Starting and Maintaining a Cleaning Business

Starting and Maintaining a Cleaning Business

An Q & A interview with Matt Goodwin

Q: For what reasons did you get into the cleaning service business?

A: At the time I started my cleaning business, I was married to a woman that had a few clients she did on the side for extra money. I worked in the automotive industry and could see a problem arising at the business that I worked for. Planning for the future, I began to use my paychecks from my job to pay for advertising for her cleaning business. As the amount of clients began to grow, we started using income from the house cleaning business to pay for the advertising. I was laid off from my job about 6 months later and I went to work full time for the cleaning business.  

Q: What do you consider the best or most enjoyable part of the cleaning business? Why?

A: I enjoyed seeing my clients and enjoyed the freedom of  being self employed. Many of my clients were elderly and consequently, also lonely. As sad as that was, I really wanted to spend more time just talking with them. I remember one of my clients was a nature nut (as I am) and we would talk about so many fascinating things, I didn’t even want to leave. As the cleaning service business became more robust and we hired employees, I would leave the cleaning to them and I just did the talking. I became known as the “Rent a Friend.” But I didn’t see it that way as I really enjoyed the conversations with my clients. My “nature nut” friend lost her hearing and we were no longer able to communicate except for writing things on paper. Soon after, she was removed from her home by her family and put into a nursing home.

Q: Which parts of the cleaning business are your least favorite? Why?

A: Bookkeeping was always my least favorite thing to do. It takes a lot of time to keep the books straight and I felt like I was not focusing on cleaning or customer services as I set out to do. I certainly didn’t want to hire a bookkeeper as I felt the cleaning business never got to that point where I couldn’t just do it myself. 

Q: What is the most important lesson you learned? How did you learn this lesson?

A: I learned many lessons during my years of owning the cleaning business. Advertising in the right places was probably the most important lesson I learned because I lost so much money advertising my cleaning services in the wrong places. I tried radio and TV advertising and found that it just didn’t work for me.

Q: What niche or specialty do you offer clients that set your cleaning business apart?

A: I would offer my clients handyman services and pet sitting for when they went on vacation. I found that the clients already felt comfortable with me in their home, so it was easier for them to hire me for other services than it would be for them to go find another company to provide those services. I did very well with that end of the business and it was a nice break for me.

Q: If you could give one piece of advice to someone interested in starting their own cleaning business, what would it be and why?

A: Get insurance! Without insurance, you are taking enormous risks with your future and your clients home and belongings. Besides the obvious advantages, it is also a great selling point for your cleaning services. I would send my potential clients an insurance binder. The insurance company I used would even mail it directly to my customer at no charge. It's very easy to obtain a professional liability insurance quote to protect your business from day one. Even if my client didn’t ask for it, I would still send it and they loved that.

Q: What do you feel was the secret to your success as a cleaning business owner?

A: Advertising your cleaning business in the right places and being insured has always proven important. Always make sure you install confidence in your abilities with your clients. Having a professionally built website that people can read about your cleaning business installs confidence and gives your cleaning service business a trustworthy look. Your clients will know that you are not a fly by night uninsured cleaning person looking to cash in. It shows that you are serious about your cleaning business.

Q: What guides your employees on a daily basis?

A: Just treat your clients homes as you would treat your own family’s homes. A client that hires you to do cleaning in their home is not just thinking about the cleaning services you offer. Remember, they are trusting you inside their home, even their bedrooms and bathrooms. These are some of the most personal spaces people have. Never lose respect for that.

Q: Which do you consider most important in providing outstanding customer service?

A: Always go above and beyond the clients expectations. When you do, your clients will refer your cleaning company to their neighbors and coworkers. That’s when you know you are on the right track. I made a special effort in every visit to do just one thing that was not required or expected while cleaning a clients home or office. My favorite thing to do was to take one room and move all the furniture in that room one piece at a time, clean under the furniture and put it back exactly where it was. You will find all kinds of stuff from dog toys, kids toys, paper clips, pencils, and occasionally lost items that the homeowner hasn’t seen in years. Put the stuff you find together (except the garbage) and place it somewhere with a note telling them where you found it. They will be shocked that you went that extra little bit, but will never forget it. And if you’re lucky enough to find a lost item, they will tell everyone about what you did. I once had a client call me and she said that her and her husband were rearranging their living room. They moved their couch expecting to find a lot of dust and junk, instead they saw a clean carpet with vacuum marks, they were shocked. They had no idea we were cleaning under their couch. That's how you gain a lifelong client! Pay attention to details, always! There is no better advertising than word of mouth for any business!

Q: Did you find it important to preplan all stages of your cleaning business?

A: I can honestly say that I didn’t plan much when I started my cleaning business. This probably goes against the thinking of every business expert out there, but I was desperate when I started the cleaning business and I knew I would do well as I have always been good at customer service. I also had no money to plan with. So I guess my plan was to cross my fingers, stay insured and if there was any extra money, use it to advertise my new cleaning business and keep my name out there.

Q: How did you reward or motivate your cleaning service employees?

A: When the cleaning business was doing well, or if we finished early, I would give them an extra $20 here and there and made sure they knew that it was not an every week thing, that I would share when we made extra money. For instance, if we had a large cleaning job like a move out clean, I would give them extra money. I also made sure I thanked them every day and told them when they did a good job. Saying “Thank You” doesn’t cost you a penny, but it goes a long way.

Q: What marketing and advertising methods have been the most successful for your cleaning services business? Which have been the least successful?

A: As I mentioned already, radio and TV advertising didn’t work for me at all. I didn’t have enough revenue to be committed to it. Radio and TV advertising only works if you stick with it for years from what I learned after I spent several thousands of dollars advertising my cleaning service business. Phone book advertising was also a big waste of money for me. What I found worked the best was Internet advertising. Most of my clients were too busy to clean because they were always at the office away from home and usually in another city, so they had no phone book, TV or radio. They almost all have a computer they work with though, so that’s how many clients found me. Once I figured out that was where my money was best spent, I focused on it a lot and it worked very well. So well in fact that I started offering advertising services for other cleaning services around the world. I offered (and still offer) complete website services and a few online directories, like The Cleaning Service Directory (www.CleaningService.Directory) which is a directory of home and office cleaning services. I also have The Pet Sitting Directory ( which I found compliments the cleaning services I offered). I also just recently began www.HomeImprovement.Directory which is a directory of home improvement services. After I began the original cleaning service directory, I became very sick with Thyroid Cancer and had to give up the cleaning business altogether. My focus now is online advertising services and specialize in helping other cleaning service owners achieve their business goals.

Q: How do you make employee training successful and enjoyable?

A: Always make a new employee learn your cleaning methods, don’t give them time to develop bad habits. Watch them clean and observe their determination. Do they mop with one hand? I had a woman cleaning for me that did just that and I knew it was going to be a disaster. I kindly asked her for the mop and showed her that you need to put some power behind it and scrub the floor. She didn’t seem to understand, so when she finished cleaning the floor, I asked her for the mop again and I brought it out to the truck and brought in some white towels and a new bucket with floor cleaner in it. I said “ok, now we’re really going to clean this floor.” Now, I would never ask an employee to do something I wouldn’t do myself, so I got on my knees and soaked the towel with cleaner and started to clean the floor by hand. After a few swipes, I asked her to join me cleaning the floor by hand. She gave me the raised eyebrow look and reluctantly began to clean the floor with this lazy left to right, slow, sloppy movement. I continued to scrub, rinse and check my own work. When the day was done, I dropped her off and told her that I was sorry I wouldn’t be able to keep her. When she asked why I just told her that professional cleaning is not for you and she agreed. I guess my point here is that there are two kinds of people: People who understand the art of cleaning and people who see cleaning as just “work.” If you cannot take pride in your cleaning, then professional cleaning is not for you, period.

When I used to work in the automotive industry as a service manager, I had a problem with an employee. I just couldn’t get him to come to work and when he did he did great work, and it frustrated me so much that my boss (the business owner) pulled me aside one day and said something very simple about employees that I will never forget. He said “You can only change people this much” as he held his thumb and index finger about and inch apart, I never forgot that. People are stuck in their ways, so don’t waste your time trying to make them change their lifestyle, put your efforts into finding the right person for the job.

Q: Do you consider licensing and bonding important? Why or why not?

A: When I started my cleaning business, I registered a business name and got insurance. And that was always enough. When I was asked if I was bonded, I would ask the client if they knew what bonding is and if not, I would explain to the client what bonding meant. Bonding is a three party agreement between yourself (the principal), the obligee (whoever is requiring the bond), and the carrier (the bonding company). The bond is a written guarantee from the carrier to the obligee that the principal will perform as listed in whatever the bond is guaranteeing (could be a license or a specific cleaning contract). The principal pays the carrier a percentage of the bond amount as a fee for the guarantee. If the principal defaults, the carrier pays the obligee up to the bond amount to cover any losses. The carrier in turn looks to the principal for repayment (keep in mind, bonds or bonding is NOT insurance). Some states require companies to be bonded, so check your state laws. For cleaning services, bonding is a tricky thing because you are usually not providing large cost cleaning services, but if you are classified as a “Contractor” and enter into large cleaning contracts, this is something you will want to explore. Your best bet is to call a bonding agent and get information specifically about your business. 

Q: Do you have any additional advice, insight or suggestions for those who are starting their own cleaning business?

A: Always have respect for your clients, make sure your employees are aware of your standards. Create a standard conduct protocol that is adhered to every time you enter someone’s property. Things like laughing (unless in a proper discussion with your client), joking, horse play, etc are things that should not be allowed as they could cause misunderstandings. Laughing, for example, may make the client (who is most likely in another room while you are cleaning their home or office) feel like you may be laughing at them or something personal that you came across in their bedroom while cleaning.

Another piece of advice I found helpful is to always discuss the cleaning services you are going to provide with your client in detail. Go the extra mile to avoid any misunderstandings in the future that could cause you to lose your client’s trust. What may be common knowledge to you, may not be to your clients.

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Includes the above content and the tips and advice from many other experts in the cleaning industry! Quite possibly the best business advice known for cleaning companies either starting out or companies have been in the business for years!

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