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Detroit Maid. Behind the Business with Danielle Smith

FS Local works with one purpose – we want to help small businesses be successful. And when we decided to open up our local business directory into the United States, we knew that Detroit was the first place we wanted to be.

There’s a spirit that exists among the people of Detroit that’s unlike most others.

Danielle Smith exhibits that spirit to a T. A classic entrepreneur, Danielle identified a gap in the marketplace quite by accident – she needed a service that simply wasn’t available to her – and rather than let the idea to fill that gap go by, she rolled up her sleeves and started a business.

Detroit Maid is the name and it couldn’t be more perfect. Yes, it’s a cleaning service, but the double meaning illustrates the power of the people that are proud to call Detroit home. Hard, honest work is the name of the game, and Danielle Smith and Detroit Maid are in it to win it.

image of danielle smith from Detroit Maid

Danielle Smith, owner of Detroit Maid

Tell us about Detroit Maid. What is it that you do and who are your customers?

Detroit Maid is a residential and commercial cleaning service for busy Detroiters. We provide everything from general and deep cleaning to green cleaning and move-in/move-out cleaning. We have customers throughout the metro-Detroit area who range from busy working families and active bachelors to local businesses who want to keep their offices looking professional and clean.

So how did you get into this business?

I was born and raised in Detroit with some of my fondest memories taking place at my parents’ pizza shop. My mom and dad managed to teach me and my brother the good, the bad and the ugly of running a business.

Not long after my parents opened the business, my classmates and teachers began placing orders and I was my middle school’s “pizza supplier”. I created order forms and placed a drop box with menus and a schedule on my locker. I loved creating new systems and finding new opportunities. At that point I knew that entrepreneurship was the best fit for me.

I went to school for Public Relations and Public Affairs, but after working in the field for more than a decade I felt the itch to do my own thing. I wasn’t exactly sure, however, what that could be.

In 2012, I was commuting to Lansing daily for work while juggling family and social obligations. The last thing I wanted to do after a long day was clean my house. I finally decided to search for a cleaning service that met my needs in Detroit, to no avail. When I looked to suburban cleaners, merely 3-5 miles away, no one was willing to cross Eight Mile.

I’ve found that some of the basic things that other major cities and local suburbs have at their disposal (everything from cleaning services to food delivery) aren’t always afforded to Detroiters. For years I’ve wanted to change that—even if only in a small way—but I wasn’t clear on how.

It was then that I realized I could put my cleaning skills and entrepreneurial spirit to use and create a business of my own—one that provides quality service while celebrating Detroit and Detroiters. After working with local residential and commercial cleaners I established Detroit Maid the following year.

Detroit Maid was born out of necessity and I like to think that we’re filling a few gaps; making Detroit just a little more special.

image of the detroit maid team

Detroit Maid. Kathy, Danielle, and Ranaijih. (Sonja not pictured)

They say that to be successful you have to be passionate, so share what drives you every day. Why do you love what you do?

I love promoting Detroit pride while providing a much needed service. Detroit is such an amazing city! Having the opportunity to play even a small role in making it better is really exciting for me.

Has it been smooth sailing or have you overcome adversity to get where you are?

I’m not sure that I’ve met anyone for whom the path to entrepreneurship has been smooth sailing! My path has definitely involved course corrects and valuable lessons that have helped us to improve our quality of service. A little over a year ago, I lost two essential staff members.

For a short time this inconvenienced existing clients (some of whom we lost) and basically eliminated our capacity to accommodate new clients. I felt like the business was doomed. Not long after, we bounced back, brought on new and amazing team members and nearly tripled our client base. We’re steadily growing and constantly learning new ways to strengthen and improve our services. Customer feedback has been invaluable to our process.

Who can you turn to for help if you need it? Are there organizations or groups in the area that support small business?

It’s a great time to be in Detroit, particularly with companies and organizations like New Economy Initiative (NEI), The Kellogg Foundation, J.P. Morgan Chase and others who are committed to supporting local entrepreneurs and entrepreneurs of color. NEI, especially, has funded so many programs that have made my business thrive.

For example, a business incubator called The Build Institute has been a wonderful resource for not only strengthening my business plan, but also, providing much needed support through classes and workshops that have ranged from marketing and social media strategy to incorporation and legal help. Co-working space Bamboo has also been invaluable to us, with so many entrepreneurial resources and networking opportunities to choose from.

We all know that crazy happens. What’s the wildest thing that’s happened on the job?

We’re a pet friendly company and we have policies in place to ensure that both our clients’ pets and our employees remain safe during cleanings. That includes requiring that pets be crated or placed in a separate room (that isn’t being cleaned) before cleaning takes place.

On a pretty hectic day our regular client, who keeps his two 100lb Rottweilers in a play space in the basement, left without locking the basement door. When we let ourselves in through the front door, one of the dogs bolted through the door and proceeded to take a full-fledged 25 mile an hour exploration of the neighborhood.

Our attempts to catch him meant nothing to the mail-carrier and unassuming joggers who gave us some major stink eye in between their respective freak-outs. After about 20 minutes of the wild Rottweiler chase, the client arrived and our four-legged friend hopped in his car. We finally managed to clean the house and get out of dodge in time for the next job. They kept the basement double-locked from that point on.

image of detroit maid's Kathy, working in a kitchen

Detroit Maid’s Kathy, hard at work.

What do you do with your time off? Are you familiar with that concept?

I’m making an effort to create as much balance as possible, but it can be really difficult when there are so many opportunities to grow. We are closed on Sundays and I’ve recently committed to making that my day off as well (Some days I’m better at it than others). I’m a new mom, so spending time with my little superhero is what I enjoy most, along with dinners out at some of the cool spots in Detroit like The Block, Seva and Gold Cash Gold.

This is the age of the social network. How important is social media to your business and how do you make it work?

Social Media has done wonders for spreading our message. We’ve not only been able to promote our services through memes, cleaning tips, blogs and video, but we’ve also added new team members who found us through Twitter or Facebook. A significant amount of our client-base heard about us through Facebook, Instagram or Twitter. Social Media is a lifeline for us as we tweet and post regular updates and solicit feedback in real time.

Are there any other tools or special programs you use to make your life as a business owner easier?

Our online booking system has made scheduling, staying in touch with customers and billing so convenient. It not only makes things easier for us, but also makes scheduling appointments a breeze for clients.

How are you involved in your community? What does supporting local mean to you?

I’m really excited about our newest initiative called Clean 4 Good. It enables us to partner with a local homeless services organization to help transitioning families get a fresh start in a Detroit Maid cleaned home, equipped with essential supplies. We’re in the early stages of Clean 4 Good and will continue to seek new ways to support our community as we grow.

image of the detroit maid team

The Detroit Maid Team – Danielle, Kathy, Ronaijih, and Sonja (she’s real, they swear!)

What does the future look like for you and your business?

We’re looking forward to having Detroit Maid products. We’ve managed to develop really great cleaning strategies and green cleaning life hacks that our clients love, so making it widely accessible is something that we’re looking forward to. I’m also looking forward to learning more about ways integrate basic services with social good and I think we’re on the right path.

Do you have any advice for aspiring business owners just starting out?

Do something that brings you closer to your dream every day.

No matter how small or large the task, do something. Whether it’s working on your business plan, meeting with a mentor, setting up a domain or researching development strategies, it’s all important and will keep you motivated.

Detroit is an amazing place. What do you love most about the city?

Detroit is a big small town full of really hardworking, proud and creative people. We always manage to make more with less and turn ordinary things into works of art. It never ceases to amaze me.