Most window cleaners prefer to work by themselves. Window cleaning is really great for that. It allows a person to make good money without having to answer to a boss. It avoids the headaches that come with hiring. Your need for incoming work is lower, so your advertising budget can stay low. You don’t have to pay for Worker’s Compensation or other types of insurance that can get expensive. It can give flexibility of schedule to a family who needs it and allow the owner the freedom to run their business as they see fit.
Therein lies the problem with being a single owner/operator (SOO): there are few limits. “Burnout” among window cleaners is all too commonly spoken about on social media and in online forums. I’ve had many heart-to-heart conversations on the phone and by DM with people who feel like they have hit a wall. It is hard to hear long-time window cleaners with a great business and stellar reputations talk about hanging up their squeegee because they have lost their passion for what they do.
There are steps that you can take to remain a single owner/operator, run a successful business, and keep your sanity. The way you do it, however, is by recognizing that working alone has limits, and living within them is pivotal to keeping your head above water.
1. Your Body Has Limits – The biggest mistake I see SOOs make is thinking they can run at full speed their whole life. They work 50-60 hours a week when they are young & healthy, get accustomed to the income that comes with that schedule, then when they are older and start having difficulty maintaining that pace, feel trapped because they can’t afford to make less. So, the key is to run at a reasonable pace the entire time. Sure, there will be times when you will need to work more to meet an obligation or pay a bill. However, that should be the exception, not the rule. Have at least one day off a week to rest, but two is better. Rethink scheduling long workdays, or at least save them for those times or seasons when you need them. If you aspire to clean windows your whole life, giving your body rest must be viewed as a necessary investment in your company’s most important piece of equipment: You. You wouldn’t expect to drive your work truck 100,000 miles without changing the oil many times. Stop thinking you can do that with your body.
2.Your Time Has Limits – We have all been there. You are booked out for a month, but your favorite customer calls. It’s an “emergency”. Her whole family is coming over this weekend, and she forgot to call you for an appointment. Could you possibly squeeze her in? Now come the choices: Do I add her to the end of the day and take time away from family time, rest, or something else? Or do I say “no” and risk losing a valuable customer? It’s a tough choice, and frankly, no one answer works for everyone. This situation can be made easier if you recognize that you are only one person and have a limited number of hours in the day. First off, if you apply the advice from the first point of this article and have regular days off, you have also made room in your schedule for emergency overflow. While these calls may still be stressful, at least they are still possible to take care of without working to 7 or 8 at night. Second, learn to be ok with saying “no.” Sometimes, you simply don’t have the time. If you lose your favorite customer because you couldn’t help them get out of a mess they created, then maybe they shouldn’t be your favorite customer. The bottom line is this: Set limits on what hours of the day and week you are willing to work. This helps people to respect your time, keeps you from overworking yourself, and helps to manage your stress levels.
3. Your Income Has Limits – As you read the first two sets of advice, I could hear you thinking, “There is no way I could live off my business if I limited myself like that!” I have been there myself, and I totally agree. It is important to recognize that your business has income limits early on and be willing to live within them. This means keeping your expenses low while you build your business, avoiding getting into unnecessary debt, and maintaining a responsible budget. If you are already way past that point, not to worry. As an established company, you have another way to raise your income “ceiling”: Raise your prices. I won’t go into the “how” in this article as I have already written about it in the AWC (See “Debunking the Myths of Raising Prices”). What I will tell you is that many long-time SOOs do not raise their prices as often as they should. Some of your clients may have been paying the same amount for a decade or more. You should be raising your prices every year. If you are not raising prices at least according to the inflation rate, you repeatedly give yourself an unnecessary pay decrease. You may also need to clear out some “dead wood,” meaning decline to clean for customers who do not want to pay your current prices or who take a lot more time out of your schedule than they should. This will open room in your busy schedule to bring a more profitable customer in, thus raising your income “ceiling.”
I recognize that these things take work to do. Your business is like your “baby” and to treat it this way seems wrong, or at least counterintuitive. You must remember that while it may be your “baby,” it is also a tool that needs to work for you, not the other way around. If you have firmly decided not to hire, you need to be committed to working within the limits you have set for yourself. Only by understanding this will you be able to avoid burnout, keep your sanity, and enjoy the life a small business can give to you & your family.