Do your cleaning contracts have what it takes to make it through an economic collapse? If you’re counting on the legally binding aspects of an agreement to see you through, you’re in trouble.

Cleaning contracts, like any contracts, are based on our system of laws. When you sign a contract to buy a car, for example, you are committing to paying a certain sum of money every month for the next several years. In return, the car dealership guarantees that the car is in good working order, is legally theirs to sell to you, and comes with free maintenance for three years or 36,000 miles (whichever comes first).

Your cleaning contracts aren’t that different. Your client is committed to paying you in return for janitorial services. That’s just what’s on the surface, though. Like a layer of dust on an old piano, there’s a lot more under the surface. Here are some classic examples of the most famous of all contracts: the Faustian deal.

Legend has it that the great blues guitarist Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil in exchange for his talent. In an episode of The Simpsons, Homer sells his soul to the devil for a donut. And in the original 15th-century German folktale, a man named Faust trades his soul for power and knowledge. These deals with the devil are abundant in folklore and even modern stories. There’s always a catch, though.

In most of the stories, something in the contract is amiss. The protagonist finds a loophole (in The Simpsons, Homer can’t sell his soul because he gave it to his wife Marge, thereby nullifying the contract), or the devil discovers a way to get his prize (the soul) much earlier than anticipated.

In terms of your cleaning contracts, though they are legally binding, they are often not as clear cut as they seem. And there is still a lot of room to carry out the details of a contract in a way that is either ethical and forward-thinking, or in a way that may be legal, but won’t win you any repeat business.

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Cleaning Contracts

What to do with your cleaning contracts during a recession

It’s understandable that you worry about the financial health of your business in a time of economic stress. Any hardships your customers face can quickly impact you. They may find themselves cutting back on expenditures wherever possible, including janitorial services.

That comes with a caveat, though. Let’s talk about the extensive business shutdowns and municipal lockdowns from the COVID-19 pandemic. Even though the state of New York required the closure of many businesses, those deemed essential services (including “building cleaning and maintenance”) could remain open. In fact, essential businesses “must continue to comply with the guidance and directives for maintaining a clean and safe work environment.” In other words, even though some of your clients may want to discontinue cleaning services, others are required to keep their premises clean and disinfected.

Many of these businesses, either in a pandemic shutdown or any other recession slowdown, will struggle to keep their doors open. Like you, they’re going to do what they can to stay afloat. But what if they have a contract with you and want to renegotiate or put the deal on hold?

What to do when your clients want to renegotiate or put a deal on hold

You can look at this short-term, and require them to stick to the contract. Legally, this could be an acceptable approach (although this would be an excellent point to mention that we are a janitorial software company and not lawyers, so proceed with that in mind). That would keep money flowing into your business for the length of the cleaning contracts.

The downsides of this are many. There is a possibility that the business you contract with will shutter, in effect making the contract void. In a best-case scenario, the business stays open, you continue to provide cleaning services to them, and when the contract ends? That’s it. The chances of them renewing a contract with you are minimal. Beyond that, you can be sure they’ll share with all their friends how difficult you are to work with.

Alternatively, you can focus on the long-term. Suspend your cleaning contracts with businesses that are struggling. Offer a reduced rate for minimal services. See if you can arrange to cut back on the number of appointments with them. Yes, this approach will cut into your revenue. It will also build loyalty and strengthen relationships with your customers. The choice is yours.

Now, as far as setting your cleaning contracts up in a way that will survive in a recession?

5 Things you can do right now to recession-proof your cleaning contracts

1. Focus on your team

Happy employees create happy customers. It’s a simple truth. When you take care of your employees, they will take care of your customers, and your customers will take care of you.

2. Reach out to your customers

Cleaning contracts are more than just a piece of (digital) paper; they are relationships. How are your customers doing? What can you do to support them? Pick up the phone and call. It will mean more than you realize.

3. Do NOT skimp on quality

Your customers will notice, even if you think they won’t.

4. Expand your offerings

Some professional organizations like ISSA offer certification training. You and your team could add to your skillset (and your marketing potential) by taking courses and getting certified in anything from Health and Safety to Coronavirus Cleaning.

5. Start an email newsletter

If you don’t already have one, a regular newsletter is a great way to keep your clients up to date on your expanded offerings, what steps you’re taking to help them, and to remind them how a clean environment can help keep their customers happy and cut down on employees sick days.

Remember, a recession is tough for everyone involved. The bottom line is that if you treat your customers the best you can, they will return the favor, either through continued business or referrals (or both!).

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