Phew, 2020 is finally over.
That was one heck of a year, between the wildfires, the ‘rona, the election, the economy, the lock downs and even dang murder hornets. 2020 seemed like a B-grade conspiracy theory horror flick playing out in real time.
Now that this red hot dumpster fire of a year is behind us and the calm of the “off season” has arrived, it’s probably a fantastic idea to try and piece together what happened.
Lets face it, whether you take it seriously or not, nobody saw the CoVID-19 crisis and all the fallout thereof coming. I like to consider myself an over-planner when it comes to crises and emergencies, but I was caught off guard as well. Hindsight is always 2020 (pun intended), so lets take a look at some of the finer points of dealing with crises that every window cleaning business owner should have a plan for.
Keep your financial house in order.
The giant mess in 2020 couldn’t have come at a worse time for most window cleaners. Right at the end of the winter, and right when a lot of us expected a nice influx of revenue. To add insult to injury, storefront dried up immediately in a lot of areas, removing the steady flow of income that a lot of us rely on.
It’s easy to go into December with a fat chunk of change in your business bank account and go buy that brand new truck, or go to a tropical island for a month thinking that spring is only a few months away. I’ve done it too, and there’s no reason not to reward yourself for breaking your behind all year.
However, things don’t always go according to plan. Having a nice financial buffer for emergencies is a major big boy step for any business owner. You can’t always count on a beautiful, early spring and a banner year to keep food on your family’s table.
Don’t F with the feds
A perfect example would be our spring of 2018. In April, when we would usually see a HUGE uptick in residential business, we got clobbered by one blizzard after another. Luckily, we had an extra buffer built in to keep us fed and the bills paid through that, but I know a lot of guys here in the Northeast that were sweating bullets through that time.
When the lock downs started, I spoke with a lot of fellow business owners. One in particular called me for advice about getting the PPP and / or EIDL loans from the government. Unfortunately, they had never paid taxes in their 20+ year history. They also paid all of their employees under the table, which meant nobody qualified for State unemployment benefits. Storefront and commercial, which was the majority of their work, completely disappeared in one fell swoop. They were left high and dry, and entirely SOL.
The only thing I could say to them was “Well, it looks like you’re beat”.
Window cleaning is a cash business, and a business owner can very easily fall into the trap of keeping that cash all to themselves. Nobody enjoys paying taxes. Period. That being said, taxes are a necessary evil if you ever plan on building real world equity in your business. If you ever plan on selling your company, the first thing a buyer is going to ask for is your tax returns. Business lines of credit? Auto loans? Leveraging your equity to purchase a home? Leasing a legitimate shop to operate out of? You need a paper trail for them as well.
If you’re going to sidestep the IRS, they’ll eventually find you, and you’ll pay a whole lot more than what you originally owed in interest and penalties. Not to mention, when the Feds start throwing trillions of dollars around to keep small businesses afloat, you ain’t gonna get a penny without that paper trail.
A good accountant won’t break the bank, and is worth their weight in gold. Shop around and ask for referrals tho, not all of them are gems. We went through 5 CPA firms before finding a keeper. Even if you’ve played hide and seek with the IRS for decades, it is far better to face the music than to let them find you.
Like most other small business owners, I went a little koo-koo for Coco Puffs when the poop started hitting the fan in March. I try to plan for everything, but could have predicted a global pandemic and financial meltdown coming?
So many questions needed to be answered immediately, and there was no real guidance from the Government, because they were trying to figure it out as well. I decided the only way to gain some clarity was to write out the worst case scenarios and create a system for each. In the COVID era, some of my main concerns were:
- How do we keep our employees and customers safe
- How will we adjust our operations (i.e. not doing interiors etc)
- What is our process if one of us gets sick?
- What is our process if work dries up all of the sudden (layoffs)?
- How do we reschedule work if any of the above happens?
- Are we actually an essential business?
As I write this in November of 2020, I am thanking my lucky stars that we have clear and concise systems to answer these questions and move forward. One of our crew leaders’ live-in family members contracted COVID and tested positive yesterday. The relative was exposed over a week ago. I was riding in my personal vehicle with my manager 5 days ago, and was probably also exposed.
If we did not have systems in place to address the probability that this would eventually occur, we would probably all be climbing the walls backwards to fix it. By being prepared, and by educating our staff to our protocols, everyone knows how we plan on getting past our crisis.
It is much easier to deal with a problem when your back isn’t against the wall. Getting ahead of any storm that comes your way will save you a lot of headache and heartache.
I’m sure this varies by location, but in these parts the moment the lock downs started a large number of new exterior cleaning “companies” sprung up out of nowhere. This was especially true for the pressure / soft washing sector.
The reasons are obvious… People need to eat, and what we do is considered “essential” by most states’ definition. If any one of us lost our jobs, we would get creative as to how to put food on our family’s table. Heck, that’s how a majority of us got started in window cleaning, myself included.
Healthy competition is always a good thing. It keeps you on your toes and makes you better. Over the years, some of my fiercest competitors have become my close friends. There’s a ton of glass out there, and unless someone is actively trying to shoot your brand out of the sky, there’s no use in fussing and fighting. Come in peace, but prepare for war.
“The entrepreneur always searches for change, responds to it, and exploits it as an opportunity.”
– Peter Drucker
Step up your marketing game
Nonetheless, 2021 looks like it is going to be the Year of the Crowded market, and you need to protect your brand and bank account. Going into this year (or any year) with a Laissez-faire attitude might come back to bite you. As in 2020, I’m expecting for all the “rules” to be thrown out the window.
There is ALWAYS an opportunity to step up your game, whether it be tweaking your SEO, planning a heavier EDDM hit, rewriting your follow up emails etc. Always try to stay one line ahead of the fold, because there’s always a hungry new guy with brains that would love to dig into your market.
Yeah, I get it. We all lost more than a few nights of sleep because of stress last year. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a ton of opportunity to not only survive, but thrive. It doesn’t take much to find a silver lining through all these clouds, but if you keep your eyes open eventually it will come into view.
Happy New Year!
– Chris Cartwright