The main reason people fail at starting a cleaning business and how you can avoid it…

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by Tom Watson on November 4, 2012

I’ve been in the cleaning business for quite some time, and everything is pretty much second nature to me now.

Of course it wasn’t always that way, as I certainly made my fair share of mistakes along the way.

As I look back at my first few years I can clearly see that I wasted quite a few dollars. For instance I spent a small fortune on getting a website built only to later realize that is stunk to high heaven. I also wasted my fair share of money advertising in the newspaper.

After the newspaper debacle I spent a lot of money on Google Adwords trying to advertise online only to find out I was doing everything wrong (and losing quite a bit in the process).

I could go on and on, but you get the idea… I wasn’t perfect. I really don’t fret too much over it because it’s all part of the learning experience. You can’t have success without failure.

The one thing I had going for me was I wasn’t spending “my money” in a sense. I was spending my “profits”. In other words all the excess money I had coming in from my accounts were just being REINVESTED to try to get even more accounts.

So in essence…

I was spending others people’s money!

The beauty of this approach is that there really wasn’t any risk associated with trying to expand my business. All I was risking in a sense was the “time spent” cleaning the accounts. I certainly wasn’t taking any money out of my personal bank account to fund my exploits.

I was able to do it this way because I went through the trial and error process of learning to find prospectsgive proposals and clean the accounts myself. I didn’t try to take a shortcut and have others do it for me.

Basically I just invested my time in attempting to get cleaning accounts in the cheapest way possible. Then I gave a bid to whomever contacted me. If they hired me then I took notes to see if I bid job correctly. That’s it!

What’s funny is that I had no point of comparison. In other words I had no clue to how others were handling this issue. I didn’t know any other cleaning business owners whatsoever. All I knew was my experience.

Then I started Cleaning 4 Profit. This really opened my eyes to why so many people have issues trying to get their cleaning business off the ground. As you can imagine, I talk to a lot of people and they explain what they are doing to grow their business.

I’ll start out by stating that everyone has good intentions, and they are doing their best with the information that have at their disposal. With that said I see one MAJOR shortcoming in a lot of people’s approach to getting a cleaning business off the ground. What is it?

Beginners want to “SUB-OUT” the main part of the equation.

What’s the main part? The DIRTY WORK OF GETTING THE CLEANING ACCOUNTS. What I have to drive into people’s heads is that your main job is GETTING THE ACCOUNTS yourself.

Far too many people want to wave a magic wand and just get accounts by hiring someone else to do it for them. First off, letting someone else get the accounts on your behalf is similar to letting someone else drive your car BLINDFOLDED.

Odds are you wouldn’t do that right? Then why let them drive your financial engine? Beginners need to understand the financial implications of getting each account. I mean, at the end of the day you only want profitable accounts. Having just “any” account is pointless, you need profitable ones!

Well… when you let others get you accounts on your behalf, they really don’t care if you make a good living off those accounts, they just care that they SOLD YOU AN ACCOUNT. If you make money great, if not… so what!

Sadly I have spoken to many who have spent THOUSANDS on companies who promise them cleaning accounts. I have never heard a good thing yet. Most complaints I hear basically say they got nothing of value in return. That means either no accounts or accounts that have virtually no profit.

Of course this is a shame, and I hope those companies get their due some day. With that said, these companies prey on the biggest fear of beginners which is getting accounts. And sadly that’s why they will continue to be around for some time.

Another category of companies that claim they will help you get accounts is “appointment setting” firms. Their pitch is that they will line up the appointments and all you need to do is close the deal.

Hiring these companies is another HUGE MISTAKE beginners make. I know… the concept makes sense. They call around and all you do is meet and give bids. Again… it’s not that simple.

These appointment setting companies just call around and hope to find companies that wouldn’t mind having a competing cleaning company price cleaning their facility. The MAIN issue here is these people ARE NOT YOUR MARKET.

The type of companies that say “yes” to appointment setters are just PRICE SHOPPERS. They are out for the lowest bid in many cases. Getting that account will do you no good even if it all worked out. This is because you don’t want accounts with slim margins, you want ones with fat margins whenever possible.

So in a nutshell, your ideal prospect is a person or company that is thinking about changing their cleaning company, NOT ONE that is just comparison shopping. And this is why appointment setter companies don’t work!

So to wrap this up I’ll try to summarize this again.

I succeeded in large part because I didn’t spend money hiring others to get me accounts. I got the accounts by doing all the grunt work myself. I handed out commercial and residential flyers, I distributed goodie bags, I did direct mail, I joined networking groups, courted real estate agents and other low cost methods I thought would work to get me accounts.

Then I took the profit from the accounts I did get and reinvest them into more expensive and in some cases more traditional ways of getting accounts. Some of those methods worked and some didn’t but the key part is I spent other people’s money!! I only invested my time!!

The people who run into trouble do it the opposite way. They spend no time learning the process, instead they spend tons of THEIR OWN money hiring others to get them accounts. Let me repeat this again… they spend THEIR OWN MONEY!!

Spending money BEFORE you ever make any is a dangerous scenario that I avoided like the plague. So take it from me… invest the time and learn the process for yourself. Your success depends on it.

If you liked this post, you can subscribe to our RSS feed. If you are looking for a blueprint that will show you how to start a cleaning business, then check out my Cleaning Business Start Up Guides. If you are badly in need of a first class website then take a look at my Cleaning Business Websites.

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Joe M November 4, 2012 at 9:08 pm

As always Tom, great advice. By the way how did you make out with the storm? Hope all is well.

2 Tom Watson November 4, 2012 at 9:16 pm

Hey Joe! Thanks! Several trees down, but nothing hit the house or deck. We did lose power for a bit, but all in all I can’t complain. You ok?

3 Francisco November 4, 2012 at 9:28 pm

Tom you nailed it again! Great advice.

Do you think leads companies are a good way to grow? as part of a marketing strategies

4 Tom Watson November 4, 2012 at 9:51 pm

Hi Francisco!

I’m guessing you are talking about online companies (like Service Magic). I do think they are worth trying if you carefully track and measure the results you get. I’m all for experimenting, AS LONG AS you don’t bet the farm, don’t sign some long term contract AND have the money to responsibly invest.

Also, I do think buying leads (mailing list) off a list for the purpose of a targeted mailing is a good idea if you have the money to do it. I’ve done it a lot over the years and had success.

5 Christy November 4, 2012 at 10:06 pm

So true!!
I didn’t realize how many vulture businesses there are out there until I started seeing them in my spam email.
I made the mistake of trying one out. I lost $400 to them in the first month..and no client to show for it. It took some threats and calling my bank before I finally got rid of them.
My husband has 2 degrees in business and is working on a 3rd. I put him in charge of doing all of the networking and bids. He has the personality and education for it, I don’t. That man works wonders!

You don’t have to use an outside source for securing clients and getting the word out about your company and I’m glad we learned early!

6 Tom Watson November 4, 2012 at 10:12 pm

Sadly, many companies sole mission is to separate your money from your purse or wallet (they don’t bother trying to add value in any way). Though you lost a few bucks… you didn’t get beat up too bad because you were on top of things. Thanks Christy for sharing that story with everyone!!

7 Dawn R November 5, 2012 at 7:31 am

Tom, I have a question for you. I’m starting a Green Cleaning Business for Medical offices. Do know anyone that carries products that are Hospital Grade Green. Products that kill HIV, Hep B, C, Tuberculosis as well as normal cold and flu virusis? I can find Green products for generialized cleaning but not something strong enough for the strong bugs and is Green.HELP!!! Thanks, Dawn

8 Tom Watson November 5, 2012 at 12:27 pm

Hi Dawn!

I did a quick search and found this link… http://www.parish-supply.com/green_cleaners.htm

I don’t know anything about that company or their products but they may be worth checking out.

9 Brandon April 16, 2014 at 9:41 am

Hi Mr. Watson,

I’m currently preparing myself for a big walk thru appointment that I have tomorrow, and I was wondering if you could please provide me with a few examples of what kind of questions the manager is likely to ask me during the walk thru. Thank you for your help!

10 Tom Watson April 16, 2014 at 10:34 am

Hi Brandon! That’s hard to say, as many don’t ask too many questions, they are more interested in telling you about their problems. I do my best to always try to keep the focus on them, by asking what problems are they having, then asking them to show me the issue firsthand if possible (dirty floor, sinks, dusting issue etc..).

They may ask you to tell them a little about yourself. I have a short little canned reply that just says we’ll a family owned business that will work hard to make you happy. Nothing fancy. Just act confident, take notes, as try to find out what problem are they having with their current company. This will clue you in to being able to fix it.

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