By Neal St. Anthony Star Tribune (Minneapolis)
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Meet the two Minneapolis entrepreneurs who are "cleaning up" with their company "Two Bettys." The women say they were helped in large part by an organization called "WomenVenture" and its "Scale Up" program for growing female-led businesses.
Star Tribune (Minneapolis)
More than a decade ago, Anna Tsantir, decided to bag a nonprofit-arts management job that was burning her out in favor of cleaning up.
Tsantir and a partner, inspired by a friend they knew at an art school in Memphis, Tenn., started cleaning a few houses.
She discovered a career that left room for her own art.
"I figured out, with all the hours that I was putting in, that my real nonprofit-business wage was about $8 or $9 per hour," Tsantir recalled. "I could pay myself almost triple that and work hard for three days and then have my time with my own. And I was a cleaner for years."
She now works a lot more than three days a week, and employs a lot of otherwise-starving artists as owner of Two Bettys Green Cleaning Co. of Minneapolis.
This week, Two Bettys will be honored as the Minnesota Women-Owned Small Business of the Year by the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) at the SBA's annual awards banquet.
Tsantir, 45, was nominated by a client who's a business professor, and WomenVenture, the nonprofit trainer that also helped her get Two Bettys eligible for critical commercial bank financing.
Today, Tsantir's company boasts about 1,400 clients and more than 110 cleaners, many of whom have dual careers in the arts world.
Revenue rose about 20 percent last year to around $2 million, according to documents submitted to the SBA.
And Tsantir gets special notice from supporters for raising minimum pay to $15 an hour two years ago, and switching the former independent contractor workforce to Two Bettys employees, eligible for Social Security and providing some benefits.
The 'Bettys' set their own schedules with their clients.
Tsantir took a financial hit to make the business more employee friendly in 2014 by making the cleaners benefits-eligible employees. She considered it the right thing to do for her largely female workforce.
Most cleaners make $19 or $20 an hour by the end of the first year. They also get paid for mileage.
Employee and client-retention rates increased, and the business has averaged more than 20 percent growth annually in recent years.
Tsantir, who is proud to say that the company pays out 70 percent of revenue to employees and more to supply them, increasingly shares financial information with the workers.
"We have upped our game," Tsantir said, who added most new business comes from client referrals, some who like the environmental and hardworking-artists approach to business.
That is, they like the employees and a cleaning company that uses nontoxic cleaning supplies. Two Bettys provides an "eco-friendly green cleaning service" that eschews petrochemical cleaners to customers in Minneapolis, St. Paul, Golden Valley, St. Louis Park and Edina.
The base rate is $39 an hour, and the average customer is a homeowner or small business who gets a two-to-three hour cleaning every couple weeks. "I used to work in restaurants," said Maggie Williams, 27, who also is a comedy writer and joined Two Bettys in 2013. "I liked the living wage and independence. I don't miss getting hassled by [bar-restaurant] customers and being so reliant on tips."
The two cramped apartments in south Minneapolis from which Tsantir ran the business for years have been replaced by a headquarters that Two Bettys leases in a renovated building on Minnehaha Avenue S. and a small building Two Bettys acquired nearby on E. Lake Street, and is renovating to be a supply-and-refill station and training center.
Carla Pavone, a faculty member at the University of Minnesota business school and a Two Bettys client, called Tsantir "a visionary employer and inspirational role model for our region's women entrepreneurs" in a letter of support to the SBA.
Two Bettys is a growing business rooted in the belief of Tsantir and her late business partner that customers would pay a premium to loyal cleaners, many of whom are interesting artists free to set their own schedules with clients.
But success was never a slam dunk.
In 2013, the former business partner, Sam Meyers, died. He was the business manager.
Tsantir, also married and a busy mother, had to figure out how to run the financial end of things. And even before Meyers became ill, the partners spent too much time trying to collect debts and pool savings so they could make payroll and buy next month's supplies, the bane of many growing small businesses.
Tsantir turned to WomenVenture and its weekslong, part-time "Scale Up" program for growing female-led businesses who learn from veteran accountants and business managers, often get some financial assistance, and references to banks when they get strong enough.
"The main thing I got out of Scale Up was learning from other women who shared their struggles," Tsantir said. "We all had struggled through the early years and we were focused on scaling and a five-year plan and maybe an exit strategy ... in 10 or 15 years."
Tsantir, who grew up in Northeast the daughter of small business-owner parents, also benefits now from an expanded line of credit from Associated Bank, which cushions the cash-lean weeks, and a mortgage on the 1,600-square-foot building on E. Lake Street from Sunrise Bank.
It helps that her husband, a musician, also is a tradesman who is working on the renovations.