WEST PALM BEACH — Alicia Colon is among millions of Americans who lost their jobs in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic as employers closed workplaces or reduced staff.
Now she owns a cleaning business that specializes 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. Events she reportedly planned for Ford dealerships in South Florida were cancelled.
Luckily for Colon, she had already thought about starting a cleaning business after reading a Facebook post from a woman who had quit a corporate job and opened a cleaning business.
The West Palm Beach company now employs 10 people and has 115 customers
This inspired Colon to found West Palm Beach-based Sage Cleaning. Colon now has 10 employees and 115 clients, including 50 vacation rental properties that his team manages.
“I was going to start 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 housekeepers. We did training and orientation. They had just announced that cleaning companies were essential. It was our green light.
She researched cleaning methods, contacted other cleaning business owners, and promoted her business on social media.
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“Even though cleaning was essential, people were scared. Often there were no customers. I didn’t 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 has spent about $10,000 on start-up costs and estimates she’s invested over $20,000 so far. Last year, Sage Cleaning won a $10,000 grant to minority businesses from the Palm Beach County Urban League
“Towards the end of 2020, things started to change. 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 his main challenge at the company was hiring quality employees.
“Finding good staff is the hardest part. The labor shortage – just like everyone is experiencing,” Colon said.
But the work is worth it, she says, even if some might treat it with disdain.
“This industry can be tainted with stereotypes. A cleaning specialist is a professional. You are not using. You are the wrong one. Walk with pride in the work you do because the work you do matters,” Colon said.