Success 2000

Seven laws of cleaning-business success for the new millennium.

By Chuck Violand

Certain laws apply to the cleaning and restoration business that, if you understand and apply them, will make success much easier to achieve. Use of these laws doesn’t mean you have to have a “cookie cutter” cleaning business that looks like everybody else’s. No two people face the same challenges on the road to the profitability, growth and industry knowledge you will need to succeed in the next century.

The challenge for the cleaning business owner as the millennium changes is to identify exactly what forces will be driving your business and to adapt those forces and use them to your advantage to meet the demands of the new century.

Following are seven universal laws of business ownership that are most applicable to carpet cleaning and restoration businesses seeking to progress and grow beyond the year 2000.

Law #1
Your Primary Currency is Your Time.

You can always make more money in a cleaning business, but can you make something even more valuable — more time?

Think about where you want to be in 10 years. What kind of work do you want to be doing? What will your cleaning business look like? How much will you be earning from it? What new services might you want to add?

The only thing that separates you from where you are now and where you want to be in 10 years is time and how you use it. What you accomplish will be in direct proportion to how effectively you use each day. If you spend your time in what Stephen Covey calls the “thick of thin things” — activities that produce little return but kill lots of time — then you can’t expect to accomplish much.

In the carpet cleaning industry, many business owners “check out” during their typical slow period from mid-January until spring. They engage in low-importance activities that kill lots of time, but don’t prepare their businesses for the rest of the year. As a result, they hit the busy cleaning season sleepwalking, and it takes until midsummer for many to show a profit.

How to follow the law:

If owners invested the winter months in activities that accelerated the impact of their time — marketing, planning, equipment maintenance — they’d enjoy greater success the rest of the year.

Law #2
A Business is a Reflection of its Owner’s Self Image.

The car you drive, the house you live in or the friends you surround yourself with are all reflections of who you are and how you view yourself. Your cleaning business is the same.

If you’re convinced that you can build your business to develop substantial net worth for yourself and your family, chances are excellent that you’ll accomplish it. However, if you convince yourself that you’re never going to be successful in your business, then you’ll accomplish that instead.

Cleaners I’ve encountered over the years have often told me, “I’m making tons of money. I have shiny new equipment. And I only clean for the richest and most important people in town.”

But that self-image of success is based in the here and now. Here is the reality: Most owners of carpet cleaning businesses have little or no health insurance, little or no retirement investments, and precious little to show for all the sweat equity they’ve put into their businesses.

It’s not because they enjoy putting their families at risk. Instead, they either don’t feel they deserve long-term success, or they don’t feel they’re capable of achieving it.

Then, when these cleaners start having problems in their businesses or when they see someone else enjoying greater success, they respond in counterproductive ways. They blame outside influences, rationalize their circumstances or find fault with other people in the industry. They look all around, when they should be looking in a mirror.

How to follow the law:

When things aren’t going the way you want in your business, look in the mirror and ask yourself what might be going on inside you or in your life that could be causing this. Once you’ve answered that question, look into your business, because it’s reflecting what you believe about yourself.

Law #3
Somebody Always Pays.

When you own your own business, the meter is always running, and somebody is going to pay the fare. Your customer pays, or you pay. The trick to being successful is to have your customers pay — and then to reward them by exceeding their expectation for value compared with the price they paid.

For example, a lot of cleaners offer “free demonstrations” or discounts, or offer to clean one room “free.”
There’s nothing wrong with this as long as you keep in mind that none of this is free. Somebody has to pay. You’re going to have to charge all your other customers enough to make up for these freebies and discounts, or you’ll end up paying for them out of your profits. If you’re writing off these free demonstrations and discounts as promotional expenses, remember that eventually somebody will have to pay for them. It will be you or your customers.

Another example: One of your technicians reports late for work (again), and you’re forced to call your customers to reschedule. Somebody’s going to pay.

If your customer is understanding enough to reschedule the appointment, they’re agreeing to make the first “payment” on this “bill.” But eventually you’re going to pay — in this case with reduced customer loyalty, fewer referrals and eroding employee morale.

How to follow the law:

Successful business people know this law applies to virtually every person their business touches: customers, suppliers, vendors, employees and family members. They also have learned to find customers who will gladly pay the bill for their cleaning services. They understand the value of knowing their numbers (operating costs, truck mileage, chemicals, overhead, etc.), and what they have to charge to make a profit.

Law #4
It’s Always Your Fault.

The moment you decided to own your own carpet cleaning business, you decided to take responsibility for everything that happens in it and to it. The only person ultimately responsible for the outcome in your business is you.

When things aren’t going your way in your cleaning business, you needn’t point fingers, look for scapegoats or shout, “No fair!” Whoever said business was fair? The only people who complain about an unlevel playing field are those who aren’t controlling the tilt of the field. You might as well take responsibility for the outcomes in your business, because win or lose, it’s all your fault.

How to follow the law:

Sales and profits aren’t where you’d like?

Don’t blame the economy or the low-priced cleaners in town. It’s your fault. You can create your own economy, and you need to get to know your competition better.

Lying awake nights worrying about slow cash flow?

Don’t blame slow-paying customers or the banker who won’t lend you money. You chose your customers. And no banker is going to lend money to someone they only see when that someone is strapped for cash. So find better-paying customers, and take your banker to lunch when you don’t need to borrow money.

Law #5
Wealth Does Not Grow in a Vacuum.

Some people go into the cleaning business as the Lone Ranger, calling all the shots and to heck with what anybody else thinks. They insist on learning their business lessons from the school of hard knocks. They rely on raw talent and whatever resources are available — their health, experience, money (usually somebody else’s), and time, which is usually limited. This is pretty typical behavior for someone just starting out.

Unfortunately, a lot of carpet cleaners never get beyond this “Lone Ranger” stage. They confuse independence with isolation. Because of pride, ego or not knowing any better, they never seek opinions or help from outside sources.

On the other hand, some cleaners move beyond this stage and create real financial independence with their businesses. They make it to the top of the heap cut and bruised, but alive because they developed relationships with people who could help them and whom they could trust.

How to follow the law:

If you plan to create financial independence rather than just another job, understand that there are not enough days to learn “through experience.” You’ll have to rely on a long list of other people for advice and help: customers, employees, spouses, families, bankers, consultants, seminar instructors, manufacturers and distributors, friends, accountants and attorneys.

A friend once told me that you don’t have to be smart to be successful — you just have to pay attention to successful people. Build business relationships with people you can trust, and pay attention.

Law #6
Lasting Success Requires Discipline and Patience.

Stories about overnight successes are entertaining and motivating. But the overwhelming majority of successful businesses are built by people who’ve developed solid work habits and business savvy, and who dedicate themselves to making their businesses successful.

But we all read stories about the cleaners who run 20-truck operations and have lots of people working for them. We compare ourselves and our own companies to them. But we have no idea what they had to endure to achieve their success, how long it took them to achieve it, or how long it will last.

We tend to overlook companies that have built long-term value for their customers and their owners by continually focusing on their core competencies. In some cases, these are companies that have consistently delivered value for 50, 75, even 100 years. We don’t hear about the struggles these owners endured as they built their companies. If we hear anything, it’s usually about one of their recent successes.

Too often our instant-gratification culture convinces us that if we don’t achieve success overnight, somehow our success isn’t quite as wonderful. As a result, a lot of business owners gamble their companies’ futures to finance the appearance of success today.

But the unglamorous fact is that the vast majority of successful businesses are run by people who are in them for the long haul.

How to follow the law:

Look beyond this month’s results. Don’t ignore them, but look beyond them. Keep your eye on the impact your business will have on your children, and your children’s children. And run your business as if their success and yours in the next century depend on it, because they do.

Law #7
Worrying is Bad for Business.

It’s not very good for your health, either. In the amount of time some people spend worrying about an idea, somebody else will take that idea, run with it, fail, tweak it a little bit, run with it again and make it work.
Worrying is also a lousy use of your time.

How to follow the law:

Stop worrying and act!

Which brings us right back to the first law of business ownership: Your primary currency is your time.

When you learn to employ these laws, you’ll find owning and running your own carpet cleaning/restoration business much more enjoyable and financially rewarding.