Choosing Your Life

March 14, 2011
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Absolutely nothing is more exciting than starting a new business. More and more Americans are doing just that as freshly minted carpet cleaners, if only because it is so hard to find a decent job! It is just so liberating to take your future in your own entrepreneurial hands instead of blindly trusting in some faceless corporation.

However, the harsh truth is many of these new carpet-cleaning ventures will not last a year. Or worse, the company founder becomes enslaved in a vicious cycle of constant pressure and crushing financial overload. So these hardworking entrepreneurs limp along hating their business, their customers and their life. But sadly, they never build the courage and/or the knowledge of how to escape the business trap they have fallen into.

True Confessions Time: Like many, I opened my carpet cleaning business as a desperate ploy to (hopefully) buy groceries. And if your home is being foreclosed on I’m not going to preach at you on the value of setting long-range goals. However, the cleaning and restoration industry gives you the wonderful blessing of choosing where you want to go in life and how you wish to arrive there if you “do it right.”

However, far too many carpet cleaners confuse “survival” with “success.” These poor mixed-up souls feel like if they have fought, screamed, clawed and struggled through another day/month/year, they are a “success.” So sad, because with just a little soul searching and introspective analysis these desperate individuals could be so much happier and fulfilled.

Remember that the purpose of going into business is to find your “Perfect Place” in life. You see, everyone has their own “sweet spot,” that personal comfort zone where their life “just feels good.” So why not:
  1. Define your personal Perfect Place, and then
  2. Use your cleaning/restoration business to take you there?
The key to building a successful business (and an even better life) is found in six little words: “Begin with the end in mind!” For most of us, we want it all: A happy, healthy family; good friends; productive work; emotional and spiritual fulfillment and, of course, financial security. So your first “End In Mind” task is to define exactly what you want out of your life, something that is actually harder than it sounds.

So how can you “Begin with the end in mind”? Think/dream/analyze/meditate/decide! Now write this vision of your Perfect Place life down. Refer to this life vision frequently in your business-building EIM process. By keeping this vision clearly in focus, your business will serve you, instead of the other way around.

Of course, a vision on its own won’t put food on your table! So let’s get down in the trenches with more specific EIM questions. Ask yourself…

What are my strengths/weaknesses?

None of us are perfect. Defeat your demons by asking, “How can I compensate for my weak areas?” The answer may simply be, “Suck it up, cowboy! No one ever said being successful would be easy!” But at least anticipate and focus on where you will struggle.

How much income do I need/want?

Given the current chaos in business credit you probably will be starting out on a shoestring. No problem! However, obsess on how you can cut your personal overhead. I call us the “Entitled Generation” as in “I deserve to eat out six times a week” or “I need a new car every other year.” Success in life and business requires sacrifice, especially in the start-up phase.

After chopping personal expenses to the bone (stop your impulse credit card buying!) don’t overlook income from other sources. Many carpet cleaners keep their full-time job for the first year until their business can replace their regular income. Or can your spouse fill in the start-up financial gap?

Don't just focus on the "how much do you need?" question; plan toward what you want!

If you are going to endure the inevitable agonies of becoming an entrepreneur, you should be rewarded far above what your old 40-hour-a-week job paid! So determine now what your financial goals are including the vital question…

What is my "exit strategy"?

Remember, “time is the only resource you can’t buy more of!” So while hopefully you will love your Perfect Place in business, one day you will want to move on.

Think carefully on your business-horizon time line. Consider your age, health and other life priorities. Do you want a business that can be sold for a pile of money? Will you transfer it to your children (assuming they want it)? If so, the steps for a successful family transfer are the same as preparing your business for sale.

What about employees?

Think carefully on this one. Typically a carpet cleaner starts out doing all the work, gets too busy, haphazardly hires employees, is burned by them big time and then retreats back on to the truck and winds up “growing old on the wand”! There is nothing wrong with staying small as an owner-operator if you:
  • Truly enjoy what you do and
  • You are providing for the economic future of your family, including carrying good life insurance and disability coverage.
That said, most cleaning entrepreneurs eventually morph into a multi-employee operation. Great! But if you are going to hire employees, please keep growing till you hit what I call “critical mass.” The purpose of employees is for the work to get done without your having to be there in 24-7. If you have to be onsite personally flogging your people out the door, you truly have “the worst of both worlds” in business.

Once you have decided on employees, also think about…

Will I work out of my home or in a commercial location?

History is replete with tales of corporate conglomerates that were started in the owner’s garage! (Microsoft, Apple and Hewlett-Packard come to mind.) However, these budding entrepreneurs right from the get-go viewed their garage just as the launching pad on a journey to that corporate campus of the future.

Today, more and more entrepreneurs plan to keep their business in their home long term. Either way works, just plan it now, including…

What services should I offer?

So many choices! Once again, look for that economic sweet spot- services and products that deliver
  • The most profit in
  • the least time, with
  • the least invested, and
  • the least local competition! Look for high-profit synergistic services to add on to each job. Also ask yourself…


What market will I serve?

Look carefully at your logical geographical limits; drive time is a killer, plus start-up marketing to a large area requires much more money and time to make an impact.

Examine your market demographics. Trying to be all things to everyone is normally a sure route to disaster; the Internet provides some incredibly fine-tuned ways to reach out to your chosen age or income groups. Maybe most importantly, focus on …

What will make my company different?

Our industry is flooded with cookie-cutter, look-alike carpet cleaners, all barely eking out a middle-class existence. Doesn’t sound like a successful life to me! So obsess over what marketing experts call “differentiation” as in, “Why should a prospective customer call my company instead of another one?”

Hint: You will set yourself apart by focusing on the Emotional Dynamics of how you and your employees deliver your service in the customer’s home. Now once you have made your company unique and special here is one last vital question…

How can I keep the cash rolling in?

The challenge is too many carpet cleaners are in a feast-or-famine cycle. Too busy and then dead in the water! Sure: if you stay small you can stash money away and hit the golf course when times are slow (sounds good to me!). But once you add employees they will want and need full time work.

So how will you feed the monster you have created with a multi-employee company? You will keep the cash coming in with a “toll booth” and that is what we will talk about in next month’s To Your Success!

Wow! We’ve covered some heavy stuff here! Sure, it’s more fun to talk about up-selling Scotchgard or buying a new truckmount. But nothing is more important than your life and getting the most out of it. In fact, think how few of your friends have the privilege (and the responsibility) to choose their Perfect Place in life!

Congratulations, then, that you do!

Author’s Note: How can you achieve your Exit Strategy? Download my free 35-page manual, “Cashing Out: Preparing Your Cleaning Business for its Eventual Sale” at http://tiny.cc/SFScashout

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