“It is Friday night at 6:00pm, and I am exhausted. I just got home from cleaning 2 enormous houses because one of my staff of four house cleaners is sick today, and we had some jobs that just had to get done. Before I can call it quits for the day, I check the phone messages, and find that there were three complaints from unsatisfactory cleanings this week. I am getting worn out from working 50 hours weeks and never seeming to get ahead. I need less stress in my life, more time to spend with my family, and while I am at it, a bigger salary! It seems like a vicious circle, and I ask myself ‘What can I do?'”
This was me 2 years after starting my house cleaning business. My business had grown like clockwork initially. After reaching 4 – 5 employees it now seemed to be stagnating. No matter how hard I worked my business seemed to stay about the same size, and not be able to regain that momentum that my business growth once had. I was starting “to lose that loving feeling” about my business.
I needed to do something. One of the main reasons that I started my business was so that my time would be my own, and that I would enjoy my life, and some how that seemed not to be happening. So, I made a decision that things were going to have to change…and change today! Starting immediately I was going to set some new goals, and figure out how I was going to achieve them. My new goals were
1. Not to work more than 40 hours per week initially, and eventually not more than 10 hours per week.
2. I wanted my salary to at least double.
3. I wanted to build a business that I could sell for a substantial profit in the years to come.
4. I wanted my stress level to decrease.
5. I wanted to take at least 4 weeks per year vacations without worrying that the business would be there when I got back.
6. I wanted to work creatively on building my business, instead of on the day to day stuff.
7. I wanted my customers to be consistently satisfied no matter which staff member performed the cleaning.
So, new goals are nice, but how was I going to achieve them? My new determination seemed to turn on a light switch in my head (yes, just like a cartoon). My background before my house cleaning business was working as a consultant for a large business consulting firm. I knew a lot about how big business got that way, but for some reason I had never really applied those techniques to my own business. I thought, “Bingo! That’s it. I need to study successful business models and apply those techniques to my own business.”
My plan began immediately, and about 3 years later I found myself running a 25 person cleaning company, working less than 10 hours/week, vacationing 6 – 12 weeks per year, and really enjoying leading my business.
So, how did I do it? Well, the short answer can be stated in five steps and one new mind set. Let’s start with the new mind set:
“Get Out Of The Kitchen and Lead!”
That is to say that everything that has to do with the day to day operations of your business can be delegated to someone else. But, Leading your business can only be done by you. You can hire someone to do the cleaning, answer the phone calls, perform collections, even estimate and sell new jobs. Generally, only the owner/s can decide to conquer a new market, add a new service, try a new marketing method, etc. I know that it is hard to think this way because the pragmatist in all of us wants to say “but, I can do those things for free, and not have to pay someone”; but the reality is that you are paying a price for that, and the price is a big one…lost opportunity for growth. As long as your time is wrapped up in the daily operations of your business, nobody will be leading your business, and your business cannot grow. That is why in my opinion many businesses stagnate around 4-5 employees, because up until then you could juggle both the leading and the operating, but at some point you reach a maximum capacity. So, I would encourage those businesses interested in growing to have a new mind set of “Get Out of the Kitchen and Lead!”
Next, comes what I call the Five “R” Process.
Five “R” Process:
Reel ‘Em in
Let’s look at one step at a time.
The first step in achieving your goals is to Refine your business to be the most efficient that it can be. Like building a house, you need to start with a good foundation. When researching successful businesses I have found that there are six major building blocks of a business foundation (they may be called different names, or grouped differently depending on which study that you look at, but the ingrediants are all basically the same).
The six building blocks of your business are:
Production and Delivery
Sales & Marketing
Refining your business entails fully understanding, gaining adequate skills, and implementing successful strategies for each of these business building blocks. I have found that for a business to grow they must be strong in every building block. Startup businesses can achieve some success with weaknesses in one or more of the building blocks, but they will likely not be able to grow and reach their full potential, because their area of weakness is keeping them from succeeding.
To find out the strength of your business building blocks take our Business Assessment Challenge. The Assessment is designed to point out areas in these core building blocks that may need your attention before you proceed to grow your business. Obviously, mastering these building blocks is no quick, easy task but the rewards are well worth it. Not only will your business be ready for growth, but you will likely identify inefficiencies and opportunities for increasing your profits immediately.
Create Repeatable Systems. Think franchise. Now, a franchise may not be your dream, but building your business as though you were going to franchise will help you develop successful systems that will power your business to achieve whatever your vision is. Let’s look at a classic franchise like McDonald’s. McDonald’s and other fast food chains like them are some how able to not only produce a satisfied customer locally, but also worldwide. And the reason is that they have a successful formula that is repeatable. How do they make their successful formula repeatable? Well, with systems. Everything in a successful franchises’ operations is defined by repeatable systems that organize all of the people, supplies, equipment, tasks, functions and other objects to work in the same way every time, regardless of location or participants. That is to say that whether you are in Dallas, Texas or Hong Kong when you orders a hamburger, the hamburger and the service will be basically the same; and thus the business operation has the potential of duplicating its local success as many times as it wants.
So, how does this relate to the cleaning industry and how I was able to make my business repeatable? I wanted to have happy, profitable customers every time, but the personal nature of the service meant that each customer wanted something different, and each staff member worked differently. This resulted in sometimes unsatisfied clients (for the same service that thrilled others), and too much job stress trying to keep everyone happy. The solution was to look at every thing that I did in my business as a component of a system, so that I can improve it. I reviewed and re-created successful systems that would work every time on my demographic of customer by creating repeatable systems for how clients received company and service information, how prices were bid, how the cleaning was performed, how the staff was trained, how the billing was done, and dozens more. The systems were detailed, right down to which direction to push the sponge, and what words to use when setting up a new customer.
Establish practices for regular review of your business. In order to achieve my goals (and to stay with my new mind set “Get Out of The Kitchen and Lead!”) I was going to have to have less hands-on contact with the day to day operations, which opened up all kinds of possibilities of this business getting away from me. I needed a way to monitor, and actually manage business progress without having any direct contact to the daily jobs. So, I established criterea for which I would regularly review, the schedule upon which I would review and the action that I would take if expectations were not met. I achieved this through quantification. I began quantifying and documenting everything. Things like how many new sales (and of what type) occurred, what time of day they occurred, as a result of what marketing, how many employees were hired, how many customer complaints occurred, etc. When you establish a method for quantifying everything, then identifying problems is merely a case of math. Either the numbers expected equal the actual numbers or they do not. Monitoring reports on a regular basis can help you identify where problems are and by what measure they are off.
A straight forward example of one way that I accomplished this in my business was to create “status reports” that each person was repsonsible for. For Cleaning Associates their “status report” was a detailed time sheet that included all of the details that I needed to know about the work that was performed, length of time, customers served, etc. For Managers there was a Status Report that requested quantities on vital management and sales details like the amount and type of sales, schedule changes, new clients, terminated clients, marketing vehicles, employee feed-backs, customer complaints, and more. When something changed or went wrong in the business I wold know about it, right away.
4. REEL ‘EM IN
Implement a Tested Marketing Plan that Has a Consistent, Reproducable Return that Reels Customers In. At the beginning stages of any business there is a lot of experimentation about different marketing and advertising methods. It is good to try out a number of different marketing vehicles and compare your return on investment. However, it takes a lot of energy and resources to continually try new marketing techniques. The goal is to identify a formula that produces a reasonable return on investment and can be reproduced at any time. Once you have these methods you can add the winner methods to your overall marketing plan, and get that going on a self-revolving system. Then, if you want to try out a new thing now and then, the results would be in addition to your regular marketing.
With my business I found a lot of marketing methods that worked in this way. For more information on successful marketing techniques for the cleaning industry email us to request my 22 page special report “Ten Proven Techniques Every Cleaning Company Should Know About Marketing Their Business in a Down Economy”, FREE for a limited time to newsletter subscribers.
Release Control of Your Business. Once you have gotten the first four steps down pat, your business is ready for growth. All you need to do is release control a little at a time until you have achieved your goals.
Your path for releasing control of your business will be dependant on your specific situation. But, in my situation, this was a gradual process that began with giving some key employees minor management tasks (and responsibility that they appreciated), then hiring a part-time manager, slowly increasing the hours of the part-time manager, and then ultimately hiring a full-time manager. As for my time off, I started with taking Mondays off, because that was a slow day, then working from home a couple of days a week, to working from home every day of the week; leaving all daily operations tasks to the manager. I found that with accomplishing the first four steps there were now tools available for anyone that I gave a little training to, to run the business just as I would myself. Releasing control of my business in stages instead of all at once, was mostly about waiting to hire help as the business could afford it.
Even if everything is primed and ready, releasing control can be difficult for some people; just remember that people will not take over tasks in your business that you are already doing, or are likely to come back and re-do.
Well, that’s the story of how I became and absentee owner of my business, and how you can do it to. Good Luck. I know that you can do it.