How to Start a Cleaning Business From Scratch
Christopher Schwab started an outsourced Cleaning business from his college dorm, and grew it to the point he was able to work entirely remotely from Japan and London.
From there he grew to become a virtual assistant hiring expert and started a VA outsourcing company as well as a handful of other successful ventures.
He shares his experience starting a cleaning business, growing it, hiring VA’s for his company and for others, and how he was able to remove himself from day to day operations to be able to live the digital nomad dream and work completely remotely.
If you are thinking of starting a cleaning business, hiring a VA, or learning to outsource day to day operations in your own business, this article will help you learn how to do so.
How to Find a Virtual Assistant
If you really want to find a great VA, you want to find someone who might not necessarily even label themselves as a VA. But nonetheless, who can do the job you require remotely.
For example, my VA company, we focus on admin work for local businesses, we’re not a sales VA, or a real estate VA. Instead we’re really Office Admin for local businesses. So we don’t need to specifically hire a local business VA.
This means we can hire someone who’s helped run a family business, or who’s done admin work for much of their career, or who’s worked as a specific type of secretary. And then we can train them on the virtual aspects.
And I actually find this works better to find someone with the underlying skills that you need, and hire them and then train them on the virtual side, instead of finding someone who’s a VA and then teaching them the underlying skills that we need.
I think a lot of people get that wrong. And so we focus on the underlying skills.
So for someone who’s qualified and has the experience, we look for people who aren’t really marketing themselves as vas, but who can become the best VA that we need.
Common VA-based Business Mistakes
The most common mistake I’ve seen that can make a VA-based business crumble is promising quality of service at the level of an expert. I see a lot of VA companies doing this, where someone says they need a marketing funnel designer and a good marketing funnel designer can cost anywhere from $5,000 to $25,000.
I’ve spent 10s of thousands of dollars on a really good funnel designer before. But I see VA is offering the service for $15, or $20 or $25 an hour. And it’s just not a realistic thing to offer.
If you’re being honest about the level of quality that you can deliver to the client, you are not an expert in that field. But many VA businesses fall into the generalist category, but they sell themselves as a specialist. So many VA services offer 10 or 12 or 15 different services to their clients. But they’re a generalist to all of them, and that’s fine.
But, but they need to recognize and be honest that they cannot deliver the quality of an expert specialist who only does that one service. And I see a lot of VA companies making that mistake. And so their clients inevitably get disappointed when they get something that is not at the level of expert that they were hoping for.
So you have marketing VA’s, you have econ VA’s, and funnel VA’s, you have all these decent all-rounders, which is great. But you just need to be realistic about what level of service you can actually deliver. That is probably the biggest mistake that I see people make.
And this is not just true to the industry, but it’s particularly true of the VA industry. So what led me to start thinking it’s what I want you to do for that is Google Think Maids Side Hustle School, there’s a quick five to six minute interview that Chris Guillebeau of Side Hustle School did that answers questions three and four.
Why Should You Start a Cleaning Business?
Starting a cleaning business allowed Chris to become location independent and fulfill his dream of working for himself.
Starting any type of business can help you gain independence and allow you to work for yourself. Choosing cleaning specifically is a niche you could get into if you enjoy cleaning, or if you see a need in your community for more cleaning services and think you can do a good job fulfilling this either yourself or by outsourcing the work and doing the marketing, sales and business side yourself as Chris has done.
Comment below if you have ever thought of starting a cleaning business and your experience so far.
When Should You Start to Outsource Your Business
You can outsource any type of business tasks, including cleaning business tasks, as Chris did.
Here is some detail to help you figure out if your business is at the point where you should outsource.
When you should start outsourcing your cleaning business or any VA-based business entirely really depends on the business model that you’re running.
For example, an e-commerce business doing $20,000 a month is totally different than a local business doing $20,000 a month. And it’s totally different than your manufacturing business doing $20,000 a month. I see a lot of people say, Hey, get to $10K a month and then outsource, get to $20K a month and outsource. And it’s just terrible advice.
Because it’s not specific to their business model is not specific to their industry. Those things really do matter. There are certain things that you can generalize, but this is not one of them. You need to know the business model, and you need to know the stage of growth they’re at before you can make a call that you need to outsource things because a lot of people are starting to outsource too early, and it’s an enormous mistake.
Of course my specialty is local businesses. So I will stick to that but if you local service business, you shouldn’t even think about it before getting to around $15,000 to $18,000 a month, unless you have a full-time job. If you have a full time job, and you just need someone to cover some of that basic admin, and you can afford it from the salary in your full time job, that’s fine.
Otherwise, you need to have a base of revenue, and you need to have a base of profit coming through before it makes sense to offload that. So when you’re an owner, you really need a solid foundation built, meaning you’re profitable, meaning you have a base of recurring revenue every month, and you have clients that are with you a long time.
You also need to be consistently closing sales and growing. You don’t need to have a crazy growth trajectory, but you need to be closing more business than you are losing every month. So your closing rate needs to be higher than your churn rate.
And the last thing is you need to reach a point where most of your day to day is spent on busy and work and the busy work is what is really stopping you from growing, because you’re just spending so much time on the basic running of the business. And when you get to that point, that’s the point, at least in a local business, where you should start to hire a VA and offload some of that admin work so that you can refocus on growth.
I see a lot of business owners get to a good stage of growth and then hire a VA and offload everything to them. One that’s bad because the VA is only good at certain things. And you should only offload the things that they’re good at. So if everything but to it’s bad, because I see the owners become complacent. And they don’t take the extra time that they gain from hiring their VA to refocus on growth. And that’s when their business starts to crumble. So before the that stage, money should be reinvested back into marketing and sales for quicker growth,
Until you’re hitting around that $15K to $18K mark in a local business, all your profits, you need to reinvest back into marketing and sales. If you’re not paying yourself or if you can afford to not pay yourself, you should also work on systematizing before you burn on help, otherwise, you’re just wasting money that needs not be spent otherwise.
I’m a big fan of systems and automations but you shouldn’t do it with everything. You know, if you ever call a bank, and you can’t get a hold of a human, it’s a really frustrating experience. And it almost it just makes you angry. So there’s certain things you should not automate. But there’s a lot that you can and you could automate and make your business twice as efficient, and then bring on the extra time and revenue. And then you’re saving all that extra money, because you’re not having your VA is having to work two hours a day instead of four, six. So that’s a big one.
Outsourcing Cleaning VA’s vs Hiring Full-Time Employees
In terms of outsourcing and using a VA or a full-time employee, what makes more sense?
If you are a bigger business, you know, if you’re running seven figures in most industries, e-commerce is a little different, because there’s so much volume and not that much profit, but manufacturing too.
If you’re a bigger business, it’s better to go with employees generally but it differs by industry and is not something to generalize.
If I had to generalize for this question, it would be roughly seven figures is going to cover most industries, is when you should start transitioning over to full time dedicated in office employees. Before that point, VA’s grow really well with you, they’re really adaptable.
And you can build a specialized team of the A’s for each little service that you need. After that point, it becomes better and more profitable to have an in house team. You know, if you’re only doing $10,000 a month, you can’t afford an in office employee, you can’t afford it in office marketing team, you can’t afford it in office salesperson, you might have one or two marketing platforms that you’re using, like Facebook ads, you might have a VA that’s helping with a couple hours of admin work.
But at that revenue, you can’t afford to have people in house full time on a salary working for you. But as you scale up, and you have those profit margins, and you have that leeway, it actually becomes cheaper and more effective to have an in house marketer to have an in house sales guy to have an in house admin team because you’re paying them a set salary every month, you know what’s gonna cost and they’re in the office with you and they’re able to work more closely on your business goals. Instead of just viewing you as a client, they’re viewing you as their employer.
So when you’re bigger it’s a con to have a VA you can still have the ACE for specific tasks. Of course we still do that that goes without saying. But generally it becomes a con to have a VA versus a full time employee. So stage of growth is the biggest thing that’s going to determine how Reliant you become on VAs. The other thing is with outsourcing if you outsource to US-based agents, this is this is not much of an issue. And it happens rarely, although it does happen.
But with international VAs, it’s just unfortunately the case that ghosting clients is quite common. See, and part of this is pay rate. You people pay want to pay an international VA $5 to $7 an hour, which is okay. There’s nothing wrong with that. I know this is a, a big debate in the industry. But there’s nothing wrong with paying someone a good pay rate for their country. Right. It’s just geo arbitrage.
But if you pay a cheaper rate, be aware there is to a certain extent you pay what you get for it in this industry. And it’s increasingly common, where people come to me that their VA from the Philippines or from somewhere else, has ghosted them. And they don’t have access to the account they gave the VA to anymore. The VA is not responding to the emails a week went by, and they didn’t hear anything. So their customers weren’t being served. And so they come to us, and they want to try to transition to a US based firm for more reliability. And I don’t like making these generalizations again. But unfortunately, this is one that generally does hold true, is US based firms tend to be more reliable, they tend to be easier to track down, they don’t tend to ghost you as much. It’s just what it is.
Another con is reliability. If you’re hiring internationally, it is just less reliable. There are so many good days and so many good companies internationally, but they’re less generally reliable in the US. So that’s another con if you’re hiring internationally, for a VA, especially as you get bigger becomes mission critical to have that reliability.
Where to Find a VA
For us, we look a few different places from sourcing VAs.
Where we actually source vas is a mixture of Craigslist. It’s a mixture of indeed, it’s a mixture of Facebook groups, LinkedIn and old VA forums, we found if price is not an issue, VA forums are actually a great place and VA societies as well, are a great place to reach out to VA because there is a vetting process.
There people who’ve been VA s often for 10 or 15 years, they were among the first batch of VA s, when this was kind of a new job, it’s not so new. Now, it’s been around almost 25 years now. Some people were doing this, really in the late 90s. This, that there were very, very few, but there were vas who were VA’s in the late 90s. So you know, this is not a new industry now. But it’s fairly new to most people as of the last 10 years or so still, maybe even the last seven or eight.
Having said that, we find if price is not an issue, VA societies and VA forums are a fantastic source for more experienced VA’s who have industry experience as well.
- Facebook Groups
- VA Societies
- VA Forums
- Facebook Ads
We find Facebook groups are okay. But the but it’s mostly newer VA’s. There are there are of course many viewers who are not. But a lot of the newer VA s are the ones who are jumping on the job posts immediately who are applying. And so there is a lower level of expertise in Facebook groups.
Having said that, if you’re bringing them on in house as an employee VA versus a subcontractor, you’re that’s okay, because you’re able to train them on your processes. But for us, it’s a mixture of Facebook groups, Craigslist, LinkedIn, and VA societies and forms. Those are the main ones. We’ve played around with Facebook ads, and we’ve had some success. But we don’t really use that unless we’re in a pinch, just because you know, it’s a more expensive option to get applicants through. Those are kind of the sources that we use.
Other ones just include asking our current fees if they know people who are reliable that they’d recommend for this job. And honestly, just asking friends and family, if they know any former office admin staff who might be interested in remote job. So that’s kind of how we source for it. There’s no secret sauce there that you could look for. It’s pretty standard sourcing.
And what I would do a tip that I would give to people for the location they live in is to go to Craigslist and go to their local Craigslist, and then put up a post in the local high like the local office and then customer support and sales sections of the hiring board on Craigslist. And you get a lot of people applying to those ads. They’re not currently VA’s but they’re very open to becoming VA’s. And so that’s been a great source of new ways for us.
I know Craigslist has a very bad reputation. But that was the early days of Craigslist. It’s a very different place now there there are still scams that go on. There are still people who reply who aren’t serious. But Craigslist has evolved as a platform and become a very good source of job applicants. So it’s a good tip for people looking for ways outside of the typical Facebook or LinkedIn.
Cleaning Business Operations Roadblock – Case Study
The biggest roadblock I encountered starting to think maids was the speed of our growth, we went from $0 to $20,000 a month in less than 90 days. And that caused issues because I was a first time business owner. For me, it meant that I was just focused on booking people and getting them on the schedule.
I wasn’t learning how to handle my teams particularly well. I had great teams early on. So they put up with me, and they put up with a lot of mistakes. But one big mistake for me was Halloween. This is actually the story. I’ll keep it very short, just a few seconds. But this is how I ended up starting my VA company was in my cleaning company. Halloween 2016, I was still a full time student was in my final semester University.
And I was doing all exams at the same at that time, it was midterm exams, and people were calling left and right for Halloween cleaning. And I didn’t say no, I was booking people thinking that my teams would want to be on with all the extra money coming in, because we pay them a percentage. So the more cleans they do, they get a lot more money.
I was thinking that they would want to do these cleanings because hey, more money for both of us. But a lot of my team’s called off last minute to be with their family, which is perfectly understandable. I just didn’t have the foresight to ask them ahead of time.
On those days, if they would be available, I just assumed that they would be. And so I had a bunch of customers who were very angry because every other cleaning company in the city was booked. And I had really screwed up there. And some people missed their cleanings for that day. And so that was a really tough moment for me as a business owner.
Not only did my customers lose faith in me, I lost a couple of those customers. But also my teams were frustrated because I was scheduling them for cleans that they couldn’t go to. And so it was just a very big issue for me as a first time business owner, learning that balance of how much business we could take in versus the needs of my teams. And and the time respecting the time of my teams as well. These are issues that I hadn’t thought about before as a business owner because I’d only been in business a few months. So this was a big roadblock for me.
I had wanted to grow, I wanted to grow so fast, and it was going so well. But I was humbled by this experience of finding out that maybe the marketing or the sales isn’t the problem. But there’s all these other parts of running the business that maybe I wasn’t doing a good job on.
And actually I had to step back and learn those things. I had to learn the operations, I had to learn how to handle my teams properly, I had to learn the customer service parts, I had to learn foresight, right, I had to learn how to predict these things ahead of time for the next busy season, and how to handle those ahead of time. And so the biggest roadblock for me with Think Maids was really those other parts of the business.
They’re actually my strengths now. Our operations, our customer service, our teams, those are our main strengths were even better that than that. We’re even better at those than marketing. But those were early on the struggle. I would say the proudest moment with Think Maids was when I was able to take it remote.
But when I started Think Maids, it was kind of a side project I was I was debating that, or becoming a web developer at the time. I just I didn’t want to work for a boss. And so I I gave it a go and I started this business. And that was a beautiful thing when I had that first booking come in. But what made it truly real for me was a few months after I graduated university, I realized that I had slipped into this thing full time. And I had gone from kind of a side business, and it just naturally evolved into a full business.
Taking a Cleaning Business Remote
I had brought my VA on at that point for a few months. And I found out that I was able to just take it remote full time. We did a test run in November when I visited my girlfriend in Japan for a week and a half. But, and that that went perfectly well the VA handled everything while I was away. We jumped on meetings at weird times to make sure things were fine, but everything went okay. And that was a beautiful moment in my business where I thought maybe we can do this.
But the moment that I’m most proud of Think Maids is March 2016-2017. At the end of March, I believe it was March 24 or 25th 2017. I took off and I moved to Japan for an entire year. And I’ve been living since between Japan in London these past three years. But I moved to Japan for an entire year March 24th or 25th and in 2017 and I made this permanent, running my business remotely a permanent thing.
And I realized that I actually hit this dream that so many of these digital nomads talk about that so many of these business owners talk about, but they never show you how to get there. They just tell you it and then they sell you the dream, but they don’t tell you the process, I realized I’d actually hit that myself. And I did it myself.
And in just a few months that that was really the culmination of, of what I do working towards at that point for thickness. And it just made me so indescribably happy to know that that was my situation. So I would say that’s the proudest moment.
Adding Cleaning Business Services
And we’re looking forward to adding additional services we’ve played around with carpet and window cleaning these past few years. It’s something that I want to make a permanent offering what we do as well. So that’s a major focus of this year, it was a major focus last year.
But between my other businesses I just didn’t get around to it. So for think Nate’s the focus this year is really adding those carpet and window cleaning services as a full part of our business rather than just to existing customers or just to people who ask about it.
After Outsourcing Cleaning & Adding New Businesses
Yeah, so for my local business MBA program. This is for people who either want to start a local business from scratch, or people who’ve been stuck in their local business for years. In so in one case, we’ve been helped a lady who’d been stuck since 1989, at the same place.
This is a program for people who are really stuck or new. And the people who are stuck when they join with us, it’s to rebuild the foundation of their business, they often haven’t, they’ve often been good at sales or marketing, or they’ve been good at word of mouth or just teams, they’re usually good at one or two things and bad at a lot of things.
This is for people who plowed ahead being good at one or two things, but never did the basic foundational work of their business.
So this getting unstuck part of the MBA program is really about rebuilding the foundation of their business. So they know the basics in every area are covered and functioning well. It’s about implementing the right systems, of which I have many detailed tutorials for everyone goes through it.
And it’s about removing yourself from the day to day, that’s kind of the final stage is you rebuild your foundation, you put the right systems in place, you start marketing and sales, again aggressively with the right strategies. And then you start to remove yourself from the day to day so that you’re more of a business owner and less of a business manager. So that’s kind of what people sign up with us to fix is to get unstuck to get to the next stage of growth, or to start from scratch.
Comment below if you have started a cleaning or VA based business and your favorite takeaway from this article.