Just recently, a student in one of my online video courses about job hunting strategies asked…
“Do you have any advice on what to do for someone who has been out of the work force for 18 years? I stayed home with my children.“
Here’s what I wrote back to her…
First off, good on you for focusing on your children! They will thank you for your commitment and sacrifice. That work and dedication will have effects far into the future, more than anything that could have been done during the same time in the workforce. I’ve passed up promotions and job offers because they would have required a lot of travel, and time away from my wife and three kids.
Anyway, I presume you went through lesson 12, the stair-step approach to a perfect job. I would revisit that information, first off. I expect that you feel like you are in that conundrum where you need experience to get work, but you need work to get experience.
What type of work, or training, or schooling had you done before focusing on raising your children? My mom got married when she was 18, and had kept books for a company for about 6 months as part of a high school work study program. About 20 years (and six kids) later, she had a hard time compiling any type of resume and didn’t feel confident applying for jobs.
She got a job keeping books and doing the scheduling/reception work for a car repair shop by talking to some friends at church. They knew she was dependable, and honest, and that was enough, so they gave her the job. She was able to move on to a job at a bank, where she continued to cultivate that hard working, honest reputation, and was eventually promoted through levels to become an officer of that community bank! And she never went to college! (Though she took advantage of training opportunities available at her job.)
I’d also say focus on small family businesses of people who know you (or, who are friends of people you know) who can vouch for you. Big corporations are the ones who want the long resume, and who don’t value the real rigors and experience that 18 years (and counting) of motherhood entail like smaller mom-and-pop businesses will.
A few years ago, I was able to interview an acquaintance who was in the same situation you are in now. Her story is very inspiring…
How Kim Jones Learned to Start Her Own Cleaning Business
Right about the time that their youngest child started school, a friend and I stopped by the Jones’ house one Sunday afternoon. A large stack of books stood on the coffee table. Books about business, finance, and entrepreneurship. I asked them who was doing the “light” reading. Kim had decided to start her own business and was reading up on what it would take to make the company successful.
A few years later, Kim’s VeraClean company is doing very well. It’s grown from a few contracts and employees to a successful operation servicing the South Denver (Colorado) area. Fascinated by how it all happened, I asked Kim to share a few thoughts and tips about how/what she learned to create a successful company. My questions and her responses follow:
Kim, will you list some of the most important things you’ve had to learn to start and maintain a successful company?
“There was so much I didn’t know about starting my own business, but I believe it was my humility that enabled me to learn enough to get VeraClean up and rolling and it’s definitely what keeps us going now. I really had to swallow my pride when I decided to start a housecleaning company because not only was I going to be the owner, I was the first and only housecleaner! I grabbed my vacuum, a few cleaning supplies and went to work. I also had to step out of my comfort zone and start telling everyone (friends, family, and acquaintances) that I was eager and ready for their business. The beauty of humility is that it engenders flexibility and flexibility has also been key for me as a business owner. It seems that we are always evolving and finding new and better ways to do things.”
“Another important learning tool is “Systems”. Whenever anything went wrong, we put a new system in place; hence our Policies and Procedures. I remember hiring my first team of employees back in the fall of 2008. They were out for their first cleaning assignment and they got lost. They spent 45 minutes driving around and I was sick to my stomach thinking about how much I was paying my employees for being lost. That day I created and implemented a new system—employees would be paid only when cleaning and reimbursed for mileage. I haven’t had to pay for lost employees since.”
I can’t begin to recall all those books that sat on your family’s coffee table when we came by that afternoon – there were too many! Can you share some of the most helpful things you’ve read for running your business?
“The most important thing I read was about the type of business one should start. I always dreamed of owning my own business, but I hadn’t yet found the right fit. I tried selling on eBay, at home parties, multi level marketing, and day care, but none of them lasted very long. The books about starting a successful business that I was reading helped me realize why.”
“They all talked about the importance of finding your passion and doing something you love. I was having a hard time unearthing my passion when one day my brother asked, ‘Kim, what are you good at and what do you love to do?’ The answer jumped off my tongue, ‘I’m good at cleaning and I love to clean!'”
“I have always been a clean freak (as my family can attest) and I’ve always found great pleasure and satisfaction in making things sparkle and shine. For me, it was a “eureka” moment—I knew then and there that I was going to start a housecleaning business.”
“Some of the other books that have helped me build a successful business are:
- Boundaries by Cloud and Townsend – As a wife, mother of four, and a new business owner, this book about learning how to say no without feeling guilty, was a must read.
- The Secret by Rhonda Byrne – A great book that reminded me to keep focused on my vision for VeraClean.
- The Carrot Principle by Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton – I highly recommend this book for anyone wanting to better manage and recognize employees.”
Many elements of what you’ve learned probably didn’t come from books. What other things have been valuable learning resources for running your company?
“I have to thank my parents for instilling a strong work ethic. We were taught young how to work. We were always shoveling snow, stacking wood, pulling weeds, or improving our home. I started my first job as a dishwasher when I was 12. I started at the bottom and worked my way to the top. Learning to work and learning to love work have been huge contributors to my success.”
“Other business owners have also been valuable learning resources. I love talking to them about their successes, things that are working for them, and where they plan to go next. I have found that successful business owners are creative, innovative, optimistic, and proactive. Others, however, are afraid of change, scared to grow, pessimistic, and full of excuses. I’ve learned, and continue to learn, a lot from both types of business owners.”
How has raising your family and managing your home given you skills that translate to running a successful company?
“My husband and I have labored diligently to establish a house of order. There is great comfort and satisfaction that comes from organization and efficiency.”
“Our house is by no means a museum, but we do have certain systems in place that ensure things run smoothly. Our children have hooks for their jackets and backpacks, they arrange their shoes nice and neatly in the garage, each has a job to do after dinner, friends can come over on Fridays, video games are played on Saturday mornings, and Sunday is our day for worship. This type of organization and order naturally spilled over to my business. We have employee expectations and special systems that ensure VeraClean’s operation is smooth and seamless.”
“Likewise, as a parent, my husband and I spend many hours talking about our children. Are we doing what’s best for them? Are we helping them reach their full potential? How can we better motivate them?, etc. I have asked these same questions in my management meetings with regards to my employees. How can we keep them motivated? How can we show them that they are appreciated and valued? How do we help them understand the importance of their job?, etc.”
What have you had to “learn” emotionally to keep the business running well?
“The biggest eye opener for me was that not everyone shares the same values. I spent the last 11 years as a stay-at-home-mom so I guess you could say I lived in a bubble. The lack of integrity in others has oft times shocked and surprised me. Emotionally, I had to learn how to deal with some of the poor choices of others. Honesty and trustworthiness are paramount to our success so when it comes to a discrepancy with values, I deal with the problem immediately and if the situation does not improve, I have no problem ending the relationship.”
And lastly – I always ask people this question – what’s on your current “got-to-learn-that” list?
“That list is quite long, but two things immediately come to mind. First, I want to improve my technology skills. I was so inept when I first started VeraClean. I didn’t even know how to attach a file! I have come a long way and am proud that I just recently finished my first online photo book. That was huge for me. I am now learning how to make slideshows.”
“Secondly, I want to learn to walk gracefully in high heels. I tend to choose comfort over fashion, but now that I’m not sporting a child on my hip, I wouldn’t mind having my dress reflect the way I feel. I have no intention, however, of throwing out my comfy jeans and tennis shoes – high heels will be for special occasions, but no one will know that I don’t wear them every day because of my graceful gate!”
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