When it comes to cleaning businesses, Michelle Morris is the queen. She started her company, Squeeky Clean, 15 years ago and is still trying to handle how quickly it’s growing. And with five kids, this is no easy task. When this South Jersey entrepreneur realized that the corporate office was not for her, she turned to the business she knew best: cleaning. And now, Michelle is making moves to expand her entrepreneurial skills to more than just cleaning houses. Here are her tips for launching your own business, whether you’re 22 and fresh out of college or 34 with a family and a job.
Why did you launch Squeeky Clean?
I never really did well at working for other people. I had a Chick-fil-A franchise and it kind of wasn’t a good fit so, I sold that back and then I was just trying to brainstorm what else I could do and then I decided to look for a job and see what came first and [cleaning] came first. I had cleaning experience. My dad and mom were both in the industry and I kind of just helped them all the time, then I did it in high school to make extra money and then I actually did it to pay my way through college and I just kept doing it. Then, I stopped when I graduated because I thought, well, I have a degree so I’m not going to keep cleaning. I went into corporate and then years later I just decided to launch and have been doing it ever since.
What was the most difficult part of launching your own business?
Getting business. I’m not great at sales, I’m not great at going business-to-business. It’s just not my forte. I’m better at running things than trying to sell people. It was really difficult, it took a while. Getting houses was easy, but I wanted to do more commercial work, more offices, and not as many houses. For the first several years I had all houses and, like, two offices. Then, I’d say like 6 years in it switched. I had more offices, and then I was able to drop most of the houses that we did. But that was definitely the hardest part. The other hard part was making sure I was bidding on jobs correctly because you never know how detailed a job is until you get into it. But luckily my dad was able to help me with that since he had been doing it for a while before I did.
To what do you attribute your success?
It’s for sure my workers. I operate my cleaning business way different than most companies do. I only hire part-time people. I pay double what the going rate is for cleaners and I just attract better people. All of my workers have full-time jobs, they all have careers so they just work for me part-time in the evenings for extra money. I don’t deal with call-offs, I don’t have no-shows, and because of it I don’t lose clients. I’ve had clients for years and years. So it’s definitely my employees and probably the fact that I pay them double what the going rate is. I’d rather make less profit and have less headaches, that’s my motto.
How you do stay organized/keep up with a busy schedule?
Since I had my last child, I’ve gotten very disorganized. It’s almost impossible to stay organized. The system that I use now is, everything is done on a certain day and it never changes. If it changes, it’s once in a while. For example, my office cleaning schedule is the same days, it’s the same people and they have a set schedule so I’m not sending schedules out to them. One of my kids gets a lot of therapy, so I have the therapist come the same days at the same times. I have to keep everything the same and consistent. That’s what works for me now. My life is just too crazy, I have five kids and I’m taking care of my in-laws and trying to run the business, so a lot could fall through the cracks. I couldn’t run a business where everything changes. I couldn’t be Tina- it wouldn’t work. I’d go bankrupt! I just keep the schedule consistent and nothing changes and that’s how I keep organized.
What’s your next big project/step?
I’m in between two projects I’m considering because, right now, until all my kids are in school – they’re all home still – I can’t really grow the business much because I don’t really have the time to. I try to grow smaller, I try not to grow big. I have met a few men in the industry that make millions of dollars but they don’t have a life. I decided instead of growing this business more, I’m just trying to branch off a little, so I’m looking to launch an organizational aspect of it with organizing kitchens and stuff like that. I also flipped a house last year so I’m looking to flip another house this year. That doesn’t take away from my kids. The more that I’m gone and out of the house, the more money I’m spending for people to watch my kids and I’d rather be with my kids now in their early years. Flipping houses is easy because I’m hiring contractors, I’m hiring workers and I can take my kids with me to the house to oversee stuff. And then the next big Squeeky Clean project is in the summer- we do shore rental cleaning. That keeps growing and growing without me wanting it to so I think I’m just going to focus in on it now and just try to grow that aspect because now more people are buying beach homes and staying down there all year so there’s a big need down there. And I have a group of workers that live down in Ocean City. So, it’s almost like I start to run a second business in the summertime.
What advice do you have for young women trying to become entrepreneurs?
I would give two different sets of advice. If you’re young and just coming out of college I would advise you to keep your expenses as low as possible, even if it means living with your parents for a little bit longer because it takes a good 2-3 years to become profitable. If you’re in your 30’s and you’re already married with a family, I would advise not quitting your job, I would advise trying to work it on the side until it becomes too big, then quit. One of the biggest mistakes I see people do around me all the time is they quit their jobs to launch a business. It’s great to have a vision and it’s great to have a dream, but that doesn’t pay the bills at the end of the day. I think a lot of people now are so big into ‘pursue your dream,’ ‘do what makes you happy,’ but it’s just not realistic a lot of the time. It takes a lot of time, effort and when you can’t make ends meet then you kind of lose track of what the vision was to start the business in the first place.