What problems or issues are you having running YOUR cleaning business?

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by Tom Watson on December 28, 2014

I’m going to begin by sharing the problems I had when I started my business. I can’t go over them all because that would take you HOURS AND HOURS to read!

I’ll start with my main issues and how I handled them. Then I’m going to ask YOU to share in the comments section your issues and how you handled them. This way maybe we can help others from suffering from the pain we had to endure when just getting started.

At the end of the day, we can all learn from each other. Nobody knows everything when they start a business. It’s just a leap of faith in many ways. With that said… I’ll get it started.

I had two things going for me when I started my business

When I first started my cleaning business I had to learn pretty much everything from scratch. I had no experience whatsoever, of any kind. I was learning on the job in every aspect of my new cleaning business. As most people I suppose, I did well in some areas and not so well in others.

Ironically one of the things I didn’t have an issue with was getting cleaning accounts. I attribute that to my two main strengths. They are I don’t get frustrated and I don’t give up. If I had anything going for me it was that, and that only.

The not getting frustrated part is important. Luckily I always think long-term. Sometimes maybe a little to long-term, but that’s just the way my brain is wired. The not giving up part was equally as key. The fact is I hate to lose, and that drove me to make this dream come true.

If I could add one other thing, it would be my enthusiasm. I’m quite sure the potential customers that were calling me in the early days of my cleaning business saw just how “green” I was. The fact is that I was a BRAND NEW business owner and it showed! I honestly believe the enthusiasm I showed towards their problem was why I was hired.

Everything else I had to learn on the job

As you just heard, I didn’t have that much going for me. Aside from not getting frustrated and having a long-term vision, THAT WAS IT. As I’m fond of telling people, my own mother told me I didn’t have a “business mind”. She was basically telling me to just get a job I guess. I’m sure she was just trying to help me, but it sure did sting when she said that.

Anyway… The fact was I had no experience at all running a business. So pretty much everything was going to be learned “on the job” so to speak. I made a ton of mistakes but most were smaller ones that weren’t going to sink my ship. The main issues I had when I started the business was finding the best employees, training the employees and keeping my customers happy. I call them the BIG THREE.

Finding good employees

Finding good employees can be tough work. The fact is you won’t know the vast majority of those who wind up working for you. Sure, you will fit a few friends in perhaps, but they won’t be long-term in all likelihood. So you’ll have to sort though a bunch of people, then assess how well they fit your company. All in just an interview session or two!

I made TONS of mistakes here. The biggest one was in assuming that everyone I hired would work as hard as me. That was a HUGE MISTAKE. You’ll never find that! Don’t get me wrong, you will get good people if you hire right, but they will never care as much as you. Once I accepted that fact – after about 15 employees that I had to let go – I felt better about myself.

So know that I knew what to expect in a sense, I had to go about getting the best of the best. I started out only hiring full-time workers. This turned out to be a mistake for me. Sadly, in my case anyway, many of those that are looking for full-time work didn’t have a job FOR A REASON. Many were simply unemployable. They had reliability issues, lack of accountability issues and a poor work ethic.

They also quit after a few weeks, wasting all the effort I put in training them. I solved this problem by switching gears and only hiring part-time workers. I looked for those that had a long track record of employment with one company and were just looking for extra work. I figured if they were reliable enough to be employed full-time then they would be reliable for me. It worked! I can’t claim 100 percent accuracy, but it VASTLY IMPROVED my problem.

Training employees

I’ll begin by acknowledging that I was totally clueless in the beginning. As I already mentioned, I thought it would be easy to “clone myself”. I had visions of an army of Tom Watson’s running around cleaning all my accounts. That didn’t work out! My mistake was in just giving them the most basic of training then letting them go on their own. Huge mistake!

I fixed this mistake by expanding how much time I spent training someone on the job. I would spend a week or two with someone if I needed to in order to make them fully understand what is expected. I would also follow up with regular unannounced inspections, as that kept people on their toes. I made sure I talked to each employee EVERY WEEK. This allowed me to listen to any concerns they had. It also let them know I cared.

I also “loosened” the leash in a sense on how the job was done. I was a “my way or the highway type” for too long. So I instructed people to do this first, then this second, then this third and so on. I did that because that is how I would do it. But I came to realize that everyone has their own “way of thinking”. When I stopped being a control freak, and just let the staff do it their way (as long as the result was the same), I was OK with it. So me “letting go” helped!

Keeping customers happy

This is going to be your main priority, and it will largely influence how successful you will be over the long haul. I made a colossal miscalculation when I started my business concerning this and I’m lucky I caught it soon enough. My mistake was this… I just wanted to get hired THEN “stay out of their hair”. I wanted to be good… but invisible. This was a horrible mistake!

While my intentions were good, the fact is I ignored the whole “customer relationship” part of the equation. Once I got hired, I never called them. I never asked questions about who well we were doing. I never wanted to rock the boat in any way. I figured no news was good news! Well, that is not a good way to run a business.

The reason was simple. When my services slipped a bit – and they will from time to time despite your efforts to prevent that – the customer didn’t ‘know me”. They thought because I never bothered with them that “I didn’t care”. I got fired as a result. More times than I care to admit. The fact was I DID CARE. Sadly… I just didn’t show it.

I fixed this issue by keeping in touch with my customers “as much as they would allow”. Some customers are not looking for my contact, so you can’t do much with those folks. But many will value you callings once per month or even stopping in to see how well the cleaning is going. This will show YOU CARE. Though in your heart you may care, your ACTIONS speak louder!

Share your issues and how you handled them

Now it’s your turn! Take a moment and share the issues you have faced and have overcome. Even if you haven’t found a way to overcome a particular problem, share that problem so maybe someone else can point you in the right direction. I look forward to hearing your issues, your solutions or just your thoughts on the business itself. Don’t be shy… leave a comment!

{ 44 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Raymon Samuel December 28, 2014 at 11:56 am

Hey Tom, you know all of this time, I thought it was just me going through
These kinds of problems.

2 Tom Watson December 28, 2014 at 11:58 am

Hi Raymon! We all go through it. No way around it. All in all it’s good, as it makes you problem solve and think in creative ways.

3 Jim Bulkowski December 28, 2014 at 2:33 pm

How do you clean floorboards with out going on your hands and knees? I’ve tried using a fresh mop and stikll find some complaints. Any advice?

4 Tom Watson December 28, 2014 at 2:45 pm

Hi Jim! few questions… Just one customer or more than one? Is it a valid complaint in your opinion or does the floor need a machine cleaning? Did you try a heavier mop? Some are heavier than others and will give better results like this one http://www.amazon.com/Libman-Large-Heavy-Duty-Wet/dp/B002YLYGD0

5 Jim Bulkowski December 28, 2014 at 2:48 pm

Just one customer a very well to do house. The boards are mainly dusty. But she is a real nit picker when it comes to the floor boards.

6 John R December 28, 2014 at 5:28 pm

Jim: check out the 3M Doodlebug with white pads.

7 james perry December 28, 2014 at 9:12 pm


8 Tom Watson December 28, 2014 at 10:30 pm

Hi James! Did you hit any realtor offices or medical facilities (doctor offices)? I would visit the realtors in person and hit the doctors with a direct mail piece.

9 Jim Bulkowski December 29, 2014 at 1:09 am

Hey Tom
I’m looking for design ideas for home and office postcards. Can you offer and advice?

10 Anson December 29, 2014 at 1:47 am

I have tried to obtain some medical accounts but just not having any luck. We have tried many approaches but still nothing. I don’t want to be competing on prices to the point where we will lose more than we gain. Once I have entered a proposal, how often should I call or stop by to check on it?

11 Anson December 29, 2014 at 7:11 am

Hi Tom. We are having trouble with getting steady work. We have been in business for two years. We have been aiming at offices and commercial property. We do a lot of advertising but still haven’t had any luck. Any suggestions?

12 Cos Campbell December 29, 2014 at 8:23 am

Hi Tom, first off thank you so much for your course! I purchased it two years ago and have used it as a guide to run my business. It saved me a lot of time and effort and was worth much more than you charged. My biggest problem is cash flow! When I get a new account it usually takes about 60 days (provided they pay on time) to receive a payment. Meanwhile, I’m paying employees to work that new account on a weekly/bi-weekly basis. I guess it’s a good problem to have, but every time I think I have a good cash reserve, I get a new account and I drain my reserve paying employees. Again, I hate to look at this as a problem because I’m gaining accounts at a steady rate. My question is should I consider switching my billing to bi-monthly to keep a more steady flow of invoices coming in?

13 ruthie galles December 29, 2014 at 8:48 am

hi tom im having problems getting started yet I don’t know what it is, ive wanted to like do it like forever but I don’t quit know whats holding me back , have any thing that might boast me to get going at it

14 Messias Carvalho December 29, 2014 at 10:28 am

Hey Tom,good article on customer service…..I went through this before also,and I use to call them every now and then.Some clients just dont want to be bothered with phone calls regarding the performance.They tell me that if there is a need or a problem,that I will be the first to know…..And as for cleaning accounts…..Ive quoted a few ,but no one wants to pay even a half decent wage for cleaning.People actually think we should clean for free…..As they look at cleaners as the lowest of the low…..

15 Tom Watson December 29, 2014 at 12:04 pm

Hi Ruthie! Getting started on anything new can be difficult. All you can do is just put one foot in front of the other and go from there. Don’t look at this as Mount Everest… it’s not. It’s just a bunch of little steps strung together. You’ll be fine, just take some action and go from there.

16 Tom Watson December 29, 2014 at 12:13 pm

Hi Messias! Yes… some will want contact and others treat you like a disease. Lots of different personalities. Anyway… you can’t worry about how they view us as owners. When they look down at us it really says more about THEM than anything about us.

As far getting good accounts… you need to do LOTS OF BIDS. That is the only way you find the gold nuggets. Many accounts have no profit, so you need to keep marketing so you can get to the good ones. They are there!

17 Tom Watson December 29, 2014 at 12:16 pm

Hi Jim. Go to vistaprint.com They have pre made samples for the cleaning industry. All you need to do is slightly customize them.

18 Tom Watson December 29, 2014 at 12:29 pm

Hi Cos! Happy to hear that. That’s super. As to the invoicing… I would start billing all new accounts this way… if you start Jan 1, then send them a bill THAT DAY and have it payable on Jan 31. This way you get paid in 30 instead of 60. Right now it sounds like you work for the first month THEN send them an invoice net 30 (which is too generous and not good for cash flow). It’s an easy fix you start with all new accounts.

19 Dushun Hogan December 29, 2014 at 12:34 pm

Hi Tom,
One thing I came across a lot is that business owners tend to hire family, friends, clients, bank account holders etc to provide their facility with cleaning service. After time and time again I finally realized that I need to take another look and see if there was another way I make money. I went after realtors, construction sites and home owners who were selling their home without a realtor. To make a long story short I’ve have much success by thinking out the box and knowing who I wanted to market too.

20 Ron December 29, 2014 at 12:47 pm

I want to thank you Tom for sharing some of the ways to handle accounts. I want to say that communication is the main key in keeping accounts! It is as you mention that you just need to call every other week or once a month or just stop through to ask how is everything going with the cleaning.Some like that while others don’t but you get the fill for those who do or don’t. This one account I had for 9 years that I did 5 nights a week that I always communicated with and they really love that because it showed them I cared. They really love it when they do have a complaint and you jump right on to solve it fast! And I don’t worry about no one looking down on me and some will, but just look at how undiscipline and lazy they are for having a filthy office!

21 Tom Watson December 29, 2014 at 2:05 pm

Hi Ron! I’m happy to help. I certainly didn’t everything right over the years, so I can share a bunch of my mistakes. Anyway… thanks for sharing that story.

22 Tom Watson December 29, 2014 at 2:08 pm

Hi Dushun! You will run into that, where people hire those they know. I’ve had it happen. And yes… you need to be creative when it comes to getting the word out. No one way is perfect. You really need a collection of several methods working together.

23 Tom Watson December 29, 2014 at 2:11 pm

Hi Anson! What are you doing as far as advertising goes?

24 Tom Watson December 29, 2014 at 2:14 pm

Hi Anson… I had my best luck using direct mail to doctor offices. As to how long to follow-up… I always try to ask when they will be making a decision, as that will clue me in to the timeframe. With that said… there is nothing wrong with touching base within 2 – 4 days.

25 Anson December 30, 2014 at 8:04 am

Hi Tom, I’ve been doing mostly postcards, door hangers, yard signs and magnetic signs for vehicle. Don’t get me wrong, this has gotten us some one time accounts that became repeat customers for residential property.

26 Rhonda December 30, 2014 at 5:37 pm

Hi Tom. I love reading your posts. I live in New Zealand and have only been going a few years but now have a fairly big cleaning business. Some of my contracts I chased for over a year. I never gave up and it paid off. Keeping in contact as you say is VERY important as with most jobs you never see the client or you have staff employed. My clients love to catch up with me. i only see them every couple of months and that seems to be sufficient. Just before Christmas I landed a large swimming pool/fitness centre contract which I have been working to learn the job inside out before employing staff. This took me away from checking my other sites and within a week I received 2 complaints. The same contractors were doing the two sites so I immediately went to check the other sites they were doing. One customer called me because I had rung to find out when they reopened after the Christmas new year period and just wondered if new cleaners had been in because it smelt so fresh how it used to. That was because I was in to check up! So yes, staff do get slack if you’re not doing site checks

27 Cos Campbell December 30, 2014 at 6:42 pm

Tom, thank you so much! I never thought of that, but I will certainly implement it. You’re right, that was an easy fix!

28 Tom Watson December 31, 2014 at 4:26 pm

Hi Rhonda! Thanks for sharing that, I really appreciate it (and thanks for the kind words). Seems like you have some good relationships with your customers, that is GREAT.

29 Tom Watson December 31, 2014 at 4:36 pm

Hi Anson… maybe try changing the message on your postcard and door hangers. They need to really STAND OUT in some way. Consider starting the headline with a questions like… “Is your office as clean as it should be?” Put that in big bold letters. Make it take up like 30 percent of the card.

Then below it say something like… “If the answer is no, then I can help! My name is Anson and I own Ansons Cleaning Service. I love solving problems. Can I solve yours”. Then follow-up with your phone number at the bottom in bold letters. I’m not saying that exact phrase will work, but it gives you a starting point. You need ENGAGING AND BOLD HEADLINES that both grab their attention AND ones that make you seem genuine.

30 Terry Clark January 4, 2015 at 3:03 am

Hi Tom,

I really enjoyed your last two podcasts. Very important and priceless advice again!

I haven’t ran into any issues yet, just send out 50 mail marketing, 3 pager, in the style of your course book teachings, paper clipped biz card in there… Anyways, I think I might have an issue getting my first account because I don’t get off work until 1130pm. Any advice on how I can spin that issue to a potential customer when I get called in for a proposal? I’d have to clean with my brother from say midnight till like 4am. Then I’d like to quit my day job once I land a second account, and revert to a nightly cleaning schedule.


31 Tom Watson January 4, 2015 at 9:52 am

Hi Terry! Thanks for listening in to the podcasts… much appreciated. Anyway… I wouldn’t tell them anything about your regular job. It has nothing to do with them. You mail letter / advertise… when people call, you find a way to go look at the place (you can do that given your hours) and then you bid it. At some point you will get hired.

As far as when to clean… just do it right after work. Most jobs you get will probably be small, maybe an hour or so with two people (so no worries about 4 am in all likelihood). Plus some once per week jobs can be done on weekends. Even twice per week jobs can be fit in… one during the week and the other on weekends (maximize your time off from regular job by cleaning whenever possible on weekends).

So in a nutshell… you’ll be fine. Just be creative about scheduling the jobs you land. If you happen to land a five night per week account, then worry about that when you know how big it is. Odds are with you and your brother you can clean more than you realize before it gets too late (or early depending on how you look at it).

32 Jim January 5, 2015 at 1:11 pm

I keep getting the rug pulled from under me and am not sure why. I have had several accounts fire us, for what seems like out of the blue reasons. We are very responsive and check on our accounts constantly. I meet with our contacts and stay in tough and they seem happy. But I guess you never know, one little think can turn them.

I’m not use to that. In my previous professional life we always worked with our vendors and wanted them to succeed. It there was a problem we worked out with them. It seems in the cleaning business its “lets hire the another guy”. I then wonder if the next guy really will do a better job then me.

33 Terry Clark January 5, 2015 at 1:26 pm

Awesome! Thx Tom

34 Tom Watson January 5, 2015 at 1:27 pm

Hi Jim! I just responded to the email you sent about this topic. Anyway… sadly, this happens with some accounts. Much like the general population, some customers value what we do and will work with us to make the cleaning the best it can be, while others lack that trait.

35 Jay January 7, 2015 at 10:55 am

Hi Tom,

First off thank you for everything that you do to help new business owners! Im going into my third year and this latest post is so much about me. Im so afraid to hire new employees because I know that they wont be as hard working as I am and I need to get over this. Im planning on trying to expand my cleaning business into other parts of Ohio where they seem to be in demandfor cleaning services. Any suggestions on how to get started or if this is good idea?

36 Tom Watson January 7, 2015 at 12:09 pm

Hi Jay! Happy to help. Anyway… expansion is good in general as long as you think you have gotten all you could in your current area (and you are READY). But getting the employee part under control should come first. No use getting more jobs that only you can clean.

Maybe offer you best employee more hours by overseeing the other accounts so you can be free to focus on just landing new accounts. On a side note, I would expand out from your core area as opposed to setting up shop farther away.

37 Jim January 7, 2015 at 2:58 pm

Question for anyone:

1. Where do you advertise for employees or get your employees? Craig’s list is about the only option I can find. Our local paper doesn’t even have a classified any longer.

2. For those that are cleaning themselves, how do you schedule time off?

38 Tom Watson January 7, 2015 at 3:05 pm

@Jim My two cents… Newspaper (still possible for me as I have several choices), ask networking group contacts for referrals, ask family for referrals, ask friends for referrals and my best bet is asking current employees (offer a 50 / 75 buck referral fee for anyone who stays 60 days).

39 David Morrissey February 24, 2015 at 10:50 am

My biggest problem is selling the business. I’ve been told that I open well but I can not close a sell.

40 Tom Watson February 24, 2015 at 10:56 am

Hi David! A few things… selling needs to be simplified in my opinion. Example… You get a call, you go and visit the potential customer. Be YOURSELF above all. Don’t TRY TOO HARD (don’t sell, just be INFORMATIVE). Explain how your service can benefit them in a CASUAL WAY. Make mention that “If you hire me, I’ll work hard to make you happy you did”. Simple little sayings like that (when said with CONVICTION) works wonders.

41 Tonia Lewis May 4, 2015 at 9:38 pm

Hi! Tom this my first time starting a cleaning business and I’m trying to figured out how do I go about getting cleaning bids.

42 Tom Watson May 5, 2015 at 12:57 pm

Hi Tonia! Well…. there is no “one best way”. It’s a combination of many different elements all working together. Direct mail, handing out flyers, networking, working with Realtors, goodie bags, advertising on Craigslist and a nice website… they all need to be working in harmony. Not to sell you on anything, but take a good look at my courses, they SPELL OUT EXACTLY what I did to grow my business.

43 David C May 24, 2015 at 12:05 am

Hey Tom,
I’m looking to start up my own business. However, I don’t have any experience in this industry other than cleaning my own home. But what kind of package would I be able to offer? Just the basic janitorial work/ floor/ carpets? What about strip and wax and all the other “extra” how would I know how to apply the strip and wax with out no prior experience.

44 Tom Watson June 7, 2015 at 9:49 am

Hi David! You start out by just doing the basics (dust, vacuum, trash removal, mopping and cleaning bathrooms / kitchens and or break rooms). THEN you add in more services. That is all I did when getting started.

As far as the stripping and waxing, that can be added in later PLUS it’s not hard to learn. I have a course on that, learn more here… http://www.cleaning-4-profit.com/learn-how-to-strip-wax-vct-floors/

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