Posted in Business Articles, Small Business Tips

5 Ways to Win the Game of Reviews

online reviewsCleaning up your customer service and your quality procedures are key to getting great reviews online – and upgrading the not-so-good ones.

In March 2014, it looked like the online review landscape might be changed when Joe Hadeed, owner of Hadeed Carpet Cleaning, won a suit against Yelp that would require Yelp to release the legal identities of seven anonymous reviewers who had posted reviews that could not be matched with actual customer services provided.

The ruling was later overturned on a technicality because Hadeed could not show definitively that the anonymous reviewers were not customers; their names or service addresses were not available to be compared with Hadeed’s customer records.

And so began the saga that led to more lawsuits from businesses against Yelp and other online review sites/services where, many suspect, there are more purchased reviews than organic ones. The sheer volume of lawsuits against Yelp alone that Prost Productions, Inc., has successfully raised funding for a documentary Billion Dollar Bully investigating Yelp’s alleged transgressions.

But if Yelp’s recent food delivery acquisition is any indication, Yelp is headed for direct battle with Google and Amazon in the online marketplace arena, far beyond the game of reviews.

The Question: Is buying (good or bad) reviews unethical?

Business and technology lawyer Joy Butler (link: explains, “Not only is buying reviews an unethical business practice, it is illegal and can lead to significant punitive monetary damages leveled against you by the government. In one case, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) penalized Legacy Learning Systems $250,000 to settle FTC charges that the company paid affiliate marketers to pose as independent consumers and write glowing online reviews about the company’s products. Posting negative reviews about a competitor’s business could lead to lawsuits alleging things like libel and product disparagement.”

While creating and posting positive reviews for your company may initially seem like a good marketing technique,” Butler continues, “it can be an expensive mistake. The Federal Trade Commission’s Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising Prohibitions specifically prohibit such online shilling. If you pay anyone for endorsing or recommending your company’s services, the law expects you to disclose such compensation. This even includes bloggers and other social media types to whom a company might give free company products in the hopes of favorable blog and social media mentions. The FTC regards those freebies as compensation and expects that compensation to be disclosed in any resulting online reviews.

The First Amendment versus The Internet

Despite the fact that buying reviews is illegal – whether good ones for your own business or bad ones for a competitor – the fact remains that it’s so easy and fast to do that the legal system’s ability to track and catch perpetrators is strained.

Why? Because “the Internet” empowers the creation of new options and opportunity faster than laws and legal loopholes can keep up.

At this time, the law cannot compel a website like Yelp to reveal the identities of reviewers who wish to remain anonymous. And without clear evidence that an anonymous review is made by someone who is not a consumer of the services about which the review is written, the court is obligated to protect the reviewer’s First Amendment right to freedom of speech, even anonymously.

Amazon Fights Back

In April 2015, Amazon filed suit against California resident Jay Gentile as well as several anonymous owner/operators of “reviews for purchase” websites, several specifically aimed at securing reviews for product listed on Amazon’s open marketplace.

Bobsled Marketing owner and consultant Kiri Masters works with a number of companies with products listed for sale on Amazon; she offers these insights about the practice of review purchasing:

  • Customer reviews are critical to sales conversion on product pages. One of my clients who had only two reviews across their product listings recently ran a promotion to encourage genuine customer reviews; now their sales are around $1,000/week
  • Amazon’s terms of service defer to the FTC’s requirement for persons receiving a product for free to disclose it as such in their reviews. Most reviewers comply with this requirement, so it should. It is interesting to note however that when a brand is generously giving away their product for free, few testers will give it a poor review, opting instead to attempt to resolve it with the brand.


Masters notes that the ethics of giving products away for free in exchange for a usually-favorable review is murky, even when the reviewer is careful to disclose this fact in their review.

5 Steps to Earning Positive Organic Reviews

With Amazon Home Services – including cleaning services – expanding rapidly since its launch earlier in 2015 and Google expected to follow with its own online marketplace and reviews plugged in, the Amazon lawsuit is being closely watched by all stakeholders in the review industry.

But what we know is that consumers rely on what appear to be objective reviews by fellow service recipients to determine not just with whom they actually spend money but often whom they even visit your website with your credentials and amazing testimonials or call for a conversation first.

For business owners choosing to steer far clear of any hint of wrong-doing, continue developing your quality control procedures and metrics as well as your customer loyalty-building initiatives:

  1. Train thoroughly
  2. Inspect and quality check pro-actively
  3. Anticipate and respond to complaints quickly and positively
  4. Wow each customer
  5. Ask happy customers for reviews periodically

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 11, 2015 at

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, 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
Posted in Business Articles, Small Business Tips

4 Ways to Keep Your Best Employees

motivating millennials at workIn an industry with 300% turnover, having concrete actions for inspiring and keeping your best employees is the best cost-saving hack you can get.

It’s been the plight of the business owner for eons: these younger workers just don’t have the work ethic, the professional attitude, the loyalty to do quality work, make customers happy, and stick around long enough for me to make some money.

And the chant is growing louder as the largest generation in history is already edging out older workers. They’ll work cheaper, and that appeals to business owners trying to keep costs down and prices competitive. But these millennial workers seem to have different expectations of “work” and “advancement” that can make them appear transient, unreliable.

Employee culture and engagement expert Sandy Geroux offers these four ways business owners and managers can better communicate with and motivate millennial workers.

What motivates Millennial employees is the same thing that motivates all employees: respect. However, the difference is in how actions are perceived by the different generational groups, and how certain things come across as disrespectful, even when no disrespect is intended. Here are 4 ways Xer and Baby Boomer bosses can change the way they interact with Millennials that will help lessen perceived disrespect and encourage millennials to comply, engage and feel loyalty to their leaders:

1. Explain the Why – Not Just the What

While Boomers and Xers are often satisfied with an answer of “I don’t know,” Millennials want to know the answer to everything… immediately! They have grown up in an age where the answer to almost anything is literally at your fingertips at any moment via the Internet.

Boomers and Xers had to work harder and wait longer for answers because they often had to research answers in printed books, encyclopedias, and other resources – which many times they didn’t possess, so they had to (gasp!) drive to a library, or call and ask a librarian to research it for them. Thus, they were used to having to forge ahead without ALL the answers in their possession.

Millennials don’t want to do anything without the answer to the question “Why?”. So explaining the “why” behind the policy, rather than simply telling them what the policy is, will inspire them to comply of their own free will because it makes sense to them.

Remember that when someone decides to do something, it has to be for his/her own reasons, not yours; and if they don’t know the why, there is no reason to do it.

2. Ask for Their Input

Millennials are the most socially-oriented generation ever. They love to discuss things, get advice, and offer it in return. In fact, if they are not asked for their advice, they feel disrespected, as though their opinion doesn’t matter and the person making a
decision that affects them doesn’t feel they have anything valuable to offer.

While this didn’t feel disrespectful to previous generations because that’s just the way it was in the past, it does feel disrespectful to this generation where everything is socialized before being acted upon. In addition, Millennials also place much more emphasis on their peers’ opinions than on their elders’ views; thus, they will respect someone much more if that person asks for their input, especially if the decision involves or affects them.

Again, the “why” comes into play, so at least hear and acknowledge their opinions on the matter. They’ll feel less like a policy is being rammed down their throats without input, and you’ll gain buy-in more easily. However, this also means that if you don’t take their advice, you MUST at least let them know you heard it, as well as the reasons why it is not possible, at least right now.

3. Help Them Learn and Grow

Millennials have grown up in a learning environment, so it comes very naturally to them. Therefore, giving them opportunities to continue to learn and grow are vitally important.

They will not stay or engage in a workplace where there is nowhere for them to go, where there are no opportunities to improve themselves and build a foundation for later success in their career and their life.

These opportunities include job training, leadership and other soft skills training, as well as mentoring from their leaders at various levels who can offer advice and guidance on their careers, mindsets, and other important life- and career-related skills.

4. Take an Interest In Them

No one will go to the wall for a leader who acts as though their people are just another number. If leaders don’t take the time to find out the first clue about their people – and also don’t let their people get to know them, why would their people care about the leader or the organization?

Remember, people don’t work for organizations; they work for people. So, start engaging with them. Ask about their lives, joke with them occasionally, share your hobbies, find out the names of their significant family members. You don’t have to be best friends with them, but you do have to at least look like someone they would want to be friends with.

The best way to eliminate the Us vs. Them mentality is to let them know just how like their leaders they really are.

Originally published on July 28, 2015 at
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

Posted in Business Articles, Small Business Tips

New Overtime Rule Will Cost You Money

overtimeIf your staff make less than $1000/week, you’ll now have to pay them overtime – even salaried employees.

If a new overtime pay rule proposed by the President and presented by the US Department of Labor on Tuesday, June 30th, is adopted, cleaning business owners will be looking at an even more complex compensation calculation system – even for salaried employees.

Here’s how it breaks down:

  • hourly workers who gross $1000/week or less would be eligible for overtime pay
  • salaried workers who gross $50,440/year or less would be eligible for overtime pay


It’s easy to assume that the 5 million hourly workers in the US are rejoicing at this news, but other supporters include various labor unions known to advocate for higher wages in general, specifically the AFL-CIO.


It’s easy to assume that employees will rejoice, but you might be surprised by some of the opponents of this change:

National Retail Foundation: “Overtime expansion would drive up retailers’ payroll costs while limited opportunities to move up into management.” and “most workers would be unlikely to see an increase in take-home pay, the use of part-time workers could increase, and retailers operating in rural states could see a disproportionate impact.”

National Federation of Independent Businesses: “rule will be especially tough for small businesses in small markets.”

National Restaurant Association: “it seems as if these proposed rules have the potential to radically change industry standards and negatively impact our workforce.”

What YOU Can Do

  1. Read the bill in its original and entirety; avoid forming opinions based solely on others’ interpretation of the bill and proposed changes.
  2. Register your comments here by September 4th, the end of the required 60-day public comment period. Please note that your comments will become public record and cannot be filed anonymously.
  3. Compose and post your comments to the office listed in the bill (link above, instructions on page 2).


Originally published July 1, 2015 at

Posted in Business Articles, Small Business Tips

6 Processes Your Cleaning Business Should Automate This Summer

mobile business automationFor a first foray into technology-supported automation, these common processes in a cleaning business are a great place to start.

Technology is an amazing tool which any business can use to begin improving efficiency, but only if the basis processes, procedures, and policies have been created to govern the decision-making that drives the systems. For a first foray into technology-supported automation, these common processes in a cleaning business are a great place to start:

1. Time Tracking

As the IRS requires you to track both job time and travel time towards calculating overtime rates (which often change weekly), time tracking is a daily task that can easily get lost in the paperwork. Some of the traditional maid service scheduling applications offer some form of field time tracking options, though you may want to consider independent time tracking apps before committing to a larger system.

2. Mileage Tracking

Because employers must pay technicians for their travel time, it’s in your best interest (and bank balance) to monitor both mileage and travel time to make sure you keep it to a minimum; that’s where mileage tracking (aka GPS tracking) applications can increase the reporting accuracy and help you keep labor costs down.

3. Blogging

Content marketing continues to dominate the SEO strength and search rankings of websites, and a weekly blog is one of the easiest ways to accomplish this. But it can be a pain to remember to stop and write and post once a week. Use a blog scheduler to help you out so that you can dedicate a smaller block of time once a month to writing and scheduling 4-5 posts for the month that support any specials or themes, and then just “set it and forget it.”

4. Social Media

As with blogs, there are many free applications that let you schedule social media posts ahead of time so that you can make that a weekly or even a monthly task. Keep in mind, though, that you’ll still need to monitor your social media sites daily to respond to comments, client contact messages, and reviews (if you have that feature enabled).

5. Email Autoresponders

If you’re using email marketing, hopefully you are using an email management system that complies with CAN-SPAM. And if you are, then check the additional features for an autoresponder option. With this, you can program an automatic response sequence when a contact hits reply to specific emails or newsletters. It’s a great way to set up and test out your first automated nurture campaign, which is a commonly used feature of larger automation systems.

6. File Sharing

The first time you bring on even a part time office staff member, you’re going to need to share information and files and programs and passwords with that person. A great way to do this without investing in an expensive and complex office network is to use an online file-sharing service, many of which are free.

In general, these are single-task solutions, which are a great way for a company in the beginning stages of bringing on cleaning technicians (time tracking and mileage tracking), launching its online presence (blogging, social media, and email autoresponders), or adding a first office staff member (file sharing).

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 on June 30, 2015 at

Posted in Business Articles, Small Business Tips

Growing with Technology: From Ledger Books to Online Bookkeeping

accounting and bookkeeping at homeAdopting a tech-based solution for your business doesn’t mean you have to abandon your back-ups.

Growing up, my family – which includes my mom’s parents and her sister’s family – took a month-long “vacation” from Sunday dinner from March 15 – April 15 every year. Why? Because my grandfather, a retired military accountant for the Veterans Administration, spread his entire tax kit out across the three dining tables in my grandparents’ home, leaving us nowhere to sit our 12-person gathering. And when my grandmother opened her business in 1982, my grandfather added her business bookkeeping and accounting to that process.

Setting the Standard: Ledger Book Accounting

He’d already spent 1 full day each month meticulously organizing, cataloging, and entering each credit and debit into a practice ledger and then, once satisfied that it couldn’t be more correct, into the official old-school ledger book by hand. But then he’d spend a full month re-tallying everything in the practice sheets, and again in the official month-to-month ledger book before embarking on his annual pilgrimage. That’s what I learned to call it as a child because he spent so much time talking loudly to God, and not always using his nice words.

That pilgrimage took him through the annually revised tax code, completing every possible permutation of deductions so that he could figure out the minimum he owed the government. You see, he and my grandmother made a magnificent business team: she analyzed consumer and market trends and selected the investments and he served as her financial backer and accountant. They always owed taxes as the end of the year but were determined to pay as little as possible.

Building on a Traditional System: First Bookkeeping Software

My grandfather’s system worked so well that he passed it along to my mother, who applied the same redundant (that’s a good thing in accounting, by the way) bookkeeping and accounting system to her business, which she sold in 2011, and continues to use as her base system for managing her own personal accounting.

But while she continued to apply those fundamental GAAP accounting systems to keep everything straight, I was able to convince her in 1996 to start using Microsoft Money to keep better track of her business’s regular bookkeeping and monthly, quarterly, and annual reporting; after all, it came free with her first box-style desktop computer and back then, no one even considered using a professional system like the early Quickbooks for home use.

That first year when she was able to turn in her year-end financials to her CPA for the business taxes, he bought her season tickets for the local college football team. Yep! It was that big a deal to him to have his business clients make the transition from all of that paper that had to again be entered by hand and calculated and corrected in his system before it could be turned into tax statements. But to receive an electronic file on that 3.25” floppy was like winning the lottery, making it easy and time efficient to run the taxes and make room for even more clients and his own business growth.

But that didn’t stop my mom from continuing in her father’s footsteps. The last and first day of each month is a tricky time to call her still and we never have family dinners then because, like her father, she spreads all of the statements and receipts out on the dining table and gets to work – every month without fail.

In 2009, when Microsoft announced that it was no longer developing or supporting Microsoft Money, well, that wasn’t a good day. And since you can no longer download the original program (there’s a replacement program), my mom spends a lot of time and energy keeping her laptop in good shape because when it goes, she’ll have to grow with it to a new accounting package.

The Value in Redundant Bookkeeping

Though she no longer does the bookkeeping for her own business, she now volunteers as the bookkeeper for several small charitable organizations. And when her laptop went kaput, she lost two years of electronic records for those organizations.

After she recovered from heart-stopping fear, she gleefully shot me – her tech-happy daughter – a big, fat “I told you so.” Naturally, I’d given her a lot of grief over keeping ledger books and doing so much work every month when she could just keep it on the computer once.

But if she hadn’t had those laboriously organized and cataloged ledger books, she wouldn’t have been able to recreate the missing two years in a new program to pass on to her successors in those organizations.

The Apple Doesn’t Fall Far

So I’ll let you in on a little secret. For all that I’ve abandoned pencil, paper, and calculator in favor of a cloud system when I do my own personal weekly reconciliation, I’ve got every statement and every receipt neatly organized in an 13-slot accordion file and tucked away in my home office. Just In Case!


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 on June 16, 2015 at

Posted in Business Articles, Small Business Tips

3 Ways You’re Doing Facebook All Wrong

Facebook marketing the right wayStop doing these three things to improve your return on engagement.

With every marketing guru adamant that a cleaning business must have a Facebook Page to facilitate growth, the internet is flooded with advice on what “to do” to get the most out of Facebook. But here are three things you want to avoid doing on Facebook if you want the best ROE (return on engagement) out of your social media strategy:

1. Stop Hashtagging on Facebook

View infographicPost view and engagement statistics show that Facebook posts without hashtags perform more than 50% better than posts with hashtags. More than that, the more hashtags you add to a Facebook post, the less likely it is to be seen. Why? Facebook has never truly embraced the hashtag from Twitter, which it sees as competition.

If you are dedicated to the hashtag, focus your social media efforts on Twitter and Instagram – but only as long as your strategy is netting you followers that you are able to send to your website and convert into customers. Just because you like hashtags and Twitter doesn’t mean your target consumers do. Make sure you play their game in their playground to make the most of your social media strategy.

2. Stop Posting Videos Directly to Facebook

It’s tempting – oh, so tempting – to take the easy route when you’ve snagged a super cool video of your techs doing something cool like hallway swimming and upload it directly to Facebook. It’s quick; it’s simple.

But it doesn’t support your online presence. Remember, the core of your online existence is your website. Everything else you do online – on any social media platform, on review sites, with lead generators, with contests – must lead your prospects to your website (where presumably you have great sales conversion calls to action).

So when you post a video straight to Facebook, you lose the opportunity to drive traffic to your website or otherwise boost your SEO. Instead, take the extra time – literally minutes – to post that video to your company YouTube channel (which you’ve connected to your website); that way you can add a card to your video, program in some keywords and phrases, and make it searchable – independent of your share to Facebook, which is still an awesome idea!

3. Stop Posting ONLY About Cleaning

Cleaning may be the only thing you think about and talk about during the business day, but it’s not likely to be the only interest in your life. The same applies to the community of followers and fans you’re trying to grow and cultivate through your social media channels. So make sure your posts appeal to all of the aspects of life of your most common target markets.

If you’re currently shooting in the dark with your topics or are posting exclusively on cleaning topics, consider this strategy: make a list of the 10 most common features of the majority of your current clients: have pets, have kids, military families, sports fans, stuff like that. Make that your 2-week rotational pattern for your daily posts. When followers see you connecting with something they care about, that’s when they Like, Comment, and Share posts, and that’s what you’re looking for in your ROE (return on engagement).

When you use the information at your fingertips to take stronger control of what you can do to create a fan following, you’ll see a higher ROE. And then you’ll be better able to connect your ROE and your ROI as the connections between community engagement and sales becomes clearer.

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 on June 11, 2015 at

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 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 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”

Where Cleaning Business Today is a premier information and news outlet for growing and established cleaning businesses in the US, and 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, 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