The true confessions of a cleaning business CEO

I love spilling the secrets of what it's REALLY like running a cleaning company, and I'm here to dish the details (some are dirtier than others).
As someone with zero background in cleaning but some skills in marketing and web design, I fearlessly/brazenly launched my own cleaning biz back in 2008. I had no idea how hard it would be, but also how rewarding.

So pour yourself a glass of wine (you're not alone, wink wink) and read on for some of my off-the-top-of-my-head insights and confessions *gulp*.

Why did you start a cleaning company?
I desperately wanted my organization to embrace digital marketing, and despite making a lot of headway in my corporate communications job, I realized it was an uphill battle to bring in the marketing ideas I had, so I decided to start a business that didn't have a lot of overhead as I was still paying off student loans and didn't have any money to invest.

But why a cleaning company?
Because isn't that what anyone who's looking for a business but doesn't have any money does?

  • everyone needs a cleaner (seriously, who doesn't need HELP?!)
  • everyone knows how to clean (how hard can it be, seriously!)
  • it's super cheap to buy supplies (this is true and luckily I knew how to make a website)
  • you can go to appointments anytime (perfect for someone who still had a "real" job)

How did you go about hiring staff?
So in the beginning, it was me and a friend, who was a much better cleaner than I was. After we'd built up some clientele, we each hired an assistant and split up, each of us in charge of a team of two. Once those two were the best darn cleaners on the planet, we hired them each an assistant and they became the team managers.16

And then you just kept growing? Happily ever after?
Helllllllllll no. I mean, yes, we grew every month in SALES, but not in workforce. I believe it took 3 years of suffering to get to the point where we had 3 decent teams of 2. I fired countless employees, had one actual theft with police involvement, and dropped everything at any point during the day to go clean because someone quit or disappeared. One of my most memorable moments was being on a patio (this is precious in northern Canada) on my birthday and having to LEAVE mid-meal in order to go clean a condo for a client we had a HUGE contract with (cleaning furnished long-stay accommodations). That client still owes us money, but that's another story for another day.

How did you estimate jobs?
My biz partner claimed she could estimate no problem, but definitely underestimated jobs that first summer. I didn't eat or drink or get any breaks because I never seemed to have enough time allotted to the jobs. And don't even get me started on travel time (weather, construction, accidents). Always ALWAYS add in more time than you think you need.

How should *I* estimate jobs?
You don't need any software, calculators, or fancy algorithms. Here's my trick: whatever the number of bathrooms a house has, take that number and that's how long it will take two people to clean a home the first time. After that, 90% of homes will take 1.5 hours biweekly (condos, duplexes, bungalows), and 2 hours bi-weekly (two-storey). Add another 30 - 60 minutes if they have a finished basement, and ALWAYS give a range (add an additional hour to any first-cleaning quote) in case you need it.


  • condo 800 square feet with 1.5 bathrooms: first cleaning is 2 hours, bi-weekly is 1.5 hours
  • bungalow 1200 square feet with 2 bathrooms: first cleaning is 2 - 3 hours, bi-weekly is 1.5 hours
  • two-storey 2100 square feet wtih 2.5 bathrooms: first cleaning is 2.5 - 3.5 hours, bi-weekly is 2 hours

Sure your big houses might end up taking more time than you estimated. That's okay, you can take extra time without having to charge them, because you'll also have other clients who take less time than quoted but who will pay you the quoted amount. I never charged more than quoted, but also never charged less than quoted.

How much money did you REALLY make?
I was in business for a total of 80 months. Every month our sales increased, by about 10% each month (I think). A few things really clicked for us in year 7, at which point I started investing in Facebook advertising like a maniac (Zuckerberg owns at least one Hawaiian island thanks to my ad buys in 2014). I remember going from making $80,000 a month to $115,000 a month in less than 20 weeks.

There are many reasons this happened, which I can share with you if you'd like to chat (health benefits, social media marketing and my mystery shop program are the top three reasons that come to mind). I was happy about that because sales are how I judge not only my marketing prowess, but also how good I am at running a business overall. It's a bit of a blur and I don't have the data in front of me, but let's just say I went from driving a used Jetta to a brand new Mercedes Benz coupe, my biz partner bought an Audi and started going to Maui and Vegas every 3 months, and I could actually buy Alexander McQueen handbags (AND SHOES!!!)

But the first few years were brutal!!! My card used to decline at the grocery store. I couldn't dream of getting a line of credit because I was self-employed. I was working around the clock, and not just at training and marketing, but at actually cleaning, which was hard, exhausting work. Looking back, there were reasons it sucked so badly and reasons I finally made everything work (and it was NOT by listening to what anyone told me would work). I had to figure it out all on my own (well not exactly, I had a couple of incredible mentors outside the industry who gave me a fresh perspective).

Do you still own a cleaning company?
Ouuuuuu here we get to the dirty details. No I don't, and I didn't plan on giving away my biz. I had a big fight with my business partner resulting in a team of lawyers, offers to buy her out, and an actual court date in front of a judge! Seriously. Luckily, I won in my court case, and planned on continuing, but ultimately decided I was done running a cleaning company day-to-day.

Would you ever start another cleaning business?
This question I get asked at least once a week. Absolutely I would. The advances in technology (Jobber baby!) and my current inability to find a good cleaning company in my city make me want to start another one. But right now, I am soooooo happy working with cleaning biz owners all over the world and helping them improve their businesses. Marketing and teaching is really my fave thing to do, and I love living vicariously through everyone I do consulting for. 

If cleaning biz owners only listen to ONE THING you have to teach, what would it be?
Well I have several things to tell you:

  1. You have to be the absolute best cleaners in your city. You and your staff. Period. If you have ANY worry that you aren't, you need to talk to me. I can personally come to your business and train you and your staff. This is non-negotiable.
  2. You have to be professional in everything you do. Clean, attractive uniforms, professionally designed logos and websites, service agreements, zero grammar and spelling mistakes, neat and tidy hair, EVERY SINGLE DETAIL.
  3. You need to charge more than you think. Figure out a price, then add 25 - 50% minimum to that price. Worried about this? Than revisit my first point. 
  4. You don't need to make excuses. You are the expert. You don't owe anyone an explanation, or a reason behind your decisions. Don't want to do move-out cleanings? Then don't. (They were the highest price but the biggest headache and least profitable of all the services we offered). You don't need to bend over backwards to appease every client. 

That's all I have time for today. Have any more questions for me? Feel free to email me (hit reply) or ask in my Facebook group.

Looking for a one-on-one consultation? I offer that - check out my website to book.

I also have a super exciting group consulting program coming soon if you'd like to join my squad. And hey - I was using "squad" waaaaay before it became trendy. My cleaning company was named "Green Clean Squad" almost 10 years ago! ;)