KEVIN O’FLAHERTY: I’m joined by our guest Kim Montesinos from Crystal Klear Cleaning. So, thanks so much for being here today.
KIMBERELY MONTESINOS: Thank you for having me, Kevin.
KEVIN O’FLAHERTY: Our topic today is going to be strategic planning. So, Kim’s a business owner, and she owns a cleaning business; and she’s going to discuss how she built that business through strategic planning. So Kim, why don’t you tell us a little bit about your background.
KIMBERELY MONTESINOS: Well, I started my business in 2004. I was in corporate and worked for College of American Pathologists for numerous years and became a mom.
KEVIN O’FLAHERTY: Congratulations.
KIMBERELY MONTESINOS: Thank you. Well, they’re now 17 and 21.
KEVIN O’FLAHERTY: It’s a very belated congratulation. Congratulations on getting them to adulthood.
KIMBERELY MONTESINOS: Yes, yes. Thank you for that. So I decided I kind of always wanted to business, but the business kind of came at me from a friend who was trying to sell it because she encompassed something that she was passionate about.
So she offered the cleaning business. I didn’t know anything about cleaning. So she sold it to me on the fact that I could have more freedom, and I bought it. She was a great salesperson. And it took me a couple years. I had to actually clean and get down on my knees and learn the business inside and out.
KEVIN O’FLAHERTY: How did you learn the business? Getting a prepackaged business seems like a scary prospect.
KIMBERELY MONTESINOS: It was because there was no training with it. So she just -- I paid for some leads so to speak; and she said, “Here you go. I’m out of here. I’m going to California and start another business.” All I had to go on was the fact that I had extensive customer service background, and I had a cleaning lady prior to that work for me.
But what helped me the most was being in corporate and being in a detailed-oriented situation where I was in charge of seven regions when I worked for the college. So I figured let me bring that detail to my business.
So in the beginning it started out with training the staff to be more detail-oriented with cleaning. Which some people may think what do you mean by that? And not just a general come in rush, rush. Let’s do the general dusting, the stuff that we normally do ourselves. Let’s go above and beyond by doing that detailed work like window seals, and vents, and light switches, and door panels, and base boards, and pulling things out, and going in corners. You know, the places dirt can really hide.
KEVIN O’FLAHERTY: How did you go about that culture change. Because we talk about change management a lot on this show, and that’s a hard thing to do. So I’m sure if they were used to the old ownership and then you came in and changed things up, it must have been a difficult thing.
KIMBERELY MONTESINOS: It was at first. But I think they respected me for the fact that I wasn’t the owner that walked in and didn’t do the work. So they actually saw me do the work and learn on a trial-and-error process myself. But I started looking into other cleaning companies, and I had market research background when I worked for the Marriot. I learned a lot about customer service and market research when I worked for them in sales.
So I just kind of put myself out there and called some companies and just said hey, you know, I’m new in this business. A lot of people were very reluctant. They don’t want to share. So I just went online. Google is great. I didn’t have that when I was young. When I was young, we didn’t have Google. So Google some processes as far as training. But again, I just went back to basics. Them seeing me work. Seeing that it worked. The reaction of the client. Clients were very happy. We have a great retention rate. We have an 80% retention rate when we get a client. I think that’s pretty good. From starting in 2004 until now, I’ve either lost clients unfortunately to death or moving away. I’ve probably had 2% that I lost that weren’t happy. Something happened where they’re like we don’t want your service. And most often that was a miscommunication, and they just were like, no, I don’t want to hear it. And so we respect that and move on. Of course that’s painful because no business owner wants to lose business, but it’s part of the -- I’ve matured in that that’s part of the program. You can’t please everybody.
KEVIN O’FLAHERTY: Sure. It’s a hard thing to wrap your head around.
KIMBERELY MONTESINOS: It’s really hard. I think that was the hardest for me. Because I was definitely a people-pleasing type personality, and this business helped me grow to understand that it’s not personal -- that sometimes people might not even do business because they don’t even like you. Or they don’t like your tone or whatever. Which knock on wood, I haven’t had that problem with relationships. So again, it’s been successful with building relationships with clients, having open communication, explaining processes to them.
When I walk in, I walk around, and I explain what we’re going to do. And I give them different packages and plans according to their budget and their needs. So it’s not just -- We clean. I educate them on different products, because we offer nontoxic and general products, so I actually try to sway them more to the nontoxic for more healthy reasons because consumers are more about health these days. And so it’s not just about cleaning.
KEVIN O’FLAHERTY: “Would you like the toxic products or the nontoxic products?”
KIMBERELY MONTESINOS: Right. I mean, basically. Yeah. I bring it to them like that, so they kind of think. Because it’s like that good and bad. Because people are just kind of like I really don’t care, because you don’t read the labels on cleaning products. But as they get more aware, they’re more grateful in the end to say, “Oh, Kim, thanks. I’m glad. I wasn’t aware how bad certain products can be for the home, or for asthma, or for my children, or for the pets.” So I take pride that.
KEVIN O’FLAHERTY: Something that struck me was that you were able to Google some training processes, what did you find? Because I’ll beat my head against a wall trying to create a process from scratch, and I didn’t even think about the fact that there might be something to find on Google. When you say you found a training process, what sort of stuff did you find?
KIMBERELY MONTESINOS: Well, there is a couple out there. They developed an organization called Cleaning for a Reason. And it actually is geared obviously towards cleaning companies, and they give you great tips. I also hired a business coach to help me with certain numeric strategic plans because that’s where I was lacking.
So she helped me come up to par with that and having more value of what I’m offering and not being afraid to say this is what the price is.
KEVIN O’FLAHERTY: Sure.
KIMBERELY MONTESINOS: But with Cleaning for a Reason, they helped me as far as building processes to implement to the people that work for me and the training so to speak. So just knowing who to look for -- what kind of qualities to look for in a person that’s going to be a great cleaning technician opposed to just hiring somebody when you’re at that moment when you’re desperate, because that can happen. We get -- Sometimes the flow of business is really slow, then all the sudden we get a ton of calls, which usually happens in this season: from spring until after Christmas. Then it slows down. So if you’re not equipped with your -- either with contractors or employees, you can just hire people off the cuff because you want to please that customer. So I learned a lot of planning and what to look for in interviewing -- what kind of qualities it takes to become a good cleaning person, you know?
KEVIN O’FLAHERTY: So tell me about the strategic planning process you that go through. Because strategic planning can mean a lot of things, and everyone’s got a little bit of a different process. So what does strategic planning mean to you, and what is your process for that?
KIMBERELY MONTESINOS: For the numeric process, it’s basically working hand in hand with my bookkeeper and kind of knowing how many houses are we at, are we at a competitive rate with other cleaning companies, what are we offering, how much time is in a home, how many people are in a home, should it be just two cleaners, should it be one cleaner. I personally don’t like to send one person to clean just because of efficiency and what it does to the body. It’s just easier when two people are working as a team, then there’s four eyes instead of two. But if it’s something that can work, she helps me balance that with a strategic plan for the profit and loss and how that’s going to benefit the company.
So, I work hand in hand more with her in that planning. Then the strategic planning, for us, is more of how to strategically go to a house and be time efficient and get the job done 110% at the same time without it being like overly labor intensive for the workers and to get those excellent results that we smile -- that I claim that we want to see you happy. “We want to make your home sparkle.” That’s my motto for the business.
So we go in thinking that every time we want to make that client happy where they’re either going to -- If they have a onetime deal, they’re either going to on maybe Naperville Moms, which has been awesome for me actually, or wherever they were referred from. That they can say, hey, they did an awesome job. We were really happy with them. They either continue the service or they need us seasonally or however they want to do that. But the strategic planning goes in a couple of different avenues. One for the finance and two for how to set up teams to go into a home or now we’re trying to kind of re-have a vision of doing that in the commercial one, because we have a rectory and a small office. But commercial is another avenue that I’d like to break into which we’ll definitely have to step up a level of planning, because that entails more square footage, and that’s a different animal so to speak than the residential part of it.
KEVIN O’FLAHERTY: So let’s pick that apart a little bit. On the financial end of things, you said one of the first things you talked about with your bookkeeper was making sure your price was set at the right price point. How did you go about figuring out what to set your price point at?
KIMBERELY MONTESINOS: We did that with a formula. Because we do provide everything, and I am licensed by that insurer. So we took some percentages of what it’s paying out for workman’s comp, how much of the supplies are going to that, the time, the paying of the cleaning technician.
So we put all of this into a formula, and that resulted -- Okay, if we’re going to be working in a home for 28 to 3,200 square feet, they shouldn’t be in there for more it than 2.5 hours equaling this amount of money to pay this person for this amount and the other cleaner for this. Cleaner one gets paid this; cleaner two gets paid this. Were we going to percentage? Were we going to go with hourly?
So we had to kind of balance those out. And that took a while because the business is a little tricky in that aspect.
KEVIN O’FLAHERTY: So you basically did a cost of goods analysis for service industry, which is something that I’ve been meaning to do for years and never have gotten around to.
KIMBERELY MONTESINOS: Well she -- It took a while. I had -- Like I said, this has taken I’d say in the last three years it’s gotten better. And having a business coach actually really helped in connection with this Cleaning for a Reason -- where it’s a go to almost consulting business that when you have a question, or you want to put together some ideas to make your own employee handbook, they’ve got so many resources in there -- any kind of employee sheet that I need from a timesheet to a vacation request, any kind of thing that I have an idea what I can do, and then I can build it on my own. But they give you ideas.
So it was an awesome resource for me, because it was very hard to find something in this industry to have a team and work with and learn those kind of processes. Because it’s very different from working with pathologists or working at a hospital, like I had previously done. And people in the industry didn’t want to share. So, they kind of felt like, well, I’m not going to share with you: You’re the competition. Well, there’s more than enough to go around for houses. Well they were a godsend, and my business coach Jean Coon was a godsend as well.
KEVIN O’FLAHERTY: It sounds like you got a really good book keeper and a really good business coach.
KIMBERELY MONTESINOS: They came in the last couple years. So, these other seven to eight years were basically trial and error, having those mathematical skills to balance the books, having a good accountant.
But as you grow you, need more than a good accountant; you need a bookkeeper. You need somebody that’s going to be there. And I always recommend a bookkeeper. If it’s a profitable business, that they help you with that.
And it took a couple of bookkeepers, because not everybody kind of had that mindset that the best program would be Quickbooks -- or no, Quickbooks isn’t good; let’s go this route. Or that might be too expensive for you; we can do some other type of process. She was very familiar with different processes, and she’s about the end result. What’s good as far as market research not being too pricy and also not being too of a low cost -- not making any money.
Again, we’re in it to be profitable but not kill anybody. So she was somebody that I had to interview and look for and go through different people, but finally thank goodness I really like her, and --
KEVIN O’FLAHERTY: The most intimidating part of what you told me so far is trying to come up with the formula for -- Each house is going to require this much in worker’s comp; these are the actual costs of doing each house. Who’s brainchild was that? Was that your bookkeepers or yours or your business coach to kind of put together how to actually build that model.
KIMBERELY MONTESINOS: All three, all three. The consultant has kind of a formula. The business coach had a different -- She had some different twists to it. But it kind of equated to the same idea. Not necessary the same, but in the end numbers don’t lie. So, the numbers did come together; it was just they had different processes of how to get there from the same figure so to speak.
The bookkeeper is actually that check and balance. “Okay, if you want to get here, you want to get here you need to do X, Y and Z to get here, and you’re putting too much money in networking. You’re not realizing.” Which was something. When you’re going on a networking, it’s very essential to growth. But you don’t think about every time when you go out, if you pay to go out to an event, once you get there, you eat -- She really opened my eyes to that: that you have to be selective of where you’re going, and you can’t say yes to everything. Because believe me for three years I was like, “Yes, I’ll go. I’ll go.” And I wasn’t making any money, but a big portion of that was going into networking.
So learning how to maybe do a one-on-one with somebody over Skype, which I didn’t think about, right, just to get to know someone them first? You can Skype, why not? If I live in Franklin Park where I do, and I want to Skype somebody in Plainfield, and we only have an hour, it’s not a bad thing; don’t think it’s not personal -- Because, me, I want it to be personal; I want to meet you.
And she said it’s okay to Skype them for the first time, and just kind of see if there’s something in common that we can kind of help each other with. And then after that plan a coffee date.
Just little things like that that you don’t think of to just tweak where your spending’s going: Towels; Having two different kind of products; having that inventory; and knowing what’s going out. I really wasn’t on top of that at the that at the beginning. Just buying when we need it. But really knowing, okay, I’ve gone through a case of this; is it really conducive? Because I spend 35 bucks on a case. Can I find something less costly? So she made me think.
KEVIN O’FLAHERTY: Wow, that sounds like a great analysis for any business owner to do. That’s the dream of every business owner to get past survival to the, hey, we’re making a profit. Let’s see how we can make more and reduce costs, and where’s our money going, where’s our money coming from, and actually do that strategic high level planning that’s -- And sometimes it takes eight years to get to that point of just figuring out the business itself.
KIMBERELY MONTESINOS: I think if I could go back myself, I think it’s getting out there and not being afraid in the beginning and getting that help. Because that’s actually what --sitting down and putting my vision out there to two others and saying this is what I want to do and getting that help; Not being afraid to -- Sometimes we think, oh, I don’t want to spend that. Think about what that spending is going to do in the long run for you. If you spend some money on a coach, or if that’s not necessary what, but, you know what? It’s really great to have a good bookkeeper. It’s really great to have a good accountant, a good lawyer. Those are things that you need in business, because we’re always going to -- you never know if you’re going to need any of those. So there’s certain things, just like anything, you have to invest in it. But if it’s for a long term.
KEVIN O’FLAHERTY: And that’s the false economy not to say you want to spend money to get a plan in place.
KIMBERELY MONTESINOS: And that’s where I think it took me eight years because I was trying to do it on my own. And I was doing good, but when I would get hit -- If you’ve got a table of people sitting and helping you when you get hit, it’s a lot easier than if you’re trying to come at different angles.
Because you’re already thinking I run the business myself already so if I have -- I call them my board members -- to go to. Like if I get into a situation, I can go to my attorney and say I was thinking about this; can I do that? Instead of doing it and trial and error and realizing I shouldn’t have done that. Yeah, I can talk to him, and then it’s easier. Or my accountant, you know? Is this going to be favorable for me in the long run as far as profit or will I lose lot? And, yeah, I don’t know; let’s try it. But there’s someone there making you accountable and helping you go along, so --
KEVIN O’FLAHERTY: As you were working with your business coach, did you find yourself solving a problem, and then moving on to higher and higher level problems? Or did your business coach basically get you to the point where it’s autopilot. Let’s meet every couple of months.
KIMBERELY MONTESINOS: No, it is definitely you get past one thing, and then there’s something else.
KEVIN O’FLAHERTY: There’s always something else.
KIMBERELY MONTESINOS: There’s always something else, right? I say go into what -- I knew that I needed help with the financial end of it, because I was sometimes not charging enough because people would kind of coerce me to pay me what me they wanted, and so I had to learn from the business coach that this is a value -- what I’m providing. And that was a big step for me.
So once we got over that, then there’s other techniques. There’s something else that you can do. Personally, you can always grow. So business coaches are good to keep you accountable for personal growth, because as you grow as a person, your business grows.
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Kevin owns O’Flaherty Law, a general practice law firm with locations in Downers Grove, Elmhurst, and Naperville, Illinois. O'Flaherty Law's attorneys have expertise in many areas of law including but not limited to divorce and family law; civil litigation; estate planning; business and corporate representation; commercial and residential real estate law; elder services, probate and guardianship; immigration; bankruptcy law; and dui, traffic and criminal defense.
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