The 5 Hardest Lessons of a Fast Growth Business

[ Sometimes, you just have to learn the hard way ]
by Rod Abbott Published

At the start of last financial year, I made the decision to focus my business solely on Commercial Cleaning services. It was a decision that paid off in accelerated growth, and from the outside it may appear that everything is running smoothly.

Let me tell you, it's been a tough journey and I'm not done with it yet. Here are 5 lessons I've had to learn the hard way, and I'd love to hear about whether you faced these as well.

1. Don't estimate your potential future earnings on 'good' months

One sparrow doesn't make a Spring, and having a good month income wise doesn't mean it will always be like this. Money really does equal energy - when I have loads of it, I'm energised about the future of the business. Let me tell you: it's a set-up! Because next month, if it's a little quieter or cash flow is different, all that energy drops (and drops fast).

2. Don't buy equipment/vehicles you don't really need

I don't mind my gadgets, and maybe it's a family thing because my three boys (after whom NRE is named love their go-karts. In commercial cleaning, there's always another bit of kit to buy (we've got top end carpet cleaners, external window washing systems, and so on) and a nicer, larger vehicle to store it in.

It's easy to make the numbers work, in theory - what business doesn't need its external windows cleaned, and with a couple of extra jobs each month the equipment pays for itself. In reality, it's still an extra expense if the client demand isn't already there, and more work for my team I need to find each month.

3. Don't take on staff for 'potential' jobs

Our Purpose as a business is 'to create financial security for all of our team members'. That means, for example, that our regular staff are all permanent part-time instead of casual - unlike most cleaners, they receive paid holidays and sick leave, which we believe is better for their families and ultimately for our clients.

It also comes at a real cost to our business - which I'm happy to bear. The hard part is recruiting for work that is only 'potentially' coming our way. We have a capacity plan to tell us when we need to recruit more people - ideally just before we need them, for training, but not too soon where they cost money every week and aren't able to contribute to our overall revenue.

4. Your business model/ideals may have to change as things grow

This is a difficult one to admit, yet it seems most business owners are familiar with it. All those dreams about how easy business ownership was going to be and what good things you were going to do with that money? Hard to live up to when a fast-growing business is also constantly asking for hand-outs.

My family have been such a rock of support since we began, and I'd love to pay myself more and treat them more often. Instead, there's always demands from the tax man or superannuation to pay (plus the lease on my great new vehicle, see item 2 above!). I tell myself that one day, one day soon, it will all be worth it for the family. And I know it will be, and I know they know it too.

5. You need profit/cashflow or else you are dead

Cash flow has definitely been the hardest lesson of all. When you're growing, wage bills, cost of materials and transport expenses all go up immediately - while invoices aren't paid for 14 or 30 or even 45 days. It's great being profitable almost every month, but that doesn't help when the income hasn't landed in my bank account yet.

And overheads keep sneaking up as well. My earliest clients have great contracts with me, because my pricing was based on a much smaller operation. Now there's so much more to be factored into pricing, and in a competitive market. I've had to set a clear target to help continue the growth, while minimising the impact on short-term cash flow - NRE Cleaning Services can only put on 2 new clients each month. Two new clients allows us to continue financially supporting our team and deliver the high level of service our clients deserve.

Some days, these hard lessons make me question life as a business owner. But there's no way I'd go back to life as an employee, so continued fast growth remains my choice.

Rod Abbott is the owner of NRE Cleaning Services, and a businessDEPOT Collective member. Rod's team provide day, night, and weekend cleaning for offices and workshops between Fortitude Valley, Springfield and Springwood. You can call Rod on 1300 959 597 or email

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