- THE MAGAZINE
I was a real dummy back in the Dark Ages (1969) when I started my first cleaning business! (No wisecracks needed out there over my current lack of IQ!) Starting out in this industry I had no education, no money, no experience and basically… no nothing!
Reflecting back over the last 40-plus years (has it really been that long?) I identified two key factors in my success. My first advantage? I was too stubborn (too stupid?) to give up! Instead, I just plowed like a bull through one problem after another.
Honestly, I think “simple ignorance” played a part in this business stubbornness! All business consultants said someone like me (who lacked everything) couldn’t be successful. But since I didn’t know about these experts, I just went ahead and did it!
Plus, since my wife Sioux and I didn’t realize how difficult our early years in business were, we were happy anyway! (And don’t get me started on the “entitled generation” we as a nation have become!)
But this positive “git ‘er done” attitude will only carry someone so far. Frankly, just slogging through life barely making it as a “hard scrabble” carpet cleaner isn’t in anyone’s definition of success! So I stumbled into my second success factor I called “getting smarter.”
NOTE: When I poll our SFS seminar attendees I’m amazed at how few have college degrees even remotely related to their current business. So yes, no matter how much higher education a cleaning or restoration contractor has, they still need to “get smart” in this business. But how?
Thankfully, our industry is blessed with highly gifted technical instructors. And yes - you absolutely need to know what you are doing for production efficiency which translates into profit!
In fact, even after I was off the truck managing my 16 employees, I wanted to know at least as much as they did technically. If you don’t know what your employees should be doing production-wise, they will take advantage of you unmercifully!
Plus staying up to date technically increases your personal confidence level which means clients instinctively will trust you more. And especially if you are a restoration contractor, technical proficiency (and the increased documentation skills and respect it brings) just may keep you out of a lawsuit!
But far too many cleaners and restorers never advance beyond the technical side of their business. Consequently these hardworking salts of the Earth people are superb at getting things clean but basically own a hand-to-mouth job.
Now there is nothing wrong with working at a job if your boss is providing your salary. But when you “own the job” (and are responsible for making the phone ring) then you need to “get smart” on the marketing and management of a growing business.
Don’t want to “get smart” on business development? Do you just want to clean carpets? Then seriously examine sub-contracting from another carpet cleaning business. Or become a trusted, key employee in a respected and successful local business.
But if you truly have the vision (and the fire in the belly) to become a successful entrepreneur then you must educate yourself. The worst of all worlds is to muddle along thinking that being a good carpet cleaner is enough to build a successful business. That’s not going to happen, folks! (Don’t ask me how I learned this!) So here are some “getting smarter” principles I painfully learned over the years…
Reject “Binge Learning”
We all face a multitude of business and personal pressures. And then when the pressure relents there are ever so many entertainment and recreation options to distract us. (Including simple exhaustion and the need to crash!) So the temptation is to produce the work and then kick back. (Sounds good to me!)
The problem? Many cleaners don’t have the business knowledge or experience to proactively avoid “surprise problems.” Then, like a drowning man, they flail around desperately trying to learn, force-feeding themselves information at the worst possible time to ingest it - during a business crisis!
The solution: Create a consistent and wide-ranging personal learning program. Become a renaissance man for your business. Learn basic marketing principles and then focus in on how to apply them in your company. Set up a reasonable learning schedule with time goals. And yes, over time learning stops being a chore and becomes an addiction.
Yes, it is tough to carve out the time (and attention span) to read about business. But you have hours of dead drive time every week. So why not use this time? How? Many inexpensive (or free) audio versions of business books can be easily downloaded for your listening pleasure!
For a free suggested reading list of the top 100 business books for cleaning and restoration business owners, e-mail me at stoburen@StrategiesForSuccess.com. Just put the phrase “ICS Top 100” in the subject line.
HINT: When you hear a specific item or you get an idea to implement in your company, stop the recording and write it down. Or use the record feature in your smart phone to leave yourself a message. Then follow up. Knowledge is worth little without implementation!
Avoid the “Brass Ring” Syndrome
Too often cleaning and restoration contractors are desperately searching for that one thing to make them successful.
The problem: Sadly, there are many snake oil salesmen in our industry. These shysters promise that buying their package/network/system/book will lead to guaranteed success. The tragedy is not the substantial money lost on these easy route-to-success schemes. Rather, it is the lost time and effort invested by gullible cleaners.
The solution: Don’t drink the Kool-Aid of just one individual or program. Learn from the best but take what you want from a multitude of resources. (We encourage our 3,000+ SFS graduates to attend other seminars and then share what they learn with their fellow SFS members.)
HINT: Before investing in any seminar, membership program, network, business opportunity or franchise, check them out. Just Google their name or, even better, post your questions on industry discussion forums like www.cleanrestoreconnect.com. Which reminds me…
Throw Your Nets Wide
Twenty years ago this used to be such a lonely business. But now the Internet lets you easily connect with thousands of other cleaning professionals on industry bulletin boards.
The challenge: You need to be cautious. (I don’t need to watch soap operas - I get all the drama I can handle on the boards!) And just like in real life, some posters will have a hidden agenda and/or be complete idiots/liars. I always tell my students that on the Internet everyone charges $0.80 per square foot and is booked solid for two months… year round!
The solution: Learn who to trust. Don’t blindly trust any one answer. Instead, search for consensus opinions. Look for reasonable, sound opinions backed up by years of success in business. Internet discussion forums can be a great source of new ideas, sound counsel and yes, even provide a shoulder to cry on… if you are careful.
Develop Business Mentors
Many of us (myself included!) started our own business because we were basically unemployable in the corporate sector!
The challenge: As a business rebel you probably relish the daily freedom that being an entrepreneur brings you. But this total lack of hour-to-hour accountability has a dark side - we can fritter away essential time.
The solution: Find business mentors that will hold you accountable. This can mean local business consultants you report to as you finish agreed upon goals or projects. Or you can proceed through a self-paced online business development program that will hold your feet to the fire as you grow your company.
Recognize Displacement Activities
All of us tend to hide out from needed but disagreeable business stuff. (I was guilty of this sin too!)
The challenge: Few carpet cleaners enjoy financial analysis, collecting on past due accounts, implementing creative marketing and/or face-to-face selling. So they tend to put off/ignore these vital tasks by getting their hands dirty doing the actual work. (For those of you who want to get off the truck, cleaning carpets every day very well may be a displacement activity!)
The solution: Every day ask one simple question: “What is my highest and best use today to help me meet my business and life goals?” If you are brutally honest with yourself it won’t be actually cleaning carpets/waxing your truck/messing around in your shop and/or painting your house/doing yard work, etc!
Sure, all these fun displacement activities are more comfortable than the vital business tasks I list out above. But if you want to “get smart” you must move out of your comfort zone.
Engage in Brutal Self-Analysis
It is easy to achieve comfortable mediocrity in a carpet cleaning business.
The challenge: It is tempting to just burn years complacently drifting along in life. But this business smugness isn’t going to build a dynamic, growing, successful business for you and your family!
The solution: Have you set business and life goals for one year, three years and five years from now? Then break these goals down on an incremental (and compounded) monthly basis and track them!
And hey - don’t forget to give yourself a pat on the back! How? By tracking where you are with profits and business growth versus a year ago? How about five years ago? Wow, you’ve come a long way, baby! And especially if all along you’ve been “getting smarter!”