High energy “Coach” Liz Trotter has built her successful business by rising to the challenge, always striving to be better and continually learning.
Liz Trotter started her business as an independent cleaner nearly twenty years ago. With long hours, hard work, a can-do attitude and a willingness to learn, she has grown American Maid Cleaning of Olympia, Washington, into a successful, twenty-seven person operation. There’s more than just a great American work ethic behind her story. There is also her high-energy and effervescent personality, which has helped her shape a corporate culture where the words “team player” take on a whole new meaning.
CBT: You’ve been in business nearly twenty years. What’s your secret for success?
LT: I guess my “secret” would be that I don’t see myself as a success, but more like someone who is constantly changing, adapting and improving. There’s no chance to sit back and get run over because I’m constantly striving to be better.
CBT: You now have a staff of twenty-seven. What motivates your team?
LT: My team is motivated by our shared vision of being the best cleaning company there is. We are continually focusing on how we can better ourselves. We are a united front. We may not always get along, but having a shared vision keeps us all striving for something better. We’re all part of a larger plan.
CBT: Give us some insight into your unique “sports team” business model. American Maid Staffing
LT: When I was deciding on our model, I wanted something that said “American,” and something that people had strong feelings about. The military, sports teams and apple pie were my three main thoughts. Obviously, we decided on the sports model. I wanted something that would be able to have its own lexicon. I knew from research that groups sharing an internal lexicon feel more connected than those who don’t. I also wanted comfy uniforms that spoke to who were with just a glance. I knew I wanted red, white and blue as well as to use the flag as part of our branding. We Americans tend to have a fierce loyalty to the flag without even realizing it. I really wanted a united feeling and something that would inspire faith, loyalty and trust. There were so many criteria, and I was able to meet the majority of them through the sports team model. It seemed like the perfect fit, and it really has been.
CBT: What were the biggest challenges you faced in the early days of your business?
LT: The hardest thing for me was that I had another full-time job, and I worked about fifty hours per week. Starting my company, and growing it to the point that I could start hiring, meant working eighty to ninety hours most weeks. I took my children to work with me, and did not sleep a whole heck of a lot. At the time, it didn’t seem so bad. I think I was delirious from lack of sleep! When I look back, I can see how hard I worked to make a go of it.
CBT: Tell us about your very first cleaning job.
LT: A friend was looking for a company to clean the state building where she worked. She knew I was looking for work, so she asked me. “Sure,” I said. “How hard can it be?” The building turned out to be three buildings with a total square footage of 100,000 square feet! It was a truly massive project, and I had nothing but basic household cleaning tools to work with. Thankfully, I discovered a janitor’s closet in one of the buildings. It contained a large amount of old, but still usable, cleaning materials. These tools and chemicals helped me tackle the job. Once I received my first paycheck, I reinvested it in more chemicals and better supplies, and was off to the races.
CBT: Was it difficult to reinvest that first check?
LT: I never thought of anything but investing it back into the business. It seemed the most natural thing in the world to me. I knew, even expected, that there would be times when I wouldn’t be getting a paycheck at all. Having something to invest back into the company seemed like a golden opportunity.
CBT: American Maid Cleaning is in Olympia, Washington. How did you research the unique aspects of your marketplace?
LT: I would LOVE to give some grand answer about spending months researching different websites, other companies in our industry, etc…but I didn’t. I got offered a building to clean and it was extra money, so I said yes. The more cleaning I did, the more I needed to learn, so I researched as I went. I contacted other businesses in the area, read about other service companies I admired, and tracked data incessantly. I still have some of my original forms all filled out in long-hand because this was before I ever had a clue how to run a computer. I learned as I went and got better slowly, but surely.
CBT: What advice do you have for cleaning professionals new to this industry?
LT: It is easy to fall into the mindset that this is “just cleaning,” and anyone can do it. DO NOT BE FOOLED!!! You will need to have a strategic plan, understand your finances, learn about Human Resources, and be prepared to work harder than you ever thought on so many things other than cleaning. You will be playing a balancing game between, time, money, family commitments, energy and education. You will be pulled in multiple directions simultaneously, and you will need to have a great attitude the entire time. Get ready. Plan for it. Strategize for it. Conquer it!
This article originally appeared in Cleaning Business Today