Many people want to start their own businesses but end up hesitating because of a lack of funds. But a lot of entrepreneurs have proven that starting a self-funded business is still possible even without huge capital. Our host Gary Schoeniger is joined by Melissa Weed, founder of Pittsburg, Kansas-based cleaning business Honey Does LLC.
During their conversation, Gary and Melissa unpacked her journey towards being an entrepreneur, her relationship with education and work, and how what started as a small side hustle blossomed into a successful and thriving business that serves her community. She delved into the story of how she laid the foundation of her business with only a $5 funding, coupled with professionalism, motivation, and credibility.
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Read the transcript below.
The Five-Dollar Startup with Melissa Weed
An Interview With Honey Does LLC Founder
Melissa, thank you for joining me. I’m excited to share your story with the world. This is The Entrepreneurial Mindset Project. You have an entrepreneurial mindset. Thanks for being here.
Melissa, I know a little bit about your story. We talked before and I got some of the outlines of the story. I particularly asked you not to start with me because I wanted to get it from you firsthand. I know a little bit of the background. The question I like to start with is what was the moment you thought in your mind you could step out and do something on your own? Were you raised by an entrepreneur? Did you work for an entrepreneur? How did that seed get planted in your mind?
Multiple things have grouped together, step by step. My grandpa was an entrepreneur. My mom was in the way that she thought. She was a single mom and she had to figure out how to take care of three kids by herself. She had some crazy ways to deal with that.
Right out of college, I did an AmeriCorps VISTA term and I was paired up with an organization where I eventually was working side-by-side with the founder of a nonprofit organization. She let me in on all aspects of the business and took me under her wing so to say and led me and guided me. Leaning up to the actual launch of the business, my husband and I were looking for ways to pay off our mortgage early, so we did start a side hustle to try to make that happen. Seeing all of those people over time throughout my life, I got to a point in my life where I was like, “Why couldn’t I do it?”
You’re aware of your granddad, that’s important. I’ve looked at some statistics somewhere, people that have entrepreneurial parents are exponentially much more likely to start a business. People that work in a small company or a startup are exponentially more likely to do it. You have that landing in your brain. I want to talk about being raised by a single mom. You see a mom that’s always constantly figuring out how to survive. Can you say more about that?
I didn’t fully appreciate what she did until I was probably 28. I am in awe and amazement at what she did and how she did it. She was an overcomer. She went for it and she did it. She was faced with the decision where she realized she was going to be by herself. She had to make a decision, “Am I going to keep going? Am I going to make changes to make a good life for my family?” She decided to put herself through pharmacy school. I remember she was doing pharmacy school when I was in second and third grade. She graduated and got her first job.
We moved to Southeast Kansas when I was in fourth grade because she got her first real pharmacist’s job. I’m aware of her doing all of that and she didn’t do it before the kids came onto the scene. Even once she did get her first real job as a pharmacist, she had to work. Whatever hours they told her, she had to work. She had to hustle to take care of three kids, get us to school, help us with our homework, and that stuff. It was every day in and out. At the time, I didn’t know that she had that entrepreneurial mindset. I can recognize it now that I understand the terminology and stuff better.
That’s super interesting to me, Melissa. It’s not what you’ve learned formally that lands in your brain. It’s the stuff you learn informally through osmosis. It’s almost like the attitude of your mom, you’ve absorbed. It’s more about, “I’m in control of this. I have an internal locus of control. I’m not going to let it get to me.” She’s not going to let those circumstances get her down. You come up being raised by a mom like this and that’s normal to you. You don’t know any different. That’s the water you’re swimming in and you think that’s what people do. If I had to summarize a little bit of your story, I would attribute it to that, seeing your mom hustle, the work ethic. If there was a word that I would describe it, the little bit I know about you, the work ethic you got from your mom was an important part of your story.
I started tearing up a little bit hearing you say that. The reality of it is hitting me because that’s where I got that from. It’s cool.
You don’t realize it at the time. You’re like, “That’s my mom.” You go to college, you got a degree in marketing, and you told me that it took you eight years to get a four-year degree. What’s going on there?
That’s not the highlight of my life necessarily. I had a falling out in high school. I got in trouble for something that I didn’t do. I was straight A’s. I was on track. I was in DECA. I was super connected. I loved going to school because, honestly, it was fun for us. I got disconnected because I got suspended for a week for something that I didn’t do. I got disconnected from formal learning. I wanted to learn but that environment wasn’t inviting for me anymore.
Could you say a little bit more about that? You’re going along, everything’s working well for you, but you felt you got betrayed or something. The system turned on you.
A little bit. I thought I was doing everything right according to the way that we’re supposed to do things. According to normal society, I was getting straight A’s. I was going to school. I hardly ever missed. I was respectful and did all of these things that I thought I was supposed to do but then I still got in trouble for something that wasn’t mine. The person who did the thing that I got in trouble for was there admitting, “That is mine. I did that. That is not hers. Please don’t get her in trouble.” They said, “It’s policy. You are the one getting in trouble.”
My parking permit was in the vehicle that we drove to school in. The policy said that whoever’s permit is in the car gets in trouble for the thing that’s in the car. My permit was in the car because I had two brothers and we carpooled all the time. My permit was in the car that we drove that day and I was the one who got in trouble. I got disconnected from the formal education setting and I tried hard. I’ve always been a learner and I’ve always sought out the truth.
I know that nobody’s going to come to me with a golden platter and say, “Here’s what you need to know.” I have to take the initiative to figure it out myself. I wanted to go, I wanted to do it, but I was disconnected. For the whole eight years, I would go in and come out because I had that experience. Finally, towards the end, I made up my mind and said, “I’m going to finish because this is crazy. Do it and finish it or don’t do it.” That was the best decision I’ve made.
What were you thinking? What was the plan? Are you going to college to get a degree in marketing?
No. My final degree was in public relations. It’s like marketing. I had no plan because I was disconnected. I didn’t have an end goal, which was part of the reason why it was difficult for me to get through it too and stay connected. The whole time though, during college, I worked at fast food, restaurants. Every single place I would work at, I would move my way up. I wanted to learn more about the business, “What more can I do?” By the time I was eighteen, I was an assistant manager. By the time I was 23, I got the opportunity to be a general manager at a taco shop. Even though it took me eight years to get my degree, I’ve always been working and I’ve had pretty big accomplishments on my job. Not necessarily a career but the job.
You went into whatever situation you went into thinking, “How can I maximize this opportunity? How can I make myself more useful in this setting?” Was that what was going on?
Not everyone gets a four-year degree in four years. It’s not that unusual. Not having a plan is not unusual either. What happens? You graduate from college and you got your degree. Are you thinking, “I’m on easy street, I’m going to find a real job?” What happened?
It was more about getting the degree at that point to finish it, to do it, and say that I was done with it. At that point in my life, my stance on life changed a little bit. I fell back in love with learning and I was like, “This is awesome.” There are resources, networking, and things like that. It opened the door for more opportunities than maybe I wouldn’t have had if I didn’t go to college to meet those types of people. I didn’t have a plan still. I wanted to try to do something with my major. I got a job at the AmeriCorps VISTA. I did that for a year. The same situation, I went in, I rocked it out, I learned as much as I could about the organization, and about what they were doing.
The VISTA term is a one-year position. Once that one year is done, you’re not guaranteed a full-time job or even a part-time job. You’re done after the year. I fit well with the organization that the parent organization gave me the opportunity to come over and work with them. They offered me a position there as an event planner. I was like, “Let’s do it.” I was going with the flow and trying to see what happened. That’s where I got paired up with the founder of the nonprofit organization where she took me under her wing.
That’s where you got to see the sausage get made.
Let’s fast forward a little bit here. Your mom wanted to take a course. How do these serendipitous things happen? You’re working full-time. Your husband’s working full-time. Bring me up to speed on that story.
We’re working full-time, my husband and me. Starting our own business or doing anything like that was completely out of the picture. My mom called me one day and she was like, “There’s this class that they’re offering. I want to take it but I don’t want to do it by myself. Will you do it with me?” I was a little bit hesitant to take anything else on at that point in time because we were working 50, 60 hours a week, both of us. I looked into it a little bit and it looked interesting. I looked at my schedule and my schedule was open for the time that it was going to be offered, so I said, “Let’s do it.” My husband was able to do it with us too.
All three, you took it together?
You didn’t go in there with an intention, that’s curious to me. You took an entrepreneurship course, it was the Ice House course and that’s how we met. You and your husband took time out of your busy lives to take the Ice House program because your mom wanted you. What if your mom called and said, “I want you to take a cooking class or a weaving class?” There had to be some interest there.
I’ve done the Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University. I took the course. I’m a certified financial planner through Dave Ramsey. I’m interested in personal development on the side. I saw that as personal development based on the way that the class was lined out. I call them dry spells. I felt like I was going through a dry spell. When I say a dry spell, I feel uninspired and I look for a place of creativity. I was like, “Maybe I could get some ideas or get some inspiration from going to that class because of the way the description was written.” That’s what motivated me to go to it.
You were looking for personal development. How was it advertised? What was it like the entrepreneurial mindset? Is that what it was?
It was advertised as the Ice House. It focused pretty heavily on the book, Who Owns the Ice House?. Not a lot of the principles laid out in the class necessarily but more so the book and the story in the book.
How did you convince your husband to take it? He’s got a full-time job. He’s not thinking about quitting his job.
I honestly don’t remember. It was by the grace of God that he decided to do it. He goes to work and he likes his time in the evening to relax and I understand that. He wanted to do something with me and he thought it’d be fun to hang out with me and my mom a couple of nights a week.
You guys took this course but you’re both working full-time jobs. You have no intention of starting something. You took the class and then the class was over. Did your mom do anything with it?
No. She got a whole lot of ideas. She got inspired for a little bit. She developed her idea a little bit but then she chickened out. She didn’t do anything immediately. We didn’t do anything immediately either. I filed it away in a file folder and said, “That was cool.” I didn’t think about it too much frequently. There was one idea that we had come up with in the class that had a little bit of viability to it. I played with the idea. I would periodically pull it out when I had a little bit of downtime and I developed a logo for the business. I thought about what types of services we might be able to offer and things like that but then I would file it away again. Because we were busy doing everything else, that wasn’t realistic.
It’s like a doodle that entered into your mind. You were doodling with an idea but you weren’t taking it seriously.
What happened? You’re doodling with this idea and then what’s going on in your life and how did you get to the point where you started something?
About a year after we took the class, my husband and I were sitting down budgeting and looking at our financials. We bought a house probably a year and a half before this conversation happened and we were looking at the budget and the bills and we were like, “We want to get laser-focused and pay off our mortgage. How can we do that?” My hours had gone down to part-time at this point. While we were taking the Ice House class, I was working full-time. Some things happened so I went down to part-time. I had more time in the week to work. I had about fifteen extra hours a week that I could work on something. I said, “I’ll try to apply as a breakfast attendant or at a restaurant because I have a background in a restaurant.” I thought that it would be pretty easy for me to get a job at a restaurant.
I applied to probably 4 or 5 different places that would be flexible and let me work part-time because the plan was to keep my other job working at the nonprofit. I got denied on all of them. I couldn’t even wrap my head around it because they were super simple, easy entry-level job positions that somebody five years into their career would be able to get something like that. There were bigger plans and there was a reason behind that denial.
I was thinking about that. I remember you saying that when we chatted. Sometimes these entry-level jobs, you’re overqualified. You were already managing a restaurant when you were eighteen. Sometimes that’s intimidating to the hiring person.
That’s true. I didn’t think about that necessarily. It was interesting.
Melissa, part of the story that’s interesting to me and I want to bring out a little bit is you guys are young. You were less than 30 years old. You’re 29 maybe. You have a house and mortgage responsibility. Your husband sounds like he’s a responsible person. You guys are not messing around. You don’t hear too many people saying stuff like that. At 30 years old, you figured out, “We want to get laser-focused and pay off our mortgage.” Your idea was to take you at fifteen hours of discretionary work time. You were going to get a part-time job and apply all that money to pay off some mortgage. To me, that in and of itself is remarkable. I don’t think a lot of 30-year-old people are thinking that way.
I don’t know if this comes from you and your husband or you or what but you took a Dave Ramsey course. You’re interested in developing that financial literacy. There are so much interesting things there. What many of us do is you get a raise and you spend it. You keep yourself in this trap. It’s like, “I got a raise. We can get a nicer car. We can build a new patio. We can buy a bigger house.” They keep themselves stuck on that debt machine. It’s interesting to me. It’s a trap many people fall into.
You got this job and you get a raise. You’re young and you’re aggressive. You’re working hard. You’re getting raises. You keep spending the raises. You don’t realize it but you start spending the money on recreation and leisure. You don’t like your job as much and then you start spending money to alleviate the pain of the job you don’t like. The more money you spend, the more you get stuck in a job you don’t like. It creates this vacuous cycle. Many people get caught up in that. When you said that to me, it’s like, “That’s pretty cool.” That’s worth noting. Tell me about the plan you guys had. You were going to work fifteen hours a week at a basic entry-level job that you were overqualified for working in a restaurant. You would even accept minimum wage.
I’m embarrassed by it now because I see the possibility and I see the opportunity that’s out there. I laugh at myself. It’s like, “What was I thinking? Why would I do that when there are all of these opportunities over here?” My mind hadn’t been opened up to the possibility quite yet.
I was interviewing an entrepreneur. We were talking about this. There are plenty of opportunities out in the world. What’s lacking is the ability to see it. You see it now. You experienced that.
My husband and I were sitting in our front room. I was almost defeated and I turned to him. I looked at him and I was like, “What are we going to do?” I’d been searching for probably three weeks maybe, putting in applications, filling up the resume, going through the work, going and dropping it off. He turned and looked at me and he’s calm and peaceful and he said, “Why don’t we pull that idea out of the file and start a business?” I turned and looked at him shocked. My jaw dropped. I’m like, “What did you say?” I was shocked that he said it because he’s pretty conservative, which I appreciate that because I’m more of a risk-taker. Him, not so much. He balances me out a little bit. I asked him, “Can you repeat what you said?” He said, “Let’s start the business that you’ve been doodling on the last year.” I was like, “Okay. Let’s do it.” I said, “How soon can we start it?” He said, “Today. Let’s do it now. Let’s go.”
I emailed at the Small Business Development Center that Saturday night and I said, “Do you have time to meet on Monday?” She messaged me back and she’s like, “Definitely. Let’s meet at this time.” I was there and my mom went with me. I brought her the logo and the ideas. I said, “I don’t know what the next step is.” She’s like, “It looks like you have everything lined out. You need an employer identification number and things like that. I can help you with all of that. When do you want to start? When do you want to launch the business?” I said, “One month from today.” It would have been September 1st of 2019.
Where’d you come up with a month? What was the thought behind that? Why didn’t you say a week or why didn’t you say six months?
I needed to be more realistic because I know that it’s going to be a process to set up a business bank account. We wanted to get a van for the business. We didn’t want to drive up to somebody’s house and cobbled together in a van with a trailer. If we were going to do it, we wanted to do it and make it look professional. I knew there was going to be a little bit of time to get things set up like Join the Chamber, get our employer identification number, get a business banking account, get the vehicle, and find a van. We have it wrapped. It’s bright and eye-catching. That’s probably why we picked one month.
If you had to start it all over, you’d probably say three days or something. You know how to do all that stuff now but you didn’t at the time. You go and see the latest small business development center. Are they asking you to write a business plan?
We started to write a business plan but she did ask, “Are you going to seek any funding for this?” I said, “No.” She’s like, “There’s no reason to write the business plan or to finish it. It could help you line out your thoughts but a formal business plan is for people who are seeking funding.” I said, “We’re not doing any of that. We’re going to self-fund it. We’re going to self-start it. We don’t need any loans to start.”
Melissa, do you mind sharing how much money do you think you needed upfront to get it going? You had to buy a van. Did you buy a new van? Did you buy a used van? Can you talk to us a little bit about that?
I giggle a little bit because I estimated on that business plan that we needed about $2,000 to start the business. We could have started it with $5. I could have gone out with a bucket of our cleaning supplies for my house and cleaned that way but I wanted to establish us as a professional business versus an individual person cleaning. That was the need that we saw in the community. People had cleaners but they were individual people and they were not reliable, they were not consistent, they weren’t professional. Those three things, that was the need that I was trying to meet. To meet that need, we had to have these things in place.People inherently want to do good and contribute to society. Click To Tweet
Let me dig in there. There’s a lot there. I’m appreciative of what you’re saying, on many fronts. I’m forever saying to people, you don’t need money to start a business. It drives me nuts because a lot of these small business development experts will tell someone like you to sit down, write a business plan, go to the bank, try to get a loan. You’re wasting all this time and effort. The bank is only going to give you a loan if you have equity in your house. They don’t care about your business idea. That’s more or less the way it works.
You said something that stopped me, you said, “I could have done this with $5.” Can you say a little bit more about what you mean by that? You’re serious. You might’ve been 25. If you were forced to do it, you could have started with less.
I could have made myself look good and went up to a door. I could have gone door-knocking and said, “I’m available to clean your house.” I could have posted it on Facebook and said, “I’m available to clean your house. I’m looking to work an extra few hours a week.” I’m sure I could have got clients that way. We wanted to set some of those things up first. You could do it.
Melissa, maybe you’ll get a kick out of this. What’s interesting is that you saw that there are all these other cleaning services but they’re not professional. There are people that are not taking it seriously. They’re not putting any real polish. They’re not taking a professional approach to it. If you could add that discipline I would say, it could be different. I want to tell you where I heard that before. There’s a guy named Brian Scudamore and he started a little company called 1-800-GOT-JUNK? The last time I talked to him, they were doing about $250 million in revenue.
Melissa, it was the same story. He said he was driving through a McDonald’s and he saw some scary-looking guys in an old beat-up pickup truck that’s hauling trash. He was eighteen years old. He was trying to pay for college. That’s all he was trying to do at the time. He came to the same conclusion that you did. If there were a little more professionalism here, this could become something bigger. You could wrap a brand around it. That’s what branding is. It’s not a BS story. People need to know that they can trust other people. If you’ve got that polish around, people are more willing to trust you. People don’t get that. It’s not rocket science.
We were legitimizing ourselves. There are a lot of people who go clean on the side. When I did market research, they are considered a competitor. They’re a tough cookie because they’ll charge a per-hour rate, minimum wage, $10 an hour. People have individual people who come clean their houses. When we come in, they’re going to want that same price range. That might not be my customer. They’re paying for the cleaner to come but they’re also paying for the professionalism. They’re paying for the value. If that cleaner is sick, there’s going to be another cleaner there. They’re paying a professional business to have a cleaner there regardless of what the situation is.
Somebody that’s got insurance, somebody that shows up every week at the same time without excuses, without all the problems and the baggage in their life and whatever. Melissa, you did market research. Can you tell me a little bit about that? What did that look like?
I looked at the cleaning companies that were in our area and that was part of the business plan. I’m glad I did that part of it. I looked at what people were doing, what cleaners were out there, what was available to my city and the surrounding area. It reaffirmed the need.
When you say you looked at it, did you call them? Did you visit them? What did you do?
I found them on Facebook. I looked at their websites. I was too chicken to call them and try to get an idea because of my motive. I didn’t call them. I tried to have a couple of friends call them but they were like, “I’m not going to do that.”
You wanted to find out what it looks like from the outside, how much they are charging, the basics. You did a little bit of research. You wrote half a business plan. A month later, you said, “I’m going to start in a month.” You got the ducks in a row. You’ve got your employee ID number. You got the bank account. We were talking about that. You thought you were going to have to spend a couple of thousand dollars. You could have done it for $5. You thought it was going to take $2,000. What were you thinking?
Maybe a trailer to haul around behind a truck, basic cleaning supplies that were specific for the cleaning business, Chamber of Commerce membership, gas expense, basic expenses.
You thought that was going to cost about $2,000. Are you funding that out of your own savings from credit cards or whatever?
Nope. We haven’t used credit cards. We’re completely debt-free, which is something we’re proud to say. It’s out of our own savings.
What did you wind up spending? Did you buy a van? Did you buy a trailer?
We bought a van. We probably ended up spending closer to maybe $15,000. We got a Dodge Ram ProMaster City. It’s a cute cargo van and we wrapped it. We had that expense, the wrapping and the actual purchase of it, taxes, tags, and all of that stuff.
Was that a little bit frightening to step into that? You bought that van. You did all that stuff. Were you a little bit nervous? It’s like, “We took a big chunk of our savings.”
My husband may have been but I wasn’t. I was at peace with it. I was like, “This is what we’ve got to do. We’re all in. We’re going to do this. If we’re going to do this, we have to do it the right way.”
To us, that was the right way, to start professionally because of the need that we were trying to meet. I remember having a conversation with my mom when we were thinking about buying it and she was like, “No. Don’t do it. Don’t buy the van. Save your money. You’re trying to pay off that mortgage. Don’t worry about it.” I’m like, “No. We got to buy the van.” We bought the van and we got it wrapped. A couple of weeks later, she called me and she’s like, “I was wrong. You should have bought the van. All my texts at work say they see you driving around town. My friends said they saw it at 4th and Broadway.” Everybody sees the van. I’ve had multiple people say, “I see your vans driving around all the time.” We only have one van. It’s like a mobile billboard.
You’re getting a couple of thousand dollars a month worth of free PR. The van is paying for itself over and over again from the advertising. I never even thought of that. That’s brilliant.
I’d say it’s completely paid for off of advertising.
You got that month window. You buy the van. You get the van wrapped. You buy some Windex or whatever you think you need to buy. You got the permits and so forth. What is day one look like? How do you find customers? Talk us through that. How do you get a customer?
I started a Facebook page for the business. I would share it on my personal page. It’s word of mouth. I didn’t door knock but I put myself out there on Facebook and said, “I’m available. I’m starting a business. We’re taking on new clients.” People started to reach out and it was cool. I didn’t have a formal process necessarily when they started to reach out. I had to figure it out as I went. I’ve learned so much.
You’re in Pittsburg, Kansas, which is a fairly small rural community of about 22,000 people. It’s not a big town. That’s important. You’re not in a large metropolitan city where it’s super easy. Did you have clients on your first day? You’re using Facebook marketing.
It’s grassroots and no paid advertising or anything.
Melissa, I have to ask you, did your communication degree help you at all with this?
I would say so. As I go in life, I learn new skills. Any job that I’ve ever been on, I can attribute some skill that I have to that specific job. The communication degree opened the door of opportunity for that VISTA term. The VISTA term opened the door of opportunity for the nonprofit organization. The skills that I was able to develop while I was there at those two places built off of my personal interest but also what I learned at school.
Also, your confidence is getting bolstered through those experiences. If I understand you correctly, it’s not exactly what you learn in school but it’s what you learn tangentially. If there’s one specific skill that you learned in school that helped you market the company, the communications degree helped you communicate.
I don’t think the degree is what’s selling the business if that’s what you’re asking. It’s more about what I’ve learned through application. Maybe I read a book and I applied it to my life. Whatever I learned in school, I applied it. It’s a conglomeration of all of those things and I’m applying it to real life.
You’re learning by doing is what you’re saying. Let me dig into that for a second, Melissa. If you remember from the Ice House course, that’s one of the core concepts that I’ve observed in an entrepreneur. They’re always learning but they’re not necessarily learning by going to a class and sitting at a desk and listening to a teacher lecture. They’re learning by doing. They’re learning by reading books, Audible, YouTube videos, or observing other people like mentoring. You said a mentor and a relationship from AmeriCorps VISTA. That’s such an important part of the entrepreneurial story that I want people to get.
Anybody can learn. You don’t need a degree to figure out how to make yourself useful. I’m not saying you don’t need a degree but what you need is the desire to learn. Once someone connects that, I can learn stuff and I can figure out how to make myself more useful to other humans. The more useful I become, the better off I’m going to be. That’s the simple formula that you articulated. You got this 30-day window. You give yourself a month. If I understand you correctly, you’ve got customers on day one. Day one, the doors open, and you’re open for business. You’re generating revenue on day one.
I probably had 4 or 5 customers on day one.
Are those residential cleaning customers?
Residential and I had a commercial customer in the pipeline also.
Did that freak you out a little bit? You went into this assuming you’re going to do residential cleaning. There’s not a whole lot to learn there. You could figure out how to clean someone’s house.
I’m still willing to do it if there’s a need for it but what we advertise was cat box scooping, cleaning out the litter box, scoop up backyards after dogs, junk removal. I did more of a broad range because I didn’t know where the exact need was. Commercial cleaning was also included in that. I wanted to do it but I didn’t think we would have a whole lot of customers necessarily to start with. I didn’t know for sure because I hadn’t done much with it.
You looked at it as an experiment. Another interesting part is you realized that anybody can go clean someone’s house once a week or once a month or whatever. The willingness to do all those nastier jobs or the marginal jobs that other people might not do, it sounds like you were thinking, “Let’s see what catches on.”
I’m like, “If we’re doing it, let’s do it. Let’s see where the need is.” I’m willing to do whatever I need to do to make it happen.
You open up your first day. What did that feel like? It’s important to flesh out some of these details. People get afraid about something that’s going to happen way out there and then they stop.Good business leaders treat their employees as partners and not someone below them. Click To Tweet
That’s my mom’s situation, she stops. She gets afraid of what’s going to be out there. I’ll be rejoicing when she finally makes that step and maybe she will after seeing me do it.
I hope so. I have this interesting theory. Somewhere in your head, you may or may not be aware of, you’ve got a vision. It’s not that you’re necessarily passionate about cleaning per se. It’s not like you’re a neat freak and your mission is to make the world cleaner, maybe it could be. You’ve got a vision in your head, “The future can be better than the present and I have the power to make so.” I’m picking that up from you. If you can articulate that vision, maybe you can and maybe you can’t.
In my twenties, I took a borrowed ladder and I stepped out on the roof of my car, knocking on doors and I offered to clean the leaves out of people’s gutters. I didn’t have any big vision. I didn’t like gutter cleaning. I’m afraid of heights. Years later, I was doing $5 million in revenue but it evolved. My theory is when you have something on the horizon that you’re striving to achieve, it pulls you into the future. You’re no longer driven by the past. Your brain reaches into the past to try to project the future. You have a compelling goal. You hack into that system and you redivert it. Does that make any sense?
I would say that’s what’s happening, for sure.
Your mindset works like a self-authoring software program. A mindset in motion tends to stay in motion until something forces it to do something differently. When you’re striving for this compelling goal, it compels you to reach and stretch yourself and push yourself and put yourself in situations that might make you a little uncomfortable. They might be a little intimidating. I’m sure you had to feel a little bit weird walking into your first job on the first day. It’s like, “This is weird.”
A little bit because that’s not what I had been doing. If you would have asked me a year prior to that, that wasn’t what I had planned. I was excited about the opportunity and I was excited to clean. I have confidence in my hard work and my dedication to anything in general. I knew that I could do a good job for them and provide a good quality service. At the time, it was me. I was the only one cleaning. I had confidence in myself that I could meet their need and do a good job at it. I didn’t have any regrets if that makes sense.
I want to remind myself and the readers that you did all this as a part-time thing to pay off the mortgage early. You’re trying to fill up a fifteen-hour gap in your day. You want to earn a few extra dollars to put into the mortgage. That’s how you were thinking about it when you stepped into it.
I was still working part-time for the other job too, while I was doing this.
When you stepped into it, did you have a feeling like this is going to be more than part-time? Were you still thinking, “We’ll see how it goes?”
We wanted it to be professional but I was thinking, “We’ll see how it goes.” I laugh a little bit because I remember I sat down to have a conversation with my leader, her name was Kim, at the organization I was working at. She knew before I knew that I needed to not work part-time for her. She was like, “Mel, I know you’re not going to have time. This thing has taken off like crazy. You’re not going to have time.” My heart wanted to help her and the organization but she had seen enough that she knew that I wasn’t going to have time and she was right. I would not have had time if I would have stayed.
How long did it take? You had a little bit of runway. You got day one. Walk us through from there. On day one, you had five contracts set up.
I built a website. I built a Facebook page. I finalized the logo. I started to grassroots market myself on Facebook. Leading up to day one, I had already put the word out there. That’s how I was able to have the five people in the pipeline ready to go. I went from there.
You get one customer on day one. You do that job. On day two, what happened? Did the phone starting to ring and then all of a sudden it starts to go? What happened? Was it still like crickets chirping?
It was slow the first week and a half or so but then I started getting emails and I started to get phone calls and start to talk about the business and what we were trying to do. From the beginning, I’ve been honest with our customers, like, “This is the reason why we started the business. My husband and I are trying to have laser-focus to pay off our mortgage and this is the situation that we’re in. He’s working full-time. I’m working part-time at a different job. I’m going to do this on the side but we’re also building it as a business.” They’re like, “That’s awesome.” They jumped on board and said, “We’ll give her a shot.” They liked my personality and they could tell that I was serious and they’re like, “We’ll see what she’s made of.” They gave me a shot. I went in and I worked my tail off. I’m here to serve you. Whatever you need me to do, I want to do it and I want to do it well.
Melissa, you sharing your story, being honest with people, wrapping it around a story became part of your brand, it almost sounds like. People saw you as a young couple trying to do something interesting. It’s like, “We should support her.” The story became part of it. It’s funny to hear you say this a week and a half into it and then it starts to go. Entrepreneurs struggle for years before their thing starts to take off. You told me at the start that a commercial client reached out to you and you’ve got a challenge with trying to figure out something you don’t know how to do it.
We joined the Chamber. There was a brewing company that was opening in town and they were a brand new Chamber member also. They saw that the Chamber had posted us on their Facebook page and they’re like, “Let’s give them a shot. They’re new, we’re new, let’s try to see if we can figure it out.” The woman called me and she said, “Can you come and check this out and see if this is something that you could do?”
I went out and I looked at the space. They renovated an old brick building so there was a lot of dust and debris. There were big silver stainless steel tanks that the beer goes in and there are probably 12 or 13 of them. They’re huge, 13, 14 feet tall, all stacked close to each other. HVAC vents up on the ceiling, different types of beams up on the ceiling because it was an open ceiling plan. She said, “Are you willing to tackle this?”
I went back and I had a conversation with my husband and I told him what we were looking at and what she needed to be done. We had a legitimate conversation, like, “Can we do this?” We said, “We can do it if we have employees, workers.” We were already playing with the idea at that point but we hadn’t fully got them onboarded or fully established. My husband said, “Let’s try it. Let’s do it. You can meet the need. We have the equipment and stuff that can make it happen. You’ll need extra hands to help you.”
She had me submit a bid and I’ve submitted it. I was in competition with another cleaning company. I honestly didn’t know if we would get it or not. She called me and she was like, “Melissa, we like your bid. We like you. We want to give you a try.” I’m like, “This is exciting. We’re excited to come out and clean it up for you to get it ready.” They were getting ready for the ribbon-cutting. We made it happen. It was challenging because we were new but we made it happen and it was awesome and I learned. If I wouldn’t have done it, I wouldn’t be where I’m at now because I learned so much by doing it.
That’s what I mean. You’re constantly being challenged. It’s almost like a compelling goal. You’re always stretching yourself. You’re always reaching a little bit beyond your paygrade, but then you learn a little bit and you get bigger. You get stronger and it just keeps going. That job gave you the confidence, if I understand, to hire your first employee.
Yes, it did.
You went into this not thinking about employees. You went into thinking, “This is going to be me with a side hustle.” How far into this are you now?
I think that the first was around October 1st, 2020.
What is your husband saying? He’s the conservative guy. He’s got a good solid job. He manages a Walmart. What’s he saying? Is he starting to think like, “She’s having too much fun?”
He was really supportive. He was like, “Our hunch was right. There’s a need for this. You’re doing a great job.” He was a huge supporter and encouraging, and he’s like, “There’s obviously a bigger need than we had originally thought that there was.” Our eyes were opened up to the reality of how much it was actually needed. We had a hunch that it was needed, but we didn’t have solid facts, but we jumped in and did it. We were experimenting like, “Will it work? Will it not? Is that really a need?”
That’s interesting because I try to help college professors understand this. In large businesses you have to plan because the opportunity that you’re pursuing is visible and you have a lot of risks involved. You do a lot of planning, but what the entrepreneurs do is something different. They learn by doing. You can’t plan. You got to behave more like a detective. You don’t really know. You have no way of knowing other than just jumping in and doing it. A lot of people wouldn’t even have $15,000 to do that but like you said, you could have still done that with $5 or $25 and earned enough money to buy the van.
The point is that money’s not a barrier number one, but number two, that’s how you uncover the opportunity. No amount of planning is going to tell you. You’re a month in, you clean this brewery, you’re like, “I did something more than I thought I could do and I know what’s happening now.” You’re starting to get a little more confident. Now you’re hiring employees. For the people reading, this is a very early-stage company. What happened there? You cleaned that did the brewery, were you able to keep your first employee busy? How did that go?
I had 3 or 4 employees that started around that time. I started to put them to work part-time. They would work here and there on different projects if I needed them. They were almost like on call. If there was a big job like that, they were like, “I’m willing to come to help you for some extra money.” A side hustle for themselves. “I want to buy some things for my kids. I want to have some extra Christmas money,” that kind of thing. It’s a side hustle for them so it worked out well because I didn’t have to guarantee them any hours every week.
If we had them then great but if we didn’t, then great too, and there were no hard feelings which helped me build up the customer base. I remember having a conversation with a couple of them where I said, “This is taking off and there’s more of an opportunity for you and for us. If you want solid hours, let’s have that conversation.” They’re like, “Definitely, let’s have that conversation.” I started fitting them in different spots that worked with their schedule. I was able to take on and meet the need of more customers by having them.
I like your approach to the workforce. You’re treating employees with the respect like, “I can accommodate you. Your schedule. I’m not going to demand. I want to kind of make this into a win-win situation.”
Absolutely. Since the beginning, my workers, I call them partners. I’m not above them. They’re not below me. I am completely at their mercy, so to say. I can’t do this without them. We are an absolute valuable asset and I have to have them to make this happen. How do we work together to make that work? We figure it out, we have that conversation, and they say, “This is what I need to make this work for me.” I say, “It’s done. We can do it.” For the most part.
Where are you now? I want to make sure the readers understand. What’s the name of your business?
The official name is Honey Does LLC. We were called Honey Does Cleaning a lot.
Did you get a bunch of part-time employees?
Yes. I have two employees that are almost full time and then I have maybe six part-time employees. About 7 or 8 employees in total and then me.
Are you still cleaning or are you running around organizing the work and finding jobs and bidding on jobs? What does your day look like?
Mostly my day is admin for the most part at this point but I do still go out and clean. I’m very hands-on. I’m a working owner still, at this point. If we get much bigger, I don’t know if that will be manageable but I want my workers to know that I’m not going to ask them to do anything that I wouldn’t do myself. I’ll go out and I’ll scrub the toilet, I’ll scrub the baseboards. I set up the process, so I have a very good handle on the day-to-day operation. I’m almost acting as the general manager right now, too. I’m the owner, but I’m the general manager too. I’m involved in every aspect of everything.Businesses must add value to their employees' lives while providing the same value to others as well. Click To Tweet
Your husband, he’s still working a separate job full-time?
Yes. He got a promotion, so he’s not a store manager anymore. He does asset protection for Walmart. He does all of the HR stuff. He does payroll. He reports to the state like new hires. He helps with data tracking and things like that. He’s pretty involved. He’s working full-time at his other job.
I can imagine like your brain never really shuts off, right?
It’s not only about, how do you solve the problems that are right in front of you, but you’re constantly always thinking about, how do we grow this thing? How do we improve? How do we get bigger?
Absolutely. There’s a lot of strategic planning and brainstorming. How can we make this better? I’ll give you a good example, there was a time where one of my workers was sick and I couldn’t find anybody to cover the spot so I had to go do it myself, which is fine. I’m glad that I did it because I realized that I hadn’t updated the process. I’m learning as I go, and as I go, I update the processes and some of the forums and things, but for that particular job, I hadn’t updated it for whatever reason. I got busy with other stuff and I realized how much I’ve learned and I’ve grown since I set that particular job up.
I’ll give you an example It’s a commercial cleaning job. At first, we were carrying supplies in and out to every single job because we didn’t have cleaning kits because I was trying to keep the overhead costs low. I finally made a decision where I said, “We’re going to buy a kit for every single location and just leave it there.” That one, we didn’t leave it there but now there’s a lot more work for the worker, because he’s carrying things in and out, and it’s less efficient. I can make things more efficient as we go. As I learn, we’re refining the process.
What is it that’s driving you? Do you have a particular vision in mind? Your initial goal, as you said, was to pay off the mortgage early. Has that changed in any way? What gets you out of bed to do this every day? Where’s the energy coming from?
It definitely has changed. Paying off the mortgage is not my main motivation anymore. We are paying towards the mortgage, we are doing that, but it’s almost like that is minuscule compared to the bigger vision that we have now. I see an opportunity for financial freedom and an opportunity for my workers. I am able to give them an opportunity that they wouldn’t necessarily have anywhere else.
It’s in your heart. It’s in your head somewhere but you can’t articulate it. You’re trying to do something. I know just enough psychology to be dangerous. It’s interesting to me because I hear this from so many entrepreneurs like you. The initial thing is to make money and there’s nothing wrong with that, but once you get into it, then you realize like, “I can actually change the world in some way. I can make things better for people and I can impact the world.” I’m not saying profit is no longer important to you because I’m sure it is and it should be but there’s a purpose component.
Especially with our residential customers, it’s not just a person. We’re getting to know these people. They’re becoming our friends. Obviously, they’re still paying us for a service, but we’re adding value to their lives. The cleaners are catching that vision. They’re adding value to someone else’s life and so they’re finding value and purpose in their own life. They can get caught up. I think people inherently want to do good and some contribute to society. They feel like they’re making a difference.
They want to be recognized.
This is an opportunity for all of us to do that. Me and all of the cleaners and they’re catching on to that because our residential customers are, it’s almost like if you’re in a restaurant, you have frequent customers that come in. You probably could relate to this. You go to the same restaurant every Friday night, and that waitress is always working and she knows your face. You’re a frequent customer of hers. She’s like, “I’m going to get him,” and you guys become friends. You start to share more information. Then, you start to disclose more information and different things like thoughts and dreams.
You become part of a community. You become part of something. We’re all driven to that.
That’s another interesting component to that story. I’m going to say it’s like the shift from the employee mindset to the entrepreneurial mindset. It’s interesting to me. You have a part-time job, your husband got a full-time job and your goal is to pay off the mortgage so you can be freer sooner. What you stumbled into and stop me if I’m wrong because I don’t want to put words in your mouth but it’s interesting to me that you’re like, “That’s not really the goal anymore.” You realized, paying off the mortgage is going to be a piece of cake. The other side of it is like, “You can pay an extra $1,000 a month on your mortgage, or you can use that $1,000 to grow your business.” The mortgage doesn’t even become a thing. Is that what you’re saying?
Yes, that’s what I’m saying. That’s exactly where we’re at. It’s shifted.
I want to ask you if you can articulate, and maybe you can’t, but what’s the transition like from being an employee to being an entrepreneur, the mindset shift? Are you aware of it? Can you articulate any of it?
In our conversation before, maybe we touched on this briefly. Even though I’ve been in situations where I’ve been an employee, I feel like I’ve had that entrepreneur mindset my whole life. Even though I was an hourly employee, I approached it as an entrepreneur would. It wasn’t a clock in, clock out. I was there willing to work extra hours. What do we need to make the job happen? I’m done with this task. What’s the next thing that we need to do?
I could never understand why other people weren’t thinking the same way. They wanted to come in, clock in, be there at 8:00, clock out right at 5:00. That’s it. They’re done. They take an hour lunch break. They do a lot of recreation on the weekends and after hours. That was what their life seemed to revolve around. I feel like I was always a little bit different.
I remember a conversation that I had with my mom when I was working at the taco shop. I was doing all these things and I was working probably 80, 85 hours a week for the taco shop as the general manager. She had a conversation with me because I was venting to her, frustrated or something. She’s like, “How much are they paying you to do this?” I told her, and she said, “You need to start your own business or something, do this for yourself, then that way you can do whatever you need to do. You can fix it. You can implement solutions, that kind of thing.” I fought with her, and I said, “No, I could never do that.” That was some ago. I think back on it. I’m like, “I should have done it years ago.” I didn’t have the confidence at the time. Somehow, between then and now, I’ve developed confidence. It feels like I should have done this a long time ago. I was unhappy because I probably should have been doing this if that makes sense because it fits me.
In retrospect, you can see like, “I could have done this when I was 18 years old or 20 years old. It’s not that complicated.” What would you say to someone that’s thinking about doing their own business? Do you have any insights that you’ve had that you want to share? Do you have any thoughts?
If I were to give somebody advice who’s thinking about starting their own business, they’re mulling over the idea, go for it. Don’t hesitate, just do it. You don’t have to have a lot of money to start it. Figure out how to start where you’re at. It’s easy to get so far into the future. For me, we have one van. I would love to see 4 or 5 vans eventually, but we’re not going to do that because we would have to go into debt for that.
Start where you’re at, how you are, with what you have, and start networking, figure out where you can find resources to make it happen. Depending on if you’re going to sell a product or open a business, start working on the side. Let’s say you want to start a food cart, you’re going to have some shack to sell it out of, build something. Start saving up for the wood. Do it, go for it, figure it out. Put it down on paper, write out a plan for yourself. Not a business plan, write down goals that you can shoot for. Make them realistic, but work towards one small thing every single day. Eventually, you’ll get there.
I want to wrap this up with maybe another question or two. What is it about you that’s unique to you that is making this work? Is it your financial interest? Is it your drive? Your personality? Is it your ability to sell? What do you think is making this work? What are your strengths? Maybe I should ask in reverse. Has this brought forth a weakness? Is there something that you’re weak in and that you need to hire for, learn, or whatever, or you’re too much in the thick of it and you haven’t had time to think about any of that?
Weaknesses are surfacing. My husband helps balance that out some, so that’s helpful. It works well for me and the cleaners that I’ve hired for residential customers because they have a good heart. They want to help people. They want to make a difference. They want to do a good job. They’re catching on to the vision. I’m trying to teach them how to think like an entrepreneur. This isn’t going to be a normal 9:00 to 5:00 job. You’re not going to have set shifts necessarily. You’re going to have to start thinking a little bit differently.
You’re trying to improve the lives of people that are working for you, too. That’s what we call leadership. Something I wanted to mention, I’m going backward for a second. You said something that stuck with me. I remember reading some psychological paper about this. They did some research in a hospital somewhere. They found that with the right culture in the hospital, the janitor can have more life satisfaction than the surgeon because the janitor understands, “I’m cleaning this room for these people. I’m keeping this room clean for people who are in this time of their life when they don’t have to worry about any other thing but their loved ones getting well.”
To me, that’s what’s making your thing work. It’s not that you’re like a cleaning ninja, although you probably are. You have a good, strong work ethic. You know how to vacuum, clean baseboards, or pick up cat litter as well as anyone. It’s the fact that there’s a story that you’re trying to do something that’s got meaning behind it. If you look at the leadership literature, I’m reading a book on leadership from a guy from Harvard Business Review.
In the military, over and over again, it’s not the ones that have the biggest armies, all the right weapons, and all the right strategies. It’s the one that has the heart in the leadership. Those are the ones that win and win, again and again. That, to me, is what Honey Does is all about for you. You care about the people that are working for you. You care about the clients. You’re trying to create meaning and purpose in the whole thing. It’s a beautiful story. I love it. That’s what I’m hearing. I don’t want to put words in your mouth. It bugs me sometimes. A lot of people think entrepreneurs are people that are money-grubbers. They’re people that are trying to manipulate people to make money. There are people out there like that, I get it.
In my interactions with the everyday entrepreneurs, I don’t find that to be true. I find more often than not, it’s people like you. A lot of them start out like, “I just want to make some money. I’m not trying to scam people. I’m not trying to get rich. I’m trying to make some money.” There’s nothing wrong with that. Somewhere along the way, you realize, “I can make a difference in the world. I’m not just here to have a job and fit into the world. I can actually, in some way, make an impact.” Once you realize that, then you can start to make the impact bigger and bigger. Your story reminds me of this video clip I found of Steve Jobs when he was young when he had been fired from Apple when he still had long hair.
I’ll try to paraphrase it but he said, “You come into this life and you’re taught that this is the world as the way it is, and try to fit in the world. Try to get a good job. Save a little bit of money. Try and have a little bit of fun, but don’t bash into the walls. Follow the rules.” He said that’s a recipe for a limited life. He said, “Your life will change once you recognize one simple thing. The people that made those rules are no smarter than you.” You can build something and you can bend those walls. You can poke through them. You can build something that can impact the world. Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same. That’s the Honey Does story if I ever heard it right there. Make sense?
Yes. I see that this is an opportunity to make a difference and to impact the lives of others. It’s pretty cool.
That’s what I’ve always seen entrepreneurship as, this altruistic paradox. When you’re going through life trying to get your own needs met, you miss the opportunity. As soon as you realize it’s about other people and helping other people get their needs met, then you start to see the opportunities. It’s an inside-out perspective. Once you see it, it’s like the red pill or the blue pill. Right?
Melissa, thanks so much. I appreciate you taking time out of your busy crazy life. We’ll check back in a couple of years with you and see how you’re doing.
I would love it.
Thank you, Melissa. I appreciate it.
That was fun.
About Melissa Weed
Experienced Small Business Owner (Honey Does LLC) with a demonstrated history of working in the consumer services industry.
Skilled in Entrepreneurship, Team Building, Public Speaking, and Marketing Support. Strong business development professional with a degree focused in Mass Communication/Media Studies from Pittsburg State University.