Australian cleaning company jumps from $1M to $3.75M using online sales and service automation, wins Small Business ICON 2014.
CBT: Tell us about when and why you started Cleancorp. What had you done previously?
L&HM: Back in 1995, my husband was working as a builder/carpenter doing huge hours in a fickle construction industry and with unpredictable pay checks. Lucky for us, I had a steady job working in sales and marketing for an International hotel chain. We had one steady income, and one extremely unpredictable income, and then we found out I was pregnant. We were thrilled!
Because I had only been in my job for a short period, I had no maternity leave allowance, and so I either had to go back to work a month after our baby was born – or lose my job. We couldn’t afford to lose my income, so back to work I went. We had two more children in fairly quick succession after that, all while I stayed on at work fulltime. It was heartbreaking, putting someone else in charge of looking after our three little girls each day, but we had to do it to survive.
I guess the tipping point came on the day after Christmas in 1997: we had run out of money for the month. My husband hadn’t been paid by his client (again), and as I was paid monthly, we had no money until I got paid at the end of the month.
Not knowing what to do, we decided to just take our children down to the beach for a play and try and forgot our troubles for an hour or so. Two minutes later, my husband came out of the surf holding $15 he had found floating in the water, two notes tightly folded together. Given our situation, we felt like we’d won the lottery, but that was absolutely the catalyst for starting our own business, and office cleaning was a great business model. Get contracts and with that, monthly recurring income.
CBT: Of all of the industries you could have chosen for your business, why cleaning?
L&HM: That’s an interesting question because it’s not the natural choice is it, especially for a builder and the director of sales & marketing for an international hotel chain! The answer is that we liked the model. We wanted a business with a recurring income stream that we could scale up and which was recession-proof. We learned about the cleaning business after Hamish took on a 2nd job cleaning to help support our family, and we realized that this would be a great business to get into.
CBT: How large is your company now and how big would you like it to be?
L&HM: Right now we have 8 office staff, 120 cleaners and 240 contracts spread right across Australia and now we’re also in New Zealand.
We’ve had a number of people contact us from the US, UK and also Australia, to see if we’re interested in sharing our ideas and strategies and especially our automated sales campaigns that won us our Small Business ICON from Infusionsoft – and we’re really interested in doing this; we love the idea of helping other entrepreneurs get their businesses working in a smarter and more efficient way.
We’ve also had a large number of enquiries from people who would like to buy a Cleancorp franchise, so this will be one of our goals long term.
CBT: When you were considering tools to use in organizing your business and especially your sales and marketing process, what made you take the leap with a technology solution? What advice do you have for a company considering either their first or a new piece of technology to their existing service process?
L&HM: We made the decision to jump into a technology solution primarily because the rate of our business growth was making it very difficult to keep all the balls up in the air; things were falling through the cracks because we didn’t have good systems in place. In addition, we had big expansion dreams; we were super ambitious, and we had a ton of things we wanted to achieve in Cleancorp and in order to achieve that, we needed to have a technology solution that was going to allow us to achieve all that.
My advice would be do your homework, and look at what other leaders in your industry are doing and see what they are using. Chances are, they’re leaders for a reason and have probably done a lot of the heavy lifting already. Benefit from that.
If you’re looking for sales and office automation, make sure you get a solution that will give you lots of options; it’s never going to be a good use of your time to be working across multiple platforms, so get one platform that does everything and use every tool it offers. That’s exactly what we found in Infusionsoft, and why we have become Infusionsoft Certified Partners now, so we can help others do what we’ve done.
CBT: How did the new tool help you brainstorm and try out different ways of refining your sales process? To what do you attribute the 195% growth in sales?
L&HM: Once we started seeing results from our very basic sales campaigns, we knew that our number one priority was going to be letting our own personality and values shine through all of our messages. We wanted to have conversations with our customers as if we were face to face, so we tailored all of our messages that way. The messages resonated with our prospects, and it proved our theory right.
The growth in sales has been a combination of a huge amount of trial and error with our strategies, SEO, PPC and finding a way to cut through. And I can tell you, as a cleaning business that has been the biggest challenge because nobody wants to buy a cleaning contract; they just want a clean building, so we needed to keep that in mind when we were developing our campaigns and strategies.
CBT: How were you able to use technology to “humanize the customer communication,” especially when so much of the cleaning industry is focused on customization?
L&HM: We have been able to use technology to really humanize our business in so many different ways. For example, our New Customer Welcome Campaign is designed to give lots of personal touches. We wanted to make the customer experience with Cleancorp a personalized one, so we designed a Send Out Cards Campaign which runs in our New Customer Campaign. We send out a welcome card to the customer, and it’s from their new cleaner – the person who will be keeping their office clean each day, with a photo of them, and a little bit about what they like to do etc. We did this to personalize the customer experience, and make the interaction between customer and cleaner more humanized. The results from this step alone have absolutely amazed us all: complaints down, referrals way up, happier cleaners, happier customers.
Then two weeks into a new contract, we’ll send out a coffee card and brownies from Hamish. A little “welcome to Cleancorp” gift – customers love the cookies – and it’s at this point that we often get some of our best testimonials.
CBT: Our very first KPI video was on how to calculate the lifetime value of a customer. What role did online automation play in increasing the value of your customer by 145%?
L&HM: Automation has been a game changer, and I love a quote by Casey Graham from the Rocket Company on this – “Automation Leads to Domination.” By automating our pre-appointment campaigns and our lost prospect campaigns (to name just two), we’ve been able to increase the value of our customers. The trick is to understand and then automate the processes so that you can be addressing the needs and wants of a prospect before they even know they want something. It’s a very powerful tool.
CBT: Can you give some examples of office procedures where the use of online automation was able to improve process compliance or even reduce the number of steps (or amount of time) a process took to complete?
L&HM: I could literally give you dozens of examples! We have automated every single process at Cleancorp; our mantra is “how can we infusionize this”! What I am really loving is the process of onboarding a prospect to when they become a client. We fill out our webform, which triggers a host of automation, sends a pre-populated contract to the client for e-sign, sends one to the cleaner for e-sign, and then when they are signed, puts the signed copy neatly in the contact record file box. And if they don’t sign straight away, they’ll get a nag sequence every day to remind them until they do. It’s absolutely awesome, seamless and fast, and we love it!
CBT: We know that no system adoption and implementation is without its challenges. What are some of the problems you’ve had to deal with related to your use of online automation?
L&HM: For us the challenge has and will remain the content. Finding interesting ways to talk about cleaning that a prospect will engage with. The other thing is that when you start implementing initially, I guess making sure you’re implementing to your needs. In the early days, we’d just think of an idea and then put it together. Today we’re far more strategic in thinking it through and looking for ways we can simplify a project, while also getting a good result.
CBT: Can you tell us what updates or new additions you’re considering to further improve your customers’ user experience and make your business even more successful?
L&HM: We’ve recently started using UV light technology and UV black light technology in our business and our customers are loving it.
CBT: Using online automation gained you 40 days of vacation in one year. Which location/experience was your favorite?
L&HM: I think our favorite was the month we spent with our 3 daughters driving from New York City down to Miami – we had such a great time together as a family. Actually we’ve planned another month away at the end of this year – this time it’s a combination of Los Angeles, Florida, Caribbean and Central America Cruise, Boston and then finishing off with New York City – we’re all super excited and can’t wait for that trip!