This thread is meant to hopefully open a dialogue on the advantages and challenges of running a solo or husband-and-wife window cleaning business.
There’s a lot of talk about expanding and employing, and how every business has to employ at some point. But I know there are a lot of guys and gals out there that are intentionally doing the opposite. This thread is for you
For me, I’ve found it helpful to think of the business as a “job I own”. I’ve heard this phrase used in sort of a disparaging way, but I don’t see it like that. If we treat our business like a job (that we own) we can apply strategies used by those in the typical workforce. Like actually saving for retirement. Or having a fixed (or at least predictable) weekly or biweekly salary.
Seeing it as a “job” can also help us to maintain a healthy work/life balance.
OK, now it’s your turn. What are some of your strategies, ideas, frustrations, etc., about staying solo? Feel free to get as detailed or as broad as you like
Hey Alex , good conversation starter . I’m also solo , and the good , bad and can potentionaly can get ugly .
The good is that you don’t have to worry about employees calling out on you when you rely on them the most . That can severe consequences ( bad reviews ) with current clients if you don’t meet their needs on time.
All the other stuff that goes with employing from hiring to firing and all the paperwork .
The bad , there’s only one of you . There’s only so much you can do in one day , week , month .
The ugly , INJURY . Can set you out for 3-6 months or even more . With no income .
Ideally I would like to work myself to : my wife handling the phones, and me with 2 PT helpers . And telling them no work on jan , feb , and August . That way they know and I’m not worry about getting them work . If there’s work then cudos.
I think the key to growth is savings . Gotta have Them reserves so you’re not sweeting the small stuff like clients paying late and you paying your guys and bills on time .
Interestingly is my wife wants me to grow and I’m the one that’s more hesitant .
My wife does a bit of floating for our commercial cleaning company and I am grooming two more. I would like to grow to the point where most of my labor will be for call outs for WC, carpets and floors and I could be a floater for the nightly and weekly cleaning contracts.
This would require one or two regular PT employees but I could easily backfill for either one of them.
Hmm, I went off track a bit in the event this thread is for exclusively owner/operators, but I see this manning structure as a way to mitigate the risk of getting injured and supporting low risk expansion.
I have actually found it to benefit me to view my “job” as a “business”. When I viewed it as a job (years ago) I was content to make far less than I should have been, because making $25/hr is better than $10/hr working for someone - right. Not when you should be making twice that. It has also helped to be more professional in my service, presentation, etc.
A benefit I see right now in being solo is that I make more money with less hassle. I can charge more of a premium on my services being solo and with a booked calendar. I can also focus more on incorporating my family into the business and not rely on outside workers.
Great points. At a certain point, a few years ago, I found the same to be true. To begin with, it was just a gig for me. Then I started to view it as business: upped prices, professionalism, etc.
Now I guess I’ve come full circle. It’s still a business in the sense that I have to manage myself, keep operating as a business, and run things on the back end in a systemized way. I guess I’ve achieved a level of ‘compartmentalization’ in the way I view it. Kind of difficult to describe exactly what I mean…
Definitely thought provoking stuff.
@GenaroGuzman, and others who have mentioned this:
I totally understand the fear of being laid up and out of work for 3-6 months. I’d love to talk and brainstorm about some ways to protect ourselves from that risk, without bringing employees into the picture. As you said, good savings is important if you’re going to employ, but I think it’s just as important when you’re self-employed.
My wife and I are currently working on our 6 months of emergency savings. For our situation we could live on $20k for 6-9 months depending on how frugal we have to get.
Great topic and will probably hit it up in stages.
There is nothing wrong with being an owner operator. About 3 weeks ago was the first time in 10 years I have not had employees. It was so relaxing mentally. The jobs I did I broke my own rules and listened to music and just enjoyed the day.
If one wants to remain solo forever I think much of it comes down to business decisions and how you live your life. EVERYONE should have 6 months emergency funds in the bank, working on this myself.
I prefer having employees, I’ll take the headache/heartache over the back and knee aches. However so much changes when you get employees, especially when they are adults and need year round work or once you get to 2-3 crews. So much must change change in the owners mental thinking and how they spend their time.
We are currently downsizing and it’s giving me to the opportunity to use a word I rarely could or did for years, “no”. I have loved that. As a solo guy, once you build your client list up, you can cherry pick the easy/good paying jobs. You can reduce your territory and save time. Many pro’s to being solo.
If I was going to stay solo, or if I was new, my first hire would be an office worker. Someone to push the paper, answer the phone (so many pro’s to this alone), to remind jobs well in advance in case they cancel.
All this said, for the most part I see no end game in being a solo operator. These business we value so much are not worth what we often think they are. People get “hurt” sitting in chairs and typing too much, imagine 20-30 years of this on our bodies.
I have seen a few on here and few local guys who have pulled off the solo thing really well. Tip of the cap to them.
The end game, in my mind, would be an aggressive savings & investment approach. If you save/invest half of what you take home, you’d potentially have enough (25x yearly living expenses) to retire on after 17 years. A more relaxed savings rate of 25% will get you there in around 32 years. That’s without relying on SS for any post retirement income.
…Or Armageddon. That’s the most likely business “end-game” for guys my age
agree. Save save save! Hope you nail this if this is the path you want.
The examples I have seen it work for
Local guy: was around here for 30+ years, tried hiring once and never attempted again. He only did windows, nothing else. Made it super simple on his supplies and vehicle needs. Dude never touched a 24 tall ladder, had one but told me he never touched it. He would leave each clients home in Spring having them scheduled for late summer/fall cleanings. Pretty sure he lived simply and had his home paid for. He once told me “any window cleaner charging more than $30/hr is a thief”.
On here Chad P basically has done the same thing, believe he had a program where you had to clean the windows twice a year. If you skipped you were not on his current rotation and were put on the waiting list.
In 2007 when the market hit bottom I was finishing up a CCU for one of my contractors. The painter and the electrician, who are both working solo, get in an argument because business is basically coming to a stand still. The painter is freaking out because the contractor stopped all construction on the next house and he didn’t know what to do next. The electrician said, “Geez Bill (painter) couldn’t you use a little break? We have been working 60-70 hours a week for the last how many years!?” Basically he was saying they had no lives other than work and should be in a financial situation to weather the storm if they were playing their cards right. It took almost 2 years for housing to come back and they are both still in business. Our economy here in Wyoming is hitting rock bottom again, much worse than 2007, highest unemployment rate in the nation bad.
One of the most important things I have learned as a business owner, is to position myself during hard times (economy, injury, health problems). There are always people who have money no matter the economic conditions and those are the people you focus 90% of your effort on. I have found it is very difficult to maintain a business at a status quo. Yes there are so many hours a day and so many days in a year, which means you can really only do x amount. It kills me to turn down work and I do it quite often, but when I find work that is going to add to my top end I’ll do it, Find a part-time employee or two who can help you pick up the slack beyond the work you actually want to do working solo or physically can do. There are plenty of really good people, if you look around, that are looking to make some extra cash. When things slow down you aren’t obligated to keep them working and if you happen to get injured, you have somebody that has your back.
I think the big issue is successful wc’ers are good at both sides of the business. The field work and the sales/backend/office type stuff.
I think I can do either one really really well and be successful. The question is where do you really want to end up?
I would love to do just field work and not worry about t the other hassle. But when my days are packed with jobs, a good thing, I get stressed because the other stuff that allows me to have those dollar days are not getting done. So things fall through the cracks or you burn it at both ends, neither are great options.
My winter was busy and I’ve been so busy with new work coming in that I have done zero in follow ups for annual cleans because I have no time, either to do the follow up or slots on the schedule.
At this point I’m ready to hire, itll be part time, but I need the help to get things done so I can focus on the other. Was it simpler when I would just get one job a day, do it and get home @ 2pm and kick it? Yeah of course. Did i start out thinking of having employees? Not at all. will I now be concerned about keeping another guy busy? probably. Could it be more of a headache? Potentially. But I’m running like crazy now anyway trying to get it all done.
I figure try it out and if it doenst go well then back to what I have been doing.
I started out with nothing and gotten by. I can do it again if I had to.
I guess the biggest thing that we all want is our time. It’s our most precious commodity. For some having employees means work is structured and is not spilling into all other aspects of your life, for others it eats their life and they miss out on what’s really important and vice versa, being solo gives you freedom or makes you run around like a chicken without a head trying to get it all done. Welcome to the hamster wheel!
I think the trick is finding what works best for you as a person or individual. And for everyone that might be different.
Hey Dave. Hope all is well. I am still working solo. You are right about my minimum of twice a year. If you get off the schedule it is really hard to get back on. I always keep a minimum of 30 people on my waiting list. That way I can replace someone quickly if I need to.
I had a potential client text me earlier this week. I was honest with her about the current wait. I told her my current wait is 3 - 5 years. I told her that I may be able to get her on sooner. She said she would wait and to put her on the waiting list. I know it sounds crazy that someone would wait that long. Kevin Dubrosky taught me a lot about creating scarcity in my business. I have been very fortunate with my business. I never take any day for granted.
I think one of the long-term keys is the simplicity of your personal life. Let’s face it: if you’re solo (or small), there WILL be a cap on your income. It is important to plan for the future, even if you only consider that to be a back-up plan.
The cost of living will keep rising. For example, Our health insurance premium (for a frighteningly basic plan) has doubled in the last 5 years. Forecast that out 20-30 years.
Also, Consider the fact that manual labor workers generally see their wages decline as they age. What you are able to produce in your 20s/30s will most likely be your peak earnings in life. As a solo operator, in your 40s-60s, you will earn less. Don’t anticipate your wages (whether adjusted against inflation or not) to rise.
Coupled with the higher cost of living, it seems to me that the only long-term solution to being a solo operator is to live very simply now. The difficult part to me is having both emergency savings and retirement savings. Additionally, emergency savings won’t go nearly as far if medical bills are also a part of the equation. In the long-term, past generations counted on the social security safety nets as they aged. We may not have that luxury.
I guess my conclusion is: Live Very Simply. I know that most solo operators are doing just that. Plan for the future. I think it’s crucial to have health insurance. I watched a close friend in his early 30s get incredibly sick. Him and his wife are beautiful people. They were doing a solo business and balancing it with more important things in their life, and they were rocked by an illness which prevented him from working for half a year. And even when he Got started again, he was not at 100%. Hope for the best, prepare for the worst. Where would any of us be if we completely lost our fall season and part of our spring? As we all age, the chances of things going wrong increase.
Live simply, plan for the worst. Not trying to be gloom and doom. Just trying to encourage people to plan. Sorry if my post is a little repetitive.
As basically a solo operator, one of the thing that weighs heavily on my mind is the end game… We all know that its coming.
As a solo operator we all know that there are a few ways that we can increase pmh rate (price increase,efficiency, value) but that only goes so far. What other things can we do to solidify a solid pmh rate long term?
We all have only so many billable hrs in a day/year.
How have you guys solidified your growth pmh rate?
Accidents and illness happens…
Disability insurance sounds like a good answer.
(we insure our “jobs” business form day one , why not ourselves!)
For myself in regards to accidents…
I try to mitigate chances (LESS LADDER work)
One way I mitigate risk is no ladder work. If that makes me ineligible for some jobs then so be it. I had a ladder fall two years ago and I realize how lucky I was to be able to walk away from the incident with nothing more than some bruises and a sore body.
My insurance would increase dramatically if I work more than eight feet off the ground. that is not cost effective for the amount of WC work that I do.