CEO Interview - Discover How To Run A Fully Remote House Cleaning Service

Join Chris Schwab in this informative video as he shares his insight into creating a successful and profitable remote house cleaning service.

 min. read
May 26, 2023

Discover How To Run A Fully Remote House Cleaning Service (with Chris Schwab)

📹 Watch the whole interview here:

His company:



Key Take Aways:

  1. Having a remote business is the ultimate freedom vehicle.
  2. Subcontractor model is not for everyone. You need to understand what are the challenges to succeed.
  3. Use Thumbtack, to find experience cleaners.
  4. Before reaching out to a lot of potential cleaners you need to have an organized system to hire.

Interview Transcript:

On this interview, I talked to Chris Schwab, CEO of Innova Local and Think Maids, on running and operating a successful remote cleaning business.

So check it out. All right, so I'm already recording. So thank you, Chris, for coming to this interview.

Um, I always wanted to meet you for a long time, and I know you're in Beacon, two remote cleaning businesses, and I am in the same boat.

And I said, let me talk to Chris and learn how he's been running his company. And so thank you for coming.

Hey, likewise, man. I've been following you for several years.

Uh, it, it's funny actually, I knew when you, you did your remote class a few months back, I was like, all right, I gotta talk to this guy now.

There's a tiny group of us doing this, right? So,


Yeah. Thank you for having me on, man. It's a pleasure to be here. It's a pleasure to meet you finally.

No problem. So cool. Let's get started with the, uh, some questions I got for you. Um, you know, let's introduce yourself. Tell me more about your business and, you know, what are you up to right now?

Sure, yeah. Well, uh, I'm Chris Schwab. I am a clean business owner. First and foremost, I would say, um, I started, think Mays we're based in Washington, DC, Maryland, Virginia, all the way back in 2016.

For me, it still feels like a minute ago, but somehow it's almost eight years ago now. It's seven, seven and a half or something. Um, and we're just a standard residential house cleaning company.

There's nothing special that we do. Uh, it's just, you know, move in, move out, cleans deep, cleans the, the very basics, right? Mm-hmm.

Uh, we're not basic in one way. And the way that we're not basic is that we're a fully remote company and we were doing that very early on.
So, uh, we don't have an office location.

Our office manager is not even in the same country. She's in Mexico right now. Um, we're a completely remote operation, so that's kind of the way, uh, that we're a little bit unusual than maybe your standard cleaning company.

But, but yes, I'm, I, I run Think Maids and I run a, uh, virtual assistant company for, uh, local business owners as well, called the Nova Local.

And that is really just providing admin support for small business owners, of course, cuz I'm a cleaner, mostly other cleaning companies too.

But, um, yeah, that's, that's the real gist of what I do man, is, is I help people start cleaning companies and I help them run them remotely as well when they're ready, ready to make that jump.

Cool. Now, um, why and how to operate a remote clean business? A lot of people ask me that question and I said, well, you know, I wanna see what Chris has to say about that, cuz uh, it's not the typical operation for sure.

I, I don't know what your previous answer was, but I imagine it won't be too different. <laugh>. Um, for me, I'm, I'm very much freedom focused instead of, uh, money focused mm-hmm. <affirmative>.

And so I like to create situations for myself where I have a, of what I do.

And having a remote business that's very efficiently run is one of the ultimate choice makers in your life.

I think it gives you so many options on what to do financially on where to live on the time that you do, uh, things within your life.

You can have hobbies that you might not have at a job mm-hmm. <affirmative> cause you're committed to that job, right? So having an efficient business that's not tied to a specific location to me is almost one of the ultimate freedom vehicles that you can have in your life.

And so the pitch, I guess, if you will, for a remote clean company is that it it gives you freedom to do what you want in your life.

Uh, whereas a normal clean business can give you much of that freedom. Uh, it might not give you a geographic freedom factor as well. You don't actually have to move to another country, but having the option to do that is a very powerful thing.

And so, uh, a number of clients in IPA business, for example, um, they have a, a cleaning company that can be run a hundred percent remotely, but they like their local community, they, they're very embedded in their community and they have their family there.

So they don't, they may take long vacations but they don't live somewhere else. They don't necessarily need a remote cleaning company, but the options there if they want it. So I would say it's about options more than anything.

Else. Definitely. Yeah, same for me. Uh, obviously I'm not in anywhere, uh, outside of the US but definitely not being able or tied up to Dallas for example, uh, has made a big difference cuz you know, I can really travel go anywhere.

Obviously having kids is another thing to, cuz you cannot just take off and go easily, but, you know, I have the option to to travel more and do all the things that I enjoy. Cool. So, um, tell me about the hiring process, uh, for remote cleaning companies, how that works and uh, how do you execute on that?

Sure. And just to, just to wrap up the last point. I just got a dog a few months ago and I know it's not a kid <laugh>, but, but I'm feeling like I used to have dogs as a kid, but I was a kid. Yeah. I was not adult taking care of them. So it was just fun. Yeah. I'm really feeling that, um, the ways that your life changes where you're committed to a location.

Now, funnily enough, I'm like, oh, I can't, I can't go out for lunch cuz I've gotta feed my dog. Right. You know, so I think it, it's interesting that part is really like in my face now. Like, wow, your whole life is different. Um,

But yeah.

In terms of hiring cleaners, um, it's, it's an interesting one. I'd be curious to hear what you're doing too. I imagine it's 90% the same. Um, when you hire cleaners remotely, there's truly only one or two changes to the process that you need to make.

Um, essentially what we do is, um, there, there's obviously the employee or the subcontractor model, um, I use subcontractors for me, uh, it makes sense and it's a little easier.

I'm a very kind of, um, the opposite of micromanaging. I like people to be as fully independent as possible so that I can be uninvolved if I know they're gonna do a good job. Right.

So I, I prefer the subcontractor model mm-hmm. <affirmative> because I have hiring experienced cleaners who already know what they're doing so I can just let them do their thing and know it's gonna be a good job.

Right. But our basic high level overview of our hiring process is we go to where we're finding cleaners we don't actually use Indeed.

I know you guys do use that a lot and you have an upcoming masterclass on that. Yeah. But we don't tend to use the big platforms personally in my cleaning company, we tend to use the smaller ones like or there's an interesting way that I use Thumbtack I can talk about later if you'd like. Yeah. Um, we use these smaller platforms to find experience cleaners where we can actually see other people's reviews of them upfront. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, the problem I find with bigger resume sites is someone can send you their resume and they can put all the good references down that they want you to call, who will tell them that they're good. Right. But it's not an honest, unbiased look at this person.

So you don't really know until you work with them if they're good. Correct. But with platforms like or Thumbtack or review sites, you can actually see a written record going back sometimes years of this person's profile.

You can see consistently where they're getting one star reviews or two star reviews, you can see where they're getting good star five star reviews and four star reviews. You can see where their strengths and their weaknesses are. Right.

You can see a long time, you can see how they're written English is, there's so much you can see using these platforms publicly before you ever reach out to a person that I like them because it acts as a, a, a base filtering process before you even reach out to them.

So, so for us, definitely Step is going to the platforms like We use Nextdoor a lot too, where we ask our neighbors for families, uh, FA Neighbors and families for recommendations mm-hmm.

Is mm-hmm. Is going to that platform. After that first step, we then have a fairly traditional hiring process where we do a phone interview where we then invite them to do a trial clean.

The difference is, uh, at the trial clean, we actually have them, uh, clean our long-term customers homes instead of come to an office location and test them. Right. A lot of people are big fans of coming to the office location and doing group interviews. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, I'm not really a fan of that personally neither.

But I also can't do it cuz we don't have an office. So even if I was a fan, I couldn't do it anyway. Right. So what we do is, when we made the transition to remote, uh, we f we filed a list of our long-term customers and we said, Hey look, we'll give you a free deep clean in exchange for an honest review of this new cleaner that we're looking to bring on board.

We'd love to know if they're polite, if they're on time, what type of cleaning supplies they use, if there's any missed areas, how they conduct themselves professionally. We want you to review them to us as if it's the first time you're ever using our service and, and you don't know what to expect cuz this is someone that we haven't fully hired yet, but we wanna know what they're like in a real life situation. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>.

And so we have this list of customers who get really good deals, <laugh> on, on three meetings from us, but they give us really good feedback on these potential cleaners too.

And so this is one of the small differences that we make with the remote, is we send them out on a real job and, and we pay them, we pay the cleaners the real rate for that real job.

So from their perspective it is a real job, but on our end it's an evaluatory clean where we're really getting as much feedback from that customer as we can. So we typically do a couple of those evaluatory cleans, uh, and then we make a decision if we're gonna have them be a regular team member or not.

It's just one house? Or do you try a couple houses?

It's typically one, but if we're unsure, we might do a second one. Okay. Um, up to three really. But, but I think by the third house you typically kind of know if this person is gonna, you know, if, if this is gonna be a thing together or not. Right, right. Um, so, so it's not any more complicated than that.

But the basic process is we, we post our job ad or we reach out to someone, we then do the phone interview, we then do the trial clean if we like them. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, we offer them a full subcontracting position.

They do the paperwork, they do the background check, uh, and then we welcome, welcome them on board as a full team number. So that's, that's really the basic high level outline of how we

Do it. Okay, cool. Um, now that you mentioned, uh, I've tried to use in the past, uh, for, you know, hiring employees contractors cuz I used to do the subcontractor model before, but I was ne I I've never been able to crack the code on I mean, like, I always, people respond to me like they want 30, like 35 an hour, where normally we pay 20, 22 an hour.

How do you go about really offering this subcontractor position, uh, and still making a margin on, on top of that? Cuz you know, they are expecting to get paid, you know, well, more than an employee. How do you, how do you find them? What's the strategy there on care?

Sure. So we do, we actually do it two different ways on specifically. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, there's a traditional job post that you put up. Right. And then people can apply to that if they're interested. Yeah. But you can also reach, you can also filter by radius and service area and you can get a list of providers in that area and you can see their profile and, and if they've logged in in the last 30 days and so on. Right.

Um, we'll actually proactively make a short list of those profiles that we're interested in and we'll reach out to them instead of waiting for them to apply to our job post, we'll actually reach out to them and see if they're interested.

And in that private message that we send them, uh, we, we have our basic rates and we let them know that we're looking for, uh, to offer them a few extra jobs per week.

Would they be interested in speaking with us? A lot of people aren't interested in our rates. That's fine. Um, but a lot of people we find who, who have a profile but haven't logged on in a long time, we send them a message anyway.

We find some of them are, are willing to give it a go and then they like working with us. Um, we're a very easy company to work with. We really give people a lot of independence. We're not, um, we're not, uh, we're not in your business so to speak. Right. <laugh>, we're not rounding. Right.

Um, so when we, when we, when we pitch them, we pitch it like that to them. You're an independent professional, we have, uh, part-time work for you. It would be anywhere from, you know, two to seven jobs a week, let's say. Could you let us know your availability? Would you be interested in talking this week?

It's a very casual approach we take and if you want, I can send you the exact template that we, that we send in private message to people and, and you're, you're welcome to put that in the comments for the interview for people.

Yeah, definitely.

But there's no, yeah, there's no, um, there's no, uh, nothing more complicated than that. We just, okay.

So technically instead of spending money on Indeed or any other, you know, job board, you're basically, I guess paying your teams, your VA's really reaching out manually to these cleaners.

Yes. And, and we do something similar on Thumbtack as well. Thumbtack is, uh, a platform, uh, for providers to find customers and customers to find providers. It's not a hiring platform. Correct. But we use it as a hiring platform. And the way that we do that, it's similar to, we'll enter our zip code for where we need cleaners mm-hmm. <affirmative> and we'll short list a bunch of profiles that we think are, uh, promising, uh, for someone who would go well with us and will go through their reviews and their past hires and their photos and so on.

And we'll, we'll shortlist these people and then we'll find their contact information and we'll reach out to them and see if they're interested in that work together. Hmm. Um, and if they are, we will. That's great. You know, we'll, we'll give it a go and we'll try and if they're not, they'll tell us to buzz off and that's that's okay too. Yeah. Um, but these smaller platforms, these local platforms tend to be the ones that work better for us personally. So, yeah. Um, that's the basic approach.

Yeah. Good stuff. Cuz I have a, uh, you know, companies reach out to me asking me how, how do they grow, you know, their, you know, employee count or headcount in general, but they're in the subcontractor model, like, oh, not too sure. I used to do it seven, eight years ago.

I forgot how I used to do it back then. I think it was Craiglist a lot. <laugh>. Uh, but I switched to, I switched to that early two model six, seven years ago. And, you know, it's a different type of people, different way of thinking. So it's a different really way of, of approaching them.

It is, but what I would say too, having, and, and I think this is partly a big part, where Pipehire comes into whatever approach or method that you're using, whether it's Indeed or Monitor or or whatever. Yeah. You need to have a filtering system and you need to have Yeah.

A system of stages that you move through in your hiring process. You need an organizational system. And one of the things I find with a lot of people is they're reaching out to a lot of potential cleaners or they're posting a lot of job posts, but they haven't built out the rest of the hiring process.

They haven't built out the interview stage, they haven't built out the paperwork stage, the onboarding stage, the training phase. They have a vague sense of these different stages that they move people through mm-hmm. <affirmative>, but it's not an organized thing where there's always people in different stages for us. Right.

We always have people in those different stages of the hiring process. It's not like the other stages are empty and then we put up a post and then move someone through it. We might concurrently have 10 cleaners in different stages of the hiring process that we've organized. Yeah. So, so it's very important to also have these stages concretely laid out for your company and some organizational system that you're using to ensure that you're keeping track of everyone.

Yeah, definitely. And you know, a lot people that reach out to me with hiring problems most of the time is they don't have either a landing page to attract good applicants. Second, they don't have a clear stage process of how people move from stage to stage. They're just having them on an email and they just operate out of an email.

Everything on that process is really hard to, to make it in an email work. So, I'm, I'm glad I was labored to learn how to do that, um, with these o other platforms. Now let's move on to, uh, you don't have anyone local, right? I mean, uh, the only way you filter people right now are proven, you know, decide to move on with somebody's when you get the review from the client. Or is anybody at least checking them in person or No, nothing at all.

We're very much a, and I hate to use this word, it's such a cheesy word now, we're very much a minimalist <laugh> company in that sense.

Okay. Um,

We don't have a field manager. We don't have an office. We don't have someone in DC <laugh>.

Okay. Um,

But we do have a team of cleaners who's been with us a very long time mm-hmm. <affirmative> that we trust a lot. And their official title isn't lead cleaner or anything, but they're, they're kind of an emergency contact.

There's someone that we trust if we need to go over and check something out or do an emergency reclean, there's that person of trust that Okay. Is actually in the same city who can go and check them out.

Um, but we don't have a field manager process. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, this is one of things with the subcontracting model. Yeah. Which I think a lot of more traditional cleaning companies, uh, it it's off-put to them perhaps. And I, and I understand that if you, if you're a more traditional cleaning company or you're a type of business owner that wants oversight at every stage so you can course correct and make sure things are tight and working well, the subcontractor model is a little harder to make that work well because of the IRS guidelines that you have to adhere to.

Right? Correct. It's, it's a reality of this business model. This is a business model where you are giving up a lot of control in return for time and efficiency and other things. Uh, but for us, uh, we don't have a field manager. We don't have anyone official on site. No.

Yeah. There you go. Perfect. Love it. Now, um, how would somebody approaches you, Hey, uh, Chris, I wanna move to the remote cleaning model, how that transition looks like? How do you help 'em? Or, uh, you know, how can somebody trans, uh, you know, transform or to, to a remote cleaning business, what's the process look like?

Well, uh, the way I frame it is, uh, kind of a, a four quarter, um, preparation. So you don't actually need to do this over the course of a year, but it's a helpful framework, um, for how to split it. Cause there's, there are some changes that you have to make, uh, to ensure that you can actually run it remotely. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>.

So, um, one thing I do is I split it, uh, theoretically into four different business quarters for people. And they work on a major goal for each business quarter, so that by the end of the fourth quarter, they're actually living in a different country and they're doing this thing full-time remotely.

And so, uh, if they wanna run it remotely, uh, for example, you might focus on in quarter one doing a systems overhaul, you'd, you'd want to set out the minimum requirements for different type types of systems that you need in your business to ensure that its efficiently.

Uh, because if you're out in Japan like I am and something breaks at 2:00 PM e s t, that's my 3:00 AM and I really don't wanna do anything at 3:00 AM except sleep. Right. So yeah. Things have to consistently work.

Uh, or I'm just like, just like it's stuck in a hell of no sleep. So, um, right. So the first quarter I typically recommend people work on their systems and you're gonna want a minimum number of systems. You're gonna want a marketing and reputation management system.

You're gonna want a sales system, which involves lead capture, it involves follow-up campaigns and involves client retention. Right. Right. Um, you want a hiring funnel. Um, you're gonna want an operational system for managing your teams, for managing your office admin, for managing your projects and your to-dos. Those are the base level core, uh, systems that any business, even if you're never gonna go remote, they need them regardless anyway. Right? Yeah.

To make sure that you have those in place even before you begin to think about, uh, going remote. Uh, and there's a couple others that you're gonna want to really want anyway, like a bookkeeping system <laugh> Yeah. Emergency protocols, which you're gonna need anyway.

But emergency protocols become especially useful when you're living in a different country. Yeah. Uh, and you're gonna want to realize that, uh, you have to make yourself replaceable. The ultimate goal, uh, if you want to be a remote clean business owner is that you have to recognize that you as the owner are meant to be entirely replaceable.

So your objective by the end of that year is to slowly replace yourself piece by piece, such that at the end of the year there is no essential function of the business that can be run, that has to be run with your presence.

There should be no part of it that requires you other than you know, your tax documents or something like that. Yeah. Um, the first kind of quarter of this plan is to take a look at your systems and if you don't have them in place yet, is to put them in place. And that would be my recommendation for that first three month period of the year.

The second one would be, uh, building out your office team. And this is gonna depend on, um, your monthly revenue, your profit margins. If you can afford to build an office team yet you need to actually be at that stage where you can afford it and it makes sense. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>.

Right. Um, but say that you are, let's say you're doing $30,000 a month, you've got 20% profit margin, right? You're earning, you're earning, you're paying yourself a salary and there's $6,000 a profit a month.

That's a good place to be where you'd be able to hire on someone and have them help you run it and then actually go remote and still have some profit margins left over.

So let's say as an example, you're at that stage, the second quarter is all around building your office team out, and there's a couple different team milestones in this stage that you're gonna want to do. Um, and feel free to interrupt you, man. I know I'm throwing it out. No, no,

No, it's fine. I want to hear the whole, the whole process.

Sure. Um, this, this second quarter, uh, it's all about hiring your first VA or your office manager. It's about learning how and what to delegate to them. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, it's about gradually giving up your daily admin tasks to them now that you've taught them how to do the tasks.

And it's about establishing a daily and a weekly routine that you and they follow for communication and for tasks so that everything is done consistently. That's kind of the second, um, quarter's focus is actually building the office team, teaching them and, and, and getting them confident that they're doing a good job day in and day out with you there.

Good. Happy to talk about productivity and how we do that, but, but in the essence of time, that's the goal of the second quarter is Okay.


Uh, learning how to delegate to someone. And that's a process that takes a long time for people. It's not just SA saying do this task. Like there's a whole, there's a whole logic, a whole system, a whole understanding that you have to gain with the other person before you can delegate to them effectively. Um, but that's the second quarter's focus is building the office team. And the third quarter you're gonna wanna focus on preparing to go remote and on doing a dry run.

And so one thing that our advocate people do is what I call a one one one dry one and a 1 1 1 dry run is one day, one week and one month without your presence there. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> that means you're gonna spend a day without you being there and your office team has to run the whole business for you. Completely fine. Yeah. They do that experiment.

Well, you can do a whole week not being there. You can go vacation somewhere if you want. Right. And then come back and you see how they did. Of course, if there's an emergency, they should call you <laugh>. Yeah. But the intent is that they don't, and if that goes well, you can do a whole month away somewhere else and then see how they did without you.

And if you can get to a month where they've done a fantastic job without you there, that's the stage where you know that this is starting to become a re reality. Right. And it's something that you can actually do permanently if you want.

So this preparatory phase is probably the most important of the three with regards to going remote. The first two are a stage that any clean company's gonna need to go through. Yeah. You're gonna need to build systems in, you're gonna need to build an office team eventually.

That's generic business building. This third stages where it gets more specific to going remote. So, so this is about that dry run. It's about having a backup person in place. If you're unable to make decisions, it could be a lead cleaner at first if you have that type of model.

Uh, it could be an office manager if you have the type of model that we're running, but you need to have someone who's designated for emergencies who has the authority that you've given them to make those decisions in your company that are critical decisions. Cuz you might not be awake, you might be somewhere else. You don't know what, where you're gonna be when there's an emergency, but you know that you're not

And that's important that you're not there. So it's about establishing that dry run, that person that you trust. And it's about establishing a clear method of communication because when you're running your business remotely, uh, one thing I find with a lot of people is they have many different methods, communication that they're using simultaneously.

They might use Space Messenger and WhatsApp and email and Slack and phones and texts and it's overwhelming <laugh>. You've gotta have a clear line of communication with your office team. Yeah. Where you guys always know where you're discussing important things. Uh, that's a huge one for being remote man is is clarity on what you actually need to do.

So this third stage is all preparation for going remote. Um, and yes. So, so that's the third stage. Cool. And the fourth and final stage is actually going remote and, and making that transition a reality.

So you would be informing your team several months or even a year ahead of time that you're planning on moving, uh, or you're planning on, you know, being a digital nomad permanently and you're not gonna be around as much. Right.

You would establish with your team, well beforehand, at least three months that this is going to be the new normal for you and your company.

You would be reviewing SOPs that you've built with them to make sure that they're functioning when you're not there. Yeah. Uh, would make sure that emergency contact infos in place, that everything is written down, you know, maybe you might use Last Pass.

So they have access to all important account information, but you need to ensure that they have access to any critical information that want to ensure that you have travelers' insurance and a traveling mailbox set up. Right. These basics. Um, but yeah, look, uh, I know I'm going on fast. No, no.

Pretty cool to people

Is is split it up into four parts. Your systems, get them in order, build your office team and learn how to delegate to them, do a drive line and then make it reality. That's kind of the four stages that you're gonna want to go through when you become a remote cleaning business.

Owner. Cool. I love it. I think you made it very easy to digest. Uh, back then we did that. It was 20, no. Yeah, 2009. We just took off from Dallas to Miami and just said, we're gonna make it work <laugh>.

But we never took all this time and process and obviously we built most of the company really from, from Florida, uh, in, in Dallas. So Chris, uh, I love what you shared today. I really learned tons, uh, uh, from you. How can people find you and reach out to you in the future?

Yeah, I, I am, uh, I'm, I'm really only on Facebook these days. I don't have a Twitter. I don't have an Instagram <laugh>. Okay. Um, I'm on LinkedIn, but you might see me once a year on there.

So, uh, it's not good place. Um, if you just, if you go to Facebook and you and you, uh, are friends with Juan, you can find me as a mutual friend.

Yeah. Um, or you can type in K Schwab and I, I should come up. Um, you can email, which is my cleaning company, uh, or chris, which is my VA company.

The email or Facebook is really the two ways that you're gonna find me.

Okay. Cool man. Well thank you again for coming and uh, we'll see you in the next one.

Sounds good. See you then.

Thank you, sir. God bless. Have a good one,

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