Don’t make the same mistakes I did when I was a cleaning service owner.

Once upon a time, I was a proud commercial cleaning service owner. I built it from the ground up with no previous industry experience and made it into something stable and growing. Though, this was long before the age of mobile phones and cleaning management software, we managed to run a fairly tight ship.

I am frequently asked why I got out of the business if everything was so good. That isn’t the focus of this post, but since you may be wondering, I’ll give you the highlights. After the economic crash in 2008, everyone seemed panicky, but we seemed insulated. We lost no business and in fact even grew a little. I got cocky. We just continued on like we had no concerns. Then in Q3 of 2009, a third of my business vaporized overnight. This was bad enough, but what really got me was one conversation in particular. The facility manager of one of our oldest customers called me in tears to inform me that they were going to have to discontinue our service. I was shocked. This was a large and very well established bank with numerous branches. I asked her who was going to clean for them and she told they were going to require the tellers to clean. This news was more than unsettling. If such a well-established bank was in that much trouble, I might be too.

Now, looking back, it’s clear I could have pulled through, but amazingly within two weeks, I met a guy who happened to be interested in buying me out. So I sold. Though I’m no longer a cleaning service owner, I’m left with 3 things I learned that might help you:

1. The Mañana Mentality

Everyone has habits and personality traits that could use improvement, and I am certainly no exception. One of my less productive habits is procrastination. I was instilled from childhood with a very strong work ethic. I can jump in there and stay at it until the sun goes down with no complaints and no breaks– just keep going until the job is done. Somewhere, however, as a cleaning service owner, I picked up the horrible tendency to delay what isn’t due today. This, coupled with a propensity for distraction (for example, I just spent 5 minutes looking at sites about container homes because the thought popped into my head), means that sometimes I leave tasks until I have to rush to finish them at the last minute.

This is bad and I recommend against it. Do whatever it takes for you to remain proactive and engaged. Don’t put off for tomorrow what you know needs to be done today. As a cleaning service owner, you don’t know what tomorrow holds and you might get overwhelmed with new demands. Create lists and schedules and work to stay ahead. A mañana mentality will ultimately leave you in a pickle!

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2. Is an Empty Pipeline Really a Pipeline?

I don’t really like sales. That is an unfortunate statement, having spent a substantial portion of my professional career in sales-related positions. I can do it and usually quite successfully, but I have to force myself, and that’s no fun.

When I was a cleaning service owner, it was very easy to allow the chaotic business of the day to overshadow the importance of keeping the sales pipeline full. That’s because I like solving problems more than selling. So I had a well-run organization, but one with relatively stagnant growth. If we lost a customer, we had to scramble to find a new client to fill the revenue gap. On the other hand, when I was diligent in making the effort to get out and knock on doors, we always had a steady stream of new business.

As a cleaning service owner, it’s not just about growing your business. A continuous sales effort is necessary to sustain what you have already achieved. No matter how good your service is, there will be losses over time. You have to be ready!

Cleaning Service Owner

3. Customer Service is Everything

We are all consumers. We have numerous options for most products and services and we can choose where to spend our money. Maybe the choice is driven by price, quality, or convenience, but there is one factor that often outweighs them all – the way the service makes you feel! Here’s how you can drastically decrease the likelihood that customers will leave. First, treat customers with respect and make them feel valued. Second, ensure that your product or service continuously exceeds expectation. Third, make customers feel like they’re paying for value. In addition to keeping your customers, the odds that they will recommend your service is improved. Companies have spent hundreds of millions of dollars to improve customer service because the evidence is clear. How you make your customer feel directly impacts your business!

Years from now when your company name comes up, what will be the client’s response? Will they roll their eyes and launch into a diatribe about why your service should never be used? Or, will they gush about how thoughtful and reliable you are?

The thing is, customers are willing to overlook small failures (even big ones) if they feel valued, respected, and heard. If they know you, as a cleaning company owner, have their back, they will have yours. I’ll give you a painful example with a positive outcome:

I once had a small government contractor as a customer. We had been cleaning their offices for about a year and made every effort to provide excellent service and be responsive and reliable. One day, I got a call from the owner. He informed me that when they arrived that morning they quickly realized that 5 computers were missing as well as numerous other items including thumb drives, printers, and monitors. To say that my stomach sank would be a colossal understatement. I almost threw up on my desk. While I had no idea what I was going to do about it, I told the customer I was on my way.


Cleaning Service Owner

On the drive over, my mind was racing and the scenarios in my head were getting worse by the moment. This was a government contractor! What if those computers contained sensitive information? This could ruin me!

When I arrived, I met with the owner and he gave me an accounting of all that was missing and, thankfully, informed me that no sensitive information was at risk. Though the cost was substantial for a small operation like mine, I immediately wrote him a check for the full amount of the lost equipment. This put us in the hole and it was several months before I could fully recover. However, this one action had profound long-term effects. Of course, I fired the employees responsible and filed charges. They were both arrested on unrelated charges, and the stolen equipment was never recovered.

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The amazing thing is that the customer didn’t fire me. In fact, years later, after they had landed several large contracts and become a major player in their market, they invited us to attend the grand opening for their new facility. The event was attended by the mayor, the governor, and many other local dignitaries. During the presentation, the company president referred to us by name and commended us on service and ethical business practices. He even suggested that we had contributed to their success. I was shocked that he even remembered, but the impact that relationship had on our business was real.

Sometimes as a cleaning service owner, you have the opportunity to do something big. More often, you have the opportunity to do little things. However big or small, if you treat your customers well, it will come back around to you in the long run. Don’t ever miss out on the chance to take care of your clients!