How to start a cleaning business in 8 simple steps

Run a successful cleaning company and you could really, erm, clean up. Here’s how to get started.

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  • Bryn Glover

The COVID-19 pandemic was a real rollercoaster for UK cleaning companies. When lockdown first hit, many small cleaning businesses struggled to stay in business, then the country started to reopen and their services were more in demand than ever, and now they’re struggling to deal with staff shortages and mass resignations.

That said, there are still big opportunities for savvy new entrants and you can easily start a cleaning business from home without needing to spend much.

This does however mean that the market is crowded – with lots of small businesses competing for work.

To succeed, you’ll need to have a clear vision for what your cleaning company does and where it fits in this highly competitive market.

After all, a cleaning company can be anything from one cleaner taking care of a few houses a week to a large commercial business with thousands of staff on the books.

And there are loads of areas you could specialise in – domestic cleaners, office cleaners, hospital and school cleaners, and niches like carpet, window and vehicle cleaners.

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What Does Your Business Need Help With?

Read on for our eight simple steps to get your cleaning venture on the path to success.

1. Define your focus (residential, commercial or specialised cleaning?)

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 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.

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 local rivals to ensure your pricing is competitive).

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 upfront costs ranging from £6,000 to £15,000 depending on the franchise.

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 money you have to spend on equipment will be made back in business profits.

As well as some initial spend on equipment, it’s a very good idea 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. However, it’s also 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.

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. Joining trade organisations (such as the British Cleaners Association) 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 stands out from the rest.

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, sickness 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 cash flow 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.

You do not need a license to run a cleaning company but obtaining a DBS criminal records check (formerly a CRB check) 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 added credibility.

If you’re planning to take 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 £8.91 for over 23s as of 1 April 2021) so you’ll need to keep on top of annual increases. 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) (TUPE) 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 are a number of health and safety regulations to consider, as cleaning often involves working with potentially harmful chemicals.

Bryn Glover
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