Perhaps you’ve worked in a management position for several years. You’re good at it, you work hard, and you’re a valued employee. Then one day you wake up and say, “This cannot be my life”. What do you do next? Cathy Dean has been there. I asked her how she crafted her career. The highlights of her story follow.
In the beginning…
Cathy Dean has always enjoyed working with people as part of a team. At Wayne High School in Huber Heights, Ohio, “I was in the band. I wouldn’t say that I was good at it, but I enjoyed the social aspects of being in the band”.
During high school, she assumed she might be a teacher, but when she enrolled at Wright State University, she decided she wanted to work in Human Resources (HR). “I love the interactions with people”.
Cathy planned to enter Wright State’s College of Business to focus on HR after finishing her general education requirements, but the College of Business had a GPA requirement. She shocked herself by falling short. “I also had a boyfriend. During that time of my life I don’t think I was as focused on school as I should’ve been”.
How did Cathy regroup?
Cathy took a semester off and then transferred to Sinclair Community College to study Business Management. While at Sinclair, she also worked almost full-time as a teller at Citizen’s Federal Bank. “I’ve always been super focused on working. I like to be busy, I can’t really have a lot of idle time”.
She grew to like working at the bank, recognized the connection to business and management, and thought she might make it her career path. “Those years were a time when I was all over the place, but I was still really determined to finish, couldn’t just walk away and not finish school”. She got her Associate’s degree and intended to continue working at Citizens Federal, but Fifth Third Bank acquired Citizens Federal and there were too many changes.
What did Cathy do? Did she stay?
Cathy moved on to National City Mortgage Company as a customer service representative. Although she loves people, “being on the phone wasn’t necessarily my dream job”. Nevertheless, she stayed in that job for a year and a half, because “It was good for me. I was so young and in this big world of business people”.
After she had her foot in the door at National City Mortgage, she transitioned to the real estate tax department and hit her stride. She became a “team lead” and then a manager.
What did she like about working at National City Mortgage?
Early in her career as a manager, senior management decided would be more profitable to do the bulk of the real estate tax processing internally rather than sending it out to vendors. Cathy joined a team of managers tasked with building the new system. “It was a huge project that was fun and challenging. We were creating a team of people within our department – finding the right people to fit the positions”. She discovered she enjoyed the project. “It was fun seeing something grow from such a little seedling to this huge unit of 100 people”.
Meeting to problem solve
Each manager was responsible for a different piece of the system, and they worked closely to coordinate functions and troubleshoot problems. “Because it was such a new team and everything was moving so quickly, the managers were in it together. It was fun to work together towards something and see it come to fruition”.
In the process, Cathy gained the “bulk of my true management experience”. She was able to exercise a lot of flexibility and autonomy to make decisions for her unit. Her personal challenge was learning the soft skills of being a manager and leader. She learned how to handle disciplinary circumstances, understand different work styles, and guide her staff.
During this time, Cathy also had a small business on the side, selling candles at festivals. Although the business didn’t last, she acquired an accountant and some experience as an entrepreneur.
It sounds like Cathy enjoyed the work at National City Mortgage. Did she stay?
Over the years, the team of managers fit the pieces of the new real estate tax processing system together until it worked like a well-oiled machine. Then the real estate bubble crashed in 2008. To lower coasts, National City Mortgage explored outsourcing the process, eventually sending the bulk of the work to India. “That was like a punch to the gut, because our amazing team that we created started to dwindle and people were let go – a big life lesson for me”.
Cathy spent three weeks in India training their replacements. When she returned, work didn’t feel the same and Cathy began to consider other options.
Cathy decided being a realtor “would be fun and interesting to help people purchase homes”. After getting her license on the weekends, she left National City Mortgage. That was a scary move, because she had been there for 11 years, “my whole young adult life”.
She became a realtor at the height of the Great Recession and lasted for three months. She had to make cold calls to recruit potential clients, and quickly realized, “I am not good at this and I don’t have any money”.
Her next job was in an Allstate insurance office. A coworker inspired Cathy to go back to school. “I’d built this great career for myself at the mortgage company, but I only had an Associate’s degree which wasn’t going to help me get some of the jobs I wanted.” Today you “have to have a bachelor’s degree like you have to have a high school diploma”.
Cathy took out student loans and enrolled at Indiana Wesleyan online to pursue HR management. Working full-time at the insurance agency and going to school was hard. “I don’t even remember those points of my life”.
After earning her bachelor’s degree in two years, Cathy started looking for a job in HR, but immediately ran into roadblocks. Employers thought she had too much management experience for an entry-level job, but, since she lacked HR experience, they didn’t think she fit their HR jobs.
Needing to earn money, Cathy found a job at Assurant Specialty Property in Springfield, Ohio, working with the mortgage, tax, and insurance industries for four years.
Cathy worked for over 20 years in the financial services sector. Why did she leave to start a cleaning business?
In 2015, Cathy turned 40 and said, “This cannot be my life”. She was “tired of being under the finger of someone else with very minimal control”.
Fed up with corporate constraints, Cathy told her husband, “I’m just going to clean”. She thought she could “make decent money at a good physical job, build my own hours and be my own boss.”
What steps did Cathy take to start iheart cleaning?
Cathy thought she would clean on her own, until she met her good friend, Mandy, for coffee to talk and get some advice. Unexpectedly, Mandy offered to help. Cathy thought, “Cool, that seemed better!”
Cathy loved having Mandy to discuss the business with, because figuring out “how to even clean seemed way more complicated than I actually realized.” Their first steps included:
- Building pricing – at first they underpriced everything
- Developing a systematic approach to attack jobs
- Obtaining general liability insurance
- Becoming bonded
- Figuring out marketing
In the beginning, Cathy and Mandy had no clue how to price a job or attack it, so they learned by trial and error. Their first customer told them she was a “bit of a hoarder and hadn’t cleaned in a while”. They gave her an estimate based on the time they thought the job would take, but quickly discovered they had seriously underestimated. It took three of them two and a half days to clean the kitchen, one bedroom and a bathroom. “Now we know not to give an estimate on the time a job will take”.
Soon after launching her business, Cathy accepted her accountant’s invitation to join a chapter of BNI. BNI is a worldwide business-networking group of individuals from many different professions, which meets weekly, to discuss business strategies and challenges, and share advice.
When she was just working from home, Cathy didn’t know how to get the word out. Once she announced the launch of iheart cleaning to her BNI group, however, the floodgates opened and business skyrocketed. “Everybody’s a friend of a friend of a friend.”
Cathy is glad Mandy has been with her from the start. “Our strengths really balance each other. You have to be educated. I have Corian countertops, but there’s granite and marble and all of these different stones and all of these different types of care”. Mandy taught her about the different types of surfaces, so they can clean without causing damage.
Other resources Cathy’s used:
- “We have a flooring person in our BNI group and he has really educated me. Now I can look at a floor and say, ‘oh, that’s marble’”
- Blogs and podcasts about cleaning techniques and business practices
- Facebook group focused on cleaning; “I can see mistakes that people make across the country and I know I’m not alone”
Cathy’s dream is “to have people in place so we can focus on things that we need to do to grow the business”. She believes a social media presence is important and would love to write a blog on cleaning and organizing.
Currently Cathy and Mandy “spend 24/7 wading through all of the logistics of having a business, doing the work and hiring people”. Although the business is much bigger than Cathy’s original idea, needing six of them to do the cleaning, she says, “It’s fun to watch it grow”.
- Join a networking group so you can meet people who can be your sales force
- Do your research
- Find what works best for you; sometimes your don’t know until you make a mistake
- Be transparent with your customers; tell them immediately about any issue before they bring it to your attention
- Be resourceful in finding good employees; that’s the most challenging part of the business.