How to start a cleaning business in 10 steps
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projected the cleaning industry would grow by 4% in the decade from 2019 to 2029. The demand for disinfecting divas and sanitizing soldiers will likely rise as the world battles microscopic enemies.
It’s an opportune time to launch a cleaning business. This step-by-step guide will help you avoid becoming one of the 50% of small businesses that fail within five years. Read on to find tips and strategies to start a successful cleaning business from scratch.
1) Choose your type of cleaning business
The first step for new cleaning business owners is to decide between a residential or commercial cleaning business. Your choice determines how you plan, finance, and market your new enterprise.
Most cleaning companies specialize in houses or businesses, but not both. Each type of cleaning company offers particular services and needs unique equipment. As a straightforward definition, residential cleaning services work in homes and are sometimes called house cleaners or maid services. Commercial cleaners, also called janitorial service providers, work at businesses and office buildings.
Residential cleaning businesses require less to start and offer a larger pool of potential customers. Residential cleaning has seen companies like TaskRabbit allow independent contractors to provide one-time services daily or hourly. On the other hand, the commercial side has larger contracts but a smaller, more competitive market of prospects.
New business owners can start from nothing or buy a franchise. No matter how you fund your operation, here’s a quick summary to help you decide which path is best:
|Day cleaning||Night cleaning|
|Less competition||More competition|
|Less speed||More speed|
|More client interaction||Less client interaction|
|More detail||Less detail|
|Smaller contracts||Larger contracts|
2) Create a business plan
“Failing to plan is planning to fail.”
Benjamin Franklin opined that gem, and before he was a Founding Father, he was a savvy entrepreneur. Entrepreneurs looking to vacuum up more than a few notes with his face on them should follow his advice. Before you get to the revenue, here are questions to ask yourself before your start a business:
- Executive Summary: How would you describe the business and your potential success?
- Overview: What’s the business’s background, legal structure, and other key attributes?
- Industry Analysis: What does market research reveal about the cleaning industry in your area, including size, opportunity, and current trends?
- Competitive Analysis: Who are your competitors, and what are their strengths and weaknesses?
- Marketing: What is your marketing strategy to reach potential customers?
- Management: What unique skills do you bring to the business?
- Operations Plan: How will you manage the day-to-day tasks of the business?
- Financials: What are your estimated revenues, expenses, and profits for each of your first five years?
3) Find your cleaning niche
Your niche is a focus area that helps you specialize and differentiate your business from the competition. A niche is like raising your hand in a crowded marketplace so that the ideal client can find you.
Many new cleaning businesses make the mistake of saying yes to every opportunity. Say yes too often, and you may end up saying no to clients that are a better fit. Here are some common cleaning niches to help you generate ideas.
- Airbnb/VRBO cleaning
- Air ducts and dryer vent cleaning
- Appliance cleaning
- Bedding, mattress, and furniture cleaning
- Boat and RV cleaning
- Carpet cleaning
- Eco-friendly cleaning
- Electronics cleaning
- Exterior cleaning
- Foreclosure cleaning
- Graffiti cleaning
- HOA cleaning
- House showing cleaning
- Pet-friendly cleaning
- Pool cleaning
- Post-construction cleaning
- Rental property cleaning
- Waste disposal
- Eco-friendly cleaning
- Educational cleaning
- Event center cleaning
- Exterior cleaning
- Healthcare cleaning
- Hospitality cleaning
- Industrial/warehouse cleaning
- Office building cleaning
- Religious building cleaning
- Waste disposal
4) Uncover your unique selling proposition (USP)
After you find a niche, you’ll need a unique selling proposition. Your USP describes precisely what makes you different from the other cleaning businesses. Your potential clientele has more choice than ever before, and the number one type of any business is only a Google search away. Because of fierce competition across categories, some of the best business thinkers now agree it’s better to have 90% of a small market than 10% of a large market.
USPs help you aim for your 90%. For example, a residential cleaner might come up with the USP, “Anytime Airbnb Cleaners for Remote Investors,” and a commercial entrepreneur might try “Organic Cleaning for Child Care, Preschool, and Early Education Centers.”
USPs like the ones above tell potential clients what the business offers. Your company becomes memorable, referable, and focused. Your testimonials will be more influential because they are specific to a particular type of customer. You’ll be able to serve these customers better as you build expertise in the niche.
What if there are not enough remote investors or childcare centers to make your USP profitable, for example? You can enlarge your target market to find more customers. In the previous instances, you can expand to regular homeowners who Airbnb, and on the commercial side, maybe you open up to all educational facilities. It’s all about balancing your niche, USP, and the market’s demands.
5) Pick your cleaning business name
This might be the most enjoyable part of the whole process. Armed with the broom in one hand, a mop in the other, and a dream in your heart, you find a name. You want to mix your niche and USP in a bucket, swirl it around, and come up with a name that communicates what makes your cleaning business special. Try a simple moniker like “Airbnb and Investment Property Cleaners” or a colorful one like “Uncle Organics Daycare Cleaners.”
It’s okay to see what names the competition has or try a business name generator. Or you can turn the process into a party and invite your close friends and family over to brainstorm business names. When you have a few top names, type them into Google to see if they’re still available. If a favorite’s already off the table, can you find an alternative that embodies your USP and the brand you want to build?
After finding a few that you like that are still available, you might even use social media to poll potential customers. Once everyone else has given their input, the final and most important opinion is yours. Pick a name with polish that prospects can admire that shines in your mind even when your elbow deep in dirty jobs.
6) Select your cleaning equipment
You’ve decided between residential or commercial, your niche, and USP. You should have a pretty good idea of just what type of clients you will serve. There are a few ways to create a list of needed items.
First, you might use a little common sense to develop an intuitive list and then offer to clean a friend or family member’s house as a test. Any supplies or materials that you missed would be good things to add. A bonus is you might lock down your first couple of clients.
Another method would be to see if you could shadow or work at a cleaning company to note what equipment and supplies they use. A similar plan might be to call it the competition or check their websites. Probably one of the quickest ways to get started on the right foot is to visit a local cleaning supply store and ask an informed customer service worker what you need.
One benefit of the cleaning business is the small overhead needed to start. You likely won’t need a company vehicle or office space to get going. Just a few basic cleaning supplies should have you ready, including:
- All-purpose cleaner
- Apron or cleaning uniform
- Broom and dustpan
- Extendable duster
- Grout and tile cleaner
- Grout brush
- Latex gloves
- Microfiber cloths
- Miscellaneous cleaning products/chemical agents (differ based on the type of work)
- Paper towels
- Scrubbing brushes
- Shoe covers (to protect floors)
- Spray bottle
- Trash bags
- Toilet bowl cleaner
- Toilet brush
- Wet floor signs
- Window cleaner
- Wood cleaner
7) Figure out your financial plan
Skipping this step could mean the difference between a business that thrives and one that barely hangs on. Consider the average net profit for janitorial services is between 10% and 28% of gross sales, and startup costs can be as low as a few thousand dollars. To map out your financial plan, you need to calculate your budget, decide your pricing model, and secure funds.
a) Calculate your budget
The first step to creating an accurate budget is forecasting how much it costs to get the business off the ground. After that, you need estimated monthly expenses before you move on to your pricing model. If this sounds like a calculus class, you can always use accounting software, a bookkeeper, or an accountant to run the numbers. What’s the upfront and recurring costs for:
- Cleaning equipment and products
- Licenses and permits
b) Decide your pricing model
At some point, every venture gets down to dollars and cents. Your clientele, competition, and location will all factor into your actual rates. There’s also the option to increase your revenue with upgrades like appliances, upholstery, or window cleaning.
How do you price your services if you’ve never done this before? In general, everything is a function of time, even if you don’t charge for it directly. On the residential side, you can go back to your “try it out on close friends and family” playbook like you did when buying cleaning supplies. Use a timer and then note how long you take to clean:
- Bathrooms (half and full)
- Family rooms
- Living rooms
- Other spaces included in your services
You can use a similar plan for commercial cleaning. Instead, you’ll be measuring square feet and noting how long you take. For residential and commercial alike, you can use your averages to set rates. The good news is as you gain experience and know-how, you become more efficient and, therefore, more profitable.
Along with doing test services, you can also call your local competition and precisely determine what they’re charging. Here’s how to price cleaning jobs:
- Hourly Rate: This is the most common way to bill for house cleaning companies.
- Flat Rate: Gives customers an exact price. You must estimate how long you take ahead of time to decide if the job is profitable.
- Square Foot Rate: The standard in commercial cleaning is to charge per square foot.
c) Secure funds
Many cleaning business startups get going as side hustles. You may have nothing more than your checking account, savings, and personal credit on day one. Depending on the type of business you start, you may need outside help. This is especially true on the commercial side and for those planning to buy a franchise.
Consider the following creative and straightforward strategies to finance your new venture:
- Ask friends or family.
- Crowdfund with community help.
- Finance equipment and with vendors.
- Invest your savings.
- Open a line of credit.
- Secure a personal or business loan, such as a Small Business Administration (SBA) loan.
- Use personal or business credit cards.
8) Get your paperwork in order
You’ve done all the planning, and now you’re ready to bring your future to the present tense.
a) Register your business name with the state
As eager as you are to take that first client, you must first register your name with the state and local business authorities. Start by selecting the type of business structure for your cleaning business, such as sole proprietorship, limited liability company (LLC), or corporation.
If you’re still in side-hustle mode or work as a sole proprietor, you can get a DBA, “doing business as,” to set up a business name other than your name to build your brand. However, a DBA isn’t a business structure. It’s simply a way to register a name that isn’t your legal business name.
b) Apply for your EIN
Your Employer Identification Number (EIN) identifies your business for taxes. Fortunately, it’s free and easy to get your EIN from the IRS.
c) Obtain licenses and janitorial bond
All states have different requirements for cleaning businesses. But generally, to get started, you need your business structure and vendor’s license. The vendor’s license is a basic business license that allows you to sell goods or services within a specific jurisdiction.
In a perfect world, janitorial bonds would exist. We like to believe the best in people, especially our employees. A janitorial bond is a type of surety bond that protects homeowners or commercial clients from employee theft.
If your employee stole something from a client, the bond company would pay for the replacement. The bond company would then put your business on a payment plan to reimburse the cost of the lost item. The idea is to reduce the number of lawsuits and give potential clients confidence in buying your services. That’s why many cleaning companies get bonded even if the state doesn’t require it.
d) Get cleaning business insurance
It can be tempting to skip this step in a mad dash to take on new clients. But being bonded and insured puts forth a level of professionalism that can help you attract more and better customers. Every cleaning company needs dependable small business insurance—that’s why it’s crucial to shop around to lock in the best deal.
- Workers’ compensation: This coverage protects your employees if they get sick or injured while working in your cleaning business. Every state requires worker’s comp, and the consequences of skipping this coverage could cause the state to close your business. (You can get a quick estimate on what you’d pay for workers’ comp with our 60-second workers’ compensation calculator.)
- General liability insurance: This policy protects your cleaning business if you’re sued for an injury or property damage claim. (Expensive lawsuits can quickly put a cleaning service out of business.)
- Property insurance: This policy protects your cleaning equipment, essential for expensive industrial-grade hardware.
- Commercial auto insurance: This policy covers vehicles that are used for business purposes.
9) Hire your first employees
As soon as you add your first team member, you’ll need workers’ compensation insurance to operate legally.
Once you’ve completed the proper paperwork and law requirements, you can find a summary of what’s needed before hiring from the Small Business Administration. It’s common for cleaning business owners to fly solo while they learn the ropes. But every employee that you hire is effectively like cloning yourself and doubling your productivity.
Friends, family, colleagues, and associated businesses are all excellent sources of potential employee referrals. You can also try temp agencies or job advertisements. Invest your limited funds into finding the most experienced cleaning help your budget will allow because you build a stellar reputation one immaculate room at a time.
10) Spread the word about your new cleaning business
Rarely in life do you get to roll out the red carpet for yourself, but when you’re the one who vacuums it, you may as well strut your stuff. How do you generate the right level of buzz and make sure all your ideal clients are invited to the party?
Here are some winning ways to market your new cleaning business:
- Build a website. Get the URL for your business name. A service with templates like Weebly or Squarespace can make this easy.
- List your business on Google and Yelp. Sign up for your Google My Business and a Yelp profile.
- Launch your social media profiles. Get your unique Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterest, TikTok, and other handles relevant to your niche.
- Buy online advertising. If you can afford the pricing, focusing on longer keywords related to your niche and USP can attract new customers.
- Create word-of-mouth. Business owners know nothing builds a business better than word-of-mouth advertising, and the best way to garner it is one superbly cleaned home or office at a time. Ask satisfied clients for reviews that you can post to your social media profiles and website.
- Distribute brochures, business cards, and flyers. It’s an old-fashioned method that still gets new customers in the 21st century.
- Give branded gifts. A small hand sanitizer bottle or miniature duster with your company name can be both a reminder and a small incentive that might encourage a referral.
- Network. Join the Chamber of Commerce or Business Network International (BNI) to build relationships in your community.
- Offer discounts. Give price breaks to customers as part of a loyalty program or after they refer a new client.
- Write “thank you” cards. After every clean home, you can leave a personal handwritten note thanking the client and asking for a referral.
Bonus: Check out these tips for running a successful cleaning business
Learning how to start your own cleaning business can sweep you off your feet. Of course, there must be a bit of romance to fall in love with a new business venture, but then there’s just so much to absorb. Like any good sponge, here are some resources you can soak up:
- ISSA: The Worldwide Cleaning Industry Association offers ongoing education, certifications, market research, discount programs, and even mentoring. The site’s a fantastic resource for residential and commercial cleaners alike.
- Cleanfax: This is a 35-year-old publication that operates like a traditional and online magazine. Now part of ISSA, it supplies valuable insights, news, and information to help you grow your cleaning business.
- Grow My Cleaning Company Podcast: Mike Campion, former ServiceMaster Commercial Cleaning Franchisee, hosts the podcast with humor and charm. He interviews successful cleaning entrepreneurs to give you best practices to thrive in today’s industry.
Brush up on market trends as a method to stay sane as an entrepreneur.
And no matter how much you scrub, cleaning is perhaps the only business that will never wipe the smile off your face. Why? Because you offer a service people always need.
If you’re ready to move one step closer to making your client grin as much as you do, you can get business insurance with Huckleberry in about the time spent writing a thoughtful “thank you” card to yet another satisfied cleaning customer. (Getting a quote is free, easy, and 100% online.)