Being Laid off Fuels Entrepreneurial Success for Missouri Couple’s Young Commercial Cleaning BusinessPorcshe Moran Murphy
After being laid off from their jobs in 2017, DaYonne and Jamaal Reed decided to go all in on entrepreneurship. The married couple are the founders of Revive Janitorial in St Louis, a commercial cleaning company with 40 employees and 16 clients. DaYonne, who previously worked as a procurement manager for a solar energy firm, serves as CEO. Jamaal, a former carpenter, is the COO.
“A company can lay you off in the blink of an eye, and you’re left wondering how to provide for your family,” DaYonne says. “We decided to work for ourselves and go hardcore with our business. We worked from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. every day doing research and trying to schedule meetings to get our foot in the door. Our first contract was for $12,000 a year. We used that to pay our one employee and invested the rest back into the business.”
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While the Reeds got Revive off the ground by cleaning churches, schools, restaurants and offices, they pursued their goal of specializing in post-construction cleaning. This entailed a yearlong process of becoming a union signatory, obtaining all the required insurance and getting certified as a Minority and Women-Owned Business Enterprise (MWBE), a Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) and an Airport Concessions Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (ACDBE).
“Having all of these certifications and being one of the few minority-owned businesses that are a signatory to the union has helped us stand out from our competition,” DaYonne says. “Of course, we’ve also proven we can do the work. We provide white-glove service, our cleaning technicians are experienced and they’ve all passed background checks. We customize our services based on our clients’ budgets, which allows us to retain them long-term.”
Securing funding for business growth
Revive’s first post-construction cleaning contract was with Anheuser-Busch. The six-month project was so big that DaYonne and Jamaal needed more funding to cover supplies and hire additional employees. They got a loan from the Justine Petersen Housing and Reinvestment Corporation, a Missouri not-for-profit corporation that offers safe and affordable capital to existing and start-up businesses. The Reeds paid the loan off as soon as they received compensation for the Anheuser-Busch contract.
“We were able to secure that loan because we had a guaranteed contract that showed the amount of money we were going to make,” DaYonne says. “Based on that and our personal credit, they were willing to loan us the money we needed to sustain and grow our business. When you are trying to get a loan, all your paperwork needs to be in order and you have to be able to prove you’re creditworthy as an individual and as a business.”
Next, Revive gained a cleaning contract with FedEx. DaYonne and Jamaal took out another small business loan, this time with their bank.
“We needed to cover six months of payroll,” DaYonne says. “Our bank was willing to give us the money based on our guaranteed contract with FedEx. They also saw we paid back the money from Justine Petersen, we’d paid off our credit card, we had several other contracts and we were paying all of our other bills and making payroll.”
DaYonne says they developed a strong relationship with their bank by having conversations with the loan officers, attending the bank’s financial education classes and consistently showing trustworthiness and confidence in their business.
“Take baby steps,” DaYonne says. “People want to jump out there and say, ‘Give me $200,000 or $500,000,’ without proving they can maintain that amount. Start by getting credit cards with low limits or small lines of credit. Once you’ve paid them back, you’ll be able to borrow higher amounts.”
Prioritizing continuing education and networking
In 2020, three years after starting Revive, DaYonne participated in Greater St. Louis, Inc.’s Diverse Business Accelerator, a three-month program aimed at helping ethnically, racially and gender-diverse business owners grow their enterprises.
“As entrepreneurs, we have to keep investing time into things that can make our business better. I’m always a student,” DaYonne says. “The Diverse Business Accelerator class was amazing. I learned how to market our company and give an effective elevator pitch. It taught me the importance of knowing the key components and numbers of our business off the top of my head. We had an attorney and an accountant speak with us about things like contracts, business plans, proposals and budgets.”
Lakesha Mathis, vice president of strategy (SupplySTL) at Greater St. Louis, says the Diverse Business Accelerator is uniquely focused on supporting small businesses that are beyond the startup phase and have the potential to headquarter in the region, create jobs and help solve local business challenges.
“We selected DaYonne because Revive Janitorial’s services align well with regional supply chain needs,” Lakesha says. “DaYonne was ready for the challenge and positioned her business to benefit from the Diverse Business Accelerator’s support.”
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DaYonne is also plugged into other entrepreneurship resources, such as Business Diversity Development, the certifying body for St. Louis’ MWBE, DBE and ACDBE programs, and the St. Louis Small Business Development Centers, which is part of a network of offices that offers free business consulting and at-cost training throughout Missouri. Additionally, she prioritizes networking with leaders in her industry as a member of the St. Louis Council of Construction Consumers and the Associated General Contractors of Missouri.
“Networking was the foundation of our growth,” DaYonne says. “I will never stop going to events and meeting people because you never know who will be in the room.”
Scaling at a manageable pace
Revive has grown exponentially over the past six years, adding more prestigious clients to their roster including Menards, St. Louis Lambert International Airport, CityPark soccer stadium, Murphy Company, ArchKey/Sachs and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency. DaYonne says it is critical for entrepreneurs to scale at a manageable pace to protect their mental, physical and financial health.
“Take it slow, and don’t get in over your head because it can quickly become overwhelming,” she says. “I’m the owner, the accountant, the marketing department, human resources and the janitor. My advice is to scale your business to your capacity and, when you’re financially able, hire dedicated people who are committed to your company’s mission so you can delegate.”
From getting laid off to owning and managing a prosperous business, DaYonne and Jaamal have leaned into commitment, perseverance and faith to propel their enterprise forward. Looking ahead, they hope to maintain their current contracts, acquire five to 10 more over the next five years and hire more employees.
“Running a small business is not always easy or fun, but I love it, especially when we look back at the journey and see what we’ve built,” DaYonne says. “A lot of the time, you look at other people’s success and all you’re seeing is the end result. You don’t see the process it took to get there. There have been many long nights and early mornings when we were operating on little to no sleep. A lot of people want to skip the process, but you have to go through it and put in the hard work to reap the rewards.”