This article is one in a multi-part interview series with small business owners and experts to discuss their insights and recommendations on productivity, collaboration and business growth. The interviewer, Allen Gannett, is the author of the book The Creative Curve and is the Founder and former CEO of TrackMaven, a marketing analytics company.
How might you react if 75% of your team walked out on you?
Kristen Hadeed not only experienced this but found it to be one of her most impactful entrepreneurial experiences. Kristen is the founder of Student Maid, a successful cleaning company she started while in college.
In our interview, Kristen shared her hardest lessons and how she scaled a traditionally offline business using digital tools and software. Whether it is automated scheduling, feedback, or workflow, Student Maid was able to achieve scale and keep their employees happy by being intentional in their growth.
Kristen disclosed the what, how, and why behind the processes they’ve built.
What do you think about the rise of remote work today? Do you feel it impedes productivity?
I think remote work is the future, and we must be willing to accommodate that if we want to keep the people that we really love, our top talent, because a lot of businesses are willing to accommodate that. I don’t believe that it impedes productivity if you are really clear on the systems required to make that work, like the online meetings, the screen sharing, the project management software.
The human element can’t be lost, so that’s why I really love online video conferencing. That’s a huge piece because you want people to still feel connected, and you want to make sure that they still feel like they’re working on a team.
I actually think it contributes to higher productivity because [if] you’re allowing people to live where they want to live, people are happy. When they’re happy, they’re more engaged and more productive.
A big part of growth is understanding what is and isn’t working for your customers, what have you found to be the easiest and quickest ways to gather that insight? What impact has that had on your business?
We send an automated online survey after every service. We get the response right away, so if the customer has not had the best experience with us, we make it right. Without having that automated survey go out, we’d never know that they were upset.
And if they [didn’t] have a place to really express how they felt, they may decide to cancel their service or go tell 20 people not to use us. We’ve found that having that automated survey allows us to resolve issues quickly and makes people really feel heard and valued.
We [also] do a lot of online surveys with our team members who are on the front lines [to gather] all of the information that we can about how we can make their jobs easier. A lot of our best ideas come from those survey results.
What have you seen to be the biggest inhibitors of business growth?
Not investing in the right tools. Using band-aid fixes and telling yourself, this will work for now, and later we’ll go back and find a better way. That eventually catches up with you.
An example, we created our own proprietary scheduling software [and] spent close to $100,000. It worked for a period of time, but as the business grew, we outgrew this software.
Because we had invested so much money into it, I refused to really look at other solutions. It cost us a lot of time, a lot of money, a lot of missed opportunities because we weren’t modifying it so that it could work for what we needed.
As your business grows, you have to think about what are you using? Is this going to serve you now? If yes, great. Check mark.
Is it also going to serve you in the future, if your business grows? If the answer is no, find another tool or software because you want something that you can grow into.
Now that you’re on the cloud, what are some of the things you think small businesses should consider before transitioning to a cloud-based solution?
We wasted so much time on email. I remember we would have notes for each client [and] have to sort through hundreds of emails and pages of notes to find what we needed.
When I think about the process, it was so long and excruciating and it didn’t have to be that way. We needed a way to share and edit files in real-time with multiple people.
I think what I would tell people is it [takes] work upfront, but once it’s up and working it will save you so much time.
What has been your biggest failure within Student Maid, and what did you learn from it?
My biggest failure was the day 45 people walked out on me. 45 out of 60, so I lost 75% of my team. We had this big contract to clean hundreds of empty apartments, and the job itself wasn’t fun. People are cleaning toilets.
A couple of days into the contract, I think they just realized this job wasn’t fun, I wasn’t really a good leader. This was really early on in the business, so they quit.
What I learned from that is it’s so important to create a place where you’re focusing on the environment. Where people can feel inspired and valued and like they’re really contributing to something. That they’re a part of the team.
I was able to get those 45 people back by basically owning up to the fact that I’m new as a leader, and I took 100% responsibility, but I learned those powerful lessons from that. That it doesn’t really matter what the job is that you’re asking people to do, it’s how you make them feel while they’re doing it.
How do you handle scheduling for your team and your customers?
Everything we do is online. Our customers can book online directly. Our team members can also manage their own schedules online. They can tell us when they want to work, when they don’t. They can request time off.
One of the biggest perks of the job, and the reason why we have people lining up to work at a cleaning company is because we offer such flexible scheduling, and the way that we do that is with our online software. I think it’s just really when you can meet the needs of both your customers and your team members, that’s where the magic happens.
Task automation can be huge aid for time management. What are some examples that you’ve employed that have had the biggest impact on your business?
Our payroll is the largest expense we have. It’s really important that we collect money after a service, as quickly as we can, in order to not have a cash flow shortage.
Before we had automated our tasks, we were manually sending invoices, payment reminders, running credit cards, and it really slowed our cash flow and our collections. There were times when we would have to dip into a line of credit.
There was one time that we actually couldn’t make payday. One of the worst days that I’ve ever had in my business.
That’s not responsible, as a business owner. You really have to make sure that the money piece is there.
Now all of those things are automated. Our customers pay when they book their service online. We have invoices that are automatically emailed out. We have payment reminders that are automatically emailed out, and our collections are now so much faster, it’s literally happening in our sleep and we’re able to make payroll and cashflow isn’t an issue.
Working smarter not harder is a notorious adage in business. How has technology factored into boosting productivity for you and your team?
Our project management software has been huge for us. There was a time when we didn’t use it, and everyone just kind of managed their projects on their own, and you never really knew what was in the works. We did not hit goals, and we could never figure out why.
Then we moved to this project management software, and now all of a sudden, we have more on our plates than we ever had had before, but we’re getting things done. I think it’s because it allowed us to remain connected as we work towards our goals.
We [also] just relaunched our training program. This was a huge project. We went from doing everything physically in the room to online training, and we were able to do that six months faster than it would have normally taken because of the software that we used.
When you’re starting your business, it’s really important to be cost-efficient. What is your best advice for small business owners to keep their overhead costs low?
I think you have to find an all-in-one solution. In the beginning, I needed all of these different things. I needed an online scheduling software, a way to collect customers’ feedback, ways for my people to request time off. I had these one-off solutions, but nothing was talking to one another.
Moving to an all-in-one solution seemed more expensive, but at the end of the day, it was actually costing a lot more money to have all of these systems running simultaneously and hours spent managing each one of them and making sure the information was shared from system to system.
Starting a cleaning business in college is an atypical extracurricular. But Kristen was able to build a thriving business by leveraging smart processes and smart tooling.
If you run a service-heavy business, consider all of your customer touchpoints. Which of those can be automated or made more efficient? As Kristen demonstrates, if customer experience is the driver of your business’s growth, you need to be relentless in driving efficiency while maintaining quality.
Kristen has a critical leadership trait: Self-awareness. She turns her mistakes into learning opportunities and actionable results. By always being willing to improve, she’s built the foundation for success.