We are thrilled that Debbie was selected for a feature article in the Autumn issue of Where Women Create Work magazine. For those of you who don’t have a subscription, we’re sharing a bit of the article below. Enjoy!
Debbie Sardone turned a cleaning job into a seven-figure, cleaning empire. After building one of the largest maid services in the country, Buckets & Bows Maid Service, Inc., she began professionally speaking and training other cleaning business owners around the world. Debbie manufactures her own line of non-toxic cleaning products and formed the nonprofit, Cleaning For A Reason, which has risen to national prominence and has provided free house cleaning services to over 30,000 women with cancer. Debbie’s been featured on Fox & Friends and Oprah, and in Reader’s Digest, as well as, dozens of other local and national media.
I started my cleaning business out of the trunk of my car over 38 years ago. I just wanted to make some “fun money” to contribute to my husband’s police officer salary. I was charging $20 a house and couldn’t believe how much I was cashing in on doing one of my favorite things—cleaning! Fast-forward to now, years later, and my little cleaning job is a full-blown business grossing over 25 million dollars in the past 25 years, with a big office, 45 employees and a whole lot of overhead.
We started growing fast in the 1990s when I put down the mop for good. We bought a big house, started driving luxury cars, and I carried a “beeper” (aka pager). Back then, only doctors and very important people carried beepers. This was before cell phones, the internet and home computers. I remember during one social event I was asked if I was a doctor, as others eyed the pager clipped to my purse. I smiled broadly and answered, “No, but I do make house calls! If you’re sick of cleaning your own house, I’ve got the perfect remedy.” I proceeded with handing each one of them a Buckets & Bows Maid Service business card.
THE CALM BEFORE THE STORM
I didn’t know then, but only 2% of all maid services ever achieve the level of growth and success that was occurring in my business. I had no idea I had done something extraordinary. I assumed everybody else’s business was bigger than mine. I did know, however, that I loved building an empire more than I loved cleaning toilets. I was driven, creative and naive.
Eventually, the chaos, employee drama and lack of systems began to catch up with me. I was in over my head. My business was going backward, my good reputation was slipping fast, employees were walking all over me and profits were eroding. Panic began to set in when I started having to skip paying myself to meet payroll. Now that we had all the expenses that came with our bigger lifestyle, I felt like such a failure when I finally told my husband that we were sinking fast. It was not a fun conversation, but I had to come clean because it was eating me alive. At my lowest point, when I just couldn’t figure out what to do, we started talking about moving back to our old neighborhood.
THE BIG RISK
When I finally hit rock-bottom and almost the point-of-no-return, I hired one of the top business- consulting firms in the country, George S. May Consulting. This was my “last ditch effort,” and if they couldn’t help me, I’d be bankrupt and closing my doors within a year and going back to doing the cleaning myself. I risked everything in order to hire them as their fee was $40,000 (25 years ago!). They were known worldwide for their results so I borrowed the money from everywhere. If this didn’t work, it was over, period. We risked it all.
Hire the best to help you fix your business or grow to the next level. Don’t scrimp on experts. If you try to save on the front end, you will pay in the long-term.
Twelve years ago, I launched my own consulting business. We now have the world’s most successful online training academy for residential maid service professions, Cleaning Business Fundamentals, where business owners from all over learn from our business systems and employee training processes.
And, because I was not busy enough, in 2010, I bought the company that manufactures the eco-friendly green cleaning products I’ve used in my home and business for over 25 years. Speed Cleaning® was the first green cleaning products to hit the consumer market back before “green cleaning” was a thing. Back when I was doing the cleaning myself, I didn’t want to be exposed to harsh chemicals every day, so I ordered these boutique green products by the gallon through the mail. The cleaners were so superior to what I could find in the grocery store that I required all of my employees to use them as we grew. I am now the branded manufacturer of these amazing products, and we ship boxes of green cleaners, tools and cleaning equipment all over the world straight from our warehouse near Dallas.
THE BIGGER THE PAIN, THE BIGGER THE GAIN
This is probably why I have very little patience for the, “I just can’t afford it” excuse now that I’m a full-time business consultant. People think their life and their business will magically be transformed with a $99 e-book. If you want to make a tiny investment in yourself, expect a tiny result. I risked everything in order to work with the best, and it paid off. Within nine months of working with my consulting team, my business was grossing a million dollars. They showed me everything I was doing wrong. They gave me a system to follow, margins to strive for and a formula for the business that I’ve followed ever since. I began attracting and retaining amazing employees, and I mastered the art of “hire slow, fire fast”. It took me years to pay off the debt I took on to hire that top business consulting firm, but it was the best business decision I’ve ever made.
Because of the investment I made in myself 25 years ago to fix my broken business, I have been able to create a highly profitable self-running business with 45 employees and $1.5 million in annual sales. This level of success has made it possible for me to be an absentee owner, buy Speed Cleaning® and train and help other struggling business owners.
The best result of all doesn’t pay me a dime. In 2006, I launched my dream project, our nonprofit Cleaning For A Reason. We have recruited over 1,200 other maid services all over the U.S. and Canada to provide free house cleaning to women battling cancer. To date, we’ve given the gift of free cleaning to over 30,000 women in need. This is truly my proudest achievement of all.