1. How it all started. How you got into the cleaning business?
Cleaning and business in general has been in our family for a while now. My father runs several successful businesses, passed down from his father. My grandmother held several private office cleaning contracts and used to complete the services in the early hours of the morning each day. As a child, my sister and I would tag along and help out. I remember emptying bins and pushing the vacuum around as young as six. It was always fun and we loved to help out.
Moving forward, my sister started her own cleaning company around 2005 – I would often assist her with services, learning how to cleaning professionally. After education, I ventured into other things myself such as office management, accounts assistant, recruitment consultancy, sales associate, etc. All of my roles gave me the skills required to go into business myself. Cleanique is not my first business and has not been my last, I run several other companies, some working out and some not. In 2011 I officially started Cleanique, with only a mop and some products with around £75.00 to spend on Google Ads. I built the website, designed some leaflets and invested in some online ad campaigns. And from there, it just grew and grew into what it is today!
It took time to develop the first bulk of clients. After the relocation to Watford, Cleanique essentially had to start from scratch, which was a big blow to the hard work I’d invested in the business however it turned out to be an excellent choice as the client opportunity base was much larger and although that meant more competitors, we worked to rise above them and have so far been successful.
To this current day, Cleanique are now hiring self-employed contractors and developing a team of staff to allocate services and clients to. Cleanique started from absolutely nothing with very little money to invest (less than £100) and today are turning over a large profit and have huge plans for the future ahead. It’s been a very exciting whirlwind of a journey and has of course had many snags along the way. But each difficulty can only be used as a lesson learnt and we embrace each challenge we face.
2. What challenges did you face along the way?
Cleanique has encountered many, many issues – mainly when first starting out. However without problems, you cannot find a solution that you know will work.
The first problem we faced was the relocation to Watford. I moved to the area myself and as the business was still at its starting point, made a difficult decision to release all clients from their contracts in the previous area and start fresh. It didn’t make sense to attempt to franchise or employ a manager of the area so early in with only a few clients on the book. The move was difficult as I suddenly lost the entire income from the company, but it was also exciting. A whole new county to find clients in! I redesigned the website, created new leaflets and marketing plans, upgraded my equipment with the profits made so far and went back to work finding new leads! Overall it’s paid off massively and the new area is much higher populated, therefore has much more to offer than previously.
Our second issue has been with employing the right staff. It can be very difficult to find a staff member who performs to a high, professional standard and is also reliable and loyal to the company. We choose to contract self-employed cleaners and ensure our contracts insist they must not approach our clients or poach business from Cleanique for up to 12 months after contract ends. We also ensure there is a two-week notice period (or wages with-held) to cover our losses if they suddenly decide to leave. Contracting rather than payroll has it’s downsides, but is much easier from my perspective as if the cleaner is not up to standard you can easily replace them. The other upside being that they do not get paid for sickness or holiday time, therefore are motivated to work to a high standard and hold dedication to the company. After all, no working = no pay.
We have trained staff for weeks to months and still not found that when out alone, they are performing to the standard we expect. Some may be lazy, trying to cut down time (not staying at the client for as long as they should be) or perhaps just genuinely do not have the correct level of attention to detail. Some may be rude or unable to socialize with clients in the correct manner and others might not get on with others when in a team. One issue I faced on two occasions was getting too friendly with particular staff members. Befriending your staff is a bad idea as they’ll start to take advantage, and I experienced this myself. Keeping a professional, friendly working relationship is important and allowing your staff to walk all over you can lead to a lot of problems down the line.
Another problem we’ve faced and many others will find is choosing the wrong type of client, putting trust into people too early and struggling to cancel a client you know is not good for the company. We sent staff to clients who were rude or aggressive and those staff no longer enjoyed their roles. We have also had clients who seemed lovely on initial meeting and put trust into them, but they soon changed their tunes when it came to invoices and contracts (not paying, paying far too late, refusing to sign a contract or pay for a large service booked). We had to find ways to cover ourselves by implementing payment procedures into the contracts, saying no to clients who didn’t want to sign one and making sure we had separate contracts for deep cleans (to be signed before and after service, agreeing to pay the amount quoted).
3. What did you and your company do to overcome those challenges?
Every challenge has a solution. If it doesn’t work one way, try another. I can only say you have to attempt a new method before you can write it off. Seeking advice from other perspectives always helps too. Even if the person is not a business owner, they may still have a great idea that could work. Never give up when something goes wrong, always find a way to overcome the issue and make sure you’re covered if it’s ever to happen again.
Cleanique has had to change contract wording, implement entirely new contracts, create new systems for tracking and expenses, find new ways of stock control and search for suppliers who offer the same products and equipment but at lower costs. I’ve had to change our advertising methods due to losing money on “useless” schemes, adapt our selling skills to different clients and learn more about staff management to ensure the issues I’ve faced do not happen again. It’s all about adapting your approach to things. If you can’t change the way you do business to create a safer route, it’s not worth running a business at all.
4. What was the result that you achieved after you overcame these challenges?
As a whole, we’ve managed to prove to our clients that even when things go wrong, we face them head on and resolve the problem. We’ve built trust with clients, knowing they’ll always be able to talk to us about issues and knowing we will do everything in our power to fix things. We’ve built a stronger and much more reliable team of professional cleaners as we now know who we want and who to avoid, from past experiences. We hold contracts with excellent suppliers who are saving us money overall, rather than spending ridiculous amounts of cash on the wrong type of brand (or worse, supermarket-bought products!)
It’s overall created a stronger relationship with all parts of the company from the clients to the staff and suppliers. I feel much more in control and no longer panic about what could go wrong, because I know everything in place is safe and has a backup plan in case something should go wrong. In turn, it’s made a much smoother ride on the road to success!
5. Any tips for aspiring Entrepreneurs looking to build a business and take their one man/woman shop and turn it into a business.
I can summarise this into just a few bullet points. Starting a business is not easy no matter what sector it’s in. Whether you’re cleaning or running a blue chip corporation, every business will succeed only with a never-ending amount of hard work and dedication. Don’t ever expect that just because it’s “only cleaning houses”, this is what it will be when you expand from a solo self-employed role to a company hiring staff and handling all sides of business.
1. Make sure you’re ready. Create a business plan and make sure you have clear, set ways to reach your goals.
2. Don’t be afraid to ask. We all start somewhere and if you genuinely don’t have an answer for a problem, research or talk to someone who does know.
3. Always get involved in groups and business events. Whether it’s person to person or using social networking such as LinkedIn & Facebook. Market your business wherever you can.
4. Don’t underestimate the power of a website. If your website is badly designed, you’re doing more damage than good to your company. Employ a web designer if you need to and make sure you have excellent web presence.
5. Never employ the first person who applies for a job. Carry out interviews, checks, trial runs, train them hard and keep a close eye on any new employees. It can take just one person to wreck your business & name for good.
6. Learn about business. Learn about marketing. Learn about bookkeeping. Don’t think that just because you know how to clean (to a professional standard), you can do it. You need all of these skills to run a company.
7. Stay strong and committed, never give up! If this is truly your dream, you will achieve the results you hope for with hard work and determination. Don’t let anything defer you from achieving your business goals.
If you enjoyed this post, I would be grateful if you helped spread the word by emailing it to a friend or sharing it on LinkedIn, Twitter, or Facebook. Thank you!