How to Start a Cleaning Business With No Money [2020 Update]
Starting a residential cleaning business can be an inexpensive way to become a successful entrepreneur. Plus, it can be very lucrative too. There will always be homes that need cleaning, and it’s a job people are eager to handoff.
You just need the right strategies and the right checklist to get started. So, we looked to the experts.
We spoke with Grace Reynolds and Kevin Reynolds, co-founders of the American House Cleaners Association (AHCA) and owners of Handmaid Cleaning. With the AHCA, they’re on a mission to change the stigma around the cleaning industry, so that cleaners get the respect they deserve and the resources they need to grow.
Grace and Kevin shared with us what it takes to start your own cleaning business and what you need to be successful.
Bookmark this guide and refer to it on your journey to becoming a residential cleaning business owner!
HOW TO START YOUR OWN CLEANING BUSINESS:
- Do your research
- Choose a value proposition and your name
- Get a business license
- Purchase insurance
- Build your brand
- Do the cleaning yourself
- Build your service list and pricing
- Purchase your equipment
- Market your cleaning business
- Perfect and customize your client experience
Your Guide to Starting a Cleaning Business
1. Do your research
A lot of the work you’ll put into your business happens right at the start. Do your research and educate yourself on how to clean properly and how to avoid cross-contamination from one client’s home to the next.
“Do your research on cleaning chemicals, find out what can affect what, what’s going to hurt surfaces, and what’s safe to use. Get that education before you even start cleaning anyone’s home,” Grace tells us.
The AHCA offers useful cleaning certification courses to help get going. But money is often tight for an entrepreneur just starting out. There are other helpful resources you can use to get educated on the basics of cleaning.
Grace tells us to take advantage of free resources online. “When I started my cleaning service, I couldn’t find anything YouTube. Now there’s a ton of stuff, which is great. That’s a huge part of starting your business in the beginning, and it costs nothing to educate yourself.”
2. Choose a value proposition and a name
Your value proposition is the heart and soul of your business. It helps you target the right customers and stand out in a crowded market.
Getting your company values on paper will help you communicate to your customers what they can expect from your business.
The Reynolds like to think of this as carving out your niche. “Niching out is one of the best things you can do for your business. Look at your community and pinpoint it’s needs.”
“Having a niche also keeps you focused on what you’re getting good at, because different types of cleaning require different types of skill and different types of your mindset about how to get the job done the quickest,” Grace explains.
Your niche could be clients who work night shifts or untraditional hours like first responders, doctors, and nurses.
Even if you don’t define a specific niche, you still have to differentiate your business and what you offer.
When deciding on your value proposition, think about:
- How do the cleaning services you offer solve your customers’ problems or pain points?
- What features or services help your company stand out from the rest? It could be your:
Once you know what your business values are, you’re in a good position to come up with a business name. You might choose a name that plays off your values (e.g., incorporating the word ‘green’ or ‘speedy’ to go with your time guarantee), or you may choose to let your creative side come up with something catchy.
Plus, make sure your name is:
- Easy to spell
- Easy to pronounce
- Less than three words
Use our guide for how to choose a name for your cleaning business, complete with real business name examples for residential and commercial cleaning businesses just getting started.
STARTING A CLEANING BUSINESS?
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3. Get your business license
You’ve got your name and you know what you want to offer your market. Now you’re ready to start running your business legally.
Grace recommends getting your business license and insurance, as soon as you can.
First, decide what your business structure is. If you’re in the U.S. and you want complete control over your business, you might want to register as a sole proprietorship. If you’re opening your cleaning business with two or more people, you’ll have to register as a partnership. A limited liability company (LLC) is best for medium or higher-risk businesses. Learn more about business structures.
4. Purchase cleaning insurance
When it comes to protecting your business and your future employees, cleaning insurance is a must. “You really shouldn’t be cleaning anyone’s house without insurance. That was something that I did right away,” Grace tells us.
Cleaning a home without insurance is a high-risk game to play, Grace says.
“You could burn someone’s house down. You could break something that’s really valuable or scratch up something, especially when you’re just getting started, getting the hang of your work, and getting to know the properties.”
Insurance gives you a safety net and it’s an essential part of running your cleaning business. The last thing you want as a brand new entrepreneur is to accidentally cause damage to a new client’s home, without insurance, and get yourself in debt.
Shop around for the right insurance plan for your business and check out various providers in your area.
Get an Online Cleaning Insurance Quote
Find out how much insurance costs, with a quote tailored to your cleaning business.Get Quote
5. Build your cleaning brand
You can now use your value proposition to transform your business name into a brand.
Choose your brand colors and create your company logo. You might choose to hire a professional to do this for you. For a less expensive option, you can create your own with free online tools like Canva.
Use your logo for everything: your vehicle wrap, website, uniforms, business cards, door hangers, estimate, quote and invoice templates, and more.
Remember: Your logo doesn’t have to be ‘for life’. You can always change your logo down the road! It’s very simple to swap out an old logo for a newly updated version on your website, social media, email signature, and invoices.
It’s worth noting that replacing your logo on physical places like uniforms or vehicle wraps will be more expensive and time-consuming.
6. Do the cleaning yourself in the beginning
When you’re just starting your business, doing all of the cleaning yourself is an obvious way to eliminate labor costs. You can schedule cleaning jobs around your schedule. Whether that’s around your full-time job or on weekends. You’re your own boss.
Cleaning yourself also allows you to ease into your new business, taking the pressure off finding a long list of customers right away to keep employees busy.
By taking it slow, you can focus on quality service, perfecting your workflow, and building your reputation, rather than relying on low cleaning prices to build your client list.
“Even if you’ve read 1,000 blogs on how to clean and watched 150 YouTube videos, you still won’t have that system down until you start doing it on a regular basis. So, I think for matters of quality and financial ability, wait until you’ve really established that client list,” says Grace.
“You need to feel a little bit overwhelmed before you hire.”
Once you do start feeling overwhelmed, then you’ll know it’s time to start finding your first employee.
Because you did the cleaning yourself in the beginning, you’ll have the knowledge you need to train your employees and prepare them for work out in the field. They need to learn from the best and the best is you.
Residential cleaning resource hub
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7. Build your service list and pricing
When building out your service list, look at what your competitors are offering. Use their websites as a resource to get your service list started and look out for any gaps in the market. That’s an opportunity for your business to stand out.
“I think the best way to deal with a competitive market is to not see anyone as high competition and more just like, ‘Okay, they’re there. I want to be there too. So, how do I get there?’”, Grace suggests.
“For a long time, there were cleaners who thought ‘I’m not going to share what I do. I’m not going to share my secrets.’ You really don’t see that so much in the cleaning community anymore. People realize that what the competitors are doing doesn’t really hurt them. There’s a lot of business needed.”
Your pricing structure also directly influences your profit margins.
“Some cleaners charge based on square footage and some charge an hourly rate. However you decide to do it, pricing your services is a huge factor in making your business successful,” says Grace.
Pricing your commercial cleaning services involves:
- Calculating your hourly rate
- Calculating your hourly rate with employees (if you have any to start)
- Factoring in overhead, insurance, and equipment
- Making adjustments for special services and materials
- Estimating profitability
- Factoring in taxes and fees
THE PROFIT MARGIN CALCULATOR
Get simple pricing, cost budgeting, and markup calculations for your cleaning businessStart Now
8. Purchase your cleaning equipment
While starting a residential cleaning business is a relatively low-cost venture, you still have to spend a little money to make money! That’s where your equipment and supplies come in.
Split up your tools, supplies, and equipment into two categories:
- The items you’ll use up and have to purchase regularly (ie. rags and cloths, mops, latex gloves, face masks, all-purpose cleaners, etc)
- The items that will last you many years (ie. a vehicle, caddies, vacuum cleaners, etc.).
Another powerful tool Grace and Kevin suggest having in your cleaning tool kit is residential cleaning business software.
“We got Jobber when we only had three employees. The sooner you can get on a program like Jobber to organize your business and look more professional, the better. That allows you to build all your systems as you go.”
No matter how much money you can invest in your business, Kevin encourages all new cleaning business owners starting out to find a way to make it work.
“At the end of the day, how much money you need to have to start a cleaning business should never hold anyone back,” Kevin tells us.
“The most important thing is really the passion and the mindset coming in: if you want to start a cleaning business, if you’re serious about it, you will start a cleaning business. No matter how bad your equipment is starting out. The drive of success and the idea that failure is not an option — that’s the goal.”
9. Market your cleaning business
To build your client list, you’ll have to market your business. Start marketing your residential cleaning business with these tips from Grace and Kevin:
- Build a professional home service website — List your services and gives prospects an easy way to request work
- Create and distribute door hangers — “Door hangers helped me build my client base in Pittsburgh from the get-go. Try them out and see if this type of tactic works well for your community.”
- List yourself in local business directories and lead generation websites — Grace recommends advertising your business on NextDoor as a great starting point.
- Invest in uniforms to wear on the job site — Grace recommends investing in a uniform right away. “Uniforms are a must-have. It gave me and my business a more professional, trusted look.”“If we show up at your door, looking like we’re cleaning out our own house, no one is going to take you seriously. Your clients are not going to trust you with their homes.“If you want to run a professional business, you have to present yourself like a professional. It can be as simple as a t-shirt with your logo on it, with a pair of jeans or khakis.”
- Create a Google My Business listing and ask your happy clients for reviews
- Get your own business cards — “Business cards are pretty cheap and effective,” says Grace. Give them out to prospects and always have some on hand.
- Create Facebook and Instagram business accounts — Social media is a great marketing channel to show before and after cleaning images (bearing your clients’ privacy in mind).The Reynolds are Facebook marketing experts, and were selected for Facebook’s Small Business Council.
- Join local Facebook community groups — Kevin suggests joining these groups to demonstrate your expertise, rather than to constantly push out ads. “Provide value for your community and teach how to clean certain things, and share the importance of having a clean home. That’s going to be much more effective for your business than posting endless ads plugging your business.”The Reynlods lead a Facebook community of over 20,000 cleaning professionals, sharing tips, advice, and moral support. It’s open to any cleaning professional to join.
- Put an ad in the local paper, offering your cleaning services
- Start a referral program and ask your customers for referrals — “Referral rewards also worked for us,” says Grace. But it can feel like your customers are doing you a favour. Set a healthy boundary where you provide your customers with something in return. Then there’s a mutual benefit to your customer giving you that referral.”
- Experiment with Local Service Ads (LSAs), digital ads for local businesses. Get inspired by these examples of real cleaning business ads.
What about word of mouth marketing for residential cleaning? Kevin says it’s always going to be effective, but if you really want to grow your business, you have to think beyond what word of mouth can do.
“We know that word of mouth is the best advertising. But if you really want to scale your business and if your end goal is to build an empire, you have to advertise and market. There’s no way around it,” says Kevin.
Grace and Kevin swear by getting involved in the local community, such as joining your local Chamber of Commerce, to get the word out about your business and to give back.
“Get involved and get to know all the local business leaders, do charity work in your community. We give away free cleanings to people that have illnesses or first responders. “
“One of the cheapest things that you can do is to get involved in your community, help people in need — and that will come back to you. That’s probably the best marketing advice that we can give a new cleaning business owner,” Kevin tells us.
10. Perfect and customize your client experience
Next, you have to work out how you’ll run your business. You can make adjustments based on what works and what doesn’t. Use this process as a starting point:
Quote and invoice templates
Grace says that once she implemented digital estimates with Jobber, her business instantly looked more professional. “When we started using Jobber and got a digital quote system, we leveled up our business in a huge way.”
Having a professional-looking quote template puts the power back in your hands. “ Having something written out that’s objective, not just scratch writing, is key in the beginning of starting your business.”
When you’re still trying to perfect your pricing, you don’t want a messy, hand-written quote to be the reason why a client asks for a discounted price.
Plus, digital quotes and invoices save you time. “Our clients view the quote or invoice, they get it right to their email, and approve it online. The handwritten quotes and invoices can make it look like you’re making it up.
“This is something that’s very affordable that you can implement right off the bat.”
Your workflow might look something like this:
- A request comes in through the online booking form on your website
- Document client information in your CRM
- Get in touch with your client
- Discuss job details (size of space, type of cleaning, frequency of cleaning, etc.)
- Send a quote and automatically send a customized follow-up
- Client approves the quote online
- Schedule the job and set it to recurring
- Proceed with a follow-up confirmation email a day or two before the cleaning
- Get to the job using GPS tracking
- Use a house cleaning checklist on the mobile app to make sure you remember everything and deliver consistent service
- Send an invoice upon job completion, or whenever agreed upon with your customer
- Accept contactless payments online through client hub
Join Your Cleaning Business Community
When you join growing online communities like the AHCA, you can ask fellow cleaning business owners questions and see the latest trends in residential cleaning.
Join the American House Cleaners Association now and get even more professional advice from other cleaning professionals like Grace and Kevin!
Plus, check out the Jobber Entrepreneurship Facebook Group, where you can share ideas with other small business entrepreneurs who get what you’re building.
Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared on Jobber Academy in November 2016 and has been updated in October 2020 for accuracy, and to be up to industry standards.