Want to start your own cleaning business - but you’re not sure if you have the money to do it?
If you feel this way, you’re not alone. SmallBizTrends noted that 27% of businesses never get off the ground because they don’t have the funding they need to go all the way. That can be a problem, especially since the same article points out that 82% of an entrepreneur’s initial funding comes from themselves, family, and friends.
So what happens when you already know you don’t have a ton of money to start a cleaning business in the first place?
Don’t panic! It’s tough, but it can be done. That’s why this article is dedicated to walking you through the exact steps you need to start a cleaning business with little or no money.
Top Tips For Starting a Cleaning Business on the Cheap
Take a look at your competition.
The first step in starting a cleaning business - or any business, for that matter - is to make sure you size up your competition.
Here’s why: If there are too many cleaning services out there, you’re going to have to work that much harder to stand out from the crowd. If, however, you’re one of the first cleaning services in your area, you stand a better chance of getting more customers right from the get-go. But no matter what situation you find yourself in, this article can help you start your cleaning business on the right foot.
So what’s the best way to research competition in your area?
Online research is one way to do it. Do a quick Google search for cleaning and janitorial services in your location. Take a look at what pops up. Do you see a ton of businesses showing up? Or do you see a few services spread 10 to 15 miles apart? The fewer results you see, the better - that means you should be able to build up a customer base pretty quickly.
If you see a ton of cleaning services showing up in your area, don’t worry - you can still start a successful business! You’ll just need to put in a little more work to get customers (we’ll address how to do that later).
Another great way to research what’s out there is to talk to local cleaning services. This might seem unusual, but talking directly with your competition is a great way to figure out what your experience may be like once you launch your business. Try asking questions like:
- Does it take a lot of work to find customers?
- Is it easy to keep customers, or do you lose them to competition?
- How much time do you spend on finding new customers?
- Do you have a packed schedule with lots of clients?
These questions should give you a good idea of just how many competitors you have in your area; additionally, it’s a great way to figure out if you’ll have to put in a little more elbow grease to find customers.
Here’s the bottom line: Don’t start a cleaning business unless you have a pretty good idea of what your competition looks like. Doing this research now can make it a lot easier to figure out how to find customers when you’re ready.
Get the cleaning essentials.
If you’ve worked for someone else who has a cleaning business, there’s a fair chance you might already have some cleaning supplies on hand. If you don’t have cleaning supplies, see what you can borrow from friends or family members. Ultimately, if you need to buy cleaning supplies, just get the essentials - no need to spend significant money on advanced cleaning tools until you’re making a profit.
Not sure what you’ll need? Take a look at this checklist of supplies you should have before taking on your first client:
- A powdered cleaning product, like Comet Cleaner or Bon Ami
- Distilled vinegar
- Dish soap
- An all-purpose bathroom cleaner, like Scrub Free or Clorox
- Scrub brushes
- Cleaning rags and cloths
- Paper towels
- Baking soda
- Squeegee window cleaner
- Screwdriver (just in case!)
- Glass cleaner
- Wood polish
- All-purpose and/or multi-surface cleaner, like Lysol or Mr. Clean
- Cleaning wipes
- Glass cleaner
- Cleaning caddy
Your needs may vary depending on what you already have or the type of cleaning business you want to run (like a green cleaning service), but this list of cleaning supplies should get you off to a solid start.
Important: When gathering cleaning supplies, make sure you know what type of cleaning solution to use for different surfaces. This shouldn’t be a problem if you’ve got a solid background in cleaning/janitorial services, but if you’re new to it all, definitely familiarize yourself with the solutions before getting that first gig!
Start putting yourself out there.
Social media is a great way to find your first few customers, especially if you don’t have a lot of money for marketing materials. But if you don’t know which sites to post your services on, you could end up wasting a lot of time with nothing to show for it.
So what are the best free sites to post on in order to find customers?
NextDoor: This social site allows neighbors to post on a forum and talk to one another, making it the perfect spot where you can advertise your cleaning services. Once you create a post on NextDoor, everyone in that neighborhood will get an email notification. It’s a great way to get your cleaning business in front of your neighbors, so don’t be surprised if you start picking up clients pretty quickly.
MyNeighborhood: This community site has a similar layout to NextDoor: members within a certain zip code can post on a dedicated forum and talk to one another. You can post your cleaning services here, which triggers an email to everyone in your zip code who might be interested in what you posted.
Facebook: No mention of free social sites would be complete without Facebook. But keep in mind that Facebook could involve spending money, especially if you’re thinking of running ads on your business page. For now, try marketing your cleaning business on your personal profile page. It’s free, plus you might be able to get some family members and friends share your cleaning business info. It’s word-of-mouth marketing at its finest, so try this technique out first before sinking money into a Facebook business page.
Whether you post on all three sites or just one, make sure you don’t overpost! You don’t want to turn into that annoying member who posts about their business multiple times each day. Stick to two to three posts per week; that way, you can get maximum attention without running the risk of irritating other members.
Create a business plan.
Starting a cleaning business without money takes a lot of time and dedication. That’s why it’s so important to track your progress with a business plan. We’re not talking about a document with lots of graphs and profit projections - this is simply a plan where you map out your goals, and what you’ll do to achieve these goals.
We recommend breaking down your goals according to these three milestones:
- Six months after starting your business
- One year out
- Five years out
Write out what you want to happen by each milestone. For example, how many customers do you want to have by six months? How many hours do you want to work? When do you want to hire your first employee? Don’t worry about getting too specific; the point here is that you want to create a roadmap for how your business needs to grow at critical points in time.
Wondering what this has to do with starting a cleaning business without money? Simple: A business plan can help keep you on track so you don’t end up making a costly mistake. Let’s say you want to have at least five customers by Month 6. Writing this goal down means you’ll be focused on activities that lead you directly to that goal. If you don’t set this goal for yourself, you might end up spending your time somewhere else - and that cause huge problems that could cost you money.
Get your car ready.
You’re probably going to be using your own vehicle to drive from house to house. That’s a great way to save on startup costs, but keep this in mind: If your car doesn’t look that great, it might not reflect well on your business. After all, a customer may look at an unkempt vehicle and think, “There’s no way they’ll do a good job cleaning my home.”
We’re not saying to jump out and buy a shiny new vehicle. The point here is that you should prep your car so it looks clean and spotless. That way, when a client sees you pull up in front of their home, they’ll feel reassured that you’ll do an awesome job.
So if you haven’t yet, wash your car regularly and invest in some car wax to bring out the shine. It might seem like such a small thing, but trust us: it can have a huge impact on your ability to make a great first impression.
Be prepared to be busy.
Remember how we mentioned that if you don’t have a lot of money to start your cleaning business, you’ll need to invest more of your time? A lot of this time investment will be spent on admin work, like invoicing, posting on social media sites, and scheduling client visits. If you don’t mentally prepare yourself for at least some of this work, you could end up missing out on opportunities to make money sooner than you expected.
Make sure you’re dedicating part of your day to essential admin activities, like:
- Marketing to customers
- Registering the business
- Building a website
- Opening a bank account
- Scheduling client visits
- Collecting and tracking receipts
- Maintaining cleaning supplies
This isn’t meant to scare you off of starting a cleaning business; rather, it’s to point out how preparing and taking on this admin work can help you avoid spending money. Do it well, and you could be making money pretty quickly - and when that happens, you can hire someone to help you manage your admin work.
If you don’t have time for it all or there’s admin work you’re not particularly good at, consider asking a trusted family member or friend to help you out.
Set your hourly rate.
Once you start getting customers interested in your cleaning services, you’ll have to set an hourly rate. But what if you don’t know how much to charge? What if you charge too much, or worse, charge so little that you’ll barely break even?
To figure out your hourly rate, start by calculating how long it takes you to do typical cleaning tasks. You might even break down how long it takes you to clean a bathroom, a dining room, etc. Once you’ve done that, compare the timeframe to the income goal that you’ve set for yourself. For example, if you want to make $40,000 in your first year of business, you may need to charge about $30 an hour, assuming a 30-hour workweek.
Don’t just focus on how much you want to pay yourself; add in the costs of running your business, too. So if you want to pay yourself $40,000, you may want to consider making your hourly rate anywhere from $35 to $50, which should help pay for cleaning supplies, gas for your vehicle, the cost of cleaning business insurance, and more.
Here’s a pro tip: Don’t be afraid to charge more than you think you need to. It’s a lot easier to bring your hourly rate down as opposed to raising it. Be confident when posting your hourly rate - you deserve every penny of it!
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