Cleaning your own home and cleaning professionally are two totally different things. Even though you clean your home constantly, learning how to clean professionally takes a lot of time and effort––when a client pays for your services, they expect to come home and find their home spotless, tidy beyond reproach and smelling pleasant. However, for some people, it’s actually easier and more enjoyable to clean other people’s houses because there is no personal investment, just pride in a job well done.
If you’re mulling over the possibility of starting your own house cleaning business, you’ll need to be fit, prepared for some dirty work and willing to market your services through friends, family and other people in order to slowly build up your client base. It may take a while to build a solid group of clients but with the right attitude, a good reputation and word-of-mouth referrals, you’ll eventually build a solid cleaning business.
Method 1 of 6: Assessing your own suitability for cleaning as a business
Before you decide to start your cleaning business, make sure this kind of work is right for you. While this is one of the easiest businesses to start due to its low/non-existent overheads and reliance on basic skills, you need to be able to live up to the promises. Cleaning is hard, strenuous work. You need to be in good physical condition and able to bend over, kneel down, reach up and do repetitive actions for a sustained amount of time. If you have experienced past injuries, check with your doctor that it’ll be okay to take on this very physical work for a living.
Consider your office skills. You will need to have basic office skills and some accounting skills. You will need to be well organized and to have a system in place that keeps you this way. Clients won’t appreciate missed appointments or forgetting to clean areas of their home just because your system is messed up.
Be a good communicator. You need good customer relation skills and a willingness to engage with people. You can learn these skills if you don’t already have them––just be open, honest and friendly initially and you’ll begin to learn how to interact more confidently as time goes on.
Consider your personal legal or criminal history. Many potential customers will consider you unwelcome to work in their homes, businesses, or near their children if you have a criminal record, or you are going through a serious dispute with another person. Clear up any legal loose ends before applying to work for someone.
Have back up savings where possible. If you’re planning on leaving your full time position to start a cleaning business, make sure you have at least six months of savings. Or, keep your full time job and start out part time.
Method 2 of 6: Business planning basics
Plan the business, as you’d do for any new business idea. As part of your business plan, consider:
– What sort of cleaning business will you develop? Is your business a general house cleaning one or will it specialize in such cleaning as green cleaning, end-of-tenancy cleaning, open home cleaning, after-party cleaning, removing smoke damage, etc. The more specific your cleaning type becomes, the more you’ll need to research, learn and possibly seek qualifications for.
– Will your business offer different types of cleaning? Related to the sub-step above, perhaps your business will grow over time to include more niche services.
– Will you use your own products or will you use those of the client’s? If you make your own products or believe in certain products, this might form the core of your business. Or, you might be happy with what the client wants used (note that in some cases, you will need to be flexible even if you do use your own cleaning products––after all, it’s not your home).
– Where will you operate? Check out the cleaning services already in your area and beyond. Is the market able to take one more cleaning service or is it currently saturated?
– What transportation do you have? You can’t really rely on the family’s own car filled with buckets, mops and cleaning products, at least not for long, as it’s too messy and takes away a vehicle from everyone else needing it. If you’re cleaning using the client’s products, you might get away with using public transportation; otherwise, you’ll need some means for getting to and from the houses, especially if they’re in very different areas.
– What is your price scale? Check what existing services charge. Can you undercut them for a while without going into the red? See below for more information on how to charge.
Set up your accounting system. What is your business system for keeping track of invoices, expenses, sales tax, etc.? You’ll need accounting software, an understanding of how to use it and a separate place to keep all business documentation so that it doesn’t get mixed up with your personal expenses. If you don’t feel confident, there are quick online courses that can help you learn this easily, or ask about help from government organizations that support those setting up in small business.
Charge reasonably for your work. Sell your services based on your quality of work and not your low rates. If your rates are too low, clients will think that your work is sub-standard and that you’re not experienced. Also, you want to attract the clients that can afford your services. As the old saying goes “You get what you pay for.” Of course, charging too high will lose potential clients too––most people needing cleaning services will have a limit on how much they can afford.
– Some companies charge by the hour, some charge by the room, some charge a flat rate per home and some charge by the square foot. While this variety sounds good, it is better to charge by the home, not by the hour (taking into account house size, of course). If a client knows they have to pay one set fee, they don’t care if you take 2 hours or 5 hours, provided you get the job done. Most clients appreciate knowing what they are paying up front and not having to fork out added expenses. Of course, exceptions can, and should, be made, such as cleaning the oven or cleaning a particularly badly soiled part of the home.
– Be sure to estimate houses not only by square footage, but by number of occupants, cleanliness of occupants, contents, and pets. Square footage alone does not indicate the time it takes to do a deep cleaning or the regular ongoing service.
– No two houses are the same and there is no set charge for all homes. You have to clean for awhile yourself to get some experience and to work out a system to clean efficiently. Only you know what you want and need to make. Decide what you need to make hourly to cover all expenses and still make a good profit.
– A word of advice: Make sure when you start your company that you charge what you would charge if you had employees. Some people make the mistake of undercharging when they start out just to get customers and then later on when they grow and need to hire help, they aren’t making enough money on their houses to pay help.
Get insurance and bonding. Trust comes from knowing that you and your services are guaranteed by some back-up. Insurance and bonding provides clients with reassurance, so you must be bonded and fully insured.
– Liability insurance rates depend on your insurance carrier and where you’re located. You can yearly or quarterly with most insurers and you can purchase your bond through a local insurance company. Note that a bond needs to be renewed every year.
– Each person you hire will increase your liability insurance but it’s well worth the cost because while you may be careful and trustworthy, you can’t always vouch that an employee will remain that way, especially when working beyond your supervision.
– Note: If you hire employees and cover them under your insurance, they must be an employee on payroll and not a sub-contractor. If you employ them as a sub-contractor your insurance may not cover them, check to make sure – (some policies do cover sub and independent contractors, such as the one offered through Eco-Friendly Residential Cleaner’s Association) If they are a sub-contractor they are required to carry their own insurance.
Method 3 of 6: Supplies
Consider what supplies you need to purchase. If you’re using your own equipment and products, you’ll need to purchase them from a wholesaler to save money (get official receipts to allow you to claim back sales tax, etc.).
– Use natural cleaning products that are non-toxic. This is an important selling point, especially for people with children and pets and who have concerns for their health and well-being. Natural products that contain essential oils tend to be appreciated for their lovely lingering scent.
– Use trusted brands. It’s harder to sell a product to a client when they’ve never heard of it. If you have your own homemade cleaning products, be prepared to explain why they’re good, healthy and reliable––sometimes offering literature you’ve prepared can help to convince the client better than a long-winded discussion.
– Many customers prefer that you bring your own cleaning supplies. That way they do not have to worry about going to the store for cleaning supplies before you clean. Some customers have special cleaners for certain appliances or floors in their houses––these customers usually will have these cleaners on hand for you to use and you must use these or risk harming the surfaces (which you may end up having to pay for).
– In general, you can use the customer’s vacuum cleaner. That way you do not have to carry a heavy vacuum from house to house––most clients will have one.
Dress appropriately. While you won’t be expected to wear your best clothes, it’s important to present neatly and with clean clothing. Your old rags won’t pass muster when you are trying to create a professional and reliable image––select clothing that washes well, looks tidy and is very flexible and comfortable. Keep it in good condition and have several sets of clothing to change into during the week, cutting down on constant washing.
Get transportation. As discussed in the business plan, you’ll need a vehicle for attending client’s houses and carrying your gear. Consider the costs of hiring a car or van for cleaning days or purchasing a cheap car or van for constant use. If hiring a vehicle, consider using removable (magnetic) signage to make it seem more professional (just don’t forget to take it off each time). Do the sums before deciding what is the best value.
Method 4 of 6: Marketing, advertising and getting clients
Develop your brand for marketing your services. Before you start advertising, decide what image you want to portray on your advertising material. For branding purposes (recognition), be consistent in all marketing materials that you plan to use.
– If you have a logo, use it on all your advertising materials. It is best to have a website developed before you start advertising. Stick with the same logo and colors on both your printed advertising, and on your website.
Invest in a website. The internet is now the main medium of communication and it’s where many prospective clients will turn first to find you. Having a website shows clients that you’re serious about your business and it allows them research your business in their own time. Being busy, it’s the easiest place for clients to check out your credentials, promises, service offerings, etc.––indeed, many workers will use work time to find your site, likely the largest source of clients needing your services.
– Many website deals are very affordable. If you use a web designer and hosting package, this will help to make your company appear more professional. The more information you can include, the better, including testimonials as you get them.
– In addition to your website, advertise on Craigslist, and if you can, Angie’s List. Free advertising is as good as the paid!
– Start a Facebook business page and a Google+ one too. You can do all sorts of fun things to encourage clients to visit your site, participate in competitions and quizzes and leave testimonials if you put in a little effort.
Advertise. Advertising your company and your image is essential to getting your services known and recognized.
– Advertise in a local paper with a text ad. Try to come up with an eye-catching ad. Do not sell your service based on low rates––sell your service based on your quality of work and what you can do for the client that other companies do not. There is a lot of competition in the cleaning service industry but by being the best and staying that way, you will stand out from the rest.
– Having your business name and contact information on your vehicle is a great way to advertise. It’s recommended to use vinyl lettering. The lettering looks much more professional than the magnetic signs.
– Print flyers. You can print nice flyers on your home computer, invest in some professional flyers. Hang flyers at hair dressers, laundromats, restaurants, bakeries, grocery stores, etc. Put flyers on car windows at local groceries stores and businesses. You can even go door to door in your targeted neighborhoods.
– Make door hangers. When people get flyers or ads in their mailbox they usually throw them away with the junk mail. A door hanger may just be the ticket to getting them to look at your ad. Pick the neighborhood you would like to work in and hang the door hangers on the door knobs.
Print business cards. Give your business cards to friends and family members, people you meet, on public boards, anywhere you can. You can also ask your local businesses if you can leave some cards on their counters, especially places where cleaning, or just “clean” are on people’s minds: the dry cleaner’s, day care centers (parents want clean homes for their kids!), supermarkets, and other places like that.
Get a referral program. A great way to obtain new clients is through a referral program. Offer existing clients a discount when they refer a friend. You can give your existing clients a discount when the friend uses your services three times, for example.
Method 5 of 6: Your first clients
Get your first clients. The hardest part of starting your own cleaning service is obtaining those first clients. Most clients want to know how long you have been in business, and because they’re trusting you with their belongings and personal affairs, they’re going to want dependable references. Being new, you won’t have any client references, but you still need to have some. For this, you can ask friends and family if you can clean their homes, and then get permission to use them as references. Not only will they be able to give you an honest reference, you’ll also pre-thank them by doing a great job on their home.
– Let clients know that you are new to the business but that you have thoroughly researched all aspects of the cleaning business, have obtained any necessary training and that you are up-to-date with cleaning needs, including more demanding requests such as green or allergy cleaning. This may require research beforehand but is well worth the effort.
– Assure your clients that you know what you’re doing and that you’re quite capable of cleaning their home to their specifications. Be confident––this can’t be stressed enough, as clients respect and trust confidence. It relieves their worries and lets them know that their home is in good hands.
– Get character references as well, to reassure clients that you’re a good, dependable person. A police check is also very wise; in some places, it’s required by law.
– Consider offering a discount for the first clean, a loss leader approach whereby you can prove how excellent your services are.
Go for quality. When cleaning the homes of your first clients, go for the very best quality you can give. This is not about how fast you can clean the home. Cleaning efficiently takes a long time, but you will get to the point where you can do a thorough cleaning in a short time. At the outset you may have to resign yourself to spending a bit more time than you’d like until you work out your own efficient systems but persevere as it won’t take long to get your rhythm in place.
– After cleaning, go back and double check all rooms to make sure you didn’t miss anything. Impress those first clients and word of mouth will soon spread.
Don’t be shy about letting your clients know that you’re seeking more clients. Tell them about your hopes for expanding your business, be enthusiastic without being pushy and you’ll find many clients will be happy to let others know about how great your services are. Do reassure them that you won’t leave them in the lurch though––some clients won’t share word about you if they’re afraid that you’ll be poached and will no longer take care of their house.
Method 6 of 6: Growing your cleaning business
As you start to get more clients, you will be able to hire more part time help. Eventually you will be able to stop doing the cleaning yourself and just run the business end, which is the only way you will be able to grow your business.
– Start out with one part time employee. Train this person and let him or her take your place one day a week. Then have this employee take your place two days a week and so on.
– When training new employees, always, either train them yourself or have a lead person train them. There should be a lead person on each and every cleaning job––some employees have a tendency to slack off when they are on their own.
– Do a regular check the quality of the employee’s work, to reassure yourself that your standards are being maintained.
Change from doing the heavy work to managing the business. You will eventually get to the point where you have enough employees and lead people and you will be able to stop working in your business and start running your business. You will find that after awhile it will get to be too much trying to clean everyday and at the same time giving estimates, answering calls, scheduling, doing book work, obtaining new clients, etc. This is when it’s time to consider a permanent base somewhere beyond your home (if you haven’t already done so) and you might even consider franchising your business if you’ve been particularly successful in establishing your niche.
Regularly check in with clients to ensure that your cleaners are doing a good job, even if they have previously told you that they are happy. Standards may change or drop and this could lose you a client.
Be friendly and on time. Punctuality and a smile will go a long way to creating long-term trust.
Don’t take on more than you can handle. Start off slowly and grow gradually.
Always carry hand sanitizer and wash your hands often while cleaning homes. Wear gloves when cleaning bathrooms. You will be exposed to a lot of different germs in clients’ homes. However, do not move from cleaning the toilet to wiping down kitchen counter tops––change gloves for such transitions!
Pretend you are your client at least one time before you do anyone else. Time yourself, see what products you use, critique yourself. Or, get a friend to act as a client and get a report card on how you did.
If you plan on making this a business that will grow, look closely into the licensing and/or bonding laws in your state. Also, consider incorporating or becoming an, “LLC,” to help protect you and your business.
What you want more than anything is positive word of mouth by your clients. Your business can grow as large as you like it to, as long as you have clients telling other people how great you are.
Let the client know they can tell you if they wanted something done differently or something done that was not done. Some clients will be very picky, others not so much. The most important thing is to know your client and to never make it seem like a bother.
Use an online text reminder service (e.g. AppointmentSMS.com) to send your customers a text appointment reminder the day before their appointment.
Get an MP3 player to listen to music, podcasts or learn a language while you clean.
If you decide to to do new construction cleaning you will need more equipment. You will need ladders, window cleaning kits with long extensions, a shop vac, etc. These types of jobs are usually two to three person jobs. New construction cleaning requires a lot more cleaning. You may have to remove stickers and labels from windows and bathroom showers, sinks and toilets. Some require that you clean the vents to remove dust from construction work. There will be ceiling fans to clean, scrubbing floors, and cleaning woodwork to remove dust. New construction cleaning rates depend on the area you live in. Normally they run from 12 cents per square foot to 25 cents per square foot, depending on where you are located.
Don’t help yourself to anything in the client’s house without permission––leave things like food, toiletries, books, magazines and sundry items well alone. If your lunch falls during a cleaning session, bring your own and never eat on the client’s time if you charge by the hour.
It is very important that you do further research on what products to use on every surface. You do not want to ruin your client’s new granite counter top or stainless steel appliances. Research all that you can before you just go out and clean. Cleaning a client’s home is very different from cleaning your own home and they can hold you responsible if something is damaged.
Always carry your cell phone with you in case of accidents or danger. This will ensure that you can contact someone quickly if you need help. Sew a phone pocket into your cleaning clothes, one which has a seal or zipper to prevent the phone from falling out as you work.
Reconsider this business if you have ongoing health problems. While clients will usually forgive a sick day now and then (and they’ll expect rescheduling), they are less likely to appreciate constant interruptions if you keep going off sick. Moreover, it’s alarming to employees to think that they’re employing someone who isn’t well––it feels like they’re taking advantage or even being abusive and while your illness may garner sympathy initially, it wears thin quickly and you’ll find your business is dropped. After all, the client wants these services so that they can get on with their lives, so certainty and lack of guilt are important factors in their design to hire.
Be prepared for how to respond to an unsafe work environment. From something as simple as a broken stair-step, to finding weapons or illegal drugs, working in a private home or business can expose you to any number of unsafe situations. Establish in advance with your client what hazards you are not willing to face in your work environment.
Work with a service agreement to state what you do and do not perform at each appointment. This should include your guarantee and exceptions. Many people will try to cash in on your insurance for damage and/or breakage, cancel scheduled appointments at the last minute, have you work when there are sick people in the home and make claims that things were missed on an appointment. You need to decide beforehand how you will handle these situations.
Remember one of the most important qualifications for a cleaning service is trust. A client has to know they can trust you alone in their home. After you acquire a few cleaning positions ask the clients if you can use them for a reference. Most of the time they are more than willing to let you use them for a reference. This is how you build your business and acquire new clients is through referrals. Be dependable. Most clients will want to be set up on an every week or every other week schedule on the same day of the week. Try to always keep this same schedule unless the client asks you to switch to another day. If you have to cancel a cleaning date, make sure you try to reschedule at the earliest possible date to make up the cleaning. Also, in today’s world online reviews can make or break your business. Ask your clients for honest reviews on local review sites. Reply to all feedback, thanking those who leave positive feedback and responding to those who leave negative feedback in a professional manner. For those who leave negative feedback attempt to personally reach out to them to rectify the situation before posting an online response. Oftentimes they will appreciate this and remove or alter the review to a positive or at least neutral one.
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