3 Steps to Winning Your First Customers

 

Senior woman at front doorWhen you first start to clean for a living you need customers ASAP but have no professional experience, no referrals and no momentum. Take heart~ you have the qualities you need to jumpstart the process, and they count for more than experience.

Who are your future customers? Maybe they are older and in need of some support to continue living on their own. Maybe they are a young family trying to keep up with a busy life. Maybe they have always had help with household tasks and can’t imagine it any other way.

Whoever they are, their bathroom needs to be cleaned and they know it.

They either have no help at the moment, or they are less-than-happy with their current help and keeping an eye out for someone new. They are on the lookout for you.

Your 3-step mission (should you decide to accept it) is to:

Step #1: Find them

 Step #2: Help them come to the conclusion that you are a trustworthy and reliable human being who intends to do a good job

 Step #3: Be willing to work cheap (Sorry, it’s the reality in the beginning)

 

Steps #1 and #2: Networking

Steps #1 and #2 are nearly rolled into one, because the best way to find your first customers is also the best way to help them view you as trustworthy.

What used to be called ‘Word of Mouth’ is now called ‘Networking’, and it has always been more powerful than flyers or ads because the information comes packaged in the best of all advertising packages~ a personal recommendation.

When someone vouches for you, it creates an atmosphere of trust between you and your potential customer. Trust, meaning a level of comfort about who you are as a person, is the first essential requirement for hiring you~ more important than experience.

I recently learned how much even a casual recommendation can count for. When I relocated to the town my daughter and her family live in, she posted on a couple of local facebook groups to say that her mother had moved to town, cleans for a living, and is running a half-price special to get business started.

I got a lot of work (and some great customers) out of that promotion, even though the people who responded did not know my daughter personally. They felt a comfort level because someone who is a part of their extended circle vouched for me. They probably would never have pulled a tab off a bulletin-board flyer to call a complete stranger; half-price special or no.

 

Networking Prep Work:

  • Business Cards: Get business cards made up right away; it’s an easy and professional way to leave your contact information with people you know and people you don’t. Business cards are inexpensive; there are online specials or you can create them on your printer at home. Get creative so your cards have a sharp and professional appearance. If you feel any discomfort about the personal information you’ll be handing out to strangers, consider including just your first name and cell number as the contact info.
  • Web Page: Consider creating a very basic website so a potential customer can learn more about you; a 1-page website is all you need. It’s easy to do and makes for a good impression when listed along with your contact info. Keep the site clean and simple; your sole purpose is to relay that you are an intelligent and likable person who is serious about cleaning. Include a bit about who you are, what your service includes, and perhaps a good picture of yourself… along with contact information of course (again, use just first name and cell if you like). If the name of your website includes your city and a term for house cleaning – Ex: YourtownHouseClean.com – you might get some random traffic from people specifically searching for cleaning help in your area. There are website services such as Weebly.com that offer free basic website hosting and have user-friendly software. Having a web address can add credibility to business cards, emails and social networking posts.

Start Networking: (some of these tips are to help you find great long-term customers, and some are to help you stay afloat during the process; most tips apply to both)

  • Tell Everyone you talk to that you have started to clean for a living and that you hope they’ll help spread the word. Offer to give them a few of your business cards in case someone they work with/go to church with/are neighbors with might need cleaning help.
  • Email all contacts who live in your area or know people in your area, saying something like:“Hi there~ just trying to get the word out that I have begun to clean homes for a living! If you or someone you know needs help with ongoing cleaning or a short-term project, please contact me at: kate@myemailaddress.com cell # 555-555-5555 www.YourtownHouseClean.com.  Great Introductory Rates! Thank you so much for your support!”
  • Re-send the email every week or two with status updates (“Thanks for your help~ I have 2 new customers!”) and perhaps a ‘special of the week’; repeating the request that they pass along your contact info to folks they know. (there is a rule in advertising that states people need to see an ad 3 times before they remember it; sending out reminders regularly will help keep your request at the forefront)
  • Post on facebook and/or other social media outlets asking friends and family to share your post announcing your new business.
  • Advertise your new service through any organization you belong to such as church, school, moms groups, etc. Talk to pastors or other people in positions of service because they know who might have a need for house cleaning and can pass along your business card. (doesn’t hurt to stop into church offices all around your area to introduce yourself)
  • Talk to Strangers! Be on the lookout for nice people you might want to strike up a conversation with. It’s as easy as “Would you mind if I ask about that cleaner you’re buying? I’ve started to clean homes for a living and I’m looking for the best products.” If your new friend from the checkout line walks away with a good impression of you, it’s quite possible they will hand your card to someone they know if they aren’t looking themselves. (I now have a once-a-week full day customer from striking up a conversation while buying vacuum bags!)
  • Target a neighborhood you would like to work in by knocking on doors to introduce yourself. It is not as effective as being recommended by someone (nothing is), but still allows them as potential customers to size you up, get a good impression, and have your contact info on hand.
  • Network for 1x Rental Turnovers: Because many established house cleaners turn down 1x jobs to clean up rental properties after tenants move out, it can be an opportunty for you. It’s a tough and temporary gig, but great experience and a chance to build a reputation. Contact anyone you know who has rental properties, and drop off your business cards to rental management companies.
  • Network for 1x Real Estate Sales: A home seller must leave a property thoroughly cleaned when they move out, but are usually stressed and exhausted by that point in the process. Contact any real estate agents you know, and drop off business cards clipped to flyers outlining your service for Sellers to real estate offices so agents can pass them along to their clients.
  • Network for 1x New Construction Cleaning: When the construction is finished on a new home or remodel and the final piece of trim is painted, the contractor hires someone to clean up before turning over the keys. Drywall dust is on everything so it’s not as easy as easy as it sounds. Contact anyone you know in the construction business, and drop off business cards at local construction companies. (I’ve heard that specializing in this type work can be lucrative)
  • Network for 1x Jobs Close-to-Home: Everyone has a list of chores hanging over their head that need doing, including all the people you know. It might not occur to someone who does not usually ‘hire out’ that you could solve a real problem for them in an affordable way. Get good at tickling their wish bone… clean the basement? clean the garage? clean bathrooms only? Never pressure, but offer for a bargain price. (or make it your weekly special in the email update :)

Step #2: The Interview

Short term Project: When someone contacts you about a 1x job it’s best to meet first to go over the details so you can go in with a battle plan the day of cleaning. Get a very specific understanding of what they would like accomplished. If meeting beforehand is not an option, showing up the day of cleaning loaded for bear (plentiful supplies!) will work… just be sure that you understand their expectations before they leave you to your task.

Ongoing Cleaning: When someone contacts you about the possibility of cleaning regularly, you really want to put your best foot forward. Offer to stop by at a convenient time so they can take you for a tour of their home and explain what type of cleaning help they are looking for.  When you arrive, you should be dressed nicely. (not overdressed; but professional casual) Your goal is to leave them with the impression that you are a competent and likeable person. (Remember Step #2: “Help them come to the conclusion that you are a trustworthy and reliable human being who intends to do a good job”)

I always offer to take my shoes off when I step in, because that’s how a lot of households roll. (so I wear good socks)

House Tour: As you tour the house together you don’t need running commentary, but it’s a good time to ask specific questions about their priorities or offer input that is knowledgable about how to tackle this or that cleaning challenge. Generally, people are pretty trusting that you know what you’re doing, which works in your favor. Take a pen and notepad in case you’ll need help remembering various rooms and features when you review.

Wrap Up: As you complete the tour, offer to answer any questions they might have about you or your service. Be sure you know how often they would like cleaning (weekly; bi-weekly, or once-every-4-weeks), and if they have preferences regarding the day of the week you’d come.

 

Step #3 Pricing, and How to Get Past It: You are in their home because they want someone to clean for them, and you want to clean. If you both feel comfortable with each other, getting the job is going to come down to price.

Will the price be set by the hour or by the job? (Paying by the job should be based on how long it takes anyhow, so to me that’s always been six of one half-dozen of the other)

Instead of quoting a price they are forced to accept or reject, consider working with them to find a price that serves both your purposes- perhaps for an agreed-upon temporary period of time. You can be straightforward about just getting started in the business and being unsure what your expenses and rates will ultimately be. What do they feel would be a fair price to get started?

If the price they suggest causes you to internally scream “Yes!”, then by all means say “Yes”. If you are unsure whether it will be enough to make it worth your while, avoid committing to anything (at least for the long-term) and let them know you would like to take all the information you’ve gathered and get back with them in a day or two.

In the beginning I worked for a rate roughly equivalent to an entry-level office job, which after expenses amounted to not-very-much. I stayed at that price for too long because I had agreed to it as the regular price… and it’s an awkward and uncomfortable thing to raise the rate once everyone is settled into the deal. If I had it to do all over again, I’d set an introductory rate with the understanding that we’d review it once I had more professional experience under my belt. They’d benefit by a low rate for the time being, and I’d get work and experience with the possibility of increasing the rate in the future.

 

The Pay-Off for Working Cheap

I paid my dues again when I relocated recently. The ‘special deals’ I referred to in my daughter’s facebook post nearly killed me. (not literally) I worked a season of grueling long days for less than half what I was used to earning; so that I could prove myself. Out of that season came several terrific customers that are now on my permanent schedule, and several more from people they recommended me to.

Any work is better than no work, and all work is good experience.

 

Notes of Caution

  • Safety with strangers: It is just as important that you feel a comfort level with your potential customer as they do with you; not just for business reasons but also for your personal safety. It is good to talk by phone rather than just email before setting a meeting; that gives you a much better sense of comfort level. It is good to let someone know where you’ll be, and/or any other common sense precautions you can think of before entering a stranger’s house. (Sorry, I’m such a mom! :) And be especially careful if working alone in a rental turnover, etc., or if you go beyond networking to advertise through classifieds such as craigslist or hanging flyers.
  • Unhealthy Connections: The networking concept depends upon you having a circle of friends and family that enjoy healthy relationships and mutual support. If that is not the case for you, targeting neighborhoods to introduce yourself might be a better main focus.
  • Physical overwork: Cleaning is hard work, and if you are just getting started you might not have the stamina you’ll have later. It can be especially challenging because the first cleaning visits to a customer’s home tend to be the hardest, and 1x jobs like rental turnovers can be exhausting. To avoid working yourself into an over-tired state, try not to book the extra hard days back to back, and guard against injury because your body needs time to adjust to the physical schedule.

 

Please Chime In!

Share your winning tips for getting customers right from the start…

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