Starting a cleaning business is scary.
Most people are too scared, so they make up excuses for why it can’t be done. Then they go back to the job they hate, too afraid to change their future.
You are different.
You’ve taken the first step. You’re looking for actual information about how to start your new cleaning business.
That makes you one of the brave few who will read this article and realize that YES! You can become a successful business owner.
Below, we’ve outlined the 12 simple steps for starting your cleaning business the right way:
1. The First Decisions You Get to Make
You’re the Owner. It’s time to decide how you want to run your business.
What is Your Business Model?
Your business model is simply a professional way of saying, “How will your business make money?” You can use a free tool like Business Model Canvas to create the model that’s perfect for your business.
The first question that will determine your cleaning company’s model is: Who?
Who is your target client? Who do you want to provide service for?
[Free Download]: Use this Client Persona Template to figure out who your ideal client is. Print it out and keep it around your workspace. Refer to it when you’re working on marketing and sales later on.
The second question is: What services are you going to provide those clients?
What does your ideal client want out of a cleaning service? Do they want laundry folded and put away (a higher level of service, maid-like) or do they just want surface dusting and basic mopping?
What are your primary upsells?
- Carpet cleaning?
- Window cleaning?
- Oven cleaning?
Once you know who and what, it’s time to go get insured and register your business.
2. Register Your Business
If you’re going to be in business, you need to make sure you follow the rules of business. Part of that is defining your structure.
Are you an LLC or a sole proprietorship? Does an LLC actually protect you from lawsuits? What about S-Corp for pass-through income purposes?
If all of that makes your head spin and eyes water, you’re not alone.
Check out this post from The Balance that explains the types of business structure and the benefits of each.
Once you’ve decided on a business type, you’re ready to report yourself to local, state, and federal agencies as necessary. You’ll have to look into local and state laws yourself. Here’s some info that’s true nationally:
In the U.S.:
The Small Business Administration has resources about where to register your company. The SBA is an awesome resource for business owners. You’ve heard it suggested that “I’m from the government and I’m here to help” induces fear. All of the resources of the SBA are designed to help your business play by the rules and HELP you as a business owner.
In the frozen north (sorry, I’m in Texas), they also have resources for small business owners provided by the government. This is the best way to get solid advice, direct from the source, about what permits you need and what resources are available to your business.
Why You Need Business Insurance
A lot of small-time companies try to fly under the radar and save money by not getting insured or bonded.
Here’s the thing:
ONE mistake is all takes to destroy an uninsured company.
It’s not worth the risk.
Get small business insurance. Look into the various kinds of insurance, but make sure that you’re covered by general liability insurance, in the least. Forbes has a breakdown of 13 kinds of business insurance and what they cover in your business.
Listen to this, even if you ignore the rest of the post:
Insurance is NOT optional. It’s not a plus or perk of growing large. It is a Day One, first job necessity. Operating without insurance is dangerous, especially if you’re a sole proprietor.
3. How to Price Your Services, Profitably
There are three key ways to price your cleaning services correctly:
- Record your average time cleaning at every property (and each room).
- Set a Pricing Model and Stick with it (hourly, flat rate per room, or square footage).
- Base your profit margin on your value, not your competitors’ prices.
You need to collect data on the time it takes to clean each room because knowledge gives you the power to make educated decisions in your business. The time on a clean lets you know how much you’re making per hour from that job.
The simpler you keep your pricing structure, the easier it is to ensure you’re profitable. Start charging hourly and then branch out into flat rate work.
This protects you and your clients:
If a clean takes longer than anticipated (which WILL happen, especially as you’re learning to estimate), your time is still covered.
If a clean takes less time as you learn to clean faster, the client isn’t locked into a rate that was given based on a bad time estimate, early in the business.
When you copy competitors (or undercut them), you assume several things:
- They know what they’re doing.
- They priced their services correctly.
- Low-balling is a great way to get clients.
Let’s look at each of those:
“They know what they’re doing.”
You don’t know that.
Your top competitor today could be out of business in a week. Don’t trust that they have any idea what they’re doing.
Assume they’re priced too low because their instinct was to undercut another competitor AND they didn’t have the good sense to search out this article.
“They priced their services correctly.”
They probably guessed. Or they looked at a competitor and undercut them a little (just like you’re thinking right now). Maybe they got lucky. Maybe they didn’t.
There’s no reason for you to bet your business on their guess, right or not. Base your business decision on what’s going to be profitable for your business.
“Low-Balling is a great way to get clients.”
It’s the worst way to get clients.
Clients who are on the lookout for the cheapest option are the least loyal clients. They’ll drop you when they find a fly-by-night cleaner who’ll clean for $5 less a month.
You don’t want to cater to that kind of client. Ask anyone who’s been in the business: cheap clients aren’t just cheap, they’re demanding, high-maintenance, and they never stick around.
You want people who recognize the value you provide and are willing to pay fairly for that value. Low-ball clients don’t recognize value and they certainly don’t want to pay for it.
4. How to Win Your First Clients
The easiest way to get your first clients is to sell your services to people you already know.
Family and friends who will be patient as you learn. You should only work with family and friends you’re comfortable charging correctly and who will be willing to write reviews and give testimonials to your service.
Word-of-mouth from that initial group of clients is a fantastic way to have controlled growth. Once you have a steady client base, you can start focusing on your first marketing campaign.
Here’s where to start with customer facing marketing:
- Create a Facebook page. This is a great way to collect reviews AND interact with your clients.
- Ask for referrals and reward clients who bring you new clients. A referred client is way more likely to stick around than one you acquire by other means.
- Run your first Facebook Ad. Patrick, our resident expert, will walk you through every step of this process.
Advertising on Facebook is the BEST way to get your feet wet in the digital advertising world. Facebook holds your hand and Patrick has provided great information in the post above.
You can market your business online. It’s not hard. With a little effort, you can outperform 99% of your competition.
Marketing your cleaning business is a HUGE world. Here’s what third-party marketing companies don’t want you to know: the digital revolution has upset their world.
You can learn everything you need to market your business online or in a few books. You don’t need an MBA and you probably don’t need a marketing consultant until way further down the road.
The Caveat to Hiring a Pro
If you don’t have time to learn how to create your own website, which is a cumbersome task when you do it well, you should hire a pro. You want a website that functions well and provides you with decent SEO (search engine optimization) rank.
It’s more time, and a business owner your time is at a premium, outsourcing your website is a respectable option, especially while you’re still in the field.
Make sure you have a basic understanding of how SEO works so that you have a passing knowledge of what your web developer should be doing.
5. Why You Should Start as a DIY Cleaner
People like you, who choose to start a cleaning business, usually have a working knowledge of cleaning. You’ve either worked as a cleaner in the past or you’re proficient in household chores.
You have room to grow and learn. You want to do that basic learning and growth in a place without employees. It’s hard to maintain authority if you’re employees see you flubbing basic stuff.
A small company is nimble. You’re still defining your practices and procedures, you don’t need to be feeding those piecemeal to new employees at the same time you’re writing them.
Working solo lets you ease into the business and get through your trial and error phase without having the added pressure of employees watching and relying on you to pay them.
6. How to Choose a Professional Uniform
Uniforms are an important piece of advertising for your brand. It’s what clients will see in their home and it’s what potential clients see out in the wild.
- Be professional. Iron-on decals are not professional. Be willing to spend a little for quality.
- Have your logo and company name on it. Let people know who’s well-dressed employee that is.
- Be comfortable and easy to work in. Your employees (and you) have to wear it all day, you should enjoy it.
You can consider t-shirts. They’re comfy, but they sacrifice a little professionalism. Embroidered, collared shirts are a good option that’s comfortable AND professional.
Consider light jackets for the winter. Your employees will wear jackets on the job. If you provide one, they keep advertising your company while they stay warm. Win-win.
7. How to Pick a Name for Your New Cleaning Business
Your name should tell people what you do and where you’re at.
- Dallas Maids
- Plano’s Classy Cleaners
- North Dallas Home Cleaning
Don’t overthink your name. Keep it simple. Keep it memorable. Your company name should be a thing someone can see once and remember tomorrow when they want to Google and find you.
8. Open a Business Checking Account
You can do this at the bank you have a personal account with or you can shop it around.
The important thing is to separate your money from company money. Do this before you start working. Your business should not be running itself out of a personal checking account.
NerdWallet keeps a running, updated list of the Best Business Checking Account options. Consult that list and open a business account.
If you’re already in business and you’ve got your personal finances tied up in the business, disentangle them. Your accountant will thank you later.
9. Why You Should Consider Hiring a Bookkeeper (soon!)
Crunching the numbers is hard… and tedious.
Business owners are full of energy for immediate action and crazy busy.
That means a lot of owners end up with their books in total disarray. Then they have to hire a forensic accountant (a real job!) to comb through the messy records and try to save them from getting audited by the IRS.
Don’t be one of those owners. Hire someone in-house or a third-party bookkeeping service as soon as possible. You’re too busy to rely on the accounting you can squeeze in around everything else you have on your plate.
Unlike other aspects of your business, bookkeeping becomes more time-consuming as your business scales. And problems from sloppy accounting compound on themselves as you grow.
10. Is it Time to Lawyer Up?
You’re in the planning process for your business.
You’re champing at the bit to start working. You’ve followed the other steps in this article.
Now’s the time to confirm your plans with a business law attorney.
Here’s what you want to avoid:
You’ve laid awesome plans. But it turns out a minute detail of that plan was (unintentionally) in violation of the law.
Now you’re open to lawsuits. You’ll have to hire an attorney and (because of a mistake) you’re in the wrong. You lose. You pay the attorney, you pay the person who sued you, you pay that person’s attorney.
You can hire an attorney now for a consultation and go over your business plan with them. They have you make any necessary changes and you’ve started a professional relationship with them.
They’re your lawyer now. If something goes wrong later, you’ve already established a rapport with them as a proactive, responsible business owner.
11. Should You Become a Franchisee or Stay Independent?
Purchasing a franchise is expensive. You’re paying to become part of a pre-existing brand. It can take a lot of the guesswork and trial and error out of launching your business.
This decision can be shaped by finances (maybe you can’t afford to become a franchisee), but more important than money is the philosophy.
Why are you starting this business?
Franchise owners have a modicum of independence. But they’re not truly free to run their business the way they see fit.
What happens when you conflict with the way the brand wants you to run your business?
If you want to run your own business to get away from management decisions you didn’t agree with, franchising is a bad option for you.
If you are willing to put the work into marketing and growing your business, you don’t need a national brand attached to your business. You can grow it on your own. It might be slower, it might involve some hiccups but it’s yours.
Building your own business? Then build it and send those national companies packing.
12. Set Goals and Celebrate Your Victories
Write down your goals. Today.
Look at where you want to be at the end of 2018 and what you can do to get there. Ty Wilkins was on our podcast, The Profit Roadmap, to talk about breaking big tasks down into tiny, actionable goals.
Use FutureMe to send those goals to yourself a year from now. You’ll get them in your inbox to remind you where you wanted to be.
Celebrate your victories. Being a business owner is hard and it’s very easy to get stuck in tunnel-vision.
You jump from problem to problem and only see how much is left to be done.
It’s worth it to glance over your shoulder every now and then to see how far you’ve come.
And while you’re looking, celebrate. It’s more than alright to celebrate your victories, you have to celebrate them and share that celebration with employees. It’s a valuable part of company culture.
Starting a Business is Scary, but with the Right Knowledge, YOU can do this.
Don’t let fear take your dream.
Use knowledge and business-savvy skills to outsmart fear and leave it where belongs… bad dreams and scary movies.
You can create the company you’ve dreamt of, you’ve got the skills all laid out in this article.
Pick a few actions items and tackle them this week. Don’t wait around, seize the opportunity and become the business owner you’ve always known you could be.
Cody is a copywriter with Service Autopilot. He was writing before he could read, dictating stories to his mom. Of late, he distills business principles and practices learned from his ever-increasing trove of books and his year with SA Support into digestible blog posts designed to provide maximum value to service industry business owners.