Tim Conn is the President and co-founder of Image One USA, a commercial cleaning franchise that trains franchisees in all facets of the business, including sales, operations and quality control. Conn has made a career in the cleaning industry, beginning as a sole proprietor at the age of 14. While still only 14, Conn started his first cleaning business, Tidy Tim’s Cleaning, and grew it through college before venturing into the franchising world. Having worked with hundreds of franchise owners and countless others who have considered franchising, Conn boils down the essence of franchising from the perspective of someone who has been in the trenches and has been a lifelong entrepreneur. He is the author of the book “No New Ideas: Everything You Need to Know About Starting a Successful Franchise.” It is considered the go-to book for anyone working on, interested in, or thinking about starting a franchise. From what it takes to be a successful franchisee to the best franchises in the market today, Tim Conn walks the reader through every step. Based in Rolling Meadows, Illinois, Image One has nearly 100 franchise locations across the Chicago region and around the U.S., including in Cincinnati, Denver, Detroit, Ft. Myers, Nashville and Orlando. The company has received recognition in the franchise industry for franchise owner satisfaction by the authoritative Franchise Business Review. For more information about the brand, visit https://www.imageoneusa.com/.
Where did the idea for Image One USA come from?
I started in the janitorial industry back in 1985. I was only 15 years old, actually 14 when I started, and I turned 15 later that year. But I started cleaning my parent’s office building and built a nice, sizable business. I began franchising in 2001 with a national franchise company, so I was a franchisee. My partner and I owned a Master franchise, then we sold unit franchises. And after doing that with that company for 10 years, we realized that the opportunity was there for us to create something better in the janitorial industry, something that other companies weren’t quite doing. And that’s when Image One was born. And in January of 2011 we took that concept and we rolled it out. Currently we’ve got over 50 franchise owners in the Chicago market and a handful across the country and we’re continuing to grow.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
I don’t think there’s any such thing as a typical day for a business owner of any type, whether it’s a franchise or a traditional business, unless you’re so specifically focused on one item that it’s the same every day. Every day is different for me, and that’s great, it’s exciting, it’s fun. I always have a plan for what I want to do on a given day. But typically, days don’t always go exactly the way you plan them. And as a business owner, I think that’s one of the most important things that you need to realize: life throws you curveballs, and you need to step into it and swing and hopefully you’re going to get a home run. If we turn the clock back 12 months, nobody expected it to have happened, in 2020, what happened. And I think being able to pivot when necessary is what really sets businesses apart when it comes to the ones that are going to succeed versus the ones that will fail.
How do you bring ideas to life?
There’s a concept called the entrepreneurial operating system and a book called Traction. One of the concepts that they talk about–and we’ve operated this way for over 10 years–is you need to have a visionary in the company. And I would say that that’s me at Image One. I’m the visionary. I’ve got the ideas and I’ll bring the idea to the team. We’ll talk about it. If everyone thinks, “hey, this is a great idea,” then we’ll run with it. And then the implementers who would be the person that answers directly to me is the person that’s in charge of implementing that idea. And then we delegate those things off so that those ideas can be put into practice.
What’s one trend that excites you?
In the janitorial industry or in business generally, I would say technology is always a very exciting thing. Most people don’t look at our industries as being technologically advanced, but things like smartphones and tablets, they’ve changed every industry. And I think that’s the important thing that’s very exciting. And then other things that are technology based in the cleaning industry include battery operated equipment, robotics that are coming. There’s a lot of things that people don’t think about as technology and the cleaning industry that’s been developed over the past five, 10 years. And that’s continuing to be developed. And to me, those are exciting trends.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
Having a set schedule for the things that have to get done every day. I have a schedule of 10 to 12 things in order every morning and if I vary from that my day is off. From my morning personal items to looking at the books to making any deposits. The days that I don’t go out for my morning bike ride or don’t jump on my elliptical. But, if I stick to that schedule it keeps me on the pace.
Email and stuff doesn’t get in the way. Phone calls don’t get in the way. I’ll return those calls and emails.
What advice would you give your younger self?
If I could if I could turn the clock back and tell 15-year-old Tim what to do and what not to do, I would have some serious advice for him for sure. When someone’s looking at a business, there are three different ways they can go, they can start completely from scratch all on their own, and they have to learn everything. They have to figure out all the things on their own, but then they’re one hundred percent in control of it. So, being a hundred percent in control is a plus. But having to learn everything that someone else maybe has already figured out, that’s the negative because you’re going to spend a lot more money, a lot more time.
A second option is buying an existing business that might look great. Then you’re paying someone to buy their business that they’ve already built up to a certain level. But the challenge with that is, why are they selling it? Maybe it’s just they’re just ready to retire and it’s just time for them to exit their current business. And maybe it’s a great business. On the other hand, maybe they’ve been struggling. Maybe their business isn’t doing quite as well as it used to, and they’re getting out of that business when it started to be on a spiral down. Then you’re risking buying something that maybe it’s not going to be all you think it’s going to be.
And then the third option is franchising. And when you buy a franchise, you do give up some control because you have to follow the process that’s outlined by the franchise owner. But again, you’re buying into a system that has already been proven that it works. You’re buying into a system that’s providing you processes and procedures and products or services, whatever it might be, that’s already been proven in the marketplace. You really have three different options. And I’m not going to say one’s right or wrong for anybody. It’s something that someone has to make that decision completely on their own. If you’re someone that can follow a process and stick with the program, then franchising is great for you if you’re the type of person that you have to do it your own way and you cannot follow a step-by-step manual, then don’t waste your money on a franchise because you’re going to upset yourself and upset the franchise owner because you’re not doing things the way that they want you to do it.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
I’m not sure how many agree or disagree with me on this but, we run our business very transparently. There are no secrets, and that’s by design. We want everyone to understand everything that we do and why we do it. So, as far as a secret, I’m not sure. I don’t know what I can really say that’s a secret that would open anybody’s eyes to anything. Maybe the secret is the beauty of transparency and openness.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
You know, there aren’t a lot of things that I can say that I do over and over again. But I would say never stop learning. I’m a huge believer in reading books about business or listening to podcasts or listening to books on Audible things like that, that’s huge. If you never stop learning, you never stop growing. And I think that when you stop learning and you stop growing, your business is going to get stagnant. And ultimately that’s going to cause you to start to fail. The reality is, if you’re not growing, you’re dying. So, if you can continue to learn and continue to grow, then you’re going to get to be successful. And if you don’t if you stop learning and you stop growing, you’re going to be on a downward trend.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
The software that we developed early on was a bit of an estimating, a survey tool, so when they would go out, they could go out and gather all the data for a prospective client and draw that information into their iPad. And before they walk out the door, they have the price for the client, whereas most of our competitors, it takes them a week or 10 days to get a proposal back to the client. We can give that to that prospect on the spot. And we hear time and time again because, you know, we’re not the biggest brand that’s out there. There are brands that are way bigger than us. And you will have prospective clients who will say, “wow, this is really awesome software that you’re able to use right here on the spot” because some of our biggest competitors are still walking out there with a legal pad and a pen and taking notes and doing measurements based on counting ceiling tiles or are rolling a wheel across the floor.
I think technology is huge and that’s really a big differentiator in any business. If you can be in a business where there’s technology that’s going to help you run that business, that’s really going to set you apart from the competition.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
The biggest mistake that I made in the time that I’ve been in business — was early on when things got difficult and things got tight. I started utilizing the money that I was withholding from employees’ paychecks to operate the business and got into a really deep hole with the Internal Revenue Service. And not just for me, I would say this, but for anybody that’s in business. Don’t use your payroll taxes to operate your business. The Internal Revenue Service takes that very seriously and it gets very expensive when they start adding on penalties and interest and things like that for using that money. So that’s the most important lesson I learned in all my years in business. And definitely the one thing that I would tell myself would be to not do that.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
I don’t know that I have any business ideas that are new or unique to me so many ideas that any business comes up with. It’s really just repurposing old ideas and doing things in a new, unique, or different way. I guess if you’ve got an idea, run with it. Don’t sit back and wait for something to happen. You need to go out there and jump in with both feet and just do it.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
Spending money for my wife and I to go get dinner together. So often, they forget to take time out of their day for the important things. They lose sight of why they are in business. There is a reason — don’t forget that reason.
The only addition that is acceptable in life is to be workaholics. But there are people who don’t understand when enough is enough. It’s an addiction and it’s not
As far as taking time off and having a balanced life, some of the concepts that come from Strategic Coaching. Treat your free time as if it is any other meeting.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
The greatest kept secret until 2020 was Zoom, so we had been using Zoom for a few years, and loved it. It was fantastic. And we would talk about it with people and they’d ask, “what’s that?” but now, everybody uses it. It’s not a secret anymore, but I’d say that’s my favorite online tool. Like I said a little bit earlier about smartphones and tablets, I was an early adopter. As a company, we developed our own app very early on for use on the iPad for people in the company and our software we created as well.
I’d also have to say our own software that we had developed because it’s ours and its proprietary for our own purposes is a favorite too. But I think just in general that there are so many apps that are out there. Again, if we turn the clock back 10 years, who would have thought that so many businesses would be dependent on smartphones and smart tablets and things like that? And now I don’t think anybody could get along without them; it would be a very different world if all of a sudden those disappeared.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
Well, I have to say, No New Ideas, only because that’s a book that I wrote a year ago. And this isn’t a plug for my book, but I’ll give just a quick little explanation for that. The book that I wrote, No New Ideas, is basically a guide to buying a franchise for someone that wants to get into franchising. It can be overwhelming. I wrote a book on how to help people walk through that process, what they should be looking for, what they should expect. And that’s why I wrote the book: to help people guide them through that process. It’s not a guide that leads them to Image One, it’s just a guide that leads them through the entire process of buying a franchise, whether it’s in the food service industry or healthcare or business to business, whatever it might be. But it will help them understand what they want and where to go and how to accomplish it. But as far as someone else’s book, one that I just finished less than a week ago was called Who Not How. And that’s by Dr Benjamin Hardy, and he authored that on behalf of Dan Sullivan from Strategic Coach, The Who Not How concept is a concept that Dan teaches at Strategic Coach. And that is just an amazing book. And I would say that anybody in life can use that concept. And it’s a great book. The whole idea behind it is that we all have great ideas about things to do, but we sit there, and we scratch our head thinking to ourselves “but how am I going to do it?”
Sometimes “how” is the wrong question, actually it’s who. Who am I going to get? Who am I going to work with to get this idea done? because maybe it’s not my area of expertise. But if I find the right “who,” I’m going to save a lot of time, and it may cost me money to write a check for someone else to do that, but it’s going to work out much better in the long run. And the whole concept of Who Not How it’s a really great concept and I would recommend anyone that’s in business read it.
What is your favorite quote?
I have a list on my wall — there are 8 quotes from Dan Sullivan.
“irritated oysters make pearls.” – without all the problems and aggravation, you wouldn’t get that pearl. You need to go through problems before it turns into a nice shiny gem
“if you spend too much time working on your weaknesses, all you end up with is a lot of strong weaknesses.”
- Continue learning and growing. Every day will be different and you will be hit with curveballs. If you are willing and open to keep learning, you will gain the skills and knowledge you need to successfully keep your business alive.
- Make time for yourself and those who matter most to you. Do things that make you feel good, spend time with your family and loved ones and appreciate the funny things in life.
- Take the chance. Run with your vision. Just do it.
Carlyn runs the day-to-day publishing operation here at ideamensch and interacts with our awesome customers and entrepreneurs. She is likely editing this with a cat on her lap.