If you own a business, chances are that you’re running around taking care of a million things at once. I was lucky to catch up with Maurice Moore, who launched Chicago’s RTS Cleaning Services, during one of his brief breaks between running the business. He’s been at it for the last five years, deciding at the tender age of 22 that he wanted to work for himself.
Work for yourself
“I had a vision of working for myself but I didn’t know what I really wanted to do, so I sat down and came up with a bunch of ideas. I made a list, and the top two items were starting a cleaning company and starting a moving service. So I went out and bought a cargo van that I could use in either business. I put both businesses out at the same time and the cleaning service really took off, so I started putting more of my time and money into the cleaning business,” he said.
While he was getting his business off the ground, Maurice continued to work full-time as a cook at a local public school, a job he’d held since he was 18 years old. As his cleaning business picked up, he was able to quit the kitchen gig and focus on growing RTS Cleaning. “You can only get so far working under someone. The sky’s the limit when I’m working for myself. It’s one of the best parts of working for myself, that you get out of it what you put into it.”
Make mistakes, then learn from them
Like most new business owners, he made lots of mistakes as he got started. On his first cleaning job, he made the mistake of wildly underestimating how much time it would take to clean the client’s home. “I was an immature business owner, excited to get my first job. I went over to the lady’s house, and she was a hoarder. I acted like I knew what was going on, but when I saw all those clothes, my eyes popped out, I thought, ‘What am I going to charge this lady?’ It was a $3,000 job, but I charged her $280. I asked one of my friends to help, told him I’d pay him $100. We worked from 8 in the morning until 11 at night clearing out that place. As we were leaving, she asked if we could clean out her garage, too. I was so tired, I didn’t even look in the garage before I said yes. The next day I came back, and the garage was worse than the house. She’d been storing stuff in there for thirty years. It was unreal,” he said.
On a positive note, the client gave him everything that was in the garage, and Maurice was able to resell the lawn equipment to recoup some of the costs of the job. “It was a real learning experience. Welcome to the cleaning industry! Now I know to tally up the hours, the supplies, manpower, gas before quoting a job.” Every day brings an unanticipated challenge or surprise. “The one thing I can tell you about being a cleaner is that you never know what to expect.”
The challenges of family and staffing
Another lesson Maurice learned early on was that his family wasn’t as dedicated to cleaning as the outsiders he hired to help. Part of the problem was the difficulty in bossing around his mother when he was such a young whippersnapper. “I was 24 years old. How am I going to tell my mom what to do?”
Once he decided to beef up his workforce with non-family members, it was smooth sailing. He’s now up to nine people working with him, and recently hired a supervisor to take some of the load off of him so he can focus on growing the business and advertising.
Maurice says that one of the secrets to retaining quality help is to “pay them what they’re worth, even if you have to take a loss as a business owner. I’ve been in situations when I worked super hard and wasn’t being paid what I was worth, so I tell my workers they’ll get paid well when they work hard. I couldn’t ask for a better crew. They all go above and beyond the call of duty.” When one client called on a Sunday to complain that a move-out clean wasn’t done to her satisfaction, Maurice called the cleaner and asked what she knew about the stove not being cleaned properly. The cleaner immediately jumped in the car to go remedy the situation. “That’s the type of people you want around you, they know they’re appreciated and they don’t mind getting up and driving ten miles to go and clean a stove.”
Homes, businesses, churches, data centers
While RTS Cleaning gets most of its business from residential cleaning, they’re branching out into different areas. “A priest just called me to get an estimate for cleaning his church twice a year,” said Maurice. They’ve also cleaned various offices and provided the ultra-light cleaning necessary for data centers. “It’s all electrical equipment, so it’s light cleaning, no water.”
5,000 flyers and counting
When Maurice was first getting started, he would dedicate his weekends to passing out hundreds of flyers by going door to door across Chicago. He kept this up for five months, passing out over 1,000 flyers a month. “I knew I couldn’t trust anyone to pass out the flyers, and you have to be dedicated and know that the flyers are getting to the homes and not just ending up in the garbage.”
Best part of the job
From Maurice’s previous comments, I expected to have him answer that the best part of his job was working for himself. Instead, he takes tremendous pride in seeing something that was previously filthy turned into something clean, and knowing that the client is going to be very happy with the change because they know how dirty it was when he started. “When I do something, I want to be the best at it,” said Maurice.
This obsession with cleanliness feeds into his advice for anyone thinking about starting their own cleaning business: “If you’re not a clean or neat person, it’s really not the job for you. If you’re going to be a cleaning business owner, you have to love it.”