Ever wondered how your agency can start working with franchises? For many agencies, they're practically a "holy grail" client. Want the insider take on what it would require to impress someone who runs one?
Well, listen to today's podcast and you'll get your wish. Today we're talking with Neel Parekh, Founder and CEO of MaidThis, a residential and Airbnb cleaning franchise that is rapidly expanding across the U.S.
MaidThis is a tech-savvy up-and-comer that leverages every available digital technique to win and to help their franchisees win. That means Neel is also well-versed in the digital marketing world and has plenty of insights for agency owners and consultants.
Check it out now:
The MaidThis business model
The MaidThis business model is fairly straightforward. It's a cleaning company that allows customers to schedule weekly, biweekly, or monthly cleanings through their website. Everything is automated.
The other niche is Airbnb cleaning for vacation rentals, which brings its own unique challenges.
"One guest checks in at 11, the next guest checks in at 3. There's a bunch of stuff which has to happen between them, like checking for damages, replacing supplies, things like that. So we just link up with the host's calendar and automatically schedule cleaning after the turn-around."
Neel says he really likes approaching this business in what he calls a "new age way."
"As opposed to the old-school cleaning model where you get an estimate, you don't really know if they're going to show up or not, and you have no phone notifications."
Neel says franchising was a really big decision for his company.
He offers some background.
"I started the company in 2013. I did a couple of years part-time when I was working in finance. Eventually, I wanted to travel. So I left for five years before Covid, just traveling the world. That's why I made the business remote. Because I had to."
At MaidThis, the only people who don't work remotely are the cleaners.
"In 2020, we decided we wanted to expand. The question was: how do we do that?
Do we do it ourselves, or do we do it with a franchise model?
A franchise model can expand more rapidly because you can multiply your efforts. We had the system set up in such a way because I was working remotely. We had to be highly, highly systemized to make it work. So it was very conducive to the franchise model."
He says this approach is giving him a huge boost over other cleaning companies.
"I love that a lot of other cleaning companies in the franchise space are from the 70s, 80s, and 90s, so their digital marketing is not the best.
The way they're targeting customer interaction with the crowd they're targeting is not the best. That was the reason we decided franchising was the way to expand. And so we launched in late 2020, at the height of the pandemic.
We awarded our first franchise in Denver in late 2020 and are just going to keep going from there."
How MaidThis approaches digital marketing
Neel says he really loves local marketing, and that love is helping him dominate the competition.
"I think cleaning companies are two years behind the curve in terms of marketing and digital marketing. They're late with everything. As long as you're on pace with the way digital marketing is going, you're already ahead of the competition.
It's not that hard in my opinion to beat most of the competition just by doing base, foundational stuff. A lot of local companies don't know what they're doing. If you're a marketer and you know what you're doing, you're ahead of the competition."
Neel says it's critical for the success of his franchisees.
"Having an optimized website. Doing email capture. Actually doing email marketing. You'd be surprised. Most local companies don't do it. 45% of local companies don't even have a website."
This is one area where Neel offers his franchisees a great deal of support.
"We provide the actual playbook of what can work. Here's how you set up a profile. Here's the ad copy you can use for your AdWords.
It would be on the franchisee and maybe an approved vendor of ours to actually get that done. A lot of stuff is proven out."
He says that there are a lot of changes from market to market that are good to be aware of.
"For example in Los Angeles, Yelp is huge. Yelp is huge in California. In the midwest, it's not that big. They like Angi. We don't want to force what's happening in their local market."
Neel educates each of his franchisees from day one and focuses on two key areas of digital marketing.
The first is filling the funnel through SEO and email marketing.
"Afterwards, the number one key for us is Google reviews. I don't care where in the country you are, Google is key. We have a lot of tools to help the franchisee get reviews, and we provide them like, hey, here's the copy you can use, here's the system you can use to follow up with customers."
Neel's franchisees do manage themselves in terms of replying to reviews, but they've systemized them in a way that automatically gets them notified to leave a review on Google.
"I don't think a lot of local companies realize how important Google reviews are. It's a highly competitive market. Local companies don't know what they're doing though, so if you have good Google reviews you're just going to dominate."
Neel says he does a ton of handholding.
"We marry our success with how well franchisees are doing. So digital marketing evolves rapidly. There's stuff we do for them. There's stuff we're in charge of doing.
The cool part is I still run our corporate locations in California. So we're testing new marketing tactics always. We want to be the most high-tech new-age marketing tactic company in the cleaning industry.
Because we're able to test that out we can then roll it out to the franchisees. And the cool part is, after a while, when you have enough franchisees, one location where it's working really well, we can say: here's the playbook, and we can distribute that to everyone.
It's a hivemind."
Neel offers an example from the Denver location.
"They started using Bark, a quoting engine. For them, it's working very well. They figured out how to systemize it. So now, I can say great. I can bring that to Los Angeles.
At the same time, we just rolled out a new reputation management system. Now we're going to roll that out to Denver. We know that works and how to systemize it. You don't have to spend two budgets on tweaking. One company could just test things out and then just share the knowledge and the resources with other companies.
That hivemind mentality is going to allow us to leapfrog our competition, because it's unfair, right? You just have 50 cleaning companies in theory in the future, working on marketing. They can all test out different tactics and roll it out instantly to anyone else."
The best way to get your foot in the door
After giving this background, Neel and Garrett pivoted to talking about how agencies who are seeking to do business with franchises can win.
"Think about it this way. I am like the Mama Bear for our franchisees. I'm not going to give them something which is not proven out because that makes me look bad.
If you said: hey, I'd be willing to test this out on your operations, and then if you like it you can add me as a preferred vendor so your franchisees can use them? I'd say: great, as long as I'm not forcing my franchisees to use you because I'm not sure how you're going to be doing.
We can test this out. If you're trying to approach a franchise, you go to the corporation and say: let me prove myself first. If you like it, just add me as a preferred vendor."
Franchisors can dictate who their franchisees are allowed to work with.
"So if they say hey, I want to do Facebook ads, I'd say okay you have to go to one of our approved vendors because they know brand standards already. I would not let them just go with any Facebook ads vendor. Franchisees are not allowed to do that for most brands because it might ruin the brand."
Thus, the goal for most agencies is going to be to get listed on the approved vendor list.
If you want to try, though, you're going to need to come in with some proof that you're the right company for that franchise to work with.
"I want to see you've done it for someone in my industry. Realize we get pitched by people all the time. Unless you've done it for a cleaning company and you can tell me what your ROI stats are, I'm not going to listen. It's too much time to invest if you do not know how this is going to work out. I don't want to educate myself on what you're doing before you do it."
Neel has an example, a company that offers marketing through NextDoor.
"Hey, we've done this for other cleaning companies. I'm going to charge you a small amount on a per-lead basis."
There was no commitment, no set-up, and no need to "hop on a call."
It was a no-brainer. "Cool. Set this up. You look reputable. Let me test it up."
Six months later, they're still working together, and he's given franchisees permission to work with this vendor.
"The only reason I signed on with them is they didn't take up too much of my time. I'm not going to hop on a call with anyone who says: hey, can I have a minute of your time? I don't know what you're doing. The easier you can make it, the less I need to think about it, the higher the chances I'm going to say less."
He says the specific technique may not be charging per lead, but a low-ask to get started.
"Once you're in the door, I honestly just want to make things easy for my franchisees. If I know you're good, if I've tested it out, it would be so easy to say: go talk to my Denver franchisee, go talk to the Kansas franchisee, let's get them going."
He admits some industries might have a harder time proving their worth upfront.
"SEO is a tough one."
Not just because SEO is a long game, but because in his company's case they already have an SEO vendor. You'd be displacing someone and that's a tougher sale.
Yet if Neel didn't already have an SEO vendor?
"I'd say great. That's awesome. Prove it out to me first, and I would absolutely sign up with you."
The best franchises to target
Do you think you have that low-ask offer ready to go? Here's who you target.
Neel explains the lay of the land.
"There's lots of franchisors which are coming up. New brands. Maybe they're not great at digital marketing. They just have a great local service. They know they need to provide their franchisees with SEO at some point. That's what everyone does."
You might win though because there are many large agencies that won't target smaller franchisees. Instead, they're going after companies that have a minimum of 20 units.
"At the lower end, there are people who say, yeah we work with one franchise here and there. But there's not really anyone in the middle, I would say. I would say if you're going for emerging franchisors, you would be able to find people who don't have an existing vendor if they're not too marketing-forward."
Neel stresses that this is an ideal time to target these companies.
"You're getting them while they're growing. They're willing to talk to you. They might not have someone already. You can pitch them: hey, we work with franchisors to proof it out and then with their franchisees. We specifically work with emerging brands to help you grow. We want to grow as you grow. Those are words an emerging franchisor would love to hear."
Growing a remote culture
Since so many teams are remote and are unlikely to return to in-office work, Garrett asked Neel about processes and communications for remote teams.
"Slack is huge for us. We try to make as much of a Slack culture as we can."
He says he works hard to build a corporate culture.
"We do something called DJ a Day every month. Everyone has a Spotify. We link it into a room and everyone shares their Spotify playlists."
They also systemize everything.
"We run a system called the Entrepreneur Operating System from the book Traction."
"Think about an operating system for your meetings and your organization where you have a set agenda. Work off that.
Every department has set meetings and set agendas. You set quarterly rocks, which are goals, at annual meetings. That kind of keeps things on pace and allows people who work in remote places to just be aligned on the same goal. Having some sort of operating and meeting system has been huge for us."
What's your right now cause?
Neel would like to call the listener’s attention to the Covid situation in India.
"I think they had over 300,000 people get infected in one day."
By contrast, California is seeing 10,000 infections a day.
Neel is Indian-American, born and raised here by parents who are from India.
"They can't social distance. It's not a privilege they have. Some people can't get access to masks. Some things we take for granted over here are just not possible over there."
He says that he loves the fact that Covid is getting better here, but that it's in danger of desensitizing us to the fact that most of the world doesn't have access to the vaccine. He says that donating to any charity that offers Covid relief in India would be huge.
Right now, WorldVision is working on that very cause. You can donate here.
Learn More About Neel