How to set up a contract cleaning business

Contract cleaning services as a sector is incredibly competitive, but with the demand growing as it is, it’s a great option for a business as the entry barriers are fairly low. Here’s how to get started.

Check out your target market: What’s the demand?

Have a look at the area you want to operate in to work out whether there is enough demand for your business. New cleaning businesses are set up all the time – some of which are set up as part of a franchise, so will have the benefit of being set up to a certain formula that has been tried and tested.

Firstly, check out the competition. Get yourself on Yell.com to find out how many firms there are in the are and what range of services they offer. You might only be competing directly against some of these businesses because you have decided you’ll target a specific segment of the market – office cleaning or food manufacturers, for example. 

Perhaps you might be offering a specialised service that requires you to buy specific equipment, i.e. with chewing gum removal you’ll need a chewing gum removal machine

Regardless of the range of services, you plan on offering, the most important thing is that your business is reliable and your standard is high. This will enable you to benefit from word-of-mouth recommendations from happy customers, and these will assist you in building your customer base.

Your customer base – who are they and what do they want?

You need to work out whether you have enough potential customers in the area of operation. It’s ideal to target a large centre of population that has a lot of offices, factories, retail outlets and the like. Travelling more than 30 minutes to the premises of a customer is unrealistic. By selecting an area near a retail or business park and getting several customers there, it will be easier to make money quickly, and if you are planning on doing domestic cleaning, you will need to ensure you’re targeting a residential area. 

With office cleaning, likely, they will already use a contract cleaner, so to persuade them to change, you’ll need to offer something special. Being competitive on price only goes so far as if your prices are too low, you won’t be able to recruit and retain good employees or payout for repairing broken machinery. 

Talk to your potential customers and ask what they’d like. They might say they would rather cleaning is undertaken overnight rather than between 5pm and 7pm like most offices. 

Look into the legalities and research current trends. 

Decide the services you are going to offer and what you will need 

Rather than just standard cleaning, you might decide to offer additional services so your clients only need to deal with one company for a range of needs. For example, you might offer:

  • Supplies like toilet paper, toilet cleaners, soap, paper towels, dustbin bags 
  • Additional caretaking services like opening up and locking the customer’s premises daily
  • If you’re a handy person, you might choose to offer maintenance services like minor repairs, light bulb replacement, and gardening
  • Disposing of waste, including sanitary waste, paper, cardboard, plastic and glass recycling
  • Cleaning up before and after meetings and conferences

The types of work you might consider doing include:

  • General office cleaning and disposing of rubbish and recycling
  • Window cleaning
  • Domestic
  • Cleaning up after building work has been carried out
  • One-off deep cleans, like when a rented property has been vacated and the landlord is preparing for a new tenant
  • Carpet cleaning
  • Specialist cleaning – ceilings, graffiti, chewing gum removal…the list goes on
  • Disaster recoveries, such as after a fire or flood
  • Seasonal, such as holiday lets
  • Crime scene cleanups – although this is not for the faint-hearted!

Your image

With it being so easy for people to find contract cleaning services, you need to ensure your firm is seen as being professional. Give the employees appropriate training – this is especially important with teaching them to use the right cleaning products appropriately as, if used on the wrong thing, this could be damaging. Ensure your staff have a smart uniform with your company logo and make sure they are always aware of your client’s requirements.

What hours will you operate?

A lot of cleaning contracts ask that the work is done outside of the working day so none of their workers are disrupted. This will mean working early morning and/or later evening shifts between 2-3 hours at a time. However, if you were to go for domestic cleaning, this is usually the complete opposite and clients will want to come home from work to a nice clean home, or may need you to work weekends, bank holidays or overnight.

Your team 

Firstly, work our how many operatives you are going to need for the amount of work you will have. Once you know this, you’ll need to work out how much you can afford to pay them. Do not forget about pension contributions and holiday pay and ensure you know the legal minimum wage rates.

Other costs

Your biggest cost is always going to be labour, but you must also consider that you’ll need to cover:

  • Cleaning materials
  • Machines used on the contract 
  • Travel/motoring – petrol, vehicles and getting staff and equipment from job to job
  • Overheads

What about franchising?

As mentioned previously, franchising is based on an existing working model. This can be a great way to start your own business whilst also technically buying an existing business at a lower risk. 

Franchise schemes do vary, but the majority involve the below key points:

  • Being a franchise holder means you’ll remain self-employed but will use the name of the franchiser 
  • In return for using this, you’ll pay a fee to the franchisor – either a one-off investment, a monthly charge or a mixture of both
  • There will be certain obligations that you and your franchisor will need to maintain and will have certain standards to maintain

A big benefit is you’ll be trained by the franchisor and receive help with marketing and advertising, plus ongoing support with business matters. Before you enter a franchise agreement, you need to check the terms carefully to make sure you’re getting a good deal. Get the agreement checked over by a solicitor before you sign on the dotted line!

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