It has never been easy out there as a small-business owner. And my students tell me it is getting tougher every year. But I'm guessing your biggest challenge has, is and always will be...people. That's right: attracting, hiring, training, managing and just plain dealing with employees will always be your biggest headache.
Many carpet cleaners have washed their hands completely of employees and work the truck solo. Less paperwork, fewer problems, a lot less overhead and theoretically more money in their pocket! Sounds good, doesn't it?
Until one day you wake up dreading the scrub wand that always felt so good in your younger days because your tendonitis/back/shoulders and/or knees are killing you! Or you want to take a vacation and the phone won't stop ringing. Or the worst scenario that happens far too often in this industry: you want to retire but quickly find that your owner-operated business is really just a job...and no one wants to buy your job!
Last month we covered three common Employee Myths that can keep you from growing your business by hiring quality people. Here's a quick review:
- Myth No. 1 - Sharp young people don't want to work as carpet cleaners.
- Myth No. 2 - I can't afford to pay my technicians well.
- Myth No. 3 - No one can do it as well as I can.
All three of these employee myths can be dealt with successfully by changing your perceptions and operating systems. But the biggest reason many carpet cleaners run solo is based on their fear and insecurity fostered by:
Employee Myth No. 4 - If They Are Any Good, They Will Quickly Leave and Go Into Competition Against Me
Possible, but unlikely if you do it right. Remember, not everyone has the resources, disposition or desire to go into business for themselves. So how can you keep your employees from suffering, as Michael Gerber calls it, an "entrepreneurial seizure"? It is all built around the concept of sharing.
1. Share the wealth. Once again, most carpet-cleaning operations do not pay their employees enough. Think about how much you pay your employees. Could you live on what you are forcing them to live on? More importantly, would you? Would you tolerate this "low-pay dungeon" as a life-long career? If you wouldn't work for you long term, why should you expect your people to do so, especially if they see you living the good life based on their hard work while they slave away as underpaid, menial workers? (Note: Do be cautious on permanent raises versus productivity bonuses and sales commissions. Properly structured, incentive plans let employees "earn their own raise" while you profit at the same time.)
2. Share the opportunities. This is a great industry. But quality people won't stay long term unless they see a potential upward migration path. Providing loyal and hardworking employees a career ladder is one of the most powerful reasons for you to grow your business. Oddly enough, expanding your business many times will not initially put more money in your pocket!
3. Share the power (and the load). Not everyone wants to be an entrepreneur (thank goodness!). But we all want to "own" our job. Everyone wants to feel empowered within their own sphere of influence and to have their suggestions and ideas listened to. Do this by splitting up your company into small parts and letting each employee have a small piece that is their own. For example, one worker could be in charge of your chemical inventory. Another might monitor vehicle maintenance. Yet another employee could supervise and maintain all restoration equipment. Delegating tasks not only motivates employees, it will also make life a lot easier for you.
4. Share the knowledge. My guess is you instinctively know how to relate to your customer. In fact, your increasing age and financial worth probably mean you fit your typical client profile. But now look at your typical entry-level technician: he or she has virtually nothing in common with your average residential customer. Yet experts say that 80 percent of how the customer decides if the service was performed well or poorly is based on the relationship the homeowner has with the person performing the work. So train your employees, not just technically but also in the Emotional Dynamics found on the home front. When your young technicians feel confident and in control of the transaction, they will be happier and have more fun during the day - which means they will stick around longer.
5. Share the vision. All of us want to be part of something great and grand. Somehow the phrase, "you're going to be chained to this scrub wand till you hit Social Security" just won't get a young worker's juices flowing! So communicate to each and every employee the excitement of building a team of quality people all focused on providing extraordinary customer service while making money and having fun! An atmosphere like that is motivating, and will keep people on board far longer.
6. Share the family. People are very lonely out there. Many of your employees have never experienced the traditional close patriarchal family arrangement and probably never will. So more and more workers today are searching for their "supportive social networks" among their fellow workers. You have a big advantage in this over big business. How? First, show deep personal interest and concern in the lives of your employees. Then promote a family atmosphere by encouraging company outings and group activities, such as a company baseball or bowling team. (Remember, you don't have to be present at all of these activities. In fact, it's probably better if you aren't! All you need to do is pick up the tab!)
Maybe the best way to avoid ex-employees moving into your turf is through your own business success. If you totally dominate your chosen market sector with fanatically loyal Cheerleader Customers, even a shifty loser employee will think twice about going head-to-head against you in business. And if they do? Who cares? After all, you have built a bulletproof business!
Think about it. My guess is, before you took the plunge and went into business for yourself, you worked for someone else. If your employer had followed the six "Sharing Principles" above, would you have ever taken the entrepreneurial leap of faith. Truly? If so, that means you were made for this life. Congratulations!
There are many quality people out there just waiting for someone like you that will share the joys of being in business for themselves without the agony and headaches of it all being on them as a solo operator. So if you want to grow your business, don't let your doubt and fear of employees hold you back. Find these employee needles in a haystack, hire them quickly - and then share!