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How to start a cleaning business

We'll show you how to start a cleaning business - from picking a business structure to creating a business plan and marketing your services.

Carving out your company’s niche is vital to sweeping away the competition.

If you’re an entrepreneur at heart but are new to building empires, a cleaning business may be a good place to start. It involves less overhead and operating costs than storefront businesses and other venues. But it’s a crowded market, and going from dusting rags to riches means standing out from your competitors.

7 steps for getting started with your cleaning business

Starting any business can be a serious undertaking. The following steps will help you create a cleaning company maid to perfection.

1. Choose your niche

Specializing in a particular submarket helps establish your brand from others, and within the cleaning industry, you have a lot to choose from. 

  • Residential. Provided to individuals in their homes and includes various services like weekly maintenance, annual “spring” cleaning and move-out deep cleaning.
  • Commercial. Engaged by businesses in the commercial sector with high traffic — like retail establishments and restaurants — and often includes daily maintenance and cleaning.
  • Office space. Offered to businesses where foot traffic is predominantly employees only and usually includes cleaning two or three times a week.
  • Healthcare. Used by various medical facilities and involves high-level cleaning and specialized sanitization several times a day or throughout the week.

Some companies carve out a niche by offering unique services, such as eco-friendly or vegan-only cleaning products. Others specialize in specific items, like carpets or chimneys. 

But becoming this technical can also mean shelling out some serious dough for specialized equipment. So be sure there’s a need for it in your area that isn’t already flooded with competitors.

2. Determine your budget

Cleaning businesses usually have lower upfront costs compared to most businesses. But you still need to invest in cleaning supplies and equipment, as well as vehicle maintenance and fuel as you travel between clients. Doing the cleaning yourself is a great way to save on labor until your business has enough demand to justify bringing in outside help.

Once you have a good idea of your expenses, you’ll know what you need to charge to break even and profit. Check out your competitors’ services and pricing as a starting point. 

Some cleaners charge an hourly wage while others price by square footage. Do some calculations based on your services and clientele to know which may work best for you.

  • Tip: Making your own cleaning solutions from scratch can help cut down on costs.

3. Create your brand

Develop a memorable name and logo that accurately represents your unique position in the market. Environmentally friendly cleaner? Go green with your branding. 

The key here is not to be subtle. Your logo and what your business does should be apparent at a glance.

Then create a set of standards that puts you above the competition. What can you do where your competitors fall short? 

Consider offering your customers free cleaning tips or leave samples of various products for them to try. Being unique will get you noticed.

4. Know your products

Mixing the wrong cleaning chemicals can create toxic gas, which is dangerous for you and your clients. Most cleaning agents come with hazard warning labels, so memorize what they mean and learn the signs of exposure, like coughing, chest pain and shortness of breath. 

While some cleaning products are far from deadly, they can still irritate your skin, eyes and lungs. Invest in protective equipment like rubber gloves, protective eyewear and a respiration mask, depending on the cleaners you use.

  • Tip: Add the number for Poison Control to your mobile for quick access in the event of an emergency.

5. Develop your business plan

A solid business plan identifies a gap in the market and demonstrates how you’ll work to fill it. For your cleaning business, it should include your position in the market, your marketing strategy, your competition and how you’ll top them and your financial forecasts.

Still not sure you need one? Most lenders and investors will ask to see one up front. So if you’ll need some funding beyond your own resources, developing a business plan may be a necessary step. 

6. Register your business

First, decide on your business structure. Most cleaning businesses are either a sole proprietorship or an LLC. If you choose not to become a sole proprietor, you will need to apply for an Employer Identification Number (EIN) from the IRS for tax purposes.

Licensing for cleaning businesses varies by state and county. Research the specific requirements in your area and apply for all the appropriate licenses, permits or certifications you may need. Make sure that all your clients fall within these jurisdictions, or you may need to apply for additional licenses from other counties.

Compare business insurance policies to protect you from liabilities or any damage to property your services might cause.

7. Advertise and grow your client list

Your initial contacts may start with family and friends — which can be a great way to snag some early reviews and recommendations. Capitalize on this by implementing a refer-a-friend program, where you offer discounted services for referrals. 

Become familiar with digital marketing. Through geo-targeted ads, you can narrow your marketing down to people in your exact neighborhood and surrounding locations. Most digital ads services will require you to have a website. So look into developing a site for your business where you can list your hours, service area and more.

Pros and cons of starting a cleaning business

Before starting your cleaning business, here are a few benefits and drawbacks to consider:

Pros

  • Low startup costs compared to other businesses
  • Consistent demand and job security
  • Minimal training required
  • Work close to home

Cons

  • Lots of competition
  • May have to work long hours, holidays and weekends
  • Can be physically demanding

What costs should I budget for?

When starting a cleaning business, you might need to budget for some or all of the following expenses.

  • Cleaning supplies and equipment
  • Protective gear
  • Equipment maintenance
  • Vehicle maintenance and fuel
  • Business registration fees
  • Permits and licenses
  • Insurance
  • Taxes
  • Advertising
  • Additional personnel
  • Software for payroll and accounting

Types of financing for a cleaning business

While a cleaning business may have fewer upfront costs, every business requires some money to get started. If you need additional funding outside of your own resources and savings, here are a few places to start. 

  • Government programs. Many state, federal and local grants and loans are available to those starting a new business.
  • Crowdfunding. Platforms like Kickstarter can raise money from your digital network to help cover your startup costs.
  • Partners. Ask around your community and network. You may find someone looking to team up with you or angel invest into your business.
  • The Small Business Association. While some loans through the SBA are government-funded, others are provided through private institutions.
  • Microlenders. These specialized lenders offer small-dollar loans for entrepreneurs, usually with low credit requirements.
  • Business credit cards. Compared to personal credit cards, business credit cards often come with higher limits, bookkeeping benefits and consumer protections.

Bottom line

Cleaning services are almost always in demand and require little upfront costs compared to other ventures. But before starting your own, learn about other small business resources your company may need.

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