Updated: Nov 3, 2022
We all know career people that don’t care to own a business. Maybe you feel that there is nothing more taxing than feeling the weight of responsibility for attending to the needs of the business, and its staff. Or maybe you have thought about what your parents went through owning a business and decided that it isn’t for you. I'll let you in on a trade secret: Leadership does not come naturally to everyone. But then, one needn’t be a natural-born leader to be capable of running a small business profitably. The skills required are learned,. For some, once awarded the franchise, and as an analogy, if you want to build the whole frame, engine, ignition, suspension, transmission, cooling system, and braking system yourself, much of what is necessary to succeed can be gained by taking college classes in psychology, systems training, accounting, financial management and so on. In the ladder case, if you are going to go it alone, preparation is key, or else the learning just takes much longer as you try things, fail, and discover the facts over time for yourself. Someone once said
“If you think education is expensive, try ignorance”.
Doing without the mentorship and direction of others who have navigated like waters is far more expensive than having the proper guidance. Still, if you are one who has learned to reason mathematically that last statement might seem rather vague. How much more expensive is it to start a company from scratch, you may wonder? From my own experience and having acquired a few companies that were started by people who were "self made" (having studied the private profit and loss statements from their early years, their financial records/books), the answer is at minimum a factor of ten. This is what is meant by the common remark,
“One will pay for his education one way or another”.
While some skills are transferrable from one space to another, other things simply are not so simple. Markets, for instance, are individually unique and only clearly understood in the context of measurements taken while interacting with them. When you start a company, every professional marketer in the area soon learns that there is a new purse in town, so to speak. From coffeehouse newspapers to banners at your local high school radio, aggregate marketing mailers, billboards, and online options, you will be approached to advertise with all of them. Some of those things are equivalent to burning your money in a firepit, while other placements are more reciprocal.
In my niche, it took about a two hundred thousand dollars of diversification in advertising expenditures over 5 years, and metering those promotions to learn where to best spend my resources, and how to proportion those buys for the greatest returns in just one kind of market. Here is the thing, advertsing is just a single function, among four others that burns capital in a new business. Burn rate is a measurement of how fast you are spending your working capital. For me, beginning with training as an engineer helped me to create effective models. I was able to calculate what I needed to fulfill a contract, but inevitably I missed several important variables, costs were typically higher and margins thinner than they would have been in those early years had I found a business mentor or the guiding structure of a franchise leader. We just don't know what we don't know.
Before I settled into building a company in my home region, West Michigan, I spent a couple of years traveling and as a Contractor cleaning windows all over the United States. Three states primarily. I’ve crossed hostile picket lines to clean high-rises and was threatened by Gangsters for working in the Nob Hill neighborhood of San Francisco without their permission. Like many people who learn a trade, much of what I have truly learned about business has been at the expense of trial and error. I like to read alot, but caution that it is important to correctly source the content, facts from opinions of that we read. Without the benefit of experience, once again. you just don’t know what you don’t know. The top priority at the beginning of any venture is think hard about where you intend to end up. Once you know the answer proceed to structure all of the functions of your business properly to that end. This is key for the entire life of the business. If you decide to read no further, please duly consider the last few sentences.
Owning a job to sustain a modest lifestyle is one thing. But scaling a company requires a growth culture. You create this by meeting people where they are and giving them the tools they will need to achieve common objectives. Systems help to set boundaries, follow up on progress, and most importantly reward and celebrate winners! I don't believe that there is a more successful formula for managing a growth company than the one our team at Happy Window Cleaning has built on the basis of incremental improvement. What worked at General Electric for Jack Walch also works on Main Street. We studied 12 leading franchise systems comparing every aspect of their models to our own. This was after a few decades of owning a business in the same space. Sometimes being a late bloomer pays off.
Owning your own business is awesome when you love the space, you're in. Still, gumption alone simply won’t get it done. You must be inclined to facilitate communication with methods that preferably are tried and true. For the people you recruit to join your company this means essentially finding the patience and strength to coach staff who will in turn meet the demands of delivering to your customers consistent quality to exceed their expectations. Seth Godwin says,
"You need to be remarkable"
'Of course, all of that requires that you have obtain a "sufficient skillset" because the trick is to do this while retaining a bit of the value from your financial transactions for the company and yourself. As an anology, You need not be an A student in every subject, but you had better know the most important principles in each subject.
In my first year of college, I had to write a “how-to paper ‘for a communications class. Since I was only a freshman, my professor was skeptical about the paper I turned in, and questioned me to see if I had taken it from some publication. At the time I was both insulted and flattered. Insulted because he clearly didn’t think that a freshman was capable of producing a well-researched paper, and flattered because his reaction implied that my paper was pretty convincing. But now after thirty years or so of experience in business, I realize that that paper was academic, not so practical, when it comes to what it really takes to build a business. If you want advice there are always plenty of people on social media more than willing to give their opinions. But you should ask yourself two questions while considering those opinions. First, what has this person actually achieved in the industry? Is their experience relevant? Secondly, is the opinion trustworthy? Most likely you are conversing with a competitor, some people are magnanimous but others really don’t want to see you, a competitor, succeed. Human nature is not all good. People spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on marketing expenditures over time, millions to discover the truth about the market themselves. People think of clever ways to throw others of the trail. And even if you get a nugget here or there, unless you have the support of someone who has skin in the game themselves, how hard can you really expect people on the internet to think about your problems?
In 2004 I was putting in bids on large contracts across Michigan and getting meetings based on my reputation. I knew exactly why I was committed and knew the required investments both in time and capital. I knew what I was earning, the equity which was accumulating, and what my projections for both revenue and profit were based on years of solid performance.
Truth is, at that time, none of that seemed all that exciting anymore. It never really had, I liked window cleaning because it was honest outdoors working in nice settings with my hands. But I had no idea who I wanted to ultimately be. It started out simply liking to climb obsticles and wanting to be free of corporate America. I suppose I had achieved that. I knew that my good fortune was not only my own toil but largely is attibuted to the vitality of my hard-working employees and that they were getting by in the same world with fewer resources than I had at my own disposal. I was tough enough to deal with all of their problems. I held the organization together by genuinely conveying my appreciation for their efforts and pretty much crossed my fingers putting out fires wherever they ignited. All of that was not enough to scale my business beyond a certain sticking point. It wasn’t until 2016 that I had a complete franchise system. It is a well known that only 5% of cleaning companies achieve greater than 200k in sales in agiven year.
I didn’t realize it at the time but I had grown complacent with where I was and when the really huge requests for proposals arrived, my gut told me to turn them away! But I eventually faced those shortcomings and earned a degree in Leadership and Business so that I could push through and flourish. The point, and this is really key, whatever you choose to do, it is most important that you never cease to grow wealth as measured in equity, revenue, and profit. With a full cup, you can afford to share with others. It is more blessed to give than it is to receive.
You have to buy in to you own mission, all the way and keep up that growth mentality until the day you sell. I knew it was time to sell a former business when I had lost that drive to raise the ceiling. Since I had at that time, decided not to grow, I knew that my insulation would be weak should the economy take a turn for the worse. There are many factors that can cripple a company. For example, there would be little to protect me from having to step back into the day-to-day operations if Patrick Quinn (then my operations manager) decided to move on at some point. I would need to start all over to cultivate someone new. The thing is once a business stops growing, it by definition ceases to offer new opportunities for its employees to grow too. Eventually, in that situation, some of your best people will outgrow your organization. For me, this was my primary reason to pivot and push on, to keep adding layers of new territory, new projects, new products, or other value propositions, and most importantly to find quality people to be sure it continues to grow. But the only way that someone can stay that course and remain healthy is to really enjoy the space that you’re in.
Taking measurements to gain feedback for every area of the business is essential. For the above example, once you have achieved your master’s electrician’s license (five or six years of training) you are still really only at the starting line to open an electrical company of your own. By working with a franchise like Service Professor, as one example, rather than trying to go it alone, you will be provided the necessary training to cover the race track quickly out of the starting gate. The franchise will set achievable targets for you and direct you in the kinds of things you need to be doing to hit those goals. As your business grows new challenges emerge and what worked with a smaller operation becomes a constraint for a slightly larger company. Franchises have chartered those waters in scaling a business. In US history the mass migration west didn’t begin until Louis and Clark pioneered the journey to the Pacific. Imagine their dismay on a four-thousand-mile journey through unknown forests on foot. When the small party reached the continental divide, they were faced with the snowcapped Rocky Mountains, more than twice the elevation that they had seen in the eastern territory. Imagine what that challenge felt like for them, if pressed, this is the best way I know to describe what it was really like building a company on my own. Simple systems that work, get even better over time with continuous improvements. The question is how much time can you afford to build the things which a franchise already has in place?
You have just one life to live, and we all know that "the good life" is becoming increasingly less likely for those working for someone else. It happens, don’t get me wrong. You could even land a job selling helicopters to the military, or become CEO of a giant corporation. But the truth is there are just so few of those opportunities available and they typically go to people who are connected to someone who in turn has connections in the right Senate committees. Typically, within the military-industrial complex, to expound on that example, a candidate for an upper marketing position is a Georgetown University Graduate. Going to college with the sons of Senators has its advantages. West Point and Annapolis washouts probably have a better chance of landing one of those high-level gigs than someone who went to someplace like Michigan or Ohio State. Maybe after you become Governor, LOl. Statistically, most college graduates with business degrees wind up working someplace in middle management. But hey this is America the land where anything is possible.
If you have passion or talent but have been rejected repeatedly for that elementary teaching gig, there are alternatives to cashier at the local grocery store, you just have got to be willing to pivot. Learning a trade that solves a problem for the wealthy (people who can afford goods and services) is a pretty safe bet, in my case no matter what happens in the economy the wealthy will still be wealthy and need their windows cleaned frequently.
Let’s say that you land the job as a marketing director which you have imagines will make you happy, and you start to get those big 4% lead checks on multimillion-dollar deals. Yu have a company car, an expense account, etc, Things are great, but you just might find that you don’t really love the culture where you work. Maybe some of their corporate decisions don’t really sit well with you. When you work for yourself, you get to shape the company culture! That is quite a difference. Even better, if you are Christian, then you allow Jesus to shape you and your company. That is always best.
Once you have acquired a bona fide business education and some experience it would be really cool to become CEO of Johnson and Johnson, you would be the focus of many newspaper articles, and trade journals and obtain national recognition instantly. Your voice will be amplified. Those things feel like validation for a time. Truthfully, none of that will bring you happiness. Besides those kinds of jobs are highly competitive and scarce. But there is a huge demand in society for services that add value to people’s lives which are often overlooked and or else are discounted. With the cost of college education, many degreed people find themselves carrying too much debt and accepting employment that is below their skill level. One answer is to learn and own a business in the trades. Our company Happy Window Cleaning offers territories (the boundaries are an entire telephone area code) where exterior pressure washing, soft washing, window cleaning, gutter cleaning, and dryer vent cleaning are in constant demand.
Like an athlete training for a competition, you must not peak too soon. You'll need a great coach. Your marketing, staffing, and operations require perfect timing when executing your objectives. It is essential to learn the peaks and valleys of the industry and how best to respond with available resources.
There are over thirty million retires born between 1946 and 1964, the baby boomer generation living in America today. There are millions of homes that have been built that are twice the size that our grandparents built in the 1950s and earlier. This is a great time to join the home service industry.
The timing has never been better for a Home Service Company such as the Happy Window Cleaning Franchise. In addition to that, we also service commercial buildings and there are a lot of those around everywhere with windows. Getting into the window cleaning trade as an owner is as stable as it gets. After the pandemic, many restaurants, gyms, and specialty retail outlets have closed their doors but Happy Window Cleaning in the same period experienced steady growth from 2020 until now. The owner of a regional company gains surprisingly large recognition within his area, known by thousands more people than he could ever possibly know personally. And trust me that is really cool too.
The first step is to start to shape a vision for exactly where you want to take yourself in the future. Of course, that can change over time, as opportunities arise, but the more precise your vision and the more you expand your focus to a limited scope of products, and services, the more expert you become, and the further you will get at your endeavors.