Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Start Up Secrets, Employees & Niche Add-Ons For The Entrepreneur

Keep your eye on the economy. As long as things get dirty, there'll be a need for professionals to clean them. But economic changes can mean changes in your market.
13 Secrets for Making Your Cleaning Business a Success: This excerpt is part of's Second-Quarter Startup Kit which explores the fundamentals of starting up in a wide range of industries. In Start Your Own Cleaning Service, the staff at Entrepreneur Press and writer Jacquelyn Lynn explain how you can launch a profitable cleaning service, whether you want to offer maid services, janitorial services, carpet and upholstery cleaning, and more. In this edited excerpt, the authors offer words of wisdom from owners of successful cleaning businesses on what you need to do if you want to succeed in the cleaning industry. Nothing teaches as well as the voice of experience. So we asked established cleaning service owners to tell us what's contributed to their success and what they think causes some companies to fail. Here are their tips:

1. Never stop learning. The cleaning industry may not be the most glamorous or complex, but established business owners say there’s always something to learn. Technology advances affect the equipment you use, safety issues affect the chemicals you clean with, and there will always be ways you can enhance your organizational and managerial skills. Read industry publications, go to meetings and conventions, participate in trade organizations, and encourage your suppliers to keep you up to date.

2. Tap all your resources. A wide range of associations serves various aspects of the professional cleaning industry. These groups can help with operational, marketing and management issues. Many state and government agencies also offer support and information for small businesses.

3. Clean it like it’s your own. Regardless of what you’re cleaning and whether you’re doing traditional housecleaning, janitorial work, or providing a specialty cleaning service, clean like you’re cleaning your own home or office.

4. Develop systems. Systems provide a structure that allows you to work consistently and efficiently, and also let you create a company that will continue to run whether you’re there or not. Create systems for every function: cleaning, laundry, supervision, reporting, customer service, accounting and management.

5. Be careful! Though time is your most valuable commodity, don’t rush so much that you get careless. Customers will usually understand when accidents happen, but you’re better off if you don’t have to fall back on that. Also, the cost to repair or replace something--in out-of-pocket cash, time lost and damaged customer relations--is usually far more than the time you might save by working carelessly.

6. Don’t undersell yourself. When you’re starting out, you may be tempted to try to undercut the competition’s prices. A better strategy is to simply outperform them by providing quality work.

7. Take care of your employees. Your employees are critical to your success; after all, it’s the quality of their performance that determines whether your customers are satisfied. Look for ways to make them want to do their best. Train them well, don’t micromanage, and treat them with respect. Provide bonuses and incentives for top performance, and consider offering perks such as letting them use company equipment in their own homes.

8. Find a niche. Don’t try to be all things to all people; pick the market you can best serve, and focus on that. For example, if you choose to service smaller office buildings, you may not be able to provide quality work at a profitable price level to larger facilities. Excel in what you’re doing and build consistency in the services you provide. When you try to serve too many markets, you won’t be successful in any of them.

9. Develop your computer skills. You need to be as skilled with your computer as you are with a mop or buffer. The cleaning business may not be particularly high tech, but you don’t have time to do estimates, billing, payroll, inventory control and other record-keeping by hand.

10. Track labor costs. The biggest single expense you have is labor, and you must stay on top of it. If you aren't watching your labor costs every day, they'll get away from you. Compile a daily over and under report, which makes it easy to spot trends before they become major issues. If labor is on the increase, figure out where the problem is. Is the customer asking for extra services you aren’t charging for? Did you underestimate the time it would take to do the work? If you’re under on your labor estimates, make sure your employees are providing the quality you’ve promised.

11. Invest in customer service. The quality of your cleaning is important, but it’s not everything. Building strong relationships with your clients requires a serious commitment to customer service. Don’t assume that just because the work looks satisfactory to you that it is to your customers--or that there’s nothing else they want or need. Be sure to follow up with them consistently to find out how things are going.

12. Keep your eye on the economy. As long as things get dirty, there'll be a need for professionals to clean them. But economic changes can mean changes in your market. Residential cleaning services, for example, are often seen as luxuries, and an economic downturn could affect your customers’ willingness and ability to pay to have their homes cleaned. When business profits shrink, companies look for ways to cut expenses, which means they may examine their budgets for services that can be reduced or eliminated.

Also consider how the world economy can impact your profitability. If oil prices skyrocket, you’ll have to spend more to operate your vehicles, and your general utility costs will probably increase. When the cost of lumber goes up, so does the cost of bathroom tissue, paper towels and other disposable paper products you provide to your customers. You may be able to pass along some of those costs, but don’t depend on a thriving economy to keep your business profitable. Have plans in place so you can shift your market focus if necessary.

13. Don’t take every job. If you can’t make money on a job, or if the work is undesirable for any reason, turn it down. It’s better to focus your time and energy on profitable work you enjoy.

Pressure washing can be added to an existing cleaning business or operated as an independent company for a modest initial investment.
Start These 8 Niche Cleaning Businesses: This excerpt is part of's Second-Quarter Startup Kit which explores the fundamentals of starting up in a wide range of industries.

In Start Your Own Cleaning Service, the staff at Entrepreneur Press and writer Jacquelyn Lynn explain how you can launch a profitable cleaning service, whether you want to offer maid services, janitorial services, carpet and upholstery cleaning, and more. In this edited excerpt, the authors describe eight cleaning services you can either run as an independent business or add to your existing cleaning service.

In addition to the more common cleaning services, there are niche cleaning businesses to consider, either as stand-alone operations or as companion businesses to your primary cleaning company. These specialty services require varying levels of training, skill and equipment, and you’ll need to do additional research on the areas that interest you.

1. Window cleaning. While some residential cleaning and janitorial services clean windows as part of their service, windows are a cleaning industry specialty. If you like working outside and don’t mind heights, window cleaning could be the perfect opportunity.

It’s a good idea to start your window cleaning service by targeting one- and two-story office buildings, storefronts and homes. As you become established and your skill level increases, you can expand to taller buildings. High-rise window cleaning requires an extra level of skill to ensure the health and safety of above-ground workers. You’ll need a controlled descent system for access to exterior high-rise windows.

2. Disaster cleaning and restoration. Many carpet cleaning and janitorial service companies do disaster cleaning and restoration for their customers, but this is a specialty area in its own right. You’ll need special knowledge in fire, water and smoke damage cleaning and restoration.

Once you’re trained, you can work with insurance adjusters and other contractors to provide all or part of the services needed. The Restoration Industry Association [ENT.COM: PLEASE LINK TO] offers training programs to help you develop the expertise necessary to provide this service.

3. Blind cleaning. Mini-blinds and Venetian blinds are common fixtures in homes and offices, and many consumers are choosing interior shutters as window treatments. Along with vertical blinds and pleated shades, all these window coverings attract dust and need frequent cleaning--the occasional pass with a feather duster isn’t enough to keep them looking their best.

Without the proper equipment, cleaning blinds can be time-consuming and labor-intensive. Special blind-cleaning equipment can speed up the labor process and allow you to offer this service at an affordable price. You’ll need to learn how to quickly and efficiently take down and rehang blinds, as well as operate your equipment.

4. Pressure washing. Pressure washing can be added to an existing cleaning business or operated as an independent company for a modest initial investment. Some of the more common uses of pressure washing equipment include cleaning and maintenance of residential and commercial buildings, walkways, parking lots, heavy equipment and vehicles, truck and automobile fleets, trailers, engines, warehouse floors, machinery, kitchen areas and sanitary areas.

5. Restroom cleaning. There’s a tremendous need for restroom cleaning, particularly in large public buildings, sports stadiums and arenas, and schools, and companies that specialize in this work are busy and profitable. Businesses want to provide clean, pleasant, fresh-smelling restrooms for their employees and customers, and they’re willing to hire specialists to get the results they need.

You’ll clean and sanitize restrooms on a regular schedule and stock the facilities with soap and paper supplies as requested by your customers. You may work directly for the property owner or manager, or you may subcontract through a janitorial service.

6. Chimney sweeping. The demand for chimney sweeping goes beyond residential fireplaces. The chimney sweep--or chimney service professional--aids in the prevention of fires, carbon monoxide intrusion and other chimney-related hazards that can be caused by fireplaces; wood stoves; gas, oil and coal heating systems; and the chimneys that serve them.

The basic task of a chimney sweep includes removing the accumulated and highly combustible creosote produced by burning wood and wood products, eliminating the buildup of soot in coal- and oil-fired systems, and getting rid of bird and animal nests, leaves and other debris that may create a hazard by blocking the flow of emissions from a home-heating appliance. Though the highest demand for chimney sweeps is in cold-climate regions, this is a service that’s needed throughout the country. In addition to cleaning, chimney sweep services may also offer repairs and parts such as chimney caps that protect the chimney from water, leaves, debris and animal intrusion..

7. Ceiling and wall cleaning. Ceilings and walls trap odors, smoke, oils, cooking grease, films, nicotine, dust mites and other unsanitary pollutants. These contaminants can reduce light by as much as 60 percent, dull the appearance of a facility and contribute to an unhealthy environment. Cleaning ceilings and walls is far more cost-effective than painting or replacing them. In fact, replacing a ceiling can cost up to 100 times more than cleaning it. Besides being part of standard building maintenance, various ceiling and wall cleaning techniques may also be used in disaster restoration work.

8. Post death and trauma cleaning. Post death and trauma cleaning services are usually called in after a homicide, suicide, unattended death or a non-fatal trauma where property has been contaminated by blood or other bodily fluids and tissue. Because of the potential health risks, it’s critical the job be done properly and thoroughly. In most cases, your clients will be the family of the deceased and you’ll be paid by an insurance company. You may also be called to clean up commercial facilities after an accident or crime that has contaminated a property.

You’ll need to make a substantial investment in training, equipment and supplies. OSHA requires that all workers performing this type of remediation receive the proper training and vaccinations, and be properly equipped with protective gear and cleanup tools. EPA regulations dictate the disposition of hazardous wastes, so you’ll need the proper tools and procedures to be in compliance. In addition to cleaning, you may also want to offer repair or replacement of structural components, such as carpet, flooring, cabinets, doors and walls.

A good rule to follow is to only hire people you would trust in your own home.
7 Training Tips to Get Your Cleaning Service Employees on the Right Track: What kinds of people make good employees for cleaning service businesses? Look for people who will be enthusiastic about their work and who enjoy cleaning. Of course, you’ll find people who say they love to clean and want to do it for a living, but they don’t completely realize that as a job, it’s hard work and physically tiring. If you sense a prospective employee feels they're “above” cleaning for a living, probe further during the interviewing process. If they really feel this way, they may come to work for you because they need a job and the money, but they probably won’t stick around very long. Turnover is expensive; it’s best to take the time to hire the right people in the first place.

You’ll probably improve your chances for a successful hire if you’re more creative in your searching techniques than simply writing a “help wanted” ad. Sources for prospective employees include suppliers, customers (Use caution here: You don’t want to lose a client because you stole an employee) and professional associations. Put the word out among your social contacts as well--you never know who might know the perfect person for your company.

College students make good employees, especially for janitorial services that are often looking for night workers. Students who attend classes during the day are often available to work for you at night. And if you find them in their freshman and sophomore years, you’ll have employees with the potential of working for you for the next three or four years. Residential cleaning services often find that mothers represent a strong pool of candidates, especially those looking to work part time while school is in session.

Consider using a temporary help or employment agency to help you find qualified employees. Many small businesses shy away from agencies because they feel they can’t afford the fee--but if the agency handles the advertising, initial screening, and background checks, the fee may be worth paying.

Use caution if you decide to hire friends and relatives--many personal relationships aren't strong enough to survive an employee-employer situation. The key to success as an employer is making it clear from the start that you’re the one in charge. Be diplomatic, but set the ground rules in advance, and stick to them.

Be particular about whom you hire, even if you’re in an area where competition for workers is fierce. A good rule to follow is to only hire people you would trust in your own home - that way, you’ll know you can trust them in your customers’ homes and offices. Remember, good employees are the key to happy customers, and happy customers are loyal.

Now that they’re hired, it’s likely that the majority of applicants for entry-level cleaning jobs will need training. This isn’t necessarily a disadvantage; in fact, you may prefer to handle this yourself since hiring individuals without professional cleaning experience lets you train them to clean your way.

If you think you can’t afford to spend time on training, think again--can you afford not to adequately train your employees? Do you really want them interacting with customers or cleaning homes and offices when you haven’t told them how you want things done?

These tips will help you maximize your training efforts:

Find out how people learn best. Delivering training isn't a one-size-fits-all proposition. People absorb and process information differently, and your training method needs to be compatible with their individual preferences. Some people can read a manual, others prefer a verbal explanation, and still others need to see a demonstration. In a group training situation, your best strategy is to use a combination of methods; when you’re working one-on-one, tailor your delivery to fit the needs of the person you’re training.

Use simulation and role-playing to train, practice and reinforce. One of the most effective training techniques is simulation, which involves showing an employee how to do something and then allowing them to practice it in a safe, controlled environment. If the task includes interpersonal skills, let the employee role play with a co-worker to practice what they should say and do in various situations.

Be a strong role model. Don’t expect more from your employees than you’re willing to do. You’re a good role model when you do things the way they should be done all the time. Don’t take shortcuts you don’t want your employees to take or behave in any way that you don’t want them to behave. On the other hand, don’t assume that simply doing things the right way is enough to teach others how to do things. Role modeling is not a substitute for training. It reinforces training. If you only role model but never train, employees aren’t likely to get the message.

Look for training opportunities. Once you get beyond basic orientation and job skills training, you need to constantly be on the lookout for opportunities to enhance the skills and performance levels of your people.

Make it real. Whenever possible, use real-life situations to train--but avoid letting customers know they’ve become a training experience for employees.

Anticipate questions. Don’t assume that employees know what to ask. In a new situation, people often don’t understand enough to formulate questions. Anticipate questions and answer them in advance.

Ask for feedback. Finally, encourage employees to let you know how you’re doing as a trainer. Just as you evaluate their performance, convince them that it’s OK to tell you the truth, ask them what they thought of the training and your techniques, and use that information to improve your own skills.

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