“When a man is prey to his emotions, he is not his own master.” – Benedict de Spinoza 

As a business owner, it is natural for you to want control. That is why you became a business owner in the first place, is it not? However, expecting to control all aspects of your business can have some side effects that are not always in your best interest.  

The problem comes from trying to control the uncontrollable. Nothing will bring you more anxiety and sleepless nights than worrying about the things you can’t control. And nothing will cause burnout faster than trying to control those very same things you were worried about. What is the key to keeping your sanity? Knowing and coming to peace with the things you can’t control, and being balanced about controlling the things you can. Let’s look at some examples of things you can’t control and what control freaks like myself can do to not cause our heads to explode. 

1)     Your Employees 

The Problem – The number one reason cited for not bringing on employees is dealing with all the uncertainties that come with hiring. What if you hire a bad employee? What if they don’t represent your company well? What if they damage or lose equipment? What if you get bad reviews because of something they did? The list goes on. The hard truth is that all those things could happen. But will all those things happen? That’s hard to say. You can do your best to design an interview process that weeds out the bad candidates, and one could still slip through the cracks. They will make mistakes and rarely have the same skills or aptitude as you. Something might happen in their life that causes them to go from a good employee to a bad employee. The point is that employees will always be wild cards that you will never have complete control over. 

How to Find Peace – Accept the facts that your employees are not you; you will have to monitor and train them continually, they will make mistakes that hurt your company from time to time, and that’s all ok. The entire country is run by businesses that hire imperfect people. It happens every day, and somehow the world doesn’t end. True, one bad employee can have a greater impact on a small company (and your life) than one in a bigger company. However, that unknown is just part of the “growing pains” you must endure to reach your goals. If you decide to stay a single owner/operator, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that and more power to you. However, hiring is inevitable if you envision your business as an asset that you would like to grow in value over time. The sooner you accept that your control over your employees is limited, the sooner you will be mentally prepared for growth. 

2)     Your Customers 

The Problem – Our customers are great. Until they’re not. When that phone rings, we have no idea who is on the other line or what they are capable of. 95-99% will be great. They will be loyal and care about your success and refer you out to their friends. Aaaannnnndddd… some will not. Those 1-5% of bad customers can really make your life miserable. They can leave unwarranted bad reviews. They can refuse to pay because they don’t feel you did a good enough job. They can be rude to you and your staff. They can be nitpicky and keep you on the job longer than needed. Some may even threaten or take legal action against you for frivolous reasons. Regardless of whether they are great or terrible, the most stressful part of having customers is when they stop calling right at the worst possible time. 

How to Find Peace – While you can’t control what your customers will do or how they will act, there are things you can do to minimize some issues. First of all, know who your ideal customer is. Once you identify that demographic, you can focus your advertising on that segment of your city. Many of the headaches that come with people upset about pricing or services are with people who are NOT your ideal customer. Make sure your advertising net isn’t so wide that you pick up more seaweed than fish. Second, have good communication and manage expectations. Sometimes customers have a very different idea of what window cleaning involves. Talk with them and ensure you are both on the same page before your squeegee touches the glass. Make notes of agreements and include them on the invoice for future reference in case they claim that agreement was never made. Third, be quick to address problems. Do so at the time of service if possible. Making a habit of conducting a walk-through after the cleaning can alleviate the appearance of “skipping” windows and allow you to explain issues more in-depth that they might otherwise request a call back for. Putting off addressing concerns will only prolong the issue and add a high-interest rate to your stress. Lastly, don’t be afraid to “fire” customers. There are a lot of window cleaners out there. If a complaining customer is constantly harassing you, it might be time to have an “It’s not you, it’s me” conversation and let them be someone else’s problem. Addition by subtraction is a real thing when it comes to bad customers. You can’t control what bad customers may do, but you can have a plan in place for when they do it. 

3)     The Economy 

The Problem – The economy is one of those vague things that the average business owner worries about but doesn’t know exactly how it affects them. We all remember how panicked business owners were right at the start of the pandemic, and some of us remember the concerns we had back in 2008 when the subprime mortgage crisis hit. Certainly, in both scenarios, small business owners were hurt, but not all in the same way. Even amongst window cleaners, there will be a lot of variation in how a downturn in the economy or rising supply costs will affect us. Whether it does affect us or not, hearing news reports about discouraging economic forecasts can bring anxiety and cause us to wonder if we are in a strong enough position to get through it. 

How to Find Peace – Of all the points mentioned above, this is the one we have the least control over. Yet, there are things we can do to give us the best chance of enduring through challenging financial times. If you haven’t already, now is the time to start an emergency fund. Experts suggest having a saving account with a balance of 3 to 6 months of expenses. It will take time and discipline, but it will be well worth the planning. Many window cleaners survived the pandemic by diversifying their services. For instance, several companies added sanitizing as a service, and that helped them fill the gap of the customers they lost initially. I personally know of one company in town that still has a regular route for sanitizing services. You can also work to become more efficient as a company. Sometimes it just takes a study of your bank and credit card statements to see a ton of unnecessary spending that is adding bloat to your overhead. Getting sleek and agile might be the difference between going under and staying afloat. However, the best thing you can do as a business owner during uncertain financial times is staying calm. Don’t make sudden or desperate decisions. Don’t go buying expensive equipment thinking you will need to change your entire business model. Don’t make temporary moves that could end up hurting your business in the long term. If there was anything that the pandemic taught us is that your business is resilient. If you offer a good product and have good customer service, chances are you will make it through the tough times if you settle in and keep being your wonderful self. 

So, hang in there, fellow control freaks! You can do this. The good news is that even though there are a lot of things out of our control in business, there are some things that we absolutely CAN control, yet business owners often choose not to. What are those things? You will have to read next month’s issue to find out. Well, I mean as long as it’s ok with you… 

Gabriel Gutierrez