Becoming a housekeeper sounds simple. You apply to cleaning jobs on sites like Care.com and slowly start to build a group of clients who pay you to clean their houses. But if you want to make a good living in this career, you need to stop thinking like a housekeeper and start thinking like a small business owner.
Setting up a small business can be a daunting challenge and most people don't know where to start. There are start-up costs, business licenses, advertising, etc. -- all before doing any actual cleaning.
Delores Garcia*, a housekeeper in Las Vegas, and Tammy Wright*, a small-business owner in Denver, have been through it all. Garcia started out working in various casinos as a housekeeper before deciding to open her own business. After two years, she almost has more clients than she can handle. Wright runs a small housekeeping business in Denver, Colo. She went into the field fresh out of high school because, as she puts it, she is "just a bit OCD," and can appreciate her client's cleaning needs. After seven years of working for others, she decided to branch out with a couple of friends to start her own business and "has never looked back."
Here are their eleven tried-and-true steps for setting up a successful housekeeping business:
If you have a family, your small business will likely begin by discussing with family members the impact starting a business will have on your family. Other questions you'll have to answer include:
- Will you do it all yourself or hire employees?
- Is this a part-time or full-time business?
- Do you want to hire strangers or work with family and friends?
- How many staff/employees will you need?
- What will your role be: worker or manager?
- Do you have business skills, or does anyone involved have experience or training to run a business?
- How will payroll work?
- How much do you think you will be able to pay your workers and yourself?
Garcia and her family work jointly to make her business a success, while Wright and two friends took the leap together.
Go to School
There are tons of details and specifics involved with running your own business -- and they change depending on where you live. Take classes at local community centers, small business organizations or even a community. Both Garcia and Wright signed up for classes and it made them business owners.
Name Your Business
Choosing a name can be tricky -- look for something interesting and catchy to draw the interest of prospective clients. Before you even begin brainstorming, you'll have to pinpoint your focus: Will you clean homes or serve corporate clients? This could affect your name. Google prospective names to make sure no one else had the idea first. Search profiles of other housekeepers and cleaning companies near you, to make sure yours stands out.
Hone Your Skills
You may want to think twice about starting a housecleaning business if you haven't touched a vacuum in two years, or you've only cleaned your own home. This is a business and clients will expect expertise. Get practice by offering to clean the homes of friends and family. Practice techniques such as spot or pet-stain removal, polishing chrome or silver, oven cleaning, floor polishing or treating furniture. Experiment with different cleaning products and equipment to find the most cost-effective and efficient methods.
Procure a Company Vehicle
Outfit a business van or car with professional signage, including your company name, logo and phone number, plus the fact you are insured, licensed and bonded. Wright attributes having two vans outfitted in company colors and logo with providing "successful outreach to prospective clients," adding that "your logo is one of the first thing that clients notice."
Create a Budget
Wright stresses the importance of slow growth and budgeting. Determine all the costs associated with your business and allocate how much money, resources and time you have to dedicate to each. For example, insurance and transportation are costs that must be considered, in addition to supplies, labor and advertising. Always be on the lookout for ways to save. Purchase cost-effective cleaning equipment that can multitask, such as a steam cleaner that can remove gum, eliminate allergens and act as a wet and dry vacuum.
Investing in accounting software can help you manage your appointments, payroll issues, expenses and income. Garcia relies on spreadsheets, saying the "one thing we don't cut costs on is service. We are thorough, keep a checklist for each client and store individual expectations on a spreadsheet on the computer, so that when we return clients call, or when we have recurring homes that we serve, we already know the expectations and personal quirks."
Determine How Much to Charge
Deciding the price of your services goes and-in-hand with creating a budget. "Do not sell yourself short by undercharging," Wright stresses. Once you figure out what your costs are, you know how much money you need to bring in. You have to balance the number of clients you need with how much you charge in order to make your budget work. Also research other local cleaning companies to see what they're charging.
For more on this, read our article on Setting Cleaning Rates »
Get a Business License
Wright dreaded getting a business license, but found the process "relatively painless." She now laughs about it: "I don't know why it took me so long to get up the courage to get a business license "
Visit the IRS Small Business Tax Center to familiarize yourself with tax obligations as a sole proprietor or small business owner. You're responsible for submitting payroll taxes to state and federal agencies.
The key to a successful business is customers, and lots of them. You need to make sure people know about your services. Let everyone you can think of know you started a cleaning company, from friends to the cashier at the grocery store. Build a basic website to provide prospective clients with information (try free and simple website creators like Weebly, WordPress and Google Sites. Create a profile on Care.com that talks about what you offer.
Build Relationships with your Clients
Once you have your business up and running, you may have more clients than you can handle. How do you ensure each receives top-notch service to help your company grow? Are you going to specialize? Customers have to see you as trustworthy and honest. It's also important to be different and memorable.
"My clients love the personal touches: little chocolates on the bed pillows and a small vase of fresh flowers on the kitchen counter," Garcia says. It keeps them coming back, she stresses, and makes her company unique. "Learn and grow from each experience, good and bad, and be flexible," Wright advises.
Think about incorporating some of the 8 Additional Services Housekeepers Can Perform »
Balance your Time
Wright says it's not easy juggling people and time, since everyone works on their own agenda, but she feels blessed to have a steady crew. "My teammates and I now run the show," she says. They work to book special events in conjunction with a neighbor who runs a catering business and service a few homes regularly. With more work than they can handle, she is sure they "are in it for the long haul."
Above all, do your research before starting any business and determine if you truly are suited to run your own enterprise. Times may get tough. It's a competitive marketplace and you need a solid business plan to succeed.
*Names in this article have been changed.