I've been in the cleaning business for 17 years. I was a solo cleaner for 15 of those 17 years. As I was first exploring the cleaning groups in 2016, I got the impression that solo was viewed as "so low". We are just trunk slammers that buy our cleaning supplies at Walmart and advertise our services on the laundry mat tack board. We are amateurs without any real knowledge of how to run a business. In fact, we aren't real businesses at all. We have cleaning jobs and yet we say that we own a company. A solo cleaner is thus a lowly title to many. If this is you, you're not alone. There are over 50,000 new cleaning companies entering the industry each year right now. In all likelihood, probably 40,000 or 80% are new solos. There are definitely companies that start with the intention to build teams from the onset as well. My point is that we are an army and for the most part feel like we're alone and the minority. We really feel like we're below the other companies. We are SO LOW cleaners. Do you relate? I know you do because I surveyed over 100 solo cleaners in 2019. I found the top struggles then to be #1 lack of money & time, #2 lonliness, and #3 feeling so low.
This was tough for me too. I was a highly educated mechanical engineer and part of the corporate leadership team at one of the biggest companies in the world from 2000-2005. I seemed to have it all from the outside. But I wasn't happy. I felt so low there. This caused mild depression and ultimately lead us to start our first side-gig businesses. A few years later, I was fired from my engineering job and fought each day to put scraps on the table and drops in the gas tank to survive through a new job of cleaning houses for a profession. I was embarrassed. I felt so low and I was. My friends from high school and college were buying houses and I was barely able to afford rent. My friends were becoming managers in their companies and I was cleaning toilets. I even ran into old work colleagues looking for house cleaners. I felt so low. Why would I go through this? Why would I sacrifice the prestige of the corporate life for the so low life?
The answer is simple. I wanted freedom. If you're listening to this podcast and you feel like I did. You have a really good job by the world standards. Your family is proud of you, just like my grandparents and parents would brag about their son and grandson working for GE in his big time job. But if you're also like me with all of that status and accomplishment you feel trapped. You don't know what you want to do, but it's not what you're doing now. That was me. I never knew I would ever in a million years end up in the cleaning industry. But I did. I went from an engineer to a solo cleaner. There wasn't a lot of money in the solo cleaning business in the beginning. I tried to go back to my engineering degree a couple times with no success. Even though my income was about half as much as my corporate job, I had something I didn't have before. Choices. My children were young and I didn't have to go to work at 8:00, 5 days a week, bring my laptop home and do more at home. I didn't have to think about the job on nights and weekends. I didn't have to ask for time off. I called the shots. I made my own choices as to when I wanted to work and which jobs I wanted to take. I traded income and status for a small dose of freedom. Was it really so low? Not at all. As I started gaining more choices and freedom and income, I started feeling more hope and excitement on the potential of this solo business that wasn't so low anymore. I stopped caring what others in my family thought of what I was doing for income after nearly completing a masters degree in mechanical engineering.
My solo journey moved upward as my ability to bring on new customers and my engineer's mind helped me analyze and optimize a solo cleaning business. In fact, I got so good at the process that my solo cleaning business started earning me more than my engineering job. After 4 years of struggle, the solo cleaning business started earning more in after tax dollars than I earned as an engineer. That was a huge eye-opener! I stopped striving for more income or more hours or more customers. I changed my mindset to move from growing my income to growing my time. I wanted more time with my wife and children and I had a business could provide that for me. My solo journey took me to a level in New York where I was earning my engineering job income on 2 days per week. I had five-day weekends instead of two as I had in my engineering job. I was running a highly efficient business with systems and multiple circles in the organizational chart. I was the CEO, COO, Office Manager, Field Manager,and Techinician. I was running a fully optimized solo business earning $60,000 per year profit on 2 days per week without the headache of employees. In fact, I was earning more profit and working less in my cleaning business than thousands of businesses stuck in the Valley of Despair that Debbie Sardone talks about. It's Phase 2 of the E-Myth. It's the dead zone around $300-$400k revenue where the owner is keeping nothing and working all the time. They want to quit. Unfortunately, many team cleaning companies are silently struggling. They need to buck up and hire a great coach like Debbie and Cleaning Business Fundamentals.
This is the point where I was when I started connecting in cleaning groups. It was 2016. I was crushing it as a solo after over a decade of struggling and figuring stuff out. So many solos were struggling like I used to and I had the answer. They would ask me for help as they saw my lifestyle as extremely exciting. For the first time, solo cleaners saw a destination of having time and money without having to grow a team. Granted, it wasn't big money and walk-away time. But my plan was offering way more freedom than the majority of corporate jobs. I started coaching. I got invited on podcasts to tell my story. I didn't feel so low anymore. In fact, the top coaches looked at my numbers and recognized that I had absolutely created a real business.The opportunity came up to sell my solo cleaning business and move back to our home town. That solo cleaning business sold for $80,000! That's definitely NOT so low! Only a real business could sell for money like that!
Our family moved from New York to the Philadelphia area where we are from. My solo journey allowed me to build another cleaning business with the same model. In 18 months I was able to create a $70,000 income on 2 days per week cleaning without employees. I had done it again. This time, I shared my journey with you on this podcast. Go back and listen from the beginning if you've never heard it. Here's the point. The solo life is not to be looked down upon. You are not less of a business person if you decide to stay solo unless you stay an unprofitable, all week-long working solo. Did you hear me? The solo life is a great career that can serve your family for decades and even provide your children with a trade and life skill they can always use and make money from. Lift your head up high and pursue this with all that you have. And at some point, you may want to scale as I've decided after 15 years. Great, go for it! Until then, lift your head up high. Listen to this podcast. Reach out to me for free coaching if you need to talk to me. Buy my ISO Model Course or join my Solo Elite Membership to optimize your solo cleaning business. Do something!
Check out my interview with the CBF Founder, entitled "A Buffalo Charges the Storm with Debbie Sardone". Debbie is offering free consultations to listeners of this show through the Smart Cleaning School Resources Page at smartcleaningschool.com/resources to see if CBF could be the right solution for you.
The Smart Cleaning School Podcast helps cleaning business owners from start-up to the struggling solo to the striving seven-figure get SMARTER in their businesses, reshape their mindset, increase productivity, clear the overwhelm, and get clarity through SMART goal-setting & personal accountability. Ken Carfagno is a lifetime learner and teacher. His mission is to help visionaries make the impact they were meant to make.