How To Start A Cleaning Business From Scratch
You could be running your own cleaning business in a week.
The cleaning industry has a low barrier to entry with low overhead, capable of generating cash flow quickly. And there’s always a steady stream of demand.
If you start your business right, in a few months or a year, you could be running a successful cleaning business with several employees.
But you have to start it right.
You don’t want to fall into things, working for clients without having taken care of initial planning.
Whether you choose to start a residential, commercial, vehicle, or other specialty cleaning service (like a focus on carpets or windows), there’s a foundation you have to follow before taking on your first client.
This is about being purposeful in the set up. We’ll show you how to start a cleaning business from scratch, the right way, from the planning stage all the way to launch.
Step #1: Start with market analysis and budgeting
The cleaning industry has always experienced high demand, and thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, that demand has grown even more.
With a 6% predicted growth rate—possibly as high as 10%— from 2019 to 2027, it’s an industry that’s set to outpace all other industries. That makes a cleaning business one of the most recession-proof industries out there, and extremely attractive in today’s economic climate.
Your first step to doing things right is to get your finances on solid footing:
- Know what your upfront costs are. Whether it’s supplies, legal fees, or marketing, do the research and list what you’ll need to get started. Don’t start with clients, randomly adding what you need as you go, because that will make some of the next steps difficult. Instead, determine what you must have right away, what you would add down the road, and set up a budget accordingly. This is planning to start and planning for growth.
- Find sources of financing. Every cleaning venture has different startup costs. Some businesses have a lower start cost (e.g. basic residential cleaning), while others have specialized equipment. Sources of financing might include your savings, family or friends who want to invest, credit cards, direct bank loans, or apply for available federal or state small business grants or loans. Keep in mind that some sources will add to expenses if they are high interest, and have to be budgeted accordingly.
- Get business financial services in order. As a business, you’ll need a business checking account, as well as software or a system to invoice and take payment. You may want to work with your bank about a line of credit for future expenses. You’ll also want insurance and any applicable licensing for your type of cleaning business.
Your costs and financial needs will fluctuate as you grow and add equipment, but you shouldn’t start taking on clients and haphazardly buying supplies and tools as need arises. Your costs will balloon and your budget (if you made one) will break if your expenses are crisis-generated.
Unplanned starts, especially in financial matters, lead to early failure.
Step #2: Name your business and build your brand
Naming your business might sound easy.
All kinds of clever and catchy phrases probably come to mind, but if you get naming and branding wrong, you might be self-limiting your business unintentionally. Someday, your business is going to expand. What started out as a residential cleaning service might grow to include commercial cleaning as well.
Your cleaning business needs a name and a brand that’s evergreen.
That means it doesn’t grow old; instead, it allows for growth and expansion and everything still fits inside the brand. Common naming and branding mistakes might refer to your geographic location, or being service-specific.
If your brand isn’t evergreen, growth is difficult and may force you to rebrand down the road. Rebranding is confusing for clients.
With that in mind, here’s how you create a name and build a brand when you start a cleaning business:
- Choose that evergreen name and brand. Consider your company values (for example, are you environmentally conscious?) and mission. Consider your target market and how you want customers to view you. Confront industry stereotypes and build your brand in defiance of what’s negative.
- Decide on your voice. Decide how you will “sound” when you communicate to clients and to the public. This is the tone you’ll use on social media, your tagline, other marketing, and even in written communication. It encompasses the visual style as well as the words. Will you be clever? Formal? Witty? A friendly brand is approachable and conversational. A higher-end brand is more formal.
- Choose your colors. Now that you know your voice, the look should fit. That means choosing the right colors for your brand. If you want to promote a natural and environmentally-conscious business, you might choose green and earth tones. If you wanted something more lively, you’d use bright colors. Color reflects how you want your customer to respond to you, which is part of voice.
- Create your logo. Your logo is a simplified—but quickly identifiable—visual version of your business. If cost is an issue and you’re not confident in your from-scratch design skills, there are several DIY online tools that can help you create a logo (like Canva). Or, if you’d rather work with a professional designer, you might find one online (try a freelancer marketplace like Fiverr). You may prefer to work with a professional where you live, too. Either way, your logo is too important to do poorly.
- Plan for brand longevity. If possible, create a style guide, or work with a graphic designer to create a style guide based on everything above. This will serve you well to stay on voice and on brand with colors and graphics down the road as your business expands.
A great brand carries weight, and in time, delivers an unspoken promise of trust that makes new customers prefer your business over others simply based on the brand. Remember, your brand is your promise to your customer.
Step #3: Register your business with state and local governments
Do not take on work before you get your legal ducks in a row.
Each state has different regulations regarding required registrations, so be sure to contact your Secretary of State and speak to someone about small business registration requirements.
You will likely need to register with the state for your business name, if you decide to be an LLC, and a sales tax identification number. Some states don’t require you to register a name, but you put yourself at risk of someone else taking your name or accusing you of taking their name.
At the federal level, a federal tax ID may also be required. You might also want to trademark your brand to protect yourself from future legal issues, which would require the assistance of a copyright and patent attorney.
Be sure to contact your city administration office to make sure you meet all registration and licensing requirements for where you live.
In all of that, keep the following in mind:
- Business structure. Your business could be a sole proprietorship, LLC, or partnership. The business structure you choose should be based on the legal considerations each comes with.
- Tax requirements. State and federal tax requirements are something to note and pay attention to. Missing a quarterly tax payment, for example, comes with a fee and could lead to a surprise tax bill. Depending on the business structure, you have different tax deduction options available as well.
- Employee requirements. When employees come into the picture, there are specific requirements regarding payment. You may need to get an Employer Identification Number (EIN) from the IRS. If you choose to use 1099 contractors instead of W2 employees, you’ll have to comply with the classification laws in your state (e.g. California’s AB5 law) and/or at a federal level.
The Small Business Administration is your friend; they have lots of online resources to point you in the right direction for what you need.
Step #4: Develop your business plan and strategy
A business without a plan isn’t a business for very long.
When it comes to planning your business strategy, you’ll want to answer the following questions:
- Travel: How will you and your employees get from job to job? Will you provide the vehicles? Will you reimburse mileage if employees use their own vehicles?
- Supplies: What cleaning supplies and materials do you need to do the job? What speciality cleaning tools and devices will you need? Do they differ based on where you are cleaning?
- Limits: What kinds of jobs will you take? Which jobs would be out of your ability or exceed your plan?
- Technology: How will you track employee work, performance, and hours? What do you need for accepting customer payment or invoicing after a job is complete?
It’s easy enough to realize you have to plan for supplies and such. It’s the technology piece that often gets left until the need is there and you have to make a rushed decision.
One of the reasons When I Work is popular with cleaning businesses is that it’s well suited to mobile employees. You can track employee time, client jobs, create work schedules, and communicate—all within the mobile app. As client jobs start stacking up, you’ll be glad employee scheduling is so easy.
Remember, while it’s likely you’ll be working out in the field from the start, that’ll change. As more employees come on board, you’ll be transitioning from the field to managing your business, and When I Work makes it simple.
Step #5: Set your pricing guidelines
Know how you’ll price a job before you accept the first one.
When a client contacts you, be ready with a price. Anything less reflects poorly on your professional reputation.
Pricing can be done by the:
- Hour. This works best with residential cleaning, where there’s usually one person cleaning and the job can vary widely from one client to the next.
- Project. If you have specialty cleaning projects, a client with several similar locations, or a client with an unusual cleaning need (e.g. public restrooms), you’ll charge by the project. As you get more experience, you’ll know better what a project will take.
- Square foot. This works best with commercial cleaning, like an office. An experienced cleaner would know how long it would take to clean a certain amount of space, and would base the price on that.
- Contract. You might want to offer monthly, quarterly, or yearly rates, and lock in clients with a contract. This makes it easier to budget and you’re less exposed to market shifts. Be wary of entering into a long-term cleaning contract if you’re new, however, since you probably don’t have a good grasp of what a fair price for that job will be until you get more experience.
If you’re not sure which one to use, you can research what your competitors do, or consider what kind of profits you want to achieve and what kind of clients you want.
Step #6: Find and win potential clients
Finding clients is the heart of marketing.
Not every possible client is your ideal client. Remember your brand and your voice, and understand that a client who isn’t your target market may end up becoming a headache by pushing you to do things that don’t fit your mission. Here are a few ways you can use to find clients right away:
- Word of mouth. Whether online or in person, people tell others about you because of the excellent service you provide. Providing a discount for client referrals incentivizes current clients to spread the word.
- Cold calling. Whether you call a local business, or walk in and leave them your card, you’re making a cold sales call with no prior lead in. If it’s a business you patronize as a client, perhaps they’d return the favor and try you out for cleaning.
- Networking. Join industry organizations, online groups, or attend events where you can let others know of your cleaning business.Contribute gift certificates for free cleaning services to local charity events or silent auctions.
- Marketing. Online, social media, neighborhood mailers or door hangers, or even postcards—these are all possible ways to let the community know of your business.
- Family and friends. Don’t be afraid to tell family and friends about your business. They might hire you, or know of people to contact. Ask them if you can use their name when you do.
Sometimes a client is a good lead, but isn’t ready to close the deal. Don’t let them think too long and come up with reasons to not hire you. Instead, offer them something that’ll be hard to turn down, like a reduced first-time rate. Be confident that what you offer is exactly what they need, whether they realize it or not.
Remember the amount of work it took to find a client. That will serve as a reminder to work hard and retain clients so that you don’t have to repeat the process more than necessary.
Step #7: Develop a marketing plan aimed at clientele growth
A digital presence is necessary. You must have a website and social media accounts in today’s environment.
While you’re busy working and managing your business, your digital presence should be generating leads.
- Create your digital homebase. Your website is your digital homebase. From it, links to social media, YouTube account, blog, newsletter sign up, and informational pages are found.
- Establish yourself as an expert. Post in industry forums or in related reddit groups. Be friendly, provide tips, ask questions. Write blog posts on your website with helpful cleaning tips for clients to use on their own.
- Give clients 24/7 access. Your website, Google business listing, and social media are selling your services whether you’re awake or not, so be sure to provide up-to-date information on hours, pricing, services, and FAQs in those places.
If you set and forget your digital presence, it dies as a lead-generating tool. Information must be updated and accurate. Fresh activity is its lifeblood.
Anyone can start a cleaning business, but not everyone starts it right.
Scheduling and communication with employees is all about client satisfaction.
With all the planning required as a new business owner, When I Work takes one of the more complicated aspects—employee management—and gives you a cost-effective and simple way to start right on your first day. You’re empowered with a simple system that is flexible enough to grow with you from a few employees to hundreds.