Show notes from Episode #129 of the Sweaty Startup Podcast.
In this episode, Nick and Max talk to us through the formation of a window cleaning business. You’ll get an in depth review of how they would start the business if they were 21 and had no money, and discuss marketing, the strategic foundation, and managing employees.
Laying the Foundation
The first step with any new business idea is to get on Google and identify your local competition. Call the top 5-10 results on the phone, pretend to be a customer, ask a ton of questions, and take notes. There’s a good chance they’ll give away a ton of information–their number of employees, jobs per month, pricing structure, etc. If you call these places and they don’t answer their phone, aren’t professional, or have long lead times, you’ll see there’s a need for window cleaning.
Next, start to think about your business. Find an available domain that you like, and don’t be afraid to put effort into the name. Max will spend 2 hours making a list of everything that comes to mind, narrowing it down to the 5-10 good ideas that come out of it, and see what’s available. You want something clean, memorable, and ideally under 15 characters.
Your First Customers
Grab $100 of basic supplies including an 8 foot pole, a squeegee, a brush, and soap. Order 2,500 door hangers and 2,500 business cards, you’ll use them faster than you think. Print your domain on them and get ready to work.
On day one, put hangers on as many doors as possible as you can after work. Strike up friendly conversation with anybody you see in the yard. Tell them about your business, but don’t make it a sales pitch. Gain trust and be likeable and people will respect your hustle. For your initial customers, offer a discount if they leave a Google review in exchange with pictures. If you’re not afraid to walk up and shake somebody’s hand then you’re at a huge advantage.
When you have early customers and some experience, install WordPress on your domain and put together a 5 page website. Consider using Canva or Fivver for design work. Install an SEO plugin like Yoast. Set up a gmail account for your business, including a Google Voice phone number that forward to your sell phone and a Google My Business location so customers can find you on a map. Treat that as your social media. Things don’t have to be perfect yet, but this will give you credibility as you gain clients.
Once your weekends are booked and you want a more legitimate business, focus on an LLC and insurance setup. Reference Nick’s tool list. The second you’re about to hire, make sure you have worker’s compensation.
With your first hire, it’s all about tracking their time and paying appropriate unemployment, insurance, worker’s comp, etc. Max handled all of this himself for the first three months, and would not do that again. Instead, consider a service like Gusto.
Don’t stop with guerilla marketing. Go to business park and offer to clean one of the offices for free. Now go to the neighbors, and say you just did a cleaning and offer to do theirs at a discount since you’re already there. Retail shops, restaurants, and car dealerships are easy targets.
If you get a friendly no, go back a second or third time. Max has spreadsheets with every name, a star rating of how the conversation went, and key notes for future use. You want to be a familiar and friendly face.
When you decide you’re more than a one man operation, constantly be on the search for new employees. If somebody at a store or restaurant provides great service, ask them if they know anybody looking for work and give them your car. Mention the wage, and be willing to may 20% more than anybody else. Set up a couple hoops to jump through early on like open ended questions on the job application.
Reference Nick’s talk on the motivational interview to separate the good people from the bad.
Have your employees get really good at one or two things and let them hone that. Avoid complicating things with too many responsibilities.
Going Above and Beyond
Once you have money coming in, invest in things that will save you time and money.
Nick loves Jobber as his CRM tool. For a reasonable monthly fee, Jobber keeps track of customers, handles quote forms, scheduling, billing, and customer communication.
Go for 100% online credit card payments only. Don’t waste time on a job waiting for a customer to give you a check or cash.
Refer to Nick’s guide on content marketing to get your website ranked higher. Create an article on your site designed around some keywords with resources for customers to read and find you online. Upload an article on “The ultimate guide to cleaning windows in [city]”. People will still want their windows cleaned, and now they’ll know about you. It won’t take much to rank highly.
Start offering upsales. Upsales are valuable because you don’t have to pay again to reach the customer, so it’s extra revenue on top of your normal ROI. Wash solar panels, power wash other surfaces, and clean screens.
Value your time. Be willing to do extra stuff and go above and beyond, but charge for it. People will be willing to pay.
You don’t need every customer. It’s much better to get fewer customers at a higher price, your margin is your ability to hire employees and scale the business.
Lastly, buy your equipment used. Nick has a great guide on buying cargo vans.
Take action, get it going, fail, learn, and succeed.
Market research and business creation [1:00]
Getting customers [5:00]
Building a website [8:40]
The first employee [16:50]
Guerilla marketing [18:45]
Hiring tips [25:30]
Business processes [33:40]
Extra credit [36:35]