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Calgary Home Cleaner gets Fresh Marketing with $15,000 in Financing
Government financing helps owner focus on marketing and growing home cleaning company.
One morning in 2005, Andrea Barber woke up with the traces of a dream tantalizing her. She'd dreamt she was the owner of a cleaning company that offered non-toxic alternatives to our increasingly chemical and artificial environment. "And there were all these people who were working for me," she says. "And then I woke up and I thought, that's really neat. That's not a bad idea." She laughs at the memory.
But she couldn't shake the idea, and she decided to find out if there really might be a market for such a business. Barber is nothing if not thorough, and she immersed herself in research, began work on a business plan, and "read tons of books." The process took three years. It might seem like a long time when entrepreneurs often passionately, and rashly, jump on business ideas. But when she was done her research, she was as inspired as she'd been that morning after the dream. Today, a year into her new life as an entrepreneur, Barber's business, Pure Cleaning Co., has attracted a number of clients and is poised to grow thanks to financing and guidance from the Canadian Youth Business Foundation (CYBF), a charitable organiation, and additional guidance from the Centre for Small Business Financing.
Barber has a background in communications and advertising, and had worked for a number of years for the Alberta Women Entrepreneurs (AWE), a federally-funded non-profit which provides financing and advice. "I'd wanted to own a business for a long time," she says. "And I got some good exposure to entrepreneurs through working there, that's for sure."
With her plan for a company that cleans home the natural way, without the toxic residue left by most retail cleaning products, she now had a goal to work toward. The first tangible step, beyond planning, was to launch her website – which both promotes the home cleaning business and offers non-toxic cleaning products for sale. "I would say my website was the most crucial thing that I created," she says.
She also began to spread word of mouth through friends and acquaintances – letting them know that she was launching Pure Cleaning. She bought natural, non-toxic supplies. And she called up her sister, Danielle Letkeman, who was living in Saskatoon. "I actually had her move from Saskatoon to help me start. I couldn't afford to quit my job right away, and she did most of the start-up work for me, which was totally invaluable."
Pure Cleaning offers a flexible home cleaning schedule to accommodate every client's budget. And Barber's company makes many of the products itself including a tub-and-tile cleaner made from baking soda, borax, vinegar, essential oil and pure soap. Her prices fall somewhere in the middle of the range for housecleaning services. "I did all my price checking as part of my research," says Barber. "And I was actually pretty shocked at the costs of some services."
With her careful planning and incremental approach, Barber was able to start the company on a shoestring – a few thousand dollars – and have it up and running with cleaning jobs paying the bills early on.
But she knew she needed some outside financing in order to grow the business quickly. Marketing, in particular, represented a big cost. "Getting a proper brochure created and printed can cost thousands," she says. Her work at AWE had alerted her to the availability of government funding programs, and she turned to the Centre for Small Business Financing for help in getting money to take Pure Cleaning to the next level.
Barber was a perfect candidate for financing from the CYBF. Partially supported by the federal and some provincial governments, the CYBF provides entrepreneurs under 35 with pre-launch coaching, business resources, mentoring – and start-up funding. Start-up loans are usually $15,000, which is a welcome boost for any new business.
Barber said the process of applying to the CYBF and getting funding was easy, but suggests that the comprehensive business plan she'd spent all that time on was a big help. "They ask a lot of questions, and they want you to justify your business," she says. "If you didn't have a business plan, it would be harder."
In addition to the financing – which has helped her purchase a van, develop marketing materials, and outfit her four employees in uniforms – Barber found her CYBF mentor a source of invaluable advice. Spending time out on cleaning jobs was not the best use of her time, since it kept her from running and growing the company. Her mentor suggested she hire a part-time person to do quality control on jobs, visiting the homes and making sure Pure Cleaning's standards were met. That would free up Barber to focus on marketing the company and generating new business.
"Hands down, my biggest challenge has been finding time to focus on the business, and looking to the future," she says. "And to enjoy having your own business is not just doing the day to day job, but moving it ahead. For a long time, I couldn't see the light at the end of the tunnel, but that's changing."
She advises entrepreneurs to believe in their businesses. "Don't let fear get in the way," she says.
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