For the many people who wish to be self-employed and self-sufficient, a commercial cleaning business offers low entry costs and a fairly easy-to-acquire set of skills. To get started, you do not need business premises and you can work part-time while keeping your regular job. This is possible because most business owners prefer their premises are cleaned after-hours.
However, like any business venture, there are regulatory requirements for registration, tax liability and insurance. You also need to become familiar with issues like contracts, employment, fair trading, debt and credit management.
What’s most important is that you set out with a service minded attitude and ensure that prospective clients can rely on you as an honest and reliable person. Regardless whether you start with house cleaning or commercial cleaning, clients need to give you access to their homes or business premises.
To get started on the right track, official advice tells you to prepare a business plan. And you will need it, especially if you intend to ask for a bank loan. However, be aware that respected authorities like Forbes and Entrepreneur regard business plans for planning purposes as a waste of time. A planning sheet that sets out your marketing plan, income and expense plans using realistic projections will instead be more useful.
If you wish to start a cleaning business concurrent with a regular job, a small office contract that one or two people can manage in 1-2 hours would be the most suitable. The work would be done outside of business hours, and would be easy to manage. And right from the start, be sure to prepare a bid proposal that both parties sign.
The essential planning issues you need to work through include the following:
The initial company structure as one of sole trader, partnership, or registered company.
The type of cleaning you wish to perform: general cleaning or specialised cleaning.
Equipment requirements and cost.
Area in which to operate.
Type of clients to approach.
Prospecting and contract negotiation.
Your success as a commercial cleaner will depend on your service offering, marketing skills, pricing, competition, and reliability.
What type of cleaning service do you wish to offer to clients? There is house cleaning, office cleaning, carpet cleaning, upholstery cleaning, window cleaning, end-of-lease cleaning, outdoor cleaning, high pressure water cleaning, after-party cleaning and more.
Some of these services require specialised equipment and higher start-up costs.
Depending on your current situation and time commitments, how many hours per week can you dedicate to a cleaning business?
Should you do the work yourself, with a partner or spouse, or should you hire sub-contractors? The answer to this largely depends on your available start-up capital, and the number of customers you can expect to service.
What business documents, certificates, and insurance will you need?
How will you market your business and find prospective clients?
Will you initially operate the business from home, or will you lease business premises?
In which geographical area do you wish to operate?
How will you handle service interruptions if you, your partner or employees become temporarily unavailable?
How will you handle service interruptions caused by equipment failure, e.g. a broken vacuum cleaner?
If and when you hire staff, what are your obligations in regard to Occupational Health and Safety and workers’ compensation? Refer to Safe Work Australia.
What transport do you have? Is it adequate to carry cleaning equipment and cleaning supplies?
What price will you charge for your service?
How will you calculate your service charge? On a per-hour basis or a detailed bid submission?
How can you quickly and easily become familiar with the administrative requirements to run a company?
The advantage of a franchise business is that it comes with an established brand name, marketing and operational support. A successful franchise also relies on a proven business model. The franchisor will assist in setting up your business, and provide training and written instructions on how to operate and market the business.
The disadvantages include a substantial up-front fee and a recurring monthly fee payable to the franchisor. The franchisor may also impose advertising restrictions and limit your ability to add additional business services.
Should you decide to operate as a franchise, it is essential that you research the operation thoroughly. As a minimum, you should speak to existing and preferably to previous franchise operators to judge the level of support provided, and their relative level of success in the marketplace.
Running an independent business, on the other hand, gives you a lot more flexibility and a substantial saving in start-up costs. You can start small, make your own business decisions and build from there. You retain all the profits earned, and you are free to expand and offer new service offerings as you see fit. You will, however, need to compete in the marketplace against more established suppliers.
When you start out as an owner/operator, you should not assume that you can learn “on the fly”, so to speak. There are detailed training guides readily available online. You will find details advice on how to set up your business, regulatory requirements, equipment requirements, marketing advice, and instructions on how to provide different types of professional cleaning. Start with the downloadable Cleaning Business Guide available from TrustedCleaner.
Do you want to specialise in areas like carpet cleaning, window cleaning, outdoors cleaning, high water pressure cleaning, end-of-lease cleaning, after-party cleaning or some other specialised niche market?
Do you wish to clean small offices, large office buildings, or industrial properties?
Do you prefer to clean private homes?
House cleaning and small office cleaning have the lowest start-up costs. If you can find a small office cleaning contract that you can complete in 1-2 hours after business hours, you can get retain a regular job until you have save enough money to expand your cleaning business. Apart from small offices, you can find such cleaning contracts with banks, gyms, day care centres, convenience stores and other small businesses.
Specialised cleaning services like carpet cleaning, high pressure water cleaning, and outside cleaning will need specialised equipment which would add substantially to your start-up costs. However, the income potential may be superior and you may have an opportunity to obtain a bank loan to finance the purchase of equipment.
You must weigh up your financial situation, and determine the best way to start and build a cleaning business.
The first step is to determine what type of cleaning service you wish to provide, and then estimate the necessary start-up costs.
You then need to organise your business registration, insurance, and other legal requirements. These requirements depend on your personal circumstances, preferences, and whether you intend to hire staff or not. Australian laws and regulations may vary year-by-year and, for this reason, appropriate references have been listed at the end of this article.
You could, if you wish, consult an accountant or lawyer for the best arrangements, but this would add another item to your start-up costs. The references listed should enable you to determine how to comply with legal requirements.
In essence, you need to become familiar with the following Australian business requirements.
If you assign and use a business name, you need to register this name together with a company number with the Australian Securities and Investments Commission. Once registered under the Corporations Act 2001, there is no need to register in individual State or Territory jurisdictions.
If, however, you conduct your business using your personal name, or the name of a business partner, there is no need to register a business name.
You can contact IP Australia if you wish to register your business name as a trademark in order to distinguish your business from other businesses.
If your projected earnings exceed $A50,000 per year, you need to register for Goods and Services Tax (GST). This registration also requires the assignment of an Australian Business Number (ABN) which can be registered online with the Australian Business Register.
If your business operates as a Sole Trader, you can use your personal tax number (TFN). However, partnerships and registered companies must apply for a dedicated tax number. The Australian Tax Office has more information.
Once you have organised legal and administrative requirements, you need to budget your start-up costs, including equipment and daily running costs.
The next essential requirement is to learn how to estimate the time required to complete specific cleaning jobs. Most commercial cleaning companies charge their clients on an hourly basis, but you may prefer to offer a standard price per day, week, or month. This would require a signed business contract that sets out in detail what services are included.
Next on the agenda is the task of acquiring knowledge about cleaning processes, equipment, cleaning fluids, and their appropriate use. Vacuum cleaning a carpeted surface is a fairly straight-forward process, and so is the washing and buffing of tiled floor surfaces. However, if you clean private homes with sealed or waxed hardwood floors, then you need to learn the correct cleaning process. The same applies to upholstery cleaning and specialised cleaning.
Proper training serves two main purposes. The first is that you avoid learning by your own mistakes. For example, it is essential that you know what chemicals or environmentally friendly materials to use for different cleaning purposes. Imagine if you were to damage a carpet or sealed floor surface because you use some abrasive chemical and face a substantial damages claim. The consequences could destroy your business before you even get established. While liability insurance may cover the cost, nothing will save your professional reputation.
Secondly, you will find it easier to sell your service if you can display formal and recognised qualifications.
This may well be the issue on which your business will stand or fall. It is absolutely essential that you master the bidding process before you begin submitting proposals.
The process, by itself, is fairly simple and straight-forward. The problem is that you need knowledge and experience to ensure that you will earn a profit by the end of each month.
Here’s the correct process:
Estimate how many hours it will take to clean the office, building, or house for which you are bidding your cleaning services.
Determine the going labour rate in the area where you operate.
Add payroll costs.
Add estimated expenses including cleaning materials as well as overheads like phone, insurance, office supplies, insurance, advertising, etc.
You are well advised to estimate your labour costs at the going sub-contractor level. You then avoid having to increase your labour rate if and when you start hiring labour.
You will need a detailed proposal form, and you can find examples in the references provided at the bottom of this article. The details you record are there to protect you against unforeseen expectations and demands, and you will need to walk through the premises and take careful note of what the client expects.
Will daily cleaning be required? Are weekends excluded?
Will the same cleaning routine be performed every day?
How and where will rubbish be disposed?
What cleaning equipment and cleaning fluids are required?
Do tiled floors need to be washed and buffed every day?
Do kitchen and/or canteen areas involve the cleaning of cups, saucers, plates and other implements?
Is oven cleaning expected on an occasional basis?
Should fans, drapes, blinds, or fly screens be cleaned regularly?
If you are bidding for house cleaning, consider how many adults and children occupy the house and if pets reside in-house. Also make certain if any outdoor or garage cleaning is expected. For example, if the house owner throws a weekend barbeque party, will they expect you to clean up on Monday morning? Such services should be listed as optional additions subject to an extra charge.
This emphasises how precise and careful you need to be. The cleaning contract agreed and signed by both parties should explicitly list all service requirements. This is the only way you can protect yourself from unforeseen expectations and additional costs. To refine you bidding skills, make sure you track the cleaning time for every job you accept.
Using a thorough bid checklist is helpful in identifying customer expectations. A bid proposal should also include information about your company, your cleaning experience, scope of services offered, a detailed cleaning specification, and promotional material explaining why prospective clients should use your cleaning service. This is in addition to the service agreement and a copy of your insurance cover.
Prospective clients are likely to question whether you employ trained and qualified personnel. To make sure, they may ask to see your company’s training program, your operations manual, and look for information about your employment screening, employee background checks, and your quality program.
We live in an online world, and you would be amazed at how many people use a mobile phone to find service providers. This means that you need to have an online presence, and it needs to be optimised for mobile devices. You should also activate what Google calls “My Business”. Your business address will be listed in their search listing, complete with a link to Google Maps.
Other promotional methods you can use include flyers, mail drops, newspaper/magazine ads, referrals, online advertising, yellow pages and cold calling.
The following list includes the equipment and materials you will need for standard, commercial cleaning. Specialise equipment for services like carpet cleaning, outdoor cleaning, and window cleaning are not included.
Commercial grade vacuum cleaner
Commercial floor polishing machine
A mop and bucket with mop bucket squeezer
Sponges and rags
Wet and dry dust mops
Non-toxic cleaning fluids. Use standard commercial cleaners, or go green with environmentally friendly products.
A dust wand
Trash pickup container and a supply of garbage bags
Always purchase your cleaning supplies through a wholesaler in order to save money. AlphaClean has outlets in all capital cities of Australia, and provides sustainable and safe cleaning solutions.See Our Product Range
Be aware that natural products often contain oils which leave a pleasant and fragrant scent. And remember that clients may have special requirements for cleaning materials. This is especially so for sealed or waxed hardwood timber floors which have prescribed cleaning and maintenance requirements.
If you have to move between different buildings and offices, the electrical equipment you select should be maneuverable, easy to use, cost efficient, and transportable. You may want to acquire larger machines suitable for open areas such as halls, conference rooms, and gymnasiums.
There are a number of insurance policies you should purchase to protect your business.
Public and legal liability insurance. This policy covers you for any damage to customer premises or equipment, and also accidental injury to persons not associated with your business. There are typically three different segments in this type of insurance: legal liability, public liability, and products liability.
Fire, storm and tempest insurance. A basic fire policy should be extended to cover storm damage, malicious damage, vandalism and accidental damage. It should also cover damage to glass windows and signage.
Burglary insurance. This type of insurance specifically covers the theft of money, equipment, and materials stored at a designated address.
Business interruption insurance. This type of insurance will compensate you for a drop in income caused by damage to your business property.
Business vehicle insurance. This policy will cover your against accidental vehicle damage, theft or fire.
Life insurance and income protection insurance. As a self-employed person, you may need this type of insurance.
When you are ready to move your business into business premises, you should plan for an area large enough to accommodate administrative staff, a small reception area, space for yourself as the business manager, and a storage area for equipment and supplies.
Don’t forget to signpost your office and enter your business to Google’s My Business.
Once your business expands and you hire additional staff, you will need one or more panel vans to move staff and equipment around. You should place signage and contact details on the vehicles as it helps to promote your business.
It’s not as complicated as it may seem at first. These issues should not deter anybody from getting started, because there are online guides that clearly set out legal requirements.
Here are a few essential guides to help get you started:
An Australian Government guide titled Legal essentials for business.
TrustedCleaner, an Australian website, offers a free guide titled How to Start a Cleaning Business: A Quick Start Guide. You can download this guide from the TrustedCleaner website.
Australian Business License and Information Service provides a large selection of guides about business licenses, permits, registrations and certificates.
Advice on Starting a Business in Australia (scroll to end of page to access three different guides).