Points to consider when starting and growing a cleaning business. Assessing the market and marketing, considering franchising and ways to expand and diversify.
Starting and establishing your enterprise and moving to the next level
“Where there’s muck there’s brass” is an old saying very appropriate to the cleaning trade. It’s a huge industry with one national franchise operator estimating it to be worth in the region of over £2.8 billion a year; it’s an expanding industry with no signs of a slow down.
Indeed, with more people having less time, albeit with more income, many domestic chores are being sub contracted, with cleaning high on the list. Commercial cleaning is booming, too; the need to comply with ever more stringent health and safety requirements means cleanliness levels in the workplace must be of a high standard.
There’s scope for newcomers to the industry; some research undertaken amongst householders revealed that, of those who don’t use an outside house cleaner, some 20% say it’s simply because they can’t find one.
Cleaning is a relatively simple business to make a start in; a handful of cleaning products and some flyers and you’re good to go – but it’s not quite as simple as that. Some pointers to consider:
Competition is rife: there are many involved in cleaning, from one person doing it part time for a handful of friends’ houses, to major national companies operating through a franchise model.
Demand: can people in your locality afford a cleaner? Assuming you’d look to start locally, check if there are potentially enough households to be your customers. If you’re leaning more to offering commercial cleaning, are there enough businesses of the right size locally?
Be aware that larger businesses probably use an established, specialist commercial cleaners and may not consider using a startup. Smaller businesses might though.
Set prices carefully: research the competition by posing as a potential customer and asking for prices, and maybe ask a few friends to do the same.
Budget carefully: while initial costs can be low, you’ll still need to invest to a degree – and don’t overlook marketing costs. Looking professional will be a big help so properly printed flyers and business cards are basics.
Marketing: while you may get a start with a few people known to you letting you clean their homes, the hard work is building up a sustainable customer list. Some activities you might consider:
- Flyers – put them through the doors of your targeted homes and maybe businesses – and repeat regularly. Doing it once is counter productive
- Classified advertising – worth a go with your local newspapers but, as with flyers above, you need to advertise consistently before judging it as people often need repeated exposure to advertisements before taking action
- Online presence – a website is worthwhile and adds credibility. It needn’t be expensive. Also set up a Facebook page for your business.
- Online advertising – your website could help you be found when people are searching online for cleaners, and options such as pay per click advertising may be worth considering (especially if you’re offering a niche service such as carpet cleaning)
- Door knocking – fills many people with terror, but it does work and some people may respond better to at least putting a name to a face
- Branding – not restricted to multi-million corporations, good branding and a business identity will help you to establish and grow your business. Logos and a consistent typeface you use in your printed materials is a good move – and good quality designs are available very competitively priced online through freelance sites such as Fiverr.
Once you grow a little, branded clothing such as polo shirts and so on can reinforce your professionalism and joining trade organisations requiring a certain standard from its members shows competence.
If the idea of setting up from scratch doesn’t appeal and you have some money to invest (or can borrow some) then the franchising route may appeal.
Franchising is a popular business model in the cleaning industry with many options to choose from, including specialised cleaning sectors such as oven cleaning, kitchen hygiene cleaning, heating duct cleaning and chimney sweeping. If you invest in a franchise, you operate under the franchise name using their corporate identity and running a business often exactly to their prescribed ‘blueprint.’
Along with the initial costs there are usually further fees to pay in the form of a share of your profits along with maybe having to buy certain items such as marketing materials through them or their suppliers.
You may find it attractive from a business ‘done for you’ point of view, but you’ll still likely have to find your own customers. The franchisor should help with marketing support in terms of printed materials, maybe a centralised mailing campaign and online help such as providing you with a website.
Question of price
It’s tempting to focus on price especially when starting up, but this isn’t the best course to follow. In most businesses there’s always someone willing to ‘do it for less’ and it’s important to have a business that makes a realistic profit.
Once your business gains some momentum, you’ll require support from professional suppliers and service providers. For example, you’ll need access to and fast delivery of supplies and equipment, so choose a supplier of professional cleaning products carefully.
Legislation and licenses
There are no specific licences or stipulations required to start a cleaning business, but it’ll show professionalism and put your potential customers’ minds at rest if you undergo a DBS (Disclosure and Barring Service) check. If you go on to employ others at some stage, then getting them DRB checked will be worthwhile.
Developing and growing your business
If you start off providing domestic cleaning you may be happy simply expanding your customer base and recruiting more cleaners as business grows. Alternatively, you may seek to move into other areas – maybe offering commercial cleaning services – or operating in certain niches such as carpet cleaning.
How you grow and maybe diversify will likely be informed by what your local market needs. As you become known and knowledgeable about the local market conditions, maybe you’ll be aware that people are crying out for good carpet cleaners and it’s an under-served market, for example?
You may prefer to be more of a manager than a hands-on cleaner in time, so might look to expand to the point where you’re recruiting and running a team of cleaners.
Tough but worthwhile
Starting any business is tough of course, and a cleaning business even in a high demand area takes some hard work. The low barriers to entry often mean many individuals and one or two person startups ‘have a go’ so you’re up against them along with the established local and national companies.
After a while though, if you build a solid reputation and become established then you could have a profitable enterprise with interesting possibilities for expansion and diversification.