When I started 360clean, a commercial cleaning business, in 2005, I had to wear so many hats that work quickly became overwhelming. I was so busy taking care of day-to-day operations, sales, accounting and management duties that even with the help of my wife, who is also my business partner, and six employees, I had no time to focus on growing or improving our company.
I was falling behind on paperwork, billing clients late and making sloppy projections and profit-and-loss statements. I was trying to do too much. Things were coming apart at the seams and hiring more employees wasn't an option. At the time we were only serving three clients, and I knew that if our company wasn't growing it was dying.
Here's how I learned to stop treading water and start growing my business.
The need for free time
I had been reading The E-Myth: Why Most Businesses Don't Work and What to Do About It by Michael Gerber. The premise of the book is that business owners should be working on their business rather than in their business. By delegating responsibilities, a business owner can free up time to develop and improve his or her business model rather than simply being a slave to day-to-day operational chores. It seemed to address my situation exactly.
The only problem was I couldn't afford to hire any more staff. The only solution that I could think of was franchising my company. I liked the idea that franchisees have a stake in the company, and that as my business grew I wouldn't be swamped with more and more managerial duties.
By June 2006, I had made the decision to franchise my company. The transition wasn't easy or cheap. Although there is no fee to register as a franchisor in South Carolina, I spent more than $100,000 over the next two years on marketing, consulting and attorney fees. Most of the attorney fees went to creating what's called a franchise disclosure document.
Making the transition
My company had grown to 40 clients by that point, and we had to cut 10 of them to reduce overhead and leave time to focus on developing the franchise. The toughest call I had to make was cutting a client that brought in $5,000 a month. I have a wife and kids to support and it was scary, but that one job -- cleaning a 50,000-square-foot call center -- was taking up huge amounts of time and resources I needed to get my franchise going.
We were able to fund the transition with revenue from our remaining accounts, and in 2008, we began handing off clients to our new franchise locations until we had no clients left. My goal was to build a business that ran itself, so I could step back and take care of big-picture issues.
Learning to work with franchise owners
The biggest challenge I faced transitioning into a franchise company was learning to give some control to the franchise owners. Working with franchisees is not like working with employees -- they are business owners just like you. If you disagree about something, you can't just say, "Well, I'm the boss, so tough luck."
For example, we encourage our franchise owners to hire part-time employees who already have full-time or part-time jobs elsewhere. We've found that hiring people who are in between jobs -- and there are a lot of them out there -- means that the turnover rate is a lot higher and training costs go up. But I've had to bite my tongue and watch many of my franchise owners make hiring mistakes. I believe that being an entrepreneur is about being creative and coming up with innovative ideas, not micromanaging the employee hiring process or making sales pitches.
Free time for improving and growing my business
Now that I don't focus as much on operational issues, I am free to spend time every day working on improving my company, rather than just maintaining it. Today I reviewed our website; tomorrow I am going to start revising our training manuals. My company recently finished work on a client portal that allows us to maintain a database of client feedback, which is shared among franchisees in each region. If I were still overwhelmed with the operational chores, I wouldn't have time for any of these projects.
Since we began the franchising process in 2006, my company has grown to 22 franchisees, and from operating in one state to operating in eight states. And we've boosted revenue from $500,000 to $2 million this year. My job has become my passion, and I finally know what it means to be an entrepreneur.
Before launching 360clean, Barry Bodiford spent six years as a sales rep in the pharmaceutical industry, and three years as a graduate assistant football coach at the University of South Carolina.
-- As told to Harper Willis