Does the thought of starting a business feel daunting? Even if you set out with a positive mindset there’s a good chance you’ll read about the difficulties new business owners face – the myriad financial and legal implications – and decide you’d prefer an easy life.
But it’s fair to say that some ventures are easier to set up than others, and starting a cleaning company can be one of the least expensive ways to get yourself established in business.
Research the Market
Your first step should be to find out whether there’s sufficient demand for cleaning services in the geographical area you’ll be operating in.
Demand for domestic cleaning services will usually be higher in residential areas with dual-income households – busy families of at least moderate wealth who need help to keep on top of their domestic chores. The elderly are also a good shout as they often require domestic help due to their declining physical health.
Commercial cleaning typically involves cleaning larger spaces, such as offices, retail outlets, schools and perhaps even healthcare premises. If you’re lucky enough to have commercial properties inside your catchment area then this approach may be viable – but before you set out to find commercial cleaning contracts, consider the associated challenges.
Commercial clients will expect you to work when their premises aren’t in use, which may involve working unsociable hours. Investment in specialist equipment may also be necessary and some premises will be too large for you to clean alone. Hiring staff involves increased overheads and the administrative burden can be high, something a novice business owner may wish to avoid.
Do You Have the Skills?
If you’re launching your cleaning business on a budget then it goes without saying that you’ll be doing the cleaning yourself. While this means you’ll avoid the cost and hassle that goes along with being an employer, it also means that you alone will be responsible for the quality of the service you deliver to your clients. If you don’t actually enjoy cleaning then you may be in trouble!
However, if you’re a competent, hard-working cleaner who pays attention to detail, you already have most of the skills required to run a successful cleaning company. As a domestic cleaner you won’t require any specific training as you’ll rely on the skills you’ve developed while cleaning your own home.
Commercial and specialist cleaning will require you to be skilled in the use of commercial equipment, such as carpet cleaners, walk-behind floor scrubber dryers and steamers, for example.
Whether you’ve chosen to go the domestic or commercial route, to ensure success you’ll need to develop some core business skills, such as financial management and basic marketing. Your local small business association or Chamber of Commerce may offer free courses, and you’ll also be able to find plenty of resources online. Developing your bookkeeping skills should be a priority because without up-to-date financial records it’ll be difficult to analyse your business’s performance.
Take Care When Choosing Cleaning Products
Domestic customers may prefer that you use the household products that they supply, but some will expect you to bring your own.
Trade cleaning supplies can vary widely in terms of their effectiveness and cost. Although you’re operating on a tight budget, it’s not always the best idea to go for the cheapest cleaning products – many have extremely strong odors that aren’t appropriate in a domestic setting. Some of your customers will expect you to use hypoallergenic or natural products, particularly if they have pets or children sensitive to the chemicals found in many cleaning products.
The most important factor here is that whichever product you choose, it must work effectively. It’s absolutely critical to your company’s reputation that the standard of your cleaning is high, and poor quality cleaning products will only make it more difficult for you to achieve that.
Buying trade cleaning supplies in bulk is much cheaper than buying household brands in smaller quantities, so it’s important that you’re able to find an online or local supplier who offer the supplies you need and at competitive prices.
Marketing on a Shoestring
Your first customers will almost certainly be people in your extended network, so it makes sense that the first step you’ll take to market your business is to tell everyone you know about your new cleaning venture.
Once you have your first customers, the most effective marketing strategy is to turn your customers into advocates for your business. If you maintain a consistently high standard of work it’s likely that they’ll recommend you to their family, friends and colleagues. And don’t feel shy about asking for referrals – you could even incentivise this by offering discounts to your existing customers each time they make a referral.
At first your services will be restricted to a relatively small geographical area, so it’s a good idea to be active in your local community. For example you could offer to clean for a local charity or non-profit in return for sponsorship. If you’ve gone down the commercial route then you may wish to meet fellow business owners at local business mixers or other networking events, many of which are free to attend.
It also pays to be active on social media. For example, Facebook Groups are home to local communities where people ask for and share recommendations. Once your budget allows you could adopt pay-per-click internet advertising that targets your local area, and consider traditional forms of advertising such as classifieds and leafleting.
Develop Your Company’s Brand
Many new business owners believe that branding is out of reach of the business owner on a budget, but there are steps you can take to begin developing your brand without spending a penny.
Branding isn’t just about a logo – it’s also about your ethos and values, and how you communicate with your customers. For example, if the environment and the health of your customers’ pets is something you consider to be important, you could use all-natural products and adopt this approach as your USP. By thinking about your values and what makes your company different to your competition you should be able to develop some ideas for your business name. Some of the most effective business names are those that encompass the company’s core values and help prospective customers understand what the business is all about.
If your budget is tight and you can’t afford to have a logo designed and printed on your vehicle or work clothes, how about you consistently wear the same style or colour of clothing? Wearing dark trousers and a plain t-shirt is a low budget fix that’s half-way to having a uniform, and reflects your professional approach.
Don’t Forget About the Boring Legal Stuff
It’s easy to forget about the legal implications of starting a business, but it’s important that you protect your business and ensure the safety of yourself and your customers. If you intend to hire staff then it’s also important that you prioritise the safety and wellbeing of your employees.
You’ll be working at somebody else’s property, so it’s necessary that you have the appropriate indemnity insurance. This will often be more expensive if you’re working in a commercial context and have employees, but insurance for domestic cleaners is often reasonably priced.
You’ll need to tell the relevant tax authorities that you’re self-employed. To offset your business expenses against tax, and to make it easier to file tax returns, you’ll also need to do some basic accountancy. Make sure you keep all your receipts and record them in a simple spreadsheet along with your earnings. These records will allow you to easily generate a profit and loss statement, providing you with insight into the success of your business. As your business grows you may need to subscribe to online accounting software, but it should be some time before you need the help of a bookkeeper or accountant.
If you’re planning to win commercial contracts that’s when things get more complicated. You’ll need to think about whether you should incorporate your company in order to benefit from your business becoming its own, separate legal entity. If you intend to hire staff you’re also legally obliged to consider the potential risks to the health of your employees.
Let’s Get Cleaning!
There will be plenty of other challenges to face down as you get started on your journey as a business owner, but these pointers should set you in the right direction.
A domestic cleaning company in particular should be an uncomplicated business that’s relatively cheap to set up, affording you the best possible chance of success.
As with many businesses, the most important thing to focus on is quality and customer satisfaction. A high quality product sells itself and your job as a business owner will be that much easier if you have confidence in the cleaning service you’re offering.