Posted in Business Articles, Ghost Writer, Housekeeping, Small Business Tips

Boosting Your Local Point of Differentiation: Champion a Charity through Every Part of Your Business

600600p3069EDNmain1027flag-and-ribbon-615-x-350Show-and-tell isn’t just for Kindergarten. Put your community ties on display and into action.

One of the most under-utilized marketing strategies by any company is highlighting its community service efforts. And with the continued growth of cleaning franchises and national cleaning referral services, a traditional small cleaning business can really maximize that “locally owned and operated” point of differentiation by partnering with local and national community-focused organizations.

The cleaning industry is particularly lucky to have a number of organizations around the US and Canada to make donating cleaning services easy:

Cleaning for a Reason (United States)
Cleaning for Cancer Patients (Canada)
Cleaning for Heroes (United States)
ComforTree (NJ)
Cleaning Angels USA (NY & DE)

Many business owners are finding that their affiliation with a local charity or cleaning-related charity helps their brand reputation, especially for those cleaning companies highlighting their local connections. In addition to the initial press releases when a cleaning company partners with a charity, there are a number of ways to incorporate the affiliation and even small donations into more common elements of your marketing and customer service plans.

American Maid owner Liz Trotter offers both staff and clients a way to join efforts to “Give Back Through Community Outreach.” She rotates through different local and national organizations and invites clients to become involved in her company’s efforts each month.

Joe Walsh of Green Clean Maine and Gemma Beylouny of Rejoice Maids both encourage community participation by making a donation to a client’s charity of choice when the client posts a review on one of four popular review sites. Click the thumbnail images to enlarge.

For small businesses – cleaning or other home services – making that “locally owned and operated” point of differentiation is a tough one to display. Highlighting your community outreach spirit and activities through your business is a great way to show the trust your current clients have in you and to catch the attention of those who are looking for your services.

Originally published July 21, 2014 at CleaningBusinessToday.com.
Posted in Business Articles, Housekeeping, Small Business Tips

The Intersection of Client and Technician: Annual Software & User Experience Survey

600600p3069EDNmain888woman-with-ipad-615-x-350From new mobile options to the addition of sales and marketing functions, new scheduling and user experience solutions are on the rise.

In the past 12 months, since our first field services and scheduling software comparison report, the #1 change in the competitive field is that most of the new options are being designed by current or former cleaning business owners. So what does this say about what cleaning business owners need for improving the efficiency and efficacy of their operational procedures?

In this 2014 User Experience Survey Report, two new software options join MaidEasy Software, all of which are designed by cleaning business owners and designed specifically for use in operating a cleaning business:

MaidEasy Software – 1999
MaidSuite – 2014
ZenMaid – 2013

CBT welcomes a growing group of more general home services software providers. While available and accommodating to the needs of home services other than cleaning, two of the most commonly adopted systems – ServiceCEO and Thoughtful Systems – are joined by emerging service providers, many of which fill open system niches.
CompassWave – 2010
Jobber – 2010
Launch 27 – 2013
PocketSuite – 2013
ServiceCEO by Marathon Data – 1984
ServiceProz – 2009
Thoughtful Systems – 1985

More than 50 software-as-a-solution (SaaS) providers were invited to participate in our survey at no cost.

OVERVIEW

As you consider the new data provided in our 2014 survey report, CBT can make the following observations based on new data and on changes since last year.

– 60% of software solutions are specialized pieces, filling a specific portion of the larger service delivery mechanism rather than complete enterprise systems
– 80% of solutions engage on some level in core job scheduling activities, with 50% heavily focused on scheduling
– 70% of solutions offer some level of employee recruiting and tracking, with 40% offering a robust system
– 70% of solutions offer commission-based payroll calculation
– 100% of the newest (post-2010) are exclusively web-based or mobile app-based, not offering a traditional office (downloaded and installed) version
– 40% of the solutions offer a robust operational reporting collection, with 100% offering some reports
– 20% of the solutions offer a basic personnel system, with another 50% offering less than 50% of common personnel data tracking activities

CLASSIC DEBATES

As new service solutions continue to emerge and enable the cleaning industry to evolve, our annual survey continues to validate the strength of several classic debates related to how and why to select different types of software solutions.

On-site versus Cloud
The move to more cloud-based and mobile app solutions is old news. Some of the evidence of that exists right here in the microcosm of this survey: not one of the 21st-century solutions started as or offers an on-site (or downloaded and installed) version of their solution. But data security continues to be the dominant objection by those holding on to on-site versions; with the Target and Heartbleed security breaches earlier this year, it’s clear that data security remains a valid concern.

All-in-One versus Mix-N-Match
The dominant trend historically has been for cleaning business owners to adopt one of the all-in-one solutions but with the improvement in solution integrations and open APIs, connecting solutions together to reduce duplication of work and error is becoming easier. This debate may be an old-school versus new-school battle.

App versus No App
The rising trend shows that as much as 75% of internet users are on their phone or tablet rather than a computer, and 82% of those are using an app rather than a web browser. This makes the consideration of a mobile app – especially one available for consumer interaction – a much more vital piece of an overall technology-based solution.

For a more detailed look at the process of evaluating and selecting the best solution for your company and clients, check out Quantum Sweep: How to Choose Service Software for Your Cleaning Business.

PARTING ADVICE

The trickiest part of evaluating the features based on a checklist or comparison is that you still don’t know how good a program is until you’ve seen it and used it. Whenever possible, try out a free trial of a program. Create a small sample of easy, medium, and hard-to-please customers, perhaps 20, which you use to test solutions during the free trial periods. You want to confirm that essential functions are part of the solution and that they operate in the way you need them to.

And remember that there’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all solution. The variety in functionality and even how solutions are priced reflects the variety of business structures among cleaning businesses. This is the challenge faced by all service businesses – software as a service (SaaS) included: user reviews aren’t as reliable as we need them to be because what works for one business isn’t necessarily what works for another. Cleaning business owners become keenly aware of this every time a bad review is posted.

Think of it this way: shop software the same way you want your future clients to shop you:
– Ask for references – current user companies whom you can call and talk to about what it really takes to make the solution work
– Ask for number of current/active users – companies love to cite lifetime adoptions, but you want to know how many are using it today, not guess how many of that larger number have moved on to a new solution
– Ask what the last two upgrades were and when they were released – this will give you an idea of how quickly the company is moving on new developments
– Ask how customization opportunities work – what is the process for reporting a need and receiving a custom solution or even an upgrade for all clients

Whatever selling point tips the scales and convinces you to adopt a new software solution, be certain to give that solution your full attention and a fair chance at meeting your needs: use every feature in at least one campaign, consult the support team frequently, give it those extra few hours each week to make sure you understand. Don’t let poor implementation be the reason the solution didn’t work for you.

Technology progresses at a rapid rate – both the hardware and software options. This year’s report and reflections are dramatically different than what we were able to report just 12 months ago; 40% of our participants this year have launched in that time.

– Investigate solutions.
– Adopt what works.
– Implement to the fullest extent of the solution.
– Stay competitive in a changing industry.

CeCe Mikell is the Editorial Director for Cleaning Business Today, coming to the cleaning industry from a 15-year career as a college professor of communication and business. She also works with several cleaning business owners on business development projects.

Originally published June 18, 2014 at CleaningBusinessToday.com.

Posted in Business Articles, Small Business Tips

Infographic: Benchmarking Your Pay Rates

Cleaner WagesJanitors and maids are the third largest occupation in the US. Are you paying enough compared to national averages?

According to the 2013 US Occupational Employment Statistics Survey, 2.5% of the total number of employed in the US are cleaning someone’s home, office or commercial space. And that makes janitors, maids and housekeeping staff the third largest group of workers in the US.

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics provides the raw data for answering many of the most commonly asked questions in our industry related to having employees or contracted staff: how much should I pay my cleaning technicians?
A look back at the past decade of data shows that the cleaning industry has nearly grown back to its pre-2008 numbers in terms of technicians employed in the industry, but at higher cost to businesses as minimum wage and national mean wages have increased.

While the number of supervisors and commercial technicians has not fully recovered, the number of residential cleaning technicians has increased year-over-year, indicating not just a return to pre-recession demand but an increase.

The annual earnings of cleaning professionals have increased by an average $5073, with supervisors seeing the largest increase and residential cleaning technicians the smallest; the hourly rates reflect a similar trend.

Even 10 years ago, the mean hourly rate was at least $1.25 above the current national minimum wage, and today’s mean hourly rate is $3.39 above minimum wage.

The BLS also provides Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates by state to better inform your decisions based on local norms.

Originally published May 30, 2014 at CleaningBusinessToday.com.
Posted in Business Articles, Housekeeping

Resources for the Home Cleaning Mixologist

woman in apron with bottle and spoon
Graphic by Austin Walker, CleaningBusinessToday.com

If you’re selling your services on “homemade” cleaning products, make sure you’re doing it legally and with tested scientific information.

Making the decision to branch out of purchasing available and regulation-approved cleaning products for your business may seem simple, but can be more complicated than it’s worth, if you intend to comply with current regulation of products used in the delivery of a professional service.

Your first call should be to your business liability insurance provider to discuss what additional insurance you would need to move into the consumer products arena. You may learn that the financial and reputational burdens may not be worth the risk.

If you are willing to tak the steps your insurance provider requires, you’ll want to begin with The American Cleaning Institute’s “Some Facts about Mix-At-Home Cleaners” before moving on to the EPA’s guidelines for developing, testing, and registering a potential hazardous product.

Assuming you mean to begin by using your homemade or mix-at-home product in your professional cleaning business, the applied product must have a Safety Data Sheet (SDS) that meets OSHA standards. ISSA offers an excellent outline of the many ways cleaning products are regulated, including restrictions related to homemade products.

If you’re adding even one “innocent” ingredient to an existing product, then you are changing the chemical formulation and must have your new product tested and verified with an SDS. The EPA DfE Standard for Safer Products details the regulations and even the allowed and prohibited classes of additives before additional safety steps must be taken to protect and inform the consumer – your clients.

If you’re claiming that your homemade product sanitizes or disinfects, then you must also send your product fortesting and validation by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Current green/natural disinfecting agents regulated by the EPA include peroxide and thymol; currently, no formulation of vinegar (acetic acid) or table/sea salt can be verified as disinfectants in home or institutional use.

If you’re considering offering your product for sale to your clients, you must also secure a Certificate of General Conformity from the Consumer Products Safety Commission.

And if you’re determined to follow all of these steps to validate a safe and effective product for your clients, you may also want to use these resources to confirm that the ingredients you’re using really are safe, and not just based on “everyone knows” myths.

CleanIngredients.org – an EPA-supported database of ingredient information intended to empower the development of safer products.

Guide to Healthy Cleaning – an EWG database of consumer and commercial-grade cleaning products intended to improve the quality of information available to consumers and businesses in making safer choices.

Toxics Use Reduction Institute (TURI) – an independent research organization dedicated to supporting the reduction of toxic chemicals used in a variety of industries; scientific reports available.
When you choose to provide a service or product to consumers who trust you, you assume the responsibility of double, triple, and quadruple checking your sources – all the way back to the original scientific study that proves the old wive’s tales and cleaning mythologies beyond a shadow of a doubt. Your very business may depend on it.

Originally published May 8, 2014 at CleaningBusinessToday.com.
Posted in Business Articles, Small Business Tips

3 Declining Metrics You WANT to Have

600600p3069EDNmain829skate-board-arrow-615-x-350Sometimes, when things are looking down, it’s time to smile. The lower you can get these three metrics, the faster you can reach those higher goals.

As a society, we are well conditioned to focus on “up is good; down is bad” as a general rule of judging measurement, especially when talking about business. You know what you want to see going up: Revenue, Profit, Number of Clients, Visitors to your Website, Followers on Facebook.

But there are three key metrics that give you an even better understanding of your business’s health. And with these, the lower the number, the healthier your business and more successful your efforts.

1. 
Client Attrition or Loss Rate
Your Client Attrition rate measures how many customers you lose over a specific period of time. Most businessesreport retention as a monthly percentage, but all businesses that are committed to developing a high level of customer loyalty and are putting in the time and effort are measuring this number weekly – sometimes daily.

It’s simple: How many customers cancelled service forever today? Now answer that question every day from now on. At the end of the month divide the number of customers on the last day by the number of customers on the first. That’s your Client Loss Rate – and you want that to be as low as it can be. Why? Because when it’s high, the next metric climbs, costing you money.

2. 
Cost of Customer Acquisition
You probably know that to figure up your profit, you have to subtract your supplies, labor expenses and overhead from your revenue; but did you remember to also subtract the cost of your marketing, advertising, lead nurturing, the estimator’s time and travel? All of those expenses went in to helping you get that customer to agree to pay you for your skilled services. You need to make sure you aren’t spending more than a customer is worth.

This is another one that is often reported as an annual figure, but tracked and measured monthly. Add up all of your marketing and sales expenses for, say, a one month period: email service subscriptions, cost of prizes given out as incentives, add agency fees, television spots, flyer and business card printing, etc. Then divide that by the total number of new customers gained during that month. Compare the dollar figure month to month. If it’s going up, something’s not working in your favor; if it’s going down, keep up the good work.

Note: if you track the referral source of each lead and new customer, you can also figure up the cost of acquisition for each separate marketing tool. This can help you know which campaign to scale back when it stops working for you.

3. 
Website Bounce Rate
One of the most misunderstood metrics in all of online marketing is the bounce rate: how often website visitors are leaving your website after seeing only one page. The goal of online marketing is to get people to click through to your website. The goal of your website is to give them a reason to click around to the different pages and learn things that will make them call or email or book service right online.

The great part of this metric is that Google Analytics will tell you what your bounce rate is. Even better, Analytics lets you set up time period comparison so you can see how you’re trending. And even better than that, Analytics color codes the rate to remind you that a downward angle in green is a good thing.

Why do you care? Well, if visitors are leaving your site before they get to the good stuff, then your website isn’t doing a very good job of convincing a lead to do something: click for more info, download a freebie, ask a question in your live chat bubble, share an article from your blog, or anything else that requires them to click on something on that page. The interaction stopped, robbing you of that lead and potential customer.

Metrics tracking doesn’t have to be hard, but as the saying goes “What gets measured gets improved.” ~Robin Sharma, The Greatness Guide: Powerful Secrets for Getting to World Class  

CeCe Mikell is the Editorial Director for Cleaning Business Today, coming to the cleaning industry from a 15-year career as a college professor of communication and business. She also works with several cleaning business owners on business development projects.

Originally published on April 16, 2014 at CleaningBusinessToday.com.

Posted in Business Articles, Small Business Tips

Stop Asking the Wrong Questions about Pricing Your Service

600600p3069EDNmain841woman-with-calculator-price-tag-615-x-350Each company’s pricing sweet spot is different, so dig in to the full complexity of figuring up your perfect service price for your market.

Yes! Yes, there is a WRONG question to ask about pricing your service. You know it already. You’ve seen it a million times on LinkedIn boards, on Facebook, in listservs, at conferences. And it comes in a couple of variations:

– What do you charge for your services?
– What should I charge for my services?
– What is the industry average rate for cleaning services?

What! You didn’t know that was the WRONG question? That’s okay. You’re not alone.
Benchmarking your prices against those with similar sized businesses and in similar markets isn’t a bad idea. But even benchmarking doesn’t help you sort out why you’re having a hard time turning a profit if you haven’t answered three basic questions. Cue the math lesson!

1. What does Getting the Customer Cost You?

This question popped up on the ARCSI LinkedIn board just last week, with most responders citing anywhere from $200-$600 spent for each customer acquisition. To recoup that cost, you need to be able to account for it as part of your price. Calculating the cost of customer acquisition is pretty simple:

Total Cost of Campaign / Total Number of Customers Gained Through Campaign

Keep both the cost per campaign and a running total to inform your Marketing Plan and your overall business budgeting decisions each quarter.

2. What Does the Cleaning Cost You?

Of the three questions and calculations, the cost of a cleaning is a lot more complex that it seems.

If you’ve never calculated the cost of a cleaning before, start with the simplified version to get a baseline: (labor*hours) + supplies and equipment. This calculation is useful and reasonably accurate for companies with no office or support staff.

When you’ve got the hang of tracking the cost of each cleaning job, you can begin to run an overall average as well as averages based on zip code, neighborhood, square footages, number of rooms, frequency or any other way you’ve chosen to segregate the various types of jobs you book.

3. What Does Keeping the Customer Cost You?

Also called Customer Retention, the cost of keeping a customer long-term is a combination of service delivery, following up with the customer on a regular basis, and adding value the longer the customer is with you. Use this video to begin calculating the cost of customer retention and compare the value (or savings) of retention over acquisition.

So while that classic but “wrong” question is direct, the answers you get are not useful to you unless both you and the other companies answer those questions above with almost the exact same answers. But even then, your goals and timeline are likely different, as is your market; both of those factor in to what you eventually decide to charge.

Lucky for you, ARCSI recently published an industry benchmarking report for residential cleaning services. The report is available for purchase by non-members and is free to members.

Finding the Sweet Spot for Your Price Levels
Here’s the good news. Research into how customers perceive price differences indicates that, in general, the first number in a price is perceived as the most important and gets the most priority when two or more prices are compared. For example, people tend to think of $4.99 as being more closely related to $4 than to $5.

How does this work for your pricing levels? Well, most cleaning companies expect to earn the most revenue from customers who schedule more frequent cleaning jobs, namely weekly and biweekly. Those customers who schedule monthly or “special” cleanings may pay a higher one-time price – always nice in the bank – but you lose out on the build up from recurrence. So set your higher frequency cleaning rates in the lower bracket ($20s or $30s) and the lower frequency cleaning rates in the higher bracket ($30s or $40s).

Remember, the research shows that the first number is more important to the consumer in influencing the buying decision.

To Publish or Not to Publish Your Rate
Armed with real numbers from inside your own company, you are now in a much better position to judge where your rate will fall within the commonly cited $25/hour – $45/hour rate range for residential cleaning (or per room or per square foot, whichever you determine is most effective for your operations).

But making your rate “fit” in that range isn’t a magic pill for getting more customers, especially if you aren’t publishing your hourly rate as several newcomers are doing: Homejoy is proud for all to know that it charges $20/hour, and smaller online cleaner referral services encourage cleaners who register with them to publish their rates by the hour, by the room or by the job. Beyond that, lead generators like HomeAdvisor and RedBeacon are collecting data from every estimate provided through their system and show shoppers what they can expect to pay for various home services, nationally and in their local area.

There’s something to be said for price transparency. For many consumers, it’s a point of trust; if they can’t replicate your estimate in some reasonable fashion, then there must be something fishy about how you’re coming up with their rates.

For cleaning business owners, price transparency seems scary. Why? Ask even the multi-million dollar cleaning companies, and they’ll tell you that margins are small and labor costs more than they want it to. And telling the competition what you’re charging seems to give them an edge, either in figuring out what your costs are or even just flat out undercutting your prices to take business away.

But the precedent for price transparency in cleaning services is being set even as we track this week’s revenue. Start small. Use open-ended phrases like “starting at $29.99/hour.”

CeCe Mikell is the Editorial Director for Cleaning Business Today, coming to the cleaning industry from a 15-year career as a college professor of communication and business. She also works with several cleaning business owners on business development projects.

Originally published on April 15, 2014 at CleaningBusinessToday.com.
Posted in Business Articles, Ghost Writer, Small Business Tips

Insider Voices: Leading the Support Staff Inside Your Cleaning Business

600600p3069EDNmain7843-lionesses-615-x-350Three internal leaders/managers talk candidly to owners about being the “middle child” in the cleaning industry.

It should not be surprising that with more than 30 years’ experience between us with our current cleaning business owner/bosses that we’d say that our current boss is the best leader we have ever worked with. Who are we? We are the leaders of the support staff for three of larger cleaning companies in their markets:

Rachel Farquer
Leader: Derek Christian, My Maid Service, Cincinnati, OH
Current: Owner/Operator of My Maid Service – Dayton, OH
Previous: Technician, Customer Service, Trainer, General Manager for My Maid Service – Cincinnati, OH
Tenure: MMS-Cincinnati for 7 years; MMS-Dayton launched February 3, 2014

Mindy-Stewart-150-x-200Mindy Stewart
Leader: Liz Trotter, American Maid Cleaning Service, Olympia, WA
Current: Office Manager
Previous: Team Member, Coach, Trainer, Customer Service, Office Manager
Tenure: 15 years

 
Orvetta Treasure
Leader: Tom Stewart, Castle Keepers of Charleston, SC
Current: Office Manager
Previous: Technician, Customer Service, Office Manager
Tenure: 12 years

And we want to tell you want it’s like to become a leader in someone else’s company.

Oh, and the answer to your burning question is “Yes” – you will see glimpses of owner/leaders Derek, Liz, and Tom in this article, but they are not who this article is about. This article is about US – the support staff – and how we became leaders.

Being the “Middle Child”
advice-from-your-support-staffIf you have three or more children or have read the traditional profile of a “middle child,” then you know that the person stuck in the middle generally ends up being a balancer, a negotiator, a diplomat. Why? Because that middle child has to be both a follower of the older and a leader to the younger. That’s where we are coming from: the support staff that owners need to follow them in turn provides leadership to the cleaning technicians.

Ronald Miller, Director of Career Development at Francis Marion University, describes how a support staff manager/leader feels like this: “I’m not a leader. I’m one of the guys who gets things done and keeps the place running so the leaders have something to lead.”

It’s not uncommon for a newly promoted support staff member to feel like she’s not a leader. The fact is that she’s probably not. What’s worse is that the other staff don’t see her that way yet either. In this new role, we all had to prove ourselves not to just one person – our bosses – but to the staff whom we now lead.

Think of it this way: yesterday, before being trained to work in the office, we – my fellow technicians and I – were equal; today, we’re not and no one knows what it means or what to do. So it ends up looking like this:

·         We are seen as the winners in a brown-nosing contest, power-hungry, and snobbish.

·         Our job in the office is not seen as real work, as if what we do is not as important or deserving of an assumed pay raise.

·         Staff who are older in age or who have been with the company longer constantly challenge us based on that fact alone – not performance or achievement – but a factor unrelated to our skills.

·         We aren’t respected as leaders or managers by the cleaning technicians, a fact often illustrated by their attempts to bypass us and go straight to the owner with minor problems…or worse, playing us and the owner against each other on the same problem.

·         We’ve been trusted with an owner’s heart and soul, something that owner has put love, sweat, and tears into (and probably still does); that’s a lot of pressure, something we might not have learned to the skills and strategies to manage yet.

·         We’re responsible for knowing the company culture, living it, and coaching others to live it; there’s another area where we have a passion and desire to make it work but not always the strategies.

Some of these are challenges you’ve already faced down during your days at the single leadership level, but your role as the owner offers you special protection that doesn’t extend to us. But it’s the ways our various leaders have treated us that gave us the most confidence in becoming the leaders we are today.

Empowering Support Staff into Leadership
You might be wondering how this happened – how we grew to be leaders in our own right. Well, the first thing you should know is that we’re still not the leaders we know we can be and that our bosses know we can be, even though we collectively have been on this journey for many years.

Create a Safe Place for Us to Mess Up
Even when you’re lucky enough to hire or promote someone with a business/management degree or some experience from a previous career, we need to know that we can mess up and learn from our mistakes. We need that support, encouragement and sometimes a sharp poke in the ribs to try something new, push beyond what you know we can do or even what we think we can do.

Provide Personal Coaching and Goal Setting
Every boss does this differently and at different times in an employee’s tenure; but if you really want to build a leader who’s going to embrace your company the way you do, you have to make it personal. Work with leaders-in-training to tie our life and professional goals to achievable milestones within the company. And then loan us your network and your time in mentoring to help make it happen.

Open Up Leadership and Management Training to Us
It seems so simple to remind bosses to provide training, but as we’ve met “others like us” in the industry, we know basic leadership skills aren’t taught, practiced, and reinforced. We might get an article or a 1-hour free webinar once in a while, but a focused, concentrated effort is rarely part of the package. Change that. Between community colleges and online universities, good basic leadership and management training is available and a necessary investment if you want a competent leader in your office.

Get Out of the Way
Along the way, we like that you’ll stop and teach us something new and ask us to gradually take charge of that part of the business routine or even a whole project. But at some point, you have got to stop hovering and let us do it. Especially when it comes to our role as a leader to others in your company, we need to be seen as authoritative at least in the areas we’ve been given. And remember, we’ll mess up, so we encourage you to follow the Praise in “Public; Correct in Private” model not only for our own growth but also for reinforcing our role publicly within the company.

Be open to learning things from us.
This may be the most important thing you can do. We have had to teach our bosses some things about themselves. All bosses have some common behaviors that they can sink into that really stress out everyone: micromanaging, tracking your activities (as if they don’t trust you really did them), expecting genius on a moment’s notice, things like that. The trick is once again to get out of the way – this time out of your own way, bosses. Let us tell you what the specific behavior is, how it distracts us from actually doing what you need/want, and what we can say or do to alert you to the behavior before it derails a day or a project. (Whew! That last part was the hardest to get out.)

And at the end of the day, always remember that we – your support staff and internal leaders – follow because we believe in you and you have given us a reason to believe in ourselves.  You have given us trust, an open mind toward change, clear expectations, and tools for improvement. But most of all, you have given us a model to follow, as the leader we aspire to be.

Originally published on March 19, 2014 at CleaningBusinessToday.com.

Posted in Business Articles, Small Business Tips

Strength in Numbers: Virtual Maid Service Marketplaces on the Rise

600600p3069EDNmain785wildebeest-hyena-615-x-350Two of the biggest names in e-commerce are getting into the online marketplace.

The virtual maid service movement is coming into full swing with eBay (Nasdaq:EBAY) and Angie’s List (Nasdaq:ANGI) moving into the online marketplace – connecting consumers more directly with maid service providers, including the ability to book and pay online.

In 2013, eBay tested its new marketplace eBayHIRE for service providers in the UK and has launched its beta version in the US. Similar to its product-based marketplace, eBay would provide its platform to service providers and enable consumers to shop for providers in their neighborhoods. Currently, eBay is reaching out to business owners with a 0% commission trial offer; it is expected that once formally launched, eBay will charge business owners listing services a commission similar to the one in place on the products platform.

eBay is preparing to go head to head with Angie’s List, who in late January 2014 announced its new integration with the mobile tool vWorkApp. This app allows the businesses listed on Angie’s List to do more than just build a robust profile, gain reviews and offer deals. With vWorkApp, businesses will be able to book a job and take payment right then and there.

The Angie’s List news follows announcements from similar lead generation-turned-referral agency enterprises like Homejoy, Care, Home Depot’s Red Beacon, TaskRabbit, and Exec. These online platforms all promote some variation on one-stop and economical shopping for home service providers; Homejoy originally launched as Maidjoy with a focus on providing inexpensive maid service providers to homeowners.

What we learn from this activity is that major online hubs that currently support consumer needs and activity are looking add to their repertoire; that is, they are adding direct services. Said plainly, they are getting into the maid service business too…adding a radically new player to the competitive field.

Originally published on March 17, 2014 at CleaningBusinessToday.com.

Posted in Business Articles, Ghost Writer, Small Business Tips

Leaders Defining Leadership: Cleaning Business Owners Sound Off!

600600p3069EDNmain783lioness-615-x-350Cleaning industry leaders talk about people, places, and mistakes on their leadership journeys.

The cleaning industry – in fact, all industries – abound with leaders. Cleaning Business Today has been privileged to feature some of them in our Success Stories column in the past year, and we look forward to continuing to do so.

A leader is too often identified as the person who appears to be in charge—because she is visible, vocal, opinionated, sometimes demanding, the center of attention.  Leadership is both much simpler and more complex than that: “[l]eaders develop a vision, mobilize others, take responsibility, and make changes that benefit others,” according to business leadership expert and coach Dr. Earl Walker.  Leaders can be quiet yet attentive, creative and missionary, equalizers or dividers, all to achieve their goals.  But above all leaders touch something in others that makes them want to act.

We can read books and articles about leaders, defining leadership, outline activities designed to teach specific skills that empower leaders, and we’ll find something pretty similar to these Top 10 Actions or Mind-Sets of a Great Leader:
  1. Encourages and motivates the team members
  2. Actively listens – to their staff, to their clients, to their communities
  3. Explains to the team how its job is important and how its job is aligned with the overall mission of the organization
  4. Stays open-minded when receiving criticism and constructive when offering criticism
  5. Is persistent in applying these characteristics and behaviors in every area of his/her life
  6. Maintains high ethical standards and practices and is a role model for those behaviors
  7. Gets the team the resources it needs
  8. Runs interference so the team can more readily achieve its goals
  9. Builds trusting relationships through the appropriate use of feedback and self-disclosure (sharing your thoughts and opinions and mistakes with your team)
  10. Creates a fun, positive work environment where the team’s successes are celebrated and recognized.

But leadership is much more personal than the lists experts derive from the tales of the leaders themselves. So we asked cleaning industry leaders what it’s like to be “that” leader, what they’ve learned from their mistakes, and what they have on their “to do” list every day that helps them become an even better leader.

Enid Tate-Shephard, Enid’s Cleaning Service
In the early years of my business, I’d have to give credit to each of my clients for inspiring my leadership, especially the difficult to please clients I worked for. My clients also taught me another lesson I pass on: “Every person has a story; it’s up to us to read it and understand it.” I was very socially backward and basically afraid of life. Through this business, I have learned to meet all kinds of people who vary from easy going and friendly to difficult, grumpy and critical to name a few. I’ve taken the time to understand my most critical clients to see what makes them the way they are. Once I can understand, dealing with them and pleasing them is a piece of cake! They also seem to really enjoy that I stick around and they treat me/us much better knowing we will stay and work at making them happy.

 

Greg Macchia, Clean Conscience
My mother is the leader that helped shape me in to the leader I am today.  She raised 5 children on her own. She had a full time job, she volunteered, she cooked, she helped with homework and she did it all gracefully. She was a grinder!

A great small business leader has to plan. It’s not uncommon for a small business to experience double digit growth year after year. In order to maintain this pace you must plan for it. And to plan for it you’ve got to live and breathe the numbers. Like the old saying, “you can’t manage what you don’t measure.” We have twelve metrics that I look at on a regular basis that we refer to as the dirty dozen.  They are a snapshot of the health of our business.

It can be lonely being the leader of a small business. Small business leaders often don’t have a management team or an advisory board around them to share ideas, dissect fiascos or celebrate victories.  You have to grind every day….the troops are counting on you!

Laura Barnard, Grakei Maids
As a leader, I encourage a work environment where people feel free to speak up and be proactive.Being receptive to my employees’ suggestions has proven to be extremely important when it comes to improving job performance and customer service. My leadership style involves putting the tools of success in everyone’s hands to meet the objectives I establish year after year. I understand that one half of leadership is inspiration and guidance, the other half is giving the employees the resources to attain the proper success within the Company.

Kristen Hadeed, Student Maid
I was a 19-year-old college student when I signed my first cleaning contract for 1000s of apartments…with only three cleaners. In the five years since then, I’ve made a lot of mistakes and from them I’ve learned that there are five main things every leader must do to be successful on a basic business level but also to be able to grow that business into more:

  1. Create a vision for the company and share that vision with everyone in the company; make it clear how each person’s job connects to the daily activities toward achieving that vision.
  2. Live the Core Values of your life and your company; this can be particularly difficult when you first develop those Core Values because it might mean you need to remove friends from your life and staff from your company.
  3. Adopt a Tough Love approach; be willing to hold your staff accountable, even when that means having the tough conversations. Always remember that your job as a leader is to make people better.
  4. Nurture relationships with everyone, from the day you hire them and through their career after they leave you; when I interviewed one of my first cleaners, I had no idea that going to her wedding five years later would lead to the connection I needed to expand to a second location.
  5. Step back to gain Perspective; see, own, and share your failures. Too often leaders forget that failure is an opportunity for improvement, not an obstacle to success.


Alison Palmer, Custom Maid
Alison-Palmer-150-x-200My role model as a leader was my dad.  He had more integrity, more confidence, more compassion than anyone I’ve known.  I recently met an ARCSI member who said to me thatintegrity is doing the right thing even when no one is looking.  I like that definition.  I think a leader has to be firmly grounded in integrity whether leading a team of employees or a group of clients…or your kids.

The worst leader I have known is a boss I had for many years.  Let’s call him “Joe.”   An example of his leadership style was to expect everyone at work every single day no matter what.  He threatened to fire a woman whose infant son was in the hospital if she stayed with the child.  I used to cry before (rarely) calling in sick for fear of my job.  When I started my business and an issue would come up that I hadn’t dealt with before, I would ask myself, “what would Joe do?” and I would do the opposite.  Look where that got me!

Amy King, 2 Green Chicks
Amy-King-150-x-200Find a mentor; that person will be your best tool in becoming a great leader. When I worked in the corporate world, I had a manager Darren Lyons who encouraged me to pursue my dreams of becoming a consultant with IBM.  I had doubts and apprehensions about taking that huge step, but with his help, I did it and I never looked back.  Starting a family and deciding to leave corporate America was another challenging transition, but with the support and experience I had gained working with Darren, I was ready to open and manage my own company.  It’s this same mentoring that I try to give to my employees. And beyond having a positive and healthy relationship with your employees, you should also be a leader in your community.   Being involved in community events, clubs and meetings allows me to not only focus on growing my business, but it helps to grow others in my community as well.  It just feels good.

Stephanie Nesseth, Absolutely Clean
The leadership and success that I know is a life style.  It’s who you surround yourself with, the discipline you have in your day to day life. Success becomes who you are, and it’s not necessarily about the paycheck.  It’s a value; we are not ONE person on the clock, and another behind closed doors. We surround ourselves with people who support us with understanding and “how can I help?” mentalities.

I look for and see leadership in young people; they influence me to be all that I can be because I know that in order to truly lead, they must WANT to follow and WANT to walk in our footsteps. Each year, my company organizes a large carnival fundraiser for our foundation, and we have started pulling in young people to help. The leadership that comes from them is truly inspiring. They influence their peers and are making a difference.  Leadership isn’t about the titles or the money in the bank.  It’s how you inspire others to make a difference as well.

Originally published on March 4, 2014 at CleaningBusinessToday.com.

Posted in Business Articles, Small Business Tips

Trending for Cleaning Business Success in 2014

600600p3069EDNmain7212014-Trends-615-x-350In an uncertain business environment, key business moves to improve your marketing in 2014

 

Since cleaning businesses find success in areas with high concentrations of their target consumer, it should be no surprise that the “urban uprising” identified by Moen’s department of consumer and market insights is a good thing for the growth of the residential cleaning industry. But it still won’t be easy marketing to the different groups of inhabitants in this new urbanity.
Moen identifies three primary groups, with different ages and origins, but ultimately similar needs when it comes to a clean home and work environment:

  • Urban Nesters (ages 49-67)
  • Single Gen X’rs (ages 36-48)
  • Upscale Gen Y’rs (ages 18-35)

All three of these primary urban market groups share a key element of the buying mindset:  they are all looking for ways to improve their life experience, no matter the size of their home space.

Let’s look at business trends emerging in response to that growing demand.

Steady Growth in Demand for Chemicals and Sustainable Choices

Despite the use of the general term “chemicals,” the Industrial & Institutional (I&I) Cleaning Chemicals Forecast for 2014 and 2019 (prepared by the Freedonia Group) indicates an increase in demand for the various types of chemicals used to clean and sanitize homes, offices, healthcare, multi-family and industrial dwellings.

The sale of disinfectants and sanitizers is the fastest growing area of the industry in the constant battle against viral and bacterial threats in food preparation areas, restrooms, and healthcare settings. General purpose cleaning agents remain the bulk of the product in demand.

One of the more sustainable chemical choices for cleaning continues to see growth in consumer and manufacturer demand. US demand alone for enzymes is expected to rise 4.8% annually to 2014. While the use of enzymes in a cleaning procedure requires a reworking based on the time it takes for the enzyme to work, the long-term sustainability of the results seems to meet the expectations of the “green” consumer well. Enzymes can also be used to contain and remediate industrial bio-chemicals that threaten the environment, like those used in the Gulf of Mexico oil spill of 2010.

What does this mean for the cleaning business owner or BSC? First, it means that more space is being cleaned, proof that the market for the cleaning industry is strong and growing. However, that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily growing in your local market.

Second, higher demand for products often leads to slightly higher prices, especially for more specialized products used in cleaning procedures. Businesses specializing in “green” or “organic” cleaning will want to budget more for supplies to accommodate higher prices. Alternatively, specialty cleaning services should revisit equipment investments that could reduce supply costs in the long-run.

Automating Your Sales Process

Automation is leading the wave of consumer response products, with continually more streamlined buying procedures, especially online and mobile-enabled options. So what does automation look like for consumers shopping for a cleaning service? A no-fuss estimate for service, usually acquired online without having to go through the extra steps of dialing and waiting and listening to someone’s sales spiel. Home services referral sites like Homejoy and Care.com have really embraced the online quoting and booking demand and provided consumers with a one-stop shopping location.

For business owners, a first step into automation may be using available cloud services to make the marketing and early sales process a (mostly) hands-off procedure. This frees up more time for the phone and face-to-face sales representatives to do their work – the close. This is another way automation can help a business improve the customer’s life experience.

Advantages: 

Several online estimating tools exist and several are in testing to empower a cleaning business to customize and offer this price-shopping option to website visitors. Such a system helps to weed out the price-shoppers (aka bargain shoppers) and educate those who aren’t. Just think, after 3-4 online quotes that all come in pretty similar, the common price shopper is likely to either adjust her thinking about the value of home cleaning and place a call or stop shopping for services she can’t or won’t afford.

Disadvantages:

Beyond the sales and scheduling process, automation is now encroaching on the services themselves. Leading retail automation experts at AVT have developed a new system for Rug Doctor to facilitate carpet cleaning equipment rental at stores:

Now, instead of waiting for a store employee to assist with a carpet cleaning rental system – which hassles both the customer and the worker – now anyone can get the machine with a simple swipe of a credit card. A door opens up, the machine is accessed, the customer is happy. Returns are equally as easy. This automated system has fundamentally changed the way people rent and return carpet cleaning equipment. 

This is becoming an increasingly common way to empower the Do-It-Yourselfers, especially if it’s hard for them to get the services priced and scheduled using the existing traditional methods.

Image-centric Marketing Generates Higher Response

Question: have you looked at Facebook’s 5:1 rule for ads and promoted posts? That’s the ratio of graphic to words allowed on a paid ad on Facebook. The reason is simple. Facebook’s internal metrics show that that’s the kind of advertisement (aka marketing) that consumers are responding to. Facebook enforces their rule because it makes them more money even while it’s leading more money-spenders to you!

So here’s the short of it. In everything you place in front of consumers, focus on a “less is more” visual appeal:

  • Revise your main webpages, email marketing, even printed marketing pieces to emphasize the visual – more pictures, fewer words.
  • Begin designing your marketing with the graphic – for cleaning services, a “before,” “after,” or resulting life experience graphic is likely to do the trick.
  • Expand your outreach to one or two of the more graphic-focused social media outlets: Pintrest, Instagram, Tumblr. This has the added advantage of helping you create more backlinks to your website, which further strengthens your SEO and website rankings.

Perhaps an article by Forbes about trends said it best: “There is a sense that from the hyper-connectivity of our highly-digitized lives to the bright, flashy, complicated sensory input we’re fed everyday, there is no way to continue at this pace.” This movement forward creates space “where the most successful marketing strategies will be ones that are not only simple in nature, but promote goods and services that serve to simplify the consumer’s life, or even just their customer experience.”

Originally published on December 10, 2013 at CleaningBusinessToday.com.