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Budding Entrepreneur? Take Advice From This Man Who Makes $30K Per Month
While a student at American University, Chris Schwab dabbled in freelance computer programming but decided it wasn’t for him. Schwab also knew he didn’t want to work for someone else and be tethered to an office.
He noticed that local businesses like cleaning and handyman services still operated the same way they had for thirty years (often with a very simple website or no online presence), so he saw an opportunity to create a tech-savvy, customer-friendly local cleaning business. “I felt that I could basically take these dinosaur industries — in this case cleaning — and bring it to the modern day world,” the 24-year-old says via Google Hangout.
Cleaning up the Competition
With around $750 for a website, hosting and some marketing, Schwab launched Think Maids in July 2016 while finishing up his Bachelor’s degree in psychology. The company provides cleaning services in the Metro D.C. area, but Schwab hopes to expand to other markets in the near future.
Some other cleaning services have a reputation for flakiness, so Schwab focused on hiring cleaning people who were prompt and friendly rather than experienced cleaners. He initially posted a job ad for cleaners on Craigslist, but he ultimately found higher-quality applicants through Care.com.
Once applicants passed online and phone screenings, Schwab invited prospective cleaners for an interview. “I paid them to clean my house like they would for any other client, and I paid attention to things like: how on time they were, what their communication was like, how nice they were, how thorough they were with the cleaning,” he says. “I was really taking into account a lot of factors, thinking if I'd be comfortable with sending them into basically 50-60 homes a month.” He’d also do a background check on them using a service called Onfido.
Keeping Customers Happy
Think Maids also differentiates itself through prompt customer service, so Schwab hired several virtual assistants (VAs) to help respond to customer inquiries within two to 10 minutes.
“Our official business hours are 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., but if someone emails us something urgent, we'll still reply at 8 p.m. or 10 p.m.,” he says. “We try and make ourselves always available. We think that's really important because a lot of things can change between closing and opening the next day.” Some customers don’t want to text, call or email, so Think Maids also offers online chat capabilities. Schwab says many people book through online chat, as well as through the website.
That said, the customer experience doesn’t end when the cleaner leaves. “We follow up after every single cleaning by emailing or calling them, asking how their cleaning was, if there's anything we could've done better,” Schwab says. “If those people are thinking of becoming recurring customers, we actually write down pretty meticulous notes on what they say so every time we send our team…, they get those same notes every time.”
Recurring cleanings are much more valuable than one-off cleanings, so Schwab makes sure those customers feel valued.
“When they sign up for recurring services on our site, I make a personalized little video for them, just one or two minutes long, introducing myself, introducing Think Maids and what we can do for them,” he says. “And that's me addressing them directly. It's not just a template video that I'm using.” He also offers discount codes that customers can share with friends (with no expiration date) and throws in sporadic freebies to retain recurring customers.
Growing the Business
One of the reasons Schwab started a business was so he’d have the flexibility to travel. Since graduating in December, Schwab has focused on scaling up the business. As of mid-May, Think Maids was on track to hit $30,000 in net revenue for the month, and Schwab predicts they’ll hit $50,000 in monthly revenue by the end of the year.
Schwab recently moved to Japan, where he runs Think Maids remotely with help from his VAs. “I've gotten my VAs to handle maybe 85 to 90% of the daily tasks of the business, so I'm really just checking in with them in the last hour of the day and the first hour or two of the day of business,” he says.
The time difference between Japan and Washington, D.C. is 13 hours, which has presented challenges (scheduling phone interviews, for instance) and opportunities for Schwab. “Because it's such a different time zone, it forces me to be switched on for a couple of hours at the beginning of the day and switched on a couple hours at night,” he says. “I'm not being interrupted anymore throughout the day, and that's been amazing.”
I asked Schwab for his advice on entrepreneurship. Here’s what he said.
Do the Boring, Unglamorous Thing
“Start with a small local business — whether that's painting or cleaning or handyman work, power washing, whatever it is — and build up from there,” Schwab says.
“Those things don't seem glamorous but they're extremely entrepreneurial, and you learn an amazing amount of skills that you may not in a tech company.” Schwab says that taking on a seemingly boring industry instead of launching another app or tech startup was one reason he’s succeeded. “I think there's a lot of value in doing something boring and hard,” he says. “It's paid off for me a lot.”
Small, local service businesses don’t require much startup capital. “You literally can start an actual business with a couple hundred dollars,” Schwab says. “It may not be a big tech company, but I think local business are a great entry point.”
Learn to Delegate
While a full-time college student, Schwab tried to handle customer service himself. “I was dealing with a dozen customers a day,” he says. “It was too much, and it was just completely overwhelming. What I would do differently is I would get comfortable giving other people tasks earlier and make sure that I'm always working every single week on how I can automate and pass off my tasks that I do to others so I can keep focusing on growing it.”
Delegating to VAs was a real game-changer for Think Maids. “I started really seeing some growth again because I had a passion for it again and I had more time and energy to devote to the more important parts of the business,” he says.
As Schwab’s story shows, you don’t always need a completely new idea to create a thriving business. Identifying a need that isn’t being adequately served is a great strategy for any aspiring entrepreneur. Hone your ability to identify needs that aren’t being met and practice delegating so you’re well on your way to a new business idea.
Susan Johnston Taylor (@UrbanMuseWriter) is a freelance writer who’s contributed business and personal finance stories to The Atlantic, The Boston Globe, Entrepreneur, Fast Company and U.S. News & World Report online. She lives in Austin, Texas, and gets her frugal Yankee habits from her mother’s side of the family.