- THE MAGAZINE
"Success is relative: It is what we can make of the mess we have made of things."
Someone once told me, "90 percent of success is to just do what you promised to do when you said you would do it." I would add that the other 10 percent is to do more things right than wrong.
In the last two issues we have focused on the first seven of "Steve's Top Ten List of Business Blunders I Made." Posted in no particular order, they were:
1. Not buying the very best equipment and chemicals.
2. Not replacing my worn out equipment often enough.
3. Not maintaining a "reserve" in three critical areas: a) equipment, b) finances and c) employees.
4. Not searching for and hiring the very best people.
5. Not orienting and training new employees.
6. Not paying the most to these quality folks.
7. Not charging enough to accomplish No.'s 4, 5 and 6.
Wow! There are a lot of agonizing mistakes noted above. And yes, over my 20-odd years "down in the trenches" I made everyone one of them. What about you? Remember, all of us screw up; the key is to learn, change and move on. Of course, it is even better to avoid messing up in the first place. In that spirit I share with you the last three boo-boos on my list. Oddly enough, none of them focus directly on business:
Not funding my IRA and personal investing program earlier. As a carpet cleaner, my guess is you make more money on a daily basis than you ever dreamed of. I'll also guess you spend more of it, too. But focus on what even a minimal regular amount invested over time can return (especially when it is tax-sheltered) and you may be willing to slightly curtail your free-spending, non-saving ways.
For example, virtually everyone reading this column, with just a few lifestyle changes, can easily set aside $300 per month, which is just about what you need to fully fund your tax-sheltered IRA. This $300 monthly contribution, with an average interest of just 6 percent, will add up to $138,612 in 20 years. $300 monthly for 30 years brings you $302,354 and, if you faithfully contribute for 40 years, you'll wake up with a $597,477 nest egg - all from $300 per month. The key is to start early, contribute regularly, never "dip into the cookie jar" and let the miracle of compound interest perform its magic.
Of course, even these nice IRA numbers on their own are not going to go far in your Golden Years. (I'm assuming you, like most Americans, are not real optimistic about banking on Social Security for your retirement needs!) So look for other financial options for your retirement funds. Sure, you may be able to sell your business to help finance your retirement in style. But never put all your financial eggs into the "hopefully-selling-your-business-for-big-bucks" basket.
How you diversify is up to you. You may buy excellent blue chip stocks and then just hang on to them over the years, which is basically what the investor Warren Buffett has done. A boring approach? Maybe. But if you had put $10,000 into Berkshire Hathaway stock in1965 when Buffett bought the company, today your stake would be worth more than $51 million!
Another viable option is real estate investing. At the very least, purchase your primary residence. Home ownership is a "forced savings account." After all, you have to live somewhere! Then, you may want to consider becoming a landlord. Sure, it can be a pain. But slow and steady accrual of rental properties offers many advantages from both a cash flow and tax standpoint, and the tax-deferred appreciation is just icing on the cake. (For more ideas on building your personal net worth, e-mail me at for my free 70-page E-Report, Cleaning Up: Building Financial Wealth in the Cleaning Industry.)
Not taking better care of my health. The young not only think they will live forever, but will do so in perfect health. However, have you noticed as you slide into middle age that things just don't work as well as they used to? (And not everything can be solved with a quick fix of Viagra!) So right now, today, start eating better, drinking less, exercising more and, above all, if you smoke, stop! Quitting smoking is the single most important thing you can do to add many quality years to your lifespan.
Remember, too, that taking better care of yourself means using safer cleaning chemicals and maybe, just maybe forcing yourself and your employees to actually follow the instructions on personal safety. Donning a respirator, wearing rubber gloves, ensuring proper ventilation, who knows which safety precaution you skip because "I don't have time" will cost you years of it down the road.
Not figuring out soon enough what I wanted out of life. Pretty heady stuff here for a bunch of carpet cleaners. But think about it. Who of us in grade school had a burning ambition to spend their life cleaning carpets? Don't get me wrong: I loved, and still love, this industry. But most of us entered the cleaning industry just as a "means to an end." The problem is we never get around to figuring out what the "end" is supposed to be! Instead, we just drift along, using up our allotted years without ever analyzing what we want to be when we "grow up."
I sincerely hope that this three-part series has caused at least some of you to stop, reflect and just maybe change, so you won't repeat the boneheaded mistakes I made. If so, my time has been well spent in the writing and yours in the reading. Continued success to you! Of course, I did manage to do a few things right. Next month I'll share some thoughts on how I was able to succeed in spite of myself.