- THE MAGAZINE
I will be starting my second carpet cleaning business this spring and would like your advice, as I had a carpet cleaning business that folded about three years ago. I used a portable back then but have now saved up enough to buy a used truckmount and a rotary extraction cleaning head.
I presently live in New York City and with my past failures my question is simple: What should I do to really make it this time?
-New York “Newby”
Yes, you can do it. Many years ago I started out with a very weak portable and no rotary extraction. (Rotary extraction was not even around back then!) Sixteen years later I sold out and retired from full-time business at the tender age of 38. How did I do it? First of all, in my long-winded way I'll tell what I didn't have going for me:
1. I didn't have great equipment: You should buy the very best (read labor-saving here) tools you can afford. But equipment will not make you successful on its own.
2. I wasn't all that great technically: Yes, you should constantly be trying to better yourself knowledge-wise. But there are a huge number of “technical wizard” carpet cleaners that go broke very year.
3. I didn't have any capital: My wife Sioux and I started the business with an under-powered portable, a Ford Pinto station wagon and less than $3,000 in the bank.
4. I didn't have any formal business education: The streets are full of broke (and out-of-work) MBA's.
5. I didn't have the great "support group" that publications like ICS provide.
6. I wasn't even good looking like I am sure you are! (I am handsome now but that is another story!)
So what did I have going for me that not only let me survive but even prosper despite my appalling lack of business knowledge, capital and equipment? Well, let me count up what I had in abundance and I hope you have these qualities and skills too for a successful start-up…
1. I was really stubborn: Looking back, I honestly think I was too stubborn (and possibly too stupid!) to realize just how miserable I was sometimes. (This can be a blessing!) When bad things happen (and yes we did have our disasters!) a truly stubborn person just grits his teeth and keeps working. Speaking of working ...
2. I worked insanely hard: Carpet cleaning is just plain hard physical work with often brutal hours. When you add in the emotional and mental demands of owning your own business, too many people just zone out and fall into complacency.
3. I kept my overhead very low: If your living or business expenses are high then when bad things happen (as they always do), you will be toast. So Sioux and I never went into debt to buy consumer goods.
4. I was always selling: It didn't matter where I was - restaurant, hardware store, neighbor's home or at the day care center, I would hand people my card. This in turn led to…
5. The development of commercial routes: Sure, nobody likes the hours. (That's why ASAP you hire employees for the night work.) But regular contract commercial work gives your business a financial base that you can count on, especially if your commercial work is made up of lots of little regular accounts instead of one or two big ones.
We cleaned around 60 bars, restaurants and other accounts every month plus lots of other regular contract work that produced around $30,000 a month in cash flow we could count on. This was huge for me.
NOTE: Write me at firstname.lastname@example.org for my free “How to Sell Commercial Carpet Cleaning” manual. I’ll e-mail it to you free of charge or you can download “Selling Commercial Carpet Cleaning” HERE.
6. I had the support of my family: Being successful does entail sacrifices, some of which inevitably fall on your family. You can't handle the constant drain of a complaining spouse!
7. I diversified financially: Totally by accident I bought a home many years ago. Then I bought another one without selling the first one. Then I bought a warehouse. Now our rental income from our paid off properties provides us with a very comfortable retirement. You personally may not choose real estate. That’s fine. But right now, from the get-go, start paying yourself first by investing (outside of the business) a percentage of your total gross income.
8. I tried to make a “cheerleader” out of each and every customer: Our entire advertising, marketing and promotional budget for the last year I was in business was 2.8% of sales. (This is incredibly low since most companies devote at least 10% of their gross to advertising.) It could have been zero and I'm not sure that we would have seen any fall off. Why? Because we made “cheerleaders” through the value-added service actions and the attitudes of our employees. What’s a cheerleader? Customers who were so delighted they constantly promoted our company to everyone they knew on a consistent basis!
Wow, Newby, I haven't written an “Ask Steve” this long in ages. But your cry for help struck a chord. You will be successful if you truly want to be. We will all be rooting for you. Now don't leave us hanging...
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