Ask Steve

Ask Steve: How Big Should I Get?

The absolute worst business model is to be "in-between."

Hello Steve,

At 38 I find myself where a lot of carpet cleaners are - sort of at a fork in the road of my life and I would appreciate your thoughts. Here is the short version…

I’ve been pushing a wand as an owner-operator since I was 24 years old. I graduated from college with a liberal arts degree and there weren’t any jobs, so I started cleaning carpets until a “real job” came along. Now 14 years later I still love owning my own carpet cleaning business … most of the time.

I’m still physically able to clean carpets and I even enjoy it. I also like the customer interaction and “putting on a show” for my clients with the dirty versus the clean carpet.

And yet even though I sincerely appreciate what carpet cleaning has brought me, I find myself getting kind of … bored!

So what do you think, Steve? Should I stay small as an owner-operator or get big by expanding? I am really torn on this. Depending what day of the week it is, I can want both options.

-Meditating in Memphis


Hmmmm…  interesting. Just imagine. While your friends are fretting about losing their “boring” job (or desperately searching for another one) you have the luxury of choosing “options” in your life.

But I will take issue with your last sentence - you don’t get “both options.” Just to be clear, let’s look at your two big options going forward:

Door No. 1: Get Big: Add employees/ trucks/ systems/ managers/ and yes, it must be admitted, overhead/ headaches too! Once you hit "critical mass" you will have a self-sustaining operation that will run without you and generate lots of profit, allowing you to have a great lifestyle and find yourself wealthy when you’re ready to cash out. (I tell every SFS class that all other things being equal, it is always better to have money than to not have money! I think we can all agree on this principle.)

Note: Actually your net worth will have been growing all along but now at sale time you will have cash in hand and cash is a very comforting thing!

Door No. 2: Stay Small: You will make an excellent living and avoid many of the inevitable headaches encountered in getting big. But your business will likely not bring in much money (if anything) at retirement, even though it has provided a great living for you.

Now this “just making a living” will be OK because over the last 20, 30 or 40 years you will have been socking away 10% (15% is better) in a PIP. (This is my acronym for your “Personal Investment Plan,” a diversified savings program. You will also have been investing in the tax-deferred programs the government offers, such as IRA's.) There are many good books on these investing concepts so I’m not going to bore you on this here.

Each of these two options has their merits, Memphis. The absolute worst business model (which is where many carpet cleaners find themselves) is to be "in-between." This is where you are too big to enjoy the benefits of staying small but you never make that final leap to the financial freedom of "critical mass" where the business runs without you either.

NOTE: I actually wrote a research paper a couple of years ago called "Avoiding the Road In-Between.” Just write me at and put the words “ICS In-Between” in the subject line. I’ll e-mail you the entire report free.

So what’s the bottom line for you, Meditating? If you religiously follow your plan, whether it is Door No. 1 or Door No. 2 above, you will retire a millionaire. But you must choose a door and actually go through it and work your plan every day! (Like Chuck Violand always says, “The toughest door to make it through is your own!” And so it is!)

This is a great industry… if you do it right. (Sadly, many don't.) Let me know how things go for you!

 NOTE: 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” will appear in the ICS eNews every Thursday. Register to receive it here

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