How to start a commercial cleaning & janitorial business (from home, with no money)

I interviewed 3 people who own successful commercial cleaning businesses. They explain how you can get started in the janitorial business, and what you'll need.

Updated September 22, 2021

Written by

Benjamin Davis

Contributor

How-to-start.org

Experts interviewed:

Cloves Grogan - Owner, EFM Solutions in Houston TX

Oscar F DeLeon Jr – Owner, BCI Janitorial in Carrollton TX

Bryant Suellentrop, Owner, American Cleaning Enterprise in Greenville NC

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

Commercial cleaning and janitorial businesses are attractive to first-time business owners, 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 is can be as small or large as you want it to be.

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

How did you get started in the commercial cleaning and janitorial business?

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

Cloves: I used to work in Corporate America – I used to be a manager for customer service at JP Morgan Chase bank and after seven years in business got tired of the Corporate America world and the promises that were never kept and decided to go for cleaning because this has always been in my family. My mom is a head custodian for the Alden District here in Houston and it was something that I was familiar with and that's how everything got started. That's a dream of having a business.

Oscar: My mother, she worked for a larger competitor that was founded in 1968. In the early ‘80s, she came on board with them because she was bilingual. So, she went into a supervisory role where she dealt with all the employees in the evening, all the cleaners, all the people doing the work. And then part of her job description was PR, public relations, with the clients. So, she had kind of a knack for both. Her employer allowed her to have an office out of the same building that they were in without paying rent for some years while she built up her own client base at the same time as she was working for them, and that worked out pretty good. In our infancy, we were in the same building as a much larger national competitor. So, it was always very helpful to walk down the hallway and ask questions, see how they were doing things, borrow a spreadsheet with formulas already plugged in. That was very helpful. Then we moved out in 2011 into our own office space and we've been there ever since. That's how we started.

Bryant: I moved out here to North Carolina last year after the pandemic, and started the company shortly after. I got into this business simply by meeting others who are in the industry and just asking around to learn a little bit more about how it all works.

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. I cover that in depth further in this article.

How much money do you need to start a janitorial cleaning business?

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

Cloves: Well, to start a commercial cleaning business, honestly, I think it has to be one of the easiest and most affordable businesses to start. For the business itself, let's say that you have to get the business registered or open an LLC. From the legal standpoint all the way to the equipment and everything that you need to start, $1,000 to $2,000 dollars is all you need.

In terms of the equipment and tools, that would be just like a starter kit that would include a commercial vacuum, mops, brooms, towels and a few cleaning chemicals. That's pretty much all you need to get started.

Oscar: To get started, you could probably do it under $1,000. In the beginning, you probably want to go pursue clients where there are 10 people in the office or less. So, rather than five-day-a-week service for a 40,000 or 50,000 square foot office, you're looking at somebody that has a 2,000 square foot office, where they're asking for service maybe on a weekly basis because those people tend to make a decision and hire you right away. Once you get your first client, you probably need about $600, maybe less, it depends on the vacuum that you get, it's probably like $400 to $600 for equipment for your first job if you bought everything brand new. Definitely under $1,000.

So, if you get, for example, a vacuum cleaner – an upright costs like $200, a backpack let's say $350, mop bucket and wringer is like $60. And then there's a trash barrel with the dolly and the little yellow strip that goes around it, let's say about $120. So, you get all those things together and you're officially a janitorial service at that point. It's not very much.

Bryant: I mean, you could probably get it going for less than $500 for sure, maybe less than $250, depending on if you get your LLC or not but the supplies needed is less than $300.

You're going to need mostly microfiber towels, mop heads, a mop, you may need a vacuum. Depending on who your initial customer is, they might have a vacuum there on site that they want you to use for sanitary reasons because they don't want that vacuum moving around. And different chemicals. Usually, you need a general-purpose cleaner, a glass cleaner, a floor cleaner. And that's about it. And maybe a squeegee if you want to do some mirror glass and windows a little bit faster but that's probably like 10 dollars.

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 commercial cleaning operators how much you could expect to earn as you get started in this business, and as you get more established.

How much does a commercial cleaning & janitorial business earn?

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

Cloves: If you have good customer service and you are a person that is good at getting opportunities, take home after expenses maybe a few thousand dollars a month. I would say, $2,000 or $3,000 will be easy after paying their expenses like insurance. And even if you have an employee or two, you can definitely take a few thousand dollars home every month.

Oscar: When I started our Houston branch I got it up to $50,000 a month within a couple years. I had crews working, an operations person, to handle the accounts.

The most important person within the janitorial service is the operations director, the one that's moving all the pieces for the employees, the one that takes responsibility for – where do I need the staff at sites, where do I need to cover, where do I need to hire and train, where do I need to fire, drop off supplies, speak with the customer. So, as long as you find yourself somebody that's top ranked in that position, then you can kind of dedicate yourself to doing other things like sales.

Bryant: If you're the owner and you're managing a few employees – when I was at that scale – I was probably making $4,000 to $5,000 dollars a month personally.

Tip: In my step-by-step guide on How to Start a Commercial 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<.

Commercial cleaning 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 commercial cleaning operators:

How do you get your first commercial cleaning or janitorial client?

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

Cloves: For me, personally, it was after actually getting some presence in Google. My first actual request was through Home Advisor, actually. That's how I got my first actual client that was not someone who was referred to me by a friend or an account that I purchased from a network of friends that had cleaning businesses themselves.

Oscar: You could do it digitally, but people do look at things like websites before they make a phone call. And I think most competitors are going that way one way or another. So, doing it the old school classic way is almost different, and a way to stand out. So, this is where things like sales letters, having maybe different sales letters that you send out every two months so you just kind of stay in their face – but it means doing a lot of legwork, over the phone, investigating and trying to find the decision makers. If you want to do it organically and build yourself up to the point where your digital marketing would have some effect because you've already established yourself as a company that's located – not in a the residence – but has its own physical location, because sometimes people do look at that, then that would be the way to do it.

Bryant: Your Google My Business Listing is very important. It's how people will find you. And if you're a newly started company, you're not going to show up on Google in the search engine for probably at least a couple years but if your business location is near other businesses, you'll be one of the first to come up on the Google Maps – it's called the Google My Business Listing – and that's a great way to get some organic sales. And so, my first customer was someone who came through that. They went to my website that was built very cheaply, filled out a contact form and I showed up and did the quote and that was that, got the job done – and we've still got that customer today.

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Customers will often get bids from a few providers, and consider at least two or three service providers before they decide which one they'll hire.


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

How to make sure a client chooses YOUR commercial cleaning business?

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

Cloves: Well, I would say that there's the 20% of clients who care only about pricing – and those are people that I really don't care about. There's always going to be those type of people that everything is based on price – “The cheapest is what I’m going for” – because that's what their bosses tell them to find – “Find what's the most affordable for the company budget” – but then there's that 80%, those people actually care about first, how you make them feel whenever you're walking into their facility and then second, do they want to go ahead and give their keys and building access and building codes to somebody in a company that has a reputation, and good reviews and they actually know what they're talking about whenever they're walking through their facilities. If you really walk a facility with someone but you cannot point out something that you can improve and do better for them, they won't go with you. You have to make the recommendations to them.

Oscar: Yeah, the price is a factor. Another one is simply that some clients are new in their jobs. So, sometimes they get sold by the bells and whistles, but the hardened facility managers, they look for someone who knows what they're doing – they almost want to see “Well, you're the salesperson but who's the team I’m going to be dealing with?” So, if you are the owner-operator and you're still hands on in the business to the point where you're starting up a new client site – and I still do that to this day – they like that. There's an account that's starting up and I’m familiar with where my human resources are at the moment, and I will don one of our uniform shirts and jeans and tennis shoes and I’m out there doing it. I’m very hands-on. So, a customer calls me. I’m the one relaying the message directly to the employee a lot of the times because I do have their phone numbers and everything. Sometimes that's what they want. They want that assurance that “Hey, am I dealing with somebody real? And if it's not you the sales person that talks to me, then please introduce me to your operations guy” because they have to have that bond with someone on the other end of the phone that they know is going to actually make it happen once they make a phone call. They want that assurance that “Hey, I send you this text” or “I send you an email” or “I make you this phone call and I can rest assured I can go to my house in the evening and rest and know that I don't have a problem in the morning.” I think that's probably the main thing that they're looking for is someone that is easy to work with because the experienced ones know that janitorial is never perfect, there will always be hiccups but it's how fast you can react to those hiccups or prevent those hiccups, that's what they're looking for.

Bryant: Usually, when we're coming in after a different vendor has been there, that vendor either stole something or broke something or didn't show up. And I genuinely mean it. I mean, the employees take things, not the owner, obviously, but they genuinely stole something, broke something, don't show up or not doing the job and that tends to be why people switch to a new vendor. And when they call us and they say “Hey, we're looking at a new vendor,” I think the most important thing you can convey is trust because if you're going to be in the building, especially if you're there after hours, it's very important that they trust you first and foremost.

Tip: The worst thing you can do is under-bid a site just to win the contract. If you win the contract but 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 the topic of setting your prices properly.

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 commercial cleaning & janitorial business?

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

Cloves: The worst performing method, for me, has been actually Home Advisor. Home Advisor and those platforms that you have to pay per lead, those actually have not been the best way to go, at least not in my world, first – because those platforms like Home Advisor, those are more targeted and beneficial for residential cleaning. They're not for commercial cleaning. Commercial cleaning is in a whole different world. Home Advisor, it's in the name, Home Advisor. So, it's very beneficial for people that do residential type of work, residential services. You can thrive on those platforms if you're offering residential services but commercial, it's very different – the amount of requests for commercial work that comes through there are accounts that end up not being worth it. And you paying that membership on a monthly basis is not worth. For me, what has worked was build a good website and actually all my traffic comes in from Google now. So pay a good SEO company and that that attracts a lot better clients and actually the clients that stick with you. I have accounts that I’ve had for about seven, eight years.

Oscar: Most of my stuff is coming in organically from the internet now, so just having good SEO is the best thing you can do.

Worst performing in my experience, has been pay-per-click. I’m not sure why but for the amount of money that I’m putting into it, I don't believe I’m getting my money's worth. I’ve done it with different digital marketing people. And so, what ends up happening is when you they start you off on a campaign there's a learning curve, trying to figure out which keywords work, which ones don't.

So, every time you jump from one digital marketer to another, that process will start all over. So, here lately, since April, I’ve had different campaigns, one using “office cleaning” as the keywords, the other one “janitorial services” and then another one advertising “floor care”. And the way I figured what my budget was, if I would have hired a four-hour-a-day telemarketer doing cold-calling, and if I were to go and scout myself, personally jump in the vehicle and build the database from scratch and then have somebody work that database, it was going to cost me about $1,500 a month. And so, I put $900 towards AdWords and then the other $600 towards some digital marketing essentials like listing management, reputation management, website management. Those are some things that it's a necessary cost but the AdWords, I have not seen it pay for itself yet.

Bryant: Google ads – pay per click – are the most expensive, but they would have had the best return on investment for us by far.

Home Advisor was by far my worst. We spent the most amount of money and got zero return. Yelp was also pretty bad. Thumbtack is okay but that tends to be for residential customers. That's not people usually looking for commercial leads. Usually that's a homeowner. Then you've got Google ads and Facebook ads. Facebook ads can do okay but generally not super strong.

The experts agree that good SEO is the most important thing you can do in the long term – and 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 commercial 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?

Cloves: It depends for what type of building you're hiring. If it's buildings that involve kids or there are government accounts, then those accounts, you have to hire people with perfect legal status, just because of background checks that you have to perform. You cannot hire unverified staff for daycares. We have churches and we have daycares and you can't hire people there that you cannot perform a full-blown background check on them because they're dealing with kids. So, for those places, we do hire people through the large platforms for hiring like Ziprecruiter and all those places. For the other type of people and other type of facilities that are just regular average office buildings, Facebook is the go-to place for us and you find tons of people with experience, years and years of experience either on residential or commercial cleaning.

Pretty much everybody that we hire already has some cleaning skills but we do have supervisors in place. Every cleaner that we hire, our supervisors go to their buildings for the first couple days. They are on the facility on site with them the first time that they're cleaning those facilities because we do have processes that somebody walking in from another company wouldn't know. So, we have to train people on how to use the chemicals, how to use the proper dilution rates and we have color coded towels for not transferring germs and stuff from one area to the other. For example, we don't clean in the kitchen, in the bathroom or in the offices with the same colored towel. Every area of the building has a different color system. Simple things like that we train them on.

Oscar: We go to Facebook groups that are in the Hispanic market – “We’re in need of staff for work.” That's primarily what does it. So, we put ads out there and we state the hourly pay, more or less the general area of the building, how many hours we're talking about and just the vital information so we can get people inquiring and asking. This job market is really weird right now. We have a lot of people asking, not enough people committing to actually showing up. This is within like the last six months. We've had to raise our wages. And even then, it's not an easy to go ahead and quickly staff somebody.

And then for training, even if they have experience, we don't just give them the keys and “Here, have at it.” The first day, they're almost shadowing us. Second day, we're working together or, like I said, we're actually doing all the duties with them. So, “Okay, here's how we pull the trash. So, if the bag, the can liner is not soiled, if it's not ripped, if it doesn't stink like food, not torn, then we leave the liner. You save yourself having to tie a knot. If you do have to take out the whole bag, take out the whole bag. This is how you tie it.”

You can tell when you walk into a building a crew that wasn't trained properly because the waste basket looks they have a skirt around them or they look like they have a ponytail. I instruct our crews “Look, when you tie the knot, hide it underneath so it doesn't hang out. And then you turn the trashcan so that it's not visible.” So, it’s professional. So, probably for like first three or four days, we're there with them. The first two days are very hands-on. By the third day, fourth day, we're coming in about 20, 30 minutes before the shift ends, we cover anything. And by the second week it's just kind of just spot checking them at that point.

Bryant: We like to see some level of work ethic. Cleaning, as simple as it is – is a tiring job and we like to see people have some experience working hard. And if they're comfortable with that, that's very important for us. There are other things that we also look at. Those might be experience. Obviously, the less we have to train them, the more that they can just hop on the job and start working. And so, if they've worked for another facility services company, they kind of understand the gig. It can be a little bit of a learning curve if not.

We have a training program that we work them through but most of the way it works is we have a supervisor that will work alongside them and they're critiquing and training on the things that are done incorrectly, not on the things that are done correctly. If you give someone too many instructions and too many directions, they'll forget everything that you say. So, we just try and focus on the things that could be larger issues. And then we have a supervisor who's going to work alongside or behind them and check on how they're doing. And that is almost more important than the training itself.

Tip: If you hire right and avoid bad employees, you'll make your life 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 to prepare commercial cleaning/janitorial estimates and bids that win clients?

what's the best way to figure out a bid? do you need to walk the site? and how do you know what to charge?

Cloves: A lot of companies do it different. I’ve experienced being around a lot of people in different companies but I think it really boils down to square footage. And I think before, a few years back, there were different factors for it but now, the competition has gotten so rough because there's so many companies out there that do cleaning that, I think, now 100% of it now is based on square footage. It really doesn't matter if a building of 20,000 square feet is dirtier or filthier than the other one. At the end of the day, you're going to charge the same thing on square footage price if you even want to have a shot at landing it because there will be companies that would actually give quotes site unseen at a square footage and they don't really care if whenever they actually land that contract and they walk into that place, that place is trashed.

It should not be based on square footage but it should be based on how crowded the 20,000 square feet are, how crowded that space is but, honestly, because of so much competition in the industry, it forces your hand to have to just deal with it and just have to quote it on the square footage basis. You get lucky sometimes because if the company where you walk in and you bid it at a higher price – because the place is dirtier and it’s a little bit more crowd – and the company decides to pay for it because they know that there's a lot of work.

Oscar: Anything that's under 10,000 square feet, you really have to go out and take a look at it and have some experience with what you're cleaning. So, if you have something to kind of refer to like “Okay, this is kind of like that account in size. And over here in this account, this is the one I have broken down. This many labor hours”. And when it's 10,000 square feet or below, I go to the restrooms first and the break areas, I look at it, visualize it in my head and see how long would it take. Once I get that, basically, it's times two. So, what that means is if you go into a building and there's two people, the time it takes for one person – this is just a rough rule of thumb – the time it takes to clean, considering that it's just a standard office, nothing atypical to it, it's just a typical office setting, the time that it takes you to clean and restock the restrooms and the break rooms is about the same amount of time that it takes to pull the trash, dust, and vacuum the rest of the building.

Bryant: I never charge on a square-foot basis. It can give me a decent understanding because you can say “Oh, an average cleaner can clean X number of square feet per hour” and it can kind of give you a rough estimate but, honestly, what I would say is that you really want to make sure that you're crossing your T's and dotting your I’s and that the amount of time that you think it will take is actually how you're bidding the job because not all square footage is created equal.

And I always use this example. If you walk into a lunch room and it's completely empty, the floors are empty, everything's fine, that's an easy clean you just go through there real quick, vacuum everything, mop everything, boom! Done. But if there's lunch tables throughout the whole room, you're going to be cleaning under lunch tables trying to work around those. It's going to take you four to five times as long. So, if you bid that room by square footage, you're really going to be hurting.

I think you need to look at your labor and what you need to pay people in your area for it to make sense for them. And then I would say you're going to multiply that probably by three – and that's kind of like rough numbers that we do just to kind of get a gauge on how much overhead and management they'll need and things like that. So, if the going rate for labor in your area is 15 bucks an hour, you're probably billing about 40 or 45. And then you're going to bid based on that. If you bid too high, obviously, you're probably not going to get the quote but if you bid too low, then you're really at risk for making a loss if the work takes a little bit longer. So, I always recommend that you be higher priced in your market so that you do have some flexibility if some nights things take longer, so you're not losing money.

To get a feel for how long it takes to do an office, the easiest way is to actually do one! Or, join a Facebook group where people are applying for janitorial jobs, and send them a direct message asking to interview them. People will typically help you if you just ask, so, ask them how long it would take them to do a particular job. And – you might get your first employee that way, too!

What is the biggest waste of money for a new commercial cleaning business?

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

Cloves: I think the biggest waste of money was thinking that I could hire a sales person without a strong sales background, previous experience or previous proof that that you were good at sales. I hired just a regular person with customer service experience but that was the biggest waste of money ever. If you're going to hire a salesperson for commercial cleaning, they better be someone that has strong previous background of janitorial sales. It's not the same as just regular customer service or sales.

Oscar: I wasted $25,000 dollars on digital advertising but I’m going to consider it as a $25,000 learning experience that I know not to go that route. And it got me to where I am now with my digital marketing but I did pay for those ads that follow you around everywhere – retargeting ads. I committed to a year, $2,500 dollars a month and I probably would have had more success had I had a website that converted better. I’m sure I got lots of impressions and exposure but my website didn't convert easily. So, now, having gone through that and learned from it, I got the best of both worlds. So, it took $25,000 to learn that though.

Bryant: I think those services that I mentioned earlier – I spent a lot of money on when I didn't need to and those were Home Advisor and those Angie's List type things. They are okay but, honestly, there's usually a lot of demand for cleaning services if you do cold calling or maybe some door-to-door sales or you're doing something else. There's a lot of things you can do for free without going down that route because at the end of the day, even if you get one of those leads off one of those platforms, that lead has been given to probably a handful of other people and that can cause you to be immediately competing against other people. And it's very hard to convey value, the customer is probably only going to see the price as opposed to if you're the only one there, you can definitely talk to the customer and explain “Hey, this is why we're better.” And it's a lot more defensible for them. When that manager goes and talks to the owner and says “Hey, I think this is going to be a good fit,” then the owner says “Okay, sure” but if the owner's saying “Oh, well, here's four prices and you're going to tell me to go with the highest one. I don't think so.” That tends to be the way that things operate.

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

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

Cloves: Now that the company is established, the work days are pretty laid back. Those work days are more structured now because unless we have quotes out for that day, the work can be pretty much handled from the house, everything is handled from a computer. So, I could be anywhere and I could handle the daily routines of the business, answering back to clients, a complaint here and there, making a few phone calls and talking to the supervisor of the company but pretty basic day like tomorrow. Tomorrow is one of those days. I have two quotes that I have to go out, new clients, new prospects. We have two opportunities at new accounts but like today, it's a typical stay home type of day and just monitor emails and phone calls.

Oscar: So, with having about 90 employees, something I’ve learned the past year is that, on average, one of them will have to go to a doctor, one of them will have a child that's sick, one of them will be sick, one of them will have some emergency that pops up. So, I have to have someone to cover. So, if none of that's happening and everything's going smooth, I’m at the office bidding leads that come in and preparing proposals, just handling admin functions like insurance renewals, and looking at my financial statements but if business is good, business is booming, then I’m out there into the evening helping the guys out to make sure that we can do two or three new client site startups in a weekend, which has happened in the past month

Bryant: I have a couple of supervisors who oversee things in the evening. When I wake up in the morning, I’m normally scheduling payroll, those kinds of things, maybe looking at our marketing and trying to take care of admin tasks. And then after that, in the afternoon, I tend to be doing hiring and interviews. We're always doing interviews. We do interviews every single week whether we need to make a hire or not because you never know when somebody is going to want to make a change and maybe leave their job working for us because things change very rapidly and we do our best to have the most competitive pay around but other people, they might see a job for one dollar an hour or more and then they leave. So, you've got to make sure that you're staying competitive and always – there's a phrase people say – “Always be closing” – I say “Always be recruiting” because you need to. So, that's what I spend probably half my time on. Right after this I have an interview that I’ve got to do and I’ll have a few more, probably 10 a week. And then in the afternoon the other thing is sales. So, I’m doing the sales side and doing initial prospecting. Sometimes there's a long sales cycle. Sometimes people reach out and don't want to work with us for a couple months because they're just dragging their feet but you have to follow up with those people and do those kinds of things. And then in the evening, sometimes I’m working in the evening as well, doing training but a lot of time like to this point now, for the most part, our supervisors are able to handle the training.

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 commercial cleaning experts:

What sort of CRAZY things happen in the commercial cleaning & janitorial industry?

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

Cloves: There are a lot of franchise companies out there who would bid low on an account just to land it because they make money simply by landing a number of accounts. They don't really care about the profit that the account will generate. Why they do that? I never understood that until I actually started sitting down and I was like “Why are these companies bidding this building so low?” but – it's because they make money off of selling these accounts – and that's when it clicked, I was like “Okay. Well, for them, it makes sense. For me, it doesn't” because they land these accounts and what they do is they turn around and they sell them to the smaller guys. So, they just care about selling the account. Now, whenever it lands on this small guy's hand, then he has to take on the issue of that account is not profitable, it doesn't leave enough money but it's not their business. They already sold it. They already made their money and they moved on to landing the next crappy business that they can attain.

Oscar: Subcontracting, definitely. Because really they should be W2, and for some reason, they're allowed to actually come in under the proper amount – when really, if you did it right and everybody's paying their taxes like they're supposed to, this should be the more expensive method but it's not. Probably insurance premiums are not being paid and payroll taxes are not being paid. So, that's definitely not good.

Bryant: There's a lot of things like that. For example, recently I found out a business that was sold – a guy sold his janitorial business, but now he's going after all of his old customers again. So, that's obviously not a good thing.

Then there are a lot of people not doing the basic things right, like getting background checks and things like that. The industry is bifurcated between people who use regular employees and people who use subcontractors. And a lot of people don't have any quality control over their subcontractors. We don't really use any subcontractors but it's very easy to compete against those people because if they are using subcontractors, the quality is probably pretty bad, things get skipped.

In the commercial cleaning business – same as most businesses – it's always 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 commercial cleaning business can offer, to increase revenue?

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

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

Cloves: Actually, the add-on services is really what makes you the most money, which is the additional work that we do in facilities like carpet cleaning, stripping and waxing. Floor maintenance is one of the best paid services in the commercial cleaning industry. Stripping and waxing floors can be very lucrative just because it's a service that in any facility that you walk in, you have the opportunity to offer. Every office building has tile floors or have VCT. So, stripping and waxing it and making those floors shine and making the facility look clean and presentable, every business owner wants that, especially if they receive visitors and clients into their buildings. So, that is a service that we provide on facilities at least twice a year. So, you make a lot of money in that aspect.

Oscar: Yeah, strip and wax services. Hard floor care in general. It could be concrete sealing. It could be cleaning porcelain floors, ceramic tiles, waxable VCT or vinyl composition tile floors and carpet cleaning. And then your ancillary services besides those things would be window washing and pressure washing. Plenty of money in those add ons.

Bryant: The initial ones that usually come to mind are window cleaning and maybe even pressure washing, just depending on how big the company is. We don't do that but we do some window cleaning. A lot of times also there is floor stripping and waxing. That is almost always done by the janitorial company. And I’ve seen janitorial companies that also do floor polishing. You are already in a facility doing work, and usually a facility manager doesn't want to hire a ton of different vendors. So, what that means is if you can make their life simpler and offer them a solution to a problem that they have, even proactively, you can be a great asset to them and really increase your margins a lot because you're already in that facility. Those kinds of jobs, the margins can be much, much larger than regular janitorial.

Tip: Knowing exactly when and how to offer an extra, an add-on, or 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 a janitorial or commercial 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

Cloves: Pricing and charging correctly is key. I think knowing your worth of what you're providing, knowing your worth of what type of service you're providing is actually key because you can get caught into this rat race of “I just need to land any account if possible.” You can actually get burned like that because you will sometimes walk into an account that you didn't price correctly that now you end up losing money. And because you don't want to look bad or get a bad review, you're going to stick with that account for months and months when you're actually just losing money in the process.

And then the next will be just taking pride in what you do. I would say take pride in what you do and then be proud of what you're doing. I can tell you by personal experience, when I decided that I was going to open a cleaning business, a lot of my friends or “friends”, they made fun of me. They thought that it was a degrading type of business to open or to do because at the beginning, you will most likely have to start doing it yourself. If you're starting from scratch or you don't have a partner or you don't have the money to get started and hire people, you most likely will be the one that will start cleaning on your own at night time. And when I decided to do that, a lot of people that I knew around me, they laughed. They thought that it was a joke and that I was going to fail at it but nine years down the road, now that the business is successful, I get to stay at home and it pays my bills and I have a decent life from it. Those people that laugh about me, they're still on their regular jobs and doing the same thing that they were doing back then. And look who's laughing.

Oscar: Treat people fairly, employees as well as customers. Do honest business. In the long run, it keeps you in business. So, even if there's a chance to take a shortcut, like "no one would know if I did it this way or that way", well, I would know. And just by doing it, I would know, God would know. And if I live according to that and I end up doing right by people – which means for example, paying better wages, making sure that their federal tax money is not in jeopardy, they're not going to be in trouble at the end of the year because we're issuing W2, you already know what you did, we've done the taxes correctly. You just have to go and report it at the end of the year, made it a little bit easier. And with customers, just do what you say, and actually do the things that they're paying for. And be prepared to work. There's work involved here. It's not something that I just turn the key and let everybody else run it. If you want to have some success, you're involved in it one way or another.

Bryant: Make sure that when you're hiring, you hire proactively, not reactively because you will make the wrong hire. Anytime you hire in a rush, you're going to make a mistake.

Be knowledgeable about your cash flows. A lot of your smaller customers especially, they're used to paying for their products and services right as they buy them. So, if their standard terms maybe for other vendors might be 90 days or 60 days or 30 days, you can say “Hey, I’m a small janitorial service. I really can't afford to float that much and pay payroll for two months before I get paid. What if we just bill you at the beginning of the month and you pay me by the end of the month and we're good to go?” And when you do that, a lot of people will pay you towards the beginning of the month and that helps your cash flow a lot because every growing business is going to struggle with cash flow, especially janitorial.

So, those are two very important things. And I think the other thing is to just have systems because if you do not have systems, you're going to get very worn down. When an employee asks for a day off or if the employee is asking if they can start later or stop earlier or whatever, they have all these questions. You need to have answers to those questions before they happen so that your employees aren't just calling you and you're just saying “Oh yeah, that's fine today” or “that's not fine today” or “Oh, that was fine before but it's not fine now.” If I do that, then that's going to kill my employees’ morale because they're going to say “Oh, last time you said that was okay but this time it's not.” Managing expectations with employees is just super important.

The commercial cleaning business is easy to start – 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 commercial cleaning and janitorial business, by talking to industry experts and commercial cleaning operators. I have compiled it into the worlds most useful guide, How to Start a Commercial Cleaning Business. You can check it out here.

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