How to Start a Cleaning Service

How to Start a Cleaning Service
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Editor's note: This article was excerpted from our Cleaning Service start-up guide, available from Entrepreneur Bookstore.

If it can get dirty, chances are someone will be willing to pay you to clean it.

And that's why few industries can claim the variety and depth of opportunities that professional cleaning can.

The cleaning industry has two primary market groups: consumer and commercial. The consumer arena consists primarily of residential maid services, along with carpet cleaners, window cleaners and a variety of other cleaning services required on a less-frequent basis. The commercial arena is dominated by janitorial services, which typically provide a wider range of services than maid services, along with other cleaning companies, such as carpet and window cleaners that target businesses rather than individual consumers. While it's recommended that you decide on a niche and concentrate on building a business that will serve your chosen market, it's entirely realistic to expect to be able to serve multiple markets successfully.

Before you leap into the cleaning business, it's important to look at it with 20/20 vision. Though technology has certainly had an impact on cleaning services, this is not a high-tech business. Nor is there any glitz to it. And there will be times when you'll have as much trouble as Rodney Dangerfield getting respect.

But the upside is that you can build an extremely profitable business that will generate revenue very quickly. Most cleaning service businesses can be operated on either a part-time or full-time basis, either from home or from a commercial location. That flexibility gives this industry a strong appeal to a wide range of people with a variety of goals.

Another positive aspect of the industry is that within each category of cleaning businesses are market niches and operating styles that vary tremendously. Salt Lake City janitorial service owner Michael R. says, "We offer a wide range of services to a very limited clientele. We have refined our customer base to a group that we feel we can best serve in a way that will allow us to maintain those customers permanently."

This means you can build a company that suits your individual style and talents. If you like doing the work yourself, you can stay small and do so. If your skills are more administrative in nature, you can build and manage teams to do the work. For people who like working outside, the opportunities in service areas such as window cleaning and pressure washing are abundant. Residential maid services offer fairly predictable hours; disaster restoration and cleanup can mean calls at all hours of the day or night.

Few industries offer this tremendous range of choices and opportunities, and the need for general and niche cleaning is expected to increase in the future.

Do You Have What It Takes?

The necessary qualifications depend, of course, on the type of cleaning service you decide to start. But for any type of service business, you need a determination to make the business work, a willingness to please the customer and the dedication to provide a thorough cleaning job.

Another critical requirement for the owner and the employees of any type of cleaning service is honesty. "Clients must have total trust in the people who come to clean their homes," says Fenna O, who owns a maid service in Orlando, Florida. This is important whether they're cleaning bathrooms every week or carpets twice a year--or dusting and vacuuming an office at night.

A maid service is probably the simplest business in terms of necessary cleaning skills. Janitorial services, carpet cleaning businesses and other niche cleaning operations often require the use of special equipment and/or cleaning solutions for which you must be trained.

Beyond actually being able to do the work, a cleaning service operator needs some basic business skills. You need to understand the administrative requirements of running a company, you should be able to manage your time efficiently, and you must be able to build relationships with your employees and your customers.

Franchise or Independent Operation?

That franchises will work closely with you as you start your business and take it to the point where it is running smoothly and profitability is an advantage, especially in the beginning. But you may find that once you become established and are financially secure, a franchise agreement is a decided disadvantage.

For people who want to own their own business but would rather choose an opportunity that has proven successful for many others rather than gambling on developing their own system, a franchise is the way to go. Also, most franchises provide a degree of marketing support--particularly in the area of national advertising and name recognition--that's extremely difficult for individuals to match.

In the long run, you'll likely invest far less money operating as an independent service than as part of a franchise. Also, as an independent, you're not tied to any pre-established formulas for concept, name, services offered, etc. That's both an advantage and a drawback. The advantage is that you can do things your way. The drawback is that you have no guidelines to follow. Everything you do, from defining your market to cleaning a bathtub, is a result of trial and error. As an independent owner, you must research every aspect of the business, both before and during your business's lifetime, so you'll start right and adapt to market changes.

Start Your Own Cleaning Business, 3rd Edition

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