How to start a cleaning business

Discover how to start a domestic, commercial or specialist cleaning business, including start-up costs, hiring staff, finding customers and the kinds of insurance your cleaning business will need.

Starting your own cleaning business means tapping into a growing cleaning market in the UK that’s worth over £9bn – with the domestic cleaning market alone worth north of £3bn each year. It’s an expanding sector as busy home owners turn to domestic cleaning services to take on chores at home, and more businesses look to outsource cleaning services to third-party providers.

Compared to a decade ago, an additional million people in the UK now employ cleaning services at home according to research by Churchill Home Insurance. It found that 12% of UK homes employ a cleaner, and a quarter pay for cleaners because they don’t like doing the work themselves.

Starting a cleaning business has plenty of advantages. Start-up costs are generally low, and you can start small. Staff costs, materials and overheads tend to be lower and it requires a less skilled workforce. Win a few contracts or a host of regular domestic customers and your cleaning business is relatively easy to scale too.

However, you’ll need to robustly adhere to health and safety rules and there’s lots of competition from other businesses – but get it right and the payback can be rewarding.

Decide what type of cleaning business to start

Setting up a cleaning business isn’t simply a case of buying cleaning products and hiring staff – you’ll need to develop a clear strategy on the type of business you want to run and which customers it will serve. In general, there are three types of cleaning business:

  • Domestic cleaning involves cleaning people’s homes, often while they’re at work or cleaning the homes of elderly customers who need additional help around the home. Duties may include dusting, vacuuming, cleaning surfaces, mopping floors, doing laundry and ironing. In many cases, you use the client’s cleaning products and home equipment, though you can supply your own at an additional cost. With a hands-on approach, this is a low-cost way to start a cleaning business, with the opportunity to take on staff as you build your client base and grow by word of mouth and local advertising.
  • Commercial cleaning involves cleaning large private and public spaces such as offices, schools, banks, hospitals, retail stores to supermarkets and shopping centres. Working during off-peak hours when premises aren’t in use, you’ll need a team of cleaners and specialist equipment. Your role as the boss will typically involve managing your team, dealing with clients and promoting your business. Business is usually contract-based, where you’ll agree to deliver cleaning services for a set period and fee.
  • Specialised cleaning Businesses in this area run the gamut from carpet and oven cleaning services to window cleaning and car washing.

What skills do I need to start a cleaning business?

Running a domestic or specialist cleaning business will suit anyone who is hard working and happy doing physical, repetitive tasks. A detailed approach is important – clients will expect sparkling results so it pays to be motivated about keeping things clean. You’ll typically work alone when starting out – though teams of cleaners are needed for commercial work – and sometimes you’ll work unsociable hours. You’ll need to be responsible and trustworthy, as you often hold keys to a person’s house or to business premises.

Getting started is relatively straightforward, depending on the type of cleaning business you want to run:

  • Starting a domestic cleaning business requires no specific skills or training aside from what you’ve gained looking after your own home. Some basic business skills such as bookkeeping are important.
  • To start a commercial cleaning business, it’s a good idea to spend time learning some general business skills for running your business, including business strategy and marketing to managing staff and bookkeeping.
  • With specialist cleaning, you’ll need to have experience in your chosen area, such as oven or carpet cleaning. You may also need to invest in specialist equipment and products.

Research the cleaning market

Cleaning is highly competitive, with thousands of small cleaning businesses vying for customers. You’ll need to make sure your cleaning business stands out by carefully researching the market to learn about potential customers, existing competitors, and the types of prices being paid for a range of services you want to offer.

Knowing what price to charge is vital when starting a domestic cleaning business. Domestic cleaners typically charge an hourly rate. Ring your competitors posing as a prospective client to find out what they charge. It’s best to keep your prices fairly similar or either slightly lower to attract new business. If you choose to charge a higher rate, focus on the high-quality service or extras you offer. Remember to establish whether your fee includes cleaning products or if will you use those supplied by the client.

Commercial cleaning is equally competitive, and you’ll face competition from established companies all chasing contracts. Decide on the type of premises you want to focus on, such as large offices or small retail locations, and develop your business so it specializes in these areas. Calculate costs based on how many hours and staff are required for each space so you can remain competitive, and look for tendering opportunities from local councils or businesses.

How much money do I need to start a cleaning business?

The size of your start-up budget will vary greatly on the size of your cleaning business and the sector you work in. Setting up a domestic cleaning business on your own requires minimal investment, especially if you use the client’s cleaning products and equipment. Your initial costs will be limited to fuel or and transportation, a cheap website and printed flyers to promote your services. You may need to invest in a small van and protective clothing.

Commercial cleaning firms cost more to get started, primarily investing in industrial equipment such as trolleys, carpet cleaners, floor polishers, professional vacuum cleaners as well as a larger van. Expect initial investments to range between £5,000 – £20,000. You’ll also be paying salaries for a cleaning team and you’ll need a larger marketing budget, such as paying for advertising in trade press.

Cleaning business franchises

If starting from scratch seems daunting, consider buying a franchise in the cleaning industry. In domestic cleaning, franchise prices start from around £1,500 up to £17,000 for well-established national brands such as Molly Maid. In addition, you’ll need working capital in the region of £5,000 to £10,000. With a franchise you’re buying the rights to an established brand name. You may get training and advice in running the business along with access to an exclusive territory, branded uniforms and vehicles with logos. However, attracting customers will still be your responsibility.

Watch this: Want to learn more about what it’s like to operate a cleaning franchise such as Molly Maid? This video talks to a Molly Maid franchise owner:

For more information on how franchises work read our free guide to What is a franchise? and How much does a franchise cost?

Create a cleaning business business plan

As with any business, creating a business plan will provide a roadmap for your fledging cleaning venture. Having a clear idea of your services and pricing, your local area and competition and how you can promote and grow your business will help you start out ton the right foot – even if just setting up as an individual domestic cleaner. It will help you plan the scale and scope of your business, forecast profits and costs and is essential if looking for investment.

Learn how to create the perfect business plan.

Choose a business structure

Once you start trading, you’ll need to register your business with HMRC so you can pay the correct amount of tax and National Insurance (NICs). Before you register, you need to decide if you should set up as a sole trader, partnership or limited company.

  • Sole trader – this is the most popular way to form a cleaning business that’s owned by a single person. It costs nothing to set up with no running costs. However, the owner is personally liable for all business debts and is responsible for paying tax and National Insurance.
  • Partnership – if starting the business with another person, you may want to form a partnership. This means the partners share all aspects of the business in accordance to a written agreement.
  • Limited company – setting up as a limited company protects your personal assets should the business fail, but there are more regulations and legal requirements to deal with.

Learn more with our free guides to setting up as a sole trader and how to start a new company.

Does my cleaning business need insurance?

A cleaning business needs insurance cover, especially as you’ll be operating on customers’ premises and dealing with potentially toxic materials. The three main insurance policies you’ll need are:

Professional indemnity insurance covers unpaid client bills, costs involved in rectifying mistakes, and protects against invalid claims from unhappy clients. It also offers protection against dishonest staff, defamation, infringement of intellectual property rights, negligent misrepresentation and loss of documents or data.

Public liability insurance covers your business should it cause death or injury to someone or damage their personal property.

Employer’s liability insurance covers the compensation payable should an employee be injured or becomes ill because of the work they do for you.

Employing cleaning staff

Finding cleaning staff isn’t difficult – but hiring the right staff takes more work. Look for hard-working, trustworthy staff who will help your business succeed, and get references before allowing staff into people’s houses, business premises or have responsibility for keys.

Cleaning work is typically low paid but you need to be aware of charges to the UK minimum wage or you could face a fine or even prosecution. The minimum wage for over 25s is £7.20 per hour and is set to increase to £9 by 2020.

As an employer, you must comply with various legal obligations and responsibilities when hiring staff. You must also register with HMRC as an employer and collect tax and national insurance for you employees via a payroll system.

See our free guide to first-time employer’s responsibilities.

How to market a cleaning business

Once your cleaning business is up and running, you’ll need to build your brand. Personal recommendations and referrals are your best form of marketing in the early days. Encourage existing clients to sign up their friends by offering discounted services for the first month of cleaning. Advertise your domestic services locally with cards in a newsagent’s shop window and flyers through people’s letter boxes.

Getting new business is tougher for commercial cleaning companies. Start by contacting the firms and organisations to find out who manages the cleaning contract, and then write to them by name to introduce your business. It’s likely that another cleaning firm currently holds the contract, but ask when it’s up for renewal and see if you can quote nearer the time. It’s worth keeping in regular contact, and find out who the competitor firm is to see what services and prices they charge.

Becoming a member of a professional cleaning body may help you market your business, and inspire more confidence in your services. Organisations include:

The British Cleaning Council – http://britishcleaningcouncil.org
Federation of Master Cleaners – http://www.fmcleaners.co.uk
The British Institute of Cleaning Science – https://www.bics.org.uk
Domestic Cleaning Alliance – http://www.domesticcleaningalliance.co.uk

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