The Entrepreneurial Life Isn't Heaven for Everyone
For some people, it's a labor of love for others, just a job
Millions of workers all over the U.S. dream about quitting their jobs
and running their own businesses. Be careful what you wish for. I decided
to interview someone who, from my vantage point, has the business from
Mildred (name disguised) owns a cleaning service in Lancaster County,
Pa. She has 10 employees -- she calls them her "girls" -- and cleans between
65 and 75 houses a week. In case you thought that cleaning houses was an easy
way to make money, Mildred sets the record straight:
"People expect so much for what they pay. I'll clean a whole house
for $40 -- better than they'd ever do on their own -- and then when I'm
leaving they'll say, 'You're leaving already?' I'll go to clean a house,
and the door is locked, so I can't get in. But I still have to pay my girls
for that time. Customers cancel at the last minute because of vacations,
or they want to change their day around with just a few hours notice.
They don't realize that I have a full schedule, cleaning eight houses a
day on average, so it's not so simple to just change their day. I'm constantly
losing girls. I haven't had a day off since last Christmas because I have
to fill in for any girl who doesn't show up. I'm not just the owner in
charge. I clean houses all day long."
"I'm always wrong, and the customers are always right. Customers call
me and complain about things they say happened with the girls when I wasn't
there. It puts me in the middle because the girls get mad at me for
criticizing them or not defending them. I work my rear end off from 5:30
a.m. to 6:30 p.m., working seven days a week, and I'm just getting by.
"Why do you do it?" I asked Mildred. She replied, "I couldn't punch
a time clock. I'm so used to being out on my own. On a good day, everyone
shows up, we get into all the houses, nothing gets broken, everything goes
smoothly. That feels good. Listen, it's just a job. Everyone hates
their job after a while. This one is no different."
I have compassion and appreciation for business owners like Mildred
who take on the kind of work that most of us don't want to deal with. For
some people, their business isn't the work their soul was born to do: It's
just a job with more headaches than working for someone else.
It's possible to transcend the limitations of such a difficult business.
Take Joy Krause, author of the best-selling book Spring Cleaning for the
Soul. A single parent, Joy cleaned houses for 20 years to take care of
her kids. Although she thought it was demeaning at first, over time she
realized the benefits of having such an intimate glimpse into people's
Here's an excerpt from one of my favorite passages in her book, shared
with Joy's permission: "By 1990, business was taking off. I hired 12 employees -- a mix of
single mothers, college students, and displaced homemakers. What
we lacked in sophistication, we made up for with enthusiasm. Then disaster
crashed down when more than 300,000 Rhode Islanders discovered that their
money had been placed in institutions that weren't federally insured. Everyone
was sliding. I knew we were in the same shape, and I had no answers for
the gals. Customers were closing down their businesses. I was feeling
hopeless. Then one of my employees, Becky, taught me a lesson.
"Becky had become good friends with her client, Mrs. Casey. They
had the kind of intimacy women share that springs from knowing where mops,
toilet paper, and the dirty laundry are stashed -- the kind of closeness families
share by knowing each other's special possessions and where they are hidden.
After weeks of cleaning a countertop, you learn to notice new touches -- a new flowerpot, the reorganization of a cupboard -- little touches that
an elderly widow like Mrs. Casey shared with no one else. That's
the kind of bond we had with old-timers.
"Unfortunately, Mrs. Casey had kept all her money in the now-defunct
credit union. 'I'm sorry, dear, but I'm going to be cleaning for myself
from now on,' Mrs. Casey told Becky one day on the phone. Becky said, 'Fine,'
and hung up. The next morning she showed up at her usual time. She cleaned
Mrs. Casey's home for months -- no charge."
Some people in this world just seem to know when and how to do the
right thing. Becky explained her generosity: "I figured we were totally
helpless over our customers' situation. But the one thing I could
control was whether I could bring some happiness into someone else's life."
Cleaning professionals like Mildred, Becky, and Joy may not get much
appreciation for the pleasure they bring into other people's lives.
A clean house eases the burden on a weary mother and father who don't know
how they will manage to handle everything on their plate. Business
owners count on these nighttime angels to prepare their places of business
for the heavy traffic the next day. Mildred may sometimes despise
the hardships of her work, and it may not always be satisfying to her soul,
but I'm sure she's got some brownie points waiting for her up in
Have a question on how to handle the pressures of running a business and the impact on your personal life, marriage, and family? Contact Azriela Jaffe at AZ@azriela.com. Please put "BW Online question" in the subject field. Your real name will be kept confidential if you request, but please give an E-mail address, phone number, and your hometown so she can contact you for more information. Because of heavy volume, Azriela cannot guarantee that she will answer every query.