2 years ago, I quit. I had a thriving 2.5 million dollar cleaning service I had been building since 2006, and I walked away, just like that.
November 12th, 2019 I was on my way to Detroit for a business training. My daughter had been sick, and before leaving I’d asked her dad to take her back to the doctor – clearly she needed some antibiotics because she was getting worse, not better. When the wheels touched down in Detroit I turned my phone on and immediately texted my ex-husband “did you get her back to the doctor?” His reply changed life as we all knew it forever.
He called me frantic, saying she was in an ambulance on her way to Children’s Hospital in Denver; they thought it was leukemia. He had been sent home to pack for “a lengthy stay” and then follow her down. My baby girl had just turned 8. My plane was still taxiing, not even at the gate yet. The moment felt surreal, like I was having an out of body experience. I sat there frozen for a moment, trying to come to terms with what I had just been told. Then I flew into action. I got the flight attendant to call a gate agent to meet me with a ticket for the next flight back to Denver in 30 minutes. I called the people who were planning to pick me up in Detroit and told them I wouldn’t be coming. And then I called my operations manager.
You see, nothing else mattered. At that point I didn’t care whether my company would make it or not. My daughter had cancer. I told my general manager that I would see her in a few months? Maybe a year? Maybe more?
It has been more than 2 years since that awful day, and I am happy to report my daughter is doing well, as is my company. And I have truly never gone back. This has all been possible because the work we had already been doing in the 4 years prior to diagnosis day.
In 2015, I was beyond burned out. I felt like my company was sucking the life out of me. We were stalled right around 1.2 million, and no matter what I did I couldn’t get that needle to move because I was working IN the business, spending all of my time putting out fires instead of actually working ON my business. I decided it was time for a general manager. I had 2 office staff at the time but I was still the GM, and I knew if I couldn’t remove myself from that role and work on what truly mattered in my business that we were never going to get ahead, and it was likely just a matter of time before I quit altogether.
My first attempt went very, very poorly. I hired someone who looked fabulous on paper – she had a resume to die for! I was over the moon. I spent 3 weeks training her, and then foolishly went on a 3 week vacation, feeling it was finally my time to take a break. What happened while I was gone and over the two months following still makes me sick to think about. Almost 100% of my staff quit. She hired and fired more than 80 people in an 8 week period. I lost NET 100 clients in addition to what we would have normally expected to lose through natural attrition. People don’t like change, they like consistency. They like to know what they can expect from your company. And she had changed everything. She even painted and redecorated my entire office while I was out of town! She TOOK my business, and ran it HER way.
After about 4 months I let her go and stepped back in to right the ship. After a few months we were stable, but I was still burned out beyond belief, so I tried again. My next GM was better in the sense that she really wanted to do things my way, but it quickly became obvious she didn’t know what exactly that looked like. She did fine as long as I was right there to tell her how I wanted each situation handled, but that isn’t really the point of having a GM right? I wanted freedom! We fumbled along like this for about 9 months. It wasn’t a disaster like the first time, but nevertheless we were slowly sliding backward. Eventually she left and I stepped back in, again.
I was determined that the 3rd time be the charm, and thankfully it was. I promoted from within this time, hiring someone who already understood my company and how we operated. I took my time developing and growing her in her leadership until she was ready to fly solo. She is a superstar, and her name is Ajia. She has been my GM for 5 years now.
But I still had a problem to solve. You see, Ajia was only 25 when I hired her, and she had bigger ambitions for her life than running a cleaning service forever – as she should, because she’s absolutely brilliant. I knew the day would come when I lost her, and I didn’t have it in me to start from scratch again. I knew I never wanted to step back in again, and I certainly didn’t want to spend years grooming her replacement. So, we began the long and tedious journey of documenting EVERYTHING, and our operations manual was born.
Our operations manual is not an outdated word document that sits on the shelf and gathers dust. It is a living, breathing piece of software that we use every day. It outlines not only how to do every task in our company (including step by step instructions and video tutorials!) but it explains the why in addition to the how. We have every policy at our fingertips, every procedure, every document and script. All of our communications are templated – from client emails to employee write ups. There is no room for decision making. Everyone who starts work for my company can start working from day 1, because they have access to everything they need to train themselves. And when the day came that I was forced to walk away, my company never missed a beat. It still operates exactly as it always has, with no involvement from me whatsoever.
After 5 glorious years with Ajia, she is finally moving on to bigger and better opportunities. Her replacement has been hired, and it has been the smoothest transition I could have ever possibly hoped for. All because of the operational framework we have built together.
If you too would like Freedom from your cleaning business, Ajia and I will be holding a workshop next month at our offices in Fort Collins CO. Learn more here: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/the-all-star-way-to-operational-excellence-and-absentee-ownership-tickets-209395887737
Other Articles by this author: I fired 13 cleaners at once and I am glad I did