From the desk of ServiceMonster CEO Joe Kowalski:
Some general advice from the husband of a homeschool parent.
With the current shutdown orders in place for US citizens, most public and private schools have closed their doors to students for the rest of the school year. Many states have scrambled to get students some sort of direction, suggestions, and/or remote learning access, albeit with varying degrees of success. Parents who are in the middle of their own stressful changes are suddenly responsible for their children’s education. Parents may feel overwhelmed, inadequate, and a bit freaked out by the entire situation. I get it. It’s scary to think that, out of the blue, the daily education of your children currently rests in your hands.
Relax. It’s going to be okay. Your children will thrive even if you completely screw-up the next 5 months. I know this because I’ve experienced a more controlled version firsthand. About 12 years ago, my wife and I decided to start homeschooling our children. It was a major struggle for me to get used to that idea. We have 6 children now but at that time we were raising our first two. They were both super bright. I was terrified that we would fail to give them the direction and education they needed, that they would fall behind their peers or that they would not live up to their full potential. I was so very wrong.
I was raised in a public-school environment and indoctrinated into the system. I believed in our public schools and even accepted its many flaws. It was simply easier. Easier to leave the task of educating our children to the professionals. I have a lot of respect for educators, don’t get me wrong. It’s just that, in my opinion, it’s not the best learning environment for the kids. The best environment is one-on-one, much like the aristocracy did for thousands of years. The education is adapted to the child. Not the other way around.
Now I don’t think everyone should suddenly start homeschooling. What I would like to do is provide a bit of relief for parents who are worried. Your kids will be just fine heading into their next year, even if you do nothing until September. Have them follow the local schools plan as best they can but don’t beat yourself/them up over it. I’ll break the following article into two parts. The first will provide some basic suggestions to get you and your children through until the next school year. The second will attempt to provide a bit of guidance if homeschooling is something you are now considering.
Social media is plastered with frustrated parents trying to become the administrator for their child’s education. Managing the schedule for multiple siblings, controlling computer and screen time, ensuring they are paying attention and attempting to tutor them when they get stuck or need help can nearly be a full-time job by itself. Let’s see how we can ease the burden a bit.
All of that is well and good. As I stated, if you’re invested in your kid’s education, it’s unlikely you’ll screw them up before September. However, many families are seriously considering making the switch more permanent. Under those conditions, any friction one may have had with the schools, the curriculum, or the teachers, nearly vanishes. There is almost an infinite amount of ways you can go about educating your own children, resulting in what can be a confusing and stressful first year or so. If you are thinking of homeschooling, realize that the burden will be yours. You are going to have to do a fair bit of learning yourself to figure it all out.
In my opinion, as a homeschool father, my #1 goal is to install intellectual curiosity and rational thought. If I can do that, we both win.
Some parents are surprised that you can’t buy a “school in a box”. There is no one best solution that you can purchase, learn, and teach. Instead define the topics that you AND your child would like to tackle and find resources for the task. Yes. Both of you.
While you’ll find a lot of information about all the other methods of homeschooling, Institutionally Assisted Learning is my personal term. It’s the idea that you can homeschool your child using the resources available to you from your school district. Educational materials are not inexpensive. Some parents find that the financial assistance that is available from some school districts helps to ease the financial burden and fog of war by providing much of the curriculum that you may need. There are strings attached though, such as regular testing, documentation requirements, and regular counseling.
The classical method is one of the more popular teaching styles for homeschool parents. Mostly because it has been around since ancient Greece. This technique is centered around the Great Books. The subjects are interwoven into a chronological reading plan. This way the student gets the benefit of learning in historical context. The Classical Method also makes heavy use of dialog, fostering rich conversations and debate over the material while encouraging a deeper understanding beyond simple comprehension.
Montessori is much more modern than the Classical Method. It was created around the turn of the century by physician and educator, Marian Montessori for her work around kids with special needs. Physical learning tools called manipulatives provide a tactile experience while helping the child understand the concepts in physical form. Montessori is an independent learning system where the teacher provides guidance and instructs indirectly. Large time blocks (up to 3 hours) of unstructured learning encourages free movement and independent thought. Uneducated observers might look at a Montessori environment and simple see kids “playing”. Upon further observation, they will see the sneaky and well-structured teaching technique. This method is better suited for smaller children.
Another teaching technique popular with homeschool parents is called Student-Led Learning. In this style, the student (with guidance and direction from the parent) decides what he or she would like to learn or what topics they would like to learn about.
Here is an example. Let’s say Jonny is super into Greek Mythology. Go deep. Study the Odyssey and the Iliad. Read about Greek society. Look into the great western philosophers. Study the Art of the Argument handed to us by Aristotle. Study the Pythagorean theorem and Euclidean geometry. With one subject which the child is interested in, you can cover, math, science, history, philosophy, and sociology. And it works.
Most traditionally educated parents have a hard time understanding the unschooling concept. Let’s start with what it’s not. It is NOT an excuse to provide no schooling and be lazy with the effort. It’s not No-School. Unschooling takes the idea that everything is a learning and teaching opportunity. The student must first be well grounded in the basics of reading, math, and science before being allowed to learn from the world. It’s very much like Student-Led Learning but also promotes the idea of lifelong learning.
Homeschooling rules differ from state to state, so be sure to do your homework to find out what requirements your state may have for you, your child, and their education. Some states simply require you to file (so they know not to send the school money for your kid) while others require testing and a visit with a district educator.
I haven’t touched on some of the more common concerns of parents, such as support network, socialization, pace, and so on, but know that most of these concerns are non-issues as long as you are making the effort. Find a homeschool association in your county. Talk to other homeschool partners in your area.
Effort is the key. This is going to take real effort on your part, but the benefits, as I have seen over and over, can far outweigh the risks. You’ll get more family time, your child will get richer education, and you can choose your own methods from year to year. Fair warning though, if you simply pull them out of school to not teach them, or simply teach them what you think you know, there is a risk they will be underprepared for the adult world. Yes, it’s a big responsibility. But I think it’s completely worth it.
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The numbers are in: Cleaning industry jobs were down 22% nationwide during the month of March.
Our data shows that the percent change for each state ranged between a 7% increase in total number of jobs and a 49% decrease. However, all but two states saw a sharp decline in number of jobs compared to March of 2019.
Only 2 states showed an INCREASE in number of jobs from March 2019 to March 2020:
The states that showed the largest DECREASE in number of jobs from March 2019 to March 2020:
Overall, the nationwide average shows a 22% decrease in the number of jobs, comparing March 2019 to March 2020.
Clients who use ServiceMonster process over 1.25 million cleaning jobs a year. Our clients largely include carpet cleaners, pressure washers, window cleaners and maid service companies. We compared the total number of jobs in March 2019 to March 2020 with a constant cohort for both data points.
It’s crazy out there right now. There's no doubt about it. Our world, both as professionals in our respective fields and as individuals in our communities, is rapidly changing and will likely never be the same. The distinction between an essential vs non-essential business (read more about that from our friends at NiceJob here) has plagued many cleaning business owners with confusion and uncertainty. Some businesses are doing well and some are barely hanging on.
Wherever you're at, marketing is still important. It's still necessary to connect and engage with current and future customers. In fact, in some ways it’s more important than ever! There’s one major aspect to your marketing that must be changed though: Your message.
In the marketing world, we call this “pivoting" your message. All it means is that you must reevaluate and restructure your messaging to be appropriate for the crisis that we’re in. While it’s not always easy to do this, we’re going to walk through some examples and go over some practical tips to help you pivot your messaging.
There are a lot of variables to consider and every business is different. Whether jobs have slowed down a lot, or you're busier than ever, you want to make sure your past customers know you're still there. So, regardless of your business situation, the easiest way to break this down is into 3 parts: Acknowledge, empathize, and offer value.
Acknowledge what’s going on in your marketing messaging. Whether it’s Instagram posts or a monthly email newsletter, make sure that you are being mindful of the fact that life is different. Regardless of your opinions or your views on the situation, don’t just carry on like business is the same and people’s lives are the same. It's both necessary and appropriate to address the crisis directly. Don't hide from it or be scared to talk about it. People will appreciate your honesty and mindfulness of what's going on in the world around them.
Empathize with those who have been affected by the crisis. This is where you have an even greater opportunity to humanize your business. Show your customers WHO you are and show them that you genuinely do care about them and their safety. Highlighting the measures you have taken to keep your customers and their families safe is a big part of this. Also, this is a great time to really personalize your communication. Make it from YOU, the owner. Not just the general company.
Offer value to your community instead of pushing ads. While some level of advertising may still be effective and/or necessary for you, try to provide as much value content as possible. This can take a multitude of forms for a cleaning business, but a great approach is educating your community. Write blog posts about the latest home cleaning methods that customers can do themselves. Post Instagram stories showing how you sanitize a building, with explanations of each component of the process. Send out an email or a text to past customers when a major change is made to local laws regarding the crisis. Any of these things, and so much more, are simple and effective ways to offer value to your community.
Now, let’s get a bit more practical. Hopefully you already have automated emails or texts going out to your past customers. During a crisis, it will be necessary to change what you say in those. One of our customers shared with us a great example of how to pivot email messaging during the current COVID-19 pandemic:
At this difficult time, we at [COMPANY_NAME] want to help the people and businesses in our community fight the COVID-19 epidemic in any way we can.
Using products approved by the EPA to eliminate SARS-COV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, [COMPANY_NAME]'s professional, deep cleaning services and products can help ensure a safer environment for your family, employees and customers. However, at no additional cost:
Because we provide professional cleaning and sanitizing, we meet the criteria to be an “essential business” established by [COMPANY_STATE] and the federal government. Therefore, we can help you keep you home and workplace safe right now!
During this unprecedented crisis, we take the responsibility of promoting peoples’ safety and health very seriously. We are continuously monitoring the evolving epidemic response so that we make decisions that will maintain the health and safety of both our team members and you, our customers.
Thank you and stay safe,
An email like this hits all three of the main points in multiple areas. For example, the very first sentence acknowledges the situation. Then, the last paragraph very clearly empathizes with customers by stating how much of a priority it is for your business to keep them safe. And the middle of the email is all value! This example has a very specific offer of going the extra mile to provide additional sanitation while on the job, at no extra cost. This sort of pivot in your messaging is sure to keep customers more comfortable with your services and at the very least, will let them know that you care!
Along with your automated campaigns, this same style of messaging should be applied to any and all direct customer contact. Say you’re using a platform like Hatch to engage with some new leads through texting. Making sure that lead knows what steps you will take to keep them safe is huge (and could help you get the job even)! No matter what type of contact you’re having with a customer, this messaging change goes beyond just direct marketing materials. It should be in every form of internal and external communication that you have.
There’s one more side to pivoting your messaging that is crucial to look at: your employees. As the owner, you may not be the one in contact with customers on a day-to-day basis. As such, it’s extremely important to train your employees on how to align their actions and words with the pivoted messaging you’re putting out. Make sure that each person under you knows the additional services you’re offering, or what steps you as a company are taking to keep both yourselves and your customers safe.
When you pivot your messaging, you’re setting yourself up for future success. Once a crisis is over and the economy starts to recover, there will be a resurgence of jobs that need to be done. So when you use this opportunity to serve your community and your customers by being a voice of reason and stability among the chaos, you’re establishing yourself in their minds as the best option to go to. And remember, when it comes to your crisis messaging, acknowledge what’s going on, empathize with others, and offer value.
Right now, more than ever, is the time to strengthen your business. A crisis of any sort is tough on everyone, but that doesn’t mean it's time to just accept defeat and give up. Take this opportunity to work ON your business, rather than working IN your business. Step back and ask yourself, “Where can I improve?” and “What can I do to effectively grow?”.
Put ego aside, put preconceived notions about your own success aside, and get back to work.
In our current crisis, some businesses, especially in the cleaning sector, are not considered “essential”. However, many others are. So to really effect lasting change on your business, first analyze where you’re at. Some business owners are working harder than ever doing everything they possibly can to serve their communities and their existing customers, while diversifying their service offerings.
On the other end of the spectrum, there’s the business owners who are pulling back and just hoping that their business can survive. This may be a personal choice, or they may have been forced to shut down temporarily. Regardless of the reason behind it, that situation can be a scary one.
So, which side are you on? Where is your business at? Maybe you’re in the middle somewhere, but it’s likely that you are more on one side than the other. Times of crisis tend to push people to extremes, and business owners are no exception. Fortunately, no matter where you’re at, you CAN use a time of crisis to strengthen, to grow, and to catapult your business forward.
It’s time to take a step back and look at your business from a different perspective. Just to clarify, we’ll never tell you how to run your individual business, since every situation is different. We don’t put food on your table. You do. But what we can offer is eight principles that you can follow to strengthen your business during a time of crisis.
Take the time to coach your people. As the owner, come up with systems and procedures that benefit the business and then pass that knowledge on to your employees. All it requires is some time. Often, business owners say they don’t have time to coach their employees. But right now, you probably DO have time!
A great example of this is the implementation of any sort of business software, such as a CRM (Customer Relationship Management) software. When you find a CRM that works well for you (like ServiceMonster), it becomes your job as the owner to coach your people on how to use it. When business is slower, it's the perfect opportunity to further coach your team on how to use essential business tools properly. Make sure everyone knows how to schedule a job from their phone, or take payment in the field, or close out an invoice in the office. As you coach your team and their skills increase, your business will become more efficient and more effective at serving your customer’s needs.
As an entrepreneur, you must always be learning. Gaining more knowledge allows you to stay relevant to the people you serve and the people who you WILL serve in the future. After a crisis, there are thousands upon thousands of people who may need your services. Cleaning businesses especially have a great advantage when it comes to sanitation. If you need to learn how to provide sanitation services, now is the perfect time to gain that knowledge and set yourself up for success in the future.
This one is simple. Take the time to organize your business. This can mean anything from organizing your books so tax season isn’t such a mess, to organizing your shop so that it’s easier and faster to find what you need before a job. Whatever you need to organize, do it! Anything that streamlines your business for the future will benefit you and help you survive a crisis situation.
This is a big one. As a leader, you need to inspire your people. This works on multiple fronts, but first and foremost, you need to inspire your employees so that they understand the true value of the service that they offer. Give them hope and confidence in the work that they’re doing.
Now, being an inspiring leader is a lot easier said than done. We get that. Some people are born as natural leaders, and others have to learn. There are tons of resources available to help you learn how to be a better leader, including books, apps, online courses, and even personalized coaching (check out Bruce DeLoatch).
But at the very base level, being a good leader necessitates the ability to create a vision for the future of your business. Not just any vision, either. An INSPIRING vision of what is possible and what your team can achieve together! Once you have that vision, the next step is to impart it to your employees. Bring them into the process and make sure they know that they are a crucial piece to the success of this vision.
Another thought on the principle of inspiration: As the owner and leader, everything is your fault. Yep. Employees being late, being lazy, being rude to a customer, that’s all YOUR fault. And that may sound accusatory and negative, but in fact, it’s a positive thing! When you own the problems and take responsibility for the actions of your employees, that means you have the power to change it. When you play the victim and blame an employee for all of their problems, you lose the ability to actually change anything. So, own the problems. Your employees will see the humility in taking that course of action, as opposed to playing the blame game with them. This sets you up for a perfect opportunity to inspire your employees with the exciting vision of your business (which, of course, includes them)!
Another massive one here. If you’re a business owner and you think your job is to sit back and be served by your people, then you’re dead wrong. Your job, as the owner and leader, is to provide for your people everything that they need to rise to the greatness within them. Each of your employees has untapped potential, and you’d be crazy as their boss to not want to use that potential for your business!
The culture of your company should look something like this: The boss (you) serves the managers, the managers serve the frontline employees, and the frontline employees serve the customers. As long as your business is flowing in that direction, the money will flow in the opposite direction!
Another way of approaching this is thinking of your company as a tree. At the very bottom, providing for the health of the tree, are the roots. That’s you. Your job is to support the people who actually do the work, the figurative branches and leaves. One of the best ways to support your employees is to leverage their passions. This does require some effort on your part, but it will pay off for your business in the long run.
As a business owner, you always need to be training, learning, and growing as a leader. We’ve established that already. But what about actually getting your employees some training? This goes beyond you coaching them, as we discussed previously. When was the last time you paid for your employees to take an official training course on the latest methods of cleaning in your specific industry? Or what about sending your managers to a leadership seminar?
Now is the time to get your employees trained up. As your employees have more skills to offer, your business will benefit greatly. Whether it’s IICRC training, leadership coaching, or something entirely different, it’s worth it to invest in your people. And if you’re worried about “wasting” money on them because they might leave at some point, then you really aren’t valuing your employees. Invest in your business by investing in your employees. If they leave, then that’s just a cost of doing business.
Now this may sound similar to some of what we’ve already talked about. But what we mean by "educate" here is to educate your community, clients, and prospects. During a crisis, a lot of people get tired of seeing the same news about the current crisis. Here’s your opportunity to educate them on things they can practically do once things start to improve. This could look like educating them on how to keep their homes cleaner, or educating them on the benefits of a certain method of cleaning over another. You don’t have to create this information necessarily, all you need to do is effectively relay it to your customers and potential customers.
Let’s make a key distinction here: Training is internal (within your company) and education is external (what the company is projecting). When you educate your clients, you become an authority figure. And what better way to get your name out there than be known in your community as someone with helpful and reliable information?
This all goes back to the basic function and need of all businesses: making money. Do you want to make more money? Sure. It’s safe to say that most, if not all, business owners would say yes to that. But you can’t make any more money. And it’s not about your ability, or the industry that you’re in. If you want to make more money, then you need to go learn something new and apply it in a manner that is valuable enough to people that they are willing to pay you for it. Educating them on what you know, why it benefits them, and why it’s worth them paying you for it, is how you make more money. You’re making as much money as you can with what you know right now. To make more money, you have to know more.
So, start with educating yourself. Then educate your customers. When you become an expert in their eyes, you’re not only greatly benefiting yourself but also your community.
“Oh yeah, I sent out a postcard but it didn’t work. I tried a newsletter once too, but no one seemed to care.” We hear this ALL. THE. TIME. You can’t just try something once, and give up when it doesn’t work as you expect it to the first time. You have to keep it up; You have to REPEAT. Don’t look at results right away because in many cases (especially in marketing), results are not instantaneous. You have to consistently keep at it with the goal of staying top of mind with your customers.
The basic premise of repetition comes from how our brains are hardwired. We are pattern-recognition machines! We don’t see reality objectively; each of us sees reality through the lens of our own experiences and opinions. Fortunately, by repeatedly educating your customers with thoughtful and helpful content, you become the expert in their minds. Then the next time they have a problem related to the service you offer, boom! They call you. It becomes a natural reaction.
So, after all of that, let’s briefly cover some actionable steps you can take to keep your business healthy during a time of crisis:
This approach opens up a lot of doors for continuing to improve as a leader, especially when times are tough during a crisis. You may have to adapt and improvise in ways that you never thought you would have to. Your business may suffer and you may have to reinvent how you function on a day-to-day basis. But through it all, remember these principles. And most importantly... get back to work!
Recently, ServiceMonster CEO Joe Kowalski was joined by Bruce DeLoatch (IICRC Instructor and President of The Cleaner's Coach) on an episode of The Cleaning Podcast. This content has been adapted from their discussion, which can be listened to here.
Below are all of the release notes for version 6.5.0 of ServiceMonster: