By BECKY GILLETTE
Jacqueline Lee, 31, earned a degree in photojournalism from the University of Southern Mississippi (USM) in 2006. In 2011, Lee was in between jobs and looking at a source of income where she could be self-employed. She took an accounting class at USM, and decided she wanted to try her hand as a small business owner.
“I wanted to do a real-life version of the accounting class,” Lee said. “At the time, I had a partner who was interested in getting a cleaning company started. We had business cards printed, and our very first client came to us because got of a card he got from one of our friends. Six months later, we had enough work to hire our first cleaning contractors.”
They decided to focus on using non-toxic cleaning products instead of commonly used cleaners that can cause skin and eye irrigation, and breathing problems. To advertise that, they came up with the name, “Freedom Cleaning.”
“The products that we use are not necessarily the cleaning solutions I grew up with, but the cleaning solutions my grandmother would have used like vinegar, baking soda, and a lot of citrus-based products,” Lee said. “For every traditional toxic product on the market, there is a non-toxic version that can do the same job.”
She said when they first started, they liked the appeal of being able to offer the service to our clients. Some might have come from larger areas of the country where they were accustomed to such services. But after the business became successful, Lee also realized that it was also really important for the cleaners.
“I realized that if we were going to be breathing these toxic chemicals six hours a day, we would have all kinds of breathing issues down the way,” Lee said. “It makes me feel good knowing I am sending someone out who can be healthy while they are doing the cleaning. They don’t have to worry about breathing bleach or spilling bleach on themselves. Once people have switched over, if that isn’t how they cleaned before, they never go back. It is how they clean their home. They don’t have to worry about a baby or dog drinking one of these solutions.”
On 2013, she went out on her own and has continued to grow the business. She now has eight cleaning contractors and is in the process of hiring. Her business background prior to that had been in marketing and public relations. One thing she did was start building an email database of people she had worked with over the years in different types of industry, and then sent an email letting people know about the service.
Personal contacts are important in this kind of business.
“A big part of the cleaning industry is being able to trust the people who come to your house and being comfortable with having them around your belongings,” Lee said.
Lee said a lot of people who have come to Freedom may be in transition. They may be recent graduates waiting to find career jobs. She’s had students, nurses waiting between travel gigs, and a lot of musicians and artists.
“The people who work for Freedom Cleaning are extremely capable, intelligent, pay attention, and have a tremendous work ethic,” Lee said. “I can teach anyone how to clean. But there are other skills such as personal drive and motivation to get the job done that are harder to teach. I try to seek out contractors who already bring that to the table. I look for people who communicate, show up, get the job done, and take pride in their work.”
Cleaning contractor Gracie Nichols said she loves the freedom the job gives her.
“I can easily speak to Jackie and work out any scheduling issues,” said Nichols, who does sculpture and designs jewelry. “It is very helpful. Jackie is an amazing person. I feel lucky to have met her. She is one of the first people I met in Hattiesburg. I’m an artist and she has also promoted my work through DIME Entertainment Magazine based out of Hattiesburg where she is editor and chief. She had seen my work. I had cleaned previously and it is great to have the flexibility to do my cleaning work and then leave my work there and come to work in my studio. She is such a supporter of all of her employees.”
Lee still occasionally cleans, but in the past 18 months has found that the best use of her time is running the administrative side of the business and finding the best contractors she can to do the work.
She advertises primarily through their Facebook page and word of mouth. Existing
customers get a discount sending them referrals.
“That is a big, big help,” Lee said. “Just because someone sees an ad for a cleaner doesn’t mean they will hire that company. They want to know about someone else’s experience with them. Occasionally, we do some email marketing. And we also do some sponsorships like Live at Five at the public park downtown. We have sponsored a couple of beer festivals. We always try to be involved in the community, and let people know we are here and what we are doing is non-toxic and good for the environment.”
Customer Robert “Tyner” Sullivan, owner of SPF Window Tinting, said he started using Freedom Cleaning because he found he didn’t enjoy working at his small business all day and then coming home to clean.
“I was just noticing I was working and then coming home and working,” Tyner said. “That defeated purpose of working. I wanted my home to be a place of relaxation instead of work. The cleaning service is a real benefit with that. There is mental and physical freedom from not having to worry about it. They show up on time and do good work. I have pets and they interact well with them. It has been a really good experience.”
Lee said most of her customer enjoy the peace of mind of having a clean house, and not having to take time to do something they don’t enjoy.
“My motto is no one should ever have to clean for free, which makes it hard to get motivated to clean my house,” she said.
Lee hopes to expand her services to the Gulf Coast in 2017.
“It would be the perfect fit for us,” she said.