By Brian Winch
I come from a family of “working poor.” My mom stayed home to raise me and my two brothers, while my father worked as a school janitor. They also rented out the basement suite of our house, mom operated a day care from home, and dad supplemented the family income with odd jobs.
My parents were frugal, but I never felt growing up that I was lacking anything. My parents worked hard, we enjoyed life, but we never took the exotic vacations. Little did my parents know, with this humble upbringing they were grooming a future entrepreneur.
My business, Cleanlots, was inspired by a simple side hustle that my father used to perform: cleaning up litter at a nearby shopping plaza. I had gone along with him a few times as a child, and I remembered thinking how easy it was. We would venture out in the early morning hours, then walk around the property cleaning up litter to ensure that when the stores opened, customers would find a clean, litter-free environment.
One of the things I liked about these early mornings out with my dad was it was very peaceful. This was not a very high-stress service we were providing. There was little contact with the public, and since the stores were closed, there was little to no traffic, so we could just enjoy that time together—and we got paid for it.
My simple side hustle is born
Flash forward to life in my twenties. I was at a personal crossroads: I was working full time at a retail establishment, but I knew I wanted more out of life than stocking shelves and punching a time clock. In my adulthood I still enjoyed the outdoors and desired the freedom that comes from working for yourself. Could I turn that childhood experience of parking lot litter removal into a viable business?
You would think that the fact that I didn’t have any business experience, education higher than a high school diploma, or loads of cash would be three major hurdles preventing me from starting a business. However, I found that my willingness to do whatever it takes carried me a long way.
I decided to start my parking lot litter removal business on the side, while also working my retail job. I structured my business in a way to handle marketing in the morning before I started my 2 p.m. shift. After my shift was done, around 10 p.m., I was out performing my litter removal service.
In the beginning, working a full-time job and a side hustle meant long days. But after only a few short months, I had built up enough clientele that I was able to quit my job and focus my entire attention on my business. Personally, I find satisfaction in completing my work and then having the rest of the day to do as I please.
Simple building blocks
Parking lot litter removal is best performed on foot using inexpensive hand tools. I walk the sidewalk, parking lot, and surrounding landscape cleaning up any litter material I come across. It’s almost as easy as going for a walk! By experimenting I have found the best tools to use. I was thrilled when I discovered a special litter-collection tool that reduced my clean up time by a third, making my work easier and more profitable.
By reading books on the topic of sales—and through some trial and error—I’ve polished what is now my elevator pitch down to about three sentences. When calling property management companies, I briefly introduce myself and then get straight to the point: How I can provide a better service for less money? My purpose is not to try to make a sale over the phone, but rather to gather contact information for sending my sales literature, and then later do a simple follow-up.
It takes persistence. This is a game of odds: The more calls I make, the sooner I’ll be successful in landing a client. I personally have the motivation to contact prospects because I know it has to be done. No one likes to be rejected—but what a great feeling to be accepted!
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Most people are not comfortable with selling. But, the truth is, everyone has sold themselves in one way or another throughout their lives. When you wanted something as a child (a special toy or increase in allowance), you made a case as to why you deserved it. When you’re dating, you have to sell yourself. When you apply for employment and are interviewed, you have to sell yourself.
Selling a service is no different! But remember: you’re not selling features. You’re selling how your service will benefit your prospect (for me, it’s a cleaner property for less money that will make everyone happy—tenants, the community, and property owners).
Sometimes I’ve had luck developing a new client in only a couple of calls or emails. Other times I may have had to do a few more. Knowing when to follow up regularly versus when to lay low and make contact again in six to 12 weeks is something you feel out over time. I’ve also had instances where I’m surprised by a prospect contacting me out of the blue several months after an initial call. This whole process becomes easier with experience and over time.
As I acquire clients, some of my focus gets directed at customer service—(developing and maintaining relationships). Remember, your best source for more work is through your existing clients.
The longer I’ve been in this business, the easier it has become. Referrals have continued to be a great source of new business. A pleasant surprise is reacquiring properties that I previously serviced but lost for various reasons. They may have tried in-house cleaning or having their landscaper assume the responsibility, without success. I’m also very proud to say one of my clients has been with me for about 30 years (along with some for 10 and 20 years). I’ve learned that if you’re performing and your client is happy with your service, they’ll continue doing business with you (and tell others, too).
My 35+ years in business have allowed me some time for reflection. A $200 initial investment has grown into a $650,000-a-year business. Sadly, my father died before I started my business, so he never lived to see my (our) success. I share the accolades with my parents because they instilled in me at a young age the importance of hard work, resilience, and enjoying simplicity.
Photo credit: Brian Winch
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