Friday, November 9, 2012

I am going to offering a class on how to develop a strategy for 2013 that will really work and how to use it through out the year.   We will start with 5 hours of webinars to walk you through the process of creating a real and actionable business plan including sharing the templates I use.  Then I will have a one on one meeting with each person to help them finalize their personal plan.   But a plan you do not review and make adjustments to is useless so we are going to meet as group every 3 months to review where everyone is versus their plans to discuss as a group what course corrections that may need to be made.   Because of the interactive nature of the class I am only doing 15 people in a class.   If you want more information go to the link below.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

My thought on the election as a Residential Cleaning Business Owner

It is probably too late on this election day to change any votes but I felt the need to explain why despite my substantially left view on social issues I voted Republican.   Partially to my own wife who sometimes wonders what happened to that liberal 22 year old who was going to save the world that she met inn college.  Most people do not have the experience of being a business owner so it is hard to understand so I wanted to provide some very specific reasons.  

Here is a short explanation.  I am in a meeting of other business owners on this election day.  We are spending a great deal of our time, mental abilities, and money trying to find ways to grow our business without adding any employees.  I know a statement like that can be taken out of context and makes us sound like the evil businessmen in the advertisements.   But here is the truth.  I made a good living working in corporate America.   If money is all I cared about I could have stayed there and done just fine with a lot less stress and a lot more time off.  The single thing I enjoy more than anything else in owning my own business is coaching and developing my employees.  When my dad died and seemed like every employee in the company came to his funeral and they all came up and told me stories of how he encouraged them to get go back to school, to take jobs they did not think they could handle, and otherwise pushed them to be better people than they believed they could be I realized that is what I wanted to do that.  My dad died almost 10 years ago and one of his employees promised to take care of my dad’s prized car and to give to his newborn and at the time only grandchild as a birthday present when he turns 16.  One of my dad’s employees was so touched by him that he promised to keep a 16 year vigil.  That is pretty darn cool and that was my role model.   I want people to tell Lindsay those stories about me when I am gone.  A lot of my employees have never had someone believe in them or trust them.  When you give them that trust and some coaching and skills it is amazing to watch them grow in every way imaginable.  Selfishly I take great almost parent like joy when I see my people grow up and improve their lives, move their kids into better schools, and turn around a family story of failure and poverty while working for me.  

So how is it that a person that has a core value and belief in hiring people and developing them now sitting in a room trying to figure out how to not hire anyone?    Over the last four years of owning my business it has become increasingly more difficult, expensive, and personally risky to have employees.   Allow me to give you the most crystal clear example of a policy implemented under the Obama administration that makes me not want to hire anyone. 

Under this administration the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has issued new guidelines that state screening for employment using a criminal background check can be considered discrimination.   The EEOC says that I need to take into account how long ago the crime was committed, how that crime may effect the job for which they are applying, and I need to allow them to explain the circumstances of the crime.  That does not sound that unreasonable at first glance but that is because the people who wrote those rules have no experience in hiring people.  Here are some facts.  Theft in particular is hugely under reported.  Most people think the police will not bother with it and most employers do not want the bad press.  If theft happens the employer will often fire the person and pay the victim to just make it go away.   If there is one theft conviction there is often more like 10 – 20 times it happened before someone actually bothered to press charges and it could be proved.   Second, over 90% of all cases are settled in a plea agreement which usually results in the person being charged with accepting a lessor charge.  If I run a background check and it says possession of stolen property, 19 times out of 20 it means it was a theft or burglary charge and they plead down to possession.   I do not have access to any of this information as these cases are normally sealed.  When I run a background check all I get is the date and what they were convicted of.   I can literally only see the tip of the iceburg and have to guess what is under the surface.  The EEOC says I have to let this person explain what happened.  They do not give me access to the court files.   They say I have to give the one person in the room that has been convicted in a court of law to have a disregard for the rules of society a chance to explain themselves.  

Now here is what you need to understand on the other side.  If one of my employees steals from you, I am liable.  If one of my employees assaults you or rapes you, I am liable.  This means I can be sued for my company and as a sole proprietor it means my house, my savings, and my family is on the line each and every time I hire someone because legally my business is me.  If I am found to have not properly screened my employee I can be found negligent which voids my insurance.  If I knowingly hire a felon and they commit another crime I am going to be found negligent by a jury.   I can literally lose everything from a single bad hire.   It is a huge leap of faith and risk every single time I hire someone.   And now my own government says it may be illegal for me to look at look at the one piece of 100% proven past behavior as a factor in my hiring decision.  Has the world lost its mind?

If I do not have you convinced lets look at the specific case that caused this new rule to be created.  This case came about because a man was fired from his job once it was discovered he had a 40 year old conviction for murder which he did not disclose and once it was discovered he was terminated.  He sued his employer for discrimination.   This man KILLED someone.  When I run his check the only thing I know for a fact is 40 years ago he killed a person and was convicted of murder meaning it was planned.  When as an employee do any of you want your boss to take the risk of hiring this man?  Remember I do not get access to all the court files.   But Derek it was 40 years ago, someone has to give him a chance.  Can you tell me when did he get out of jail?   I have no idea.   Do you?   Remember this is murder so he could have been locked away for a long time, he could have just been released.  What were the circumstances of the crime?  The only person I get to ask is the person convicted of killing another man who has every incentive to lie.  If I later terminate this man what could happen to me personally?   When should I be expected to not only risk my life’s savings but also literally my life and the life of every other employee to hire this man?  I know this sounds insane and you think I am making it up because in the current political landscape that is what people do is blow things out of context but I am not.  Google it.   Look at the EEOCs own website and read the case law that caused this ruling to be put into place.  This entire rule came about due to the lawsuit of man convicted of murder.   When as an employer is it ever acceptable for me to risk hiring this man?  If he eventually kills someone how can I ever live with myself because I wanted to “give him a chance”.   My vision for the stories being told at my funeral switches instead to visions of my trying to explain to some grieving family at the funeral of their loved one why I had to hire this person because of EEOC rules said I needed to give him a chance.  But my government has created a policy that says I have to legally take into account the fact it was 40 years ago and allow him to tell some story I cannot verify about how he was just defending someone else and he had a bad attorney and so on with no way to verify what is true.  I have one and only one fact, he was convicted of killing someone and if I hire based on the one provable fact I have, it is discrimination.

I can go on with other examples.   How the health care law scares the pants off me because no one can explain it to me because the rules are not yet written and it is only 14 months away.   I have this huge looming cost that no one can explain to me .  I can tell you stories of people cheating the unemployment system that will make you want to repeal the entire unemployment insurance program.   And disability?  How about the adult male on lifetime disability for ADHD.  Or the, I am not kidding here, 4 – 5 people a month that apply for a job but then ask to be paid under the table because they are on disability.   I run a residential cleaning service so I pull from the group of people on these programs and when you see how it really works and the tremendous amount of fraud and waste, it starts to make you more conservative by the day.   Or how some of the people I try to promote and start down that path to a whole new life and they will not accept the promotion because they will lose their benefits.   It is almost a weekly occurrence in my office that someone asks me to reduce their hours because once again they don’t want to lose their benefits.  I have said before my business would make a great reality television series and I wish you could all just experience what it is like for a week because it would be an eye opening experience.

So I have spent months reading daily Facebook posts and just being quiet as people I know and love post some really nasty things about Republicans and I just wanted to explain my views.   To be clear I wish there was a third choice because I think the Republicans are on the wrong side of many social issues.   But at the end of the day there is a lot of historic momentum on the side of things going the right way on social issues in my opinion.  Gays are going to get the right to marry.   Women are not going to lose the right to abortion.  My daughter is going to grow up with more liberal social views than me just as my generation did with the one before us and so on.  I don’t think any candidate can stop it, at worst they can slow it down a little.   If I really felt any of this was at risk I may vote differently but I don’t.  However as a person who is in the trenches as a business owner day in and day out I can tell you with all honesty the momentum is completely in the wrong direction when it relates to hiring and creating jobs.   The system makes good people not want to hire people and It is getting worse by the day.  I am person who’s greatest joy is creating jobs for my people and helping them to grow beyond their own expectations.  Yet because of the environment I am in, I am find myself spending a great deal of my time and resources trying to figure out how to not hire people for all the reasons outlined above.  That bothers me a lot.  And I think it should bother you too.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Free Webinar on how to target market you residential cleaning service

I am sorry I have been pretty quiet recently.  I have been working on some new projects including the webinar below.  This is a free webinar I did for the Institute for Service Excellence on how to do target marketing for the residential cleaning industry.  This is a long webinar at an hour long so don't sit down to watch it unless you have some time.  I had a lot of fun.  This is a topic I really enjoy due to my background at P&G.

Marketing Webinar

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

You can either be right or you can be successful

About 6 weeks ago I had another VERY bad day.  It took a few weeks and a long vacation for me to get my head around it to write about it.   

We do our own carpet cleaning here and we have one carpet cleaner on staff.   On Friday morning our carpet cleaner called off.  We had two jobs we could not move, an apartment cleaning and cleaning one small chair for a very good customer.   I am an IICRC certified carpet and upholstery cleaner so I decided I would go do the two jobs myself.  In addition the woman we were cleaning the chair for is a very good customer.  We clean her home weekly and her business 5 nights a week.  In total she spends over $2,000 a month with my company and I had never met her.   I thought as much as I hate to be out carpet cleaning, it will be great to meet my client and I plan to knock her socks off and really do a great job on this chair, no expense spared and show my artistry.  So I hop in the van head out.

The first job is rather uneventful.  Carpet cleaning of an empty apartment and all goes well.  I get to my last client right on time.  It turns out she is not feeling well and tells her husband to show me around.  The chair we are cleaning is a very small old black recliner in the walk out basement.  The biggest problem is it is covered with white dog hair.  My team had just cleaned there earlier in the day so I asked the husband if we could move the chair outside where I would have better light, we would not have to drag hoses through the house, and as I brushed off the hair it would not resettle on the floor or furniture.   He agreed and said that sounded like a great idea.  I explained we needed water to make the carpet van worked and I asked if we could hook up the faucet in the back of the house and he said sure.  So I fill up my little bucket of what and I am cleaning the chair with a low moisture method using a sea sponge and foam.

So I am set up and I am cleaning the chair.  It is a beautiful day, the chair is looking good, I have a smile on my face and life is good.  I don’t clean very often anymore and I was enjoying doing a relatively easy job out in the 80 degree sun.   Then all off a sudden my client comes screaming out of the house and I mean screaming “How Dare you!”.   I am more than a little confused.   So I ask what I can help her with and she just keeps screaming at the top of her lunges how dare you.   Finally her husband walks out side and she switches to screaming “How dare you, you flooded my basement.”   Now I am really confused.  I am outside on the side of the house.  I don’t even have a hose in her hose.   I have a little bucket with about ½ gallon of water.  I have not even turned on the van yet.  I keep asking her to explain and finally after about 3 minutes of screaming the same two things she switches to “How dare you use my faucet?  Who told you to do that?”.  Her husband is now standing there and is saying “I told him to honey”.   She keeps yelling it and he keeps saying “I did honey.”  Now she switches  to “That faucet leaks into my basement, I just spent $10,000 fixing it and you just flooded my basement.  How dare you!”   OK, now I finally understand what is going on.   The outdoor faucet I hooked up to leaks into the basement.  She just paid someone $10,000 to fix the plumbing, pump out the water, and fix damage to the finished basement. 

So finally she switches to demanding “I want to speak to your manager give me the number of your company.”   “Ma’am I am the owner.  I am can help you with anything you need.  We have a carpet van right here, lets go check out the water and get it taken care of.”   She keeps demanding the number for the office and I keep saying I can give it to you but I am the owner and I am standing right here.  Finally she storms off yelling “Fine I will go look it up myself, I am so getting you fired, your incompetent.”  I look at her husband and say “I don’t  think she is hearing us.”  He agrees “no I don’t think she is.”  I find out later from my office staff that she called and demanded that every person in the company come out there this very instant and take care of the problem.  They also kept trying to tell her that I was the owner, I was there, and I was also an IICRC certified cleaner and restorer.  

Her husband and I finally go into the basement.  Sure enough there is probably 50 gallons of water on the carpet.  I have my carpet claw with me so I extract the water, spray some anti-microbial products, and set up some fans to dry it.  This is a clean water spill extracted within 15 minutes.   It should be fine within 3 or 4 hours.  

So things did not go at all as planned.  I had planned to impress this very important customer and instead it went very bad.   However I am thankfully for a few things.  First, I am glad we have a process and I followed it.  There is a reason we always ask if we can use the client’s outdoor faucet and this pretty much the perfect example as to why.   If I had not asked up front to use that faucet it would have been my fault when the basement flooded.  Because I asked up front I had covered myself with the client.  Second I did not lose my temper and just turn around and leave.   Remember this woman spends well over $25,000 a year with my company.   We can all agree she did not treat me very well but we also have to understand people are human.  There was a lot going on in this woman’s life. 

1.  That chair I was cleaning was supposed to be a gift for her father.  She was getting it cleaned for him.  He died 4 days earlier.  She decided to get the chair cleaned anyway and did not cancel the appointment.  (Thank fully I knew this going in because my cleaning tech is alert to her client and she warned me of this.)
2.  This woman had just spent $10,000 to fix this problem including the plumbing that obviously was not fixed very well.  A lot of the frustration I was on the receiving end of was because of this.
3.   I knew she was not feeling very well but only after it all calmed down did her husband explain she had a medical procedure that morning that had required she be put under.   She was literally still in twilight after surgery and highly drugged at the time.  She probably really did not hear what I was saying.

The next day this client did send me a note apologizing for what happened and explaining all her frustrations.  I have nothing but a positive relationship with her since then.  So I guess my point is we have to remember our clients are human.  There is so much going on in a client’s life we may not realize.  I think we can all agree it would have been perfectly reasonable for me to politely say “ma’am I am sorry your plumbing is leaking.  That is not something I caused.  I cannot stay here with you like this.”  And leave.  I may have also lost the client because she would have been stuck with a flooded basement on a Friday night.  My fault or not that would have left a mad taste.  This woman had lost her dad, was highly drugged, was in a great deal of pain, her basement was flooded, and she just paid someone $10,000 to make sure that never happened again.   I was just in the very much the wrong place at very much the wrong time.  Taking what ever she threw at me and helping her out of the situation that I had no duty to do so will probably make her a client for life.   I can also not say again how happy I am that we have procedures and we followed them.  That simple question of “I need to hook up the van to a water supply, may I use this faucet?” was probably the most important question I asked all year.

This also reminds me of one of my favorite saying with my employees.  "We can be right or we can be successful."  Sometimes the path to great service comes from helping the client out and not worrying about who is right and wrong.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Free Conference Call on Marketing

I am sorry it has been a few weeks since I posted.  I took a couple weeks and had an actual vacation.  I promise I will be writing at least once a week again.

I want to invite you all to a free teleconference on marketing I will be hosting for ARCSI on Tuesday April 15th.  This teleconference will be on the importance of selecting a target market and how to define yours.   I spent 12 years working for Procter & Gamble and they taught me the importance of clearly defined target markets.  No brand can be all things to all people.  To try to do so makes you meaningless.  This is why P&G owns multiple brands in many categories.  Each brand is for a unique set of consumers.  Pantene, Head & Shoulders, Infusium 23, Herbal Essences, Aussie, Sebastian, and Fekkai.  These are all hair care brands owned by one company.  Why wouldn't P&G just do one Mega Brand?  because then it means nothing.  When I say Herbal Essences you know it is a young fun brand.  When I say Head and Shoulders you know it is a Dandruff Shampoo.  When I say Fekkai, if you heard of it, you know it is an exclusive super premium brand.  If you have not heard of it, that is OK, your not supposed to have, that is why it is exclusive.   

It should be as crystal clear to your customers.  Your brand should stand for something unique and the first step of that is finding your target market.  This is the purpose of this call. 

You do need to register because we do limit the number of people on the call but there is no cost.  The link to register is below and I look forward to hearing you all there.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Advice on how to select a vacuum for a professional cleaning service

I have been in Orlando at the ARCSI Executive Leadership Conference.  One of the vendors there, CleanMax, had a great variety of vacuums and I thought it would be a good chance to shoot a short video explaining some features and things to consider when buying a vacuum for a professional cleaning service. It also ties nicely into my work as part of the Institute for Service Excellence.  We have a whole chapter of our book and 90 minutes of the Home Cleaning Technician class dedicated to tools and equipment and this will give you a preview of some of the information we share in the class.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Why Derek is more conservative now - trying to hire for a cleaning service

OK fair warning.  This is going to be a bit of a rant.  My spelling and grammar gets worse when I rant so I apologize in advance.  Also I am going to touch a little on politics and hopefully I won’t upset too many of my readers but I am having one of those days.  There is a quote that is normally attributed to Winston Churchill “If  you're not a liberal at twenty you have no heart, if you're not a conservative at forty you have no brain”.   I have come to like this quote because it feels a little like it sums up my life.  I was very liberal when I was younger.  I wanted to save the world and help everyone and fix everything for everyone.  Then I bought a residential cleaning service.  Now I realize many of these attempts to help people just back fire and create a system of perverse incentives.

We have been desperate for people for over 2 months.  We are running advertisements on Craig’s list, Snag a Job,, we ran ads in the paper, we offered incentives to current employees.  We even ran a job fair at the local unemployment office which they promoted to all the unemployed people in Warren county.  6 people came.  5 were immigrants.  We have to call 20 applicants to schedule 5 interviews.  On average only 2 out of 5 people show up for their interview.  Of those, one 1 of 3 will not show up for their first day of work.  Now do not get me wrong.  I love my staff.  I have 40 rock stars that work for me.  However the amount of BS we have to deal with to find the few people that really want a job and really want to improve themselves is incredible.

Now I know cleaning people’s homes is not a lot of fun but I like to think we offer a pretty good job.  We are growing so I guarantee my people full time work.  We are growing quickly so we have places to move up.  In the last year I have promoted 3 cleaners to General Managers running a branch office of their own.  We offer medical insurance, 5 days vacation, 9-5 work with no weekends, monthly bonuses, no micro-managing bosses, a no drama policy, and we try to have some fun.  We had our Christmas party at an indoor water park this year and bought tickets for everyone and their families, and we are having a fancy all you can eat Candy and Cake Pop bar the Friday before Easter.  We also don’t pay so bad.  Most of my cleaners make $450 - $500 a week but I have several cleaners that make over $600 a week.  Before tips.  Lets be clear that is a $25,000 - $30,000 a year entry level job with no degree required.  This week one cleaner make over $800.00.  Ok I am ranting but I think you get my point, not that terrible of a place to work.  I have many one 11 year employee and many employees with us over 2 years.

I swear 95% of the people that “Apply” have no interest in being hired.  For those of you that do not know the system, to keep your unemployment benefits you have to be actively looking for a job.  They ask for proof of where you applied.   Now imagine this, you are applying for a job with me.  These are actual answers from the questions “Why did you leave you place of previous employment?”

1.  Baby fell off balcony.  (Worked as a housekeeper at a hotel.  This has to be my all time favorite)
2.  I asked for 1 week off.  They said they no, they were too busy that week to spare me so I quit to show them.
3.  My boyfriend kept stalking me and terrorizing everyone at my office.  But we worked things out.  We are ok now.
4.  The work was too hard.

I had one woman no show for her interview.  Then she called me the next week.  “I am just calling to check on my application.”  Derek “You did not show up for your interview.”  Her “Yeah something came up, can I schedule another one.”  Derek “No, please don’t call again.”   I had another woman no show for her interview but she had the guts to call and ask if she could fax me her unemployment form to fill out confirming she had an interview scheduled.  Heck no, the point is you are supposed to go to the interview, not waste my time by scheduling it and then not showing up.

So I find myself yelling at my radio a lot.  I am an avid listener to NPR.  I think they do great in depth news stories.  But every time they run one of the pieces how terrible the economy is and no one is hiring I start yelling back.  I really get worked up when I hear the pieces about how we need to stop immigrants from coming over because plenty of Americans would do those jobs.  No they won’t.  Now lets be clear, I have exactly one non American citizen on my payroll and she is from Canada so I am not saying this out of pure self interest.  My people work in air conditioning all day and I have a terrible time finding people. I cannot imagine the poor employers trying to find people to work outside all day.

Now lets move to the other side of the unemployment system.  What most people do not seem to understand until they own a business, including me, is unemployment insurance is not like social security with a set rate.  It is basically directly billed back to your previous boss.  So if I lay a bunch of people off they rate I have to pay for unemployment goes way up.  So when someone files a claim, it comes right out of my pocket.  The other thing most people do not seem to realize is it is not really unemployment insurance, it is lay off insurance,  If you are fired for cause or you quit, you are not entitled to it.  You also have to earn a certain amount and work for a certain time to qualify.  There are people that game this system.  They know the rules and the appeals inside and out.  These people target smaller businesses because they know they are less likely to know the rules, have an HR department, have the time to do the paperwork and appeals, and may not realize it will even cost them when they get a claim.  It is like vultures who circle unsuspecting small business owners.

When I first bought the business I had one woman who did not like the changes I was making, like uniforms and mandatory arrival times.  She stood in my office screaming at the top of her lungs in front of 4 witnesses how stupid we all were and throwing things ending with “Fire me I dare you!”  So we did.  She filed unemployment and said we did not fire her for cause.  I filled out the paperwork and said she quit.  I lost as they said I fired her, she did not quit.  Foolish me, I thought when you scream to fire me and throw things at us, your quitting colorfully.  I appealed and said fine I fired her and I described what happened.  I lost that appeal because I could not answer the question as to what policy she broke.  I appealed again and had to some clause in my employee manual about “treating co-workers with respect” that she broke.  Finally I won.  I mean how stupid is this.  She stood screaming in my office throwing things but the only reason I finally won is because I was lucky enough that the employee manual I used had a generic phrase about treating others with respect.  Is there no common sense anymore.

About half the people I hire do great for the 8 weeks it takes to qualify for unemployment.  Then they start calling off work, like every day.  Or they do a terrible job.  Basically what ever it takes to get fired quickly.  When employees are fired I have them sign a form that acknowledges that they were fired, lists the reasons why, and when they will get their final check.  They all file and they all check the box that says “No reason was given why I was fired.”   We then have to fill out a 4 page form on why they were terminated, we need to include copies of every incident report, the termination letter, and send it all in within 14 days (lets hope the owner is not trying to take a vacation).  If you fail to respond, they win.  Once I respond, I then get another 4 page form to fill out that basically says “We got your claim that your employee was fired for cause.  Please provide more details to this new department. “  We then have to submit the exact same book of information AGAIN because it goes to a different department and goodness knows they cannot forward it.  Once we win that the employee can appeal up to 4 times.  Once again if we fail to respond, they win. 

This all takes an INCREDIBLE amount of my time and the government’s time with all of these appeals.  This wastes my money and the money of every single tax payer.  Remember I have a signed form from this employee acknowledging why they were let go.  Why is there no penalty for filing a false claim?  You cannot just file a fake police report because it wastes valuable resources.  But these people can play unemployment lottery and file a claim they have no right to in the hope their previous employer makes a mistake.  And now that we have extended unemployment benefits out for over a year the prize is even bigger to encourage people to do play the lottery even more.

Ok now I know some people are reading this and thinking “Derek, there is no way anyone can survive just off unemployment.  Your just being harsh.   It is what 40% of their previous pay?  They cannot live off that.”  Well you are partially right, they do need more income but there are ways to play that game as well.  About one out of 3 people I screen over the phone ask me to pay them under the table because they are getting disability or unemployment benefits they do not want to lose.  Seriously.  1 out of 3.  If you don’t believe me, come spend a day in my office.  If that does not work, remember we just trained them to be pretty good cleaners and they did a decent job as long as they cared to.  They may or may not have bothered to returned all the equipment and supplies we bought.  Now all they have to do is hang up some flyers and get some clients and not record any of the income.  So now they get 40% of their pay from their last job AND they get all the other low income government benefits, AND they have a cleaning job that they are being paid 100% under the table.   Welcome to how to play the system 101.  And I get more conservative by the day.  This is also why you need to treat the good employees like gold.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Spring Cleaning Rush - just 4 weeks to soon

OMG! Spring is here way too early.  Don’t get me wrong, I love the warmer weather and I love to be outside and I normally LOVE the increase in phone calls but it was not supposed to be Spring yet.  I still have 4 people in training and 2 more scheduled to start in the next two weeks (they gave notice to their current employers, something I will never discourage.  How they treat their current boss is a sign of how they will treat me so I like people that say they have to give two weeks notice.)  I thought I had a minimum of 2 more weeks and more likely 4 weeks before it hit 80 degrees in Cincinnati.  Our phone is ringing non stop with new customers, occasional customers wanting a Spring Cleaning, and our regular customers wanting to upgrade to a Spring cleaning.  We are booked solid for the next two weeks which is not at all common for us.  We normally can get a customer in on 2 days notice.  It is killing me to be turning this much business away. 

We are trying to come up with ideas to deal with it.  First we are offering extra hours to anyone that wants to work Saturday.  I normally hate to have teams working Saturday because I do not have back ups in place if things go bad.  It also forces me to work Saturday myself which I do about 80% of the time anyway but I have to say I don’t like the feeling of having to go in versus choosing to.  Second, we are moving a couple offering extra hours to a couple of my commercial cleaners that have been cross trained to do residential work and we are sending them with the regular residential customers to do Spring Cleans and other jobs where there will be a partner to work with. 

What we are trying to avoid is moving people out of training faster than we should.  In the past I would have dealt with this rush by pushing people out of training faster.  Unfortunately, I learned the hard way that under trained employees will do a bad job and ruin our reputation.  As much as it hurts, I have found it is better to tell a customer we are booked than to send a team that does a poor job.  So now back to the battle and figuring out how to deal with the sudden surge in demand.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Don't Knock the Competition

I worked in sales for corporate America for 12 years and they always taught us not to say bad things about competition because it just makes us look bad.  I guess I understood that you want to spend your valuable time with a potential customer talking about you, not the other guys.  To be honest, I never really understood this until this week.  I had a call from a consumer looking for weekly service and at the end she asked me to for two non franchised companies that were similar in size to us so I gave her two names.  She called me back laughing and said we blew away the competition.  When I asked why she told me to call my competitor and ask them what made them the best.  So I did.

Derek – So what makes you better than your competition?
Other Business Owner – Drugs
Derek – Excuse me?
Other Business Owner  - Drugs
Derek – Um, Could you elaborate?
Other Business Owner – I test my people all the time, so I know they don’t use drugs.  Other people don't do this so they have employees that use drugs.

I basically tossed this woman a slow softball over the plate and asked her to tell me how great her company was and the only things she could come up with was to imply all the other companies hire drug users.  I was really blown away.  All I could think was this lady must have had some serious problems with drug using employees if she thinks that is what makes her better.  She not only made herself look bad but the entire industry.  Basically she said all cleaning services employ drug users including mine but I test them every few months so I fire my people once they start using.  What a terrible way to build trust with our consumer.

Needless to say, I got the sale and she did not.  So don’t say bad things about the competition because it reflects back on you.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Cleaning with Enzymes, Let Nature do the Hard Work for You!

Today I was in a Clean Trust class for odor control and it reminded me of one of my favorite cleaning technologies.   Enzymes are very powerful and under used cleaning agents.  Enzymes are proteins that are created by living things to break down biological material. We have millions of enzymes in our bodies that cause a chemical catalyst to break down the food we eat.  Plants have enzymes that turn soil into the nutrients needed to grow.  Said a different way, enzymes are naturally occurring chemicals catalysts that accelerate the natural biodegradable or breaking down of organic material.  Because these are natural chemicals they are safe, non toxic, and biodegradable making them very popular in green cleaning.  There is nothing greener than an enzyme based cleaner.

Where enzymes really shine is on removing organic stains and smells such as blood, urine, grass stains, and oil.  The trick in using enzyme based cleaners is to find the right one.  There are literally millions of enzymes and they all work on different organic material.  An enzyme that breaks down oil may not do anything to blood.  As a result most enzyme based cleaners are designed for one specific use only.  There is no such thing as a all purpose enzyme cleaner.  This is why you will often see specialty products for blood, wine, grass stain removal and so on.  A well known example of an enzyme based cleaner is Nature's Miracle which is used on animal urine.

Remember that enzyme based cleaners are causing a biological reaction to take place.  You are biodegrading the organic material.  Biological reactions take time.  You cannot spray an enzyme on and expect instant results.  Read the label carefully because some enzyme based products say to leave it on for minutes, others say hours.  Also remember that you can kill a biological reaction so do not mix chemicals.  If you mix a disinfectant or a sanitizer with a enzyme, you will kill all the biological activity you are trying to create.  I see this all the time when people use Nature's Miracle but then they mix it with bleach and then wonder why it did not work.  The bleach killed all the enzymes and the bacteria created by enzymatic cleaners. 

I recommend most companies invest the time to meet with a professional janitorial distributor and buy some of these products.  You will not normally find these products at retail.  You can buy these one at a time or often these products are sold in a kit with 4 – 8 specialty “stain removers”.  This is not something you need to carry all the time but when you can get the blood stain off the carpet or the urine scent out of the basement that no one else can fix, you will prove yourself to be a true expert.   The great thing is because the way enzymes work, you do not even need to scrub.  Apply the right product.  Leave it alone and let nature take it's course.  Then amaze the customer with your knowledge.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

My Pet Peeve - clients that "talked to Derek"

One of my biggest pet peeves is customers who lie to us.  I am amazed by the lack of honesty and ownership that people take for their own actions any more.  One of the major advantages of me being out of the office so much over the last two months is my office staff has realized I am not the complete mess my customers often made me seem to be.  The typical scenario goes something like this.

Office Manager “Mrs. Smith, are calling because our cleaner is there and we could not find the key.  Is there another way in?”
Mrs. Smith “Well I talked to Derek last Tuesday and told him to skip this cleaning.”
Office Manager "I am so sorry for the mistake, would you like to reschedule?"

Normally this ends with my office staff rolling there eyes and deciding I have the world’s worst memory and I ALWAYS mess up the schedule.  As a result, the general consensus with my office staff is Derek cannot answer the phones because I just mess things up.  What has been interesting is in the month of February, I was in my office all of 4 days and on those 4 days I was in meetings with key staff for nearly every minute.  I did not answer the inbound phone line hardly at all and usually only on the employee line, not the customer line.  Well this last month the office staff started to keep track.  There were 9 customers that swore they talked to me.  One woman was very specific on the day and time, because she remembered she called from the shuttle bus at the airport and spoke to me.  (FYI I am the only male in the office so it is pretty clear when you get me or not).  I was in Dallas in the Home Cleaning Technician Class at the time.

I just wish they would admit, I am so sorry I forgot to call.  Instead they love to blame me.  I guess they figure 1.  The owner cannot get into trouble.  2.  They cannot argue if the owner said it was OK. 

Here is the really funny thing, we do not charge a lock out fee.  There is no reason for these people not to admit they did not call in or made a mistake.   For some reason it just seems to be the nature of some people to not want to admit they made a mistake.  I am not sure there is too much I can do about it but it is an interesting trend and something I figured I should warn other owners about.  Once you start having office staff everything mysteriously will become your fault.  We of course are very polite with customer and note what actually happened in our files.  If it happens too many times we may have to confront them on it.   But for the most part we have to be polite and take ownership of the “error” for the sake of good customer service.  But I have to admit, it really drives me nuts.

Monday, February 27, 2012

What not to put on your application for a cleaning service

OK today's blog is mostly for humor and was inspired by some of the more interesting applications we got this week.  I have been amazed by what people will put on their application.  These people probably tell all their friends how they cannot find a job and no one is hiring.   Lets make this one interactive, post your best examples in the comments below.  Lets just go for what people write on the application for now.  We will save the dumb interview answers for later.

1.  Reason you left job:  I asked for a vacation.  They declined the day so I quit.

2.  References:  Mrs. Smith - Relationship – Parole Officer

3.  Previous Employment – Vet Office – Reason you left the job – I could not tolerate the dust and dog hair.  (Remember applying for a cleaning job here)

And the winner from today that inspired this column:
4.  Previous Place of Employment – Hotel House Keeper – Reason for Leaving – Baby Fell off Balcony.  

Sunday, February 26, 2012

20 seconds of Courage: Facing Down Your On Board Terrorists

Sometimes as cleaning business owners, we manage to convince ourselves that our problems are special and unique.  We do not think anyone can understand what we face every day and no one has ever had the same kinds of issues.  This week I have been in Texas all week for the Home Cleaning Technician class ( and then I met with some cleaning business owners and college friends.  I was meeting with a friend from college who owns a company.   Her company is nearly identical in size to mine with the same number of employees.  But she does not own a residential cleaning company, she has a physical therapy practice.  She bills over $100 an hour and her employees must have a Master’s Degree.  Her employees as seen as true professionals.  She has to be bringing in 3 to 4 times the revenue that I am with the same number of employees.  What on earth does she have in common with my business were I have to fight like mad to bill over $30 an hour and many employees did not graduate high school? 

She is being driven crazy by her employees.  Some have bad attitudes.  Some call off way too often.  Her call off rates are 2 to 3 days per MONTH.  She has no idea who is going to show up to work from day to day.  She told me one of her “favorite” and “best” employees calls off the most.  She is terrified to be too tough her therapists, especially the “good” ones, because they may go independent and do home health care without all the same over head that she has with office rent, liability insurance, and so on.  She is starting to hate her business because she feels trapped by her employees who could go out on their own and steal her clients at any time.  It is a conversation I have had hundreds of times with cleaning service owners.  We often fool ourselves into thinking we have the problems we do because of the “type” of people we employee.  I have news for you, all service businesses have the same issue whether you pay your people $9.00 an hour or $50.00.  It is a problem of leadership, not a problem of the “type” of employees we have.

I have also been reading a new book “Selling Sunshine” by Tony Hartl.  Tony made his fortune by building the largest and most successful chain of tanning salons in the world.  My brother, who owns My Maid Service Dallas, is also owns a barter brokerage and Tony is one of his clients.  Shawn said Tony is a great guy and gave me a copy of his book to read on Wednesday.  I am only on chapter three but I love what I have read so far.   Tony’s business sounds so much like ours.  I am going to quote him here. 

“Starting early in my career, I refused to be held hostage by employees, even if it meant taking extreme measures.  I always believed that I could work myself out of any situation.  I wasn’t going to let the inconvenience of working longer or harder get in the way of pulling the trigger on a problem employee.  You just do what’s got to be done.

I was having some staffing issues, and rather than put up with it, I fired five people in one fell swoop.  Obviously, that created a huge gap in the work schedule, forcing me to open and close the club for several weeks.  I had to work around the clock and sleep at the club to pick up the slack.  Believe it or not, this schedule was much better than dealing with problem employees.”

Tony eventually created a culture that attracted some of the best employees but if you think he never made a mistake, you are wrong.  Bad employees will sneak in and you need to get rid of them as soon as possible, regardless of the cost.  Keeping them is far worse than losing them, no matter what you may think.  At an ARCSI meeting, one of our speakers had a great name for these employees. He called them On Board Terrorists.  They will do everything in their power to take you down from the inside.  They recruit others to their cause and they take customers as hostages.  They will terrorize you and your good employees until they destroy your company and your peace of mind.  You need to get rid of you on board terrorists as soon as you identify them.

Finally circling back to our industry, at the House Cleaning Technical class in Dallas I met a franchisee with 4 offices in two states most of us only visit on vacation.  This man is living the dream.  His business runs largely without him and he summers in one state and spends his winters in a much warmer client.  We asked him to tell us about a turning point in his business.  He told us that several years ago he realized one of his offices was having a huge morale problem.  He tried several times to fix it but nothing seemed to work.  He finally fired everyone in that office including the manager.  He literally was left with an empty office with a list of clients and no employees to do the work or even train new employees.  He called all the customers and explained what was going on and if they would stay with him for 3 or 4 weeks he would have a better staff in place to service them and he would give them a free cleaning.  He replaced the whole group including training in three weeks and lost only 3 customers a result.  He was losing more than three customers a week due to the poor service and attitude from the previous employees.  He said it was both one of the most difficult and best decisions he ever made in his business.  He learned he never had to be heard hostage by his employees again.

This is all a lesson it took me far too long to learn.  I kept poor performers on for too long because I was worried about how to service my clients.  I have learned it is far better to call a client and politely tell them you are short on staff than to send a bad employee into their home.  Of course I want to do everything in my power to hire the best possible people.  But when a bad person sneaks by or when a good employee goes bad, you have to make the hard decisions.   You are in charge.  If you don’t do it no one will.  To quote Tony again, “You just do what’s got to be done. “

Let me give you one more thought of encouragement.  I went to a movie with my daughter this weekend, “We bought a Zoo.”  In that movie one of the main characters explains to his son that your life is often shaped by just 20 seconds of insane courage.  Your business is not so different.  When we are truly honest with ourselves, we do not fire people due to fear.  We know it needs to be done but we hate firing people and we are afraid of what will happen when we do.  There was a discussion I saw on Linkedin this week when someone asked “When is it time to fire an employee?”.  My answer which I still believe is as soon as you start to ask that question about someone, it is time to let them go.  In all my years in this business I have never had a problem employee that turned around nor have I met a cleaning company owner that did.  You need to be fair and follow your procedures but when the time comes, you need to muster up your 20 seconds of insane courage and just do it.  Do not drag it out with some long lecture.  Be professional but be polite.  “I am sorry but you have broken company policies too many times and I need to let you go.  We will need your company supplies back tomorrow by 9 AM.  We will send you your final check on Friday”  Done.  20 seconds of extreme bravery.  If you cannot do that, I honestly recommend you sell your clients and go work for someone else.  If not you will never have employees who work for you, you will be working for them and it is far better to work for 1 boss than working for multiple employees.  It pays better too.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Non Cash Incentives for Cleaning Techs

If you have been following many of us that own cleaning services on Facebook you may have noticed that a lot of us have started using a system of non cash incentives.  Some people call them maid bucks, bonus bucks, etc. but many of the ARCSI members have started doing it.  At My Maid Service have started using a system called bonus bucks.  We give the employees bucks on their anniversary with the company, birthday, for perfect attendance, for helping other teams at the end of the day and more.  The techs can save their money from month to month and then at the end of the month we have an auction for various prizes that change each month. 

Using incentives to motivate your staff is a great way to bring excitement to your team but it is also tricky.  When you ask your staff what incentive they want they will almost always tell you cash.  But cash is not the best way to go.  Hundreds of studies have been done on ways to motivate employees and they all agree cash is not the way to go  When I worked for Procter & Gamble we used a company called Business Incentives and their whole reason for being was to incent employees and they were very good at it. Business Incentives taught me that using cash is not usually the best way to incent employees.  They shared one study asked employees 6 months after they got a cash incentive, what did you do with it. The top three responses: 29% paid bills.  18% do not remember.  15% not only did not remember what they did with cash, they swore they never even got a cash incentive in the first place.  Considering the amount of money we spend on incentives we would like to think our employees will remember that we gave them the money.

So what incentives work best?  Unfortunately there is no blanket answer, it varies by person.  However all effective incentives have 2 things in common.  One, it has to be something your employee wants.  Two, an incentive has to be something the employee could never justify buying themselves.  The classic example is the salesman who is offered a cash incentive of $1,000 or a $500 golf driver.  In study after study the sales person will work harder and sell more for the $500 driver than the $1,000 cash.  Why?  When you look at this it seems to make no sense.  Win the $1,000, buy the golf club, and still have $500.  In the real world this is not how it works.  If the salesman wins $1,000 and spends half the money on golf clubs he feels very guilty and if he is married, well he is in HUGE trouble for wasting the money.  But he cannot feel guilty for winning the golf club.  When he comes home and shows his wife what he won, she is proud of him, not angry for wasting the cash.  He can get something he would really want but could never justify buying on his own.  And yes the same thing works with women, I used the sales man example because most people are very familiar with it.  While we are not normally dealing with men, the rules are the same.  If our employees win $250 they will spend it on bills or clothes for the kids.  They will be responsible.  However if they win something for themselves it is much more special and memorable.  Responsible is not memorable.

Giving non cash incentives has one other huge advantage, the bragging factor.  It is not socially acceptable to tell people about all the money you have.  But if you go on a great trip, or have a great experience, or got a great thing, you are expected to tell everyone about it.  Your employee will be selling your next incentive for you.  

We need to think of what our employees want, and it is not always what we want.  One of my first incentives was a dinner for 2 at a great 5 star steakhouse.  No one even tried.  I thought they would be motivated to eat somewhere they would never go on their own.  I was wrong.  They did not want to go to a place they did not feel they belonged.  It was not special.  It was intimidating.  What incentives have worked best for me?  Sporting event packages.  Jewelry.  An extra day of vacation that cannot be turned in for pay. 

What do they want but that their guilt would never let them buy for themselves?  Also remember that different employees want different things so it may make sense to make your incentive a choice so employees can pick what makes them excited.  For example the person that generates the most leads from flyering neighbors gets 4 great tickets to the Cincinnati Bengals and $50 food gift card or a emerald necklace.  Finally change the incentives.  Different people will respond to different things.  If you have someone that is always left out, make an option for just them once in a while.  For example, I only have 1 real hobby outside work, comic books.  Yes I am a huge geek..  I never worked so hard as the one time by boss offered a fancy golf outing, spa day, or a near mint copy of Avengers #3.  My wife would kill me if I spent $400 on a comic book so I worked very hard to win that comic, and I did.  Get creative and you can get better results for less money than cash.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Dissecting a Customer Service Failure

Whenever we have a service failure we discuss it in our weekly meetings.   I am sure everyone who reads these have the same experience where one customer seems to be cursed.  We can clean 40 homes and day and everything goes wrong with the same customer.   We also write it up and save it because we do not want to forget the lessons we learned.   An example of one of these write ups is below from 3/11/2011.

Mrs. Baldwin was scheduled for service on Friday morning with Brenda who was scheduled off so we moved her appointment to Sarah.  The person doing reminder calls did not tell Mrs. Baldwin that her team was changed.  Mrs. Baldwin did tell us she had a showing and wanted us there first thing.   Friday morning.  Sarah’s partner calls off sick.  I assign Amber to work with Sarah.  7:30 AM.  I get a call from Sarah that she will be a little late.  She left her mop at a client’s home the previous day so she went to Home Depot to buy a replacement mop and forgot her purse at home so she has to go home.  Sarah comes in at 8:30 and gets Amber.  Mrs. Baldwin calls at 9:00 wanting to know where her team is.  She is upset because no one told her we changed the teams and she has a showing at 11:00 AM and it needs to be done by then.   I assure the team left 30 minutes ago and should be there any minute.  She has to leave and is leaving the front door open.  I call Sarah to tell her what is going on, and she is at Home Depot again.  I thought she did that one the way in or we would have given her one when she came in.  Home Depot is out of stock on mops.  We tell her to go to Baldwin now and forget the darn mop.  I leave the office and run to Baldwin to drop off a mop, which we had in the office so I am unsure why she went to Home Depot after the office, and to help them finish on time.

Noon.  Mrs. Baldwin calls and is mad that her bills have been thrown out.  She keeps her bills in a trash can beside the shredder and we threw it out.  She demands we come back and dig the bills out of the trash for her.  The office manager calls me and says she does not think we should do it.  My office manager does not think it is not our fault the lady keeps her bills in an unlabeled trash can.  She thinks if you put something in a trash can when the maids are coming you better expect we will throw it out.  I tell her we should go back.  It is stupid but it will only take a minute and we had legitimately screwed up several different ways already with this customer.   My office manager  tells me she thinks I am wrong and we cannot let customers push us around but I over rule her.  The cleaner then throws attitude when we tell her she has to go back.  She is a mother and a grand mother and she is not digging through someone else’s trash.  I was not in the office at the time but I am pretty sure the office manager did not help my case when she called her.  My office manager  probably led off the call by telling the cleaner how stupid it was and she could not believe I was asking her to do it.  So I had to call the cleaner when I was out of the office to talk her down and say yes it is stupid but it is not that big of a deal.  We did not mix the trash bags and she said the bag should be right on top so all she would have to do is pull it out and open the bag.  The cleaner goes back and takes care of it.

Derek’s total time lost:  2 hours running around and cleaning due to the mop
                                                30 minutes of phone calls with the customer, the office, and the cleaner
2 Techs did not get to their first job until 9:30 AM instead of 8:30 as they are supposed to
And one unhappy customer

1)      Review the policy on lost equipment.  Was something so harsh about it that my cleaner would rather buy a new mop with her own money on her own time rather than tell us.
2)      Re-enforce the policy on lost equipment and use this is an example to explain why it is there.
3)      Find out why we forgot to tell the client about the team change and find a way to fix the system so it does not have to count on some one noticing and remembering
4)      Why was the note about the bills in the trash can not on the job sheet.  It seems this would be important information.   Another issue we need to retrain on is making sure your job sheet is updated with important information for when another team has to cover for you.
5)      Address training for the entire company on customer service.  They need to understand the principle that you can be right or you can be successful but you often cannot be both.  To be successful in a service business you need to let go of “being right” and concentrate on serving the client.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Proper Use of Bases in Cleaning

In a previous post I discussed acids which have a pH of under 7 on the pH scale.  Less well known among cleaners are bases which are chemicals with a pH higher than 7 when dissolved in water.  The reason it is important to understand bases is because they are very common in certain cleaners and they can be extremely dangerous to you and your employees.   This is not to say all dollar store cleaners are bad, in fact about 1/3 of the chemicals I use come from dollar stores.  However in some cases, the savings are not worth the risk to life.  Like acids, the pH scale works on a logarithmic scale meaning each point on the scale is based on a multiplier of 10.  A slightly higher number is a much stronger base. 

Bases are often used in de-greasers and oven cleaners.  Bases work great in these products for two reasons.  First, strong bases break down organic matter such as foods and greases.  Second, when a strong base is mixed with a fat it turns the fat into soap - literally turning the thing we are trying to get rid of into an agent that helps clean.  Old fashioned soap is made by combining lye which is a strong base with a pH of 13 with fats such as lard and vegetable oils.

So this sounds great.  A base will turn fat into soap.  We should use them all the time, right?  Well the problem with bases is they are very dangerous.  Most people understand acids are dangerous because if you spill them on your skin, they hurt.  Many common bases used in cleaning do not cause pain immediately when they come into contact with skin.  However they can cause serious chemical burns without physical pain until it is too late.  Remember bases break down organic matter which includes skin, bone, and muscle.  A base can be absorbed through the skin and it turns body fat into soap.  While this is not deadly it is EXTREMELY painful because the only treatment is to let the body break down and absorb the soap in the body over time.  If you ever got soap in a cut imaging have a bar of it under your skin... for a week.  

Because bases are cheap and effective you will often find them in in-expensive oven cleaners.  There are other safer ways to clean an oven than using a strong base but they are more expensive.  There are many cases when low cost cleaners make sense but oven cleaners is not one of them.  To prove my point, I am going to tell you to share information off the MSDS sheets to show the difference.  Below are  excerpts from Easy Off and a cheaper generic oven cleaner's MSDS sheets.

Easy Off Oven Cleaner pH 12.25
Rated level 2 by OSHA meaning - Temporary or minor injury may occur.

Generic Oven and Grill Cleaner pH 13.8  (remember 14 is as high as it goes)
Rated level 3 by OSHA meaning – Major or permanent injury likely unless prompt action is taken and medical treatment is given.  The MSDS sheet says also says to use a respirator, goggles without air vents, gloves rated for level 3 chemicals, and skin cream on any exposed skin. 

The Generic Oven and Grill Cleaner does a great job cleaning ovens.  It tears through even the worst ovens and if you ever used it you probably wondered why anyone would pay five to six times more for Easy Off.  Well this is the answer.  A base this strong can cause terrible damage to you and those that work for you.  It is not worth the $4.00 saved to take the risk.  This can cause life changing injuries to who ever uses it and unacceptable liabilities to you as the employer.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Reason 2 Groupon will Kill Your Business

Imagine a sales person comes into your office.  He has this great idea for you to get new clients with no upfront expense.  He has developed a network of hundreds of people that will hand out coupons for a $100 of cleaning all over the city.  All he wants in return is the right to sell this coupon for $50 and to keep half the money himself.  You will lose at least $35 on each coupon client you work for but imagine all the people that will try your service and buy more at full price.  It is an interesting idea.  So you ask some questions.

Service Owner:   Where are these coupons going to be handed out? 
Sales Person:  We have thousands of people that wait for us on the street corners every day.
Service Owner:  But where, exactly?  Do you do Highland Park?
Sales Person:  We have too many users to track, they are all over town but we always sell at least 200 of these.  
Service Owner:  Will you sell them in Over the Tracks?  I do not service that area.
Sales Person:   We will sell all over town but you can clearly state on the coupon that it can only be redeemed on this side of the tracks.

Now would you sign up for this?  You have no idea who is going to get these things.   This guy could be standing in the welfare line.  He could be going to the local college.  He could be going to the worst most dangerous neighborhoods in town.  You have no idea where he is going to hand these things out.   Let’s be 100% clear, this is EXACLTY what Groupon does.  They do not care who buys the certificate.  They will sell to anyone.   I think this is part of the reason a FEW cleaning companies have had some success with Groupon, they got lucky.  In their area Groupon happened to go a slightly better demographic.  I did a small Groupon like offer and it seems they all sold to college kids in my area because that is who subscribed to Groupon. 

Even worse, Groupon is least appealing to the people we most want to attract.  What we are selling is really free time not cleaning.  We are selling the time and relaxation they are going to get from not cleaning their own home.  These are people that value their time more than money.  These kinds of people are the kinds of people that do not have time to read a bunch of emails and offers every day to try to save a few bucks.  They do not want to print out coupons or keep track of codes.  The customers we really want are seeking to make their lives simpler and Groupon does not make their life simpler.  Simply put you have no control over who is going to get your message and even worse, the people you really want are not going to use a service like Groupon.  And this is reason 2 of 5 why Groupon will kill your business.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Tech Tuesday: Acid Cleaners and How to Use Them

We all know which cleaners work and which cleaners don't work but we don't always know we why. We often learn through trial and error. Understanding the science will help us understand if a new cleaner will deliver on its promises without risking damage to a customer's home. Also the ability to explain why a product works separates us from our competition by showing that we are true professionals with training and knowledge. In fact the topic of today's article, acids and how to use them, was the reason I won a large contract as the sole cleaning contractor for an apartment complex with over 450 units.

Most people understand what an acid is even if they don't understand the technical definition. However understanding the pH scale is important because it tells you how strong an acid is. The pH scale goes from 0 to 14. Any chemical that has a pH less than 7 (when dissolved in water) is an acid. The lower the pH number, the stronger the acid. The pH scale is logarithmic which is a fancy way of saying each point on the pH scale means the acid is 10 times stronger than the next number on the scale. So a cleaner with a pH of 1 is not slightly more strong than a cleaner with a pH of 2, it is 10 times stronger.

Acids are very useful in cleaning, especially in bathrooms. Soap scum has many things in it but in most cases it is calcium or limestone which is dissolved in tap water. As the water dries on the bath walls it leaves behind a small amount of limestone and calcium which builds up over time. Soap scum is not soap at all, in most cases it is a layer of stone made up of these two ingredients on the bathroom surfaces. This is why it is so hard to remove with normal cleaners. It is like trying to clean a rock and wondering why it is still a looks like a rock after you scrub it. The only really effective way to remove soap scum is to use an acid. Acid will dissolve the soap scum into liquid or a gas. Think of your elementary school volcanoes. Vinegar is an acid (pH 3) and when mixed with baking soda the baking soda is dissolved and/or turned to a gas. Acids do the same thing to soap scum. This is also why you need to leave soap scum remover on the surface for a while before you remove it. You need to give the acid time to work. This is also why most toilet bowl cleaner are acids. Acids remove those hard water rings and rust, although rust is whole other discussion.

While acids do a great job removing soap scum they also can do damage to some natural stone and metals like chrome. Most bathroom fixtures are chrome plated because chrome is a very durable and water resistant product. However chrome has one very serious weakness, acid. Acid will eat the chrome plating. The stronger the acid and the cheaper (thinner) the chrome plated fixture, the faster this damage will occur. It is very important that you understand the pH level of your cleaner because they all say they remove soap scum but the lower the pH the better the job it will do removing the soap scum but also the more likely the product will damage chrome. All bathroom cleaners make claims like “powers through soap scum” but these claims don't really tell you anything. The pH of the product does not lie. The best way to learn the pH of any product is to go online and get the MSDS sheet which will tell you the pH of the product. Below are a few examples of common cleaners used by residential cleaners and their pH:

Comet Bathroom Cleaner – pH 3.0 (active ingredient citric acid)
Lime Away - pH 2.0 (active ingredient phosphoric acid)
Works Toilet Bowl Cleaner – pH less than 1.0 (active ingredient hydrochloric acid)

Remember the pH scale works on factor of 10 so Lime Away is 10 times stronger than Comet Bathroom Cleaner and Works Toilet Bowl Cleaner is 100 times stronger than Comet Bathroom Cleaner. If you have ever cleaned a really nasty bathroom with years of soap scum you have probably used a toilet bowl cleaner on it and seen how it eats the scum right off in seconds. If you got the cleaner on the chrome you also probably bought your client some new fixtures.

So back to my story from the beginning. I was called to bid on cleaning apartments and common areas for a complex with over 450 units. The previous company had been doing a great job cleaning the units but they kept damaging the chrome in the kitchen and bathroom. The owner of the service kept trying different cleaners but she kept having the same problem. When they told me this I explained the reason why this was happening was because the complex was using very cheap fixtures with super thin chrome plating. As a result even very low acid cleaners (like Lime Away and CLR) that were safe in 99.9% of residences would damage their chrome. The solution was to either buy a better fixture (no chance) or to make sure we only used cleaners with a pH higher than 3 on chrome. When I explained this to them I won the contract right then and there. They had been spending thousands of dollars on new chrome fixtures and sinks. I was able to explain to them not only how I could fix the problem but I also helped them make a list of cleaners which they could give to the residents to use. This separated us from all the other bidders (that had no idea what went wrong) and the owner of the previous company that by all accounts did a great job and tried every cleaner in the grocery store but could not make the client happy.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Choosing Software for your Maid Service

Update 2/20/2012 - I would love to beef this article up becuase it is one of my post popular.  If you have any opinions on the software, especially the newer ones I am not as familiar with, PLEASE add some some comments.  I also did not want to give names of who uses what becuase I am not sure my friends want to be contacted for references on software but if you are comfortable feel free to admit ahow you are in the comments.
One of the questions I see over and over is what software do people recommend.  I was fortunate to serve as the vendor relations chair for ARCSI so I was introduced to many of the software vendors in our industry.  As recently as 10 years ago there would have been very few choices.  Just 5 years ago you would have had 3 or 4 choices of software providers.  Now there are many more options. 

All of the software providers below have plenty of functionality to meet your needs.  I am not going to try to describe each application in great detail because this article could go for 10 pages and not cover all the details.  Instead I am going to give an overview and point you to their websites for more information.  I can name at least one company that uses each of the applications below so you can be confident that all of these applications “work” and it is just a matter of picking the application that is best for you.   If I am missing any providers please leave me a comment and I will add them. 

Client Server versus a Cloud Service 
Client Server is the traditional model where software is sold to you as a product.  Usually you buy a license for each copy of the software and you have continuous rights to use the software.  You may be asked to buy upgrades or purchase a service agreement that gives you support and on-going upgrades.  The data is stored on your computers in your place of work.   You get to keep all your client data under your control and you will never lose access to the software although changes to the underlying operating system may force you to make an upgrade.  Using the software anywhere off your network is normally difficult or requires additional software.   Backing up the data is very important because if your server crashes you will lose all your client and historic information.

Cloud computing is based on making software a service instead of a product.  The software and all of the data is stored on servers owned by the service provider and you access them via the internet.  You normally have to pay a monthly or annual fee to use the software and as soon as you stop paying you will lose access to it.    This software is normally has less up front expense, but it can cost more over time depending on the monthly service fees.  The service provider normally backs up the data to give you additional protection.  However if the service provider has any system disruptions, it is possible you will not be able to access you data.  In addition, if you lose internet access, you will not be able to access your client data.  On the positive side, these applications can be accessed anywhere via the internet and to use application via mobile devices. 

Software Providers

Service CEO – This is a Client Server based application.  The software was originally developed for Maid Pro although Maid Pro no longer has any ownership in the company.  This is the application I use although when I made the decision 5 years ago there were far fewer choices.  I found Maid Easy and Service CEO to have many similar features and coming out of corporate America, I found Service CEO the most comfortable for me to use.

Service CEO Web – Service CEO has introduced a web based solution of their software.  This is a newer application and does not yet have all the functions of the client server application but most users find it easier to implement.

Maid Easy Software – This application was created by independent maid service owners to manage their own business.  Maid Easy is a client server application.  It has many of the same features as Service CEO and many people know use this application and rave about the support.  I did not like the interface as much as Service CEO but I was coming from corporate America and was used to applications like Lotus Notes and Siebel and Service CEO felt like those applications to me.  For many years 80% of the owners I met used with Service CEO Client Server or Maid Easy.  This has begun to change with the introduction of all the web based solutions, but you will still find these are the largest companies and the users of each are very loyal to their chosen application.

Thoughtful Systems – Thoughtful systems has been in business for 22 years and they use client server based model.  I actually know the least about this company because I had already made my decision on software before I knew they were in business but one of my best friends in the business swears by them.

Service Tycoon – One of the many new cloud  based providers.

Service Sidekick – Another Cloud based provider.

Schedule View – This is a client service application that was originally designed for medical centers but one service owner I know has adapted it to residential cleaning with quite a bit of success.

Service Proz - I really know very littel about this company.  This company and the one below I do not know anyone personally that uses the software.   It does not mean they are bad companies, it just means I have very little data on them.

Clean Sweep – This company seems to do most of their business in Canada.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

The end of the month scoreboard

This business can be a heck of a roller coaster ride.  Some weeks you feel like your going out of business because everything is going wrong, and the next week you feel on top of the world.  I have been writing a lot more generic advise posts than I expected when I started this blog.  I have my best material when things are going wrong and things have been going pretty well this week.  A few days ago I posted about my point system.  I have attached a picture of my actual board below.  It may be a little small or you to read all the details but remember I write lost customers in red and new customers in green.  You will note there is a lot of red and losses at the start of the month.  Right in the middle of this is when I started my blog about what I do on Saturdays.  Shortly after that, things suddenly turned for the better and we booked a lot of gains in green.

Now here is where it gets really entertaining for me.  I drew a red line of the board.  That is when I left town for two weeks to go to Charleston and Orlando.  When I left we were at a negative ten meaning we had 10 fewer appointments per month scheduled than we started at the beginning of the month.  At this loss rate of customers we go out of business in 26 months.  It was looking bleak.  Then I left for two weeks and they turned things around.  We ended the month at plus 2 points meaning we actually have 2 more on going appointments scheduled per month than we started.  Not a record growth rate but a lot better than the loss rate we were facing when I left.

My office staff has been telling for months I just get in the way.  I guess they may be right.   However I find myself without as many interesting things to write about.  It is amazing how fast the tide turns in our business.