With Chris Stoness
From Music Studios To Window Cleaning!
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Episode 65 – Starting a Window Cleaning Side Hustle w/ Chris Stoness
Chris is the CEO of ELITE Window Cleaning, a franchise window cleaning company that started in 2012. Chris’s journey as an entrepreneur started much earlier than that! In 2006, Chris was working for Bryan Adams (the musician). Chris thought music was his passion and wanted to do it for the rest of his life.
When Chris reached the top of the mountain, he wasn’t feeling the fulfillment that he expected. The stress from not feeling the fulfillment led him down a journey of self-discovery, where he was burning the candle at both ends, working early in the morning and late at night.
Chris decided to quit his music job at the ripe age of 22, without knowing what was next.
While working through downtown Vancouver, Chris saw high-rise window cleaners and thought that doing that would be a great way to make some money and pay for his rent before finding out what was next.
Chris waited for the gentleman to get to the ground and asked him for a job. The employee said ‘sure’ and he started!
When did you know you enjoyed window cleaning?
Chris loved the satisfaction from bringing a filthy window to a clean window. The instant satisfaction is what got him hooked! Being a window cleaner means that most of your day you’re outside, which Chris enjoyed.
Over the next 6 years, Chris worked for various different window cleaning companies, even one in Australia!
In 2012, Chris made the decision to move from Australia back to his hometown in Ontario, Canada, and start ELITE Window Cleaning.
What equipment do you need to start a window cleaning business?
When Chris came back from Australia, he had a bucket, a loaned car, and a squeegee!
Getting Your First Contract
Chris’s first contract was an $18,000 contract, which was just going door to door. In the first year, they grew to $100,000 in gross revenue, doubling every year after that.
How did you manage to grow and operating a business?
Running a business and scaling a business are two very different things. One thing that did not scale was the work. Climbing a ladder, washing the windows, and making sure the job was done to satisfaction was difficult to scale.
Chris was not able to outpace his competition with labor.
Introducing new technology to scale?
You don’t cut your margins to grow! Instead, Chris looked at a technology that was being used by Window Cleaning companies in the UK, which were ladder-free telescopic poles with purified water.
Now, Chris could scale the business without worrying about ladders and labor scaling.
Finding Your Niche
Chris was able to find the niche in the premium window cleaning by using the new technology to do more windows in less time and passing on the savings to the customer.
Before finding the niche, Chris struggled to find their message and attract the right client.
What Else Makes ELITE Unique?
Early on, Chris set up the systems for an internal call center so that they could close a ton of leads.
The close rate from inquiry to book rate was around 80%. It was doing so well because every person answering the phone was able to give quotes right over the phone without even going to see the job.
What is the start-up costs for a window cleaning side hustle?
There are two different types of business models you could go with, the cheaper being the ladder and the bucket, the second and more expensive being having water-fed pole system.
If you are looking to make between $60,000-$80,000/year for yourself and not having employees or other worries, you could start with a cheaper tool kit (Squeegee, bucket, the pole is all you need) and go after storefronts as clients.
Storefronts are usually the lowest barrier to entry in the industry. You can do a lot of storefronts side-by-side and give them all a discount, while still making a great income.
If you want to go with a full water-fed system, your investment is somewhere between $7,000-$10,000 to get set up. If you are looking to take this approach, you are also looking for a different type of customer.
You will probably be looking for a little more scalable operation with employees.
The Empire Model (franchise) is one step above that business model. You have higher starting costs but are handed all the marketing tools, operating procedures, and everything you need to get the ball rolling.
How do you price your services?
They price based on the time it would take an individual to clean the window. They then flat-rated all of those prices so that anyone in the call center can give out pricing on the spot.
When you are a one-man show, you have to go out and quote all the jobs yourself, which can be time-consuming and is it not guaranteed revenue.
When you are a small company just starting, you can use the power of relationships and meeting your clients to your advantage. If they like and trust you, they most likely will want to work with you as well.
At some point, the scale tips and you will be getting more leads than you can handle. That is where you would want to flat rate your prices.
How Are You Getting So Many Leads?
They are averaging 1000 booked leads per week! They do this through a robust marketing system. The #1 lever in the window washing business is word-of-mouth referrals whether you have a corporate image or you are a mom-and-pop shop.
The #1 thing you can do to continuous attract new leads is do a great job and tell your clients to tell their friends. It isn’t the magic silver bullet you were wanting, but it is the best way to continuously get leads in window washing business.
The other marketing strategy that works well is door hangers and banging on doors.
Knocking on doors is extremely scary, but if you do it for a couple hours, you can book a couple thousand dollars of work.
Chris also discussed the power of attending home shows as a vendor. By showing the enthusiasm you have to people shopping the home show can attract some great clients because they get to know you before working with you!
More on the Call Centre
One thing I appreciated by Chris is that they wanted to focus on their business and service rather than trying to add another business to the portfolio.
Although entrepreneurship is a windy road and many entrepreneurs go onto create more than 1 business, Chris acknowledged that it wasn’t the time.
Part of being successful is knowing when to say yes and knowing when to say no to opportunities.
What should you be putting on the door hangers?
Put yourself in front of the buying public! Park your car at the front of a Home Depot and hand out flyers and talk to people.
You need to have a value proposition in your business and be able to communicate that to a customer in 10 seconds or less.
Chris’ value proposition at Elite Window Cleaning is “Perfect windows, happy technicians and delighted customers”.
You need to figure out what you’re going to deliver to that customer.
Do you do anything to increase your referrals?
Chris does not believe in paying for referrals, but rather relying on your work to deliver those results.
Chris puts programs in place, such as “tip your tech”, where, if the customer leaves a review, the technician gets tipped $10, without actually giving them $10! The money comes from ELITE.
Are you utilizing any social media advertising?
Yes! In this day and age, that is critical to getting your word out.
Be very careful if you are looking to get into social media advertising, and if you are, really learn how they work. You can get caught up in following the prompts and spending money without any results.
Do your own research on how to do the ads properly or hiring someone who is a professional can save you a ton of cash.
What are you sharing on your social media ads?
The ads bring everyone to the website, elitewindowcleaning.ca and share the brand promise with the visitor. It is easy to run flash sales, and emoji traps, but at the end of the day, leading with your brand promise is the best way to get long term business.
Stay away from stock photos!! A smiling photo that is taken on an iPhone is much better than a stock photo window cleaner!
What have been your biggest challenges?
MOTIVATION! Getting the door slammed in your face for 3 straight days before you figure out your pitch is really difficult.
You will get your nose slammed in a couple doors for a few days straight that you won’t even know where to go to get work anymore. That is where you need to overcome the mental barrier and stay motivated to close leads somehow.
Are there different challenges people may face doing residential vs commercial?
The availability of customers to talk to is different. For residential, you have to knock on their door and deliver it to their home. That is a little more personal and is totally different feeling than walking into a storefront and saying “Hey, your window is dirty do you want me to clean it for $20?”
As far as equipment goes, what would someone getting started need?
You can easily bare bones it! Go to a window cleaning website, don’t go buy a squeegee at Home Depot because you’re going to pay more for something of lesser quality.
Order it and then practice on your windows till you can do it well!
Is there software’s for window cleaning businesses?
There absolutely is however, Chris recommends in the beginning just using Google Calendar or something unpaid. For the first 3 years, Chris did everything through the calendar on his phone.
There is an app called Jobber or Service Titan, which can work as well. These apps are more suitable for when you get trucks on the road.
At the beginning, your only costs should be supplies, soap and labor.
Do you think people should get insurance?
It is not very expensive, but Chris recommends that everyone gets it. Glass can break and it is expensive to fix! Make sure to have at least a basic insurance.
Who would you recommend a window cleaning business too?
A window cleaning business is for someone who wants a very honest profession, a trade without a ton of moving parts. Someone looking for a side hustle with a low barrier of entry. The caveat to that is that there is a lot of regional competition.
You need to get your hands dirty and get out there. It is NOT easy work, it is labor.
If you are an introverted person, it probably isn’t the best business for you as it will require talking to lots of people and knocking on a lot of doors.
If you are not into the hustle and talking, and really putting yourself out there, it probably isn’t the best side hustle for you.
What is your end goal?
Chris is on the journey, with no definite end in sight. The next milestone is to have 25 franchise units and to have 100 franchise units across Canada in 5 years.
Where can someone go to pursue franchising?
The franchising program is all laid out on the website! If you are looking to buy into a system that already works and exists, then this is a huge opportunity for you. It takes away the “jump into the deep end and see if you can figure it out”.
What is your #1 tip for a side hustler just starting out?
Keep yours eyes on the prize! Wake up every day and ask yourself how you can grow your business. Approach your day like that every day.
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