Posted in Everyday Musings, Lighter Topics, Published Writing, The Old Days

My Love Letter to Mt. Pleasant, SC – featured on

Check out my guest post at where I write about how the changes in, the growth of my small-town Mt. Pleasant, SC, is an opportunity for long-time natives to activate our history, not simply hold it sacred and separate from collaboration with our newer neighbors to shape our town’s future.

Thank you to Angela Wicke and Emily Gildea for inviting me to carefully consider what loving my small town really means in a tangible and shareable way.

Posted in Ghost Writer, Lighter Topics, Small Business Tips

How to Be the Biggest Cleaning Business in Town

Sara Martin, owner of phCleanStarting out in a small town didn’t mean phClean owner Sara Martin had to be just another small town business.

CBT: When, why and how did you get your start in the cleaning industry and with phClean? 

SM: My dad was a farmer, and I married my first husband after three years of university classes in early childhood education. I didn’t know much about working at a “real 9-5 job with benefits,” but I worked out of my home to assist my property manager husband, taking our then-toddler with me to show apartments, take calls, deal with tenants. As our property management business got bigger, we moved into a real office, traveled a lot, had a fun life, drove fancy cars and even had our own “cleaning lady” for a few years. But I couldn’t balance a checkbook and never really knew how much money we had; I left that all to my husband.

But in 2006, I found myself a single, stay-at-home-mom who didn’t have a college degree or a job history! My husband left me to get a job and raise our daughter on my own. Since I wanted to keep my daughter at home and homeschool a bit longer, I emailed all of the contacts on our old country club mailing list: “My hubby left me and told me to get a job, so HEY – I am cleaning homes!” And I drove up to those homes to clean them…in my Mercedes…at least, until it was taken away. And that’s how I got started in the cleaning industry.

I started out cleaning homes alone in 2006, and this gave me pocket money and enough money to finish a degree at Iowa State University. But It wasn’t until I hired my first real, legal employee and started advertising in 2008 that I decided to do this for real.

CBT: You started with one location and today have two. What’s your process – your strategic leader thought process – when you’re considering “getting bigger” and what does that mean for you? To what do you attribute your fast growth?

SM: In 2008, two years after I booked my first cleaning job, I decided this should be a real business. I wasn’t cleaning any homes by then; I had hired part time people to help and had found my start-up resources:, Debbie Sardone’s programs and ARCSI.

As I had hired my helpers, I was using the solo cleaner model, and I kept that as I listened to all the CDs I could, downloaded all of the material I could and went for it.

I believe the reason I was able to grow fast and strong is that I did not clean. Rather, I treated my business like a business from the beginning, advertising right away with both grass roots and paid advertising. And since our home market is small, that also meant no competition, or at least not competition that was bringing it to a professional level.

Our first “home” location is in a college town, Ames IA, with a population of 58,000. But since this includes the ISU students, the “real” residents number closer to 30,000. Looking at the population and demographics, I predict we have to start hitting a ceiling soon with growth. We also have no real competition (too small for a franchise), but that doesn’t mean someone won’t try to horn in soon. If I am going to keep growing – as opposed to sustaining – I need a larger venue, and our second location in Ankeny has that, while only being 30 minutes away; this allows us to share staff and resources while it is starting out.

CBT: Originally, your company was named Professional Home Ames, but you’ve rebranded to phClean. What prompted you to change the name and rebrand your company? What benefits or disadvantages have you experienced from the change?

SM: The name you choose for your business when you are sitting at home with no experience is WAY different than the one you SHOULD have chosen! In the beginning, I wanted to present as professional, and our town is Ames, but “professionalhomeames” is a really long thing to type. And when I began to realize we really could grow out of the town, I knew I needed to switch.

I made the change incrementally, and stayed with the same green circle we had been using, just tweaking it so it remained identifiable. phClean gets the town name out, puts the word “clean” in, and we trademarked it! Now it is a brand name we can use in any town (or state), and it is short and sweet.

And since we worked off of our existing logo rather than starting over with a total rebranding “look,” our clients barely noticed the chance. So we’re not experiencing any disadvantages.

CBT: When things get frustrating or you just get stuck in a rut, from where do you draw motivation, inspiration, and plain ole energy to work through them?

SM: I go first to my small Facebook group of fellow cleaning business owners. They help me work out a thought, see something another way, or just let me vent to help clear my head.

I draw energy by looking at the steps I CAN take and taking them rather than looking at all of the steps I have not taken yet or need to do. I’m also pretty good at not taking things too personally, which helps me not get too bogged down in negative energy. And finally, I avoid dwelling on what doesn’t work and trying someone or something else when my first (or second or third) choice doesn’t pan out like I planned.

For motivation, I keep in the front of my mind the fact that there is nothing else I can go out and get a job doing that will give me an equivalent paycheck. So I am motivated to keep that going! But plain and simple, I also like seeing progress and forward motion, tracking successes and failures. Looking back and seeing our growth motivates me to press on.

Now that I’ve gotten big enough to expand to a second location, I look at the bigger cleaning business owners like Tom Stewart of Castle Keepers for both the size of his operation and the skill he wields in continuing to grow. And I still get inspiration from Tom, Derek and Liz at their Cleaning Business Builders conferences.

CBT: We’ve heard you enjoy quite a high customer retention rate. Would you share your retention rate…and your secret?

SM: In 2013, our customer attrition rate was 3.55%, which fewer than 9% of cleaning companies in the US achieve. But in 2014, we drove that percentage down to 2.42% with an aggressive quality assurance program. Yes, you’re reading that right; that’s a 97.58% customer retention rate, meaning we keep 97.5 out of every 100 customers to whom we sell services.

In 2014 we added a Quality Assurance manager for four days a week, to check homes, encourage staff in the field, correct problems in the field, re-train as needed. This was the only major change. We also read and promote the ideals in the Jeffrey Gitmer book Customer Satisfaction is Worthless – Customer Loyalty is Priceless. This year we have a dedicated Staff & Quality Assurance Manager, with a part-time Quality Assurance assistant.

I have always been heavy on staff in the office, but I also believe that that is what we need to serve well the volume of clients we have. We don’t drop balls, we are able to be prompt and proactive, and even more now, we are in the field working with staff to make that client happy. To me, that extra staffing is why we have been able to keep client loss rates so low.

The attitude we have at phClean is Client Happiness First.  All of my staff know that if a client wants to switch technicians, do it fast. If they have a problem, follow up with a prompt action and communicate it to the client. Techs let us know when clients have life events like a baby or illness, and we send cards, flowers, or drop off a small gift. We have a cupboard filled with local gift certificates that we grab and send to a client if we have “screwed up” and they let us fix it. We all know it is better to keep what you have than scramble for more new clients, and this is particularly important in a smaller community like Ames.

We always try to do the right thing and act with integrity and have great and caring communication, and that relationship the clients have with us enables us to keep them through the occasional mistake or disappointed cleaning.

CBT: As you look forward to celebrating your 10th anniversary next year, what goals have you accomplished along the way and what new ones are you looking forward to going after soon?

SM: In the past nine years, going from content stay-at-home mom to owning and managing phClean is huge. Hitting $1 million in annual revenue mark is a source of pride for all of us, and keeping it above the line is essential to us now. Managing over 37 people blows my mind. It is a huge responsibility, and I don’t take it lightly. And knowing that we brought one person from tech to trainer to scheduler to being the new Manager of our 2nd location really makes me proud.

Our goal moving forward is to become a mature business: fine tune, tighten things up, and take care of what we have done well in our 1st location while growing our 2nd location to the same size in less time. I’d like to see both locations at or above $1 million in revenue in five years.

Personally, I would like to travel even more, and do some walking adventures like hike a trail for a month! My daughter will graduate next year. and I look forward to seeing where she lands and how she grows as a person.

Originally published on May 7, 2015 at
Posted in Lighter Topics, Small Business Tips

17 Clean April Fool’s Pranks

April Fool's JokesYou know cleaning is a serious business when April Fool’s pranks like these keep us laughing for years.


Stephanie Harden
House Calls, Cincinnati, OH

Working for a builder in Cincinnati performing Final Cleans, our company was hired to perform maid service at the builder’s home. On April 1st quite a few years ago, myself and co-worker were nearing completion of his service, and it hit me!  I called the owner on his cell and proceeded to explain that after I had completed his top floor and headed down to the main level, I walked into the dining area and his ceiling had dropped to the floor in the area of the Jacuzzi tub in his master, and water was gushing everywhere; we could see the bottom of the Jacuzzi above us.

It must have been at least a minute before I finally asked, “Josh, are you there?”  A few more moments went by until I heard a very low and drawn out, “What!”  I waited another 30 seconds and said, “Josh?” …a few more seconds…he answered in the same tone “What?”  I REPLIED, “APRIL FOOLS!”

He made several attempts to repay me. On one occasion, he called our office after we performed a cleaning for him that day and proceeded to let me know in no uncertain terms that we had closed his cat in the master closest and the cat had freaked out and s&%t all over floor, walls, clothes and shoes!!! And “when were we coming to take care of the mess!!!!???”

It took me a few seconds with my response of, “Won’t work, Josh!”  He mumbled under his breath and hung up.

Mike Rathbun
Freedom Cleaning Services

One April Fool’s Day several years ago, I posted on our Facebook page an elaborate story about opening a new location in Billings, MT (my home town). The story mentioned that we would be transferring most of our staff to Billings to help the new location get up to speed.

I had a couple of resignations, and words that cannot be repeated here, that morning when the staff gathered. I think that was the last time I pulled an April Fool’s joke on my staff.

Brenda Stankus
Classic Touch Cleaning

The funniest prank was when a customer lifted one of her toilet seats, both parts, and stretched saran wrap over the porcelain bowl and then put the seat and lid back to normal.  When we put product into the bowl, it all just sat on top until my employee realized what was going on. The children were outside the door watching and giggling so then she caught on. It was fun and we all laughed about it at the office too.

Brad Smith
Mr. Carpet Cleaning Company


Liz Trotter

American Maid Cleaning Service

One year I did a bunch of small stuff:

  • Cotton balls in everyone’s shoes so they were tight
  • Turned the office’s computer screens upside down (In Control Panel, enable Rotation; then use ctrl, alt, up/down arrow to switch)
  • Switched the keys for our cars on the key rings
  • Changed the language on the company phones to French
  • Changed the covers on everyone’s cells so they all had the wrong ones
  • Switched cabinets in the kitchen
  • Hid in my closet so when they came in I wasn’t there
  • Wrote funny things for them to do on their work orders, like scratch the dog for five minutes and use a brush to clean all baseboards by hand, especially behind furniture.

Here are some of the more complex April Fools pranks I have pulled on my staff:

All of our people leave the keys to their cars when they leave in the morning.  I moved them all around; the ones that were far away I moved up close and vice versa. It was funny how many people walked out to where their cars always are and thought their cars had been stolen.

I called a team and told them that one of their clients had cameras on in the house yesterday, and I was giving them a chance to tell me what happened before I take further action; call me when they were ready.  They called about an hour later and said that two of the girls had switched bras, but they never would have done it if they thought the client was watching!  So weird!

TC called me to prank me, and said she had just spilled Shooter (a chemical) on our client’s $25,000 rug. Her voice just sounded weird, so I told her I’d call her back. I decided to prank her back and called back really upset sounding, saying I can’t afford this and it will actually potentially bankrupt me, so I needed them to roll it up and bring it back to the office right now; we’ll throw it in the dumpster and pretend we have no idea what happened.  She was dumb-founded and broke into tears!  I felt a little bit bad, but she did start it!  We all got a good laugh.

One day I called the teams around mid-day and told each one of them that we got this huge job added on that we couldn’t pass up.  They would be working until about 8:00 pm, and I would bring them Taco Bell to get by.  They weren’t happy, and I learned a valuable lesson about throwing jobs on and expecting people to just do my bidding!

Once I changed all the clocks in the office forward an hour.  After we got about four people here, I got them all in on the gag and they would all hide.  When the next person would come in, I’d act surprised and say, “What are you doing here?  I already took you off the schedule.”  It would last until the next person got there and they’d join the hiders who were listening. This was funny.

Internet Spring Cleaning

In 1997, an email message spread throughout the world announcing that the internet would be shut down for cleaning for 24 hours from March 31 – April 2. This cleaning was said to be necessary to clear out the “electronic flotsam and jetsam” that had accumulated in the network. Dead email and inactive ftp, www, and gopher sites would be purged. The cleaning would be done by “five very powerful Japanese-built multi-lingual internet-crawling robots (Toshiba ML-2274) situated around the world.” During this period, users were warned to disconnect all devices from the internet. The message supposedly originated from the “Interconnected Network Maintenance Staff, Main Branch, Massachusetts Institute of Technology.” This joke was an update version of an old joke that used to be told about the phone system. For many years, gullible phone customers had been warned that the phone systems would be cleaned on April Fool’s Day. They were cautioned to place plastic bags over the ends of the phone to catch the dust that might be blown out of the phone lines during this period.

Originally published on April 29, 2014 at

Posted in Content Marketing, Lighter Topics

Happy Birthday,CBT! Our First Year in Review

600600p3069EDNmain840baby-birthday-615-x-350CBT celebrates its first year of delivering the best news and business information to cleaning business owners.

As we release the thirteenth issue of Cleaning Business Today, we reflect on the wonders of our first year of bringing you breaking news, unique insights, hidden issues, videos and downloads of business tools, and controversial ideas and projections for the future.
As you read this article, take a moment first to look at the screen. It’s different from last month and the 11 previous months. For our anniversary, we’ve upgraded our digital magazine to a sleek new format so that you can more easily:
– Search the entire issue for any word or phrase
– Make the page bigger by double-tapping or double-clicking on the screen
– Flip pages any way you like on your phone/tablet – tap the ? to personalize your settings
– Bookmark specific articles
– Share and print an individual article
– Watch videos without changing webpages or apps
– Skim the entire issue on Slide Show mode – without ever tapping the screen or clicking your mouse

Why? Because clearly cleaning business owners and industry leaders crave this new focus on the whole business:
– 600 average views per article
– 30,000 page views/month
– 2,200 unique visitors/month
– 3,750 total visitors/month

Cleaning business owners are spending a lot of time in the magazine, using the Search Bar to find articles on the topics that challenge them most as they work hard to grow their businesses.


future-of-the-industry-thumb-200Future of the Industry
Our first feature article, “Future of the Industry” remains our most read article. When we break down the average monthly views for every article we have ever published, this one is at the top. What’s truly revealing is that the expectations for the industry and its development are materializing right before our eyes!

Runner Up: May Extra: Cleaner’s Corner (free download)
Third Place: Midnight Adventures in Business Ownership


In our first year, Cleaning Business Today published over 330 original articles and news commentary and featured more than 60 contributors from within and outside of the cleaning industry.

don-aslett-150-x-200Don Aslett, The Last Word Columnist
As our original Last Word columnist, Don Aslett used his unique perspective to reflect on the theme of each issue and offer motivation for all of us to continue working toward a unified, professionalized and respected industry.

Other Favorites Columnists:
Gary Goranson, Leadership,
Cherylanne Skolnicki, The Big Picture, Nourish
Rebecca Spath, The Big Picture, Breathing Room Therapies


money-umbrella-smHouse Cleaning Marketplace Gains $38M for New Developments
Join the Discussion on LinkedIn

Dealing with Theft
Join the Discussion on LinkedIn

Do Traditional Small Cleaning Businesses Face Extinction?
Join the Discussion on Facebook


Oreck Bankruptcy in May 2013
Not long after launching that first issue, we were able to break our first story with Oreck’s announcement of the bankruptcy filing of their consumer division. We’ve been privileged to continue breaking some of the most sensational stories of 2013 and into 2014.

Runner Up: Two Maids and A Mop Franchises
Third Place: XCharge Credit Card Processing Users to Pay $199 for Class Action Settlement Services


software-comp-smScheduling Software Comparison Chart
In June 2013, CBT led the Information Technology issue with an unprecedented feature comparison of eight of the most commonly used customer management, scheduling, and field services systems in the cleaning industry. This article and its downloadable chart have become the single most viewed items we’ve ever published, and that’s why we’re repeating and expanding the comparison again for the June 2014 IT issue.

Runner Up: Cleaning Chore List for Kids
Third Place: Calculate Pay or Play Costs to Your Cleaning Business
Fourth Place: Pet Hair Removal


Calculating Employee Turnover Rate
Hands down, measuring employee turnover – or how quickly your employees leave and you have to get new ones – is our hottest KPI and video article. Publisher Tom Stewart narrates you through a spreadsheet showing you how to calculate the rate; especially when paired with the companion video on The Cost of Employee Turnover, knowing and using this metric is a huge bonus in helping you keep costs down.

Runner Up: Understanding the Basic Science of the pH Scale and What it Means for Your Cleaning Supplies

Third Place: Hydrogen Peroxide: New Uses for an Old Household Favorite


Tom Stewart and his wife, Janice Stewart, are co-owners of Castle-Keepers, the 1st company to achieve CIMS certification. Tom is a nationally-recognized leader & innovator in the house cleaning industry. He is co-founder and Publisher of Cleaning Business Today.

Derek Christian
 is founder and owner of My Maid Service, Cincinnati’s largest, independent professional cleaning company. Prior to that, he spent twelve years at P&G working on household cleaning products. Derek is co-founder and Publisher of Cleaning Business Today.

CeCe Mikell is Editor-in-Chief 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.

Austin Walker is Creative Director for Cleaning Business Today. He has over three decades of experience in television and corporate video production, including four years with CNN and seven years in management at an ABC affiliate.

You can meet the Cleaning Business Today leadership at the ISSA/InterClean Trade Show in Orlando, FL, November 4-7, 2014.
Originally published on April 1, 2014 at
Posted in Business Articles, Lighter Topics, Small Business Tips

PC Tips: Clean Up Your Deskwork with Keyboard Shortcuts

600600p3069EDNmaincomputer tips 200pxLike cleaning, computing with both hands saves time!

If you’ve taken Bruce Vance’s IICRC House Cleaning Technician certification class, then you’re well acquainted with the best practice of cleaning with both hands to reduce time and improve efficiency…both of which ultimately help your bottom line.

If you do the same at your keyboard during your desk work, think of how much more time and energy you save there as well! After typing text, the copy, cut, and paste functions are the most commonly used creative and revising actions in most any word processing program.


Copy Control + C
Cut Control + X
Paste Control + V


It seems simple and does take some practice, but just as using both hands in cleaning is more efficient and less tiring to your right hand/arm, using both hands in typing and office work achieves the same goal!

By the way, YES, these keystroke options for copy, cut, and paste work the same on a Mac computer as long as you know which key on the Mac is the Control key.

Originally published June 27, 2013 at

Posted in Business Articles, Housekeeping, Lighter Topics

Beware “The Cleaning Fairy”

600600p3069EDNmain299cleaning-fairyNew method for getting new clients isn’t exactly legal.

For a little over a year, independent house cleaner Susan Warren has been breaking into empty homes, doing some light cleaning, and leaving a bill. Her philosophy: many homeowners just don’t know how good it can be to have a house cleaner, so she feels they need to know first-hand; that will lead them to call her back and hire her officially to be their house cleaner.



Her biggest regret is that she didn’t prepare and leave a more professional invoice for her services.

Originally published June 22, 2013 at