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I Mean Clean cleans up

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Click to enlarge,  Sarah Pankow (front), of Moncure, was a stay-at-home mom until her husband died several years ago. After trying several jobs, two years ago she decided to start her own cleaning business, I Mean Clean. She got help in establishing her small business from Gary Kibler (back), director of Central Carolina Community College’s Small Business Center at the college’s Chatham County Campus. Pankow’s business is very successful and she enjoys being her own boss. For more information on the college’s Small Business Center, call (919) 545-8013 in Chatham County, (919) 774-6442 in Lee County, or  (910) 892-2884 in Harnett County.

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Sarah Pankow (front), of Moncure, was a stay-at-home mom until her husband died several years ago. ... (more)

06.23.2011College & CommunityContinuing Education

PITTSBORO — Sarah Pankow was a stay-at-home mom until her husband died several years ago.  

She needed an income, so she tried her hand at several jobs, but none worked out. For her, necessity was, indeed, the mother of invention. Pankow figured that, since she had to go to work, she was going to be her own boss.

Pankow decided to stick with what she knew and was good at: cleaning, and started her own cleaning business, I Mean Clean, in Moncure two years ago. A deciding factor in her choice of businesses was that housecleaning is a service business; it doesn’t require a huge investment in equipment or inventory to get started and has minimal overhead.  

“If your service is good and fairly priced, people will want it,” Pankow said. “You receive the rewards of your effort.”

. Being her own boss brought major changes to Pankow’s lifestyle. She was now responsible to herself for the productive use of her time and she had no support system, no one to turn to when she had a question about running her business. 

She had some experience with personnel, scheduling and cleaning methods and products, but she didn’t know about forming a business entity, taxes and recordkeeping, licenses, permits, insurance and the myriad other details necessary to start and operate a business.  

Pankow had heard of the free business counseling services at Central Carolina Community College’s Small Business Center and decided to ask Gary Kibler, the SBC Director at the Chatham County Campus, for help. It was the right move.

Kibler, who had an extensive career as a business executive before retiring, knows all about dealing with the requirements for business startups. He walked her through a checklist of town and county agencies that she needed to visit to establish her business. 

He worked with her on developing what he calls a “sanity check,” a pro-forma profit & loss statement that enabled her to identify the fixed and variable expenses she would likely incur. From that, she was able to determine how many clients it would take for her to make a living. They reviewed her options of forming a sole proprietorship vs. incorporation, insurance and the home/office deductions she’d be eligible for at tax time.

Pankow discovered that marketing her services was a major challenge. 

“At first, I felt traditional newspaper advertising and promotional flyers were too expensive,” she said, “but now I know the price is reasonable simply because they work.”  

She also learned that getting an endorsement from a client is worth its weight in gold. Now, new customers come by word-of-mouth referrals from happy clients. She’s pulling in a nice revenue stream and recently hired an assistant to help her keep up with the volume of work.

I Mean Clean offers a variety of other services.  Pankow helps homeowners by organizing closets, staging homes, prepping them for sale by rearranging furniture or by cleaning, sorting and hauling trash to the recycling center. She is staying up with all current trends, including use of cleaning products that are environmentally friendly.

You’ll see Pankow cruising around Chatham, Lee, and Orange counties in her “I Mean Clean” van, on her way to making another customer happy. She can be reached at (919) 542-1770 or by email at

Anyone who would like free counseling and assistance in starting a business can contact one of the college’s Small Business Center offices by calling (919) 545-8013 in Chatham County, (919) 774-6442 in Lee County, or (910) 892-2884 in Harnett County.