Ask Steve

Ask Steve: How Do I Grow My Company into a Large, Critical Mass Operation?

To grow within five years to a $500K-plus company, you're going to have to follow a consistent commercial sales program

(Editor’s Note: This “Ask Steve” is a continuation from the June 13 and June 20 column. See Steve’s thoughts on making it as an owner-operator here and growing your business to critical mass here.) 

Hi Steve,

I know you were successful in this game. After 18 years pushing the wand I find myself still struggling. I make a fair living, but the pressure is always there and somehow it seems like every day/week/month contains a crisis of some sort.

I’m still alone on the truck (I hire occasional helpers for big jobs) and am finding working alone seriously cuts into time for family and other obligations and personal opportunities. I’ve tried hiring employees and expanding. But it always seemed like between marginal employees and uneven cash flow, my expansion plans never have worked out well.

So here is my big problem. At 44 years old, I find my body is not “cooperating” sometimes and of course, I doubt this situation is going to improve. So if you were starting over what would you do differently? Or more accurately, if you were 44 years old and stuck in the owner-operator rut, what would you do?

Feeling a Bit Beat Up On in Omaha


So over the last two weeks I’ve given Feeling two different options going forward- either staying small as a high-priced residential “boutique cleaner” or getting big and achieving personal freedom with a large critical mass company that will run with you or without you. (I suggested to Feeling that the bulk of his critical mass income should come from regular contract commercial work.) 

But to grow within five years to a $500K-plus company, anyone (including Feeling) is going to have to follow a consistent commercial sales program. So how do you do this, especially for someone who is already swamped actually producing the work as a solo owner-operator? 

  1. Selling should be a “process” not an “event”!The challenge here is most people do commercial sales the way people diet. They complacently and thoughtlessly eat their way through life until one day panic strikes when their pants don’t fit! So they crash diet! The same thing happens in business. We complacently ignore the difficult necessity to sell and market our services until one day we realize there is no money in the bank and nothing in the pipeline either! So we engage in some desperate “crash selling,” get a few jobs and then focus only on doing the work and ignore the difficult reality that selling must happen consistently. And this sad process then repeats itself again and again and again! So you must first…
  2. Dedicate one morning a week to nothing but sales calls.That’s right, don’t allow any “displacement activities” to intrude. I called this my “dedicated sales morning” and I set the goal of talking to 20 new potential accounts during this time. I found that I became more dialed in and efficient if I would…
  3. Pick a different market sector to focus on each week.So one week I might only call on real estate offices. Then the next week I would only sell to restaurants. And then the following week call on doctor’s offices, etc. I discovered that all restaurants face much of the same issues, so by only focusing on one type of business I would be much more effective. And speaking of effective…
  4. Plan your route geographically.Drive time is not sales time and especially as an owner-operator you need to get efficient. So lay out your pre-determined sales calls the night before to minimize driving. This way I could dispose of my 20 sales calls as early as possible and get back to the office to clean carpets, which is what I really loved doing! Remember that you want to gain people’s respect right from the get-go so I strongly suggest you…
  5. Dress up!Yes, I get more flak on this suggestion than on any other thing in our SFS seminar! (I don’t know why but the average carpet cleaner lives in mortal dread of a dress tie!) However, I found that when I dressed as a professional business person, prospects treated me with more respect and I closed more accounts.

NOTE: Once you have all these commercial accounts with employees cleaning them you better get organized! So I developed a Commercial Job Profile sheet for each regular account. For your free copy, just e-mail me at and put the words “Job Profile” in the subject line. 

P.S. Now Feeling is going to hit the wall doing all this work himself! And making the jump to a full-time commercial employee is a killer! So next week I’ll answer a question from an Alaskan owner-operator on how to hire part-time people for your commercial routes!

Steve and ICS want to consult for you! For a personal reply write Steve HERE with your questions, problems, struggles and challenges! Your help is on the way! A new “Ask Steve” premieres in the ICS eNews every Thursday. To subscribe to the weekly eNewsletter, click here.

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