|“Off the Deep End” - A weekly window cleaning cartoon strip by Jesse Green.|
“It's not the most powerful animal that survives, it's the most efficient” - UFC Champion George St- Pierre
What if all the financial advice you've gotten was wrong? What if following the industry leaders is the worst thing you could do? What if changes in the world made all the old rules obsolete?
If you ran your window cleaning business according to the old rules (the ones that applied before the great worldwide recession) you created a detailed 5 year business plan, went searching for people to lend you money, bought brand new vans, uniforms and anything else you could think of, dumped a ton of $$$ into advertising your business and hopefully it was all a smashing success.
“You gotta spend money to make money !” was the mantra of the time. “Go big or go home !” echoed in our ears.
Unfortunately, the sizzle of easy money and high living fizzled into the damp fart of debt and stagnation.
The quicker we realized that there never existed such a thing as “easy money” in the first place, the better we became at adapting to this new environment.
The firm economic bedrock that we assumed was holding all of us up turned out to be a thin sheet of ice. The heavier companies, straddled with debt and high overhead quickly started to fall through this ice. I saw the big operations around me – the carpet cleaners and window cleaners who had glossy vans, mailed out thousands of mailers and even advertised on big billboards start to go out of business.
In this environment of failure, I started to write my own rules. Rules that kept me on the ice.
RULE (1): Advertising Is a Sign of Failure. The less you can spend on advertising, the more you will have for the running of your business and the retention of customers.
The heavy companies who fell through the ice were used to unlimited customers. Advertise more, get more customers. Rushing through jobs, skimping on quality – that was all necessary to make enough $$ to pay for the advertising to keep the whole thing going. They ignored REALITY (1): There is a finite number of customers who can pay for your service.
RULE (2): Do each job as if your window cleaning business depends on it. Say to yourself: “HOW I do this job IS the advertising. HOW I do this job IS the marketing”
When I had no money for sending out mailers, let alone spending $3,000 on a fancy vehicle wrap. I shaved my face and tucked in my shirt, I was polite and grateful. I was exactly on time to my window cleaning appointment. I worked with laser like focus on each job to produce high quality results. I asked the customer at the end of the job when I could see that they were blown away by the quality, “ My business depends on word of mouth, could you please spread the word .” REALITY (2): Your customer is your best (and free) form of advertisement. Customer retention and referral is low cost and effective.
RULE (3): Know your Customers
Know their names when you come to the door. Remember that their dog's name is, “Sprinkles”. Remember that they like gourmet coffee and watching football.
I have a freaky memory and can remember all of my customers first and last names along with a mental picture of their house. When a previous customer calls and says, “Hi this is Mr. Smith over in Osterville... I say, “Bill Smith, with the blue and white colonial on Main st, right?” Nine times out of ten, I hear a jump in the warmness in their voice. “Yes, that's right !”
If you don't have a freaky memory, make notes in your database - a few simple things. Don't go overboard, no one likes a stalker. Treating your customers like family means taking note of the little things. REALITY (3): As the economy shifts more and more into the service sector, you are not the only window cleaner. Companies that will survive are the ones that personalize their service and treat customers for the unique individuals that they are.
RULE (4): Tie a String Around Your Customers Finger
REALITY (4): People are busy, they have a million little tasks to do. Last year's customer may remember that you did a fantastic job cleaning their windows, but they just as often forget your name and number. Sending out reminder postcards or better yet emails (free) 2-4 times a year to your existing customers helps them remember to give you a call. Even more effective, put them on a cleaning schedule, that way they'll know that their windows will always stay clean.
RULE (5): Run Your Household Like a Business.
Many new business owners grasp that they have to be methodical about running their actual business, but they often neglect the business of running a household. Being disciplined with personal spending habits will often make or break a business. Too many new business owners rush out and buy a new X-Box or $200 pair or sneakers at the first inkling of business success. Success comes from within and radiates outward. The creation of effective routines for living will spill over into your business. The maintenance of your physical, mental and spiritual health, and the stable relationships you build within your home will enhance the effectiveness of your business pursuits.
REALITY (5): You can't be an effective business leader when your personal life is a hot mess. Partying late at night, fights with your significant other – this drama will leave you drained and distracted at work and it will undermine your efforts.
Building your window cleaning business to be sustainable, creating a base of customers who are loyal and keep using your service year after year can be slow going at first. But if you focus on people instead of chasing illusions of quick money, your customer base will stay with you and help you grow.
Running a business can transform you. Instead of hiding in a cubicle amid a large bureaucracy, divorced from the immediate cause and effect of your actions, you can start seeing how your day to day actions create your reality. The attitude you have towards people, the way you think, talk and walk will produce concrete results in your life.
Jesse Green of Sparkle King in Cape Cod, Massachusetts: Hi, my name is Jesse Green. I have the fortunate job of cleaning windows and gutters in a really great place - Cape Cod, Massachusetts. I fell in love with the area when I came to see my friends get married here. The history, the natural beauty, and most of all the people won me over. I have been very fortunate. Cape Codders have welcomed me with open arms – spreading the word and referring me to friends and family.