Episode 156: Partnerships In Business: How To Bring Harmony At Work With Your Partner With Carlos And Marci Hernandez
Why do couples choose to go into business together? What could be the benefits of working together as a couple? In this episode, the power couple of Keepers Commercial Cleaning, Marci and Carlos Hernandez, shows the power of partnerships in business and marriage. They show how collaboration unlocks the path to growing their business and share the lessons they learned along the path. They provide insights into the separation of roles as husband and wife in business and marriage. Marci and Carlos provide so much wisdom in today’s conversation. So, tune in to this insightful episode today and learn to move forward in business with your husband or wife.
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Welcome to this episode of the show. We have a special show for you. I don’t normally have two guests at a time. I may have once or twice, but this might be the first time that we have a husband and wife, a business owner dynamic duo we’ll call them. They are Carlos and Marci Hernandez. Their business is called Keepers. They have a commercial cleaning business in the Phoenix, Arizona area. They’re expanding to other areas as well. They can get into that if they’d like.
I’m thrilled to have them as a guest. I’ve known them for years. I’ve seen them growing. I wanted to take some time to visit with them about two things. One, some of the typical things that we cover on this show are the seven-figure scaling journey and some of the lessons learned. Two, the dynamic that is having a husband and wife co-owner situation. A lot of you out there are married to your business partner or have family members who are in the business, and that adds another level of complexity. It’s a different thing. I want to talk about that.
Without further ado, Carlos and Marci, welcome to the show.
Thank you very much.
It’s great to be here.
I am excited to have you. Why don’t you guys do a better intro of Keepers than I did? Carlos, why don’t you start out? Tell us a little bit about Keepers, how you guys got started, and how long you’ve been doing this. We’ll then get into some of your lessons learned.
Keepers started in 2008. I was doing commercial insurance. The economy took a huge dive and I was mainly doing insurance for construction companies. That really wasn’t going well. Growing up, my father and mother cleaned offices at night. They would bring us as their kids to come to help them clean these commercial buildings. It was few. That always stuck with me and I knew I could do it. As time progressed, I knew there was a big necessity for people to clean facilities and keep facilities nice and clean. I would tell Marci, “How about this business or that business? How about the cleaning business?”
Cleaning is not a very luxurious type of industry and things like that, but finally, I convinced her. We were able to jump in. I was still doing some insurance and then trying to get some clients. In fact, some of those clients that were my insurance clients became clients that I would go clean at night. They could see that I wanted to get into that. That was a big help.
Eventually, I completely left the insurance. I would knock on doors many hours during the day and then come home and have dinner. I would then go out at night until 12:00, 1:00, or 2:00 in the morning, cleaning offices and things like that. That lasted maybe 2 or 3 years until finally, we had some income underneath our belt that we could start hiring buildings out and things like that. It’s like a runway. With the planes, it was little by little. That’s how it got started.
You made a transition from selling insurance to starting up a cleaning company where you were doing all of it. You were selling and delivering the service. Marci, what were some of your thoughts as he was beginning this business?
He’s crazy, first of all. I was more of an analytical numbers person. I looked at our current mortgage and looked at how much he thought we could make per account. I was like, “We could never even find enough customers to make our mortgage. How’s this going to work?” He had a way bigger belief than I did. He kept saying, “This can work.” We slowly gained those customers a little bit over time and grew from there.
At first, you were beating the bushes, finding a client here and a client there. Carlos, you were up at night taking care of the cleaning. Marci, at what point did you decide to jump in full-time to help in the business?
I was managing a dental office at the time. I knew that Carlos’ skills were sales and being in front of the customer. He was in fulfillment as well, but he needed some help with the invoicing, the accounting side of things, and the admin side. Early on, I started helping with proposals, sending out all the invoices, and receiving all the payments. Even from the very beginning, that was my role and how I got involved and got started. As we grew, our roles developed from there.
That’s the thing. Initially, my intention was not to have help with the business. It’s that she said, “I’ll send this. I’ll do this invoice. I’ll do this proposal,” and things like that. Luckily, she was able to do that. She’s still here doing many things here at the office.
What does that look like? In the beginning, Carlos, you were all things customer-facing and all the front end and she was back of the office. She was doing back-office functions. It still is, right?
Yes. I’m not a very office-type of person. I need to be out on the streets talking to people, pulling doors, and knocking. I’m still overseeing people who set appointments for me either through telemarketing, email, or many other ways. I’m always like, “What’s going on here? Why are we low here? Why is it a good thing here?” We’re always trying to move the needle. That’s what I like to do. Even if I’m here in the office, I’m pushing to see how we can attract more people for more opportunities so that I can go out there. We have other salespeople who help out. We can be out there face-to-face with people.
My role is leading the executive teams. The directors of marketing, finance, sales, and operations all report to me and we collaborate. That’s been a huge piece for me to be able to have people that I can help support us in each of those roles. As we’ve grown, having people who know each of those departments better than me has been really helpful.
It was the two of you several years ago. Can you believe how much time flies? When I met you a few years back, you probably had 8 or 10 core people, and then you had armies of cleaning companies that helped you do the fulfillment. How many people are working for your core team? How many people are out there cleaning businesses every night because you’ve built this business?
We have about a core of seventeen internal staff. We’re estimating that we service about 8 million square feet in over 800 different locations every month.
That’s amazing. Congratulations on the growth.
Let’s talk a little bit about some of the lessons that you’ve learned as you’ve grown. At first, you guys probably were inundated with all the task-level work to make things go. As you grew, you started to bring in some people. This time, it’s tasks and people leadership. At some point, I imagine you started to hit some breaking points, your own ability to hold it all together. Talk to us about that, and then we’ll get into some of the things you learned how to do in order to keep growing.
The biggest lesson we learned looking back is that we needed people sooner than we got them. We grew to a point where we should have hired people sooner than we did. At that point, we were overextended in either ourselves or the people around us were overextended in what they could do and the amount of workload that was.
One thing would be to somehow plan for that growth and for your team better than we did. We were always a little bit behind. That made it sometimes a little bit tough and stressful to get through those points where we could hire that next person and get them up and running before things felt a little bit smoother. Did you have something to say?
Yeah. I would agree with that, but also, for me, it’s being able to trust people that they can also do a great job at communicating with potential new clients, closing deals, and things like that. Sometimes, we think, “I need to be there. I need to close this deal. I need to be in all facets of contracting or closing and this. I need to oversee everything.” You can go crazy because the organization has grown significantly. It’s more like, “We have good people.”
We try our very best to hire A-plus type of people and trust that they’re going to treat the clients well. They’re going to do these walkthroughs well. They’re going to assign the right person to do this. We’re going to follow up will. We’re going to make sure that we have great communication with clients and that they’re getting what they believe they should be getting, which they’re entitled to, which is great cleaning. If there are complaints down the road, we’re going to trust that they’re going to be able to fix it. For me, a big part of it has been to trust people more. They have the skills. This is what they’re being hired to do. They can accomplish what we want them to do and what the client wants them to do.Trust people more that they have the skills to accomplish what we want them to do. Click To Tweet
Carlos, could you comment on how you got yourself to a place of believing that other people could? I hear that over and over from business owners, like, “I had to trust and I had to let go.” Sometimes, we’ll use phrases like relinquish control. It is like, “I had to believe that I could relinquish control.” Was there anything in particular that helped you believe that somebody else could do it?
You release or relieve yourself from certain tasks. You allow them to do it and then they report back to you. In the reporting back, I would realize they’re doing it better than perhaps I would do it. It’s not only for 1 or 2 people but allows them to do it. They’re going to make mistakes and things are going to happen, but let them learn from that mistake. Hopefully, they’ll be better the next time. That’s how we fine-tune this. We’re still learning. We’re still growing. They’re still growing pains. There are still people that we bring in. There are people who occasionally make mistakes. One of our things here is if you make a mistake, you live up to it. We learn from it.
I love that answer. It’s almost like taking baby steps towards fully relinquishing control. You tried it out. You said, “Let me try giving this to somebody.” It sounds like you were pleasantly surprised to find that one pretty well. You’re like, “I see that I can spend my time in other ways.” You started to get more comfortable with letting go. I wonder if there’s any shortcut on that or if you have to go through the process of slowly letting more go and realizing, “This isn’t so bad. We’re going to survive this.”
For so many years, I did almost a whole bunch of stuff. The whole sales thing and all that, it was me. Since I can see that people have the skills, I’m letting all the people that we have in my department or my lane do what they need to do and I oversee the results. That’s been years of me relinquishing that and relieving myself from this. I wish I had done this many years ago.
I want to use that as a transition to go back to something that Marci said. She said something similar, “I wish we would’ve done this sooner.” It was on a different note. That note was something about, “I wish I would’ve hired people sooner than we did and brought more help in sooner than we did.” Not just from the relinquishing control standpoint but maybe from the standpoint of, “Can we afford to bring somebody in?”
Sometimes, we as business owners go longer on that path than we need to because we’re like, “I don’t know if I can afford to bring somebody in.” We hang on and try to keep doing it ourselves. We limit what we can collectively produce because there’s only so much of us to go around. Marci, what would you tell your younger self about the timing of bringing somebody in rather than waiting as long as most of us do?
I would say, “Find a good financial person. You don’t have to hire a full-time person, even a fractional person, to be able to look at your P&L and your numbers. They should be able to tell you, “You can afford this person at this amount because you’re tracking this or you’re at this rate. They can tell you.” As entrepreneurs, you do a lot of things with your gut. That’s one thing you don’t want to get wrong.
You don’t want to hire someone and not be able to pay them or not be able to pay yourselves or, all of a sudden, put your business in financial disarray because you made a wrong financial decision. That’s one you don’t want to get wrong. It’s also one that you don’t want to wait too long for because if you do, it can put a lot of strain on a lot of people. Find the help you need to be able to make that financial decision and piece down that you can confidently make that decision and move forward knowing that you have the financial whereabouts to do so.Find the help you need to make that financial decision and piece down to confidently make that decision and move forward knowing that you have enough financial whereabouts to do. Click To Tweet
You guys have done the balancing act really well, whether it was figuring out when it was time to relinquish control or figuring out when you could afford to bring some more help in. I’m not saying you did it without any mistakes or you couldn’t be further along if you had moved faster. I’m saying I’ve seen the growth. I’ve seen the progress in both of you. It’s a journey, and you guys are doing it well.
I’d love to shift quickly to talk about the dynamic of being owners of a business together, husband and wife, and what some of the inherent challenges are. Most of the people who are reading who have that situation already know what the inherent challenges are, so we’ll touch on that briefly. I’d like to get to anything that’s been helpful for you as you’ve navigated owning and running a business together.
A positive to start is I love being able to build this with my partner because I know exactly the highs and the lows. We have different roles, and we do different things, but we can always gauge what’s going on in the business. I love that every work trip is a couple’s trip that we get to do together. It can be something that really is an additional bond as a couple to bring us closer.
One of the challenges could be that it never stops. You’re together at work or working together and then you go home and you’re together. Our poor kids probably are so tired of dinner conversations drifting into business pretty much on the daily. That is one thing that we’ve tried to say, “When we’re walking in the door or we’re at home with the family or the kids, we’re not going to talk about work.” It’s not always perfect, but it’s something that we’ve tried to break intentionally. When we finally moved out of our home office, it was one good thing that we could physically remove ourselves from the stuff, the paperwork, and the things and feel like we were at home and not working in our home.
I bet that made a huge difference, that space separation. It is still a mental thing that you have to do when you walk through that door to say, “Now, I’m a family member. I’m a parent. I’m not the co-owner. We’re not talking about work.” That’s cool that you’ve set up some boundaries. I got her take on that. Carlos, what would you add about either the challenges of working with your spouse or things that you guys have done intentionally to help make it work?
In the beginning, as with any business, it was very hard. For me, because you want to grow so rapidly and you’re not very patient, sometimes, issues from work can transfer into how you treat your loved ones at home. I learned the hard way that I can’t go home, bring that stress on my shoulders, and not talk to my children. They don’t want to hug you. They don’t want to give you a kiss and stuff like that. You see that in the body language. This was years ago.
At one point, “I’m not going to bring that anymore. I’m not going to bring that garbage into the household. Whether we gained an account or whatever, we celebrate the successes. If we lost an account because of this or that, I’m not going to bring that tension.” Once I stepped into my home, we had a family dinner. We’re with the kids and stuff. It’s all about school. My girls like dancing. My boys like wrestling and I’m into that. I’m talking about this.
One of the things that I’ve learned over the years is don’t bring the baggage of work into your home because they already have a bunch of stuff. You want it to be a nice, loving environment. You don’t want to cause any tension. I really try and do my very best to make sure that we split it the moment. I go into the house, all of this is over here. It’s family time.
You got a really strong muscle in compartmentalizing between work and home. You guys have each other to help make sure that you’re both doing that. Carlos, you talked about the dynamic with kids, which I can relate to. If I bring something heavy from work into my home environment with kids, that’s not fun for people. It’s a different relationship with your spouse and your kids. Let’s talk about that for a minute.
Let’s talk specifically about the occasion. Let’s say that occasionally, you guys might have a different point of view about how to do something at work. I imagine you do. How do you guys handle that in your work relationship so that it stays in your work relationship and doesn’t spill over into your personal relationship? How do those boundaries work?
We’ve learned through a lot of experiences. Before, we would get into these arguments. They’re not massive arguments, but differences.
Let’s call them disagreements.
They’re disagreements like, “We should do this. Let’s not hire this person,” or stuff like that. We would have those disagreements. Over the years, we’ve realized we know what lanes we’re in. We try and stay within our lane. I know, “If this is not turning into a very nice situation or a nice conversation, then we stop it there.” We’ll say, “We’ll pick that up at work and maybe involve some other decision-makers as well.”
We’ve learned through experience that we don’t want to bring that tension either here or at home. We try and keep the peace and discuss it. We’re looking for new software and stuff like that. I know that I have my opinions and she has her opinions about what software to use. I know that’s her lane and she’ll make a decision with some other people about what software to use. I shouldn’t be too much into that conversation because I don’t know anything about that.Keep the peace and discuss things. Click To Tweet
I’m going to draw out a couple of things that you said and then we’ll check in with Marci on this before we wrap up. I heard you talk about lanes, meaning you guys are very clear on the unique and separate roles that you have in the business.
It hasn’t always been that way, but we fine-tuned that. We’re still fine-tuning it, but it’s better than before.
We’re not claiming perfection here, but it’s an important point for people to hear. I know some business owners are like, “We run this together, two in a box.” It’s extremely difficult in that situation to finally get to decisions in some cases. It’s a best practice for you to have separate roles clearly defined. In your case, you go out and drum up new business. Marci deals with the operations and the back office stuff. You’re all in acquisition. She does other things. When you say lanes, that means we have clear roles and responsibilities. We can give valuable input to the other person on their domain. If there is a disagreement, at some point, the person whose primary responsibility is that has the decision-making.
The other thing that you said that is super valuable is that there are other very competent players on the team. You have others in the leadership team. It’s not just the two of you trying to figure it out alone, but you get valuable perspectives from other people on your leadership team. Between staying in your lanes, roles, and responsibilities, and other people who can weigh in on those differences and those conversations, that helps you to move forward. Did I miss anything there, Carlos?
No. You said it right there.
That’s perfect. I’d love to hear Marci’s take on that and then if there’s anything else you guys want to share before we wrap up.
Carlos covered it well. The separation of roles has been really important and key for us as well as having that person own the decision. If the decision is over something that is my department or something that I’m over, then he can have an opinion, but I have the final say. It’s likewise for him. He has the final say, even though I may disagree. We have involved our team.
One thing I would add that I learned over the years is that as husband and wife, sometimes, you get comfortable and you know each other really well. Sometimes, you may slip into behaviors that are more husband and wife-ish. Sometimes, I would forget that we were in an office setting. One time, I remember we were in a meeting. Carlos said something I disagreed with and I rolled my eyes. I caught myself and was like, “If he was not my spouse and was my business partner, that would be disrespectful. I need to watch and make sure that I’m not slipping into something that maybe I might do at home. Talking to each other at home might be different than if we’re in an executive team meeting together.”
Even when we disagree, we don’t get into those things of eye-rolling or things like that. Having the utmost respect for each other even when we disagree has helped us maintain that so that it doesn’t spill over into things at home or we’re upset later on, or whatever that might be. That’s been helpful. Also, it is knowing that in the end, we both want the same thing. We’re both going towards the same goal. We might have differences of opinions of how we think we’re going to get there, but knowing in the end we both want the same thing helps to think, “It’s alright. He thinks differently than I do, but we’re all still trying to get to the same place.”
I love that. When I think about what we talked about, I hear some great lessons about separation physically, ideally, but then, if not physically, mental separation between work and family life. We’re shutting the door on work and entering family life. I heard very important conversations about respect for one another that you talked about, Marci.
You guys talked about being in your lane and understanding role clarities. When there are differences, this is Carlos’ domain and this is Marci’s domain. We do want and respect the other person’s perspective, but when we’re getting at an impasse, whoever has that responsibility as part of their job in the business is the one that’s going to be moving forward.
Also, we’re going to take advantage of the fact that there are some very capable people around us to help us when we do have some differences. They can give great perspective. It’s not like a tiebreaker kind of thing, but helps us make decisions that would be best for the business. All of that was super helpful. Thank you for sharing your story. Is there anything else when you think back to, “It would’ve been nice for us to have done this differently,” that might be helpful to somebody reading?
The biggest thing that I’ve learned from Carlos is a huge belief in being able to achieve goals that I thought were never possible earlier. If one of the team members thinks it’s possible to get there, believe them and then figure out how to make it happen. I never thought that we’d be able to be at the number we’re at. It’s only because of Carlos’ belief that we’ve been able to achieve these things.
That’s quite a compliment. It’s not because he is sitting there. I know you would talk about it that way if he weren’t. Carlos, your belief about what is possible is something I’ve admired as I’ve gotten to know you. Is there anything that you want to share as we’re parting about that would help other husband and wife business owners figure out the best ways to work together and move forward?
We could spend a really long time here talking about so many things that we’ve learned. If there are a few things I can say, and this is for entrepreneurs and people who are trying to achieve things, my hats are to each one of you because it’s not easy. It’s a lot easier to go get an 8:00 to 5:00 job, make this much, and stuff like that. I share in your belief that you can achieve what you looking for.
I’ve always thought we dream massively. We set massive goals. One of these speakers said once, “If we don’t plant in the spring, we’re not going to harvest in the fall.” In other words, I know here and we know here, that we constantly have to be moving the needle. It’s all about obtaining new customers or the new lifeblood and then taking care of it. It’s about planting the seed, harvesting, and making things happen. I’m a true believer in that.
The number one thing is your relationship with your spouse and your children. It’s not really worth it business-wise if you’re going to grow here and destroy this over here. This is way more important than business in my point of view. We’re very faithful people. We believe in God and Jesus Christ. We know they’re there to help us. If we do our part, they’ll help us and hopefully, we’ll continue to progress.
It’s not easy. Every day is like a boxing match. You have to keep your hands up and keep on working at it. We’re a true believer in that. Keep on moving. If we keep on taking action, we’ll have a reaction. If we don’t have action, there’s no reaction. Constantly moving is how you win games. If you look at sports and stuff, the team that wins most of the time is when you have momentum. You have momentum. You’re inching forward. You’re passing this. It’s not about the threes. It’s that you have to go away and shoot. In baseball, it’s about the hits. It’s not always about the home runs. It’s about hits and then you make it. I’m a true believer. Keep on moving. When you’re tired, keep on moving, and then things will happen.
Lots of belief, lots of movement, and lots of action. That’s a pretty good recipe. Put your family first and your faith. It seems like that’s important to you. We love having you on the show. Thank you both. For all of you reading, I hope that you will share, like, and do all the things to make this episode more available to the other seven-figure business owners out there. There are lots of success stories out there when you come across couples like Carlos and Marci who are doing this together. It’s inspiring. They would be the first to say if they can do it, so can you. This is not rocket science, but it is something you can learn and do. Thank you, Carlos and Marci, for being with us.
Thank you for all your help all these years. You’ve been a great part of what’s happening here. It’s always great to be able to have you as a friend and to give us advice and counseling. You’ve been there. You’ve done that, and you’ve been a tremendous help, as well as your brother and everybody in your organization. Thank you.
We love Elite.
Thank you both. Keep tuning in to the show. We’re going to keep bringing more business owners here to share their stories. Keep growing. Don’t give up. Keep moving. Bye for now.
About Marci Hernandez
In 2008, during the economic downturn, Marci Hernandez’s husband, Carlos, faced a challenge as his clientele in the insurance industry, predominantly comprised of construction companies, dwindled due to the recession. This posed a financial strain on their young family. Despite initial uncertainties, Carlos proposed the idea of venturing into the cleaning business, citing its minimal entry costs essentially a mop and a vacuum.
Embracing this opportunity, Carlos tirelessly engaged in door-to-door client acquisition during the day, personally handling the cleaning responsibilities at night with the handful of clients they initially secured. Simultaneously, Marci took charge of administrative tasks, including proposals, marketing, and bookkeeping. Despite juggling these responsibilities, she continued to work part-time for another company while caring for their three children.
Over time, Marci and Carlos honed their operations by developing improved systems and processes. Their dedication bore fruit as they steadily expanded their clientele and team. Presently, their cleaning business caters to numerous businesses across Arizona, earning them recognition. In 2022, they achieved the notable ranking of #7 in the Phoenix Business Journal’s list of Top Janitorial Firms. This success reflects their commitment to excellence and continuous improvement.
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