After a long day of work and family responsibilities, the last thing most people want to do is clean. It’s a pain point for many busy professionals today, and one you can take advantage of through starting an apartment cleaning service. An apartment cleaning business is relatively inexpensive to start but requires great, dedicated employees and a commitment to developing and sustaining an excellent reputation in your community.
Scope of Apartment Cleaning Business
One of the first decisions you’ll want to make as you start your apartment cleaning service is the scope of your business. Some cleaning services focus on cleaning apartments on a weekly or biweekly basis. Other services focus on move-out cleaning and apartment preparation, and others do both. Deciding on the scope of your business will help you focus your marketing efforts. For example, if you want to focus on move-out cleaning and apartment preparation, you would target leasing companies and apartment managers as well as residents looking to get back their deposits.
Marcos Franco, the owner of Mighty Clean Home in Atlanta, Georgia, has done both types of apartment cleaning. After doing residential cleaning for apartment complexes, he started being asked to do move-in and move-out cleanings by apartment complex owners and leasing companies.
“The margins were much smaller doing the commercial end of it, but there was more volume,” he said. “Today we only stick to residential cleanings (cleaning for a resident, not the complex) because it’s much more profitable and keeps in-line with our business culture.”
Like Franco, you may end up changing the focus of your business over time. Decide how you want to start, though, so you can develop and target your initial marketing efforts to the right audience.
Planning Your Business
Many small business owners find it helpful to start with a business plan. Business plan formats vary, but in general, they typically start with an executive summary, which is a short overview of your business's mission and the services you plan to offer. Next, you would write a detailed description of your company, including what sets you apart from your competition.
The next section in most business plans is market analysis, which is research into your target market and your competitors. Researching your competitors can help you develop your pricing structure and decide how to best market your cleaning service. Business plans also include how the business will be organized, how you plan to market your services and your budget.
When you're determining your budget, aim to consider all the possible costs, including equipment, supplies, employees and insurance. Keep in mind that it will take time to make a profit, so consider how much you will need to carry your business for several months. Look for opportunities to save money, such as researching various wholesale suppliers for your cleaning supply and equipment needs.
Your budget should also include income projections. If you haven't already, this is a good time to decide your pricing structure. For an apartment cleaning service, you may want to charge a flat fee based on the size and square footage of the apartment or base your pricing on an hourly rate.
Cover Your Legal Bases
Once you decide on the scope of your business, you’ll need to decide on a business name and business structure. Some cleaning businesses start as a sole proprietorship, but this leaves you and your personal assets vulnerable in the event of a lawsuit. Due to these vulnerabilities, many small businesses use other business structures such as a limited liability company to incorporate their business.
You will also need to register a business name. Your business name will need to be unique, and it should reflect your business model.
“I chose Mighty Clean Home, and our motto is 'We Clean What Others Miss,'" said Franco. "I really wanted to create a brand that people would recognize."
Once you register your business name, you will also need to pursue the appropriate licensing with your state, county or city. Although all business should have some form of liability insurance, this is especially critical for an apartment cleaning service. Depending on the employment structure of your business, you may need workers' compensation insurance as well.
“Many times, the management requires proof of license and liability before you even set foot in their buildings,” advises Franco.
You may also want to consider getting a surety bond. A surety bond is a contract with an insurance company. If a client makes a claim, the insurance company pays the client, and then you repay the insurance company. This provides additional peace of mind for clients and allows you to advertise your cleaning services company as “bonded and insured.”
Hire the Right People
Finding the right employees is critical for an apartment cleaning service. You need to find people who are reliable, thorough and trustworthy. When Dawna Boone was starting Valet Maids, her Dallas, Texas, cleaning business, finding the right employees was her top priority.
“I thought it would be better to have cleaners without bookings instead of bookings without cleaners,” she said.
Boone and Franco both found their initial employees through Craigslist and other online job sites. Greg Shepard, the owner of Dallas Maids in Dallas, Texas, took a different approach by finding his first employees through a local newspaper job ad. He recommends that new cleaning business owners try a variety of resources to find candidates, and then stay with the one that provides the most reliable candidates.
Social media is also a great recruiting tool. “We’re all finding that Facebook is outstanding to find great employees,” said Shepard.
Regardless of your recruiting tool, take the time to interview each potential employee. Before you hire, run a background check and call their references to ensure you’re investing in the best employees possible.
Buy Supplies and Equipment
For an apartment cleaning business, you’ll need to ensure your employees are properly equipped to provide a thorough cleaning to each apartment. You may also want to consider uniforms to add a level of professionalism and consistency. Each team should have a vacuum, broom and mop, as well as all-purpose cleaners, window cleaners, paper towels, cleaning cloths, gloves, brushes, sponges and disinfectants.
For added value, you may want to incorporate all-natural or organic cleaning products. This will add to your costs, but it’s an area of concern for many potential customers with pets, children or allergies. Keep in mind that many of these products will need to be replenished or replaced regularly.
Marketing Your Business
Your approach to marketing your business depends heavily on your budget. For example, Franco started his business in 2008 with about $1,500. He marketed his business by contacting friends and family to get referrals to apartment managers. He also called on apartment managers in person to discuss his business and leave brochures.
Shepard used fliers to promote his business. “We were able to have a full schedule for that first team of two [employees] just by fliers,” he said. If you don’t see results at first, though, don’t be discouraged. “Hit the same area at least four times,” recommends Shepherd. You can use a similar approach with other offline advertising mediums such as newspaper ads and local service directories. Run ads multiple times in different local papers and newsletters, and then continue to invest in the ads that bring in customers.
Boone recommends lead source websites such as HomeAdvisor, Google Local Services and Yelp. Franco also recommends paying close attention to review sites to help develop your reputation. Many potential clients turn to these sites before deciding who to contact for cleaning services, so it’s important to keep a close eye on your reviews and be responsive to those who may have a negative experience.
Search engines are an important marketing tool, but to take advantage of them, you need a business website. There are several options for designing your own business website, or you can hire a designer to assist you with the process. Shepard has used search engine optimization or SEO to drive business to his website, which you can do through using keywords on your website. A content marketer can help you develop a keyword strategy to drive web traffic to your cleaning business website.
Social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram also provide powerful and inexpensive marketing opportunities. You can post about discount opportunities, referral promotions, cleaning tips and more. This helps keep your business at the forefront of the minds of potential and current customers.
Although finding those first customers may be challenging, it’s well worth it in the long run.
“It’s a really great industry,” said Shepard. “The great thing about a cleaning service [is that] you have more of a chance to succeed.”