ICS Magazine

Three Management Pitfalls to Avoid

November 11, 2004
As a business consultant in the cleaning industry for 14 years, I have seen just about every talent, mistake, success and failure known to small business. It is my job to identify a person's motivators; why they do what they do, and don't do. In small business (in this case, service businesses), it is common to find:
1. Incredibly hard workers.
2. Honesty.
3. Over-the-top technical ability.
4. A tendency for people to "feel their way," usually without rhyme or reason, through management.

That last item should not be taken as an insult. My intention is to get a person that works in this industry (one that makes millionaires of many) to think logically, not emotionally, and to be realistic. I find that a person's sales and profit usually coincide with their level of management knowledge and self-discipline. Translation: negotiating with an insurance adjuster about a $26,000 flood job has nothing to do with pH levels or technical certifications.

Whether running a 20-employee company or a one-man show, entrepreneurs are always looking for a better way. That's what makes an entrepreneur. Entrepreneurs are self-responsible, self-motivated leaders. You love your freedom and you're excited by the notion that tomorrow will be better than today. However, in this grueling quest for betterment, it gets tempting to believe, from time to time, that there is a single "missing link" to achieving our goals - a shortcut. After all, going back to college for a four-year management degree would be challenging.

It will be profitable for you to note the most tempting and common mistakes that misguide many.

My favorite shortcut is buying equipment. Obviously, a cleaning professional needs the proper training and equipment to do the job right. But then, once he gets $5 ahead, what does he do? He buys more equipment. And when the company gets a few more jobs, he buys even more.

There is nothing wrong with buying equipment that you need in order to effectively run and grow your business. There is something wrong, however, with equating an expanding storehouse of equipment with actual expansion. And after a few trips to the supply house, a lot of purchases begin to fall into the "just in case" category.

Buying equipment is easy. Anybody can buy a piece of equipment. If equipment caused success, everybody would be successful. The reality is, too many cleaners own too much equipment. Buy the equipment you need, not equipment you think you might need. And you can (or could have, if you hadn't bought all that equipment) take that to the bank.

The second popular shortcut is a little something called diversification. You hear people from all segments of the cleaning industry touting diversification. Don't get me wrong; there are professionals out there with both the technical and business acumen to successfully offer numerous services. But they are the exception, not the rule. Too often, concepts like "vertically integrated marketing" translate to "Your sales talents are lacking in cleaning, so you need to diversify."

Don't fall prey. Practice selling and marketing your primary skill. Are you a cleaner? An air duct cleaner? A window-blind cleaner? Only after you've mastered the sales and marketing of your bread-and-butter profession should you even think about adding a new weapon to your arsenal. Call me brutal, but my take on the promoters of this dilution is that they can't make carpet cleaning a full-time job, so they give a fancy name to what I would label multiple part-time jobs. Consolidate your thinking and focus on your (one) business.

If there is a shortcut that, by calling it such, will get rocks thrown at me, it's partnership. Partners do sound like a good idea. After all, everyone's had employees that weren't worth the lunch they bought them, let alone the wage they paid them. So when they meet the competitor that combs his hair, showers regularly and washes his truck once or twice a month, they fall in love. Together, they devise the plan that will bankrupt the competition.

"We're both dedicated owners!" they exclaim. "We will both work very hard and we'll think and make decisions exactly the same. It will be great!"

Fast-forward nine months or so, and World War III is breaking out in Cleanerville. A partner is fine if you can get along and if a two-man show is your goal. However, following the logic that caused you to seek a partner in the first place, I ask this question: When you need one more employee, are you going to relinquish more ownership and take a third partner? Or is it better to learn how to find, select and manage people.

There are exceptions to every rule. There are successful cleaning companies that also offer duct, blind and raccoon cleaning. There are successful partnerships that aren't shrouded in resentment. Some folks sleep better because there are 57 blowers on the shelves not making a dime (just in case). This is their prerogative. I am simply offering some sage advice: Stay logical and stay profitable.