How I Built A Six Figure Maid Company In A Year
I never in a million years thought I would clean a home for money. I’ve had a few crappy jobs, but none of them required much manual labor (unless dishwashing twice a week for 45 minutes in a sorority counts) and I simply don’t like dealing with other people’s messes.
But alas, since starting my cleaning company, while I set out to never have to clean a house, ever, I have cleaned a few dozen. Why?
Because this business sort of sucks. But we’ll get to that later.
Why A Maid Company?
So I was looking for something to do in addition to the work I was doing on Rentobo. Rentobo is the type of project that can be absolutely life-changing, but it’s no small undertaking, and I was looking for something less complex to supplement it.
I wanted an easy win.
So I just went searching up and down the internet, looking for inspiration and ideas. Like many entrepreneurs, I spent a lot of time on Reddit.
I stumbled upon a linked post that was a comment replying to a comment within a thread with hundreds of comments on reddit. I can’t find it now, for the life of me, but to paraphrase, the comment was basically “hey, this reminds me of that guy that posted on reddit about how he was making 4k a month and kept posting as he grew to 100k/month.” How intriguing!
So I ended up checking it out. I’ll spare you the details but this is what got me going:
- Proven industry with a proven example of a new company making it work
- Didn’t cost much money to get started
- Lots of competition but very little innovation – I could stand out with a good website
- Steps were basically laid out for me
- I wanted a business I could do with my dad
The beauty of this project was that I could simply emulate what the original guy, Rohan Gilkes, did with his maid company in DC, in the Chicago market. We were not going to be competing with each other anytime soon, so I could just follow in his footsteps.
Awesome. So I had the idea, now what?
I spent the next month reading up on everything I could about maid companies. I figured out what my approach would be, I figured out WHY certain things were working, and learned WHY to avoid making the same mistakes others were making. Eventually, I sat down and came up with the name Companion Maids.
So I decided to tell my dad about this. My dad was busy with his home alarm business, but we think similarly in a lot of ways (and I’ve since learned that we differ on A LOT as well) and I figured he would be game. After one long conversation, he was in.
So we had to complete the following steps to get going:
- Buy the domain name
- Get a logo designed
- Get a website built
- Have a way for customers to book appointments online with their credit card
- Setup social media accounts
- Get liability insurance and bonding (protects against theft)
- Get a business license
- Get hiring docs together
- Hire a cleaning team
- Get our first customer
So the domain name was already bought, and I decided to reach out to a few people on Fiverr to get a logo designed. Most of the design responses sucked, but I settled on this one:
Next, I decided to roll up my sleeves and get my hands ‘digitally dirty’ by building the website myself. I had spent the previous several months learning some code and doing some trial and error design, so I knew I could make the site look presentable. Today, I probably wouldn’t recommend this for most people, but I felt I had a good eye for this type of thing, so I just went with it.
To date, that original design (which I can’t find a picture of to save my life) was the hardest I’ve ever worked on a website. I was anxious to get started, but I had to make the site look good, as this was one of the only things we were doing which made us stand out in our market.
In fact, this learning experience led to me building more than 25 other sites for other aspiring maid company owners, so I’d say that’s a win!
I’d like to make an important point here. In some industries, making yourself look good and providing a smooth customer experience is all you need to stand out. I would call an industry like this a ‘dinosaur’ industry. The cleaning industry, especially 2-3 years ago, is an absolutely prime example of this. So, in this case, I was able to simply build a site and release the kraken.
In other situations, it’s important to leave the branding to specialists that you know can do a better job than you. A lot of people have opted for 99designs or Upwork, companies that allow you to hire freelancers to get the job done. Sometimes it’s worth it to spend a couple thousand dollars on giving yourself a fighting chance to succeed. People are visual, and looks matter.
With that said, my wise friend Rohan (learn more from him here) said this:
“Perfection is for people that will live forever.”
Make it look better than most sites, stop there, and move on.
Next, I had to figure out a way for people to book appointments online with their credit card. Early on, we decided that we didn’t want to accept checks or cash (because really, who wants to become a collection agency?) I didn’t need this part to be amazingly beautiful, I just needed it to work. We settled on JotForm integrated with Stripe. Sound familiar? That’s because I used the same thing 15 months later with my Genie experiment.
Once the website and social media was setup, things really started to feel real. My dad and I wanted to do this the right way from the start and get legal, but we didn’t want to commit more money than we had to. So when we started, instead of spending several hundred dollars getting incorporated, we got an assumed business name. In Chicago, this only cost $50, and it would allow our business to be recognized as a business entity under Donald Spann and Thomas Spann, “doing business as” Companion Maids. We later switched to an LLC for 2015.
Next, we got bonded. This only cost $100 or so, and covered our worst nightmare; theft of property from a client’s home. The process was simple, and my dad got it taken care of in a few phone calls.
We also looked into insurance, but after seeing quotes starting at $3,000, we decided to take the chance and let the business pay for that itself (I wouldn’t always recommend that, but at the end of the day, we were working with independent contractors, who are technically responsible for their own liability and health insurance.)
We also took the unorthodox approach of hiring a team after we got our first booking. This was a mistake. Our reasoning was that we didn’t want to “hire” someone until we had work to give them. Unfortunately, it cost us our first client.
There is always a measure of anticipation and nervousness that comes with releasing a finished product out to the world. You feel a bit naked, and you need validation. This is the entrepreneur’s version of a selfie. And instead of likes, we were looking for clients.
We were lucky in that we got our first client on the first day. I created a profile on a site called Thumbtack, and put a LOT of effort into getting reviews as soon as we could by doing cleanings even before we launched publicly. I believe we had 4 reviews when we launched. I did the same for our Yelp profile. We had 3 reviews on there when we officially launched.
I responded to people’s requests for quotes on Thumbtack, and within a few hours we had our first booking.
So we got ourselves a booking, and we had exactly one week to find a team for it. I ripped an independent contractor agreement online from a random maid company in Florida, changed the wording to suit us, and slapped our logo on it. Along with a W9 form and a code of ethics, our original hiring docs were pretty simple.
After posting an ad on craigslist, which we really haven’t changed much at all recently, we got over 200 responses inside of 48 hours. Tough market for job seekers but good for us! After whittling down candidates, we got a cleaning crew of two hired and assigned to the job. They were going to be paid 70% of the deal, which would net us roughly $45 from our first job. Not bad! As time went on, and we got a better sense of costs, we decided to pay our teams 50-60%.
I called Margi and got her scheduled for 8am on the 20th. This was obviously going to be an important cleaning for an important occasion, and I didn’t want to screw it up.
Around 9am on the 20th, we get a call. The cleaning crew hadn’t showed up at all. I tried to reach out to the team. They wouldn’t return our calls.
Thankfully, while we did end up losing that client, I was highly apologetic and she didn’t write us a bad review, so we were able to bounce back without much incident.
Our Growth Strategy
Outside of the occasional Thumbtack booking, which wasn’t scalable, we started off with Yelp! and Groupon. We wanted to focus on just a few marketing channels at once, so we could devote the proper time and resources to seeing what works, refine our processes, and move forward.
First I enrolled us with Groupon. At first, I thought it was an honor to own a business that was featured on Groupon (which has gotten us close to 100 bookings in the last year,) but our experience with Groupon clients is that they are deal seekers, with no loyalty to your brand in return.
Thankfully, I had done some research on Groupon, so I opted for the exposure of their site without the high costs of offering a high priced deal. We did a $15-$30 deal. This $30 Groupon voucher was good for $30 off the retail price of the cleaning. So if we did a 3 bedroom home, with a retail price of $157, and someone used a Groupon voucher, we would take a loss of $22.50 on the voucher ($15 voucher price-50% Groupon commission) but make money overall on every cleaning we did for them. This wouldn’t have been possible with say, a $75-$150 deal, because we’re effectively getting paid $37.50 for a $150 job, and after paying the cleaners $90 at 60%, we’d be in the hole $52.50. Not worth it.
In addition, I set out on building up our Yelp! profile as much as I could, adding pictures and more information about us. We then signed up for a 12 month Yelp! advertising contract.
Our first month of that agreement was February 2014, and 15 months later, I have MANY things to say about Yelp!, but I’ll save that for a different post. Hint: I no longer advertise with Yelp!.
Nevertheless, after our first full month with Yelp!, and our first full month after hiring a team we felt more comfortable with, we started off pretty good!
Our profit on this was a few hundred dollars, which of course we reinvested back into the business. We continued to grow somewhat quickly on Yelp!, and by May, we were well on our way to our first $10,000 month.
You may notice that there is a serious drop off between May 9th and May 22nd. Unfortunately, we were working with a team that we should have vetted better, and a particularly bad job they did landed us our first bad review on Yelp!, shattering our 5 star rating. It was AMAZING what a difference this had on our business. In terms of revenue, 53% of all of our business that month happened in one week. We had crazy momentum going, and this bad review literally stopped us in our tracks.
The main lesson we learned from Yelp! is the value of a 5 star rating in the maid business, and the importance of having multiple marketing channels. A few things happened for us at this point.
We started collaborating more with other maid companies in Chicago to cover each other’s butts on jobs. We started taking jobs that other companies couldn’t fulfill due to being overbooked (and actually took over operations of one of them.) Also, up until late May, I was doing 90-95% of everything myself. However, with revenue and a proven concept in my market, my dad started getting more and more involved in operations. I was pulling my non-existent hair out, and my dad helped alleviate much of my stress. Nowadays he does 95% of the work while I focus on other projects (and he’s doing great!)
Our Second Wind
One of the first things my dad did was get us involved with Angie’s list. When we started with them in August, our business was somewhat stagnant for the preceding 3 months. This decision gave us the jump we needed to break through to the next level. Similar to our approach with Yelp!, we got some reviews as early as possible. At this point, we were simply able to get reviews from established recurring clients, rather than one time cleans. Within a few weeks, and with minimal effort, we had over 10 reviews.
We opted into (and still pay) $500/month for Angie’s list advertising. My dad utilized every tool within the Angie’s list ecosystem he could to make our profile stand out, and make no mistake, the backend of Angie’s list is incredibly robust. Because Angie’s list’s business interface isn’t the best looking, I couldn’t be bothered with it. The ugliness and inefficiency of it’s user experience pissed me off.
My dad spent a countless amount of time with our different area reps and responded to all client inquiries quicker than probably all of our competitors. This made a huge difference as their system prioritizes quick response times.
We finished 2014 with over 25 reviews, and qualified for their coveted Super Service Award, which only the top 5% of providers get, in 5 months.
Also, by December, we were doing over $10,000/month.
Where Are We Now?
Although I really don’t spend much time on Companion Maids these days, I’m really excited about where the company is headed. We have done well over $100,000 in revenue. We have cultivated a few additional channels that are bringing us sustainable traffic and bookings, Angie’s list is still growing for us with well over 30 reviews.
As I hinted before, we cancelled our Yelp! agreement after the 12 months. We were spending $650/month on it, and whereas it might have been paying us back, we don’t like the policies of Yelp! very much, and many other owners share my sentiments.
We are finally tackling SEO by hiring an expensive firm with a proven track record of bringing cleaning companies to #1 in their market using white hat tactics. This will take a few months to affect our traffic, but once that hits, that channel alone will most likely make us a 7 figure company inside of 4 years. Also, we recently celebrated our 1,000th client this month!
All of this started because I was looking for an opportunity and spotted a post on Reddit. Remember, in life, there can be a few choice moments which can represent a real pivot or turning point in your life, as long as you take advantage of what’s in front of you.
I have parlayed my experience with Companion Maids into two other companies that are growing and in the black.
What can you do if you take advantage?