When growth is a priority, there's no such thing as an easy business. That's a big lesson I learned while building Jackrabbit Janitorial.
Early in my tenure as co-founder of Jackrabbit Janitorial, my partner and I agreed to clean a private jet hangar. Mopping the finished concrete would be easy, or so we thought. The glossy, white epoxy floor covering had a rubbery quality and was covered with the fine black soot of a diesel tug used to move aircraft. Each swipe of the mop pushed the soot around, requiring us to change the mop water every few strokes—in a building the size of a warehouse.
Crouched under an airplane wing with a mop, I was nearly ready to give up. Tears of frustration overcame me. I hadn’t been mentally prepared for the effort it would require to build this company, while also being the guy doing all the work.
When we started the Phoenix-based company in 2008, I didn't do it because I loved to mop. I was in college and my business partner had a full-time job, but we believed that a cleaning company would comfortably fit into both of our schedules and generate the income we needed to live, too.
And it did—sort of. But not without a few key changes in the way we worked first.
You can't do it all
That day at the jet hangar, I realized I had to step up and work smarter or risk losing my business altogether. More to the point, I realized I couldn't count on myself alone if I really wanted to grow the business beyond a part-time commitment after I graduated.
It was time to ask for help.
I resolved that day to build a team of family members, friends and colleagues that I could call on to help me clean part time. It took creative scheduling and a lot of patience to work around my new makeshift employees' other personal obligations, but not having the excess capital to hire employees ahead of having contracts, it was the best choice I could make in order to grow the business without burning myself out.
Which leads to the next, related lesson: how to avoid burning your team out.
You can't say yes to everything
The real work began after my college graduation, when we started seeking more clients to better fill my recently vacant days. Bootstrapping our company meant we didn’t have an advertising budget, but we used social media, office visits and handshakes to spread the word about our company and our eco-friendly cleaning mission.
In 2011—then three employees strong—a large daycare center came to us about cleaning their facility. This was the break we had been waiting for ... or so we thought.
By the end of the first month, between the hundreds of dollars spent on supplies and equipment specific to this facility, the one-hour-each-way travel to and from the job, and the abundance of impossible-to-remove glitter adorning every square inch of flooring in the building, we knew the tradeoffs we were making for this job were not healthy for our company.
We couldn't provide the level of service they wanted at the price they could afford to pay, and the impact on company morale was beginning to show. As the manager, I felt a responsibility to look beyond the moment and determine whether the short-term loss of income was worse than the long-term damage to morale. It wasn't—so I respectfully terminated the service agreement.
Growing smart is almost always better than growing fast. Every business has growing pains, and your employees will feel them too, so it’s important to consider their morale when planning for growth. It takes patience, but long-term success is worth the wait—and that is what you have to remember and communicate as well.
Luckily, my business partner is a tireless cheerleader, and helped me communicate to our employees that the hard times would be temporary and growing would help us better accommodate the fluidity of our business cycle. That was crucial in our success. I always remind my employees that the pain is temporary, but just like a growing child, when you finally see how much you've changed and grown, all the pain is worth it.
As for me, I've learned that entrepreneurship is a long road. My own mental roadmap and moral compass aren't enough to get me to my destination. The lessons I've learned along the way are like mile markers, reminding me where I've been to help me get where I want to go. There will always be bumps in the road, but part of improving and growing your business is improving yourself. I've learned a lot about myself in the last five years as an entrepreneur, and I know I still have room to grow.