Working in a Different World

March 14, 2010
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“You are a stranger in a strange land.”
– Robert A. Heinlein

  Few would dispute the notion that America’s economic success over the last 200-odd years has been due to the lone entrepreneur. So the United States has suffered a “fiscal hiccup” over the last few years; even so, we are still the financial success story of the world!

If you are reading this column, I assume you have been bitten by this entrepreneurial bug. So there you are, out there on the front lines of the carpet cleaning industry, fighting valiantly for your family’s future security as a business owner. Or you are at least thinking about becoming a carpet cleaner. Either way … congratulations!

The cleaning and restoration business was very, very good to me and it can work for you too…if you do it “right.” Too many carpet cleaners do it “wrong” and are condemned to a high-stress life of middle class mediocrity!

Looking back, I feel my success in business wasn’t based on being a great carpet cleaner technically; my SFS co-instructor, “Big Billy” Yeadon, will cheerfully tell you I know just enough on technical topics to be a dangerous loose cannon! I didn’t have a high-powered business degree, and I was a disaster with paper work (still am!).

So why was I able to sell my company and retire from full-time business at age 38, while other people in the industry who knew much more about big business than I did crashed and burned?

I believe my success was not based upon what I “knew,” but rather on what I did not! You see, all budding entrepreneurs start out with pre-existing knowledge and beliefs based on their previous life experiences. And, I admit, not all of this knowledge is bad. For example, many acquired skills prove to be very valuable in business; an accounting background and computer proficiency come to mind.

However, the previous business knowledge, experience and beliefs a business owner brings to the residential services sector can doom his or her new enterprise before it ever starts. When you start working on the “Home Front” you are entering a very strange and different world. Therefore, you must throw all your previous beliefs and rules about business in general out the window.

Note: You probably should discount the well-meaning advice of others, both inside and outside the industry, too. Why? Just like you, outside “experts” are likely operating with the wrong set of business tools for success on the Home Front. The average carpet cleaner is probably limping along without a clue either.

Let’s look at some “common knowledge” that’s historically been brought to the table, and then shoot holes in each one of these business “facts.” For example, I didn’t know that…

1. "It Takes Money to Make Money"

Absolutely false and so very dangerous to a budding Home Front entrepreneur. Sure, if you are entering a traditional storefront operation you will have crushing fixed costs right from the get-go. But the residential cleaning field offers a great investment/profit ratio.

I started in carpet cleaning with $700 in personal savings, and over the next 20 years the company grew into a $1.3 million yearly enterprise with no start-up loans. Most carpet cleaners start out working from their home – and many stay there – which keeps their costs very low.

In addition, carpet cleaning allows you to “ease into business” by working part time while keeping your regular job. Of course, when you start this transition soon you will be faced with yet another common bit of well-meaning advice…

2. "Don't Quit Your ‘Secure' Corporate Job"

Sigh. Thirty years ago this time-worn cliché may have been true. But today, there is little or no security for anyone out there in the corporate world. Big business today is focused on just one thing: the bottom line. Companies of all sizes have been forced into ignoring personal loyalties to long-time employees and will cut their work force at the drop of a profit and loss statement!

If you have the “fire in the belly,” then every week/month/year that you dawdle along in your so-called “secure” job, you are putting off the true security of taking your future in your own hands as an entrepreneur working on the Home Front.

However, if you are going to successfully make the jump, you have to avoid the common misperception that…

3. "If I Have Been ‘Successful' Elsewhere, Making It as a Carpet Cleaner Will be a Cake Walk"

Actually, the contrary is true for any new business. Numerous studies have shown that the failure rate is actually higher for second career business start-ups. The false confidence that a business veteran brings to a new venture may very well be his or her undoing.

Nowhere is this more true than working on the Home Front as a carpet cleaner. My advantage was that I knew nothing about business when I started out my first cleaning company at the tender age of 16! So you old guys, burdened down by business experience above all else, must focus on the word “home” and another common misperception that…

4. "Working in Customers' Homes is No Different Than Any Other Location"

Completely and quite possibly fatally false. Building your actions around the Emotional Dynamics of the Home Front will be your key to initial success as a carpet cleaner.

Customers have a deep emotional attachment to their homes. Think for a moment about how the feelings you have for your home. What comes to mind? My guess is words such as peace, safety, refuge, comfort, family and security appear.

So since the home is such a “special place” emotionally for your customers, you must dodge this huge trap for carpet cleaners …

5. "Hiring and Training People Based Solely on Technical Skills"

Sure, you and your employees need to know how to clean carpets properly. But actually doing the work right is just the tip of the iceberg when getting customers to use your services again and, even better, to refer you to others.

Here is a key concept we teach: when it comes to the Home Front, 80 percent of how the homeowner defines a “good job” or a “bad job” is based on their relationship with the person actually performing the service!

Why is it so important how the homeowner feels about you (or your technician)? Because if you can win your clients over emotionally, you can avoid the common but oh-so-very short-sighted marketing belief that plagues our industry today…

6. "You Must Constantly Advertise Cheap Prices"

This is a two-fold snare. First, cheap pricing means you will never have the have the funds to:
  • pay your employees well
  • build a “real business” or
  • make a profit for yourself
Second and even worse, you are wasting what little money you do have to constantly advertise these cutthroat, no-profit prices. So stupid, and yet “advertise low prices” is the business model of most carpet cleaners today, simply because that is how “everyone” does it.

How to break out of this vicious circle? You must avoid the common but very misguided carpet cleaner opinion that…

7. "Customers Aren't Loyal Anymore"

Not so. Now it is true that as a people, Americans have become more “value oriented” simply because they feel poorer. Many experts say this has been in large part an “emotional recession” simply because when people lack confidence about the future they stop spending/investing.

However, remember that in difficult and stressful times people retreat to the security of their home (see No. 4).

This is great for the carpet cleaning industry since:
  • more time in the home equals dirtier carpet
  • homeowners are more focused on the appearance of their dwelling, and
  • more carpets are being restored by cleaning instead of going the high-dollar replacement route.
So now is the time to build a fanatically loyal group of Cheerleader customers who will not only be loyal, but will sing your praises from the rooftops! If you develop these enthusiastic Cheerleaders, you will resolve with one sheer stroke of genius the two problems plaguing our industry today:
  1. high-priced mass media advertising, and
  2. low-priced customers attracted by bait-and-switch marketing
When you have a core group of Cheerleaders slaving away for you, then you will escape the last common knowledge carpet cleaner self-limiting belief that…

8. "As a Carpet Cleaner, I Will Never Become Wealthy"

Subconsciously, I feel most carpet cleaners believe this sad, and incorrect, cliché. They honestly think that the most they can hope for is to “own a job” that will provide at best a middle-class existence.

Nothing could be further from the truth! Carpet cleaning can truly be your road to success and wealth if you and your employees can consistently make the Cheerleader!

So just how can you “make” the Cheerleader? Next month I’ll share the exact steps on how to convert a price-shopping homeowner into a passionate “unpaid salesperson” for you!

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