How to start a cleaning business

Cleaning is physical, repetitive work, all day long - and you won't earn much for your first couple of years (possibly not until you take on quite a few staff). But you can start the business without spending a penny, or very little, and you can run it with no overheads, which means you should always be cashflow positive. Which is amazing! Commercial and specialist cleaning businesses earn more but require more investment too.

Day-to-day

There are three main types of cleaning business:

  • Domestic cleaner
  • Commercial cleaning company
  • Specialised cleaning business

When you start a domestic cleaning business, it's likely you'll do much of the cleaning work yourself, with the opportunity to hire staff and take a step back later on. Your days will involve cleaning client homes, usually while they are at work, and leaving before they return.

A commercial cleaning business requires a team to clean offices and other business locations, and it's unlikely you'll be working alongside them. Your role will involve managing your people, focusing on the promotion of your business, and trying to find new customers.

With a specialised cleaning business, you will often begin as a sole trader. Your day will differ depending on what you specialise in: for example if you're a domestic window cleaner you'll be visiting client's homes. If you specialise in graffiti removal, however, you'll be working with various councils and spending the majority of your day outside.

The industry and market

According to the Cleaning Industry National Training Organisation (CINTO), the UK cleaning industry is worth around £10bn, and employs approximately 820,000 people. It is mostly made up of small organisations, with 72% of UK cleaning staff working in companies that employ no more than nine employees, and a third of all cleaning businesses owned and run by a single person.

The cleaning industry is extremely competitive, and it can take a while to break even on your investment. On the plus side, it's generally recession/downturn-resistant.

Natural skills

  • Suited to perfectionists.
  • You get a kick out of making somewhere tidy.
  • Happy to be doing physical work all day.
  • Happy to take orders.
  • Happy to work alone.
  • Trustworthy and likeable - clients have to hand their keys over to you.
  • Not easily bored - you'll be doing repetitive, non-thinking chores day after day.

Training

For domestic cleaning businesses, you don't need any more training than you have from looking after your own home. Not needing to invest in training programs means a quicker return on your investment, and is why domestic cleaning businesses are preferable for those with a lower budget.

With specialist and commercial cleaning, additional training will be required.

  • Trainingforcleaners offers courses in specialised areas such as graffiti removal, carpet, and even crime scene cleaning. Each course costs around £200-£300.
  • The British Institute of Cleaning Science offers a number of courses for those interested in running a commercial cleaning business, and prices are available on request.
  • Prochem.co.uk also offers a range of courses for those looking at specialist or commercial cleaning, with prices ranging from £95-£190.

As the company grows, so will your customer base, and you must be skilled in keeping records. You need to have all the information regarding every single job, pay the right amount of tax, and make sure your staff (if you have any) are paid on time.

It's likely you'll be handling potentially harmful chemicals, so you must also comply with Health and Safety regulations.

Premises

  • For most cleaning businesses, there's no need to rent/buy premises.
  • You can organise staff, arrange your schedule, and do any other paper work from home.
  • Clients have no need to come to your office, and all arrangements with them can be made over the phone or at their home/office.

Staff

  • Finding employees for a cleaning business isn't very difficult, because it's a job that all types of people can do.
  • Finding great employees, however, is a different matter. If you want your business to succeed, you need people who are passionate about doing a good job, and will give your company the positive image you want.
  • Read this guide on hiring the right staff for your business for more information.
  • Make sure you get extensive references and ask for CRB checks too. You don't want to employ someone who steals from your clients' homes!
  • A great way to get the best out of your staff is to gain your own experience undertaking the various tasks within your business. Knowing how to do each job means you'll be able to train your staff easily, and also gain an understanding of how long each activity should take.
  • Because cleaning work is usually low paid (and you'll want to keep it this way in order to get a good profit margin), you need to keep up-to-date with changes to minimum wage. Not doing so could result in fines or even prosecution.
  • Remember that if you hire staff they must be trained as well, which ups the cost of running your business and means a longer wait before making a profit.

Money

  • A domestic cleaning business with no staff can be started more or less for free, as you use clients' cleaning products. You may need a small amount to market your business, but you can create a free website and meet people in person to cut even those costs.
  • If you require staff, overheads will obviously go up for wage costs, and possibly supplying a uniform.
  • With a specialist cleaning business, you'll have to pay out for the various materials needed for your particular area, but prices will differ hugely depending on what this is. You could require anything from a pressure washer, to the most basic window cleaning equipment - meaning anything between hundreds to tens of thousands of pounds. Do your research and talk to people in your desired niche before committing to it, to work out if you can afford it.
  • Starting a commercial cleaning business will involve high start-up costs, because you'll need professional equipment, several staff members, and a vehicle to get the team and/or equipment to the clients' location. You'll also require a larger marketing budget.
  • Basic equipment needed to set up a commercial cleaning business includes:
    • Equipment trolleys: £250-£400 each
    • Industrial vacuum cleaner: £200 +
    • Sweeping machine: £200-£2,000
    • Van: £3,000 +
    • Other materials (mops, cloths etc): £500-£1,500
  • Don't forget that as an employer, you must take out insurance to cover your employees as well as yourself.

First Steps

  • The first thing to consider when starting a domestic cleaning company is whether residents in the area you're looking at can actually afford to pay someone else to do their cleaning.
  • Look around at the prices other cleaners in the area are offering, and see if you can beat it. You'll need to do the same with regards to starting a commercial cleaning business: what are the offices and other businesses in your area being charged?
  • Decide upon your marketing technique and get started as soon as possible.
  • If you're starting an office cleaning company, call around to see if your services could be required.
  • If you're looking at domestic cleaning, then it's time to start knocking on doors!
  • Distribute flyers and generally try to get your name out there.

Tips

  • Get a criminal records check from the CRB to help reassure clients you're trustworthy.
  • Encourage word of mouth. You need to be trusted so recommendations from existing customers will be your best marketing. Consider some kind of reward scheme, to entice existing clients to refer friends. For example, if a customer gets a friend to sign up, they both get 25% off the price of cleaning for the next month. You can set the price according to what works best for you, but remember, the higher the reward, the more interested they'll be in finding new customers!
  • Leafleting and advertising in newspapers and magazines might help you win clients, but simply knocking on doors with price lists can be more effective - and much cheaper. Potential customers sometimes react better to a friendly face than an ad in the paper, especially if they hadn't considered hiring a cleaner before.
  • Give clients a couple of weeks notice if cleaning products are running low, so you're never caught short.
  • Ask clients exactly what they want done to make sure you meet their expectations. You could offer different levels of service (with different price points) - extra for doing ironing or window-cleaning, for example.

Common pitfalls

  • Cashflow can be a big problem for a cleaning business, as often cash is meant to just be left on a table for you - and is often forgotten. Will you ask customers to pay you weekly or month-by-month? In advance is the safest option cashflow-wise, but not be so agreeable to clients.
  • Employees always cause complications for a business owners (much more admin, payroll, tax complications) - but in a cleaning business, if your staff are untrustworthy you risk your reputation. And if they run off having stolen from a client, you risk having to fork out the cost. Choose very carefully - extensive references, CRB checks and so on are a must.
  • Go over and above the call of duty to be remembered. Find a way to differentiate yourself that isn't just lower prices.

Support and resources

Use what's out there to help you. Software like Smarta Business Builder will make it easier to keep track of all aspects of your business. Other resources include:

Smarta Business Builder

To help you on your business journey, we've created Smarta Business Builder, the complete online tools package for growing your business. Website Builder, Business Plans, Accounting Software, Legal Documents and Email - all in one place - from just £20 per month with no contract! Try it out today.