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How to start a residential cleaning business

Starting a domestic cleaning business is a popular choice for many: here's our Startups guide to help you set up

A residential cleaning business is one of the three main types of cleaning company, and a popular business idea for sole traders. In theory all you need is a sponge, a bottle of Flash and some good old elbow grease – although the reality is often far more complicated!

According to the Cleaning and Support Services Association (CSSA), the cleaning and support services industry is worth around £10bn, and employs approximately 820,000 people. The industry is traditionally dominated by small organisations, with around a third of all UK cleaning staff working within companies with no more than nine employees. But could you start your own house cleaning business?

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How do you start a cleaning business?

1.Assess first if you're suited to starting a residential cleaning business or housekeeping business

Cleaning is all about making places look presentable and tidy, so if you're not motivated enough to make things spotless it is likely to filter through to your staff and company ethics. A house cleaning business is one for perfectionists. You'll also need to instil confidence in your clients, so good customer relations skills are essential. It doesn't matter if the majority of the work is done when clients aren't at home – the point is they have to trust you implicitly if they're going to hand over the keys to their property, so first impressions count.

Running a cleaning business of any real size will require impeccable administrative skills. If you want to make any real profit you will need to be juggling hundreds or even thousands of clients, so meticulous appointment records must be kept.

If you're a little nervous about your own business skills then a franchise might be well-suited way to start a business for you. The cleaning industry is a popular one for franchisors and there are a lot of opportunities out there to buy a readymade and branded model in this area (you can read more about what's involved in our guide to how to start a domestic cleaning franchise). However, if your business really takes off you may find a franchise too restrictive for your liking. You'll have to weigh up all the pros and cons before deciding to go it alone completely or opt for a franchise. Buying a franchise with Time For You, one of the biggest domestic cleaning franchises in the UK, typically costs around £12,000. Sarah Jackson, an entrepreneur now running successful care and networking companies in Milton Keynes, was a key franchisee between 2005 and 2011. She told us: “I'd definitely recommend [the franchising] system because the back-up is there if you need it. The formula is exact, and if you follow it the business flies.”

2.Calculate the costs of starting a residential cleaning business

A simple domestic cleaning business, involving just you and maybe one or two members of staff will not have heavy start-up costs – especially if the majority of the cleaning equipment you use will already be in the homes you clean. Most of your start-up costs for a house cleaning service will go on marketing. You may attract several clients through word of mouth, but it's unlikely you'll build up a substantial client base without leafleting and advertising. Advertising in local papers and magazines can prove effective, as can sales letters, business cards and pay-per-click advertising, but sometimes it's simply a case of knocking on doors with price lists.

When Freddie Rayner and his wife Ruth started their Time For You cleaning franchise operation, they spent about £200 on photography for advertisements. They took out ads in local magazines and as they took on more clients they spent more on advertising. Back when they started the business in 1997, they charged £6 an hour for cleaning services and took £2 profit from that. Now, with 157 franchisees bearing the Time for You stamp, the collective turnover for the business is £23m. But it wasn't easy to reach that level of turnover according to Rayner. “18 months after we started the business, we were turning over money but still found ourselves in debt because we weren't getting payments on time.” The Rayners then decided on a new charging strategy. They would make the price of service compelling enough to receive upfront payments. “If you make the upfront price so appealing you can avoid late payments. If you charge £20 but you could manage on £12, then charge £15 for an immediate payment and specify that the price would revert to £20 if it's late,” Rayner advises.

External help: It's worth seeing if you can get a business loan to help you start a cleaning business idea.

3.Research other residential cleaning businesses to develop your house cleaning business plan

You'll need to do your research on demographics to begin with. If you're planning a home cleaning business, the area you work in will need to be one where residents can afford to pay someone else to do their domestic chores (see also starting a gardening business).

You'll also want to get some idea of the service and prices other cleaners in the area are willing to offer. If you've had leaflets through the door or seen ads up in shop windows, call the numbers as a prospective client and find out what they charge – and how and when they take payment.

Karen Perks runs My Window Cleaner in Enfield. She says, fortunately, late payments have never been a problem for her business. “In the early days I was just honest with the clients. I explained to them that we were a small outfit and couldn't afford to have three-month payment plans. I think if you're honest and give clients what they're looking for you can avoid payment problems.”

However, Perks says finding good staff can often be a difficult issue. “It can be quite hard to find people in this industry that take pride in their work and therefore do a really good job. We get round that by treating staff with a great deal of respect and valuing them. I think that's why we do so well. One of our window cleaners has been with us for ten years.”

Wiles says that if you expect staff to do a perfect job you've got to have done it yourself first. “If people do the work themselves first then they know exactly what to expect and can tell staff exactly what needs to be done. By showing all the new staff round myself it means I rarely get complaints from clients about the quality of the work.”

Doing some of the work yourself, at least in the early stages, will also give you a more accurate idea of the time and resources you can allow for each job. Compared to commercial cleaning, domestic cleaning is a better path if you want to stick to daytime hours of working.

Once you've done your research, and decided on the type of cleaning business you want to run, you will need to build up a reputation and even a recognisable brand. Subscribing to trade organisations which have a compulsory standard for membership can help with reputation, as well as getting satisfied clients to recommend you to friends and family. In terms of creating a recognisable brand you might want to consider having your staff wear a uniform with your name and logo on it, and also making sure all company vehicles have contact details boldly advertised on them. Focusing your attention on a very small locality, and pouring all your efforts into that compact area, can be a good way to start. Not only will this build up your reputation in the neighbourhood concerned, but having all your jobs closer together will mean less travelling time between jobs, saving money on costs and allowing more time for actual paid work.

4.Consider training for your residential cleaning business – and obtaining insurance

You don't have to get a license for a cleaning business in the UK; however it's valuable to think about training, according to Andrew Large, chief executive of the Cleaning and Support Services Association (CSSA): “it is perfectly possible for a cleaner to get by without a qualification, but it's strongly advisable to get one.” The most basic qualification is the Cleaning Operatives Proficiency Certificate, delivered by further education colleges and overseen by the British Institute of Cleaning Science. There are also a range of NVQ qualifications, overseen by Asset Skills and delivered through further education colleges.

Any company where you employ staff will  lso have to comply with employer regulations. Cleaning work is traditionally low paid, and if you want a healthy profit margin there's a good chance you'll be paying your staff the minimum wage, currently £7.50 per hour (from 1 April 2017). You will need to keep up to date with the regular increases to the minimum wage to avoid facing fines and prosecution as an employer. The responsibility of employing staff carries with it a raft of additional issues and complications, and employers' liability insurance will be a legal requirement if you take on staff.

Useful contacts

British Cleaning Council 01562 851129
Cleaning and Support Services Association 020 7920 9632
British Institute of Cleaning Science 01604-678710
Confederation of Cleaning Professionals

Once you're set up

If you have managed to launch your business successfully then there are various options that can help you to maximise your operation and grow. The list below includes links to some of these options:

  • Design a website – designing a website is the best way to launch your business to the world. Find new customers and advertise your services.
  • iPad POS – get a versatile point of sale system to help your staff create payments for customers.
  • Card machines – let your customers pay by card and add speed and efficiency to your payment processing.
  • Outsource HR – outsource your human resource responsibilities to ensure your staff are taken care of probably.
  • Payroll services – use a payroll service provider to ensure that staff salaries are handled easily and effectively.

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