How to start a cleaning business: The 8 simple steps
Thinking about starting a cleaning company business idea? Read this bite-sized guide...
If you’re looking for a low-cost business idea that you can get off the ground fairly quickly with minimal outlays then setting up a cleaning company could be the perfect option for you.
However – bear in mind – because it’s a fairly simple business to start, competition is rife, with the industry dominated by lots of small organisations.
You’ll need to have a clear vision about where you plan to position your cleaning company in this somewhat crowded market and carve a niche for yourself to ensure your start-up stands out: Cleaning businesses cover everything from one cleaner with a couple of domestic properties to maintain each week, to a large commercial business with thousands of staff on the books. There are domestic cleaners, office cleaners, hospital and school cleaners and then let’s not forget the other niches in this industry such as carpet, window and vehicle cleaners.
Read our eight simple steps to get your cleaning venture on the path to success.
1. Determine what type of cleaning company you’re going to specialise in (residential, commercial or specialised?)
There are two main types:
- Residential cleaning business – residential or domestic cleaning will involve cleaning people’s homes (normally while they’re at work) and can be undertaken by you as soon as you secure some clients. You may eventually take on staff as your client-base builds.
- Commercial cleaning business – in order to clean commercial properties you’ll need a team of people (the properties will be tend to be large office buildings) and it may be that your role is more managerial than on the ground cleaning.
Within these two types, you may want to consider:
- Specialised cleaning – there are lots of potentially valuable niches to explore: from a window cleaning business and a carpet cleaning business to a roof cleaning or a car wash/car valet business (all of which could be done as a residential or a commercial cleaning business).
Bear in mind your skills (are you prepared to clean every day or are you more suited to the administrative side of a cleaning company) and where there’s the best market opportunity in your desired area.
2. Research the market
As mentioned above – researching the potential market and local demographic will be key in determining the type of cleaning company you should start. If you’re planning on running a domestic cleaning venture you’ll need to ensure that people in the local area are financially able to pay for someone else to do their domestic chores, likewise for a commercial business are there enough viable contracts to win? Market research will also be key in determining your prices (try posing as a prospective client and ringing around the local competition to ensure your pricing point is competitive).
3. Decide on your business model
From the outset it’s important to think about your long-term plans for your cleaning company. If you’re looking for a business that you can grow slowly and organically and that you can keep control of in the long-run then going it alone is probably sensible (have a look at our business plan template to help you put together a forecast). However, to hit the ground running (and if you’re nervous about some of the elements of setting up a business) you could consider franchising. There are lots of franchises in the cleaning industry with average upfront costs of around £12,000.
4. Budget appropriately for your equipment
Cleaning equipment costs can vary considerably. For domestic cleaners, more often than not the equipment is provided by the households, but if you’re thinking of launching a commercial cleaning company there’s some basic equipment you’ll need to invest in:
It’s important that you ensure any outlays you have to spend on equipment will be counteracted in profits.
5. Create a marketing plan
As well as some initial spend on equipment – it may be necessary to allocate some budget for marketing. One of the hardest elements of starting a cleaning company (and in fact any service business) is building up a client list.
Depending on the nature of your business some traditional advertising such as classified listings and flyers could be the best place to start – although it’s worth considering investing in some online advertising as well, such as pay-per-click, particularly if you are offering a niche service (and can therefore go for a specific search term such as ‘Brentwood carpet cleaner’).
Don’t be afraid to go out and knock on some doors – cleaning can be a personal business and prospective clients may be more likely to sign up if they meet you face-to-face!
Once you build up your client list, you may want to consider some form of customer relationship management (CRM) system to help you keep track of your customer data and offer promotions to loyal customers.
6. Develop a strong brand and build a reputation
Once your business gets underway and starts to gain momentum it’s important to build a brand that you can be proud of – as apart from any marketing spend – you’ll mainly be reliant on gaining customers via word of mouth and personal recommendations. To build a brand identity it’s a good idea to have a logo designed and to have a uniform for any staff with clear branding on it. Subscribing to trade organisations which have a compulsory standard for membership can also help create a professional reputation, as well as getting satisfied clients to provide testimonials. Try to create a USP that isn’t just about price – something that clearly defines your brand as a cleaning company that won’t be forgotten.
7. Work out a payment system to manage cashflow (cash-in-hand or advance payment?)
As with any new business, cashflow can be sporadic initially – but particularly for domestic cleaners as clients can be somewhat unreliable in terms of how regularly they’ll want you, bearing in mind holidays, sicknesses etc. In addition you’ll need to work out a payment system with clients that works for you. Typically people expect to pay their cleaner cash-in-hand per job but for your cashflow you may want to insist on an advance payment system. It's certainly worth considering the available options for accepting mobile card payments, too. You can start by taking a look at the best card machines and mobile card readers out there for small or startup businesses.
8. Check relevant regulations and training
You do not need a license to run a cleaning company but obtaining a criminal records check from the CRB can only improve your image (and that of your staff) as trusted professionals. Training is also not a prerequisite but some basic training such as an NVQ or Cleaning Operatives Proficiency Certificate could give your business credibility.
If you’re going to be taking on staff there’s a number of regulations you’ll need to bear in mind. Typically cleaning work is not well paid – it’s likely that your staff will receive the minimum wage (currently £7.50 as of 1 April 2017) so you’ll need to keep on top of annual rises. You’ll also be responsible for employer’s liability insurance and if you’re taking on commercial cleaning jobs you’ll need to adhere to the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations – which state that when you take on a cleaning contract with an office or other business premises you must use their existing staff. Lastly, there’s a number of health and safety regulations to consider, as cleaning often involves working with potentially harmful chemicals.