It's hard to support yourself in New York. It's even harder to support yourself as an actor. Meet Andy Whelan, actor turned green cleaning entrepreneur, who took control of his financial situation in an economically difficult time.
A Syracuse native, Andy is a 40-year-old newlywed and East Village resident who turned a familiar situation -- partial employment and financial insecurity -- into a full-fledged cleaning business called Green Home Cleaning, that not only pays his bills, but also keeps the environment clean.
Though he spent most of his life as an actor, working in improv and as a sketch performer on Late Night with Conan O'Brien, Andy found that he needed to take another job on the side in order to make ends meet. About five years ago, he began cleaning homes, and last spring, transferred his energies full-time to running a cleaning business.
"For me, it was important to be responsible," he said. "I've always done it as a green business and a local business." Not only does he ensure that his products are non-toxic and biodegradable, but they're also made locally, in New York. His vision of sustainability and transparency extends to his employment standards, hiring eligible workers and paying them adequate compensation. "Part of being part of the community is doing everything above board," he said.
Andy's passion for keeping things green grows out of his childhood with his mother, who suffered from a bad lung disease and often had to use a ventilator. "It was what I grew up with," he said. Now, he volunteers at the Lower East Side Ecology Center, teaching others why it's important to maintain safe, nontoxic workplaces. "It's always been a situation of knowing how dangerous some things can be," he said.
But getting started setting up a business was no cakewalk. "I had to learn how to incorporate a business, get an accountant, get a website and market myself," he said. "I had to learn how to be patient, because I wanted to be big from the beginning. But the truth is, it really wasn't possible, especially in this economic environment."
Andy continued to work at his business, building it to the point where it was necessary to hire employees -- but it's expensive to maintain a payroll. So he applied for loans. "I was declined for five expansion loans," he said. "Every time I got declined, I'd say, 'This is the last one I'll apply for. In this environment, people are unwilling to take a risk."
But then he found Accion USA, a small business microfinancer. Though they too told him that he didn't have the cash flow to qualify for a loan, they stuck with him until he was organized enough that they could help out and give him the loan he needed. He immediately hired four employees, and he's already looking to continue expanding his business. "Most of the people I hired are amazing," he said. "Especially in this environment, people really want to work and I can provide steady work."
Andy admits he's come a long way since the early days when cleaning was just what he did to survive. "I've learned a lot of patience," he said. "I didn't know what to expect, but I had all these expectations in terms of how a business is supposed to run." Now, he gets to run his business the way he thinks a business should be run. "Everything we use is manufactured locally, the people we use are all here in the neighborhood -- which I really love," he said. "I never really had roots, I was always running around and now it's a little bit better because I can say I'm adding something rather than coming in and trying to make some money and leaving the community."
He hasn't lost touch with his inner comedian, however. "I can pretty much laugh at myself when I walk into a house that takes five hours to clean," he said.
For more, visit our new Third World America section.
The Morning Email helps you start your workday with everything you need to know: breaking news, entertainment and a dash of fun. Learn more