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Should You Work From Home?

This is a very important and serious question. While some entrepreneurs' choices are limited by external factors, there are many issues to consider and to some extent this first decision can set the tone for how successful your business will be.
Even if your circumstances limit your choices, it is a good idea to read the information below just to see what
woman running cleaning business from home
Some of the pitfalls may be with operating out of your home or a separate office.
do you have the money to start a cleaning business
The costs involved in establishing your business from your home will be much lower than organizing a separate commercial office space. Out of your home you can use or borrow from the rest of your house things like the phone line, computers, furniture, etc.
If you rent office space you will have additional expenses such as rent, new equipment such as new
computers and furniture, insurance, alarm system installations if the premises do not already offer this, installation of phone lines and and internet connection, etc.
For some it will be just too expensive to rent a separate office space. For many entrepreneurs one of the main appeals of starting one's own cleaning business is the fact that the startup expenses are low.
Running the business from your home is certainly very convenient. For one, you will ensure that you have a very short commute! If you are going to be operating the business part-time initially it makes it easy to perform your daily errands that you may need to do as part of your personal life.
Family Obligations
It's no secret that many stay-at-home mothers and fathers start a cleaning business because it's an ideal way for them to watch the kids at home and make some extra money on the side. Having children around, however, can prove to be too distracting for some. In fact, just being home at all many find too distracting to focus on their business.
Your business growth may be hampered at some point as eventually you will need to hire more employees as your business takes off. While many cleaning businesses remain being home-run operations for years, even after hiring several office staff, this does of course pose difficulties.
Firstly, many people would have a problem sharing their home with an employee. There is something to be said for keeping your personal life separate from your work life and it does impact on your image as a boss if your employees see you in your home setting dealing with your personal issues in the workplace.
Secondly, if you are hiring more than one office administrator it may be uncomfortable to have a stranger, or almost-stranger, around your home, particularly as there may be periods of time where you will not be home to monitor their actions.
It's also important to consider that many cleaning businesses operate by the cleaners arriving in the morning to pick up their schedules for the day. This may mean that you could easily have 10-20 employees going through your home. Many of whom you probably will not know very well.
Providing A Suitable Work Environment
Whether you operate your business from home or from an outside office it is vital that you do your best to create a suitable work environment. Of course you may have kids and pets around, which can be distracting enough, but even if you operate your business from home you can create a separate work environment by partitioning a part of a room and by setting it up adequately with a desk, phone and computer (all of which will be vital tools in running your new business).
We have not encountered any home situations where it is impossible to create a suitable work environment at home, but it may take some work on your part and you should be prepared for this if you are going to go this route.
Efficiency and Self-Discipline
Some people find it impossible for whatever reasons to work from home. It does require an enormous amount of self-discipline, but you should not be disheartened if you do not take to it immediately. It can take some time to get into the swing of things.
Procedures are important in your new business, but even more so if you are operating from home as they provide you with a certain amount of structure.
While you may face different problems and issues from running your business from an outside office, many people do find it easier to get themselves into a work frame-of-mind. Simply the commute from home to the office helps to create the distinction between work and home, but this becomes blurred when you do work from home.
Are you in love with the idea of working from home?
Working from home is a dream for many. You may have visions of yourself taking a leisurely jog around the block in the morning, reading the newspaper with your coffee at the kitchen table, taking lunch with your spouse in the middle of the day, but you should not delude yourself.
You should absolutely definitely not run your business from home just because you think it will be "easier" because in many respects it is not.
Just try to imagine it. Starting your business, that is those first few weeks, is the hardest. What will you do when you're sitting at your desk at home, waiting for the phone to ring? Will you turn on the TV and catch the midday movie to fill in the time? This is exactly the trap many fall into. If you had your separate office you could not just turn on the TV. You would be forced to turn your attentions elsewhere. Such as what about spending the wait-time brainstorming? The thing is that any time you are not actively working (that is answering phone calls or communicating with employees, etc.) can always be spent just thinking of new marketing techniques. There are always new things you can be doing in the way of marketing.
So after all this what should I do finally?
In the end no one knows your own situation better than you, so it is very difficult to advise others.
However, if you have the funding to rent a separate office and no other limitations, this is preferable.
But if you decide that you will try to run your business from home and you have thought about it carefully and weighed up the pros and cons mentioned above you should not feel bad. You are no less likely to succeed than if you rented a separate office.
Enthusiasm and dedication can make up for a lot. Having a separate office will not save your business if you are not committed to seeing it succeed and are not prepared to work hard at it.
Of course many successful cleaning business owners begin by operating out of home and graduate to a separate office later when they could really use the extra space.
You will absolutely need a desk with enough space for a computer, telephone and drawer space including filing space.
You will absolutely need a telephone. Perhaps this is the most important part of the business as this is where your clients will contact you.
Ideally you will be able to answer your phone any time of the day. Especially during the initial setup of your business you may be out of the office quite a lot, even doing some of the cleaning yourself. If this is the case then you really should have your home phone diverted to your cell phone, or use your cell phone number as your business number in the first place.
If you are going to be using your house phone you will definitely need to change your machine message to reflect your business. It is absolutely vital that you have a professional-sounding answering machine message. Your kids may be very cute on your answering machine but they will definitely not inspire confidence in your prospective clients that you are a professional.
A good example of an appropriate answering machine message is:
"You've reached Happy Maid Service.
Thanks for calling.
Sorry we are not available to take your call at the present time, but it is important to us so please leave your name and number and we will return your call promptly."
You will definitely need a computer with internet to be used for composing various documents, searching and posting ads on the web, checking email and for your special cleaning business software.
Having a good software is very important for assisting you with the running of your new business. A good software will not only assist you with running your business but it can be very instructive as well.
Thoughtful Systems' Scheduling Manager
The Scheduling Manager, produced by Thoughtful Systems, Inc., is a great software for cleaning businesses. It will assist you with storing all information about your customers, setting up with your recurring schedules, billing and payroll, but will also help you with your marketing with its sophisticated email module. It also includes several letters such as gift certificates, thank you letters, etc. which can be very useful.
They will also work with you on financing by setting up a payment plan for you so that you can afford the software so there really is no excuse for you to begin without adequate software.
Click here for more information about the Thoughtful Systems' maid service software.
Of course, the people you hire to do the cleaning work are going to be a critical aspect of the success of your house cleaning business. You’re going to want to set up a list of desired characteristics for your prospective employees. You’re going to want to define a set of core competencies for your employees. These employees will have access to your clients’ houses, so you want to make sure they’re honest and reliable. It’s a good idea to do a background check on each applicant, to check if they have any criminal convictions, etc.
In some areas of the country it is harder to find good employees than others. In these such areas there is a tendency to "settle" for less-than-ideal employees. This may seem a good idea at the time as advertising and interviewing candidates can be very time consuming, but will hurt you much more in the long run. If the employee leaves or you fire them you will have to start back at square 1! Often, it is worth the hunt to find a good employee that hopefully will be with you for years to come.
Besides this, you’re going to want to decide whether your employees should have the competence to read and speak English. If you’re going to be giving them printed job tickets (generated from your specialized maid service software), they're going to have to be able to read and understand English. However, if employees are going to be working in teams, it’s sufficient of only the team leader has this competence. Also, some specialized software applications for residential cleaning businesses will print job tickets in Spanish, or some other language. Ask your software vendor whether their software does this.
There are a variety of methods for training your staff. One popular method is to have new employees watch a few videos, which show in detail what they are expected to do in the customers’ houses, what chemicals they should or shouldn’t use for each part of the house, what to do and what to avoid doing, etc.
It's also a good idea to send your employees out in groups, such as in pairs or in threes. Not only does this make training easier, as your new employees can accompany more experienced employees and learn from observation, but also sending them out in groups means they can watch over each other. It has been shown that this leads to lower instances of accusations of theft and other errors on the employees' part.
A good software, such as Thoughtful Systems' Scheduling Manager, will allow you to group your employees together into teams to schedule.
It’s costly and time-consuming to train new employees, so you’re going to want to do what you can to retain the good employees.
I have heard several maid service business operators complain about the unreliability of employees, and claim that this is the prime source of the failure or stagnation of their house cleaning business.
Several of our more successful house cleaning business owners have established a bonus system for employees who perform well, who show up when scheduled, who get few complaints, etc. By encouraging good and efficient work and by showing appreciation through payment of bonuses, these employers have greater success in retaining good employees, thus ensuring good, efficient service to customers and fewer complaints.
Note: Check that the software you purchase has a facility for recording Quality Control information about employees. With this feature, you can make a record each time an employee receives a complaint or compliment and make decisions about which employees to reward, and which need more training (based on the Quality Control reports generated by your professional house cleaning software).
For your software, try the Scheduling Manager, which has been specially designed for cleaning businesses. This will be of enormous help to you when you start our house cleaning business.
Paying Your Employees
There are several ways you can pay your employees:
Fixed amount per job.
How should you pay your employees? Well some owners devise a complex method of a combination of the above, but it is actually quite important, in our experience, that the pay method should be relatively simple. This makes it easy for your payroll person to do payroll (which can take hours) and also easy for your employees to understand.
Commission is a nice way to pay your employees as it feels to them that they have a stake in how successful your business is. If you earn more, they get more. The downside of this is that you will need to tell your employees what you are charging. This may make them start questioning whether they are getting a big enough commission. Why do they only get 40% of the job when they are doing all the work? Many companies do not want their employees to know what they are charging for exactly this reason. But it is unlikely that you can keep your employees in the dark for long if they really really want to know.
Your Office Procedures
You will soon discover that the success of running any office depends upon procedures and rules. Very often when running a business there will be a tendency to break or bend your own rules from time to time. Very often when this happens it backfires and reminds you why the rule you broke was so important in the first place!
Some of the procedures you will need to think about and write down will be:
1) The rules for answering the phone and for speaking to clients.
This may sound pretty obvious, but you'd be surprised at how many people take for granted that others know the correct telephone etiquette. There are the basics such as:
Always answer with the company name. For example "ABC Cleaners how can I help you?"
Never put the customer on hold for a great length of time.
Always get their name and number before you quote them any prices. This is not as difficult as it may sound. Many people do not mind these questions. You can offer to add them to your mailing list to be notified of specials. The reason for this of course is that if you quote someone the price and they hang up and you have no way to follow up with them there is no way you can do any research about your competition and on what people think of your prices.
If they ask your assistant a question they are not sure how to answer, there is no need for them to get flustered. They should simply tell the caller they are not sure and ask if they would mind holding for a few moments while they find out the answer.
You can download a sample New Client Form below from our Downloads page here.
2) The rules for handling complaints.
No matter how good your business is there will always be complaints. You must make sure your office assistants are well-prepared to handle complaints when customers call.
For less serious complaints (the cleaner forgot to vacuum behind the couch, etc.):
The first thing to do is to apologize! Say you are terribly sorry that the cleaning was not done to their satisfaction and, unless this customer has a habit of complaining a lot, you should offer to do the next cleaning at least at half price - perhaps even free! In this situation it is incredibly important that you follow up with the customer after the next cleaning to make sure they are happy. This will impress them and will show that you are committed to providing good services.
Again, a software package such as the Scheduling Manager by Thoughtful Systems allows you to not only record complaints received from customers, which enable you to run reports to see your cleaners' average ratings, but you can also schedule pop-up reminders, which you can set to appear after the customer's next cleaning to remind you to call them to follow up.
To read more about Thoughtful's maid service software click here.
For more serious complaints (the cleaner stole my earrings, etc.):
These complaints are a little more tricky. Probably your assistant should pass the phone to you, the owner, to handle at this point. If you are not available, the assistant should take as many details as possible about what was stolen, allegedly by who and when.
You as the owner will then need to confront the cleaner. It can be very difficult to determine in these situations who is telling the truth and who is lying or mistaken. It has happened before that customers have been mistaken and they actually left their earrings somewhere else, for example. These exact situations are why it is a good idea to send your cleaners out in teams. It means they can watch each other and, unless they happen to be very good friends, it is unlikely they will turn a blind eye.
If your employee has been working for you for a long time and you trust them a great deal well this definitely counts for a lot. In this situation it is probably best to call the customer back and ask them if they are sure, or if they could double-check that the earrings are definitely gone and explain to them how trustworthy your cleaner is.
If your employee could have taken the item, and if in fact you are quite certain they did, often simply a threat of contacting the police can make them confess. A reassurance to not call the police if the item is returned will often resolve the situation. Of course this employee is not going to be working for you anymore, but the main thing is that you have the item back to return to the customer.
Rules For Hiring Employees
Hiring employees is very important. It can be a big mistake to hire the wrong employees, so it is a great idea to think about and to create your own application.
It is a good idea also to get references from your employees. Whoever they are and whatever their background, if they cannot supply you with at 3 least former employees or even family members or friends who are willing to vouch for their character this is a bad sign and you should definitely not hire them. Once you have the references you should contact them also.
You can download an Employment Application by visiting our Downloads page here.
Pricing Your Services
Pricing can be tricky. It's hard to advise on rates as well as it really depends on your particular area. A good way to get a feel for what prices you should charge is to scope out the competition. Call yourself or have a friend call to find out their prices.
You may not necessarily want to undercut your competition, however. If you're not careful this can lead to a price-war with your competition which will hurt both of you.
You also want to be careful that it is not always the best idea for your main selling point to be price. It's much better to be more expensive than your competition as long as you can justify being more expensive. Tell them you give them more personal attention, and that you go the extra mile and work hard to make sure that they are happy. You understand that you work for them so they don't have to.
Also you can always changes your prices later as you go along.
Some companies make a point of doing on-site estimates. This can be a good idea as it gives you an idea of exactly how much time it will take to clean a client's house, but be careful of being too pushy. Remember your clients are coming to you so that they don't have to spend time dealing with cleaning their homes. An in-home estimate can seem like a big deal to them if they work all day and all week so don't push it if they don't want it. Get as many details about their home as you can over the phone and make an estimate as to how long the job will take. You will get much better at it as you go along.
It's also much more economical to not to an in-home estimate. After all, you have to pay someone to go out and do the estimate or do it yourself and your own time is money too.
Many companies demand a credit card up front so that they can simply charge if the job turns out to be much more than what was estimated.
Sending Out the Employees
As we have mentioned several times already, it's a good idea to send your employees out in pairs at least as they can keep an eye on each other.
Unless you are in a major city with a good public transport system, your employees will need to drive.
Some companies get by by having one driver for the whole company. This person then spends the whole day ferrying employees about from one job to the other.
It is a bit more efficient, however, for the cleaners themselves to drive.
If you have enough capital you can purchase (or lease) cars for your employees to drive, or you can insist that they drive and compensate them for mileage expenses.
Another good thing about sending your employees out in pairs is that only one of them needs to have a car and be able to drive.
Getting Employees Their Schedules
One way or another you'll need to get your employees their schedules for the day so they know where they're going.
A good software program, such as Thoughtful's Scheduling Manager, will provide you with several options for getting the schedules to the employees.
If your employees come to your office first they can pick up hard copies of their schedules.
Whether the employees come to your office first or not depends upon a few things.
First of all is it convenient for them to come to your office? If you are providing services to a large geographical area, you may be taking advantage of the fact that some of your employees live a distance away in a different area. Branching out like this enables you to provide services to a larger area. In this case it would defeat the purpose if they had to drive all the way to your office in the morning.
Secondly, if many of your clients provide you with keys your employees are going to have to come to your office to get the keys for the day's jobs.
Thoughtful's Scheduling Manager software gives you the added options of emailing the schedules to the employees, or also text-messaging them their jobs for the day.
Cleaning Supplies
Some companies provide their employees with cleaning supplies, others request that the employees bring their own supplies and others insist on using the customer's own cleaning supplies. Indeed some customers may prefer you to use their own cleaning supplies.
It's a good idea, particularly if your employees come by your office, to provide them with some basic cleaning supplies. For a sample checklist of cleaning supplies visit our Downloads page by clicking here.
It would be nice to be able to use the customer's supplies, and perhaps you should make this a general rule, but it would be a real shame for your employee to get to the customer's house and realize the customer is without vacuum bags. The name of the game, remember, is to impress your customers with your high level of service. That's what they pay you for and may even be why they pay you more than the competition.
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