Doing your homework
In my interview series on people I find interesting, this one's been pending for a while. Anyone who has an idea for a business, doesn't necessarily translate that into a successful one. But I have great admiration for people who try, and kudos to those who succeed. Shagun Singh falls in the latter category, running a growing home cleaning and maintenance services business called Homework. The stress of keeping on top of her own home maintenance, led her to start a service that would help with something most of us hate doing - homework! Now servicing over 3000 homes in the Delhi NCR and recently expanding into Bangalore, Homework is on a roll. Other than telling me about how she came up with the idea; challenges; successes and so on, she also humored me with answers to some of the funny and silly things that come in a business like hers; providing tips for the lazy/disinterested housekeeper; and hypothetical home cleaning "punishments" for people you don't like!
1) For those who don't know, tell us why and how you started Homework?
I have terrible OCD - the Monica Gellar type from "Friends". My house help drove me absolutely stark mad cleaning my bathrooms with buckets of water. Each time I walked into the bathroom after she cleaned up I would end up dirtying it further with my shoes. Help in India is abundantly available, but not very well trained. It struck me then that there maybe others like me who may be facing similar issues. Homework came about for that very reason.
2) No one really enjoys doing housework, or if they say they do they're probably on something. Kidding. Tell us a few of the key things you can do for clients to ease the load.
|Stencil painting in progress|
We do a lot of stuff for customers to take away the headache of housework. From really big jobs like Painting, Woodwork, Civil Work, Marble Polishing to basic stuff like Bathroom Deep Cleaning, Fans and lights cleaning, Vacuum Services be it steam or regular vacuum, Sofa and carpet Shampoos. We can also help you with day to day stuff of getting a handy man to sort leaky taps or put up new paintings or fix a light, or AC Servicing. We can deal with your pest issues with our pest control and Termite Treatments and also help you with the pigeon menace with protective netting.
3) Homework doesn't just do cleaning and maintenance for homes, but also for office and commercial spaces. Could you tell us about some of the projects you have worked on for clients in this space.
So until recently Homework was really focused on only addressing home needs. But of late we have started addressing needs for other commercial establishments. We provided paint services to Positive Moves at Horizon Centre in Gurgaon. We have helped cleaning of a food truck called Eggjactly and done the commercial kitchen cleaning for the popular bakery Binge. Currently we are working on developing the new learning centre for Vidyanext in Gurgaon (watch a walkaround of the under development centre here)
4) We've been seeing more turnkey projects with renovations and remodeling coming from the Homework stable. Tell us about a recent project you have done and what services can clients avail through Homework in this area?
Yes, we expanded our offering with turn-key services. Two of our most popular services in this area are painting and making modular kitchens and wardrobes for clients. But usually when a customer is looking for a full home renovation, then they go with us for everything, from fitting new AC's, re-doing the windows, civil work, complete re-haul of the bathroom, etc. They find it easier to talk to one vendor instead of interacting with several.
5) Running any business is both rewarding and difficult, and there will be good days and bad days. Tell us about a difficult project you handled, and how you resolved the issue that cropped up.
Providing turn-key services where everything from a small task to a large job is being handled by us is not easy. And some level of error is likely to occur. But the thing we tell our teams and reinforce repeatedly is that one must have the courage to face up and accept an error. The key thing is to quickly and proactively find a solution for the error and minimize the discomfort to the customer.
Very recently we had an issue where the painting team made a mistake. One of the staff in an absent minded moment (can happen - we all have those moments) stepped on the kitchen stone near the sink area whilst trying to reach the wall and broke the stone. It was important for me and the administrative team to understand that we had messed up and we had to find a solution fast. Unfortunately in some situations solutions can't be doled out instantly, specially when another vendor is involved (in this case the one from who we would buy the stone). It was a hard week dealing with a really irate customer (she was right to be irate), a team that was trying to finish the rest of the work, but by this time were very nervous and scared. Anyway the good thing is we found a solution fast and acted upon it. We had told her it would take us 3 days to fix the stone but surprised her by finishing it up in a day. I learnt a lot about myself that week too. My ability or inability to perform under stress is something I really need to work on.
6) And there must be moments of comic respite as well. Tell us about something funny - whether a comical enquiry you got, or a service that took a humorous turn.
Oh so many funny moments. One thing that really has my friends and family bursting into laughter is when customers refer to Homework as 'Shagun Cleaning' or 'Shagun Cleaners' and now very recently to 'Shagun Renovations'. I,of course, no longer find it funny. Then recently someone called and asked if I could their child with his college assignments. The person had found me on social media and assumed I provided tutor services! I thought "My God, do people not have even 1 minute to really read before they pick up the phone?!"
7) As an entrepreneur, there must be immense satisfaction on seeing your original idea grow into a successful and developing business. You've recently expanded into Bangalore. Tell us a bit more about your Bangalore launch.
The Bangalore operations are being run by my childhood friend Suraj. Our parents are not only good friends, but also business partners. Knowing Suraj well has helped us to bond over the business. Bangalore right now is focused on Deep Cleaning Services , Marble Polishing and Painting Services. Over the course of the year we hope to start all the other services as well and offer Bangalore clients a one stop solution, like we do in Delhi NCR.
8) What advice do you have for other entrepreneurs or Small Business Owners like yourself, for the most effective way of reaching clients and getting business? Social media? Good content? Compelling offers? What has worked well for you?
I think that the first thing that really helps one grow is to provide the best services. Be responsible and accountable for what you are offering and be honest. Entrepreneurs like myself who are not funded depend so much on delivering the right quality first and then the rest will fall in place. So once we got our quality in order we sold a lot more services to a larger audience. Largely word of mouth and referral has worked but yes, so has social media and keeping our price point in constant check.
9) Your videos are quite popular with cleaning tips or walk-arounds of sites you are working on or demonstrations of specific services. We'd love an exclusive video on Reemspeak for readers here - no longer than a minute because, face it, we all have the attention of goldfish (9 seconds, if you must know) nowadays and if you're not pretty or can't break it down to something simple we will not pay any attention :) Just joking, but seriously you have a minute to tell us your top 5 tips for people with zero time and interest in housekeeping to keep on top of their homework.
10) If you had to punish someone and make them do one piece of housework you loathe, what would that be? For example, I would probably get my arch nemesis to hand pick all the dog hair off every bit of my house as I know that would take them till eternity :) Incidentally, what can Homework do about helping pet parents with fur filled upholstery?
My husband hates housework and cleaning my sons book shelves and de-cluttering them is something he is constantly finding a way to get out of it. So I would make him do that!
For pet parents, you should invest in a vaccum cleaner and vaccum at least once every three days and get professional help to do a steam vaccum for you at least once a month. Really depends on what level your OCD is!
If you're looking to get cleaning or maintenance services for your home, office or commercial space in Delhi NCR or Bangalore, you can find out more about Homework and get in touch with them through their website or Facebook page.
Check out some before and after pics of their cleaning services!