How to Start a Domestic Cleaning Business

In this guide:

How big is the cleaning market?
A day in the life in the cleaning business
What to look for in a good cleaner
Establish the size of business are you looking to create
Know your market before you jump in
The cost of getting off the ground
Obtaining the correct legal and tax status
Get Insurance to protect your customers, staff and your business
Read up on any relevant Employment Law & Health and Safety Legislation
Include a quality Training plan
Protect your future clients by fully vetting staff
Don’t leave your branding to after you are up and running
Should I buy a Franchise?
Carefully set your pricing
Spreading the word and obtaining new clients
Keep a record of everything

How big is the cleaning market?

The UK cleaning sector in general is a growing market and has been estimated at anything from £3 billion to £10 billion per year (via unconfirmed sources). With Google reporting an average of 180,000 searches a month relating to “cleaners”, it is safe to say that the cleaning industry is big business.
(Search data provided by Google AdWords platform on 21/01/2016)

A day in the life in the cleaning business

With the time spent alone at a client’s home, the average working day of a cleaner can often be a solitary one – though often larger cleaning companies operate in teams which can provide for a more social environment. Working patterns can often include weekends and early starts – however evening are rare for domestic cleaning.

As you would expect, duties include the cleaning of all the typical areas in the household and can involve hoovering, mopping, wiping surfaces, dusting and cleaning appliances – some clients may require additional services such as washing and ironing.

For the non-hands on roles, a day could consist of mainly administration, quality control of the cleaning team and being responsible for obtaining and managing clients.

What to look for in a good cleaner

The foundation of any good cleaning business is the quality of its cleaning staff. Recognising the best traits in professional cleaners will help make sure you or your potential staff members are well suited to the role.

There is no getting away from it, cleaning is hard work – it’s often a full day of physical exertion and is best suited to those who enjoy being active – needless to say, expect future employees from a background in office based roles to undergo a period of adjustment.

The number one personality trait all good cleaners share is that they are perfectionists – understandably, customers will expect their homes to be cleaner than they make it themselves, therefore nothing but pristine will do.

Cleaning is a customer facing role and developing a positive relationship with a client is important to ensure their long term commitment – so good communication skills are a must – it’s also not uncommon for customers to be difficult at times, therefore patience is also a desirable quality.

Finally a cleaner needs to be trustworthy – more on that later…

Establish the size of business are you looking to create

From day one, it is important to have a clear idea of the business you are trying to create:

• Are you going to work full or part time?
• Are you going to be hands on or are your skills better suited to an administrative role?
• Do you envisage employing staff?
• What are you income expectations?

Depending on considerations such as these, your business model can look very different – from the small independent cleaner looking for an additional income to the management only role employing a full team – having a clear idea of the scale and long term expectations before starting out is key to implementing the appropriate framework.

Know your market before you jump in

Although the cleaning industry is a growing market, not all locations are suitable for every type of business – before setting out make sure you have fully researched the potential of your target customers.

Understanding the area that you wish to operate in is the single most important factor when setting up any service business. From the number of homes within a commutable distance, to the earning power in any given area, knowledge of these key numbers will help strengthen any business plan. Franchise companies often use expensive software to ensure the numbers add up, however a little research online can provide the basics.

Remember that the most popular and affluent areas are also the most competitive – look to find locations that have opportunities with little local competition. Also consider the time to travel between clients – rural areas can include a lot of travel, however these are often made up of good long terms customers.

Most importantly, check the local going rate for cleaning services – ask yourself if you can meet your desired income expectations based on this rate.

The cost of getting off the ground

Thankfully starting a cleaning business for the domestic market is relatively cheap. You will of course need transport and the essential cleaning equipment can be purchased on a modest budget – however it is important to consider some of the following potential hidden expenses:

• Incorporation Fees (for limited companies)
• Legal fees (if required)
• Accountancy fees
• Training costs
• Insurances
• Marketing
• Recruitment fees
• Premises
• Computers
• Printers & Stationary
• Software
• Uniforms

By far the biggest hidden cost is the amount required to pay living costs whilst building your business – give yourself plenty of time to grow and allow for the worst just in case.

Obtaining the correct legal and tax status

Whether going it alone or forming a company, you will need to ensure you have the correct legal and tax status.

Even if you have a part time salaried job elsewhere you may still need to register as self- employed and pay additional tax and national insurance.

If you are planning on employing staff it may be best to form a limited company where you will need keep detailed records and instruct and accountant to submit accounts every year – as a bonus, depending on how you are paid, it can often be beneficial from a tax point of view.

Get Insurance to protect your customers, staff and your business

It’s often the last on the list, however protecting your clients and staff from the unexpected is often required by law – make sure you are covered where necessary:

• Public liability insurance is a must to cover for claims arising from injury to the customer or accidental damage at a client’s home

• Employers liability is required if you employ staff and covers for injury or illness of a worker as a result of activities in the workplace
• Professional indemnity insurance is recommended to protect your financial interests on more complex legal matters

Note that it’s often forgotten that you will also need to upgrade your vehicle insurance to cover for business use.

Read up on any relevant Employment Law & Health and Safety Legislation

If you are hiring staff you will need to brush up on areas of employment law such as the maximum working hours and minimum wage. Beware that from April 2016, the government are introducing a National Living wage of £7.20 for 25 and overs.

A good starting for employment point can be found here on the government’s own website.

Legislation isn’t as strict in the domestic cleaning industry, however as you will be using chemicals it is vital that all staff are trained and made aware of any relevant guidance – Official guidance can be found here.

Include a quality Training plan

Although not essential, making sure you have the correct training in place for you and your team can help you ensure you achieve that A++ standard. Internal based training and a quality control program is often all you need, however professional training options can boost credibility.

Potential options can be found here on the city and guilds website.

It is also advisable that everybody involved takes the time to research all the available cleaning products and understand when to use them or not – Does your client prefer the use of eco-friendly products or a specific brand?

Protect your future clients by fully vetting staff

As you or your team will be spending large amounts of time in a client’s home, it is essential that you can reassure them that their belongings will remain just that – theirs.

A DBS check, previously known as CRB checks, will look for any criminal record and currently costs between £24 and £44 – note that if employing migrant workers, you will not be able to search their records prior to them entering the UK – if at all.

Where possible, get references from previous employers or clients and always trust your instincts.

Don’t leave your Branding to after you are up and running

Potential customers are going to need to feel they can trust you – apart from making you look professional, establishing a strong brand that both outlines your key values and your unique selling points can help separate you in this crowded market.

Create a logo, website and stationary from day one and if you have the budget, purchase uniforms. Using word or paint yourself is fine if you are going it alone, however investing in a professional graphic designer to assist is a smart choice if you are looking to compete with the more established businesses.

If you need convincing how powerful the effects of creating a brand can be, take the time to watch this amazing video from Derren Brown’s Youtube channel – by putting a clear brand and consistent message in front of your potential customers, you can help influence them in your favour when the time comes for them to choose a cleaning service.

Should I buy a Franchise?

Buying a franchise is not for everybody – a decent domestic cleaning franchise will be reasonably priced compared to the likes of the fast food industry, however you must work out if you will personally benefit or not.

A franchise will offer support and guidance throughout the setup process – they will do the necessary market research and in some cases actually guarantee a number of leads as part of their solution.

Where a franchise will excel is when it comes to building a brand – a good franchise will have a proven method of lead generation and will be active online with a reach that would take a significant time to replicate.

A part time or single cleaner may struggle to get a return on the franchise fees, however for everybody else it may just come down to their ability and resources to successfully create and market a brand that can compete in this space.

Carefully set your pricing

The average amount you can charge will vary from location to location, however estimating between £8 and £15 pounds an hour should give you a good starting point. Aiming to deliver a best in class service will enable you charge more favourable rates, though beware that somebody will always be willing to undercut your price.
The best approach is to always put yourself in the client’s shoes – what else could they be doing with their time – if the price is too high for them, they will be more inclined to do the job themselves – again research is key.

Don’t be tempted to undersell yourself, most people are savvy enough to understand that rock bottom prices often come with a rock bottom service. You will need excess cash flow if you are looking to grow a team – earning enough to just pay yourself a minimum wage will make it tough to expand.

On average the typical client will require a cleaning service every week or fortnight for around one or two hours – so after accounting for sickness, holidays and quiet periods, you should be able to work out how many clients you will need and how much you have to charge to break even – don’t forget to account for tax.

A good tip is to always err on the side of caution – you may not always be able to fill your diary so it is best to leave some room – aim for making profit before you reach around 70-80 percent capacity.

Spreading the word and obtaining new clients

The biggest challenge to any business is obtaining new customers – make sure you have a plan from day one of how you are going to obtain them and ensure you budget accordingly.
Nothing beats the ripple effect of word of mouth – consistently do a good job and before long customers will come to you – remember though, people tend to talk about a bad service more than a positive one so it’s important to deal with unhappy customers immediately.

Work with existing clients to actively encourage recommendations – consider some form of reward scheme such as a free clean – giving away spare time in the early days is much cheaper than other forms of advertising.

Make relationships – Getting to know other local businesses with similar clientele is a great way to build any business – knocking on the door of the local dry cleaners is an obvious one.
Local advertising such as flyers and billboards in the local paper shop or supermarket is always worth doing due to the low cost – just don’t expect too much – one or two percent response rates are not uncommon.

Get on line – invest in a website and make sure you can be found in all the big directories. Engaging with a digital marketing company can give you access to new customers by taking advantage of the Google search engine, however competition is high and results can take a while.

Get on social media – even if just spreading the word via your current friends and family. For the more advanced users – direct marketing on social media can work wonders if part of an overall branding exercise.

Keep a record of everything

No matter which route you take, you will need to keep accurate records for accounting and tax purposes. Simple solutions such as using Microsoft excel to track income and expenditure will be fine for smaller setups, however products such as QuickBooks and Sage are good options for those with bigger ambitions.

If you are going down the franchise route they will often have their own software, however for everybody else the recommendation is to use the software your accountant is most comfortable with – it pays to engage with an accountant from day one.

Note if employing staff, you will also need to run payroll on a weekly or monthly basis – again speak to an accountant first as often they can take care of this for you.