WEST PALM BEACH — Alicia Colon is among the millions of Americans who lost their jobs in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic as employers closed workplaces or cut back on staff.
Now she owns a cleaning company specializing in vacation rentals.
Colon, 32, of Lake Worth Beach, worked in the automotive industry in marketing for a decade before being laid off in late February 2020. The events she would have been planning for South Florida Ford dealers were canceled.
Fortunately for Colon, she had already been thinking about starting a cleaning business after reading a Facebook post by a woman who had left a corporate job and opened a cleaning company.
West Palm Beach company now employs 10, has 115 clients
That inspired Colon to found Sage Cleaning, based in West Palm Beach. Colon now has 10 employees and 115 clients, including 50 vacation rental properties that her team handles.
“I was going to launch this business in the fall of 2020. There was no rush. Then out of nowhere, the shutdowns happened,” Colon said. “I decided to open in 30 days. I hired two cleaners. We did training and orientation. They had just announced that cleaning companies were essential. That was our green light.”
She researched cleaning methods, reached out to other cleaning company owners and promoted her firm on social media.
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“Even though cleaning was essential, people were afraid. A lot of times there were no clients. I did not want the two girls I hired to leave, so I paid them the equivalent of what their unemployment would have been, $500 or $600 a week,” Colon said.
Colon spent about $10,000 on start-up costs, and estimates she has invested more than $20,000 so far. Last year, Sage Cleaning won a $10,000 minority business grant from the Urban League of Palm Beach County
“Toward the end of 2020, things started to shift. There were more snowbirds here. Florida was a little lighter on the restrictions,” Colon said.
After being laid off from a job at a nonprofit in late summer 2020, Colon’s mother Diana Gonzalez-Hicks joined her as vice president of operations. Colon said her major challenge in the business is hiring quality employees.
“Finding good staff is the hardest. The labor shortage — just like what everyone else is experiencing,” Colon said.
But the work is worthwhile, she says, even though some might treat it with disdain.
“This industry can be tainted with stereotypes. A cleaning specialist is a professional. You are not the help. You are not the maid. Walk with pride in the work you do because the work you do is important,” Colon said.