We’ve got a lot of ground to cover, so I’m not gonna waste much of your time rambling about things you already know. But before we start, let me tell you why you should hear my take on how to start a cleaning business (and make it a success).
It’s pretty simple. You want to learn from people who have actually done what you want to do. In my case, I run a successful house cleaning business with over $25,000 monthly revenue!
But it wasn’t a success on day one. I made mistakes, had to learn from them, had to experiment with different strategies and hired and fired countless employees to get my business where it is today.
And after helping a handful of other cleaning businesses do the same, I’ve decided to create a complete definitive guide on how to start a cleaning business. A guide that answers all your questions in one place.
Treat this guide as a compilation of all the insights, nuances, tips and tricks I found throughout my journey that no one will tell you about. A complete checklist on starting a cleaning business.
So, without further ado, let’s dive in.
Are Cleaning Businesses Profitable?
The cleaning industry overall can be very profitable if done right. But how you position your business, the specificity of the services you provide and the demographics of your potential customers will determine most of its profitability.
The cleaning business industry can broadly be split into two categories – residential cleaning and commercial cleaning, both of which further branch off to different subcategories of cleaning services.
Residential vs Commercial Cleaning
Residential cleaning is exactly what it says. It’s cleaning residential properties and spaces like houses, apartments, condos, etc.
Commercial cleaning, on the other hand, is cleaning commercial properties and buildings such as offices, schools, medical facilities, etc.
There are some fundamental differences between residential and commercial cleaning that will determine the trajectory of your business journey. Let’s look at the differences and see how they can help influence your decisions around starting a cleaning business.
First, customer expectations can be quite different in residential and commercial cleaning.
Residential clients are way more picky and particular about cleaning, while commercial clients are more concerned about the overall sanitizing and disinfecting of their space.
Commercial clients care less about the details, the corners and the speck of dust on the glass. Instead, they prioritize speed and the overall cleaning of their space.
Mostly, your clients will not even be present at the time of cleaning, as most commercial cleanings take place after office hours or on weekends when the buildings are mostly empty. Residential clients, however, at times will stand there with you and watch over everything you do (not every time but it does happen).
So naturally, this also affects your hiring process. If you’re targeting commercial clients, you need cleaners willing to work after-hours or on weekends. If you’re targeting residential clients, you need cleaners comfortable handling and communicating with the clients.
Also, commercial cleaning may require you to hire full-time cleaners, while in residential cleaning, you’re better off hiring contractors. More on this later.
Next up we’ll discuss pricing.
In residential cleaning, you charge for individual cleaning services, like deep cleaning or standard cleaning, though eventually, the goal is to convert them to a weekly, bi-weekly or monthly arrangement.
In commercial cleaning, you go through a bidding process, evaluating the size and kind of areas that need to be cleaned and then arriving at an estimate, which then will be subject to negotiation.
Since you can charge your customers right after cleaning, residential cleaning provides more cash flow and liquidity and, consequently, more breathing room for businesses. But that’s not the case in commercial cleaning, where you get paid periodically, whether that’s every week, every two weeks or every month.
So, it seems that both residential and commercial cleaning have their upsides and downsides.
But which is more profitable? And which one should you choose?
It’s a no-brainer. Commercial cleaning is, of course, more profitable. The contracts you win in commercial cleaning can be a few thousand or even a million dollars worth of contracts. But getting these contracts is equally challenging due to high competition.
In commercial cleaning, you’re fighting against established businesses with years of social proof, trained cleaners, high-end cleaning equipment and existing relationships with your potential customers.
An average residential gig, on the other hand, will make you around $130, and they are one-time orders. However, these job opportunities are abundant and easier to get. So, you’re winning with quantity. Plus, residential cleaning has a low barrier to entry in terms of competition and costs.
You can start with very low investment and grow into something bigger. In fact, that’s what most established cleaning businesses have done. They begin with residential cleaning, build a firm base and business foundation, and later down the line, expand into other avenues like commercial cleaning.
So, for the rest of the article, we’ll address how to start a cleaning business for residential cleaning. That said, some of this is still applicable for commercial cleaning businesses.
Cleaning Business Startup Cost
Starting my own cleaning business, Maid to Glow, cost me around $2000-$2500.
Most people will tell you it costs much more than that to start your cleaning business. Well, they are not totally wrong. You can spend tens of thousands of dollars if you want. But why would you when you can achieve the same in less?
In the following section, we’ll discuss the different start-up costs of a cleaning business and how you can save money on all of them.
Remote Business or In-House Business
First and foremost, you must decide whether you’ll run a remote or in-house business or a combination of both. This will impact the rest of your business costs.
Personally, I would suggest going as remote as possible. Maybe a warehouse at most for storing materials, if needed.
I started Maid to Glow as a remote business, and it’s still that way. Not only did I save a lot of startup costs upfront, but it ultimately made my business much more cost-efficient.
Registering your Business
Registering your cleaning business is necessary to adhere to state laws and for tax purposes.
As a new small-time cleaning business, I recommend registering your business as an LLC. It has many benefits, like not being subject to responsibility for any business debts and liabilities and pass through taxation.
What is pass-through taxation?
It means all profits and losses will pass through the business members and will be reported on their personal tax returns. In simple words, all business profits will only be taxed once on behalf of the business members under ordinary income taxes.
Many make the mistake of registering their business as a sole proprietorship. The sole proprietorship is best suited for contract workers or freelancers.
There are other ways to register your business, such as a partnership, corporation and DBA. But as I mentioned before, for a small cleaning business, LLC is the best choice.
But how do you register your business as an LLC?
If you’re starting a cleaning business, having insurance is non-negotiable. Mainly, you’ll need general liability insurance and janitorial bonds insurance. Both of them will cost you around $1000 yearly. However, you can choose to pay monthly too.
General liability ensures that any property damage or injury caused by your business or employees while cleaning a customer’s house or office is covered in lawsuits.
Sometimes, customers will ask to see if your business covers general liability insurance before booking an appointment. So, make sure you get it to make your business look more professional, credible and trustworthy.
A janitorial bond, on paper, is when a dishonest act is committed by one of your employees or contractors during the work, for example, theft.
While running a business, you’ll be hiring many employees. Unfortunately, it’s only a matter of time before one of them steals something or creates some trouble.
Other than these two, you have workers compensation insurance, business vehicle insurance and property damage insurance as well. However, if you follow my advice and do what I did with my business, you won’t need these and will save a lot of extra cash.
Tools and Equipment
At Maid to Glow, we don’t buy our own equipment or supplies. Instead, we hire contractors who already have what’s needed to get the job done. As you can imagine, this saves a massive upfront cost.
But that’s not all.
It’s much more cost-efficient in the long run as you won’t need to manage an inventory and spend money on equipment maintenance. It also saves a lot of time and ultimately makes things much easier.
Nonetheless, a standard cleaning equipment kit would cost you around $200. Here’s a list of general equipment and supplies you would need for most cleaning jobs –
Tools and Equipment
- Vacuum cleaner
- Bucket or container to carry supplies
- Mop and bucket
- Dustpan and broom
- Paper towels
- Microfibre cloths
- Glass cleaning cloths
- Latex gloves
- Cleaning brushes
- Laundry bag
- Disinfectant wipes
- Spray bottle
- Trash bags
- Multipurpose cleaner
- Glass and window cleaner
- Air freshener
- Heavy-duty detergent or degreaser
- Furniture polish
- Oven cleaner
- Stainless steel cleaner
- Toilet and shower cleaner
- Dishwashing liquid
- Descaling agent or chemical descaler
- Carpet cleaner
- Laundry detergent
- Stain remover
- Wood cleaner
The same logic that applies to equipment and supplies also applies to transportation.
If you hire full-time employees, you would have to provide them with business vehicles, which can be super-expensive, depending on how many employees you have. You also have to manage and pay for their maintenance and get business vehicle insurance.
It just doesn’t make sense.
Instead, you can just hire contractors that manage their own transportation. All of a sudden, you save a lot of money and headache.
You can also hire full-time employees but have a condition that the employees must bring their own vehicle, but it’s just easier with contractors since that’s the norm with them.
Marketing and Promotional Costs
Marketing and promotional costs include the cost of flyers, business cards, and a website to get started with. These are the most basic necessities for starting a cleaning business.
Flyers are great. You can drop them off at the front desks of buildings. You would have to engage with the front desk/management to let you leave the flyers there for residents to pick up though.
The best way to do it is to create flyers specific to each building with special discount codes and talk to the front desk so that they hand them out.
Flyers/brochures and business cards will cost you around $100-150 max, while a professional website may cost you anywhere around $500-$1000.
You may as well add $500 more for advertising on Yelp and Thumbtack. More on this later.
Should you Take a Loan?
Most people out there telling you how to start a cleaning business would have you believe it’s a necessity. Why? Because most of them are either the loan providers themselves or partners with them. It’s in their best interest for you to take a loan.
But I disagree.
You don’t need a loan unless you’re starting a commercial business with full-time employees and self-owned equipment, supplies and transportation
The overhead costs in cleaning businesses are typically low. You can clean the first few houses yourself, and before you know it, you’ll get up and going in just a few weeks. Taking a loan is just not worth it.
Name your Cleaning Business
Don’t overthink naming your cleaning business. That said, you wanna make sure your business name doesn’t trap itself. The following are some quick pointers to help you find the best-suited name for your business.
- Avoid hard-to-spell names
- Make sure your business name is also available as a domain name and for trademark.
- Add clever or witty wordplay. This is optional. But if you’re doing it, don’t do something too out there or obnoxious.
- Make it memorable. Something that easily sticks to the mind.
- Get feedback from other people and finalize.
How to Charge for Cleaning Services
The average house cleaning cost in the US is anywhere between $100 to $230. The average booking we receive on Maid to Glow ranges around $135.
Since cleaning is a commoditized service, the best way to set your prices is by looking at competitors around your locality and what they charge. And then, if you’re brand new, you would wanna charge slightly less than them but advertise your services as better than your competitors. But not explicitly, though.
As for how to price your services, these are three main ways to do that –
Charge per square foot – This is a common way to charge for your cleaning services. However, not the one I would recommend.
This is how it works –
Suppose you charge 20 cents per square foot. Now, if you clean a total of 2000 square feet, you’ll charge $40. As simple as that.
Hourly charges – It’s a widely accepted pricing model in many businesses. Though it’s slightly better than the last one, I won’t recommend this either.
This is how it works –
You set an hourly rate for your services. Now, the area you’re cleaning doesn’t matter. What matters is how long it takes to clean it. If your hourly rate is $40 and it takes you a couple of hours to clean a house, you’ll charge $80.
This pricing model has limitations and is sometimes unfair to the cleaner and the customers.
Charging based on individual services – Personally, I think this is the best pricing model and the one I use in my business.
It’s like buying products. Every cleaning service has a price tag on it. The customers can just pick and choose the ones they want and pay for them. It offers a lot of flexibility to cleaners as well as customers.
Set Up a Checkout Page
Invoicing is outdated. At Maid to Glow, we have automated the process of calculating cleaning costs, invoicing and charging the customer with the help of Maidily. And believe me when I say it makes a BIG difference.
Our revenue went from $4000 per month to $6000-$7000 after setting up an automated checkout page.
Maidily allows you to create a checkout page where customers can ‘pick and shop’ for the cleaning services they need. After selecting, the customers go to the next step, where the software automatically calculates and shows the total cleaning cost.
Instead of having extras like the “inside of the microwave” included in regular cleaning, the software strategically places them in the middle of the checkout process because it catches people’s attention.
You can quickly add it as you’re checking out. It’s the same as Amazon’s “Frequently bought together” category. Our most used extras are the “inside of the oven and microwave”. That’s an extra $25 added to each job for us. If we can upsell that to even just four customers, that’s an extra $100 right there.
It eliminates the need for your customers to call and talk on the phone, which most people hate doing anyway. And the best part is that the software allows your customers to pay via credit cards. It’s as easy as shopping on Amazon.
Overall, if you’re starting a cleaning business, know this – setting up a checkout page for your cleaning business will give you huge returns and 10x your conversion rates.
Getting your First Client
Yelp and Thumbtack are great platforms because they are already established websites that rank on Google when people search for “cleaning services in…” or “cleaners near me” and other similar keywords.
If you rank on these platforms, you automatically rank on Google for these keywords. Keywords that you would probably never rank for on your own.
Google local services ads are even better because it shows your business ad on top of the search result. It’s the first thing your potential customers will see when they search for those keywords.
But that’s not the only reason why it’s the best way to get clients.
Google local services work on a pay-per-lead model instead of a pay-per-click model, meaning you’ll only pay for it if someone contacts you through the ad.
Plus, running a Google local service ad means your business is Google Guaranteed, meaning if someone’s not satisfied with the services, Google will give them a refund (out of their own pocket).
Apart from that, you can also take a more old-school approach to find your first few cleaning clients.
Don’t shy away from advertising your services with word-of-mouth. Especially in the initial phases, promote to your existing network of friends, family and people they know. You’ll be surprised how quickly and often you find customers like this.
That said, don’t ignore Yelp, Thumbtack and Google local services. That’s where you’ll get the most consistent stream of work in the long run. At Maid to Glow, these platforms are our primary source of customers to this day.
Lastly, don’t forget to ask for feedback and reviews. Initially, try to get as many positive reviews as possible. It’s crazy how many people don’t ask for reviews.
Setting up your Website & Other Profiles
You may not like the technical side of things, but it’s crucial. As we discussed, you need a website and need to list your business on the following platforms to get started. So, how can I write an article about how to start a cleaning business without telling you the steps to set up your website and business profiles?
Setting Up your Website
- Buy a domain name and choose a hosting service, like HostGator, Bluehost, GoDaddy, etc.
- Choose a Content Management Software (CMS). I recommend WordPress.
- Choose and install a free theme, customize your website design and add content.
- Get the basics done – a hero section, a short description of your business, the services you provide and a Call-to-Action (CTA). Check out Maid to Glow or other similar sites for inspiration.
These are the basics necessary for your business website. Of course, you can get more creative with your website, but whatever you do, keep it simple and minimal.
You can get the site up and running, including the payment processing integration, for about $500-$1000.
Setting Up Google My Business
- Go to this page and list your business.
- Fill out all the sections and add as much relevant information as possible.
- Use keywords in your business description but don’t just stuff them in there, describe your business using keywords so that it doesn’t come off unnatural.
- Add plenty of images.
Google My Business is a great way for potential customers to find you locally. It works best with keywords like “cleaners near me”.
Setting Up Google Local Services
- Before you create a Google Local service ad, check your eligibility.
- If you’re eligible, move on to the next steps and fill out all important details and paperwork.
- Complete a background check to get approved for ads.
- Set your budget and make your ad live.
Setting up a Google local service ad is pretty straightforward. Plus, Google guides you throughout the entire process.
A pro tip – when writing your ad, be really clear and concise about what you will and will not do to the extent you can. This will prevent misunderstandings that lead to bad reviews.
Setting Up Thumbtack and Yelp
There’s a complete guide on setting up Yelp and Thumbtack profiles. But here are some quick pointers.
- Follow the same principles as Google My Business.
- Add as many images as you can
- Use keywords in your title and business description.
Hiring & Training Cleaning Staff
While this may not be your first concern when starting a cleaning business, sooner than later, you WILL have to hire and train employees (or contractors). So, why not talk about it now?
The Basics of Hiring
The first step to hiring good employees for your cleaning business is knowing what you want. Do you want a full-time employee or a contractor? Will you pay an hourly rate or a percentage of the earnings? Do you want them to work weekdays or weekends, or do you want them to be flexible?
These are all things that you should know in advance before starting your talent hunt.
Full-Time Vs Contractors
As for hiring full-time employees Vs contractors, we’ve already written an in-depth guide analyzing the two. But personally, I would always suggest new cleaning businesses to hire contractors instead of full-time employees for various reasons, some of which we already discussed in this article.
At Maid to Glow, we only work with contractors to this day. They are just much more flexible and easier to scale. Currently, we have 20+ contractors working for our business.
Make sure you hire experienced cleaners. They will be a little costlier and harder to find, but it’s worth it.
Now, let’s come to the pay structure. Most cleaning businesses pay cleaners an hourly rate. I don’t like that for reasons already discussed before. Instead, at Maid to Glow, we pay our cleaners on a percentage basis.
What this means is if we charge $200 for a cleaning job, the cleaners get to keep 60% of it, translating to $120, while the rest is ours, meaning $80.
This works on many levels. Firstly, the cleaner is directly responsible for earning as much or as little as possible. Plus, they are automatically more motivated to go above and beyond to satisfy the customers because they have skin in the game.
Where to Look for them?
- Job boards: Indeed, LinkedIn, Monster, Facebook job boards, Craigslist, etc.
- Facebook groups, subreddits, forums and communities.
- Existing social circle or referrals.
I personally use FB job boards and Indeed most and pay to push my job post further. For me, it’s worth it because it helps me find my ideal cleaner faster and more efficiently. However, you can list your job post without paying for ads. Most of these platforms are free.
Make sure the job post describes everything one needs to know about the position –
- Job Responsibilities
- Potential payout
- About your business and its vision
Here’s an example of a job post we use to hire cleaners for our business:
Read the complete guide on hiring employees for cleaning businesses. We also share our own hiring process, including how we screen and interview candidates.
The Basics of Training Cleaning Staff
At the most basic level, your cleaners should be well-versed in company policies, insurance details, cleaning packages, services, discounts, etc. Also, they should know how to greet customers, introduce your company to them, upsell and do the basic formalities after a job.
However, to train them for actual fieldwork or to gauge their existing skill, you can pair your new hire with an experienced cleaner. If you’re reading this article on how to start a cleaning business, this experienced cleaner will probably be you since you’re just starting out.
You should also train your cleaners on SOPs, checklists, safety & protection training for cleaners, first-aid training for cleaners, PPE training for cleaners and risk-assessment training for cleaners.
Check out our in-depth guide on training your cleaning staff for more insights and advanced tips that we can’t cover here.
Marketing & Advertising
To successfully start a cleaning business and sustain it long-term, it’s more important to avoid doing the wrong things than it is to do the right things.
And when it comes to marketing and advertising your cleaning business, you must avoid Facebook ads and Google Adwords. Instead, all your energy and resources should be focused on Yelp, Thumbtack and Google local service ads.
This is one of the most common rookie mistakes I see new cleaning businesses make.
We’ve done an in-depth article on advertising cleaning services explaining why Facebook and Google ads don’t work for cleaning businesses and why other channels like Yelp, Thumbtack and Google local service ads provide a way better ROI.
But that’s not to say you can’t try other ways to market your business. Many marketing strategies work as add-ons to your existing campaign.
For example, you can promote business in local groups and events. You can create a referral program or build an email list. And don’t forget about video marketing.
There are definitely more ways to promote your cleaning business than just Yelp, Thumbtack and Google local service. In fact, there’s even an exception for using Facebook ads. It’s when you’re retargeting visitors to your website.
However, these strategies only act as supplements to an already existing good campaign. Without one, your results will be all over the place.
Customer service is the most crucial part of a successful business. Your goal should be to provide nothing less than excellence in terms of customer service. I might be overselling it a little, but it’s necessary to emphasize its importance.
There are two aspects of customer service. One is to hire good, responsible cleaners who do their job well and make the customers happy.
But how can you make sure your cleaners do an exceptional job every time? Well…
- First, you gotta hire the right people.
- Pay them based on percentages. As we mentioned before, people do their best when they have skin in the game.
That’s one aspect of it. The other part is following up after the cleaning to get customer feedback. Find out areas your business is lacking or can improve upon.
Starting a cleaning business is only the beginning. To sustain it long-term, you need to retain as many customers as possible. And remember, the key to retaining customers is by providing excellent customer service.
After every cleaning, ask your customers for reviews and testimonials. Online positive reviews are a status signal. The more you have, the easier it is to get new customers.
It lets your potential customers know that others have used your services and are happy with them. It reduces the friction of trust and credibility in their minds, and then they are more willing to buy your services.
Even on an algorithmic level, more positive reviews will help you rank higher in Google search results.
We use Maidily for our business. It automatically collects reviews from your customers and shows them on your website, streamlining the entire process of reputation management.
Scaling your Business
If you’re not scaling your business, not only are you limiting your business growth but deteriorating it. It’s a common misconception that if you don’t grow your business, it will only get stagnant. Sure, at first, it will stagnate. But if you don’t do something about it, your business will slowly decline and go downhill.
There are two ways to scale any business – automation, and delegation or hiring more employees. You wanna do both.
Do you want to work ON your business or IN it? Without automation, you’ll be too busy managing invoices, employees, schedules, reminders, etc. Eventually, you’ll get no time to work on marketing and growing your business.
Once you get your first few clients and the cash starts flowing, I suggest you invest in a good scheduling software like Maidily.
Maid to Glow made $4500 on our first business month using Maidily, and back then, it wasn’t even called Maidily. It was just a very basic software I made for my personal use with only a few features. Now, it’s much more complete and robust.
It’ll automate most of your business processes and free up a large portion of your mental ram that you can spend on growing your business.
Hire More Cleaners
Never turn away new customers. Instead, hire new cleaners, so you can continue accepting as many new orders as possible. The more new leads and customers you have, the more your business will grow.
Some people, when they reach a point where they start getting more customers than they can handle, make the mistake of turning them away and, as a result, limit their business growth.
Don’t be scared to take the leap of faith when it’s time. Hire new cleaners.
Even though this is an article on how to START a cleaning business, I’m gonna leave you with a couple of crucial tips for sustaining your business in the long run – retain clients and employees.
Convert One-Time Clients into Recurring Ones
Recurring clients are critical to sustaining your business in the long run. You can’t rely on new customers and bookings forever. These are also the clients that will bring you the most revenue. And as you might have heard, it’s cheaper to keep a customer than to acquire a new one.
Basically, what I’m saying is that retaining customers is crucial to your long-term success. You must constantly try and convert all your one-time bookings into recurring ones.
How do you do that?
Well, on a fundamental level, provide excellent services, as we already discussed. But beyond that, you can deploy different client-retention strategies to see better results, such as loyalty programs, offering frequent discounts and offers, adapting your business to your customer’s needs, and more.
We have a complete guide on converting one-time clients into recurring ones. Check it out to learn about these different strategies in-depth.
Keep Employees from Leaving
Hiring a new employee is costly. Not only because of the acquisition cost but also the potential revenue you miss out on.
So, first things first, don’t hire a bad employee in the first place. Go through the hiring section of this guide again, or check out the complete guide on hiring to make sure you don’t hire the wrong people.
Some cleaners will work for you just to get experience and learn about the business, only to leave and start their own after a couple of months. There’s nothing wrong with that. But it’s not in your best interest.
Next, use the percentage-based pay structure. It has proven to be extremely effective in retaining employees in our own business since it provides a lot of flexibility, freedom and room for growth.
Also, sometimes cleaners leave because they don’t get consistent work. It’s your job to position and market your business in a way that your cleaners always have a house to clean.
Lastly, you should create an encouraging work culture in your business by giving occasional rewards and bonuses to your employees or contractors.
What you Need to Know about Taxes
Taxation is a very complex and nuanced topic in itself. We can’t go over everything tax-related, but the following are some quick pointers that will set you off in the right direction when starting a cleaning business –
- Get a business bank account for proper accounting and bookkeeping.
- Set up bookkeeping and different tabs for expenses, paycheck to yourself and your employees and profits at the very start when things are still simple and manageable. It can get pretty complex and messy as your numbers grow.
- If you register your business as an LLC, you’ll automatically get your Employer Identification Number (EIN), which is essential for tax purposes.
- You can deduct your business expenses like the cost of equipment, marketing, building a website, driving, etc., from your taxable income. So, make sure you utilize deductions to the fullest.
As for what taxes you need to pay, we already touched upon it. When you’re the only business owner and register your business as an LLC, you’ll be eligible for pass-through taxation, meaning your business and personal taxes will be lumped together.
In simple words, you won’t pay additional business taxes. Instead, all profits and earnings from your business will be taxed under your ordinary income taxes.
It’s a lot to take in at once, so don’t even try. Instead, what I would suggest is – save this article to your reading list, take the first few steps towards starting your cleaning business and come back to this, take the next few steps, rinse and repeat.
This guide has pretty much everything you need to get up and going. If I ask you to take anything from this, it would be to take action and not fall into the trap of consuming thousands of videos and articles on how to start a cleaning business until you feel “ready”.
Good luck on your journey. You can always come back to CleaningHQ, as it has many other insightful blogs and articles on helping you grow your cleaning business.