In this series of interviews, we explore stories from immigrant/BIPOC*/women business owners who have adapted during the pandemic. The purpose is to learn and connect through shared experience. In this interview, Jo Anderson Cavinta (Diversity Services Coordinator for KCLS) spoke with Winna, the owner of a professional cleaning service in Seattle.
*BIPOC means "Black, Indigenous, and People of Color."
Meet Winna, Owner of a Professional Cleaning Service
“I’m a mother of two, and I own and operate a cleaning service for residential and commercial properties, including offices, healthcare and daycare facilities.” For the last 9 years she was a property manager, where she was responsible for everything from cleaning, painting, maintenance and appliance installation.
“I was entering bills from vendors one day and I said, ‘Wait a minute, are we paying this much for a service?’”
She started to do research on what it would take to create her own company. “I was nervous because I was a new mom. I reached out to SCORE for mentorship, had a few interviews with them and got my checklist of things to do.” Winna was open for business in January of this year.
Then COVID-19 hit.
Winna’s first thought was, “I need to buy supplies.” All of a sudden everything was out of stock. All the vendors were sold out, online was sold out and if you could find items, they were overpriced. “I can’t do cleanings if I don’t have my supplies. Clients canceled because they didn't want people in their home.” She was closed for business, but she still needed to pay rent on her space.
Then, everything changed. Winna lost some of her customers due to no longer having childcare. “My son’s schooling stopped, so he was home and I had to bring him with me when I did walkthroughs for those that allowed it.” She had to educate her customers on new safety measures. “I had to look for more opportunities, I had to find new employees.”
A turning point.
“I found support online! I reached out to other cleaning companies I found online and we started to talk about what we could do. We became each other’s backbone.” Winna initiated mutual support. “I literally went to Facebook and sent a mass message.” She let people in her network know that she had connections for food and assistance.
“A lot of people didn’t know they could apply for food assistance if they lost their job. Also, I have a few business friends that were giving out food.” They also came together to help others apply for Small Business Association (SBA) grants.
The road ahead.
Winna purchased different equipment to disinfect spaces before and after cleaning. Approved to kill COVID without chemicals, it was a game changer. “It gave me and my clients peace of mind.” She began doing more online marketing. “I wrote a couple blogs to keep the business afloat. I made my business a part of other businesses, adding my contact in their directories. I sent emails out to customers.”
Residential is more of a focus as commercial spaces remain closed. Also, ensuring her supplies are stocked is critical. “Cold and flu season is about to happen, so I’m stocking up on gloves.” Her new mantra is “never give up and always keep going. Communicate with other businesses, pass along resources and keep an eye out for each other.”
Winna’s Business Tip: Look to Africatown for information and resources, a “Community Land Trust is working for community ownership of land in the Central District that can support the cultural and economic thriving of people who are part of the African diaspora in the Greater Seattle region.”
Support your local small business community! For more financial and small business resources, visit Invest in Yourself.
The Welcoming Center for immigrants, refugees and new arrivals connects you to the people and resources in the area you live.