recent Articles by Steve Toburen

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