The cleaning industry is one niche that offers immense business opportunities to the few that are willing to take the challenge. It is not a simple task to clean the clutter and mess created by others, but it is an extremely flexible, rewarding and profitable industry. If you are planning to delve into this area for the first time, however, you need a few tips and tricks to help you establish a business from scratch. Luckily, I have more than enough experience to help you with this. This article serves as a definitive guide, furnishing you with all the tits and bits that are needed to start and run a successful janitorial business. Here’s what you’ll learn today:
- how to develop a business plan
- what services you should offer right from the beginning
- whether you should invest in a franchise or not
- the administrative work required to be in line with the law (business registration, liability insurance and so on)
- what cleaning equipment you should acquire (best accessible vacuum cleaners/carpet cleaners for start-ups)
- financial aspects, including getting the start-up capital
- how to price your services
- how to develop and raise your brand
Develop an elaborate business plan
Any successful business is based on a good business plan. This should be an elaborate document that gives an overall summary of the business, together with an action plan that will help you take off and steer the business to success. Start with a brain storming session, usually including your most appropriate relatives and/or friends. Describe the manner in which you will acquire and maintain your clients, not forgetting the marketing and advertising strategies that will help spread word regarding the services that you offer. Put everything on paper and refine.
In a good business plan, you should contemplate at the rates that you will charge because this will help you direct your marketing endeavors towards the right audience. The plan should not leave out the essential financial aspects such as your source of funding, and other issues such as billing, if at all you plan to give credit services to some of your clients.
Understand the basics of a janitorial business
The cleaning business has a huge market both in the consumer and commercial end. The consumer market mainly consists of residential homes where you will be hired to deliver different cleaning services tailored to each customer’s needs. The commercial market on the other hand, deals with large-scale cleaning services and dominates a greater proportion of the market. In this field, you will be required to avail janitorial services to commercial and industrial settings. This will require high-end cleaning equipment, a dedicated team and a significant amount of starting capital. This article targets the first category, but offers practical advice for both types of businesses.
Before starting a small cleaning business, there are three driving factors that you should fully understand and take into account. These are:
- Target market
Choosing the location where you’ll activate is not as straight forward as one may think, but don’t worry, I’ll cover this a bit later in the article. Prospect the market to see what is your competition. Try to find out inside info. How many employees do your rivals have? Do they find work easily? Do they provide a good service? What about their rates, can you go lower? Is there any room left for you? You can try to hire them for a cleaning session at your place, or better, you could even try to do an internship with them.
Choose the kind of services that you want to offer
Starting a cleaning business from scratch will need a lot of trials and in the process, you are bound to make errors. As such, it is important to start with one or two core services before you gradually upgrade the enterprise. This will not only keep the business simple but also cuts down the start-up cost. Starting simple also gives you time to refine your skills.
As the business grows, you will have the opportunity to integrate complementary services (e.g. floor scrubbing/finishing) swiftly and easily. You will be faced with the urge to offer every cleaning service to every client but this is a feeling that you should resist by all means. If you are a generalist, it is obvious that you will charge a smaller rate, compared to a specialist. In any case, generalization is not a viable idea in this volatile industry.
Before choosing the services that you will offer therefore, ask yourself the following questions:
- Is this service in demand?
- Do you master this service well?
- How much will it cost to put in place this service? Does it require additional professional-grade equipment?
- What training and licensing requirements are needed?
For a small business, offering domestic cleaning services is the ideal place to start. The start-up cost for this kind of business is low and besides, the demand keeps growing by the day because different households are looking to outsource home cleaning services. As I’ll show you below, domestic cleaning services require low-cost cleaning equipment and a few professional cleaning products. Even so, don’t forget the fact that there are licensing and certification requirements no matter how small your business will be. A good idea would be to target the upper end of the market, more precisely, wealthy customers or two-income households with the people having no time to spend on cleaning activities. Check out this business plan to get a better grip on what I’m talking about.
If you wish to offer a more skilled business on the other hand, it can be small but more specialized. In this case, you need more money and probably special skills to execute the kind of cleaning jobs that will be sent your way. It will also take time before you learn the specialty skills that are needed to survive with this kind of exercise. Because of the specialization and high initial capital, such a business will have a lower competition. The prices that you charge will in turn be higher, a reason why you need to add specialized services with time if at all you opt to start with general domestic cleaning services.
Choose between buying a Franchise and starting your own business
When it comes to small-scale cleaning services, you can either start your company from scratch or buy an existing franchise. This is a decision that you ought to make from the outset because it determines the direction in which you will move. Both of these are viable options, with each carrying a set of benefits and drawbacks. If you start your business from scratch, you have the liberty to establish an enterprise that meets your lifestyle and financial needs. However, you will need a lot of support and guidance because you will be diving into the business totally green.
Starting from scratch
Buying a franchise
If you go for the option of buying a franchise, make sure you do a lot of research. Meet and discuss with current and previous franchisees to fully understand the challenges that you are likely to encounter. Here’s a good list of commercial and residential franchises in US. I won’t go into many details, suffice to say that Jan-Pro, The Maids and Van-Guard are pretty good at what they do. The Maids is the most expensive, and you’ll also need around 20 employees to run it. The other 2 can be run by a single person. The starting costs vary from $4.000 to $200.000.
Consider licensing, registration, certification, insurance and tax requirements
These are important factors that you must take into account in order to earn trust from your prospective clients and avoid confrontations from the state authorities. You must therefore think of how you will register the business, get it insured and licensed to operate in the area. Whilst it seems an overwhelming task to meet all these demands, you will be at ease once you have met all the demands.
These requirements will depend on the kind of business structure that you choose. If your structure is simple and straightforward, these requirements will be met quickly and at a low cost. Before you start trading, decide whether you will register your business as a sole trader, a company or a partnership. If you have never done such a business before, talk to a solicitor to help settle on the best option.
In most countries and states, cleaning services are not regulated and will therefore not call for minimum qualification requirements. Even so, be sure to check with state licensing bodies to determine whether there are minimum requirements and ensure that you meet them before you even go registering the business. In some cases, there are health and training qualifications that you will be required to meet before your business is licensed.
Inasmuch as there are no qualifications needed to delve into this business, some basic training will give you leverage over your competitors especially when you are getting into the market for the first time. Training will give you the skills that go into completing different cleaning jobs in an efficient and effective way. A course in cleaning jobs will guide you through various equipment available and how each will be used. The kind of qualification that you have will as well be used as a tool when advertising your business. My one advice here is to be sure to find a practical cleaning course. Theory is good, but practice really matters in this line of work.
A public liability insurance policy is what you will need to cover damages and accidents that are likely to occur when handling client properties. If you are ready to take in some workers from the outset, you will also be required to take employees compensation insurance to ensure that they are covered.
Tax and business records
Keeping an account of every service offered is something that you cannot escape. This will give you a good accounting record for the purpose of accountability and compliance in terms of tax. Putting a good accountant in place will also be a viable option that will help you save a lot of cash and reduce the taxable income. As long as you have the correct accounting system in place, tax compliance and record keeping will not prove to be long and laborious processes.
Set up a good location
Choosing a home-based location is becoming a hot trend especially in the cleaning industry. For a start, you may not have the required funding to set up a large office in a commercial setting. After all, most of your customers will not visit your facility because all the janitorial services will be done on their premises. When choosing a location for your businesses, consider your municipalities. Some municipalities might limit the volume of work done from a residential location. Others will totally prohibit the establishment of a home-based business, something that you must be aware of before setting up the location.
Business veterans will always recommend opening up a commercial business setting in order to achieve some authentic growth. This is because a commercial setting helps you establish a professional image. Before selecting an office, think of what you will need in terms of space and location. Starting a small business may not necessarily require a reception area but remember your office should be big enough to avoid clutter. An office dealing with cleaning services should look clean and organized. You will as well need a storage area for your equipment, leaving some space for your operational needs.
Best cleaning equipment to start a cleaning business
Here are 5 vacuum cleaners suitable for a person who is looking to start up a new small cleaning business in the residential area:
|Model||Hoover Commercial HushTone Hard-Bagged CH54115||Oreck Commercial U2000RB2L-1||Sanitaire SC889A||Hoover Commercial C2401 Backpack Vacuum||Rubbermaid Commercial Executive Series Backpack Vacuum|
|Warranty||2 years||1 year||2 years||2 years||1 year|
|Price||$329.00||$244.99||$294.60||$299.00||Price not available|
These units are designed to last under heavy use for a few years. However, as soon as you reach bigger settings, you’ll need to get units with wider nozzles, cheaper bags, and filters made from better materials, which will diminish your long-term costs while improving your efficiency (e.g. see some models from Kärcher or Pro Team).
Here are 5 carpet cleaners again, suitable for new small cleaning business targeting residential clients:
|Model||Bissell 86T3/86T3Q Big Green||Rug Doctor Mighty Pro X3||Mytee Mytee Lite II Carpet Extractor||Rug Doctor Deep Carpet Cleaner||Hoover Commercial C3820|
|Warranty||5 years||5 years||Limited lifetime||2 years||1 year|
|Price||$399.98||Price not available||Price not available||Price not available||$226.49|
As you see, most units I’ve listed here don’t cost more than $500. However, I want to enforce that as soon as you extend your reach and manage to land gigs with thousands of sq ft of carpet to clean, you will need to purchase better equipment, such as the ones produced by Tennant. A good carpet extractor starts from $1500. One more thing, I review these lists weekly, just like all my other top lists, so rest assured they are as up-to-date as you would expect.
Detergents and cleaning supplies
Besides my great article on cleaning supplies which you can find here, I’ve covered this aspect separately in the following section.
If you don’t have a knack for crunching numbers, pricing will prove to be a difficult task. It is a dangerous thing to rush through this process from the beginning because a low quote will either rob you of some profits or force you to lower the quality of services offered in order to make something out of the project. An exorbitant quote on the other hand, may see you missing out on the contract, especially in a competitive bidding process. From the start, therefore, you may need to consult and learn from your own services. After the job is done, look at the actual amount that each activity took and determine how close you were to the most appropriate quote. To establish a good pricing structure, consider the following essential factors:
- The labor and materials needed
- The overhead rate
- The profit
Choose the right cleaning products and equipment
The kind of cleaning products and equipment that you require will largely depend on the cleaning services that you will be offering. With a few basic supplies, it is possible to start a residential cleaning service but you will be required to upgrade with time. However, it is important to wait until you get your first client before you buy some of these supplies.
Again depending on the services that you offer, perhaps a vacuum/carpet cleaner is the most expensive piece of equipment that you will need. Hopefully, I’ve helped you with that, providing the 2 lists above. Even so, a good vacuum cleaner (carpet cleaner) must not necessarily have all the bells and whistles available on commercial-grade units. Other basic items that you will need to buy upfront include:
- Paper towels
- Toilet brushes
Beat your competitors from the onset
The cleaning industry is very competitive and will require you to beat competitors in order to make it. Looking at your local community, it may seem as though there are several competitors, which might be true. Provided you have the right tips and tricks, however, you can easily stand out from the crowd and attract an entirely new breed of clients. Some of the tricks that you will need include:
Offer exceptional services
Beyond the actual cleaning job, there are very few companies that offer exceptional customer services. This is something that you must capitalize on, one that will even reduce the cost of selling your business to new clients. Spend time to ensure that you go beyond customer expectations and your business will grow bifold. When you pick up the phone to engage a prospective client, therefore, simple issues such as sounding friendly and answering all their questions will give an upper hand.
Specialize in a single area
Clients will give preference to a specialist over a generalist. As aforementioned, it is important to specialize in a few services especially when starting the business. If someone is opting to clean a large office for instance, they are likely to choose a company that specializes in office cleaning and not a general janitorial company. Establish your proficiency in offering a particular service such as window cleaning and you will surely have an entirely new set of clients irrespective of the competition.
Start looking for clients
After meeting all the requirements and buying the tools needed for the job, it will be time to look for your first clients. There are several ways through which you will get clients but it may take some trial and error method from the beginning. No matter how hard it is, always remember that without a client you have no business to run.
Seek some referrals
This is perhaps the most viable way through which you will get your first clients. Ask friends and family to refer a few clients to you. Once you have the first client, request them to refer others. However, this will depend on the kind of services that you offer.
Consider offline marketing
Star by establishing an effective relationship with companies that have a large client base. Companies which deal with real estate will be a good place to start because they will help refer a few clients that need cleaning services. If you are offering a general cleaning service on the other hand, directories such as the Yellow pages will help you spread word regarding what you offer.
Leverage from online marketing
The online marketing potential is large and the market is lucrative, with an enormous client base. To get a good number of clients, make use of the usual online resources. Sell your business aggressively on social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram) and move beyond these to strategies such as email marketing and banner advertising. Don’t forget about Yelp and other websites alike. Try to get perfect reviews, and reply to those reviewers which are not completely satisfied. I will soon write an article on customer support from vacuum cleaner producers; in a way you should provide a similar experience with your business as the one offered by the best customer support teams from these guys.
Once you have the entire plan in place, take your first step and implement the plan. Ensure the business is running and maintain consistency. Not at any point should your business be down. Reliability is something that you must build from the start, so be sure to provide the same services whenever and wherever they are needed.
In summary, these are the few steps needed to start and run a successful small cleaning business. However, there are finer details regarding billing, purchase of equipment, pricing, labor, marketing and beating competition that you will need to find out essentially on your own, in order to succeed in this industry. No matter the challenges, always remember that it is an industry that carries a huge potential provided you apply the right strategies and motivate yourself to succeed. Also, don’t forget I’m always here for you, ask me anything you want using the comments form.
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I’m Jason Moe Roberts, an appliances expert and blogger. I’ve worked at Walmart for more than 15 years, in the house appliance department. I love to use home equipment and I spend a lot of time testing the best products and reviewing them. My family and friends also recommend me as a caring person, a great dad and a loving husband.