The initial freakout phase


Cleaning is a great job for those of us with a low adventure threshold. Cats have a very low adventure threshold and I respect that. At this moment one of our cats is sitting in my lap and for several seconds she's been watching me drain the tea strainer into my mug. Captivating. Now she's gone off somewhere to return to nap land. My little thrills in life are not so different from hers. I like watching things get clean under my sponge. Our clients are pretty stable right now, and we don't have to worry about schedule changes for the most part. Our work routine's on auto pilot. We're living life and getting into different creative projects, just the way we love to do it. But I know how much effort it took to get to this stage. It doesn't just happen.

I was thinking about the stages we go through when we clean people's houses. It breaks down into phases. It helps to remember this when you're having the occasional off day (not to be confused with a day off), or when you're just floating along from week to week on a schedule that's become so carefree that you have to manufacture your own stress. We're in that phase right now and I love it. Not that I'm manufacturing any stress. I have a low adventure threshold after all, which means I don't need to go rock climbing for thrills. I'm not completely boring, but mundane activities are actually kind of fun to me. At this moment Evan's over at his computer talking to himself and I'm practicing the guitar. If I Only Had a Brain. I mean, that's the song I'm learning while I'm thinking about phases.

We call the first phase the initial freak out phase. This is when everyone you talk to about your business is a potential client because you really just want to get working. The initial freak out is a lot like what happens when you move from one town to another. You don't know anybody, you don't have any hangouts, you get confused on the one-way streets. It can be a little lonely. You get anxious. When everything's new it's easy to forget that this is just a temporary stage you're going through, and that it'll end.

In this phase you tend to take every and any job that comes along, no matter how far you have to drive or how little it pays. I think this is a great phase -- that's because I'm not in it anymore of course. But it's the best time to learn the ins and outs of this business because the people you clean for are usually in a kind of experimental world too. They're also new, new to you and your working style.

I think you can really learn how to clean and get to know your own work habits in this phase. It's great because you're learning on people who probably won't end up being your long-term clients anyway. You might make a few mistakes, goodness knows I did and Evan did too. When I first started I broke a cute little figurine on someone's mantelpiece. It was a little clay boy and his head popped off when I accidentally knocked him onto the brick floor with my dust rag. I was embarrassed and sorry.

I left a note and offered to either fix it or pay for it, but she probably just decided that I was a clutz and that was that. Although I felt terrible for a while I wasn't really too unhappy when she decided not to call us back. That client had hired us when we had just moved to our new town, and rent was due, so when she canned us we were all geared up to find good clients. We immediately replaced her with another client who ended up paying almost twice what we had been charging her.

That's the only time I've ever broken anything on the job, thank goodness. I learned from that mistake that sometimes I have to slow down, and also really focus on what's in my immediate vicinity. Cleaning is relaxing for the most part, so some people get spaced out (I of course never space out -- sure!). Actually cleaning is a good way to practice focusing and I think it's improved my ability to concentrate.

Speaking of focus, let me get back to the phases. I wanted to say that during the initial freak out phase, also known as the set up phase, there are all sorts of things going on. You're on the phone a lot. People are calling and you usually have a lot of call backs to make. You're finding key words or short phrases that tell people about you and your service in a couple of sentences. It takes time and energy to talk on the phone. During our initial freak out phases I usually find myself on the phone every night. If you're in this phase don't forget that you won't always have to be doing that. Once you get a reliable client list going, you'll hardly ever need to talk to them. You just show up on time and do your job excellently, get your check and leave. It's a good system for everybody involved.

Another thing that's happening in the set up phase is you have to drive around a lot giving estimates. This is great if you don't know the town yet. You get to know it really fast. Just make sure you have a good map so you don't waste people's time, or your own, getting lost. I like this part, because it feels good to locate places in a new town. But it's nerve-wracking because you're never quite sure you're going in the right direction. The first stage is a phase of establishing faith in yourself, in your ability to stir things up and get them to settle down where you want them to.

The first phase is busy. I remember not sleeping all that well because I was kind of hyper at night always adding up jobs in my head to see if we were going to make rent that month and get to eat. But it's stimulating too. I'll tell you what is the best, which is getting paid directly for doing good work. That'll make you sleep well.

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