How to start a cleaning business (with no experience and no money)

I interviewed 3 people who own successful cleaning businesses. They explain how you can start a cleaning business, and what you'll need.

Updated November 21, 2021

Written by

Benjamin Davis

Contributor

How-to-start.org

Experts interviewed:

Evan Blumberg, Owner, Mulberry Maids in Fort Collins, CO

Jonathon Thigpen – Owner, Transparent Cleaning Co in Colorado Springs, CO

Mariya Schoening - Owner, Springs Cleaning Company in Colorado Spring, CO

NOTICE: This article is long. You can skip directly to the guide if you prefer.

Cleaning businesses are attractive to first-time business owners all across the country – including California, Georgia, Florida, NYC and other places, because you can get started with almost no money, and you don't need any special skills or background. The work is straightforward, and the business can be a small business forever if that's what you want, or, you can build something quite big.

I interviewed three people who have been in the cleaning business for a long time, and asked them what you should know about how to get started in a cleaning business, and how to run and grow your cleaning business.

First, I wanted to know what background they came from – do people usually work in the industry first, before starting a business? Or is it common to just get started and learn as you go?

So I asked my three founders – how did you get started in the cleaning business?

How did you get started in the cleaning business?

did you work with someone in the industry first? or did you just get started on your own?

Evan: My partner Michelle and I wanted to open up a business and we were kind of just browsing around and thinking of all different ideas of what we could do – or what we'd like to do – and kind of stumbled upon cleaning. It happened sort of simply in some ways – but we liked the service, we really value clean spaces, clean clutter-free spaces. So, we really liked the service that we could offer versus other businesses where we might not necessarily believe in what we would be doing. So, it's a service we really believe in and we're happy we found it.

Jonathon: I started as a window cleaner at a different company and eventually decided I could do it better on my own, treat customers better and make more money starting my own business. So, I got with a close friend of mine and we started a business together. And then we just had enough people asking for home cleaning that we decided to reach out and grab our buddy who was good at it and start a cleaning service as part of our business.

Mariya: Like a lot of people, I originally thought “Well, let me try real estate.” And I was in it for six months, it was not a good fit for me. So, my friend said “Hey, why don't we start a cleaning business?” and she convinced me and I said “Fine. All right. I have nothing to lose.” It was a slow start. We had one client the first month, second month had one client, third month we had two. So, we kind of doubled and then six months in actually she moved away to California and I was on my own. And I had the decision to make – should I keep going in my business or do I stop. And so, that's where I decided “Let me keep going.” And it's grown so much since then but, yeah, I didn't really have an entrepreneurial background, single parent raised and just was taught to 'work hard, go to school', but something about business really attracted me.

Tip: You don't need to have years of experience – the best way to learn this business is to do it. Most people already have the skills needed to get the work done – just focus on getting your first client and keeping them satisfied.

How much money (and what equipment) do you need to start a cleaning business?

is it an expensive business to start? what equipment do you need as a minimum, to start earning money?

Evan: I would say if you're an owner operator, you're just going to go out there and start out, no employees, no contractors, you could definitely do it as low as $500 to $1000.

So, yeah, you really don't need too much money if you're going to go that route.

It would mostly be on equipment and supplies. It would cost about, $300 to $500 depending on what you're buying for supplies. And then if you do have $500 left over after buying your cleaning supplies, you can spend it on just some basic marketing. That would probably be just Craigslist, maybe some stuff on Facebook, just some really simple marketing like that to get your name out. And even flyers, just posting some stuff up around town. And I would say that's pretty much all you would need starting out if you're going on your own. If you wanted to do more, then the cost would jump if you're looking at having more of a team.

Jonathon: I think for home cleaning, in general, I’ve seen some people start with bucketloads more than we had and I’ve seen other people start with basically nothing. I think, really, the minimum you need is about a thousand bucks assuming you already have reliable transportation. I think the cleaning kits that we outfit all of our technicians with for home cleaning, all of our equipment runs about $500 to $750 without doing anything too hyper-specific, so just for a quality vacuum cleaner, mops, brooms, dusters, all those kinds of things. We're looking at probably $500 to $750 for just all those basic things. And then the rest are just kind of start-up costs. Insurance is a big thing. I know a lot of people can start up without insurance and that's great. My specific business has been helped by starting out being insured as a big portion of our customer base has been drawn to that but one thing that a lot of people don't feel the need to start with. So, I would say probably around $1,000 is the minimum there.

Mariya: Just for cleaning supplies, I would say $100 dollars is really reasonable. Then add whatever you need for your state registration, insurance, and all that.

You can start a cleaning company with simple products that you can find at Walmart, Dollar Store. Some people make their own products. A lot of people do green cleaning. So, they can use some vinegar, water as long as they use the products appropriately. So, really the cost is quite minimal. You might need to invest in a step stool, a vacuum. It does not have to be a high-end vacuum cleaner. And a lot of clients, especially if you start residential, they might have vacuum cleaners that they prefer that you use. So, the cost of startup is very low. And, actually, I have been profitable since day one even though I charged really low initially when I started. I think I started about $25 an hour. And I’ve since created a new pricing strategy. Now, the profit margins are just excellent. So, even if I hire out the work to a subcontractor, it is about 50% profit for my business even after paying for labor. And so, the cost is quite minimal for a cleaning company. There's all sorts of specialty cleaning but if you're doing general house cleaning and small offices, you can be profitable from the first job or second job.

Tip: Don't buy any gear until you have your first client. You just don't need it, and you could end up wasting money on equipment you won't even use. Get the first client, then make a list of the equipment you'll need. I have a sample list included in my guide, >here<.

Once you get your first client, you're all set to start getting some work done and generating some money.

I asked the three successful cleaning operators how much you could expect to earn as you get started in this business, and as you get more established.

How much money does a cleaning business earn?

is it a profitable business to run? can you expect to earn a good income right away?

Evan: If you're cleaning full time on your own, with no staff or contractors so you're doing all the work and keeping everything, I would say $3,000 to $5,000 a month. And that depends on where you are, it depends on the types of cleaning you're doing types, depends on your market a bit, depends on your pricing but I think that's reasonable once you get a full schedule if you're out there on your own.

Jonathon: We'll say for the sake of argument, that you have maybe three full-time cleaners – a good month would probably be about $9,000 to $10,000 for the three guys just kicking it with their full slate of regular customers. We do see some spikes like around the holidays or whatnot when people are wanting to make sure their homes look nice for their mother-in-law visiting or whatever but for the most part, it's a pretty standard need all year-round.

Mariya: I think it's very feasible to bring in $10,000 a month within a year, maybe two. It really depends on how well a cleaner is able to price their services, how they subcontract or hire employees. Some people want to take five clients a month. Some people want to take three jobs per day. It really varies on the drive of the cleaner and if they want to hire or if they want to stay solo and stay small but it is feasible to do $5k to $10k a month just depending on the business owner's drive. I know cleaners that make way more.

Tip: In my step-by-step guide on How to Start a Cleaning Business, I explain how you can get industry experts to teach you everything you need to know, 1-on-1, completely free of charge. You can check it out >here<.

Starting a cleaning business is exactly what you want it to be – there are companies doing millions of dollars a year in net profit, and there are owner-operators who run a small crew and make $100,000 a year. You can do as much or as little as you like.

But getting clients is where it all starts.

I asked my three successful cleaning business operators:

How do you get your first cleaning clients?

what works to get started in the cleaning business, and get your first client or cleaning contract?

Evan: The first couple customers for us would have been just a simple Craigslist ad and then also from Google. We had a website right from the start. So, some people did find our website early on – although not many people did because we were buried and we were new but people did find us pretty quickly. So, pretty much Craigslist and Google, starting out.

Jonathon: Yeah, I remember our very first organic customer – I was pretty excited about it because we had mostly been going off of people that we knew fairly well, or at least, on an acquaintance basis. And then I put out an ad on Facebook and we got one person. I don't think we ever got anything else from it but we got one very good client from it. And it was probably like the first week that we ran it and she just said “I saw your ad and it was in my neighborhood and I thought I need a cleaner and I want to support a local business.” So, that was pretty cool. And then, I think, for the most part, word of mouth has been pretty successful for us but the first few customers like her, she was on Facebook and then we got a few from her and her neighborhood and we're kind of spreading through like the mom groups on Facebook and Nextdoor and those kind of things.

Mariya: Initially for me, it was people that I’ve known from church – and it wasn't very steady, it was just people I knew. And then we had a client – when we were at the military base asking if we could post flyers – who overheard that we're doing cleaning and he said “Well, I’m actually moving from Colorado to another state. Come do my move-out.” And so, we were excited. So, we did a move-out and I remember being so unprepared and forgot a step stool, there were so many rookie mistakes but a good experience. And then after that, with clients, I was introduced to networking after some time and just building those relationships was really key to get these initial clients.

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Customers will often get speak with or get in contact with a few cleaning service providers, and consider at least two or three businesses before they decide which one they'll hire.


I asked my three industry experts – how do customers choose a cleaning business?

How can you make sure clients choose YOUR cleaning business?

what do clients really care about? what are they looking for in a cleaning business?

Evan: So, price is one part of it. I mean, you don't want to be so expensive that you're just kind of ridiculous. You want to be somewhat competitive in pricing for your area. And it does vary a lot per area. Some areas are really expensive. Other areas are going to be lower.

And then – reviews are huge. So, that's my other thing – is building reviews on Google and Yelp. Building up your reviews is one of the biggest things. People tell us all the time “We went with you because of your reviews.” People do read reviews. It's social proof that you're a legitimate company, you're not going to just take somebody's money but also, they can see what experience other people had with through reviews. Reviews are huge. And then referrals as well. And I kind of put that together, reviews and referrals, because I think reviews in some ways are a referral but both of those are huge.

Jonathon: I think part of the key for any small business – but especially true for anything that's home based like home cleaning services – is thatt you really have to understand your particular customer and what their needs are. We went into this knowing we can't compete with the lady down the street who does it as a side gig and charges $15 an hour. That's just not our business model. We have insurance to pay for and employees to feed and an office space to take care of and that kind of thing. So, we just can't charge that low of a price. So, from the get-go we just went “You know what, we got to find the people that are right for us and these are the people that want high quality, very excellently done cleaning and want it done by a company that's legitimate and insured and just don't want a headache, basically.” And we kind of went “These are the people that we work well with that. They care about the same values as us or whatever and they're not necessarily the bargain shoppers. They just want really high-quality work from a company that they can trust.”

 

And then the other way we've had success with our specific type of customer is because we offer multiple services. That's been very helpful. So, we'll get a foot in the door with something like a one-off window cleaning and they trust us and they like us and go “Man, those guys made our windows sparkle. I wonder what they could do for my kitchen” or whatever. So, then we convert them into a regular home cleaning customer because we clean for them one time as a window cleaner and then we give them a booklet and say “Here's the other things that we offer. Think of us when you need window cleaning or home cleaning or Christmas lights installed” and that's kind of our goal – is to build a relationship with our specific customer, who is not wanting the cheapest prices in town, but wants a trusted company that does good work. And then just convert them into using us regularly for home cleaning and building that relationship regularly.

Mariya: Typically, customers find us online or through referral. So, if it's a referral, it's usually a warm lead. They'll give you a call or text and they arrange for a quote. They're asking how much it costs. A lot of times, cleaners might book a job site-unseen. I definitely recommend to go do a price quote so you can see the property and what tasks they require and how often they want the service.

The experience for the customer starts from initial contact and that starts to build some trust when you enter their home or business and they see you, they see how you quote.

Price obviously matters for a lot of people, especially for the hourly. I created an a la carte pricing system. That way it takes away all the barriers of entry. Any budget can afford cleaning depending on the services that they select, which is great for any market. So, really, they care about you showing up, first. Many cleaners book something, don't show up. Show up on time that you agree upon. Keep your word. Attention to detail. It's really that whole package. I think, the online presence initially speaks volumes about who you are as a company and if you have good reviews, good pictures, just really that whole package of that trust because they are bringing you into their personal space, their home, so they want to make sure that you're insured and safe around their pets, their kiddos potentially if they're home and their valuables. So, it's really important to have that trust factor with customers.

Tip: The worst thing you can do is charge low prices just to win the customer. If you're not making money, it's all going to end badly. I've dedicated a whole chapter in my guide (available for sale, or for free >here<) to winning more customers by charging more.

As soon as you get a website online or your Google Local Business listing up, you're going to start getting marketing calls and emails from people wanting to sell you all sorts of advertising services.

Some are great, and some are not.

I asked my three successful founders what their experiences were with methods of generating new business. I wanted to know what had worked well for them, and what had been a waste of money.

What is the best & worst way to build your cleaning business?

regular advertising? cold calling? sales letters? online advertising? what works, and what doesn't?

Evan: Definitely the worst performing is the lead generation, so your Home Advisor, your Angie's List, Thumbtack, definitely by far the worst. I think it does depend on your area but typically, you're just competing on price. So, if you have a premium price or above average price, you just kind of get written off really quickly and you'll pay quite a bit of money per quote. So, it's just not a very good proposition. And then also, sometimes – in our experience anyway – some of the customers who are on those platforms, being price shoppers, they are just looking for the cheapest thing and they're not the best customers. I know that's a very general statement but that's been our experience.

So, what does really well? Yelp can do really well depending on where you are. It does take a little bit to build up your reviews but Yelp can bring in a lot of people because no matter where you are in the country, if somebody searches “house cleaning Denver,” “house cleaning Fort Collins,” “house cleaning Boston” or whatever, Yelp always ranks really well. So, even if somebody's not a yelper, they're going to find Yelp. So, definitely get on Yelp. It's just a huge platform. And then the other one is Google. So, search engine optimization, getting your website to rank well for keywords but then also paid Google ads. There's classic Google ads like Google AdWords, and there's also Google Local Service ads which are different from the Google ads. So, both of those can be really powerful because they just get so many eyes on them.

Jonathon: it seems like a lot of other small business owners have the exact same experience but far and away, Yelp was our worst performer. It was definitely a big money drain and they used a lot of underhanded sales tactics and it was just a big drain on our money without very much to show for it so. That was our biggest mistake on the advertising front, I think.

The kind of the strategy that we leaned into that eventually did work for us was kind of like a three-pronged approach where we do a lot of direct advertising with mailing and door hangers, leaving little things on their door and just flyers in targeted neighborhoods that we want to service. That's been very successful for us actually. The other two approaches that are by far our best have been using Google Guaranteed. So, we tried Google ads and that wasn't tremendously successful for us but as soon as we got the Google Guaranteed badge and we did the whole like background check and screening and all that kind of stuff, it definitely helped and I think part of it is because Google then puts you on the front page, if you play their game with that. So, that's definitely the one I recommend to all my other friends in small business, just going ahead and doing that, because partly then you can also truthfully say “Our people are now screened and background checked.” So, that's helpful. That's a big thing for homeowners as well is just knowing whoever you have in your home is safe to be around and all that kind of thing. So, that's been successful for us for sure. It's also just helped our SEO game in general because Google likes ranking you higher if they see you on some of the paid advertising slots.

Then probably the other most successful advertising thing we've done is local radio. I think that's one that's kind of overlooked a lot because it's a little more expensive to get into. I mean, we just found a little local Christian radio station that charges much less than your big-name radio stations out there and we went “Cool. We've got the same demographic that we want. They've got you stay-at-home moms that want a clean house or whatever that listen to the radio while they're doing their chores throughout the day or whatever. These are perfect. These are our people.” So, that's been very successful for us as well.

Mariya: I did try print advertising one time at a local magazine and it just was not a good fit – I didn't get any clients. I was in it for about a year, paid quite a bit of money and it just didn't work. I don't know if it was the ad or it just wasn't reaching our target audience. I also tried one of the online lead generators and that wasn't a fit either. I found that a lot of times you're paying for the lead whether you get it or not and they oftentimes send it to multiple companies. So, it's not exactly dedicated to you. And if it is dedicated to you, it could be a wrong number, or it could be a competitor… so it just wasn't a fit for me. So, what I started doing aside from networking and business one-to-ones, I created a Google My Business and that has been my biggest client generator. A lot of people find me that way. I’ve been very active on my listing and my assistant consistently posts on it promotions and that has brought me up to number one for keywords and also having a good domain name that relates to my city and those high-ranking keywords. So, people find me not only locally, also companies that are national that have projects or offices in my town and in my city, they reach out. And so, we've been able to clean for companies such as H&R Block, corporate account for In & Out, we've done Bath & Body Works. We do fuel companies, we do hair salons, just different commercial clients as well as residential. So, I think Google My Business by far has been the best, consistently bringing in customers.

The experts agree that have your Google Local Business listing is essential, and good SEO is the most important thing you can do in the long term. It's never too early to start that. The sooner you start, the sooner you'll start generating and incoming flow of calls and enquiries from your website.

How to hire & train staff for your cleaning business?

the staff that are doing the work are the backbone of the business – how do you hire good staff? do you train them?

Evan: There was a huge learning curve to hiring, for me. There's no one single thing that you can do to make hiring go well. Hiring is really hard and it's something that you just have to keep working at. The biggest thing I’d say is if you're hiring for a cleaner, experience is great but experience is definitely not the only thing to look for or even necessarily an important thing to look for, depending on how your business is set up. Attitude is a lot more important – attitude, and reliability. So, I'm trying to screen out those things before I hire somebody. I guess my big piece of advice would be to have a robust hiring process and take your time with it. Never hire quickly. Really filter through, really talk to people, get to know people before you commit to go into essentially a partnership with them.

And when it comes to training – we do have a robust training program in place but, again, what's more important than the training is making sure you have good people who can actually get something from your training. So, if you have a person who just shouldn't be a cleaner or they're just not a good employee, it's not going to matter how good of a training program you have in place. So, first and foremost, try to get as good people as possible and then have that training program help to not only train them in cleaning and how we clean as a company and the products we use and all but also onboarding them to the company – “This is how our company works. This is what our company culture looks like” – because that is just as important as the actual cleaning as well. So, the whole onboarding process is really, really important.

Jonathon: We've been learning this process ourselves mostly through a lot of trial and error. Originally, we just started out by having a lot of young friends in college or early 20s or whatnot that needed extra work and were just remarkable, great people, and we just kind of went “This is easy and great” – but that's the problem with great people – they're usually onto bigger and better things and then they're hard to keep.

So, we've just recently had to start hiring people that neither of us knew. So, that's been an adventure. I think the biggest things we've been learning are that you really want people who are hard workers, have good ethics but aren't necessarily overly ambitious. I think ambition is a good personal trait to have but it has to be balanced.

We've had some people that we've hired try and take over our company vision and take it a different direction, and I’m going “We hired you for your role. We don't want you to try to change what we're doing” or just continually pushing us for more than we can afford to pay them or that kind of thing. So, we look for that now – we don't want to hire people that have a manipulative streak, if you can picture that.

When we're interviewing, I look for basically how they describe their previous work experience. It tells me a lot. If they try to make themselves sound a lot more important than they were at their previous job, that's a warning sign for me that they're really kind of more into it for themselves instead of what they can bring to the customers and the company.

 

And, of course, I want to do right by everybody that we hire but there's only so much that we can offer while still making profit and staying afloat as the company. So, there's some that we’re like “I think you're a little too ambitious for what we can offer you. It might be best for you to pursue things on your own.”

So, we tend to go for people that are a little bit more grounded and just kind of going “You know what, I just need a job that pays better than minimum wage that I can live off of and stick around and just grow as the company grows and stay here for a while and just want something that's calm and consistent and doesn't breathe down my neck.” I’m like “Awesome. These are the people that we want. We don't have to micromanage you. You're responsible. You show up. You do your job. You go home. You're happy. And then we can offer you bonuses and benefits as we grow as a company.”

They are the ones that don't cause unnecessary headaches and those are definitely our best people – the ones that just are grown-ups, they're adults, they're responsible and we love that.


So, right now our current training regimen is basically that we send our trainee out with our lead home cleaning technician who's been with us pretty much since the beginning.

He is very effective and knows what he's doing, and we pay him commission on the cleans that they do because he's in charge of making sure the quality control is there. And they do that for a few weeks until he signs off confidently saying “I can trust them to go out and take care of the customers” and if I were to hand off one of my regular clients, there wouldn't be a tremendous drop in quality and I’d feel okay with that.

So, that's pretty much what we use as our standard – “Okay, it's been a couple weeks. If he feels good about this, then we'll pass them off to do it on their own and start handing them clients.”

There was one guy that we had where it was just not working out and we wound up losing like $1,000 in training trying to get him to a spot where he could do it and we were just getting complaints and we kind of went “You know what?

Okay, we just can't do this.” So, we wound up just transferring him over to doing window cleaning, which worked better for him.

For the most part, it's worked pretty well just having our lead tech be the trainer and then just checking up on their quality.

 

Inevitably, there's going to be some bumps in the road where you have to go back and do some touch-ups for some of the bigger customers but for the most part, it's just that balance between not breathing down their neck but just giving them the pointers they need, and helping them to catch the very smallest details that you're going to miss when you're just cleaning around your house kind of thing.

Mariya: Last year alone, I’ve hired 24 people. Obviously, the turnover rate is really high in this industry because cleaning is just a difficult job. And I started initially by hiring friends and people at church. It’s a whole different relationship when you're in a church and when you're in business. Sometimes in business you have to be a little bit tougher. So, if a cleaner missed something, you have to tell them “Hey, the customer paid for this. This was missed” and some people don't like that. And so, sometimes, you can lose relationship over that if a person doesn't know to separate business from personal.

 

Then you can do online posts. You can do Facebook posts to hire cleaners. I’ve started hiring my competitors. And it's a kind of a unique approach because most people would never hire another cleaning company owner to work for them. I found it to be the best way to go for my business because they're already insured, they have a business, they have products, they can drive themselves and they're typically professional and they already know how to clean.

So I go the subcontractor route and it has worked the best for me. The only difficulty with that is potential for them to steal your customers. I bring that up right away when we talk initially and we have that mutual respect plus we sign a non-compete and just talk about that “If you decide to pawn my customers, that's not a good way to go.”

And I’ve only had one person ever do that and that's totally fine but most people are really respectful, they're really happy to have work sent to them. Most have their own clients, which is fantastic. You want them to be truly independent and not rely on you 100% for work but I found that to be a really great balance for my business because also I’m not loading a lot of clients onto one cleaner. If they can't make it or get sick or travel, then you have to cover so many jobs. I tend to spread out the customers and the jobs for various cleaners and give them just a little bit and then it just works out really well for my business.

I do not train cleaners, especially because when you do subcontracting, you are not allowed to train because then it overreaches into having employees. And that's a huge legal thing for me. That's why I look for people who are already trained. In the past I would hire friends or people that maybe need a job but they're not really in the cleaning industry. You can't really train anyway. You can maybe give them tips and tricks or send them to maybe a YouTube video of maybe how to clean a certain thing but I pretty much expect them to know how to do cleaning and then get their products and be truly independent. I’m not interested in really training a cleaner. For me as a business owner hiring subcontractors, I can't mandate how they clean as long as the end result is what client expects.

So, they have a lot of freedom there. And when you work that out within yourself and how you run your business, then it can go really smoothly.

Tip: If you hire right and avoid bad employees, your life is so much easier. There are three questions you can ask that have a 9 in 10 success rate in avoiding bad employees. I have dedicated an entire section in my guide to the topic of hiring good employees – you can check it out >here<.

How do you decide how much to charge for house cleaning?

do you always need to visit the home? and how do you know what to charge?

Evan: We do flat rate pricing. So, it's based on size of home and then the type of service. So, if somebody's getting a one-time deep clean, that price is going to be different than somebody getting a move-out clean or somebody having their weekly cleaning.

And then recurring cleanings generally will be cheaper. If somebody's having weekly cleaning, they're not going to pay as much as somebody who is getting a full move-out cleaning. And then beyond that, it's pretty much based on the size of the home – so number of bedrooms and bathrooms, the approximate square footage. And then if there's other things that need cleaning – like a refrigerator or windows, or oven cleaning – then those things are add-ons.

So for homes that are in normal condition, a house that is just a normal lived-in a house, it's a flat rate price.

We don't do any in-home estimates. We do it over the phone or over email and then if we do go to a home and it's not as described, we reserve the right to adjust that price as needed.

Jonathon: We started with charging per hour. And we have different rates based on frequency – where if it's a one-time clean for just like a move-in or move-out where it's just going to be a lot of heavy dirt and a lot of elbow grease and then we're not going to see anything from it, we charge a little bit more.

We charge $45 an hour for that, but then we give them discounts at 5%, 10%, 15% based on how often they go with us – if it's every other month, monthly, every two weeks, every week, twice a week, that kind of thing.

We are currently looking at if transitioning to a per-square-foot model is going to be better for us in the long run but at least for right now, we're charging per hour. And part of our goal for that, and some of our customers take advantage of this, some don't, but part of our goal was that we could offer packages where people would say “Okay, I want to buy three hours of cleaning” and then they basically give us a list or even they just say “Just run wild and do as much cleaning as you can in three hours.” So, we have some customers that buy like that. For others, it's just kind of like “Give me a whole house estimate and here's all the things that I want done and you tell me how much time that will take” and then we do that. And then if it runs higher than the estimate than we gave them, we usually just eat the difference and charge them only what we estimated and then if it's lower than, we deduct and we come down from there or if they just want us to stay and do extra tasks that weren't included and fill up the time and we'll do that.

Mariya: I developed a system – I have a quote sheet and I take it to a customer's home and I walk around the property and I tally the items they have. Let's say, they have three light fixtures, four fans, a master bathroom, two full bathrooms, a powder bath, I go and tally how many items the client wants cleaned.

I don't require them to have a basic package or a deep clean package. I specifically see which tasks they want and they're always done to the highest level. So, if they ask for a master bathroom, I price that for $45. A full bathroom I priced for $30, powder bath for $15. Customers really understand that model and they then are not concerned about how long a cleaner is taking, and they're not watching the clock. The task will get done, and get done well.

And so that way there's always profit for me too, and I’m able to afford to pay my cleaners really well for the task that they do and they can breathe easier that they're not on a time budget unless they want to do that for themselves.

To get an idea of how long the average house, or room will take, just start doing some work. Start with an hourly rate, and time yourself. Once you're comfortable with knowing how long different types of jobs take, you can switch to a per-room or per-item basis if your customers want that.

What is the biggest waste of money when starting a new cleaning business?

is there something that sounds like a good idea, but is actually a bad purchase?

Evan: Those lead generation sites are a waste of money. That definitely never really paid off for us. And then the other thing is paying “experts” for services. When you start out, you don't have much money and if you do find someone, even if you do find someone who might actually be good, they can definitely take advantage of you pretty quickly, especially if you don't have much money to pay.

Like marketers and advertisers, for example, because you already are going to be paying for the marketing or advertising. Then on top of it you're going to have to pay for their services. And usually what they're doing, if you're brand new, either won't pay off for a long time and you'll spend a lot of money that you don't have or it might pay off but you have to pay them so much money that it just doesn't make sense. And it's a lot better to learn how to do that stuff on your own, at least initially, until you kind of have enough money to be able to pay that out later on.

Jonathon: A waste of money would be the services like Yelp and Angie's List and Home Advisor – a lot of those lead generating services are just not great for small businesses. They're good for consumers but they're not good for small business. So, I think those were the things that have been really the biggest money wasters for us. I think part of that is just a lack of strategy where I wish we would have defined our advertising strategy before when we were still in the planning phases of our business and just gotten into it with what's really going to work instead of try a bunch of different things because that's really part of what wasted so much money was we went “That didn't work. Let's try this. That didn't work. Let's try this” until we found one that worked.

I kind of wish we would have just put a lot more thought and research into it beforehand so that we would know what worked from the get-go and not waste as much money but I’d say those advertising things are definitely the biggest money wasters.

Mariya: The only expense that I regret is the magazine and it was at $300 per month with a year contract. Also, within that deal, the person that signed me up did a trade deal for weekly cleaning of his massive house and he kind of built it in as an 800-per-month dollar value. So, it ended up costing me on both ends, in cash $300 a month plus paying for me going to clean his house weekly or paying my cleaners to go and that was not effective. I got one customer who didn't even stick. I think I did one clean from that ad. And so, that did not work for me. For some people, it might be fantastic with print but it did not work for me but it's okay. The business is still doing really well.

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What is a typical workday for the owner of a house cleaning business ?

is it a good lifestyle? are the hours super long? do you get plenty of time off?

Evan: A big part of a typical day is scheduling. So, the busier you get, the crazier the schedule gets. So, that does take up a lot of time. A cleaner might call in sick and you have to rearrange things or you might lose somebody.

Or you're gaining customers faster than you're gaining cleaners or employees. So, scheduling is really big. That's a huge thing that never ends.

Then the other thing is hiring. I spend a lot of time hiring, a lot of time interviewing people, getting new job posts out there and just talking with people and kind of constantly talking with people looking for work. So, that takes a lot of time.

On the other end of things, the financial stuff, accounting, and weekly payroll. So, that obviously never stops. Always looking at accounting, looking at the numbers, seeing where the money's going each month and getting that done. Looking at marketing, making sure you're kind of keeping track of the website and SEO and taking a look at all your ads and seeing what's performing well and what's not performing well. And then, lastly, I’d say customer service, both email and phone. Customer service never stops. People are calling for quotes, you're sending out quotes, you're getting people on the schedule, you're taking care of problems that arise and things like that. So, that's kind of a typical day for me on the admin side of things.

Jonathon: For me, in an average day, it's been getting easier because I don't have to do as many cleans myself now that I have more employees. So, I tend to do a lot of our branding, our marketing, those kinds of things. And I’ll start working probably around 8 and then finish probably about 3 o'clock. I can just do more of a support role where I’ll pop out to cleans and say hi to the customers and make that personal connection but not really step on my cleaner’s toes. Or I’ll just pop out if they need help or something, but for the most part, it's fairly self-sustaining which is nice. I do a lot more of just the kind of the backend of advertising and marketing and my business partner does more of the admin and the books and the numbers. We don't have regular clients ourselves anymore. So, that's kind of pros and cons but it's nice.

Mariya: I’m a big fan of automation as much as possible. So, my day consists of immediately checking the phone and I try to plan ahead for the week, unless something comes up right as needed. So, I check that the jobs are all covered, they're in the calendar. When I do a quote, I input the task list in there and I invite a cleaner. The cleaner then shows up to the property if they accept the job. If they decline it, I just put in another cleaner or my assistant does that. My assistant checks the email. I might drive out to do a price quote and I’ll take a phone call if needed.

I might do a final walkthrough with a customer or my cleaner can do that as well, show them what they've done. So, I really like the flexibility of having a business where I’m not in the daily grind, although I’ve cleaned plenty in my time. I think it's nice to be able to create jobs for others where they can show up and take care of the customers and invoice for payment for the business. And the systems really mean that I mostly work from my phone.

Tip: When the income is flowing in, don't be tempted to slow down. Keep adding new clients, because eventually, some of your existing clients will drop off – for one reason or another.

Some industries – especially when there's a low barrier to entry – tend to attract more than their fair share of dodgy operators, which can lead to bad experiences for the customer.

I asked my three cleaning business experts:

What sort of CRAZY things happen in the cleaning industry?

are there shady operators doing things the wrong way? or is the industry mostly full of professionals?

Evan: I don't pay too much attention to what other companies do and other competition. We kind of do our own thing and we just try to do it well. We try to treat our customers and our employees as best as we can and let other companies do their thing.

Two negative things I've heard about other businesses in this industry is their customer service, and the way that they communicate with people.

So, not making it easy to get somebody on your schedule or making it confusing whether it's from the standpoint of pricing, the standpoint of just getting them scheduled and giving them a solid date and time of when we're going to come to your house and also just letting them know exactly what you're doing, so “We're coming to your house and this is what we're doing.” So, I would say that that's a big thing that a lot of companies, they just don't make it easy to get on their schedule or they're not very transparent about it. And then the other part is customer service. So, whether it's unresponsive, whether it's being really rude or defensive, just really lacking that good customer service. People are booking you to have a good cleaning but they also want good customer service. They want someone who's responsive. They want someone who's friendly. They want their questions answered. And I think those things are where people drop the ball a lot.

Jonathon: I think one of the biggest things is that they charge too little and try to do too much. I'll see a new and inexperienced cleaner trying to do fourth storey window cleaning on her own without any training or the proper ladders or materials or anything and I’m going “What are you doing? And you're charging this person 19 dollars an hour to risk your neck?” So, they stretch themselves too thin, then burn out and quit and then can't even sell the business. And I’m just like “Just settle down. Specialize. Say what you're good at. Do only what you're good at. Expand into other things slowly as you can do them well but don't try to do everything and don't do it for less than you're worth.” I think that's a really big thing for me as to why I see a lot of businesses fail.

Mariya: A lot of cleaners are unconfident. Often, they price too low. They give when they can't afford to give. So, I believe in giving when you're established and you're able to give something for free, give some bonus tasks for clients but some people under charge and they over work and often customers aren't happy anyway. And so, I think it's really important to price correctly. And I would definitely recommend all cleaners not to be hourly and to create these kinds of systems that allow them to truly work on their business instead of in their business unless they really want to.

In the house cleaning business – as with many other businesses – it's usually easier to get more revenue from your existing clients than it is to add new clients.

I asked my three experts what additional services a new cleaning business can offer, to increase revenue?

What additional services can a cleaning business offer to it's customers?

are there extras and add-ons? what do customers often request?

Evan: We do a lot of move-out cleaning. So, you could say that the move-out is an upsell because then we do the refrigerator, we do the cabinets, we do the oven. It's a much more comprehensive cleaning. So, for us, the only real upsells are just some of those add-ons like that. I do know other companies get more into like professional carpet cleaning, so “Okay, you want your house cleaning and you also need a carpet clean and we do both.” So, there are companies out there that do that. What I’ve seen is that typically the bigger the market, the less crossover there is. So, in Fort Collins, our market is big enough where most of the companies just focus on the core residential cleaning and if you need your exterior windows done or your carpets done, you call a different company but I’ve seen in a lot of smaller areas and smaller cities residential house cleaners will also be a carpet cleaner and a window cleaner, they'll kind of do it all. So, I think it depends on the size of the market.

Jonathon: I think for us that just looks like add-on services that were like these are super easy for us to do if you know how. Like we have big poles for window cleaning, so might as well use them to change light bulbs in people's houses or whatever. So, there's lots of little menial things like that that people just give the average homeowner a headache and they're like “Oh, you can take care of that? That's great. Yeah, change my light bulb. Install my Christmas lights. Clean my gutters” or whatever. I think there's not a ton of the like small add-ons for just home cleaning other than like those extra services but we definitely tend to find small add-ons as far as things like if they wanted only doing two rooms in the house, then by the end of it, we can pitch “Hey, are you sure you don't want that third bathroom done?”.

I think that's been a big thing for us, just adding on those small easy services.

Mariya: Many cleaners like to branch out. Some people want to start lawn care businesses or snow removal or they might go into to hazmat cleaning, they might start creating products that they want to sell, let's say, a cleaning spray, they might go into odor removal, they might go into restoration. There's just so many avenues with cleaning. You might even just specialize in, let's say, oven and blind cleaning or you might want to do just windows but there are specialty people who do just windows or floor people.

It can make it difficult to duplicate yourself if you do start hiring. It can be difficult to know how to quality clean an oven and then a shower and then floors. There's just so much to be able to do in this industry and there's a market for everybody but yeah, you can up-sell to anything.

Tip: Knowing exactly when and how to offer an up-sell can mean the difference between almost nobody saying yes, and almost everybody saying yes. I have dedicated an entire section in my guide to the topic of selling the easy way – you can check it out >here<.

Advice for starting cleaning business, from people who've done it:

the three successful founders share their keys to success in this industry, based on their own experiences

Evan: First off, just get started and learn as you go. Just don't worry if you don't know what you don't know and just get out there, learn fast and just start growing and learning. I’d also say, don't strive for perfection. Don't try to be perfect. The business is never going to be perfect no matter how hard you try. So, don't even worry about that. You're going to make mistakes and I think you're going to continue to make mistakes until you're done doing it. And third, I would say, never stop marketing and hiring. Do it constantly. If you don't have the money to do have someone else do it, learn to do it yourself and you just can't skimp on marketing and hiring. You don't really have a business without that.

Jonathon: invest in the process, invest in knowing how to do a really good job so that you know that the quality of your work is going to hold up. And then know the price to offer that work at and don't go below that because I see a lot of people that barter too much and they don't value themselves enough. So, know how to do the good work and then price it accordingly and hold your guns. I think those are some of the biggest pieces of advice I would offer to my friends and family if they were getting into this business.

Mariya: Get your foundations in place – that's your domain name, your Google presence, your registration with the state, insurance, all those foundations that make you confident in talking with customers.

The second thing I would say is – create an a la carte pricing model and get away from the hourly, by square footage or by the job pricing. A-la-cart'ing creates less resistance in customer’s mind in purchasing from you. And that way you have a duplicatable model to work with.

And then the third is to attract customers to come to you and that's just a huge deal, for not chasing them. They call you, and you have a greater ability to close the lead when they contact you versus you contacting them.

The cleaning business is easy to start. You can get started for just a couple hundred dollars, and you can earn that back within one or two days. The demand is high, the costs to get started are low, and there's plenty of opportunity to make some serious cash.

I have spent over 100 hours learning everything there is to know about the cleaning business, by talking to industry experts and house cleaning operators. I have compiled it into the worlds most useful guide, How to Start a Cleaning Business.

You can check it out here.

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