Southern belles, foaming volcanoes, and front flips on trampolines – a chat with Atlanta’s La Femme De M’enage

 

nichelle
Nichelle Brannon, of La Femme De M’enage

Self-proclaimed “Georgia peach” Nichelle Brannon was born and raised in the Atlanta area. When she’s not antiquing with her best friend or turning front flips on the trampoline with her daughter, Nichelle runs her own cleaning company in Atlanta, La Femme De M’enage, which is French for “The Cleaning Lady.” She does not yet speak French fluently, but it’s on her to-do list, along with a trip to France in the next year or so. Actually the trampoline flips were a one-time thing. “It scared me half to death,” she said.

Nichelle has been running her cleaning business for five years now, and caters to her clients’ needs, expanding her business to include landscaping and light construction work—like painting— in addition to cleaning homes. “Once I get into a client’s house to talk about cleaning, I get a rapport going and mention that I do painting and landscaping work as well,” she said.

After getting laid off from her job at Metro PCS, Nichelle decided to start her own cleaning business because it was something she was good at. “And as a single mom, I needed flexibility as well as an opportunity to decide how much money I wanted to make,” she said.

Unique challenges

Nichelle works on a door frame

Running her own business has presented some unique challenges. When she first expanded into landscaping and construction work she was hired by a mobile home community that had a payment schedule of thirty days after the work was completed. She was managing a large crew who would turn the whole house around, handling everything from demolition and trash clean out to laying new carpet, fixing holes and cleaning. With the thirty day payment policy, Nichelle found it difficult to cover the costs of paying her crew while waiting for the client to pay according to their schedule. While it was great money, she was unable to keep working with that company. She’s since hired a general contractor to manage that part of her business so she can focus on cleaning.

As part of her cleaning service to remove trash, she’s seen people leave behind nearly their entire lives. One family left everything except their large pieces of furniture, leaving behind a family tree of people since the 1800s and old pictures. “I’m amazed by the things people leave behind when they have to leave in a hurry,” she said.

A family that cleans together stays together

While none of her family members are full time employees, Nichelle’s father helps out when she needs an extra pair of hands and she enlists her sons (aged 10 and 13) and daughter (age 16) on weekends and in the summer. “Even if they don’t desire to go into my business, they get good experience helping out. $5 goes a long way with them, plus ice cream.”

Her clients have become a bit like family as well. There are some people she’s been cleaning for over the last four years who have gotten to see her children grow up. “We’ve formed this bond of friendship that’s beyond just ‘that’s the cleaning lady,’ “ said Nichelle.

Getting by with help from friends

Nichelle has a handful of friends and family that she considers role models. She’s been working part time for a fashion designer for the past fifteen years who she’s “seen do miraculous things… Anything she touches turns to gold.” Besides learning from this entrepreneur, she watched her aunt transition from corporate life to running her own business for the past thirteen years, helping nonprofits grow their business. An ex-boyfriend helped Nichelle with the nitty gritty details of getting set up as a business such as obtaining a business license and EIN number. “All of their stories inspire me,” she said.

Southern belle customers

Delta Burke as Suzanne Sugarbaker

When I asked Nichelle if she had a favorite customer, she laughed and said, “Yes! She is a Southern belle to the core, like Suzanne Sugarbaker from Designing Women. Everything has its place, everything smells good and must be coordinated. She doesn’t mind paying for quality service.” This client frequently has classic movies playing at her home and Nichelle enjoys listening to them and singing along with Gene Kelly to Singing In the Rain when it’s on. She’s also invited Nichelle’s daughter to come over for tea and “to talk about the old days when ladies were ladies.” When Nichelle was going through a divorce, this client took her under her wing and made sure she was taken care of.

Helping other entrepreneurs

Nichelle knows the value of her service, that it makes her clients’ lives easier. “They have a whole to-do list and cleaning is probably not #1 on that list. It’s amazing to come home to a clean home after working long hours and taking care of children or elderly parents. They don’t have to worry about dirty dishes or wonder when the last time they dusted. I make it easier for them so they can be more productive parents. Even if they’re entrepreneurs themselves, they don’t have to worry about cleaning,” she said. And speaking of knowing the value of her service, it’s one of the top things she recommends to anyone who might be starting their own cleaning business. “Know your worth, and know what you will and won’t do. Calculate how many hours it will take to do something and how much you want to earn per hour plus supplies and gas. You’ve got to know those numbers right off the bat,” Nichelle said.

Foaming “volcano” cleaning trick

Nichelle was trying to figure out how to get gum off a frosted sliding glass door and stumbled onto a recipe that brought back memories of elementary school. “In 6th grade, we did the volcano thing, and [my internet search] said to mix ammonia and baking soda with Dial soap, and it worked wonders. It’s just a little foam action, no explosives.” She shares this technique with customers to make her life easier when she’s back at their house to clean. “I don’t have to scrub as much!”

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