Cleaning & Restoration Association News

Avoiding the "Top Ten"

September 18, 2007
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Carpet cleaning can and should be a great life, as a happy, fulfilled and wealthy entrepreneur mans the helm of a thriving business. Or it can be a miserable existence with a sour, negative person slaving away at a job they dislike with customers they despise. Weird.

Both of these individuals are in the same industry, use the same procedures, probably operate similar equipment, and they both very likely started out full of optimism and hope. So why the dramatic difference in their happiness, personal fulfillment and degree of success?

Maybe the key word in the paragraph above is “started out.” How someone starts in this game will very likely determine his or her end. At the very least, starting out wrong will define a start-up entrepreneur for many years, possibly stunting their business growth and destroying their hopes at an early stage.

Of course, problems are inevitable when beginning any new operation. Heck, if it was easy everyone would be in this business, and you sure don’t need more competitors. In fact, here are some common “mistakes” business experts warn about that I say are just part of the game. Don’t let them bother you and, even more important, don’t subconsciously line up these challenges as “pre-excuses” for having failed.

No money. Business experts often warn of the dangers of under-capitalization. Of course you are under-capitalized; that’s why you became a carpet cleaner instead of buying a $1 million McDonald’s franchise. One huge advantage of carpet cleaning industry is the low entry cost. So don’t worry about not having money in the beginning. (I don’t recommend it, but I started my first carpet-cleaning venture with less than $700!)

Too much competition. Absurd. Sure, I know you’re not the only one out there to have discovered carpet cleaning. And yes, at first glance the competition can appear intimidating. But you are one of the few carpet cleaners in your area focused on building a business, not just “owning a job.” Remember, the management and marketing skills of the average carpet cleaner verge on the non-existent. Sad for our industry, but great for you!

People won’t pay anything for quality work. Not so. Sure, after being subjected to thousands of bait-and-switch ads, a fair percentage the American public believes that carpet cleaning is a commodity differentiated only by price. But there is a huge market out there that appreciates excellent work delivered by a quality company and yes, these folks will pay a fair price to get it. Your job is to both find these people and deliver what you promise. It can and is being done.

After almost 40 years in this industry, I’ve seen my share of start-ups, both good and bad. And even after discounting the excuses above, I will admit there are common mistakes most beginning carpet cleaners make. (Even worse, some cleaners are still stuck in some of the mistakes below even after many years in business!) So let me share with you the first five of the Top Ten “Starting Out” mistakes and how to avoid them. We’ll cover the first five in this issue and next month wrap them up:

Mistake No. 1: Failure to set personal life goals

There are so many different roads to your personal definition of “success” in this business. As a carpet cleaning business owner you can tailor your company to fit your personality, your circumstances and your family goals. However, this requires you to ask yourself possibly the toughest question of all- “What do I want to be when I grow up?” Most people never determine the answer and sort of lurch along in their life, never achieving their long-term goals because they have never even defined them! Sometimes having too many life options can be worse than the curse of being stuck in a regular job you don’t like. So far too often beginning carpet cleaners veer between different business sizes and models because they fall into the trap of…

Mistake No. 2: Letting others define your success

You are going to receive lots of business and personal advice over your lifetime. Most of it will be well meaning, and some of it may actually be valuable. But the trap is, everyone will advise you based on their experience/life/background and what they have accomplished. Psychologists call this self-validation, and there is nothing wrong with this entirely normal self-justification of one’s chosen life course…until you start basing your life on the choices of others (I had a business associate once whose constantly shifting future business plans were determined by the last person he had lunch with.). Once again, it is your life to live, and the choices you make must be both defined and executed based on you and your family’s life goals. However, you also need to avoid…

Mistake No. 3: Lack of expert support and advice

Just as with any substance-abuse problem, the first step is to admit you have a problem as a newbie business owner, which is...you don’t remotely know what you are doing. As the saying goes, “A little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing.” Fortunately, there are many options out there to orient and advise you. You are reading one of them. Even better is the two-way communication found on industry Internet bulletin boards, such as the one found at www.icsmag.com. While these boards are not for the thin-skinned or faint of heart, and you still must be discerning as to who and what to believe, there is a huge amount of excellent, personalized information out there being delivered by caring, experienced carpet cleaners. And it is free!

In addition, your distributor should be an expert source of training and help. If you aren’t getting a high level of support from your supplier, find another company to buy from. Remember, you should be getting not just technical training but, at times, a shoulder to cry on!

Take advantage of industry seminars and conferences. Remember, focus not just on technical topics but also the commonly ignored subjects of management and marketing (Yes, I know you hate this stuff but suck it up. We’re talking your life success here!). And don’t forget the granddaddy of all industry conferences, the Connections Conference and Trade Show in Las Vegas. I’ll be there, and you should be too! OK, by now you have defined your personal life goals and have sought out help and advice. At some point you have to actually start cleaning carpets to get that cash rolling in! But once you start your first job, a huge mistake usually occurs because the typical carpet cleaner has…

Mistake #4: No grasp of the Emotional Dynamics of working in the customer's home

Most carpet cleaners start out with a “technician mentality”: focused on chemicals, tools, equipment and specifications, and actually doing the work. All of this stuff is important, but is a distant second to understanding the Emotional Dynamics of working with people in their residential environment. Simply put, 80 percent of how the homeowner determines whether you have done a good job or a bad job has nothing to do with the pH of your chemicals or the heat/pressure/volume of your cleaning solution. Instead, the homeowner’s satisfaction – and future referrals – will be based almost completely on the relationship they have with the person working in their home. As a start-up owner-operator, this means you! Just remember that if you treat the customer as you would in a normal, retail environment, you will be dooming your enterprise to failure.

Mistake #5: Not making the Cheerleader

As a start-up business your marketing and advertising costs will eat you alive unless you can convince your customers to do your selling for you. You do this by dramatically exceeding their expectations so that they become raving fans, what I call Customer Cheerleaders: clients who are actively promoting your services to everyone they meet. These “unpaid salespeople” will revolutionize your business, but you must build your entire business around creating positive Moments of Truth so your customers will be absolutely blown away! In the final analysis the Desired End Product (DEP) of your business has nothing to do with cleaning carpets. Your DEP is making the Cheerleader, and the carpets get cleaned as the means to the end. Most carpet cleaners never grasp this concept and instead focus their entire operation on production instead of the Emotional Dynamics of the Home Front.

Hey, you haven’t even actually touched your new, shiny scrub wand, and yet you have already avoided many common start-up mistakes. You have defined your goals and sought out expert training and advice. Even better, you realize that you must treat your residential client differently so they become a Customer Cheerleader who will sing your praise from the rooftops! But as you’ll see next month, the common “starting out” mistakes multiply after you walk through that first door.

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