What I’ve learned from running a service-based business
Lara Blanco’s experience in growing her service-based business, Clean Focus, contains relevant lessons for anyone launching their own small business. In this article, she shares her top six takeaways.
When I was recently asked what some of the most important things I’ve learned from running my business, I thought answering this question was going to be quite straightforward.
But when I looked back on how Clean Focus started, I realised there are so many lessons to reflect on. Perils, pitfalls, missed opportunities, near misses and significant wins, to name just a few.
Picking the most significant lessons became quite an interesting task, and I hope the below helps shed some light on what it’s like to run this kind of business, in the hope it inspires more people to try their own hand in the startup game.
1. Don’t treat your staff any differently
This may sound an odd lesson, but cleaning, as an example, is an unskilled, labour-intensive job, so there can be some unconscious bias when it comes to the employment and development of workers.
If you want to have an engaged team, you need to pay them fairly, incentivise them and make them feel valued regardless of what type of work they do.
We offer regular training and focus on succession planning so that cleaners have the opportunity to be promoted to a supervisor or even an account manager role.
We reap the rewards with this model as anyone who has worked a cleaning job knows the time, hours, schedule and process that enable us to quote accurately and deliver beyond expectations for the client. The cycle continues, and we build a strong team without having to waste money on recruitment and re-training continually.
Invest in your junior staff members and you’ll grow a strong team with a wealth of experience who can share knowledge and offer a superior service, whatever professional services industry you work in.
2. Create a partnership
We realised pretty early in our business development that Clean Focus needed to position us as partners alongside our clients and move away from a client and customer relationship.
I encourage our supervisors to seek feedback from client facilities and building managers regularly and work alongside our clients as an extension of their team, rather than an external contractor.
If you’re working in a professional services industry, relationship building and trust are what’s going to drive and grow your business.
3. Know your worth
It took me longer than it really should have to learn this lesson!
The cleaning industry is a pretty saturated market, and we started out thinking that going in cheap will win us business. The idea was that the more clients we won, the more leverage we would have when pitching on future and larger tenders.
We were wrong.
Quoting too low just brought headaches, long hours and stressed out teams. It was a bold move going in to quote on a tender, knowing we weren’t the cheapest, but we instantly saw improvement and growth. By quoting honestly, we could deliver on expectations and even have enough skin in the game to offer added value to our clients.
We found we had less turnover, and the staff were performing to a higher standard. Clients were giving us great feedback, and we even got a couple of referrals.
So stay true to your service, believe in your people, and protect your business by charging what you need to operate, grow and live.
4. Embrace digital technology
If you aren’t a tech firm, you may think that digital technology isn’t necessary. But be warned: taking that approach could leave your professional services company behind the competition.
Sure, rolling out a new technological platform takes a bit of getting used to. You’ll need to invest some time and money in training, rollout and implementation, but the rewards come fast.
Using MYOB has saved an enormous chunk of time when it comes to invoicing and reconciliation. WhatsApp groups are a quick, cheap and efficient way for teams to communicate and Trello and Slack are great for planning projects, pitches and outreach marketing.
By using available, off-the-shelf, paid for and free platforms, you can instantly streamline your business, saving time and money.
Embracing digital has also provided Clean Focus with hard facts and data. I can analyse cash flow, create accurate projections and spot gaps and areas for improvement in the business. All things any professional services business needs to have in spades to survive, thrive and grow.
5. Develop a sustainability plan
Not for your business, but for the planet.
Customers are no longer choosing the cheapest option when it comes to engaging professional services. They’re searching for a partner who will add value in both a business and ethical way.
At Clean Focus, we stand apart from our competitors by focusing on green cleaning practices. We use GECA-certified green chemicals, which are recognised by the Green Building Council of Australia, we also use degradable waste bags and FCA-approved toilet paper.
We’re also a proud partner of Greenfleet and offset carbon emissions by planting trees. We’ve found that these practices feed into our client’s sustainability goals and plans, creating a strong partnership with a common goal.
6. Remember to have fun
It can be all too easy to fall down the rabbit hole, becoming obsessed with your business and its success. But, if you forget to live and have a little fun, staff morale dips, stress levels rise, and no-one performs at their best.
Some professional services are sometimes seen as somewhat dry, with this stereotype covering the likes of accounting firms, architects and of course commercial cleaning.
Sure, we may not seem as wild as a marketing agency, or a tech startup, but everyone thrives on a bit of fun now and again.
At Clean Focus, we chose to run our business like a startup rather than your average cleaning business. For example, we don’t use generic business titles. Instead of a managing director, we have a chief of mopping, and instead of an accounts department, we have penny patrol.
We operate with a flat hierarchy and keep it casual when it comes to how we dress in the office. We celebrate wins by popping a cork, eating doughnuts and getting out of the office once in a while.
Taking a lunch break to work up a sweat, train and clear our heads allows us to pitch new ideas and ways of thinking and keeps our team fit and healthy.
Having fun with each other builds connections, breaks down walls and enables your team to bond and work together in a safe and happy environment with a positive culture.
There will be plenty more lessons to learn as Clean Focus moves to the next level, and I look forward to seeing how technology will further improve my business and explore different ways to maintain and develop an engaged, happy team as we grow.