Jonathan Hafichuk: Welcome Boris, thank you for being apart of the series, I’m really excited to dive into some stuff. I think this will be a little bit more of a relaxed episode since we’ve kind of chatted lots in the past and this one will be a little less structured.So Boris is the owner of a local cleaning company called Westmaids, you have some other projects on the go, you have a background in driving school and you’re originally from Bosnia and Croatia and a bunch of random places.
Boris Vujanovic: Essentially, yeah.
Jonathan Hafichuk: So tell us a little bit about what Westmaids does ,to start
Boris Vujanovic: So yeah I mean pretty straightforward Westmaids is a cleaning company, that’s the name that was kind of part of the brand as to just to be very clear in what we do,just because we were starting out. And the whole idea was to try and modernize this industry that is basically the customer service industry but that hasn’t really changed in essentially ever and we basically just built it so that it was easy for the clients to work with us,so instead of having to call us for a price, or get a walk through, in some cases for a price, they can just go right online, put in their house details, and as long as they’re being truthful about the size and state of their house they’ll get basically a 100% accurate quote in most cases so that’s kind of the idea behind Westmaids.
Jonathan Hafichuk: I want to really dive into the coming to Canada immigrant refugee family thing, so where did your life start?
Boris Vujanovic: So started in Bosnia in one of the major Northern towns called Banja Luka and long story short I was born in 1990 right around when the war of Yugoslavia kind of broke out and so by 92 we were in Croatia in the capital of Zagreb and basically it’s really complicated as you probably know what the whole Serbian Croatian aspects so my family is pretty mixed and so we couldn’t just leave as easy as we had thought we could so we actually had to go to Serbia’s capital Belgrade, went down to Macedonia and my dad’s friends, and then basically my uncle’s smuggled us into Croatia from Hungary ,according to him he smuggled us in, I don’t know how true that is, but eventually we settled in the capital of Zagreb and we stayed there from 1996 until got official refugee status in Canada, ya we came here June 1996 and i’ve been here since then. I’m happy to be here.
Jonathan Hafichuk: You still go back to Europe fairly often?
Boris Vujanovic: I do now, now that im older and I can actually pay for my own trips. That was kind of a struggle when we first arrived obviously being you know not only immigrants but refugees, we had essentially nothing, everything we had was what the government gave us just to have some sort of semblance of being established.So they basically put us up in an apartment, give us very basic furniture, and so for the first 12 years we didn’t go back at all.So it was quite hard for my family to see the rest of our family for over a decade and so now that I can actually do that on my own,I make sure to go back at least once a year, especially with grandparents and being older you know stuff like that.
Jonathan Hafichuk: Great, and you come from a bit of an entrepreneurial family, your dad started driving school, how did that get started?
Boris Vujanovic: Ya so driving school just kind of happened in your standard you know business story he worked for a very large company in Alberta,that probably everyone knows and he just got tired of you know putting in all this effort for the clients and trying to really make an impact in these people’s lives and you know management not really caring as much as he did so eventually he just got tired of it and I started to come up with an idea for a school and he eventually just made that jump and it’s been over 12 years now they’ve been doing that.
Jonathan Hafichuk: How far into it did you start getting involved in the driving school?
Boris Vujanovic: Yeah super late actually, probably after it was like 9 or 10 years old, is when I got involved and it’s kind of funny because I was growing up in high school, my dad was always like I want you to get your license and become and instructor and I was always like no I don’t want to be an instructor,I don’t want to teach people how to drive,so it’s kind of funny that I came back to it as an adult.
Jonathan Hafichuk: So when you came back to the driving school as an adult, what brought you back into it? What got you involved?
Boris Vujanovic: Alberta’s Economy at the time, I was in school for biology and all the work I did as a student was in environmental science and once the economy kind of slowed down a little bit, my summer job disappeared, there were no jobs at all that year, my dad said, well why don’t you help me out for the summer before my last year and so im doing something. And so I said sure why not. So I jumped into the business since it’s kind of where I got my start with that.
Jonathan Hafichuk: And how did you transition from that to starting Westmaids , did you do anything between those two?
Boris Vujanovic: No so it was a direct transition and basically how that came about is that my dad is an amazing, amazing teacher like just actually working with people directly super charismatic what he’s not so good at is the business aspect so I figured out how about I try to learn how to do business and help him out so I just got a reading and I came across a Facebook group where it was basically a whole bunch of cleaning company owners so I figured, I can learn from these guys,they run a similar service focussed business and I just got reading and basically through reading all of these guys operations and their business , how they ran things, I basically got the layout on how to start a cleaning company.And then one day we just decided that you know nowadays it’s so easy to get a website up and running and you can do so much with social media and Google, that the start up cost is pretty minimal so we just said, you know I’m not really missing out on a job right now because the economy still wasn’t doing well so we just went for it.
Jonathan Hafichuk: Seems like it’s been quite successful. A part of the reason that I’m excited to do this interview is because you built your business primarily almost exclusively on digital marketing which is really cool so being apart of that group on Facebook was a big thing for a lot of those other companies that the SEO are for people who don’t know search engine optimization so where you show up on Google, was that a big factor in a lot of those cleaning companies success?
Boris Vujanovic: Yes,that was more of a Step 2, Step 1 and kind of getting a foothold is more so focussing on Yelp and just Google my business as they call it. Google my business is as we search for example; Calgary cleaning company, you get the little map, and itll show you a couple businesses, that specific part of Google.
Jonathan Hafichuk: So your place is listing.?
Boris Vujanovic: Yeah and the important thing for when you’re starting out, is that even if you don’t have the authority to rank over more established sites if you’re closer to the Searcher by proximity Google will actually show your company to them anyways so that was a good way to get the initial customers, but I mean eventually everybody kind of just goes to the SEO because the reach is so much bigger so It’s absolutely key but it’s kind of step 2 in that digital process.
Jonathan Hafichuk: So when you’re starting out then, I know in the Google Places listing ratings, reviews play a really big factor in that so did you do something to try and get as many reviews as you could ?
Boris Vujanovic: Yeah so in the beginning,we basically did contests for free cleans and we hoped that the cleans would go well enough then there would be incentives to leave us a review, so that was kind of an easy way to generate some of the traffic starting out but part of the actual booking system is there’s an automated follow up function,So not only do we check in with every single person after each clean just saying hey how was it? How did it go? Any comments good bad whatever if they’re happy they’ll get a second email saying hey do you mind taking a minute to leave us a Google review with a link to the actual place they can do that, And so that helps as well.
Jonathan Hafichuk: Did you learn SEO for yourself? Did you develop your own strategies for that?
Boris Vujanovic: I would say ya, learning sounds a lot more organized than what it actually was, a lot of stumbling through different ideas about SEO, and different things people have tried because Google is always changing [Inaudible] and the local SEO totally varies from more national or International SEO so you can do different things that impact the local and we basically just started reading about it there was a lot of information out there, started looking at what other companies were doing and basically just kind of plucked away until we started seeing results, so essentially ya.
Jonathan Hafichuk: How long ago did you start doing SEO?
Boris Vujanovic: We started right away because we knew the impact it has in general.Because obviously growing up, this generation that anything you need you can go to Google and search it, you just find the thing on the first page,so we knew the importance so we got on that right away. But it took about 7 to 8 months to get on the first page of Google so it’s a long term thing you do Its part of the reason we started so early as well just to get the ball rolling on the SEO.
Jonathan Hafichuk: Well it’s cool, you have a lot of these older business that don’t really realize the potential there, the value there. I know for me when I started out doing video production in Lethbridge, it’s one of the first things I did was try and get ranked on Google and that happened really quickly in Lethbridge and then coming to Calgary, worked on that again. I think I hired like three different SEO companies and none of them really provided the results or the reporting that I wanted and I spent a bunch of time just learning myself like you did for a little while we were ranked number 2 for video productions in Calgary which was really cool, then I got really competitive and a bunch of the bigger companies started targeting the SEO and getting back links and now I think we flow between page 1 and page 2 but I think it accounted for about 40% of my business I think , which has been cool and kind of once I got frustrated with hiring SEO that weren’t performing I hired a guy in Lethbridge, he has a PHD in neuroscience so like really smart ,works for the university there and he just really dived in, learned the really finer parts of SEO like where to get back link, and what kind of citations you need and that kind of stuff and the onsite stuff and [Inaudible] and all that, and then we start offering it to our clients and actually one of our clients we managed to rank number four in the US which is really really cool.
Boris Vujanovic: And that’s how SEO goes right, just pluck away at it and then one day you wake up to that email where its like hey you’re on page one and you’re like wow ok, is it true? But yeah you are absolutely right, it’s a process and part of the reason I wanted to learn as well is some of these guys charge one to two thousand dollars starting a month and it’s kind of a scammy industry because it’s so technical if you don’t know what you’re looking at people can promise you anything and you have no idea whether or not it’s realistic or even true. Some of these guys will tell you ‘re going to be first place on Google, and then they just buy Google AdWords right? So it’s definitely kind of a tricky industry that’s definitely part of the reason why I wanted to et educated right, because it’s still developing I would say, it’s always a work in progress.
Jonathan Hafichuk: There’s a lot of companies I’m really surprised they don’t do any sort of reporting like you don’t get anything back, you have no idea what they’re doing, they’re just like oh yeah it’s going good, and you’re like I’m not seeing any changes,you’re not giving me any reports . I think companies should always have a report showing you what they’re doing and how you’re progressing and stuff like that for that that level of accountability because there are so many bad SEO companies that will take advantage of you for nothing. It’s a scary industry.
Boris Vujanovic: It is, and I think a lot of them that’s their plan, It might get a handful of clients, each pay $1,000 you might make 5 or 6 thousand dollars a month doing nothing, you might lose a client or two eventually, you just find another couple and just keep doing it so yeah reporting is key but its that education right because if you don’t know what you’re looking for, even if you need to get reports, it’s easy to be taken advantage of. So its a bit of a shady industry but it’s so keen in growing your business locally especially.
Jonathan Hafichuk: What percentage of your business comes would you say comes from search and Google and Yelp and stuff?
Boris Vujanovic: So Google search alone I’d say probably over 90%, 90% for sure. And then the rest is probably just Yelp, that Google my business listing, technically is different than the organic listing, other than that it’s so hard nowadays with Facebook because they keep reducing the amount of user you get from your subscribers unless you pay for ads, So yeah it’s kind of the three big ones, so 90% regular Google search and 10% Yelp as well as that Google my business marker.
Jonathan Hafichuk: What were some early struggles you had in your business ? What were some things that were difficult to overcome?
Boris Vujanovic: So not super difficult to overcome but pricing we were not sure about in the beginning. Obviously didn’t come from you know working at a cleaning company or cleaning as an employer being paid for in general so we just kind of looked up pricing around us and we said ok that looks good, toss it up there, but as we had some bookings we would kind of compare the pricing and the money we made,to the time spent we realized it was a little bit off for certain houses so we just refined it and said you know, this house took for example 5 hours they want to maintain this kind of earning per hour so we just adjusted that pricing, so that was pretty easy, the hardest part and even still now, is not so much getting clients, but finding the right cleaners.
And I think that’s pretty standard in any industry finding those top performers consistently, and we basically just had to learn what to look for in people, how to screen for the right characteristics, and making sure we were taking our time in hiring because the biggest issues we had were with cleaners that were not performing because they would either not do a good job or do something incorrectly,and I’d have to deal with the clients being mad or upset or sad in some cases depending the context, And then some cases you lose money right because you need to refund it, or whatever the case may be so that was kind of a struggle to figure out, took a few months to really nail it down and it’s an ongoing struggle because you may meet someone ,you run into their process, they look good but you don’t actually know until they work with you for a while.
Jonathan Hafichuk: So what do you do to it to make the clients happy when they’ve had a bad experience ?
Boris Vujanovic: Yes so first of all we just listen to them I think most unhappy customers just want to be heard right, they want to know that you actually care as someone who is taking their money, so it’s always step number one to hear them out, like what’s going on? how are you feeling? what happened? and then we just work with them to resolve it and often it’s just something like you know they expected a little more detail for example the kitchen so we will just send somebody back and that’s our guarantee is that if you’re unhappy we will come back and make it right. And in most cases that’s all they want, they are pretty reasonable people in general,in some cases where we can’t go back, we’ll refund the percentage for whatever was missed. But that covers most people. Its minor stuff because we have pretty high standards for the people we work with so that’s kind of the process now that we have in place.
Jonathan Hafichuk: We’ve chatted in the past and you in a very short amount of time like a business hasn’t been around that long and It’s really the grand aspect of things, you managed to not be the main pillar of that “work in the business.” You pretty much just work on the business and you don’t really have to put in a ton of hours either, you kind of built an income support stream there without a lot of work. How do you go about kind of not being the the main person working in the business?
Boris Vujanovic: Yeah so that’s a good question because that’s kind of the key why people start businesses and they get stuck in actually operating the business and it’s very hard to make that jump so I guess I was kind of lucky in the fact that, so with the driving school I wasn’t actually getting paid, because when I tell people it’s my dads company they’re like “Oh ya your dad gave you a company” but no it’s actually quite small, and still is quite small, so there wasn’t any money to pay me,so the money I started earning from Westmaids myself, was basically like ground zero right, so I wasn’t used to having this income and essentially what we did as soon as we could, we had someone else who was being paid to handle the operations. So it wasn’t like I could trade you know, a bunch of money I was earning to not pay somebody else because I never had that money in the first place. And I think that’s a struggle for the people that try to make that jump, because to lose a full time wage in order for someone else to operate it right I was lucky in the fact that I had no money because I had no money to lose.
But basically what happened is we had a cleaner that was working for us and at home, not on the job, she fell and broke her ankle. And she was like guys i’m out for like 4 months so we were like well ok i don’t know what else to tell you, you can’t work, she had a cast for most of the time, she had those little scooter that they sometimes have when you have a broken leg, so she couldn’t clean.So my partner and I sat down and said why don’t we ease her into operating the company, she has 2 kids, really young, and with that she could stay at home with them, we didn’t have an office she had to go to, she just had to answer calls and answer emails as they come in. And basically we just started her off with very few hours per week just to kind of ease her into it,the same kind of deal for her that she couldn’t work full-time anymore so any money we were paying her to operate the company was more than she could make anyway right? so she was like ok i’ll start at whatever you got. And then as the company grew, her hours also increased and then just at a point where she’s doing full-time operations now. It was a bad situation that happened at a good time I guess and now it’s a great situation for everybody.
Jonathan Hafichuk: Thats awesome, Now that the company for the most part except for maybe the last month has been running really smoothly .What’s next for you? are you going to try and expand this company or? You always have an entrepreneurial ideas ,you want to do stuff , what are you thinking about currently?
Boris Vujanovic: Well I think the main goal is to expand Westmaids itself, it’s much easier to expand when you have something that’s already operating rather than starting something else so we’re looking at possibly expanding to a different city lets say Edmonton per example, or adding a complimentary service, for example window cleaning because we have an existing base that already uses that service so we can just email everybody and say hey we have a new service, sign up and use it. And most of them will probably say, yeah sure if its something they’re paying for anyway, right?
So we’re trying to figure out what kind of best course of action, because anything we decide to do is going to be have to be the focus. So we decide to expand Edmonton we can’t you know half way through the month drop that and say oh actually we want to look at doing windows instead. So we just have to decide what were actually going to commit to and just run with that.As far as other businesses, I always have something on the back burner I’ve thought about running like a tour company in Croatia. Everybody wants to go to Croatia nowadays right ever since Game of Thrones kind of made it the highlight it’s been super super touristy and I think being from there, I can speak a language, I have family connections, I have friend connections over there, why don’t you give that a shot but that’s a little more high-stakes because not only is it not a local service business which is kind of my area of expertise, it’s across the globe right.
So how do I run a business that’s 8 hours away in time zone difference, so it’s a little more complicated in terms of operation but well see.
Jonathan Hafichuk: Do you think being an immigrant ,or being from an immigrant family has an effect on your work ethic?
Boris Vujanovic: I would say yes and no, Long-term yes, but since I basically grew up Canadian essentially, I came here when I was very young, I didn’t really see the struggle my parents went through until I was older, so I didn’t really appreciate what they went through and how much effort they put through it, so for a lot of my time as a kid I was actually pretty lazy. I was okay in school but anytime it was like a harder assignment for a class I would kind of coast by and be like whatever, so it actually took a while to build up that work ethic, and it’s only in the last few years where I really see how much my parents went through and how much they suffered to get to where they are and the work that’s gone into it, where it’s really kind of clicked, and then like you know all the suffering they’ve gone through can’t be for vain right if I just do nothing with my life that’s an insult to them because they lost everything when we moved here to start a new life,especially that it was to give me that opportunity, they did it all for me and for me to not take advantage of that would be quite shameful.
Jonathan Hafichuk: What did your parents have to go through? What did they have to build when they came here? What did they build?
Boris Vujanovic: Yeah I mean so we basically came with nothing, the government gave us, paid for a year of rent so back in the day that was like five hundred bucks in downtown Calgary a month,and they gave us a starting living room set to set us up,and so I remember as a kid every single weekend we would go to different garage sales looking for free or really cheap stuff to add to our house, and I didnt get it, I got annoyed, I was like why are we going around places every single weekend, I just want to play with friends or play video games,but that was them trying to establish foundation for just trying to integrate, right? You need a functional home to do anything,but other than that,they had to basically redo canadian highschool,I’m not sure how it works but their credentials aren’t exactly accepted over here,so they basically had to do grade 12 and write a diploma and pass it, so they had to redo that, my mom knew english,my dad didn’t so he learned english in the meantime, he was also working as a snow removal guy,so he was getting up at 3, 4 in the morning, you know first canadian winter, having to go clean snow, and for them overall it was super uncomfortable and super tiring,and it took a long time for them to actually become established. And that’s kind of what I look at right? You just have to grind it out regardless of what you’re doing you just can’t stop you gotta move on right?
Jonathan Hafichuk: It’s cool that you have that appreciation for their hard work and I’m sure they appreciate that.
Boris Vujanovic: I mean I Hope so, they say they’re proud and they were right but it took awhile for it to really click just because I didn’t get it as a kid right,
Jonathan Hafichuk:Yeah I dont think most kids do.
Boris Vujanovic: Yeah I don’t think so.
Jonathan Hafichuk: So what advice do you have for people who are ready to start a business? What are the first steps? What does that look like? What does the foundation look like?
Boris Vujanovic: So step number 1 is start working through the idea. I’ve had so many great ideas that were not great ideas I quickly found out, and now that’s because I was like oh wow, like this would be so awesome but then I start looking into the market or how it operates, what I would have to do to set it up and then quickly realize that I just didn’t have the skills or the physical idea to do it so that’s step number 1, because a lot of people are like that’s a great idea but then that’s it, so start there. I guess part of that is to pick an industry that already has competition. Because a lot of people see competition as a negative but competition tells you there’s a market, so if you think of any idea and you’re like “Wow no one is doing this” and you think it’s super innovative well It could be that there just isn’t the market to support it. Especially if it’s your first business,I think that’s an it risky, because you may not have the experience to actually realize that so pick something that has competition,That’s what someone told me, “why are you doing cleaning? Everyone does cleaning.” and I said “Yeah, I know right.”, like that’s the point. And nowadays it’s so important to have a good brand we spent so like I don’t know many hours coming up with the name Westmaids, so basically we had to have a name that had what we do in the title because we didn’t want people thinking what does this company do? As soon as you hear Westmaids, you probably assume we do cleaning. That’s half the battle right is brand recognition and then you don’t have to necessarily get a logo but if you do, don’t cheap out on it because that’ll look a lot worse than not even having a logo. One of the best advice I heard is that when you’re first starting out just find a really nice font and just write your name out and decide that is your logo because that will look way better than if you pay someone or five or five bucks or twenty-five bucks to get a rush for a week to do a template that looks like garbage. Yeah so I see this all the time in the cleaning group I’m apart of on Facebook, people will be like “Oh, how does this look” and it’ll just be like ClipArt and I’m like I hope you didn’t pay for this, like it looks like garbage. It doesnt do anything for your brand and it doesn’t say anything about your company.
Jonathan Hafichuk: We were going to do a logo for a dentist,it’s not like dentists don’t have money, this was a well-established successful dentist, and he was like no I don’t want to pay hundreds of dollars, it was less than a thousand dollars we quoted him, I don’t want to pay hundreds of dollars, I can get it for 100$ at Costco. Like Costco does logos? It didn’t end well.
Boris Vujanovic: And that’s the right thing, people especially when are just starting out, 2 or 3 hundred dollars could be alot but you have to have that foundation.
Jonathan Hafichuk:Yeah but your brand is really the one thing that sets your business far beyond all else it’s the one thing you truly own.
Boris Vujanovic: That’s exactly it, once entering once again on purpose a competitive market, that means there is a market, so how do you stand out? brand is a kind of step number one you need something that will not necessarily be memorable but when someones looking it has to look professional. And that makes you look like a bigger company to.
Jonathan Hafichuk: It’s Trust.
Boris Vujanovic: Exactly, that’s part of it, the trust. Some people don’t want to work with a one or two man operation, because there’s certain liabilities that can be apart of that. So if you can do really set yourself up to look like an established company that’ll go a long way and will let you charge higher prices too. Not saying that you want to gauge customers, but we found that the people that are looking for the lowest price are usually the most difficult to work with as well because they don’t value that service. So if you can charge a higher price, target a demographic that actually values that service, you’ll have much better clients and you’ll do less work for the same amount of money. And closely linked to that is don’t cheap out on a website. So again in the groups I see people asking, where doI build a website? And people will say go on Wix, or even Vistaprint, do it yourself, it’s easy, and then I look at them and half the time they won’t even load on my phone.
Jonathan Hafichuk: If people do have a very limited budget, And time constraint Squarespace is actually pretty good for one of those build your own like out of the box SEO’s decent, unlike Wix or the other ones.
Boris Vujanovic: Yeah so Squarespace is a little better than Wix, the issue with Wix in terms of SEO, it’s not good at all. There’s issues with what is called Google Indexing and basically google was totally ignoring these websites because they were so poorly built on the back end of the code so Squarespace is a good alternative, but even then I would say, try and get off Squarespace as soon as you can, because it’s not as flexible for SEO, technically you could rank it but it’ll be much easier on something like WordPress, there’s actually services where you’ll pay a little more per month, like let’s say 50 to 70$ a month,but you’re not paying the 2 to 3 thousand dollars upfront for a website. So it’s much more accessible to get a proper looking website.So that’s kind of the key, establish a brand from the beginning that’s going to look good, so that your customers value what you’re doing, and then just make sure you do a good job.
Jonathan Hafichuk: Yeah the value brand is so huge because really anybody can do good cleans right, anybody can provide customer service, not everybody does, but those things can all be a level of playing field but building a good brand and a unique brand is really what can differentiate you in the industry right.
Boris Vujanovic: Absolutely, yeah and I mean alot of companies like it’s the brand that sells, not the product, like nobody goes to Starbucks to get a coffee they go because they want the latest crazy Frappuccino they’ll come up with for Halloween or pumpkin spice lattes of their own have become like a social phenomenon right, and that’s the brand if you can establish an amazing brand, it will go so far for your business
Jonathan Hafichuk: Well you really see that in clothing , hundred times markup on a shirt just because the brand that’s printed on it. It’s made in the same factory as everything else.
Boris Vujanovic: You’re right, some people buy clothing just to show off it’s just whatever, or you’ll see people,they’ll buy a jacket and say oh it’s Prada, right. They’re literally just talking about the brand of the company. They almost don’t care about the product,they care about the brand it came from. And so, it’s so so powerful and a lot of companies just don’t understand that so if you can establish that brand, you’ll get ahead of a lot of people I would say.
Jonathan Hafichuk: Do you think that inclination toward branding at least in small businesses, is more of a newer younger generation thing more so than an old school thing? Do you think the shift is happening in that direction?
Boris Vujanovic: I would say so yeah, especially because back in the day like pre internet information was very very localized, even within the same city, like if you had a small company it was very unlikely that you’d be seen across the entire city for example if you’re a plumber you might have one van and then you might have your couple clients and if someone sees you driving around or whatever that’s it. With Facebook and Google and AdWords and all of that, you can pay 10 or $15 and show 20,000 people your brand right so that’s kind of weird that differentiation comes from because it’s so visible nowadays that if you don’t have that brand its very hard to stand out from all the other brands. So I think people realize now that since everybody can see you almost at all times nowadays, you have to have that little bit of edge.
Jonathan Hafichuk: Awesome well I’m excited to watch the expansion of Westmaids and what other ventures you start up and if you ever start a tourism company in Croatia I’ll definitely come hangout over there.
Boris Vujanovic: Yeah thanks for having me on,I know you’ve had some awesome guests so it’s a pleasure to be apart of that group
Jonathan Hafichuk: Yeah thank you, I appreciate it, it’s been great having you i’m excited to share this information
Boris Vujanovic: Thank you