Gosia Baran started Helping Hands Cleaning Services when she was laid off from her law firm post-9/11. Since she’d been perpetually dissatisfied with the cleaning services she’d employed, and she had a six month old son to support, she decided to start her own cleaning service. She started out as the cleaner, then was forced to hire someone when she became pregnant again. Now 15 years later, she has a staff of 32 and is expanding from residential into commercial cleaning as well.
Gosia chats with Clate and Scott about the tough early years of starting a business, finding a balance with work and family, and how she’s worked through discouragement in tough times.
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Scott Martineau: Welcome to this episode of The Small Business Success Podcast. I'm Scott Martineau.
Clate Mask: And I'm Clate Mask. We're co-founders of Infusionsoft, and today we've got Gosia Baran with us of Helping Hands Cleaning Services. How're you doing, Gosia?
Gosia Baran: I'm doing great. How are you?
Clate Mask: Good. I'm doing great. [00:00:30] We're so glad you're with us. Take just a second and tell our listeners a little bit about Helping Hands Cleaning Services.
Gosia Baran: Yes. I own Helping Hands Cleaning Services. We are in Chicagoland area. Started the company in 2001, so we've been in business for over 15 years.
Clate Mask: Congratulations.
Gosia Baran: We do commercial cleaning, residential cleaning. Our core business is residential, however, we are expanding it commercially, [00:01:00] so we do carpet cleaning, window cleaning. We are multitasking.
Clate Mask: All right, excellent. So 15 years in business. How many employees do you have?
Gosia Baran: Right now, currently, we have 32.
Clate Mask: Okay. Great. That's awesome. You got a lot on your hands.
Gosia Baran: Right, but I have an awesome staff in my office, so they are helping me.
Clate Mask: Great.
Scott Martineau: Well, congratulations on being a very, very small percentage [00:01:30] of the businesses who start up in the world who succeed at it the way that you are. Great job.
Gosia Baran: Thank you.
Scott Martineau: We're excited to learn more about your journey today.
Gosia Baran: Great.
Scott Martineau: Well, maybe to start, why don't you just tell us about your founding story. What got you into this and gave you the idea to start a company?
Gosia Baran: So after 9/11, I got laid off from my law firm. I used to work downtown Chicago. [00:02:00] My son was only 6 months old then. I had to do something. We just bought a house, so we had a big mortgage. We had a baby, and I was without a job.
While I was working, we had a cleaning service come to help me, because I was working full-time with a little baby. We always had dissatisfaction. I am perfectionist, so I was always [00:02:30] dissatisfied. They weren't doing things the way it should be done. They would miss things, and the customer service just was not there. After I lost my job, I said to my husband, "You know what? This is something I really want to do, and be in the community, be involved, and help women like myself, help with the daily cleaning." That's when we decided [00:03:00] to take off with Helping Hands.
Clate Mask: Okay, awesome. So you were kind of forced into entrepreneurship, it sounds like. Is that-
Gosia Baran: Pretty much.
Clate Mask: ... fair to say?
Gosia Baran: Yeah.
Clate Mask: You and I share that story. I wanted to be an entrepreneur, but it wasn't until 9/11, that kind of derailed my career plan, that I started working with Scott and Eric and we began Infusionsoft. I think that we share the specific reason why we got into entrepreneurship. There are [00:03:30] a lot of people out there in the same boat, but we talk to people all the time who ... Some factor causes them or pushes them to get going with their business, and it sounds like that was certainly the case for you with 9/11.
Gosia Baran: Right. Obviously there was the fear factor, you know? I didn't want to quit my job because I couldn't afford to do that, but once that decision was made for me ...
Scott Martineau: You could afford it all of a sudden. Well, [00:04:00] I think it's important to point out, also, that you actually ... A lot of business owners start because they are a technician with a skill, tired of working for somebody else, and you were actually a client. You were a customer of the business that you chose to go into, which is really fascinating, because you have this understanding of what it was like to be a working mom at the time and saying, "Hey, how do I improve that so it works better for people like me?" That's awesome.
Gosia Baran: Yup. That's right.
Scott Martineau: Michael Gerber would always say that most business [00:04:30] owners aren't entrepreneurs, they're technicians suffering from an entrepreneurial seizure. They have this moment, and think ...
Clate Mask: "I can do this!"
Scott Martineau: "I can do this," and then they realize-
Clate Mask: "I can do this better!"
Scott Martineau: ... so you didn't have a seizure moment. That's good.
Gosia Baran: Yes. I started my business in November, and then in May, I already had enough clients to ... Because I started the cleaning myself, so then in May, I already had enough client to pass [00:05:00] on and hire the first employee.
Clate Mask: Okay. So let's kind of de-construct this first six months, because the first couple of years of getting a business started are the toughest. You're in survival mode. Our listeners, they know it. They're either there or they've been there. They know how hard that first part is. Six months in, you had enough clients to get your first employee, is what [00:05:30] I'm hearing you say. How did you get enough clients?
Gosia Baran: I was passing flyers, door hangers. It was a lot of ... I didn't know anything about business, so I was just reading a lot of different books and newspapers. I was pretty much seeing, "Where are other companies placing ads?" Back then, 2001, [00:06:00] Yellowbook, newspaper, door hangers. Those are the things that were attracting clients. That's what I did.
Clate Mask: Let me ask you this. Why did you get those clients and not somebody else that was also looking for cleaning clients?
Gosia Baran: That's a good question, you know?
Clate Mask: What did you do? Because when you get right down to that, that job of getting the initial client, [00:06:30] then the first few clients ... Getting that going, I mean, it's so difficult. It's what really breaks and causes a lot of businesses to not make it in that first year, but you did something and you had something in you that caused you to either do things or do things in a way that enabled you to get those clients and not somebody else who was interested in going and getting. Can you put a finger on what that might have been?
Gosia Baran: I kind of feel that I love people. I'm a people person, so I signed up for a chamber. [00:07:00] That's where ... My first client came from ... I put a flyer behind a windshield at a train station, because I was a customer. I was taking the train. I saw the people there. That was my first client.
My second client came from a referral. So the first client was satisfied with my job, how I did it. She referred her sister. A lot is based on referral. Then, as I mentioned, I signed [00:07:30] up for chamber, our local chamber. I am a people person, I love people, I talk to people, I'm not afraid to approach people. That's where I got more clients, from that. I was always attending their meetings, their breakfasts, their after hours. That's where I feel ... You know, the personality comes in.
Scott Martineau: You can't overlook the fact that you put in [00:08:00] the hard work. You had the grit, and you said-
Gosia Baran: My personality quality, all of these things-
Scott Martineau: ... and time. In a situation where you have a bunch of money to invest, which is infrequently the case, you can invest dollars in trying to acquire customers. In your case, you're like, "No. I've got to use my resource, which is my time."
How did that work? What did it look like in March or April when you were about to burst? How did you hold on through that? Because you're trying to grow it, and also, you have to do the work, right? [00:08:30] Which is a lot of ...
Gosia Baran: So a lot of after hours, putting evening hours, extra time. March, April, spring cleanings come, so that was another opportunity for me to say to my current clients that I had, "Hey, I have a few openings. If you know anyone, please pass them on to me."
Then, again, I wanted to point out one more thing. [00:09:00] I was cleaning myself. I had enough clients to give me a comfortable income. However, there was a little event in my life. I got pregnant in January with my second one. So that's why, in May, I was pretty much forced, again, to step out of my field.
Clate Mask: Oh, my gosh. That is a great story. I want to also [00:09:30] be clear that you're right. Your personality has a huge part in what you did. You went out and struck up those conversations. But I think for every business owner that's out there, Scott pointed this out, you're both doing the work and you're trying to develop the business, grow the business. You're out there ... I hear a lot of grit. I hear a lot of hustle, a lot of hard work. And yes, your personality that helped shine through, but you were doing the work of delivering the service for your clients [00:10:00] and trying to find more customers, more business to grow it, and then you get hit with, "Oh, wow. Now I can't be the person doing the work anymore!"
Gosia Baran: Right. For me, in my case, that's how it was.
Clate Mask: Yeah. The great thing is, but what a blessing, because it pushed you to actually start building your team so that you could, I imagine, do more of the business-building work, while you had a team that was delivering the service.
Gosia Baran: [00:10:30] Right. It was from one person to another, and then, once I already had that employee that was able to take over those clients, I was able to focus on growing it. Then I was able to focus on going out to all these leads group and different chambers. I branched out of my town to different towns. It just gave me more opportunities to grow and to develop [00:11:00] the company.
Clate Mask: Did you have any ... Did you have a misstep along that way, in the first year, where ... You had an income that you liked, but you couldn't keep doing all of the cleaning work, so you had to hire somebody. Did you have any hiring missteps? Or how did you make sure that you got the right people, the right help, so that they would deliver an effective service that you could have confidence selling?
Gosia Baran: You know, that was very hard [00:11:30] because, as I said, I am a perfectionist, so giving up that piece of confidence and sending somebody else in my place was unbelievable.
Scott Martineau: The good thing is you weren't anal about the quality or anything, so not a problem.
Clate Mask: Yeah. The other thing, aside from your perfectionist that you're pointing out, which is such a beautiful thing for your customer, not [00:12:00] always such a beautiful thing for your employee, right?
Gosia Baran: Right.
Clate Mask: Who's trying to meet your expectations and understand what's in your mind and how you would do it? I'm drawing this out because what you're describing is so common for a founder, an entrepreneur, that gets the business started, and then hires a person. So how did you transfer your passion for the details to serve the customer effectively into that employee so that you could then confidently sell?
Gosia Baran: The core [00:12:30] values of satisfaction, that the customer is always our customer. Ultimately the customer is paying us, and the people have to understand that we have to be a team. We have to work hard and deliver an outstanding service, otherwise, at the end, there will be no check. [00:13:00] If the customer is not happy, they are not going to pay.
I always said to the clients, even if they pay one dollar, it has to be worth it, the service. Whether they pay one dollar or a hundred dollars, whatever it is, the service has to be outstanding.
Scott Martineau: That's great.
Clate Mask: That is great.
Scott Martineau: So what's your involvement today in the business? What's a typical day for you?
Gosia Baran: A typical day ...
Clate Mask: [00:13:30] Yeah, there is no typical day, right?
Gosia Baran: There's no typical day. I don't run anymore day to day operations. I don't do anymore hiring. I pretty much lead, and that's why ... I want to say that's why I am so looking forward to a lead group in August! Now, I'm finding that I have [00:14:00] to be the leader, because I don't hire. I don't fire. I don't train. I don't answer the calls anymore. I have five people in my office, just in my office, so now my job is to lead them and to coach them constantly to do a better job, to deliver. Ultimately, there is my name on the website. There is my name everywhere with that company. I am still a perfectionist, so now I have to [00:14:30] deliver that to them-
Clate Mask: Yeah-
Gosia Baran: ... so they can deliver.
Clate Mask: That's right. Well, you've done a great job of getting the business to where you are now, and you can take that full leadership role. For our listeners, when you get ... What Gosia is describing is stage five of small business growth, and when you get to that stage ... And it typically happens when you're around 25 or 30 employees. You're typically somewhere in the $2-3 million revenue range. [00:15:00] Usually what happens is you get to that level ... And by the way, it's more driven by the number of people you have ... But when you get to that point, Gosia, you said it really well. You're not the one that's doing the hiring and training and the firing, but you've got to put the system in place that has your leaders that are doing the hiring, training and firing in a way that's consistent with your values, with your mission, your purpose. Creating that purpose, values, and mission, [00:15:30] co-creating it with your leaders, so they're not just executing to whatever Gosia says, but they really have it in them that they're there to serve the customer.
That work you're doing ... Kudos to you for recognizing that you're at a point where that's what's necessary. It's absolutely what occurs. There are so many businesses that plateau at certain stages, and in particular this stage, where you get to about 25 or 30 employees. It's frequently the case that the entrepreneur [00:16:00] doesn't know how to lead the company through that to the next stage of growth. It is all about leadership. Congratulations for recognizing it, and we're excited to help you go through that.
Gosia Baran: Thank you.
Scott Martineau: What's the most painful moment you've had as you've built your business over the past 15 years? And then how did you navigate through that?
Gosia Baran: You know, the most painful is always finding the perfect people, the perfect employees.
Clate Mask: Do you [00:16:30] find them, or do you make them?
Gosia Baran: I find the personalities, and then I create the right technicians.
Clate Mask: Awesome.
Gosia Baran: Because you cannot teach the right attitude.
Clate Mask: Totally.
Gosia Baran: You can teach how to clean, but I cannot teach you to be nice and kind and have the right personality. I always look for personalities.
Clate Mask: That is awesome.
Scott Martineau: That is fantastic. So [00:17:00] digging a little deeper, have you had any moments where you've been discouraged and asked yourself, "Why on earth did I do this?"
Gosia Baran: Many times. Many times I was ready-
Clate Mask: Come on. Take us to the dark place, Gosia.
Scott Martineau: Yeah, I think everybody listening to this has been at the place, and one of the reasons that we want to talk about this is just helping realize, you know what? Everybody goes through that, and you gotta work your way through it.
Gosia Baran: Absolutely. I was looking for getting a real estate classes. I was like, "I'm done with the cleaning. I cannot take [00:17:30] the stress anymore." We have the jobs, just, again, finding the right people. It's always the sweet spot. Then you have the people, then you don't have the jobs, in our case. It's very, very tough.
Scott Martineau: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Balancing the two.
Gosia Baran: Balancing, right. Then, finding the balance between family and business.
Scott Martineau: Yeah.
Gosia Baran: I find myself, that I work all the time. [00:18:00] I have two children. They are teenagers now. I don't want them to say ... When they grow up, I don't want them to say, "Mom, you weren't there for us." That's very tough, as a mother. I want to be there for their hockey game, for their music rehearsals or recitals, and so forth.
Clate Mask: I'm glad you're bringing that up. It's obviously a super common challenge [00:18:30] that entrepreneurs deal with as we grow our businesses. Maybe that would be a good thing, one of these things, to do a hot seat on that, and just talk about how you work to find that balance. I think Scott and I have ... We each have six kids and we each about six hundred life hacks for how to have the balance. I appreciate your sharing that, and I love your comment about looking at real estate courses and different things you could do when the going gets tough and you're frustrated with customer [00:19:00] issues and employee issues and balance issues and wondering how you're going to make it all work.
So leave us with this. You've done a great job building a business. You certainly have created a lot of success for yourself, your employees, your customers and others. For the listeners who are ... Maybe they're in the dark place, or maybe they're cracking out the real estate course right now, saying, "Maybe I should do that." Why should they stick with it? What's been great about it? What do you look at and say, "Man, I'm just [00:19:30] so glad I've done this"?
Gosia Baran: What I love is just that, for me ... Because again, I go back. I am a people person. I love working with people, and I want to ... Number one, for me, I want to be my own boss. I don't want to go and report to somebody, right? At the end of the day, I've [00:20:00] gotta suck it up and do it, because tomorrow is going to be a better day. I can go to school with my kids. I can take the vacation. I don't have three weeks vacation in one year. When I have to work hard, I have to work hard, but I have the flexibility. So yes, we have to work hard, but stick to it. It's worth it at the end of the day.
Scott Martineau: Yes. Love it. Well, Gosia, you're amazing. Your energy ... Everybody [00:20:30] can't see you, but your smile is infectious and your energy is fantastic. It's so great to hear your journey of getting booted out of the corporate world and then getting booted into the world of a mom and making the business be successful. What a great story.
Gosia Baran: Thank you.
Clate Mask: Thank you for sharing it, Gosia. We totally appreciate it. Is there any question you have for us that we could answer before we wrap up?
Gosia Baran: I don't have questions. I'm looking forward to August because [00:21:00] I already have a couple other seeds in my head with my business, so I want to explore those options, but I need you to help me how to explore those options.
Scott Martineau: Fantastic.
Clate Mask: All right. We look forward to it. Well, then, we'll wrap it up. That's another episode of The Small Business Success Podcast with Gosia Baran of Helping Hands Cleaning Service, and thank you, Gosia, for being with us.
Gosia Baran: Thank you so much.
Clate Mask: Thanks [00:21:30] for listening. Don't forget to rate us, write a review, and subscribe to the podcast on iTunes.
And if you're looking for more ways to grow your business, check out our knowledge center at learn.infusionsoft.com. That's learn.infusionsoft.com.