How to Prosper in Tough Times

March 1, 2012
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These are tough times. This “Great Recession” has ripped apart families, foreclosed on countless homes and destroyed the net worth of millions.

“If you are going through hell … keep going.”  – Teddy Roosevelt



These are tough times. This “Great Recession” has ripped apart families, foreclosed on countless homes and destroyed the net worth of millions. Even worse, the recession has caused many American consumers to cut back on discretionary spending such as… carpet cleaning. Ouch!

The tricky trap for you? Blaming the economy for the poor performance of your business! After all, the media delights in profiling this ongoing economic disaster. However, today’s economic problems in many ways are an emotional recession.

Emotional recession? Say what?

Listen closely here. Your average customer is making as much money (or more money) than they were before the recession hit. But thanks to the constant barrage of negative economic news (and in all probability, the declining value of their home), Americans now feel poor. And when you feel poor, guess what? You stop spending money, which of course, creates a vicious economic cycle.

What’s the solution for you? First, please reject now and forever more that you personally must participate in this recession. Sure, economic conditions for the average person are worse than any of us have ever seen. But that’s just the point - you don’t have to be average! As a small entrepreneur you have a choice by focusing on the second part of my solution to prospering in tough times.

How? You must set yourself apart from the average negative beat-up-on-by-the-economy rug-sucker out there! I am so tired of this constant whining because I know so many cleaners who have adjusted their attitude and actions and are (forgive me) cleaning up in this economy! 

What’s the biggest characteristic of truly successful cleaners? They have differentiated themselves from the rest of the pack. Of course, everyone is desperately searching for the brass ring (i.e., the reason why homeowners should call them instead of the other guy). Far too many carpet cleaners try to set themselves apart by working (or at least advertising their service) for cheaper than everyone else. Others waste money on elaborate and expensive marketing schemes. And some carpet cleaners futilely try different colored trucks or different cleaning methods. 

The problem is all of these tactics can be (and probably will be) immediately imitated by your competitors. So how can you differentiate your company from the mass of low-balling carpet cleaners out there and still prosper in tough times? One way is to obsess over this grab-bag of business reminders.

Obsess over your marketing

Don’t follow the crowd: Twenty or 30 years ago, marketing for a carpet cleaner was so simple: Sign your Yellow Pages contract, run your newspaper ad, throw in a few radio ads and the calls poured in. Now your market is fragmented and your average prospect has the attention span of a three year old! Above all else, don’t compete head-on with the big companies in mass market advertising. (Remember, when the big boys advertise carpet cleaning, it increases your customer’s awareness of their dirty carpets too.)

Think-test-terminate: Thinking outside the marketing box is great. But all too often, we commit one or both of two fatal marketing mistakes: Either (a) we fall in love with our concept, or (b) keep it going without tracking results. The purpose of marketing is to drive profitable business to you. If it isn’t giving you a great return on investment, dump it and move on to something better.

Get serious about your website/SEO: Your single best marketing investment will almost always be Internet based. The insanity is too many carpet cleaners have a cookie-cutter website that looks like it was cobbled together by a second grader. Think about this: As carpet cleaners, we ridicule home owners who struggle with do-it-yourself carpet cleaning. Then we hack together a marginal business website that will harm us. So do what you do best and hire an expert to do what they do best in developing a functional and visually attractive website that exudes professionalism.

Be cautious about Groupon-type marketing: It sounds so seductively easy. No upfront marketing investment, just let Groupon advertise your 50 percent off cleaning price, the calls roll in and you build lifetime customers. What’s the Groupon reality for too many carpet cleaners? They are inundated in a tidal wave of low class clients who want the work done now. Even worse, instead of building loyal clients, these opportunistic coupon clippers will want the same low non-profit pricing for their next cleaning. To truly prosper in tough times you must also.

Obsess over your numbers

Know your costs: Most cleaners don’t have a clue what their true cost of doing business is. For example, “depreciation” is much more than an accounting term. Instead, depreciation recognizes the simple fact that everything in life (even you) breaks down and eventually dies. So are you charging enough (and setting enough dedicated funds aside) to deal with the inevitable repair/replacement costs coming at you?

Cut your overhead: Too many cleaners are frantically trying to increase their gross volume while ignoring the bottom line. (A classic example of the old saying “my company loses money on every sale but we make it up in volume.”) Instead, look for the little reoccurring costs that nibble away your profits. As Strategies for Success instructor Chuck Violand says: “It is much better to cut one dollar off your overhead than add ten dollars in gross volume.” Even after you have your marketing and finances under control you must…

Obsess over your client's emotions

Put on your Customer’s Eyeglasses: Sure, to you and your employees this is just another carpet cleaning job. But to a home owner (usually female) nervously waiting for a (usually male) stranger to enter her inner sanctum (i.e., her home); this experience is a frightening journey into the unknown. So logically you should …

Create “pre-sold” customers: What’s the very best way to calm a home owner’s fears? They won’t be afraid if they are calling due to an enthusiastic recommendation from a delighted customer that absolutely loves the job your company did in their home. (To download my free step-by-step “Make the Cheerleader” checklist just go to NOTE: Even better, create “online cheerleaders” that enthusiastically review you on websites such as Angie’s List, Yelp, Kudzu and other service provider sites. How? By first giving great personal service and then emailing the home owner a quality check form that includes links and instructions on how to post a client review afterwards.

Reassure your client: Show off your cheerleader reviews by prominently posting them on an “Our clients say…” web page. (HINT: Use the more objective phrase “customer reviews” instead of “testimonials.”) Don’t just post three or four customer reviews, include hundreds (thousands if you have them) of glowing reviews. Program these reviews to rotate in and out of your home page from your master list. NOTE: Add credibility to your reviews by asking selected cheerleaders if you can include their name and city along with their comments on your website.

Pre-orient your customer: Nothing is worse than the fear of the unknown. So let your clients know beforehand what is going to happen in their home. E-mail them a checklist of how to get their home ready for the cleaning. Attach a list of the steps you will be performing. Include a checklist and photos of your cleaning process. Even better, host some before and after videos of the carpet actually turning from grimy black into its original sparkling color.

So do you want to not only survive, but to actually become wildly successful in these tough times? Then obsess over your marketing, your numbers, and most importantly, your customer’s emotions and you will prosper!

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