- THE MAGAZINE
I still remember my first employee, Vaughn. He was hardworking, clean-cut, cheerful and reliable. Even better, Vaughn related well to my customers and actually enjoyed cleaning carpets! And yet, somehow I was always vaguely dissatisfied with his performance. You see, Vaughn just didn’t seem to care about my business as much as I did.
Now, 30 years later, I recognize that Vaughn was the best employee I ever had. Simply put, employees will never put the same amount of blood, sweat and tears into your company as you will. The key phrase is “your company.” That’s right. Your business is your baby, not your employees’. And yet, if you don’t want to stay chained to the scrub wand, you must develop motivated workers. In other words, how can you (as much as possible) clone yourself?
Change your self-image. We’ll get to your employee tactics in a minute. But first, let’s talk about you. One of my workers used to tell me, “Steve, the fish always rots from the head down.” He was right. When it comes to hiring employees, we are usually our own worst enemy. Remember that most of us (myself included) entered this industry with a technician mentality (the typical start-up carpet cleaner is much more interested in which truckmount to buy than the essential but oh-so-boring Three M’s- Management, Marketing and Manpower.). This focus on the technical works when it is just you on the wand. But once you hire your first employee, you become much more than just a rug-sucker. You are now a manager, which I simply define as someone responsible for many more outcomes. Can you make the switch?
Charge more. Understand this: employees are expensive. The hourly salary you offer your first employee will just be the tip of the iceberg. Worker’s Compensation, withholding, complicated accounting and of course the fact that no employee will be as reliable or as hardworking as you all will add greatly to your overhead. These hidden costs mean you will have to charge more just to put the same amount of money in your pocket as you did in your pre-employee era (most solo owner-operators do not remotely charge the true cost of being in business anyway.) So today, right now, raise your prices. Trust me on this one. A 15-percent price increase will not even be noticed by the great majority of your customers, yet it will transform your bottom-line profit picture. Now that you are charging more, you will need to …
Pay more. Let’s be clear: just paying an employee more money will not make them a) work harder or b) become a better person. These qualities are what I call “born and bred” traits that are inculcated into an individual long before they enter the workforce. However, a higher starting salary will attract higher quality people and keep them around longer. Ask yourself, “Could my family survive on what I pay my employees?” If your answer is “no”, what type of employee are you going to attract? Of course, more money on its own is not enough. You must also …
Raise your standards. It is so easy to hire warm bodies without considering the moral fiber and emotional stability of your applicants. Remember, your customers are trusting you with their private lives. Who are you going to send into your client’s home, their innermost sanctum? Here is a great litmus test when examining a prospective employee or, even more importantly, when looking at your current staff. Ask yourself, “How would I feel about this employee working alone in my home with my wife?” If your honest answer is not a resounding “Great!” then why are you inflicting this marginal individual on your unsuspecting customers? The financial (and moral) implications of hiring less-than-quality people can be staggering.
Hire for the “ghost position.” One of my business mentors told me many years ago, “Steve, unfortunately we tend to hire people just like us.” Just as when you look for a marriage mate, it is so much better to search for people that complement your qualities and fill in where you are weak. Therefore, if you truly want to grow your business you must hire people that have the potential to be more than technicians. Not everyone will choose to grow with you, but they should at least be able to if they so choose. (Bear in mind that once these high-potential employees are on board they are going to want to progress, or they will leave to find a better opportunity.)
Train better. All too often, we find a great, hardworking and eager young employee … and then throw them to the wolves by putting them out on the truck without a clue on the Emotional Dynamics of working on the home front. Dealing with customers twice their age making 10 times their salary is a highly stressful situation for young technicians. So don’t just train your employees on how to turn on the machine and mix chemicals. You must also orient them on how to build a professional relationship with the homeowner.
Keep it simple. You know everything about your company, your procedures, your customers and, yes, even the foibles of your truckmount! But employees won’t know all this stuff and never will. Your goal is to make it easier to do it right than do it wrong in your company by having written systems that anyone can follow. However, even after making life as simple as possible, you will need to …
Expect less. Once again, even the best employee will never be you. As your company grows, you must rid yourself of the obsessive, compulsive and controlling traits that made you such a great owner-operator carpet cleaner. Everyone, including your employees, does dumb things, makes mistakes and will never meet your expectations. Can you accept less than perfection? If you can’t, you need to …
Know thyself. Remember, it is not written in stone that you have to get big and hire employees. If you are happy, content and have provided for the current and future financial needs of your family (including your possible disability or untimely death) then maybe you should just stay small. After all, even the best employees in a superbly organized company will bring a new level of stress and problems. So analyze your life goals, your family’s wishes and exactly where your comfort zone is in both business and life. Then be grateful that you wound up in an industry that allows each person the possibility of achieving their chosen level of success! If you liked this article, circle 142 on the Reader Inquiry Card.