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If I Could Restart My Cleaning Business Here’s What I’d Do Differently

If I Could Restart My Cleaning Business Here’s What I’d Do Differently

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Starting a cleaning business can be both exciting and overwhelming. As service providers, you’re interacting closely with clients, and they’re trusting you to clean their home unsupervised without causing any damage to their belongings. So you’ve got to be prepared and ready for anything with all the right licenses, insurance, and cleaning supplies.

To help you navigate these challenges, I’ve gathered insights from several successful cleaning professionals about things they wish they had done when they first launched their businesses. Their experiences offer valuable lessons that can streamline your path to success.

Things I Wish I Did When I First Started My Cleaning Business

In business, there are many things that are extremely important if you want to be successful and thriving. Then there are the non-essential but great-to-do items, which are less important, but will help your business run more smoothly.

Let’s first cover the essentials.

The Essentials When Starting Your Business

When starting your cleaning business, or even if you’ve been in business for a while, it’s easy to take shortcuts and not set things up correctly from the start. But doing so can make things harder for you in the long run.

Take these pro cleaners’ advice and do these things when you first start your business.

Registering Your Business

Alexis from Cleaning With Meaning says she wishes she had applied for a Limited Liability Protection (LLC) right away instead of waiting until she was busier with customers.

An LLC will protect you and your assets if you face a lawsuit or go bankrupt. While this isn’t a common occurrence, you just never know what the future holds.

An LLC will give your company more credibility in your customer’s eyes. Going through the effort to get registered will show prospects that you are a serious business owner and do things the right way.

You can also choose the most appropriate tax option for your business from the get-go. This will allow you to take advantage of any tax breaks your business is entitled to.

Get Insured

Jolanda Calhoun from SMC Cleaning Services says that she didn’t worry about insurance at first because she was a solo cleaner and knew her clients personally. But whether you are a solo cleaner, or you’ve got a team, insurance is an absolute must in your business.

In a similar way that an LLC protects you, so does insurance. So it’s best to get insurance right off the bat because incidents can happen at any time.

There are different types of insurance you could get from Workers Compensation Insurance if you injure yourself at work, or Income Protections Insurance if you’re unable to work for other reasons.

There’s even insurance for your tools and equipment. But General Liability Insurance is the one you’ll need initially.

Shannon Miller from Klean Freaks University says, “You’ll want to carry insurance as it tells the homeowners you have skin in the game. It also covers you for the big things, like someone's $2000 shower door that shattered (when you were cleaning it). And if you break something, more than likely they will not pay you, as it's considered gross negligence.”

Get Bonded (best for teams)

If you’ve got a team of cleaners, particularly if you do not know them very well or have a high-turnover, it’s highly recommended that you get your business bonded. Bonds will protect your customers from any light-fingered contractors, which ultimately protects your business as the client can’t come directly after you.

”Bonded is usually for when you have helpers, it covers for theft,” says Shannon Miller. “If you are here to make money it's worth the investment to cover yourself in case something happens.”

Have a Service Agreement

Another thing that small and new businesses tend to skip over in the early stages is a Service Agreement. This is essentially a contract between you and your customers detailing the scope of work and expectations, exclusions, costs, payment information, cancellation policy, and more.

Kimberley Gonzales is a cleaning consultant and says that hers “took hours to put together” and even had an attorney look over it. She explains that she values her time and experience, and a Service Agreement will support and protect her if anything should arise, such as a last minute cancellation or failure to pay. And when a customer has signed an Agreement, it can often be a deterrent for anything going sideways.

Know Your Rates

As a newbie, you’re probably not going to know how much to charge. But Kimberley says it’s important to figure these out before you go pitching for jobs.

Get some quotes from other cleaning companies in your area, and use them as your baseline when quoting jobs. Most professional cleaners will do a price per square foot. But this can change depending on how dirty a home is.

Being Selective With Your Equipment

Buying all your equipment for your business can be an overwhelming expense. There are thousands of different cleaning products out there for different surfaces. But, as Kimberley explains, most of them are unnecessary and a waste of money.

Many clients have a preference for “non-toxic” cleaners, so it’s best to start off with a non-toxic all-purpose cleaning solution like PÜR Evergreen or Sal Suds. These can be purchased as a concentrate in bulk and diluted for different surfaces.

Also get a disinfectant for surfaces like toilets and floors. You can make your own or buy a commercial disinfectant.

And then there are your professional tools like microfiber towels, glass cloths, dusters, and mops. And don’t forget a vacuum cleaner, although some customers will want you to use theirs for hygiene reasons.

For those more particular customers, using their vacuum means it’s one less thing you need to bring with you. But be prepared that a customer’s vacuum may not be as good as the one you own.

You can easily set yourself up with a professional starter maintenance cleaning kit with tools and supplies for under $1000. And you can always add more specialized products as needed for things like deep and move out cleans if that’s something you offer.

Invest in Good Quality Supplies

Another point to add is to invest in high-quality supplies over cheap alternatives. As a professional service, using pro-quality equipment will help you clean more efficiently. The supplies may cost you a little more to purchase, but will outlast cheaper supplies, saving you money in the long run.

Your business will also look more professional to customers when they see you take pride in your supplies. And you lower the risk of damaging surfaces when you use top-quality supplies to clean.

As the saying goes, “Buy Nice, or Buy Twice!”

The Less-Essentials for Your Cleaning Business

The next list is of non-essentials, but are definitely worth considering for your cleaning business. They’re things that make your life easier, and can really level-up your business.

Be Picky About Your Clients

When you first start out, you might be tempted to take on every single prospect that comes your way to grow your client list. But not every customer is going to be a good fit for your business.

Alexis Taryn from Zen Soul Cleaning Services said that when she started out she took on a lot of customers that she knew were a bad fit.

If they’re a poor fit for your business, quite often these customers end up being more of a hassle than what it’s worth. So determine the types of customers you want first, and then go get ‘em!

Create Systems

When first starting out, it can take some time to get into a groove. One of the best ways to get there faster is to have systems in place.

Cleaning coach Shannon Miller says that it can be as simple as checklists to help streamline your operation. Having systems in place for cleaning, for example, will ensure you do the same great job every time.

Also use systems for when you scale and grow your business and start hiring and training staff. Then any staff you hire should also follow the same systems to retain the same high standards across your entire business.

Offer Referral Incentives  

Referral incentives are a fantastic way to grow and are highly under-utilized by small businesses. Most businesses will give a great service and then hope their customers mention them every now and then.

Alexis from Zen Soul says to be proactive and unashamedly ask your existing customers to refer people. When that person books a clean with you, your existing customer gets a percentage or dollar amount off their next clean.

When inflation is high, services like house cleaners are one of the first to get the chop. So referral programs are an excellent way to incentivize your customers to spread the word about your business and continue hiring you when they get a referral discount.

Residential Cleaning Starter Kit

Our cleaning starter kit was carefully curated by cleaning consultant Melissa Homer. This turnkey kit is everything you need to clean any property.

Learn How to Say No

People pleasers, listen up! Cleaning is one of those industries where you will burn out quickly if you don’t learn to say “no” to customers. It’s a service industry, where you are using your energy to give something to someone. So if you give an inch, a lot of people will take a mile.

If you clean their blinds for free once as a favor, expect them to want more free services from you in the future. Always set a precedent that extra services cost extra.

If someone wants a last minute clean and you are available, make it clear that you aren’t usually available with this much short notice but somebody canceled so you have an opening. That way they don’t expect you to be available on short notice every single time.

Set boundaries and keep them.

Never Quote Before Viewing

Some professionals suggest doing a walk-through of a home before you quote a job. This is so you can get a proper look at everything and give the most accurate quote.  

But perhaps you’re unable to do walk-throughs because of your location. So at a minimum, ask customers to send photos of each room and any areas that need particular attention.

Then there’s cleaning consultant Melissa Homer, who suggests that you do all your quotes over the phone as this saves time. She says that, as long as you ask the right questions, the quote should be close enough.

Pro Tip: When you’re cleaning a home and you’ve reached the quote amount before you’re done, it's best to tell your customer that you have under-quoted and to finish the job it will be an additional cost before you continue. This way the customer doesn’t get a surprise at the end.

Always Over-Quote Jobs  

Adding to the last point, Alexis Taryn suggests to always over-quote a job. It’s better to be told a higher price and then get a bill for a lower amount than the other way around.

She explains that if you’re new to cleaning, this can be tricky, and you will under-quote sometimes. But it’s all part of learning.

Get an Accountant

Something that small businesses do to keep their costs to a minimum is DIY their finances and taxes. How hard can it be, right?

Well, according to Shannon Miller from Klean Freaks University, unless you have an accounting background, business finances can be tricky. There are many things that you may miss, and it’s always good to have a professional expert you can refer to.

Hiring an accountant is better for you to track financial transactions, make informed choices, and adhere to tax regulations. It also aids in maintaining your business's organization, profitability, and financial well-being.

Charge Extra For Things You Don’t Like Doing

There are many things in a home that require extra care or effort when cleaning. So don’t be afraid to price these as extra. As a newbie to cleaning, you might not know what to include or exclude from a maintenance clean, so don’t be afraid to ask in cleaning communities.

Things like baseboards, blinds, windows, and ovens are typically charged as add-on services. Some customers may expect things to be included, but this is where your Service Agreement will come in handy.

There are also things that you should not clean unless you are specialized, like black mold and human fecal matter as this is a health hazard. Some customers may assume these things are included, so be sure to add these exclusions to your Service Agreement.

Get 50% Up Front  

Many, if not most cleaning professionals have been duped out of getting paid at one time or another. Alexis from Clean With Meaning says that this is, unfortunately, one of the downsides of this type of service. You’ve got to be on top of things as a business owner.

Most customers will make payment upon completion of a job, typically cash, or via a wire transfer, which can take days. So it’s becoming more common for cleaning professionals to ask for at least 50% of the quote up front on the day of service.

Another way you can position it is to set up a prepayment option, which is good for recurring clients that have the same service and cost each time who often forget to pay on time. Prepayment is to ensure you get paid, but you can position it as you’re preventing the client from accruing late fees every time (which is another clause you’ll need in your Agreement).

Don’t Give Friends and Family Discounts

As a new business owner, you may be tempted to give discounts to your friends and family. For an ongoing service like cleaning, it means having to give the discount every single time you clean.

And maybe it’s fine if it’s your mother or best friend. But you have to draw the line and set some clear boundaries. You can’t be giving discounts to your auntie’s stepson’s niece, or your best friend’s cousin who you met once at an engagement party.

So it’s up to you as the service provider what you are comfortable with, and to set the precedent that you don’t give discounts to just anyone. You’ve got a business to run.

Limit Your Promotions

This brings me to my next point of limiting your promotions. If you’re always doing a discount to get more clients, then guess what? You’re only going to attract clients who always want a discount or freebies.

And if you’ve ever dealt with these types of customers, you’ll know they are typically the biggest pains to deal with.

If you want to run promotions, be very intentional about when you do them. Choose Mother’s Day, Valentines Day, or other relevant times of the year where it makes sense. But avoid doing regular promotions just to get more clients.

It could also upset your existing customer base if they get wind of your consistent promotions. So be very selective with running promotions and giving discounts.

Fun Fact: Brands like Louis Vuitton, Chanel, and Hermès never go on sale. This sets the precedent that their products are worth full price, no matter what season they’re from. Having regular promotions would “cheapen” the brand.

Learn How to Network

As a service provider, you’re dealing with people quite a lot. Cleaning consultant Kimberley Gonzales says it’s important to get good at networking. This will help you market your business and find leads.

Look for networking opportunities that are open and aligned to the cleaning industry. And contact realtors, short-term rental agents, AirBnB owners, and anyone who you think might be interested in your services.

“Every lesson I learned the hard way... It’s a refining process — you’ll find your groove!”

— Abby Springer from Good Day Cleaning Services

Resources for New Cleaning Business Owners

Even if you’re completely new to business, there’s so much information right at your fingertips with the internet. There are Facebook Groups specifically designed for new cleaning professionals, like Starting a House Cleaning Business where you can search questions, ask your own questions, and download free resources.

And there are blog posts tailored to help cleaning professionals learn from and level-up their business. So to all the new business owners out there, welcome to the industry! And we’re here to provide you with information and incredible products to help your business thrive.

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