Build Your Work Fence

Two women talking across a sturdy work fence.
Image credit: popofatticus

Years ago, there was a funny and popular song called, “Don’t Fence Me In”. The song was about a man in the Old West. When this man faced jail or marriage, he complained about how he did not want to be fenced in by either. The song was sung by a variety of singers over the years, from Roy Rogers and Bing Crosby to Ella Fitzgerald.

While most of us understand the fun and freedom of roaming around with no limits, there are times when boundaries and limits—another type of fencing—are good ideas.

Fences can serve a lot of useful purposes. Fences can protect and define what is yours and what belongs to others. They can keep people and critters in or out. They can keep people from walking all over you and your property. For self-employed house cleaners, fences are not just wood pickets, metal chain links, or wrought iron bars with spikes.

Fences’ are another way to describe your business policies.

Those policies that let customers know what services you offer and what you don’t offer. Having a clear set of policies about your scope of services, your “work fence”, can help you say “no” to customer demands on your time and energy that don’t pay off for your business.

The Customer Walkthrough

It is important to set your work fence up from the beginning. The best time to dig in your work fence posts is during the customer walkthrough.

A walkthrough is when you and a potential a new customer walk through their home before they sign up for your service. During a walkthrough, you find out about their cleaning wants and needs. Your new customer also finds out how you can meet those needs.

Use the walkthrough meeting as an opportunity to find out more about your prospective customer’s likes and dislikes. You want to know what they expect from you and your service. A walkthrough is the best time to ask a lot of questions about how they want cleaning done. 

Some house cleaners don’t do walkthroughs with every new customer. They will clean some homes sight unseen. Other house cleaners have automated systems where they collect information and payments on their websites and don’t set foot into a customer’s home until they are ready to clean.

Different house cleaners have different ways of doing business. Since I consider house cleaning a relationship business, the walkthrough has always been vital to my cleaning business.

Reveal Your Work Fence

A walkthrough is when you tell your prospective customer about your company’s cleaning policies. During this first meeting with a customer, it is important you lay out how you get things done. You should discuss your company policies, including:

Where your cleaning business workfence joins with your customers.

• your usual start times
• the days you work
• your cancellation policy
• how you handle payments
• cleaning tasks you perform and those you don’t

The walkthrough is the time to show prospective customers your work fence. Policies that make up your work fence must be included in the Service Agreement signed by both you and your customer before you start cleaning.

Work fences help you avoid customer demands on your time that keep you from focusing on important cleaning tasks. Without cleaning policies—work fences—clearly written in your Service Agreement, some customers will try to have you do everything they can think of without regard to your time or how much you are paid.

When you are self-employed, you don’t have time or energy to waste on “wishlist” tasks. You want to focus on cleaning that’s important to your customer. Nor do you want to get stuck doing tasks you absolutely hate.


Give and Take

Don’t be afraid to negotiate with a customer during a walkthrough or anytime after. If there is one particular task they really want and you normally don’t do that cleaning task, see if there is a way for you to say “yes” to that task while saying “no” to other tasks.

Ask your prospective customer what is more important: scrubbing the shower or changing bed sheets? Dusting furniture in the den or sweeping the deck? Cleaning kitchen counters and appliances or hand washing a sink full of dirty dishes?

If they want services you don’t normally offer because those tasks are time consuming, try to find a way to balance the time those services take by dropping other tasks or services less important to your customer. 

If you can’t drop other tasks to do something they insist on, raise your price. You can also make those services special projects. Special projects can be scheduled, done and paid for separate from your regular cleaning.

If they want you to do something you hate to do, like cleaning out cat litter boxes, discuss your company policy about that task.  Explain why you don’t clean cat boxes for health and safety reasons.  Be polite, but firm.

When you work solo or with a partner and have two to four homes a day (or more), you have only so much time for each home. Fence in your time and energy to give each customer your best effort.

Opening A Gate

There are times when giving a little extra can be useful.  A quick vacuuming of a hallway or laundry room floor not listed on the Service Agreement once every few months can be an inexpensive thank you gift to a longtime valued customer.

For example, once a year, I thoroughly vacuum an unused fireplace (no ashes) for one customer (ten minutes of work). When another customer I had for twenty years was hospitalized, I swept her front walkway every visit (five minutes of work).

Those are tasks I don’t normally offer. I consider them small gifts to long-time loyal customers. I just try not to get carried away.  I’m aware how important it is to balance my time and energy with results the customer values most.

🎼 Do Fence Me In

Fences serve a lot of useful purposes. They can confine you or they can keep others from walking all over you.

Work fences in the form of clear policies in your Service Agreement allow you to do your best work for your customers without straying all over the place and wasting valuable time.

Work fences can help create solid boundaries that can lead to respectful working relationships between you and your customers.

A twist on Ella Fitzgerald's song title / yes, work fence me in.

For the cowboy in the song, “Don’t Fence Me In”, fences meant a loss of freedom. For the singers like Ella Fitzgerald, the song was a crowd pleasing favorite.

For your house cleaning business, work fences in the form of clear written policies can be a lifesaver.

Once you set up your work fences, you will find yourself changing the words to that old tune. Going forward, “Do Fence Me In” will become your favorite song.

Cleaning Business Start-up Basics

Use this full map of US state and city laws to help you:

  • Apply for a business name
  • Get a business license
  • Register to pay taxes

Just click on the map to find your state and get started.

USA map of states.

Do you take the time to do walkthroughs with you new customers? Do you discuss your company policies with them then? Share how you’ve built your work fence in the comments below. ⬇︎


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