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How to start a cleaning business: What to know to be successful, according to pros

If you are ready to learn how to start a cleaning business, read on for more tips and advice necessary to become a successful entrepreneur. 

How to start a cleaning business: What to know to be successful, according to pros

I owned a residential cleaning business for over 10 years. I started it because I hated being stuck behind a desk and wanted the perks of being my own boss, from building my schedule to deciding who to work with. The perks came with challenges, though; some were expected, and some were not. No amount of planning will prepare you for coming eye-to-eye with a bat (the mammal not baseball) in a client’s bedroom. 

Don’t let the challenges deter you from starting a cleaning business, though. Vanessa Bossart, a pioneer in the eco-friendly cleaning industry with over 18 years of experience and the founder of GreenTerra Cleaning, says, “Focusing on the critical aspects of service quality, financial literacy, legal compliance and clear internal communication can build a strong, sustainable foundation for your cleaning business.” 

If you are ready to learn how to start a cleaning business, read on for more tips and advice necessary to become a successful and trusted entrepreneur. 

Creating a business plan for your cleaning business

As appealing as it is to be your own boss, it’s important to remember that you’ll also need to do all of the tasks that come with being a boss from building your schedule, setting rates, paying taxes, to juggling client relationships. This is especially true if you choose to hire one or more employees. That’s why, having a business plan is key when starting a cleaning business. 

Chrissy Bernal, CEO of Be A Better Brand, says, “When starting a business, you need clarity in a few areas: Who will you serve? What problem do you solve? And what is your offer? By having a clear understanding of these you can nail your messaging and marketing.”  

You might consider taking a small business course through a local college or community based organization whose mission it is to support small business owners to sort through questions about marketing, business expenses and bookkeeping and tax documents.

It can also help you focus the scope of your business and create a mission statement to work by. You don’t need to take a class, but you should know what you want your business to look like. Ask other cleaners how they run their business or shadow other service providers to get an idea of how they perform day-to-day operations. Before taking on clients, make sure you know how you want to tackle the following aspects of a cleaning business. 

Commercial cleaning vs. residential cleaning

You’ll need to decide if you want to offer commercial or residential cleaning services — or perhaps a mix of both. 

Commercial cleaning comes with more on-site unknowns such as the level of grime and potential to encounter other service workers or employees working. It may require more time and supplies than residential cleaning, such as carpet cleaners or equipment for cleaning windows. You’ll also always need a contract for a commercial job, points out Mause Ramirez, owner of MCS Cleaning Services Inc. He says commercial jobs always need contracts, so expect more paperwork. He also advises that commercial clients tend to buy more services on top of the regular cleaning such as carpet cleaning, floor stripping and waxing and window cleaning. 

Commercial cleaning can be more lucrative, but also requires heavier duty vacuums and supplies, a carpet cleaner and harsher chemicals than you may be willing to use. 

On the other hand, residential cleaning is still hard work. You will be cleaning other people’s floors, bathrooms and microwave splatter. If willing, you will be changing bedsheets and starting loads of laundry. The physicality of the job alone is exhausting, so plan on being able to move at a steady pace while carrying vacuums and buckets of water through a house. 

With residential jobs, you and your client will establish their priorities, and you will both know what they expect to have cleaned each time you are there. You will know what you are walking into once you have set a cleaning routine with a client. Cleaning a two-bedroom house with a dog is much more predictable than cleaning an office building or even a rental property vacated by college students who left for the summer. 

“When starting a business, you need clarity in a few areas: Who will you serve? What problem do you solve? And what is your offer? By having a clear understanding of these you can nail your messaging and marketing.”  

— Chrissy Bernal, CEO of Be A Better Brand

Local market research

It’s important to research demand for cleaners in your area so that you know who your consumers are. You also need to know how much other cleaners are charging. You don’t want to overcharge your way out of work, but you don’t want to undersell yourself either. Ask what friends are paying for their cleaning services or see cleaners in your area are charging. 

“Ensuring your services are priced correctly to maintain profitability is essential,” says Bossart. “It’s a common misstep to use low pricing as a lure for new clients.” You may be tempted to price your services lower than others, or even offer discounts for the first cleaning, but you are building a business, not volunteering your time. Pricing low also means you will need to raise your rates quicker and at a higher rate than your competition to keep up with the market.  Don’t rob yourself of growth and future income. 

Schedule-building, pricing structure and payment options

Before you start your business, you need to know how many hours a day you will work. That time includes travel, unpacking and packing up the vehicle, taking lunch and snack breaks and any miscellaneous mishaps. From clogged vacuums to running into and chatting with a client, always plan on your schedule being slightly off. 

Knowing the number of hours you have in a day to clean will help you decide on how to build your schedule and how to predict your salary. Some cleaners charge by the house, and others charge by the hour. Either way is up to you, but it will help you with financial projections and communication with clients on payment owed to you. 

How will clients pay you? Accepting payment via cash apps like Venmo and Paypal or via checks, as opposed to cash, can help you keep track of money coming into your business. 

Name, logo and motto

A cool part of owning your own business is the ability to create a name and design for your business. Pick a name that is easy to remember, states what the business is, and that isn’t already in use. While this is not necessary, it can help you with advertising and promoting yourself through stickers, t-shirts or social media channels. 

“The growth of your cleaning business needs to be carefully managed and structured. Understanding the basics of finance, such as reading profit and loss reports, is vital.” 

— Vanessa Bossart, founder of GreenTerra Cleaning

Getting your cleaning business started

Now that you know what you want your business to look like, it’s time to turn your vision into action. Launching and expanding a cleaning service is nuanced and will not always be simple. Running a cleaning business is more than manual labor; it involves administration work, relationship building, and self-promotion. 

“The growth of your cleaning business needs to be carefully managed and structured,” says Bossart. “Understanding the basics of finance, such as reading profit and loss reports, is vital.” 

Here is what you need to do to get your first gig. 

Register your business and get the necessary licenses and permits to run your small business. This protects you, your family and your clients. Registering your business name helps with advertising and prevents anyone from using your business name or likeness.

You also need to decide on the legal structure of your business and get a tax ID number to go with it. If necessary, consult a financial professional to know if a sole proprietorship or limited liability corporation (LLC) is best for you. 

Kassie Nucci, Georgia-based owner of Crystal Clean, says that she always had a business license and, as the business grew, acquired liability insurance. “If you do commercial cleaning, you will definitely need both,” she notes, adding that she also formed an LLC (limited liability company) to protect her personal finances, as it separates your personal finances from the business finances. Liability insurance protects the business owner from major accidents or incidents that happen on the job. 

Every small business will have different insurance needs based on the industry, size, types of property and equipment, points out Shawn Johnson, assistant director of account management at Insureon. But the main business policy that most small businesses — including cleaning businesses — would benefit from is the standard general liability insurance policy, which covers legal and medical costs in the event of third-party injuries, property damage or advertising injury, explains Johnson.

Calculate overhead costs and supplies

While overhead costs and the need for inventory is low for cleaners, you still need to consider what services you will offer your clients and purchase accordingly. Some cleaners show up and use all of their own supplies (mop, vacuum, cleaners, clothes, etc.) while others request that their clients keep everything on hand. And if you are going to commercial cleaning, equipment and supplies will likely cost you more upfront.

You also need to budget for gas and general car maintenance. And you should plan to set aside money to pay quarterly taxes, either weekly or monthly. This will help you estimate net income. 

Other costs that you should consider are the following:

  • Banking fees if you open a business account
  • Clothing and shoes
  • Protective gear (such as gloves and masks)
  • Advertising
  • Insurance fees
  • Professional CPA or legal fees
  • Phone, WiFi, or website fees
  • Vehicle mileage 

While these fees are often low or may not apply to you, it’s good to keep these expenses in order from the start to make bookkeeping and tax season easier. You can use an Excel or Google spreadsheet to do this. Being able to show that you have insurance and are operating in a professional way — paying taxes and protected from accidents, for example — goes a long way to legitimize your business, says Bernal.

Advertise your business

You have done your market research and know who your ideal client is. It’s time to advertise and get your cleaning business’ name out there.

“Marketing your cleaning service effectively hinges on reviews and word-of-mouth endorsements,” says Bossart. “These powerful tools outstrip traditional advertising in their ability to draw new clients by showcasing the quality and reliability of your service.”

I was able to build a full schedule through word of mouth as did Nucci. She also advertised with local community magazines and some HOA newsletters. “I have five houses in one subdivision because one of my clients recommended me on the HOA online forum,” explains Nucci.

Other inexpensive ways to advertise can be through the following: 

  • Parent online groups
  • Social media
  • Local newspapers 
  • Car magnets
  • Newsletters

In any advertisement, be sure to be clear about your business name, how you can be reached and what services you provide. 

Foster relationships and establish trust with clients

Word of mouth works great for advertising, but it can also spread positivity around your business. If you have a great work ethic and customer service skills, that will be talked about too. To establish great customer service, you need to start with clear communication with prospective and current clients. This will lead to clear expectations around pay, the work to be done, and when. 

Nucci emphasizes the need to see a house before giving a quote. “Always lay eyes on the house before you quote [the price],” she recommends. “I tell [clients] my base price and let them know it goes up from there. But I never set a price until I arrive and see the house.”

I found this practice to be beneficial, as well. I always met potential clients before we settled on a working relationship. I wanted to see the house so I could give them a quote based on how long I thought the job would take me. This initial meeting also allowed us to get to know each other. I liked to know why they needed a cleaner and how it benefited them to have me in their home. 

I then made a plan for payment and the details on when and how I would enter their home each time I cleaned. We also figured out the best ways to communicate, whether it was through notes left on the counter, texts or emails. 

Trust is one of the most important pieces of building your business. Clients need to trust you will be on time, do a good job, and tell them if you need to reschedule or if something went wrong while at their home or place of business. From dropping a microwave glass plate to finding a teenager skipping school, you never know what you may need to disclose to your clients. 

Ramirez says you can build lasting customer relationships through honesty. “Customers appreciate hearing the truth no matter how hard it is to tell it,” he explains, also stressing the importance of being patient and listening closely to their needs and interests. 

You’ll also do well to have references ready in case a client still wants further confirmation that you will be a great fit for them and their cleaning needs. 

Be open to change

As you grow your business, you will likely encounter twists and turns in your path and realize you are veering away from your original business plan. You may start your business cleaning only residential houses or apartments. But you may find that you are getting commercial opportunities too. Take a look at your budget and schedule to see if a mix of both or shifting your focus makes sense. 

It’s also OK to check in with clients about what may not be going the way you anticipated. Perhaps you need more time for a job or maybe your working conditions aren’t ideal and you need to stop offering them services. Be clear, professional and direct when communicating with clients. 

And it’s also advisable to raise your rates each year, even if it’s by a small percent. “It’s scary, but all of my clients were understanding, and none of them minded at all,” says Nucci. 

If you are considering employees, Ramirez says to only hire someone if you can’t realistically tackle the scope of the jobs you’ve accepted. “This may sound simple but it is important,” he says. “You should only hire when you absolutely need to.” Employees must have their own transportation and be able to provide the same great service you do. 

And as soon as you begin hiring, workers’ compensation insurance becomes a necessity, points out Bossart. She notes that it’s also crucial to understand the labor laws in your state, especially those concerning workers’ compensation.

Final thoughts on starting a house cleaning business

Starting a cleaning business may be daunting, but with the right mindset and careful planning it can be a rewarding venture. “Focusing on the critical aspects of service quality, financial literacy, legal compliance and clear internal communication can build a strong, sustainable foundation for your cleaning business,” says Bossart. 

Relationship building is what will build your business too. With honesty, clear communication, and trust you will have a full schedule in no time. Even if you opt to go in a new professional direction down the road, you could look back fondly on your experience as a professional cleaner, remembering just how rewarding it truly was. I still miss some of my clients and the sense of accomplishment knowing how relieved the family would feel when they returned after a long day to a clean and orderly home.