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September 2006
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November 2006

Never Give Up

I was on the phone talking with one of our members at The Janitorial Store about an order she had placed. During the conversation she asked if she could share her success story and of course I said yes, I'd love to hear your story.

She started out by telling me that she'd spent several years battling cancer, which is a success story in itself! After getting through that challenge, she needed to figure out what she could do to make a living. Someone had suggested she start a cleaning business because it's so easy (ok, for those of us in the business, we know it's NOT so easy!).

So like many people who start cleaning businesses, she looked under her kitchen sink, pulled out her cleaning bottles, loaded up her household vacuum cleaner and started her cleaning business. Somehow, through the school of hard knocks, she found her way and has now been in business for 11 years, grossing over $200,000 per year.

But this is not the end of the story. Recently, she lost a couple key accounts, which has put her business in a somewhat precarious position since she has employees that depend on her for their livelihood. The accounts were not lost due to poor service. In fact, they gave her a written reference!  The accounts were lost due to another company low-balling the price. In her area there are dozens of new cleaning businesses starting up every week so the competition is fierce. Another member who also lives in this area agreed that it's gotten very difficult to keep cleaning accounts when the "newbies" come in with such low prices.

Not to be deterred, our member is starting a new marketing campaign, utilizing new written referrals from customers, refreshed marketing materials, and pounding the pavement. I admire her perserverance, as many people would simply give up at this point and go back to working a regular job rather than struggling to keep their head above water.

I'm also reminded that we should never become complacent with regards to marketing our cleaning business. If you wait until you need the business, it might be too late. A better strategy is to market your business all the time - even when you think you don't need the business. You just never know when circumstances might change -- a customer might go out of business, or a new property manager might come in and replace you with a friend who has a cleaning business -- you just never know.

If you'd like to refresh your marketing strategy, then check out Marketing and Sales Success for Cleaning Companies. It just might give you some new ideas!

Five Lessons to Make You Think About the Way We Treat People

One of our members at The Janitorial Store shared the following. I don't know if the stories are true, but it sure makes you think...

1 - First Important Lesson - Cleaning Lady

During my second month of college, our professor gave us a pop quiz. I was a conscientious student and had breezed through the questions until I read the last one:

"What is the first name of the woman who cleans the school?"

Surely this was some kind of joke. I had seen the cleaning woman several times. She was tall, dark-haired and in her 50s, but how would I know her name? I handed in my paper, leaving the last question blank. Just before class ended, one student asked if the last question would count toward our quiz grade.

"Absolutely," said the professor. "In your careers, you will meet many people. All are significant. They deserve your attention and care, even if all you do is smile and say "hello."

I've never forgotten that lesson. I also learned her name was Dorothy.

Continue reading "Five Lessons to Make You Think About the Way We Treat People" »

Tips for Hiring Great Employees

A while back we had a discussion about the problems some cleaning companies have with employees who drag you and your company name down. It got me thinking about what we try to do in our cleaning business to avoid this and hire great people. Here's a list I came up with:

  1. Don't hire warm bodies. Too many employers (not just cleaning companies) get into a bind and hire anyone who fills out an application - big mistake that always comes back to bit you in the you know what. Ask lots of questions and find out about their work ethic. Have someone else interview them to get a second opinion.
  2. Have a policy manual and do a thorough orientation, which explains all the company policies, and do's and don'ts.
  3. Use a training program so everyone is trained the same. Have them sign off on the training program so they can't come back and say, "no one ever told me that!". This is why we developed our own training program. We found our supervisors weren't training consistently. Now they train everyone the same, covering everything we want them to cover.
  4. Follow up, follow up, follow up. Whether it's you personally or your supervisors. Once people are trained, you can't just leave 'em and forget 'em. People forget what they've learned so you need to remind them, point out what they're doing good and bad -- and don't just tell them about the bad - everyone needs a pat on the back once in a while.
  5. Find key people (supervisors or lead people) who have a good work ethic and a good attitude so they can help you manage things as you grow.
  6. Reward employees for excellent work. Give bonuses for perfect attendance, great walk-off's or whatever incentive you can think of. Conduct regular reviews and give them raises based on performance.
  7. Pay your employees well. Give them a reason to stick with you versus going to the competition because they pay a quarter an hour more than you do. The employees that have been with us a while are making a good wage.
  8. Talk to your employees and treat them with respect. If we don't treat our own employees with respect, how can we expect to elevate the reputation of this profession?

If you can train and manage your people effectively, then you can have a very successful business with a great reputation. You'll find that some of your employees will get to know your clients even better than you, so you want employees that will represent your business well.

Turning a Not-So-Profitable Job into a Profitable Account

One of our members at The Janitorial Store shared a story about a large floor job they recently did at a school. The previous contractor kept putting down coat after coat of sealer over a long period of time. Of course they didn't bother to clean up the floor before laying the new finish - they just wanted it bring the shine back - who cares how dirty the floor is underneath.

So it turned out that the job took much longer than anticipated and they ended up losing money on the deal. However, the client had never seen the floor look so clean - the difference between night and day! So they realized that the previous contractor was just making excuses, telling them that the floor would never come clean, that this is the best it would look.

The end result for our member is that they were given the entire account - regular cleaning plus floors  - and the previous contractor lost the account. So sometimes, even though we may have lost money on a job, going the extra mile to make sure the job is done right pays off.

The Janitor Didn't Do It!

Last week we received an email from the property manager of one of our accounts. He asked if I'd check into an email he received from an employee of one of the buildings we clean. She had emailed him about the refrigerator cleaning we had done the previous Friday. Once a month we clean the refrigerators and throw out any bags or containers left inside.

The employee had forgotten about the cleaning last week and had left a canvas bag that had sentimental value for her (her husband gave it to her on their honeymoon). So she admitted to "dumpster diving" in an attempt to find her bag. She then asked if the cleaning service really does throw out the stuff from the refrigerator, or do we take it home?  Jeez! Why would we want their grungy old food containers?  She said she couldn't find any trash bags that looked like it had trash from the refrigerator in it.

I called the property manager and explained that we do throw everything in the dumpster and it's against our company policy for our employees to take anything home that is to be thrown in the trash.

Fast forward to the next day. We received another email from the property manager. Apparently the employee went home and found her bag - it wasn't even in the refrigerator!  The good news is that she did apologize for the accusation.

Timing is Key When Prospecting New Cleaning Accounts

Many of our cleaning accounts are new office buildings. Some of them are the result of existing customers moving into a new building, and some of them are the result of having good timing. What do I mean by that?

As I drive around town I pay attention to any new buildings under construction. Sometimes there is a sign on the property letting me know what is being built, sometimes not. So I keep my eye on it. I also read the business section of the local newspaper. They're always good at reporting new construction projects and telling who is moving into the new location. If it's a project I might be interested in, I'll either make a call right away, or continue keeping my eye on it -- it depends on how far along the project is and whether or not I have a contact person who might know something more about the building.

If it's in the early stages of construction, it's usually too early to approach someone about the cleaning. They have way to much on their plate at this stage to start worrying about who is going to clean when the building is done. That doesn't necessarily mean I'm going to just sit and wait. I'll start doing more research at this point. Do I know someone from the company that I can contact? Who else might I know who could tell me more about the building so I can get a conversation started?

If the building is an expansion project, then most likely they already have an office in town. That's always a good place to start. Find out who the contact person is and see if you can make that first "touch". You might find out that they already have a cleaning company in place who will be moving to the new site with them. But you might also find out that they do want to take bids, even though they have an existing cleaning company. If they're not particularly happy with the existing cleaning service, this is always a good excuse to put bids out for a new service. It's a "nice" way of getting rid of a mediocre cleaning service.

If I haven't had any luck with connecting with someone, then I'll wait until the building is further along in the construction process (the outside is done and they're working on the inside). This is when I'll stop by the property and start asking questions. Many people hesitate to do this, but I've always had success at finding the right contact person for the project by going to the constructionn site.

Last year I was keeping my eye on a large bank under construction. When I stopped in the contact person happened to be there, and so I asked her if she'd given any thought to who she was going to hire for cleaning the building. My timing was perfect, as she'd just started thinking about this. In another situation, I was a little early in my approach, but the contact person kept my information and had his assistant contact me a few weeks later when he was ready to talk about cleaning.

When you take this approach, you'll quickly pick up on the timing of projects in your area and the best time to approach them about their cleaning service. This is a great way to find new clients, especially if you live in an area that's growing fast.

Recommended Reading for Cleaning Companies

Every business owner should be a life-long learner. This doesn't mean you have to go to school, although taking a class once in a while is always a good thing. Attending workshops, reading trade magazines, reading books related to your niche, sales books, and self-improvement books are all ways that we, as entrepreneurs, can become life-long learners.

In the cleaning business, sales is always a big concern. Many people know how to do the work, but they struggle with selling their services. I'm a big fan of Jeffrey Gitomer's sales books because he really tells it like it is. And he's right on the money. Here are some of his books that I highly recommend:

  • Knock Your Socks Off Selling, by Jeffrey H. Gitomer & Ron Zemke
  • The Sales Bible, by Jeffrey H. Gitomer
  • The Little Red Book of Selling, by Jeffrey H. Gitomer
  • The Little Red Book os Sales Answers, by Jeffrey H. Gitomer