Have you ever thought you wouldn’t mind housecleaning so much if you only got paid for it? Great news! I can’t get you paid for cleaning your own house, necessarily, but I can show you how viable starting your own cleaning business can be. Straightforward, too! If you love the satisfaction of a clean floor and folded toilet paper ends, I’m here to show you how you can make money at it with my starter’s guide.
For this guide, I also spoke with Jamie King, who is the owner of King's Cleaning Service in California. When she was 23 and cleaning her way through college, she dreamed of owning a business one day – only to realize that she already had the foundation of one! It was simply a matter of organization and building her client base and King’s Cleaning Service was born. She started her small cleaning business as a solopreneur cleaning the homes of family and friends – today, she has a full team of cleaners who not only clean homes, but do commercial cleaning as well. They even offer decluttering and concierge services.
Cleaning Business Startup Costs
From the beginning, you need to establish a budget for your new business venture. The great thing about starting a cleaning business is the built-in ability to scale – it’s definitely something you can start solo and then hire others on to help as your business expands. Basically, you’ll be investing sweat equity into your business from the start – doing all the work from advertising and clerical to the actual cleaning.
Here’s what you’ll need to budget for:
Starting a business – do everything by the book and legally establish your cleaning business with your state. The cost to register as a business varies depending on your state of residence and whether you’re establishing a sole proprietorship, LLC, or another company type. To register as a Limited Liability Company, for example, costs between $50-$500. You should also find out if you need any licenses or permits.
Getting insured – cleaning someone else’s home is not something you want to do without insurance: accidents happen and, when something gets broken, you’re going to want an insurance policy backing you up.
Purchasing the right tools – having the appropriate tools is essential to doing a professional cleaning job that’ll win you loyal customers.
Branding and advertising – you don’t need to spend a ton on this at first, but having some business cards and maybe a branded t-shirt as your uniform goes a long way to projecting professionalism; having a logo made can be great for building confidence and establishing your presence, too.
Now that you’ve established your budget, it’s time to dive right into the first steps you’ll need to take in starting your cleaning business.
Choose a name. This seems like such a simple step, but you may find yourself agonizing over it! Think about this one while you’re getting all your other ducks in a row. You could choose to go with your own name (“Carol’s Cleaning Service,” for example) or choose something that conveys your values (like “Easy Green Cleaners” if you specialize in eco-friendly cleaning) or even your favorite animal (“Shiny Otter Cleaning Service”). Your choice of name can help define other branding aspects like your logo and slogan, too.
Establish yourself legally. Jamie told us, “Make sure you have all the insurance and licensing required by your county and city.” Find out what permits or licenses you may need, and pay any fees accordingly. Working with a service like Corpnet can make establishing your business with your state fairly easy for you.
Shop around for insurance. Since your business will take you into other people’s homes, it’s highly advisable to have insurance from the get-go. You’ll want to be protected in case of property damage or injury related to your services. Shop around for a good rate. Hiscox offers a number of options.
Prepare to get social. Go ahead and grab all the social media usernames for your chosen business name. You may not use them all right away, but you’ll be happy to have the correct names reserved on Facebook and Twitter when you do. (You may even want to snag your name on Instagram and Pinterest as well.) It can be a good idea to purchase the domain name for your business, too – check out Bluehost for a domain name and website hosting.
Set up your books. Make it easier on yourself (especially at tax time!) by getting your accounting software set up from Day 1 of your business. Quickbooks (which Jamie recommends) is one of the most trusted names in home business accounting and is relatively inexpensive when choosing the Small Business or Self-Employed options.
While you don’t need much in the way of fancy equipment for residential cleaning, you’ll certainly want dependable tools and a good supply of the basic materials. Here’s a list to get you started:
- Cleaning Rags
- Scrubbing Brushes
- Paper Towels
- Heavy-Duty Vinyl Gloves
- Water Bucket
- Cleaning Solvents & Disinfectants (go green when you can)
- Broom & Dustpan
- Dry & Wet Mops
- Vacuum Cleaner (Jamie recommends a compact vacuum)
- Apron with Pockets
These items are the foundation of your business. If you have a membership to a warehouse store like Costco, that works in your favor: pick up your cleaning supplies like all-purpose cleaners, disinfectants, and paper towels there in bulk. It’ll save you money and ensure you have sufficient supplies on hand to do your job.
Find Your First Customers
Cleaning someone’s home is personal, and that’s a great way to start finding customers. Turn to your family and friends for your first clients – and ask them to refer you to their friends and family. Build your business this way: the advertising is free and word of mouth carries with it the approval of satisfied folks with clean homes. Good references are worth their weight in gold for the beginning of your business.
“My first clients were mostly family and friends, neighbors of family members,” Jamie told us. “I started using a referral service which helped a ton but was expensive. The best move I made was hiring Lamb Consulting to make my website and business plan. This was about 3 years after I started cleaning.”
Once you feel comfortable and have a larger budget, you can do some more conventional advertising as well. If you want to expand in a specific location, doing flyers or door-hangers could be a smart move – you can also take out local billboard space. Use targeted ads on social media to advertise to the demographics you’d like to clean homes for. Take advantage of branding in your daily life and have your business name, logo, and number printed on large magnetic decals you can place on your personal vehicle.
One of the most important considerations when establishing your house cleaning fees is that you not undervalue your work. For one thing, time is money and you should be making enough to earn a living at your business. Also, you don’t want to establish rates that are too low in the beginning and face either losing loyal customers due to increased rates or operating at a loss because you’re charging too little once you start to keep and pay a staff.
There are many ways to determine how much to charge your customers and you’ll have to decide how you want to work out your fees: will you charge by the hour? By the room? Some even charge flat fees per house or charge per square foot. The two most popular methods seem to be charging by the hour and by the room. One compelling argument for charging by the room is that your customers won’t fixate on how long you spend cleaning vs. how they might watch the clock when you charge by the hour.
However you slice it, Jamie told me: “Cleaning companies should be comfortable charging at least $30/hour per worker.” I’ve also read reports from other small cleaning businesses who have developed their business until they’re able to charge over $100 per hour.
How you collect your money is just as important as how much you charge. Jamie advises that you take a deposit from every first-time customer. You should also collect payments on the day of service – cash is king, of course, and it’s up to you what other payment types you might want to accept. Checks can be risky, especially if you don’t know the customer very well yet. Credit cards or PayPal can be viable methods of payment these days, too, with all the apps we have on our smartphones and tools like the Square Reader.
Be Sure This Job Is For You
I know I’ve already introduced you to many important aspects of starting your own cleaning business, but here’s one more: make sure that cleaning homes for a living is the job for you. It’s not enough to feel like you’re competent at housecleaning. You need to really understand that you’re going to be cleaning all day, every day for your source of income, at least at first. (Unless you’re doing this as a side business, in which case you’ll be spending all your off-time – evenings, weekends – cleaning for money.)
Professionally cleaning takes a certain kind of temperament – one that doesn’t mind the repetitive tasks of vacuuming, dusting, scrubbing, polishing, and sweeping. It’s also physically demanding labor, so you need to make sure you’re in good enough shape to endure stretching, kneeling, scrubbing, and all the other physical requirements of the job for hours each day.
Since you’ll be running your own business, make sure you’re also both ready to and capable of handling the management and clerical sides of the business. You’ll need to recruit the customers, service the customers, bill the customers, and then also get the supplies, balance the books, and do the taxes. Once you’re able to hire employees – if that’s a direction you’d like to go – you’ll then have to manage them and all the extra demands in insurance (including being bonded), payroll, and taxes.
When we asked Jamie what a day is like in the life of a successful cleaning business owner, she told us, “Pretty high energy. I run a crew myself, give estimates over the phone, go over the schedule with my assistant, restock products, repair vacuums, wash rags and handle any quality control issues.”
(One of Jamie’s top tips for the small cleaning business hiring employees: “Do background checks on potential workers.” Don’t forget you’ll be liable for your employees’ behavior in private residences.)
Owning your own small business can and often is incredibly rewarding – just make sure you’re up to the challenge!
You should have all the information you need to start pulling together your small cleaning business and turning your housecleaning fever into dollar bills. So get started! And don’t forget to drop back by and tell me all about your new business – I love to see my readers succeed.