Posted in Business Articles, Housekeeping, Small Business Tips

Google, Amazon, Homejoy and Customer Service in the Dog Days of Summer

fall cleaning business trendsThe start of the school year, the demise of Homejoy and the entrance of Amazon and Google into on-demand home services make Autumn 2015 the perfect time to focus on customer service.

 

The reason we focus on Customer Service in August, specifically, is because it’s the beginning of the classic seasonal turn for major facets of the cleaning industry: home cleaning ramps up as kids go back to school and bring home new germs; vacation rental turns level out for the same reason; commercial bidding heats up as big businesses approach the end of the fiscal year; carpet cleaning picks up as the kids are less underfoot at home. And in 60 days, it’ll be time to launch holiday marketing campaigns and hire some extra support to push through the 2-month holiday crush that ends every year.

Making Customer Service Your Edge

This second half of the year is typically stronger for cleaning businesses in general, and one thing we’ll be watching here at CleaningBusinessToday.com is customer behavior. With the exit of Homejoy from the maid service market and expansion of Amazon’s and Google’s home services divisions, the “trend” of the on-demand, tech-enabled service access is about to be tested.

A New Era of On-Demand Competitors

Publisher Derek Christian writes in his op ed this month that what we’re seeing is the transition between Home Services 1.0 into its evolution into 2.0. And the choice CBOs have is one of customer service, specifically which kinds of consumers you want to serve and which ones you’re willing give up to competitors in your market.

Customer service is what drives your choice of staffing model: choosing one that empowers the best customer experience possible. And there are many different customer experiences in demand. That’s the beauty of the evolution we’re experiencing today in the cleaning industry: being at the center of an expanding marketspace with more customer interest than ever – demanding better customer service than ever.

CeCe Mikell is the 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.

Originally published August 22, 2015 at CleaningBusinessToday.com.
Posted in Business Articles, Housekeeping, Small Business Tips

Do More Than the Minimum To Keep Clients Happy and Boost Sales

600600p3069EDNmaingeneric-apartments-flipped-600-x-250To become and remain competitive, you’ve got to know what your competition is likely offering – so you can do more and better.

When 75% of an industry is doing the same thing, that thing (or collection of tasks) becomes a standard – no longer a competitive advantage but is simple the minimum level of service. So to start with, CleaningBusinessToday.com asked “What’s on your base task list?” in an effort to better define the most basic possible scope of work to give guidance to young businesses as they are getting started and working out the kinks and on their unique selling propositions.

We know that the list can change, especially so for companies specializing in customization. But everyone seems to have a basic task list; otherwise, no one would have a place to start with training, which we all seem to agree is the real core of each company’s competitive advantage.

So what stacks up as the Basic Weekly Scope of Work for Residential Cleaning? These are the minimum expectations, based on earning at least a 75% adoption rate by survey participants. (Click here or on image to see Table 1.)

The question remains what to do with all of the things on your list that might be now considered extra when compared to the minimum scope of work. Here are some suggestions:

  1. Keep them right where they are and highlight them as points of differentiation between you and your local competitors.
  2. Use them to create levels (basic, plus, premium, custom) of service to more easily show the value of cleaning in a home.
  3. Reserve some of the lowest cost/lowest time options for a WOW list that you can turn to when you want to thank or surprise a loyal customer, reward someone for a referral, or add on in a service recovery (complaint) situation.
  4. Create a Custom or Add-on list of services for which you charge a little bit more – because it takes longer and a little more training for your techs to get it right.

Here are the things you can use to boost your base or additional service options (Click here or on image to see Table 2.)

Originally published on August 7, 2015 at CleaningBusinessToday.com.
Posted in Content Marketing, Ghost Writer, Housekeeping

4 Money-Saving Tips for the Cleaning Conventions

600600p3069EDNmain1681convention-crowd-rev-600-x-250Do these four things this month to make sure you are getting the biggest bang for your buck at the annual cleaning conventions and trade show.

The idea of leaving your company for a week – even for business – can seem very intimidating, so over the next few months, we are going to share with you what we do in the months before convention to make sure we are frugal while still enjoying the benefits of business education and networking – and especially having fun with the friends we’ve made through the years.

 

1. Set Your Budget

It sounds so simple to us business owners to say “set a budget,” but especially for first-timers, we haven’t done a great job of setting expectations. We use a pretty simple pro forma from year to year that has made this easy – and we come up with about $2200 per person attending:

 

Expense Fee
Registration for ARCSI Basic Member $389
Average Airfare $600
Average Hotel Bill for a Week $600
Conservative Per Diem ($50/day) $350
Fun and Entertainment $250
Total $2,189

 

With very few exceptions, when we plan ahead and catch the early bird registration rates and get into the group rate at the hotel, we’re able to keep our travel and lodging in tight check. But the key is to act early.

 

Also be sure to apply for the Petra Huppert HEART Scholarship, established in 2013 to assist small cleaning companies in attending convention.

 

And consider add-ons such as the IICRC House Cleaning Technician Certification 2-day course that precedes convention each year. Scholarships are also available for this class.

 

2. Register by July 15 for the Most Registration Savings

Each year, ARCSI makes a monthly payment plan available to help members better cash flow their convention expenses. But to take advantage of the payment plan, you’ll want to register by July 15th, which is coming up very soon. Oh, and when you register by July 15th, you’ll get $50 off your registration. That’s a whole day’s per diem right there. What do you know – you’re already under budget!

 

3. Take a Business Needs Assessment

Oh, this one is actually tougher than it seems. Sure, you can sit down and make a list of all of the things you think aren’t working in your business, but you also need to figure out “what you don’t know that you don’t know” to add to that list.

 

We’ve been using this simple but illuminating Business Needs Assessment to help new and veteran business owners identify where to focus their improvement efforts for maximum return in their companies. And you can use it too to find out on what topics you should be focusing your convention experience.

 

And with July signaling the mid-year reality check on your annual plan and goals, our Business Needs Assessment is a great tool even if you’re not coming to convention.

 

4. Apply for or Nominate Someone for an Award

Your final convention checklist item for July is to look for the good in your company and submit one of your staff for an award. Each year, ARCSI recognizes a leadership staff member and a technician – and pays for their trip to convention. It’s a great way for you to really show your appreciation for someone in your company who has made a huge difference in your ability to grow and give him/her the opportunity of a lifetime at convention.

 

And those aren’t all of the awards. Show pride in your logo, uniforms, vehicles, and website by applying for an Image Award. Members present at convention vote for the best in each category!

 

Oh, you want to know if we’ll be there?

Yep – me, Tom, Derek, CeCe and Austin – we’ll all be in Las Vegas – not only for the ARCSI Convention but also for the BSCAI, CETA, IEHA, IICRCA, and IWCA Conventions and the BIG ISSA Trade Show. We’re already scheduled to teach several education sessions all over Las Vegas during the week!

Liz Trotter is founder of American Maid Cleaning as well as an entrepreneur and leadership trainer based in Olympia, Washington.  She is also a former ARCSI board member, a partner in Cleaning Business Builders, creator of the HiPEP employee development system and a charter member of Cleaning For A Reason.

Originally published July 9, 2015 at CleaningBusinessToday.com.

Posted in Content Marketing, Housekeeping, Press Releases

Cleaning Business Today Acquires Two Brands

HC and HHI AcquisitionCBT to expand reach with prosumer website brands

Charleston, SC – May 1, 2015

Cleaning Business Today, a division of Supreme Mullet Media, LLC, has acquired HousekeepingChannel.comand HealthyHouseInstitute.com as part of its brand expansion strategy.

“The key to making and keeping the cleaning industry and related home services relevant is to be the resource consumers and cleaning business owners trust and come back to time and again,” says CBT Publisher Tom Stewart. “Allen Rathey has created trusted resources with the HousekeepingChannel.com andHealthyHouseInstitute.com.”

Where Cleaning Business Today is a premier information and news outlet for growing and established cleaning businesses in the US, HousekeepingChannel.com and HealthyHouseInstitute.com add key business startup and green cleaning and lifestyle resources to a growing body of knowledge. In addition, the two resources are respectable online knowledge centers providing credible alternatives to commercially operated home and lifestyle websites with mobile applications that reach consumers.

“The expanded industry and consumer reach of these sites was a key factor in our acquisition of the assets,” explains CBT Publisher Derek Christian. “Now we are in a position to put the businesses and contractors in our own industry right in front of consumers with content and to support the development of their online presence with backlinks that Google respects as coming from a reputable website.”

For 11 years, Allen Rathey has spearheaded the most successful development of consumer-facing online resources from within the cleaning industry through the HousekeepingChannel.com andHealthyHouseInstitute.com, among others. Rathey intends to continue his work as a subject-matter expert in the cleaning, janitorial and indoor environments industries as he turns his entrepreneurial talents to related areas.

About Cleaning Business Today

Cleaning Business Today is an industry news and business development digital resource for cleaning business owners and building service contractors providing services that improve the environment, health and appearance of the indoor spaces where people live and work.We invite non-promotional discussion of relevant topics on our website and social platforms.Cleaning Business Today is dedicated to empowering the whole cleaning business – business processes and systems in addition to professional cleaning practices and knowledge.

About Supreme Mullet Media, LLC

Supreme Mullet Media is a multi-media content outlet established to broaden consumer and business awareness of the professional cleaning industry. Its mission is to empower through data-driven content and value-added business growth tools an improved professionalism among those performing, managing, selling and buying cleaning services.

Originally published May 1, 2015 at CleaningBusinessToday.com.
Posted in Content Marketing, Ghost Writer, Housekeeping

Put One Foot in Front of the Other: One Cleaner’s Path to Leadership

600600p3069EDNmainbenja-lane-300-x-250She didn’t set out to be a cleaner or even a cleaning business owner, but that’s where her path to leadership began.

We hear these things when we’re at the beginning of our business and think “they don’t apply to me” because I don’t have other cleaners yet or an office needing staff or enough towels to fight over who’s going to wash them for the next day. And it’s easy to say these ideas don’t apply to me. But I’m telling you they might not apply to you yet, so don’t close off your ears. You’ll get there. Just keep putting one foot in front of the other, and when you get there – and you will – it will all make sense.

CBT: When, why and how did you get your start in the cleaning industry and with Maid My Day Brevard?

BL: It was Jan 18, 2011 – the day before my birthday, in fact. I had just left my job of six years, and I didn’t have a job to go to the next day. I met my brother to celebrate that evening, and was excited about what I had planned: continuing to grow The Lane Solutions Group, a consulting firm focused on helping small businesses with their accounting, risk management, and HR compliance to improve their profitability, something I’d been doing for a number of years and planned to expand into my own business.

But I also knew that I wasn’t going to be able to replace my full income quickly enough to continue supporting my family, so I floated the idea of cleaning and asked my brother if he knew anyone who’d been looking for a cleaner. And the next day – my birthday, a friend of his called me and hired me. So I went to Walmart, bought some supplies and showed up at this house, ready to work but not having too much idea of what I was doing, which is probably why it took me two days to clean it. This first job included things I wouldn’t dream of doing now, like washing and pressing drapes (included in the fee) and hosing down a bathroom in bleach and then having to run away because my eyes were burning.

Within 30 days, I had accumulated enough regular clients to hire my first employee, who lucky for me had twenty years of experience in the cleaning business and whom I knew from my childhood; she was critical in helping me learn the field and technical side of the industry – on the job, literally. And within 90 days, I had enough regular clients to add a second employee to the cleaning business.

But even with this success, I wasn’t excited about the idea of a cleaning company. What I still wanted to do was business consulting and had, by that 90 day mark, a good 30 hours a week of work consulting. And consulting remained my primary focus for the first 18 months, with the cleaning business continuing to grow slowly but steadily simply through me networking through my professional channels through The Lane Solutions Group, Extreme Gleam’s parent company, and organic word-of-mouth. But only with the cleaning business revenue could I generate enough money to cover payroll and support my family. So we cleaned all day, and I consulted at night, making an 18-hour day my normal workday and maximizing my earning potential.

CBT: What was the turning point for you to make your cleaning company your focus, and more importantly your passion?

BL: I have to give that credit to a confluence of events because they all happened at the same time. It was a year after I started Extreme Gleam and I got a direct mail piece from ARCSI about the 2012 ELC in Orlando and the HCT class with it. And that spring I met Bruce Vance and David Kiser along with Tom Stewart and Derek Christian, who later became my first cleaning business coaches through the Foundations of Success program.

It was then, among the 100 or so companies gathered, that I realized I had a legitimate business and started to turn my attention to actually running a growing cleaning company. Within six months of ELC – by the convention in Chicago that same year – I had let go of the consulting business and took a leap to Extreme Gleam.

CBT: Now wasn’t your company first called Extreme Gleam? What prompted you to change the name and rebrand your company?

BL: As I mentioned, a cleaning business wasn’t my first choice. I had opened The Lane Solutions Group and had a good business following my traditional interest and skills in business, primarily for my cleaning clients. But almost two years into operating and growing the cleaning business offshoot, I liked it and I was good at it, but the original name/brand didn’t reflect the new commitment I was ready to make to focus fully on the cleaning business. So I began the process of rebranding by re-incorporating The Lane Solutions Group to Maid My Day Brevard and completed the brand conversion in January 2015.

Our new brand reflects the core values of the entire company and is more obviously customer-focused. But personally, the name change represented my commitment to my cleaning business, to being in this with both feet and my whole heart and head. To have all of my crops in one garden and to grow where I’m planted. And outwardly, it helped me to more easily and clearly say “this is what I do.”

CBT: Your first year or so in business was challenged by some unique situations. What was your source of motivation, inspiration, and plain ole energy to work through them?

BL: On a basic level, I think there are two primary motivators every business owner has: putting food on the table and making payroll. But beyond that, I’ve always received a feed of energy from the people I work with – my staff and technicians – the people to whom I am responsible for creating a sustainable job. The more customers I took on, the more people I hired, the more skin I had in the game.

My second most important source of motivation comes from my fellow cleaning business owners, primarily those I’ve met through ARCSI and the Foundations network, especially Alberto Oliveira. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve called him up to tell him “I’m fed up” or “I quit” or “I don’t want to do this anymore.” And I’d never have come back to the other end of that – back to my business – without him and others helping me.

CBT: Just a little more than a year after opening your doors, you had your first full day “out of the field” on May 6, 2014. How did you do it and how did that feel?

BL: When it comes down to it, stepping out of the field was a risk, a leap of faith even knowing things weren’t perfect. And it’s one I have to take again every time there’s a crisis – too many call outs, overbooked, quality problems, etc. – and it would be only too easy for me to just drive out there and do it myself.

But the fact is that my clients can’t afford – literally, in dollars – for me to personally perform the cleaning day-to-day or even on a special jobs basis. Why? Because there is a limited supply of “me,” so I have a responsibility to my customers to ensure they are getting the best value out of my time for the price they pay:

  • developing staff in a way where they could deliver quality service without me standing over their shoulder
  • building enough reoccurring business where I could financially sustain my move out of the field
  • raising rates to reflect the value and competitiveness of my services
  • systematically and consistently training new employees – and not just technicians
  • adopting a single line of chemicals to simplify the learning curve and improve training efficiency
  • training customers to learn and comply with service policies (so that there’s a chance of office staff actually getting things done efficiently)

The key thing for me to remember was that my being “out of the field” wasn’t permanent; it wasn’t a move where I had to say “I will never clean a toilet again.” Rather it was a paradigm shift, a new way of thinking about myself as a leader and the face of my brand.

highest compliment ever received
CBT:
You’re on the front lines in Florida as the state attempts to manage some employment-related changes, namely workers compensation, and you’ve fought hard to maintain a direct employment structure. What have been some of the challenges and how have you been able to be profitable as a direct employer?

BL: This is such a multi-step process: reincorporating while keeping the ratings we’d built as The Lane Solutions Group. There’s the standard refiling of legal and tax paperwork, but what ultimately held up the launch of our rebranding publicly was the process and waiting period we had to endure to keep our workers compensation rating. We’d earned strong credibility by not having any claims against us and by paying on time.

And when I sat down with my agent about making this change, that’s when I learned how challenging the workers compensation market is for employers in the state of Florida. The likelihood of getting a new policy for the new corporation would be incredibly difficult and might even force me into leasing employees from a staffing agency until we could get coverage. But I could continue with my current corporation and policy until that policy had seasoned sufficiently to allow me to apply to the state of Florida to transfer the policy with its ratings to the new corporation.

The key to this whole process came down to one thing: developing a relationship with my insurance carrier. And before making any major changes, talk to them; that’s what your agent is there for. Use them as a consultant for your business; after all, that’s a big part of what you’re paying them for.

CBT: As you look forward to your fourth full year in business, what goals have you accomplished and what new ones are you looking forward to going after soon?

BL: To date, we’ve been in a sustained growth mode, relying on referrals and organic word of mouth to gain new clients; and that’s worked, netting us 65% growth in 2013. With our rebranding and my move into the office, I’m finally ready to open the valve on a real, strategically developed marketing program to raise brand awareness and generate leads for the business.

As I’ve put the finishing touches on a streamlined hiring and training system, we are today just slightly overstaffed and ready to turn on the marketing and get in the game, looking to field a third team full-time and a fourth team in development by the end of the year.

In some ways, it feels like we’re opening our doors for the first time – again.

Originally published March 5, 2015 at CleaningBusinessToday.com.
Posted in Business Articles, Content Marketing, Housekeeping

2013 Cleaning Convention Recap: Networking, Synergy, and Landmarks

600600p3069EDNmain705ribbon-cutting-615-x-350What you gain attending the annual cleaning convention is priceless. Taken together with the four associations who gathered in Las Vegas in November, the industry trends, association initiatives and major awards were uniquely uniting for the cleaning industry.

If ever there was proof that the cleaning industry is strong, large, and growing, the evidence could be found at the 2013 trade show and conventions in Las Vegas. Attendance records were broken, vendor participation was at an all-time high, and annual awards honored unsung heroes.

Centered around ISSA/INTERCLEAN 2013 were its three co-located conventions by IEHA – the International Executive Housekeepers Association, ARCSI – the Association of Residential Cleaning Services International, and BSCAI – the Building Service Contractors Association International. With each of these associations reporting record attendance, it’s no wonder the main trade show was packed for two-and-a-half days.

Trends in the Cleaning Industry
Within our ever-evolving industry, change is inevitable, but it’s the changes that catch on with the customers who demand quality and specialty service as well as the businesses who work together up and down the supply chain who really define the trends and challenges facing the cleaning industry at large.

Sustainability
The “green” movement has had its day and continues to enjoy a specialty following, but the lasting trend from that effort is one of sustainability: the balance between achieving our clean goals, rendering minimal negative impact on the natural environment, and operating a successful and profitable business.

Toward that end, many manufacturers launched or featured low-impact salt-based cleaner/sanitizers, including some designed for use by residential cleaning companies. The number of steam-based cleaning and disinfecting options is growing, and the availability of cleaning enzymes is expanding.

Aging Building Maintenance
More than once, the challenges of servicing the “aging building market” was a topic of presentation and discussion. For many years, cleaning was cleaning, with no standard body of knowledge or skills established. With construction remaining slow, rents rising, and businesses moving to older buildings, BSCs find themselves faced with a well-worn building where no amount of removing soil can make things shine the way they used to.

BSCs are faced with the conundrum of feeding into the “pretty and shiny = clean” consumer mentality or potentially losing out on contracts when maintenance or even renovation is the best choice for achieving the consumers’ end-goal appearance. For this reason, the multiple-solution bid is becoming more common, providing the opportunity to place the best option (whatever that may be) in a value perspective.

Mobile Business Solutions 
The number of online and mobile business solutions grows every year, so it was only a matter of time before technology-based solutions made their way into the cleaning industry. Mobile business solutions are major investments that empower cost-cutting savings in operations and support services. They make a huge, positive difference in margins. Online quoting tools and automated sales systems help land new clients. Customer satisfaction and survey tools help retain great clients. These mobile solutions also enhance efficiency in scheduling, creating work orders and dispatching field staff.

When you’re evaluating your existing solutions or looking for a new solution, be sure to check for mobile and cloud interfaces with coordinating products, including ISSA Innovation Award winner CleanTelligent Software for their mobile surveys and work orders. And be sure to check out our June article, which compares options for scheduling and field services software.

Trends Among Associations
Since 1998, ISSA has shared the annual ISSA/INTERCLEAN Show with at least one, and now three, co-located associations. Together they represent “customers” of the various manufacturer and distributor groups who comprise ISSA’s primary membership. And in those 15 years, IEHA, BSCAI and ARCSI have worked together with ISSA to empower growth within the industry at large and within their own constituencies.

IEHA executive director Beth Risinger commented that about 20 years ago, when she first reached out to ISSA, the leadership of other associations was skeptical of initiating a relationship between ISSA and a group considered its customers. But today, she and the leadership of ARCSI and BSCAI have forged strong friendships and an enormous business network. This strengthens the member companies of each group.

BSCAI opened its convention with a unique panel including leadership from BOMA – Building Owners and Managers Association, IREM – Institute of Real Estate Management, and IFMA – International Facility Management Association, along with the BSCAI President. Though the panel was focused on addressing important questions for building service contractors (BSCs), the conversation and its residual value spans the industry.

Our common cause is the delivery of exceptional products and services to the occupants of the spaces we build, manage, clean, and maintain. When we enter into business arrangements with this knowledge, knowing the mission and recognizing the value of our respective associations, we better benefit each other and ourselves. Specifically, we best benefit our end users by:

  • Cooperating and collaborating with members of related industry associations
  • Sharing mutually beneficial resources – bodies of knowledge, educational programs, and certifications
  • Engaging in informed supply chain relationships, which provides the best possible experience for end users
LANDMARK AWARDS

IEHA – ISSA Lifetime Achievement Award
Beth Risinger

beth-risinger-150-x-200This year’s Lifetime Achievement Award marks the 15th anniversary of the landmark and highly-successful partnership between ISSA and IEHA. And for the first time, IEHA participated in the selection process and presentation of the award. As the executive director of IEHA, Beth Risinger has grown that organization to the largest of the three association partners to ISSA. Together with ISSA, she has championed education, certification programs and the development of many leadership tools. She has authored Kip the Koala, the first coloring book for children about cleaning.

BSCAI Industry Service Award and ISSA Industry Distinguished Service Awards
Varsity Facility Services

Don-Aslett-and-Arlo-LukeTwo of the industry’s top service awards were granted this year to Founder Don Aslett and Board of Directors Chairman Arlo Luke, both of Varsity Facility Services. These two college friends started Varsity Facility Services over 55 years ago and have grown it into a powerhouse.

The company has interests in every area of the cleaning industry and has achieved several milestones. It was the first company to become CIMS Certified with Honors. In addition, Don Aslett is the founder and curator of the Museum of Clean, an historical collection of cleaning instruments and advertisements which serve as a testament to the role of cleaning in the evolution of society. In his award comments, Don asserted that, though “we’re still invisible” to many, he can always tell a professional cleaner by the sagging pants, where their keys have pulled them out of shape.

BSCAI Employee of the Year Award
Patrick Morgan

It’s not often that the heroes of the cleaning industry are known outside of their association, let alone outside of the company for which they work. But thanks to the power of our connected world, the tale of Patrick Morgan of Sunshine Cleaning Systems went viral in early 2013. So on November 20th, when Larry Calufetti, President of Sunshine Cleaning Systems, introduced Patrick for the BSCAI Employee of the Year Award, sponsored by Hillyard, Patrick was known, recognized, and appreciated for the example he sets for members of the industry, and also for consumers.

ARCSI President’s Award
Rachel Farquer, My Maid Service

rachael-150-x-200In its closing President’s Reception, ARCSI honored Rachel Farquer of My Maid Service, who in 2014 will become the majority owner and general manager of the company’s newest office in Dayton, OH. Having started off as an average cleaning technician, Rachel’s true talent in leadership and management was revealed when she transitioned to office work in the later months of a pregnancy. Today, at just 24 years old, Rachel is the first President’s Award recipient to have risen through the ranks of her employer’s company to become a majority owner.  Read Derek Christian’s nomination letter.

Through awards and the occasional viral video, members and companies in our industry continually advance the notion that “clean is a condition,” in the words of Don Aslett. With far more than just the four industry associations which convene with ISSA/INTERCLEAN each year, it is essential to remember that all are aiming toward the same ultimate goal: a strong and growing cleaning industry perceived as valuable by our society.

Originally published on December 2, 2013 at CleaningBusinessToday.com.
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, 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, Content Marketing, Housekeeping

Cleaning Up Your Networking Plan for Convention

600600p3069EDNmain692business card networking 300x250Networking – like any other business activity – requires a plan, measurement, and correction/improvement if you’re to be successful at it.

With over 16,000 people to meet at the annual ISSA/INTERCLEAN Trade Show and associated conventions for ARCSI, BSCAI, and IEHA, your post-convention tasks can stack up pretty quickly. It’s easy to get bogged down in turning new marketing strategies into a marketing plan for the next year. It’s even easy to make a list of all of your products, prices, and long-term costs and make some supply switches. But what usually gets lost in the melee is your follow-up networking. After all, the people you meet are the most constant and the most concrete resources you’ve acquired at the convention.

Networking is perhaps the single most effective tool you have toward meeting your business goals. Whether you are trying to buy a business to expand your empire, sell your business, add divisions and specialties toward diversification, solve a problem or exploit an opportunity, a healthy and thriving network offers you the opportunity to talk to experts on any issue you might have, especially business owners who have “been there; done that.”

Now before you begin to craft a networking plan, know upfront that networking is money-cheap but time-expensive. As you create your plan and work through each step, be careful to make choices that clearly benefit your business. Your time is expensive, and you want to be able to measure the ROI of your networking.

 

1. Start networking before the convention

Yes, your networking starts before you actually meet anyone. All of the organizations convening in Las Vegas next week provide a list of others who are exhibiting and sponsoring various events.

The key here is to think of the vendors not simply as suppliers. With many having more years in the cleaning industry than the average cleaning business, these vendors are rich resources. They work closely with cleaning contractors on a daily basis and spend their time developing solutions to custom projects and unique problems. And they are also humble; if they can’t give you the insight you are looking for, odds are they will know someone who can.

 

Of particular value is the ISSA app where you can browse the list of more than 690 vendors who will be showing at ISSA/INTERCLEAN. Using this app and the online schedules from the other associations, you can review vendors and presenters you’d like to meet. Reach out to them NOW and make appointments to meet, even if for only 15 minutes.

You may also be able to review a list of association members who are registered for the conventions; take a look at those names, think of who has been a thought leader on LinkedIn or other professional discussion boards, and reach out to make plans to meet those people as well.

 

2. Organize those names and contact information

Between business cards, flyers, presentation handouts, and random notes on napkins, receipts, and tiny slips of paper, sorting through the collection of new contacts can be daunting.

With each contact you gain, jot down a note on their card about how you think you might work with that person now or in the future at the time you meet him/her.

Later, you’ll be able to make priority piles based on when you think you’ll want to work with them: 3 months, 6 months, 12 months. A twelve month pile is as long as you want to go because, if they’re still around in 12 months, you should see them again next year at the convention.

 

3. Send each a personalized message

Set a schedule for sending out personalized messages to each of those contacts. For your 3-month pile, make it a priority to get that message out about 10 days after the convention ends. Why delay? You want to avoid getting caught in the pile of emails that stacked up while you were all at the convention together.

It’s equally as important to follow up quickly with the folks in your longer-term piles. You’ll want to establish and nurture a good relationship with those new contacts so that later when you’re ready to initiate a project together, you’ll be ready to hit the ground running.

So what should you write in these messages? Business writing expert Lynn Gaertner-Johnston offers a simple formula for that first message, one that is designed to promote continued dialogue:

  1. Mention the meeting and conversation – to jog their memory
  2. Refer to something specific from that conversation, especially something you want to make a mutually-beneficial activity
  3. Suggest a way to continue the conversation – a meeting, phone call, site visit, etc.
  4. Attach an article or include a link that supports and strengthens your connection
  5. Tell them what you will do next in relation to your connection

Click here for examples.

 

4. Connect in a variety of methods

It’s easy to get stuck in the electronic mode – connecting by email – but don’t forget that phone calls and even face-to-face with local representatives can lead to even richer networking opportunities.

  • Enter the contact into your address book – whether that’s manual or electronic
  • Connect on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and other shared platforms
  • Sign up for each other’s newsletters – yes, encourage even the vendors to sign up for your business’s newsletter to give them a way to keep up with your business without always having to call you and ask what’s going on.

What happens from there is largely dependent on the success of that first follow-up communication you sent out. Be sure to track those messages and continue to reach out when at first you don’t succeed:

  • Did the recipient respond?
  • Did the recipient respond in the way you asked or expected?
  • What is your next move?
  • Did you put it on your to-do list and your calendar with a deadline?

As with all business activities, a clear, decisive plan of action, a method for measuring success, and the opportunity for course correction and improvement are essential for networking to be successful…until next year’s convention when you’ll add a whole new group of new connections to your network!

Originally published November 12, 2013 at CleaningBusinessToday.com.