2015 – Year Of The Sheep
Before we talk about my year, let’s talk about sheep, and draw an analogy from it. Sheep are a kind, gentle creature, and people tend to love them. For humans, they are great. A lifetime production of various kinds of wool, which we all know to be used for many things. We use the lanolin from wool production in adhesive tape, motor oils and auto lubrication. Sheep are great.
The other thing about sheep, however, is that they are easy to control. They do what they’re told. They rarely fight, and one shepherd can easily rule over a large flock.
Pretty much the opposite of an entrepreneur mindset.
In that sense, 2015 was an incredible year for me. It was the year I learned I would never have to be a sheep. I have control of my life, I fought long and hard for it, and I will raise hell if the level of freedom I now enjoy is threatened. Instead of someone struggling to never become a sheep, I became a shepherd.
So what happened this year?
Companion Maids ended up doing triple the revenue that it did in 2014. A lot of this was due to great work my dad did this year handling operations. I started the company in 2014, my dad got interested once it grew to a certain point, and I let him do a lot of the day to day last year while I focused mostly on Vicky Virtual.
On the marketing side, we capitalized on the momentum we gained from Angie’s List, while severing ties with Yelp! (for now.) We also retained a white hat SEO firm that would help us gain a solid footing in search results. This is something that I would do myself, but I simply don’t have the time. In 2015 I realized that SEO was and is going to make or break our business in terms of taking it to the next level. I noticed that among all of the large cleaning companies in my market and others, the main catalyst seemed to be a great position in search. In fact, this newfound stronger desire for a good ranking is a large reason behind my push to write so many words this year.
On the operations side, we refocused our efforts on two things:
- Improving our revenue
- Improving our margins
For revenue, we tweaked a few things in terms of pricing, and instituted a few pricing policies that would allow us to quote a bit more, in a fair way, for jobs that required more work than normal. The benefit of this is two-fold, because more money for us per job means a higher effective wage for our cleaners.
We implemented a program where we incentivized our cleaners for each good review they got with a cash bonus. This upped morale and quality of work among our staff. Of course, better work leads to more ecstatic clients, and a better chance of getting a review.
Then one of our cleaning teams surprised us with an ingenious move.
One of our teams, for some reason, was getting 90% of all of the “A” reviews our company got. They weren’t doing 90% of our cleanings, and they weren’t significantly better than other cleaners, so I decided to ask what they were doing differently.
They took matters into their own hands.
After each job where the client was present, this cleaning team would present a satisfaction receipt, only to be completed by the client if they were happy with the work. If the client wasn’t happy, they would rectify any spots that were missed, or re-do certain areas until the client was satisfied.
After that, they would suggest that the client write a review on their phone, on the spot. I don’t know how this team pulled this off while coming off the right way, but there were plenty of clients that were happy to login to their accounts, write a great review on the spot, and rave about the team to us later on. This made a big impact on our number of reviews, especially on Angie’s list, where we ended up quadrupling our review count on the platform, and earning a Super Service award for the second year in a row (only given to 5% of businesses on the platform.)
An important point: WE WOULD NEVER ask for a specific review, and neither would our teams. We would only ask a person to confirm that they are satisfied with our cleaning, and encourage them to write us a review. This made a big difference.
In terms of improving margins, we cut the fat.
The Better Business Bureau is a firm that used to be strongly associated with trust, but over the last few years, that image has started to fade. There are plenty of people in our older demographic (45+) that appreciate the BBB, but millennials don’t really care about it. We were spending $63/month on having a featured listing in our category on their site, and after 12 months this investment led to precisely zero bookings.
Additionally, we had to let go of a few teams that were performing poorly. In the cleaning industry, one of the largest expenses outside of payroll and marketing can be discounts and refunds. There is an “unreasonable client tax” that all of us have to deal with, and if your teams aren’t incredible, these situations and more reasonably upset clients can really cut into profits. It is important that we do everything we can to maintain a high standard of work, because everything else in the business depends on it.
So Companion Maids learned a lot as a company in 2015, we matured a lot, and we are starting 2016 with a few other new changes I won’t mention right now.
Of course, the biggest thing that occurred in 2015 was the launch of Vicky Virtual Receptionists. The full story of Vicky Virtual’s launch was a great story in itself, and my partner tells it on his blog.
We were profitable in two months.
Over the course of this year, we learned a lot of things. I was able to draw upon pretty much everything I learned working with Rentobo, which was a master class on the processes, pitfalls and beauty of running a venture-backed tech startup. I never got an MBA, but I can promise you that running that company taught me more than I could have ever learned in a classroom.
We ended up using an awesome CRM that I had experience with to store client information and call handling instructions for our receptionists. We utilize everything in the Google Apps for Work ecosystem to keep our processes in place, documented, and for communication between our clients and our team. We went through two different phone systems (currently preparing to migrate to our third) and were able to lock in what our real needs are today, and gain a strong sense of what they will be as we scale. My partner is a huge champion of Trello, so our constant laundry list of tasks have been organized within that (hard for me to admit) amazing program.
Most importantly, we hired an amazing core group of talent that have busted their chaps completely off (completely) to hold us together when we were growing fast and on the brink of true chaos.
We pulled through.
While we’re not out of the trenches yet, everyone now has a manageable stress level, our policies have been overhauled to allow for greater employee retention and scale, and our systems are getting better and better. Inserting new people into our framework is as easy as it’s ever been, and we’re excited to continue to grow our team (just hired someone today!)
I have posted mostly about the business side of my life in 2015, and I will continue to do that this year. But personally, there have been some challenges and triumphs. However, even on the negative side, the things I deal with personally I would have killed to have 4 years ago.
My life is amazing.
I have an amazing woman, live in a great city, and pretty much do what I want every day.
I hope that comes across the right way.
2016 is the year of the monkey. Unlike the sheep, the monkey is clever, doesn’t put up with stupidity, and can fight like hell. Monkeys take care of their own. Monkeys have a hierarchy, and there is a constant battle to be at the top of it.
What will you fight for this year?