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:
- Focus on your people. You aren’t building a company, you’re building people. Your people build the company. Rather than being afraid of investing in your employees, try to keep them on and pay them to learn. Even if the normal work they do has dried up, pay them to help you organize and systematize your business.
- If you need assistance to keep paying your employees, the government has many loan options available right now to small business owners. Taking advantage of this kind of financial help during a crisis will allow you to focus on educating your employees, rather than laying them off. Of course, every business and individual is different, so taking any loan or government assistance should be something that is carefully and thoughtfully considered.
- Identify your employees' passions. Then, incorporate those into your business. This requires you as the owner to sit down and talk with each of your employees. Get to know them a little better. Find out what motivates them! If you’re lucky, maybe some of their passions can be applied to their job in your business. If you can create an environment where more of your employees are doing what they love, then that will directly influence the success of your company as a whole.
- Finally, let go of your ego. We all have it. During a crisis, take a step back and evaluate yourself. Identify where you need to grow and what you need to learn, both as a leader and a business owner. The BEST use of your intellect is to compare what you think you know with what you don't know. Be willing to admit that what you don't know is infinitely greater than what you do know. And accept the fact that half of what you think you know is probably flawed!
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.