(For "Building a Drama-Free Business: Part I," click here for Steve's article from the February issue)
“No more drama in my life, I don’t ever wanna hurt again…” — Mary J. Blige
You started your cleaning business 20, 25 or even 30 years ago. You worked hard, built a loyal clientele and over the years you became “successful.” You bought all the toys - a nice home, new cars, an RV, five-star vacations and still had money in the bank! You loved the physical work and life was good!
But now as you hit middle (or later!) age, the work (and business) you loved just isn’t as much fun as it once was. Sure, you have more money than ever. But physically, your body is dramatically rebelling from the daily pace. Even worse, pushing that cleaning wand has become sort of… boring and constricting!
Sound like anyone you know? The vast majority of carpet cleaners logically start out as an owner-operator, or “O/O.” And why not? The “lone wolf” business model is simple, easy, drama-free and has very low overhead. But as the years go by, the appeal of working alone fades right along with your body!
So then the average O/O cleaner hires employees and all is good… that is until the drama and problems in their life mount exponentially! (Plus our struggling entrepreneur realizes they had much more money in their pocket when working alone!)
Typically our overwhelmed cleaner will now fire all of his/her employees and reluctantly go back alone on the truck - chastened, much poorer and afraid to ever hire another employee! The problem? It is just so sad to grow old on the wand while never achieving personal freedom!
NOTE: This concept of “personal freedom” resonates with so many of our SFS attendees. Sure, most of them are making “good money.” But at what cost physically and emotionally? Too many cleaners and restoration contractors are enslaved by all the negative drama found in their employee’s lives. After all, what good is money if you don’t have the time and personal freedom to enjoy it?
So can you develop great, drama-free employees so you can find and enjoy this elusive personal freedom? My answer is a resounding “yes,” if you have the right concepts, tools and the fire in the belly to break free! It is no fun growing old chained to your scrub wand…
1. Recognize that you are starting an entirely new business:
Sure, you don’t advertise your new personal freedom goal to your faithful, long-time customers. But if you are going to build a drama-free business with employees, you must realize that your old owner-operator managerial style just won’t work anymore. Instead, you must now become a “manager,” which I define as “someone responsible for many more outcomes.” Then your next task is to…
2. Begin with the end in mind:
Sure, I realize your chosen end (maybe “goal” sounds less final!) is a moving target. That’s OK. But still… try right now to reflect on what type of business you eventually want to run. (And sell!) How many employees/trucks, where it will be located, the services you want to offer, when and how you want to retire and your desired level of personal involvement. Then start growing…
3. Hire for the “ghost position”:
Huh? Well, as a small one-truck O/O you can’t advertise for (or pay) a job applicant to run their own truck. But do you want to get off the truck by having a self-motivated and responsible technician? Then this is the “ghost position” you truly are hiring for. So as you are interviewing for a carpet cleaning assistant you will also silently be analyzing if each candidate can eventually work on their own. Sure, you probably will misjudge and make mistakes. So therefore…
4. Don’t let marginal employees “plug up your totem pole”:
No small, growing company should let barely adequate employees just hang out. If you discover that you’ve accidentally hired a “slug” (it happens!) don’t wait for him or her to quit. Instead, respectfully (and legally) terminate their services and search for a quality employee that at least has the potential to grow with you.
HINT: When letting an employee go, it is essential to treat them with respect and dignity. Never engage in recriminations or verbal abuse. (Yes, I know it is tempting!) One great firing phrase I used was: “Bill, I appreciate your efforts over the last __ weeks. But after working with you I just don’t think our company can provide the environment and opportunity you deserve…” (Be sure to check all your termination procedures with an attorney.)
Still shaking your head about my goal of hiring quality employees? Stop laughing and/or crying! They are out there…
NOTE: IF you decide to go big, searching for/recruiting and keeping good people on your team will be one of your most important functions as a business owner. Remember this: “With the right person, building your business will be easy, fun and a daily joy! With the wrong person, your company will become Hell on earth.”
NOTE: Want to learn how to find (or even understand) quality, younger workers? Then e-mail me at stoburen@StrategiesForSuccess.com and put “Millenials” in the subject line.
5. Avoid “desperation hiring”:
Every time I just “hired a warm body,” I added more unwanted drama and problems to my life! So I was constantly on the lookout for quality individuals even if I wasn’t hiring at that moment. (One guaranteed certainty is you will need more employees down the road and usually quickly.)
My goal was to have a stable of pre-screened, pre-interviewed applicants eager to quit their dead-end job and come to work for me! I literally wanted these quality people to be waiting every day for my call! (I suggest sending your “employees in waiting” a weekly “just touching base with you” e-mail to make their wait more tolerable.)
6. Always be searching:
That’s right, every day was a recruiting day for me! Any time I encountered a good prospective employee in the market place, I’d explain that I was impressed with their attitude/service. Then I would write my cell number on the back of my business card and say, “Give me a call. I may have an opportunity for you in my organization.”
Where to recruit? Anywhere you do business. I’ve hired good, long-term employees away from their jobs as waiters, fast food workers, pest control services, mechanics, bus drivers, construction and retail positions. The only common denominators I looked for were an instinctive people-pleasing ability and the physical ability to do the job. (Also, I wanted to offer them a better job than where they were before.) I found some great long-term employees this way. Of course, for this approach to work you must …
7. Build a desirable work place:
Ask yourself: “Would I want to work for me?” Remember that you’re not the only one that hates negative drama! Sane and stable employees want to work in a sane and stable environment. (DUH!) So is your company reasonably drama-free of tense emergencies, dropped balls, finger pointing and ugly confrontations? If not, then review the business infrastructure points above!
8. Develop routine training systems:
Quality employees want to be challenged with learning new skills immediately after hiring. So do so! It is very motivating to be made part of the team right away. You’ll do this with written training systems that promote consistency and add accountability.
9. Reward/recognize your employees:
We all respond to positive stimuli including pleasure, public recognition and, of course, money! As owners and managers, we may intend to give these positive moments of truth to our employee. But daily business crises tend to sidetrack us! (More on rewarding your employees next month.)
10. Stop living in fear:
Respect, reward and appreciate your employees. But never allow any employee to hold you “emotionally hostage.” You fall into this trap when your worker realizes you need them more than they need you! At this point, your employee-employer relationship will become hopelessly skewed! You will avoid this sad state affairs by focusing on the above nine points!
NOTE: For a free “How to Add Employee Accountability” checklist, e-mail me at stoburen@StrategiesForSuccess.com. Put the words “Great employees!” in the subject line.
The cleaning and restoration industry is a great business. And when you build a drama-free team of quality employees all working toward a common goal, you’ll not only find wealth and satisfaction, but you will also achieve personal freedom!