Karen Bickford of The Cleaning Advantage tells us about house cleaning services.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Karen Bickford: My husband, 21-year-old daughter, and I are doing fine. We follow the COVID protocols or mask-wearing in public spaces, as well as diligent handwashing and keeping our distance. We have all remained healthy during the crisis thus far.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded The Cleaning Advantage.
Karen Bickford: I founded the company in 2004 when I was working a corporate job, and it was impossible to find a reliable cleaning service that would actually show up and do a good job. The idea was then born to start my own cleaning company. I launched in April of 2004 with zero clients and zero employees. In 2020 prior to the COVID crisis, we had over 200 recurring bi-weekly clients and were cleaning 25 homes per day with 16 employees.
How does The Cleaning Advantage innovate?
Karen Bickford: Being a small business managing the general public as well as employees, there are always new ways to innovate. Typically when something goes wrong, we find a way to create a system so that issue doesn’t crop up again. I guess it is a good thing for failures as they are the reason for new innovations, systems, and processes. In 2004 client appointments were done on a paper calendar, driving directions were printed out from MapQuest, and employee hours were manually tallied into an Excel spreadsheet. Over the years, with all the technology readily available, we are paper-free, and most things in the business are fully automated, with the exception of the actual cleaning of homes. Technology is an important tool in running a service-based business. Thinking back now, I don’t know how we did it without the technology and software programs we have today.
How does the coronavirus pandemic affect your business finances?
Karen Bickford: Business has changed pretty dramatically through the pandemic due to the nature of the work we do being in client’s homes. Most are scared to have anyone other than immediate family in the home. This, of course, has impacted business in a negative way. However, there are people who welcome a cleaning service with open arms as keeping surfaces, and the home clean and sanitized is top of mind for them. It is those clients that are keeping our business running right now.
Did you have to make difficult choices regarding human resources, and what are the lessons learned?
Karen Bickford: It was a difficult decision to close the business down back in March when COVID was new on the scene. There was so much that was unknown, and of course, everyone was petrified. Closing the business was the right choice at the time with all the unknowns. All of my employees were able to collect unemployment, and most of them came back when our state allowed us to open again. Cleaning businesses are considered essential, so in the event of more lockdowns, we would remain open and clean for the clients that still wanted us to clean. We have strict protocols in place and have been in a Covid free workplace since May.
How did your customer relationship management evolve? Do you use any specific tools to be efficient?
Karen Bickford: We use many CRM systems, from scheduling to client marketing systems.
Your final thoughts?
Karen Bickford: 2020 was a more difficult year for all businesses, mine included. I look forward to a prosperous 2021-22 when the COVID 19 is, for the most part, behind us. I have high hopes for the vaccine and consumer confidence coming back to where it was for the last 4 years prior to the pandemic.
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