via Kat van Loon Flickr Creative Commons

via Kat van Loon
Flickr Creative Commons

‘Tis the season for getting a new planner. My passion planner came in the mail today, but oh no! Past me ordered the wrong size! The compact version fits in my purse, but the full-size classic will not. Hoping I can do a relatively painless exchange and still get my 2016 planner by Christmas.

The thing I really like about the passion planner is that you are constantly setting and evaluating your priorities – for the day, week, month, six months, year (and even 3-5 years out). You start with a plan, and then you check in at regular intervals to evaluate and see how you’re doing or if you need to head in another direction.

There are always the things I am trying to do more of: exercise, spend time with friends, make more money. But my long-term goals shifted, shifted again, and shifted again in 2015. I’ve never been afraid to charge down one path and then go, “Oops! Wrong one!”

I have always seen my propensity to change course as indicative of gaining a deeper understanding of what the goal actually is. Breaking an abstract goal into smaller steps isn’t always a straightforward process. Plus, priorities change and access to resources changes. The path ahead may grow or shrink based on my understanding in the moment of what is possible. Based on my access to scripts or my ability to create my own.

Like, that thing I think I should focus extra hard on this month…. maybe that’s not actually what needs my attention. Or I think X will solve Y problem, but it hasn’t in the past, so what other way could I try to get that need met?

As I sense my priorities shifting once again, I’d like to share a little bit of what I’ve learned starting my own housecleaning business.

1) Start Small: aka, Don’t Count Your Chickens

Anxiety can be a double-edged sword. On the one hand, my propensity towards worry ensures that I always think things through. On the other hand, my desire to be at the finish line and to solve the problem quickly so I can stop thinking about it already means that I maybe only think things two-thirds of the way through before I jump in the deep end. My desire to do what I can now so I can feel like I’m doing something means that I’m not always doing the smartest thing – aka, waiting.

I created a vision of what I wanted my housecleaning business to be, but I didn’t do quite enough research to ensure there was a demand to meet that particular vision. Just because *you* might want something out of a business doesn’t mean others would, or that you have the marketing savvy to find that client base when you’re just starting out. What you want to do and what other people want to pay for might not match, and you have to be prepared to either do what people will pay for or choose another business.

What this means in practical terms is that I have three half-ounce containers of essential oils to make my own cleaning solutions, but only one client who even chose that option. Which means I still have 2 and five-sixths containers of essential oil six months later. I also have several packages of incense sitting in my room, but no one paying for that service. I spent $90 buying materials to hand sew an apron (which is beautiful and I love it) and some pants (which I have yet to make) when maybe I could have been just as successful using an apron that I already own. I bought things in anticipation of the kind of client I wanted which I may never actually use. Branding is important, but start simply. You’re not McDonalds. Pick the biggest thing to focus on and grow your idea from there.

Start small. Buy one essential oil to just make sure the cleaning recipe you found on-line actually works, and then only buy another scent once you have a client who requests it and will be getting cleanings long-term. Advertise basic services and think about add-ons when you have a successful client base. Or, advertise add-ons but don’t actually buy what you need until you have a booking for that particular service. I’m lucky that I started a business with relatively low overhead, but don’t get so caught up in the romance of your vision that you’re in debt before you even book a client.

2) Use Your Resources

All of my clients thus far have come from my friends. Even if it’s a friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend. People I’ve met. People I know of. I will sometimes get calls from strangers, but those rarely pan out (especially when calling a stranger is really hard sometimes when you have anxiety. whee!). I haven’t spent a lot of time developing social media for my business, and my flyering campaign got me nowhere. Make sure your friends and acquaintances know what you do. People are more likely to trust a big name or someone a friend they trust recommended. And someone who feels socially tied to you is more likely to make a long-term commitment than someone who doesn’t. Especially when starting out, I’ve found word of mouth more beneficial than any other means of getting new clients. People who love you will help you get your name out there until the point you can afford a marketing team. Remind people what you’re doing, and then you’ll be in the back of their head when someone they know is in need of those services.

I also found SCORE really valuable. Talk to other entrepreneurs. Learn about business-related things like marketing and legal issues or insurance. Talk to people using the services you provide to figure out what they enjoy and what they’re looking for. Arm yourself with information and education. Know what you’re getting into, as much as that is possible. Even if other people aren’t doing the same thing as you, they have something to teach you.

3) Know Your Limits

I’m one person. It’s a constant balance between wanting additional revenue and knowing what I can reasonably sustain. Especially working a part-time job in addition to my own business. If something doesn’t feel like a good fit, don’t let your fear make you say “yes” anyway. I know how much time and energy I can afford to put into my business, so that’s what I do. I know it limits my success, but I also value my sanity. Know what your time is worth, and don’t be afraid to charge that. There will likely be negotiating, but know what number you won’t go below in order for a particular project to be worth it to you. If someone asks for something unreasonable or out of the ordinary, quote a price accordingly. Any time I have taken a client out of feelings of scarcity, I have regretted it.

4) Don’t Try to Start a Business With the Intention to Work Part-Time

If you’re going to expend a lot of time and energy creating something from scratch, make sure it is the thing you are most passionate about. Not the thing you can do well that people will pay for. The thing you want to spend all your time doing. The thing you love. The thing that drives you. Starting a business is too much work to try to start one to do that thing which will let you make enough money to do the thing you *really* want to do. At the price people will reliably pay for cleaning, I would need ten regular clients (twice a month) at all times to then have the financial security to pursue my other work for free. Cleaning five days a week is a full-time job once you factor in all the time and energy it takes to locate, schedule, and retain those clients, which defeats the purpose of cleaning in order to have time and money to do creative work in the first place.

5) Know When To Walk Away

After six months or so you should have a decent idea of how things are working and some idea of what it would take for you to be successful in your business – whatever that word means for you. If the thought of doing that work fills you with dread instead of joy, don’t be afraid to cash in your chips. Failure means you tried something you weren’t sure you could do. Failure means you learned something. We all have limited resources. Better to invest them into something which is helping rather than hindering you. The majority of small businesses fail within the first year. It’s okay to quit. Or, if what is actually maintainable isn’t what you planned initially, that’s okay, too. Don’t be afraid to change and adapt. As long as you aren’t hemorrhaging money, reign back in your efforts and conserve resources to try something new. Whether in this business or another one.

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