This excerpt is part of Entrepreneur.com's Second-Quarter Startup Kit which explores the fundamentals of starting up in a wide range of industries.
In Start Your Own Cleaning Service, the staff at Entrepreneur Press and writer Jacquelyn Lynn explain how you can launch a profitable cleaning service, whether you want to offer maid services, janitorial services, carpet and upholstery cleaning, and more. In this edited excerpt, the authors offer tips on choosing employees who are a good fit for your cleaning business and training them so they do the job right.
What kinds of people make good employees for cleaning service businesses? Look for people who will be enthusiastic about their work and who enjoy cleaning. Of course, you’ll find people who say they love to clean and want to do it for a living, but they don’t completely realize that as a job, it’s hard work and physically tiring. If you sense a prospective employee feels they're “above” cleaning for a living, probe further during the interviewing process. If they really feel this way, they may come to work for you because they need a job and the money, but they probably won’t stick around very long. Turnover is expensive; it’s best to take the time to hire the right people in the first place.
You’ll probably improve your chances for a successful hire if you’re more creative in your searching techniques than simply writing a “help wanted” ad. Sources for prospective employees include suppliers, customers (Use caution here: You don’t want to lose a client because you stole an employee) and professional associations. Put the word out among your social contacts as well--you never know who might know the perfect person for your company.
College students make good employees, especially for janitorial services that are often looking for night workers. Students who attend classes during the day are often available to work for you at night. And if you find them in their freshman and sophomore years, you’ll have employees with the potential of working for you for the next three or four years. Residential cleaning services often find that mothers represent a strong pool of candidates, especially those looking to work part time while school is in session.
Consider using a temporary help or employment agency to help you find qualified employees. Many small businesses shy away from agencies because they feel they can’t afford the fee--but if the agency handles the advertising, initial screening, and background checks, the fee may be worth paying.
Use caution if you decide to hire friends and relatives--many personal relationships aren't strong enough to survive an employee-employer situation. The key to success as an employer is making it clear from the start that you’re the one in charge. Be diplomatic, but set the ground rules in advance, and stick to them.
Be particular about whom you hire, even if you’re in an area where competition for workers is fierce. A good rule to follow is to only hire people you would trust in your own home--that way, you’ll know you can trust them in your customers’ homes and offices. Remember, good employees are the key to happy customers, and happy customers are loyal.
Now that they’re hired, it’s likely that the majority of applicants for entry-level cleaning jobs will need training. This isn’t necessarily a disadvantage; in fact, you may prefer to handle this yourself since hiring individuals without professional cleaning experience lets you train them to clean your way.
If you think you can’t afford to spend time on training, think again--can you afford not to adequately train your employees? Do you really want them interacting with customers or cleaning homes and offices when you haven’t told them how you want things done?
These tips will help you maximize your training efforts:
Find out how people learn best. Delivering training isn't a one-size-fits-all proposition. People absorb and process information differently, and your training method needs to be compatible with their individual preferences. Some people can read a manual, others prefer a verbal explanation, and still others need to see a demonstration. In a group training situation, your best strategy is to use a combination of methods; when you’re working one-on-one, tailor your delivery to fit the needs of the person you’re training.
Use simulation and role-playing to train, practice and reinforce. One of the most effective training techniques is simulation, which involves showing an employee how to do something and then allowing them to practice it in a safe, controlled environment. If the task includes interpersonal skills, let the employee role play with a co-worker to practice what they should say and do in various situations.
Be a strong role model. Don’t expect more from your employees than you’re willing to do. You’re a good role model when you do things the way they should be done all the time. Don’t take shortcuts you don’t want your employees to take or behave in any way that you don’t want them to behave. On the other hand, don’t assume that simply doing things the right way is enough to teach others how to do things. Role modeling is not a substitute for training. It reinforces training. If you only role model but never train, employees aren’t likely to get the message.
Look for training opportunities. Once you get beyond basic orientation and job skills training, you need to constantly be on the lookout for opportunities to enhance the skills and performance levels of your people.
Make it real. Whenever possible, use real-life situations to train--but avoid letting customers know they’ve become a training experience for employees.
Anticipate questions. Don’t assume that employees know what to ask. In a new situation, people often don’t understand enough to formulate questions. Anticipate questions and answer them in advance.
Ask for feedback. Finally, encourage employees to let you know how you’re doing as a trainer. Just as you evaluate their performance, convince them that it’s OK to tell you the truth, ask them what they thought of the training and your techniques, and use that information to improve your own skills.