Ana Gonzales started her housecleaning business 16 years ago as a way to survive. She had immigrated from Mexico two years earlier, and her second child was on the way. Her job cleaning in Sonoma County paid less than $100 a day, and she spent much of her shifts driving to and from her home on a ranch in Valley Ford. Her family needed a better income.
A neighbor told her to put up a sign in the post office, and a month later, Ms. Gonzales had six houses to clean in Dillon Beach. Word spread, and her business grew as she balanced the demands of being both a mother and a business owner.
Today, Ana has four employees who help clean over 40 vacation rentals. Scheduling and bookkeeping demand more of her time than cleaning, though she still spends at least three days a week at job sites to set a good example. Last year, she purchased a brand-new home in Rohnert Park, a crowning achievement for her and her three children. She has attained a peaceful, balanced lifestyle that is centered on her family, and it shows by her relentless smile and positive attitude.
“It feels like we reached our dream to have our own house,” she said. “Especially for my kids, they get so excited. They tell me, ‘Mom, you have to be proud of yourself that you made it, that we made it.’”
Ana grew up on a dairy in a small town in Jalisco, Mexico. She was the youngest of 12 children, and all of her brothers and sisters have gone on to become entrepreneurs. When she was 20 and pregnant with her first son, Misael, she moved to Valley Ford, where her husband had a job lined up milking cows.
Ana found a home in Tomales among other powerful Latina women, like Marisol Salgado, the co-owner of the Whale of a Deli who gave her study materials for the G.E.D. test. Gloria Mercado showed her the potential of starting her own business, and Maria Niggle brought her on as a promotora.
Ana advocates for mental health services for the Latino community and attends school board meetings to speak up for students. All of her children will attend Tomales schools from preschool to graduation, and she’s made her voice heard in the district: She pushed the high school to get rid of a counselor who was accused of neglecting the majority of students, and she called for a full-time principal to help deter bullying.
“If you want to get something done, Ana will get it done,” Ms. Salgado said.
Through word of mouth, Ana steadily gained more and more cleaning opportunities. She never did any marketing, or even printed business cards, but satisfied customers kept sharing her phone number. She would drop off her kids at the first bus stop in Tomales so they could ride the entire route while she went to clean her first house, and they all played sports in the afternoon so she could clean a few more. She worked in primary residences at first, but then realized that with vacation rentals, her kids could play in another room while she cleaned.
“When I clean houses for vacation rentals, I feel like I am the person who rents it. How would I like to see the house?” she said.
Five years after launching the business, Ana hired her first employee, and she passed the G.E.D. test.
Even though she is running the business at a higher level now, she still cleans every day when it is busy. She said taking care of and keeping employees is good for business, and people believe in her and want to see her on the job.
Ana’s crew can clean as many as 19 houses in a day, so figuring out where everyone needs to be and when is a puzzle. Homeowners can call the night before to tell her they have renters the next day, and she will figure it out in the middle of the night. It takes two to three hours for one person to clean a house, and sometimes Ana has to call her friends for extra help. By 7 a.m. each morning, she has a schedule made for her employees.
In 2014, Ana’s husband passed away. The death pushed her to work harder and grow her business. Misael, then 12, took on more responsibility at home, and he brought his younger siblings to school as soon as he could drive. Ana enrolled at Santa Rosa Junior College to take an English as a second language course and a workshop in Spanish on how to start a business, so the only help she gets now is from a bookkeeper at the end of the year. The owners of the ranch allowed the family to stay without rent for five years, and she saved the money for a down payment on a house.
Three years ago, Ana reconnected with an old friend, Eduardo Rojas, who was from her hometown and had also lost his partner. They’ve been dating, and on Feb. 6 they were married in a small ceremony at a church in Petaluma. Three of her sisters came with their husbands from Mexico to attend the celebration.