As a cleaning business consultant, over the years I’ve noticed that
most people have a set standard of value. It may be based on their
experience, or something they were taught, or it could just be an
assumption they’ve made without ever stopping to analyze it. We all tend
to do this. But then we also project our own standard of values onto
our clients, as if it were an obvious, universal truth. But this makes
little sense when you really think about it.
The basic belief goes like this: If an illegal or anyone is willing to clean a house for $8 an hour is available in ‘what appears to be large numbers’ then why would anyone hire me for $20 - $25 per hour. Not gonna happen.
Seems like a logical line of thought, right? I would not pay $25 an hour to get my house cleaning, therefore, who in their right mind would? If I can find twelve rolls of toilet paper at Sam’s Club for a buck less than the local grocery, why would I buy the more expensive item? Well, with a thing, that is somewhat more true with a thing than with a service. But even so, there are a number of sound reasons why people will buy the more expensive product.
You simply cannot project your values onto the client. If you do, you are not going to make any real money. If you want to clean dirty houses for poor people, well, then you can skip this post!
Now try to take the perspective of someone that makes over $100k a year. That is the client you want to clean for.
Yes, I know we are supposed to hate them, the 1%, right? Well, we are talking about the top 25%. You are unlikely to get hired to clean for the top 5% in your first two years in business. What you will learn (at least I hope you do) by operating your cleaning business is that there are rich angels and poor angels, rich jerks and poor jerks, rich saints and poor saints. Besides, this is your ticket to the top 20%! That is your goal, am I correct? To make a good living as a cleaning pro.
A few years back, I bought a $150 pair of shoes for the first time. I felt ridiculous and freaked out doing that (I do not make as much as you might think as a consultant. You can make more cleaning.) But I still have them and I wear them all the time. The $30 pair of shoes were always toast in 6 months. So I would have to buy six pairs of $30 shoes to equal my comfortable leather shoes, which are now perfectly broken-in and still in tip-top condition. I actually saved money by buying the $150 pair of shoes. I just had to be willing and able to pay more upfront instead of less over a three year span. Oh, and my back problem went away, which saved me a small fortune as well. It is not always a good idea to go cheap. You usually wind up paying more in the end. In this case, in chiropractor fees.
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Your clients truly do not want to be firing and hiring new house-cleaners every month or so. To them it’s risky, it’s a hassle, and it’s very time consuming. Not to mention awkward. They want someone reliable who is going to do great work and stick around for years.
Class status aka snobbery
Hey, the neighbors have the world’s greatest house cleaner and they pay her/him $20 an hour. I’m going to find a better one and pay him/her $25 an hour! This has happened to me. I have had rich people try to buy me away from one of their neighbors. They did not want me to work for both of them. Many of them are very competitive, possibly even unconsciously, and they want to be top dog in the community.
I did clean for both clients anyway and they got used to it. Don’t think because you work for a wealthy person that you have to submit to them. Most people of wealth will not respect that behavior anyway. Stand your ground, but also just do great work, without any attitude.
It makes people feel important and successful. You have heard the “fake it until you make it” slogan -- it’s dumb advice, but I have had the experience of people paying me far more than they could afford. They were convinced they were creating their own reality by acting the way they wanted their lives to be. Maybe it worked, maybe it did not. I don’t know, I stay out of their personal business, but this phenomena does happen.
If people are in a rich neighborhood or have wealthy co-workers and associates, they are forever trying to keep up with the Joneses. They would not be caught dead without the best of pretty much everything. The best house-cleaner? Why not you?
Habits are hard to break
Somewhere there is a person who looks at the world like this: It is what you have always paid your help and you liked those people and you miss them. Maybe this person will be a good replacement. If I went cheap now, I might regret it. I do not want an average cleaner, I want a great cleaner, preferably one that is somewhat sophisticated or at least coordinated and on-top of things. One who will not show up drunk or late every time.
That’s a bargain!
I make $200 per hour and this poor sap only makes $30 per hour. It’s the least I can do! That perspective is a tricky one to occupy, right? Hard to imagine that. I’m telling you, many wealthy clients actually feel that way. I had a billionaire client who offered to pay for my college education! I did not accept the offer (probably should have!). She ended up giving me thousands of dollars of free stuff every year. Could you find yourself despising a person like that? Well, I did not. I wouldn’t have wanted to hang out with her at the coffee shop, but I liked her. Her generosity and goodwill was genuine, and that’s hard not to like in a person. On a side note, want to know another great thing about cleaning for rich folk? You will never run into them at the McDonalds or Walmart or in bar on St. Patrick’s Day. That can be oh-so awkward, running into a client in the real world, especially if you have had a few.
Guilt, revenge, write-offs and who knows!
Then there are the endless personal reasons people do all kinds of strange things. I once had a client who paid me $30 per hour to piss off her absent husband, who couldn’t believe she was paying such a lot of money. For others, it was some sort of finagled tax-break scheme to have me clean the house far too often for far too long. I had a client that had inherited a house from her grandmother and sold it for $750k. She felt incredibly guilty and used to be a house cleaner! She paid me twice the going rate.
I could go on and on, in fact, there are just as many “rational reasons” for someone to spend more as there are to spend less.
Last I heard, BMW, Mercedes Benz, Apple, Martin Guitars, Petron, Dansko, Gucci, Moog Synths, Prada and most top-end companies are doing just fine. It is usually the bargain brands that go out of business because there is no margin for error.
Once I realized that I was projecting my own values onto the client, I started experimenting with raising my rates. I took a big risk. Over the course of a year, I doubled them. Then, I tripled them over the course of two more years. What was the result of this tweaking? The jobs got easier and easier. I stopped house-cleaning professionally in 2006, when I had one job paid $60 per hour! CLEANING EMPTY HOMES! Is it ridiculous? Yes. Does go beyond all sense and boggle the mind? Yes! I was doing this for a living. It was my day job when I was a musician. I was in it to make money. As a professional house cleaner, I did not feel the need to be a martyr. I took the extra free time this great-paying job offered, and did volunteer work and nursed Suze, who had contracted a very serious illness, back to health. My moral and ethical responsibility is to do the best job for the client and to be honest. In the early days, I tried to turn down offers of too much money and too many nice, free things, but I realized that turning down nice offers just made my clients feel weird. So I learned to simply, sincerely, respond with a heartfelt thank you. Learning to receive is as important as learning to give.
I think we have all bought into the Walmart-ification of the marketplace a bit too much, or maybe even way too much. It has its place, and maybe you love it or maybe you think it is the root of all evil, but my point and advice is that your job is to clean and to get paid what you deserve. Everything else is just an opinion, and everybody has one.
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