Have you been thinking about starting your own business? If you want a business that is quick to get started and that has a low initial outlay, then a cleaning business may be the ideal solution. Although a very crowded marketplace, the demand for cleaning services is booming, particularly as people begin to get back to work following the COVID lockdowns.
Cleaning contributed over £54.5bn to the UK economy in 2018 with overall turnover increasing by 28 per cent since 2013, double the 14 per cent turnover of the economy overall in the same period (ONS 2019). The British Cleaning Council predict a growth rate of 9 per cent over the next five years with the sector set to generate 93,000 jobs by 2024.
So how do you start a cleaning business? In this article we will look at:
- Deciding the type of cleaning business to start.
- The budget you may need.
- Legal, compliance and training requirements.
- Equipment and supplies requirements.
- Safety considerations.
The first step is to identify what type of cleaning company you want to start – who are your target customers? It is important to identify this at the start as this will have an impact on everything else you will need to do.
Basically, there are three types of cleaning companies:
- Domestic cleaners – cleaning residential properties. This might be on a regular basis, an annual “spring clean”, end of tenancy clean, one-off deep clean, holiday let clean.
- Industrial cleaners – cleaning commercial properties. These might include cleaning shops, offices, doctor/dental surgeries, schools/colleges, hairdressers etc.
- Specialist cleaners – you specialise in cleaning in a particular area, for example car cleaning/valeting, carpet/upholstery cleaning, window cleaning, oven cleaning, post builders’ clean, pressure washes.
Once you have done your market research and decided on the type of business, you will then need to decide whether you want to set up as a self-employed sole trader or a limited company.
This will depend upon the size and type of cleaning business you are starting:
- Sole trader/self-employed – a person who is the only owner of their business. There’s no legal separation between you as the business owner and the business itself.
- Limited company – a business which is a distinct legal entity from the business owner, formed whether you’re a one-person operation or have a few staff. Click on the links for more information.
Next you will need to allocate a start-up budget. You can start small, on your own, using your clients’ equipment and cleaning products. This business model will need minimal investment – you can probably start for under £100.
If you are intending to purchase and use your own equipment and products then start-up costs will vary, possibly starting at £500; however, this initial budget will need to be higher if you are employing staff. You may decide that buying a cleaning franchise is for you – the initial outlay can start at £1,500. The British Franchise Association can provide information.
Commercial cleaning will require a higher start-up budget as you will need to acquire specialist commercial grade equipment and products, and you will probably be employing staff. Initial budgets can be between £5,000 and £20,000.
Specialist cleaning start-up costs will depend upon the specialism; hand car washing can be a very low-cost start-up option, whereas using specialist equipment such as pressure washers will obviously increase the budget required.
What are the start-up costs?
Start-up costs cover all the expenditure connected with the creation of a new business, for example:
Finding out about the market for the services in your chosen area, how many people are likely to need and want your services, what they can afford to pay for them, and creating a selection of services that will appeal to them. Don’t skip this stage, it is the foundation for any business start-up. There is no point in starting a business if no one wants what you have to offer.
How you will promote your services – will you advertise, have a website, deliver leaflets, give out business cards? Identify what makes your business special and different to the other cleaning businesses and build a brand so you become recognisable. A brand is how people perceive you wherever they interact with your business.
You should choose your business name (check to make sure it is not already being used), design a logo which you can use on all your business materials such as business cards, flyers, invoices etc., set yourself a budget for marketing and measure the return on investment, e.g. if you deliver flyers what did they cost and how much business did they bring in?
You will be operating on clients’ premises, dealing with potentially toxic materials, operating possibly dangerous equipment and you may be employing staff.
The three main insurance policies you will need are:
- Professional indemnity insurance – this 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 – this covers your business should it cause death or injury to someone or damage their personal property.
- Employer’s liability insurance – this covers the compensation payable should an employee be injured or becomes ill because of the work they do for you.
You may also require Building and Contents insurance if you intend to have premises or you may need to amend your home insurance if you are running your business from home. You may also need vehicle insurance specifying it is for business use, even if you intend to use your own vehicle to travel to your clients and/or to carry equipment.
This may include an accountant/bookkeeper, government certificates and inspections for health and safety, registering your business with Companies House, and DBS checks and certificates – these are particularly useful to reassure clients that you and any staff that you employ are trustworthy; good trustworthy cleaners can be hard to find so this can be a good selling point for your business.
You and any employees that you may have will probably be, for example, handling potentially harmful chemicals, operating equipment, lone working and lifting, so completing relevant training and having information in place will help to protect yourself and any staff you may have, and may possibly reduce your insurance premiums.
Training should include:
- Health and Safety – covers hazards and risks as well as how to carry out risk assessments, something which is required when any business has more than five employees.
- COSHH Awareness – identifies substances that are hazardous to health and the correct risk assessment and control measures to ensure you are knowledgeable of how to deal with substances under the COSHH legislation.
- COVID-19 Awareness – will give a general overview to COVID-19 – important as you will be working in clients’ premises.
- Manual Handling – will give you the basics of moving and handling objects safely. This includes pushing, pulling, lifting and any other type of movement of objects.
- Assessing Risk – it is a legal requirement to ensure the health, safety and welfare of your employees.
- Safer Recruitment – introduces you to the policies and checks required to ensure that the recruitment process has the safety of people as a priority.
Even at the most basic level you will need to manage your accounts and keep a record of your income and costs.
You may need to set up systems for:
- Receiving payments – will you take cash or card payments? Will you be invoicing customers?
- Ordering and paying for equipment and products that you will use. Initially you may purchase these from the local supermarket, however, you may want to consider cash and carries or specialist suppliers where you may get better terms for bulk buying.
- Tax, for example income, business, VAT. As with any other self-employed profession, self-employed cleaners have a few legal obligations, particularly with regard to tax. You need to register as self-employed with HMRC, and you’ll need to complete an annual self-assessment tax return. Unless you are turning over more than £85,000 per annum, you don’t need to register for or charge VAT.
- Paying employees – remember you must at least pay the National minimum wage.
For more information about employing staff check out the Government website.
You may also want to consider setting up a business bank account so you can keep your personal finances separate from your business finances. You will also need a separate business phone (this can be a mobile phone) so that you keep your personal and business life separate and answer calls to that number in a professional manner.
Equipment and cleaning products
The initial outlay for equipment and cleaning products will be dependent upon the type of cleaning business you are creating. It’s important that you ensure any outlays you have to spend on equipment will be offset in the profits you make. When you are just starting out in business you might not have the biggest budget, so think about the amount of equipment you might need on day one, week one, and month one.
Generally, you should try to supply the cleaning products and equipment yourself. Not only is it more convenient for your clients, but it also ensures that:
- You look professional which will impress your clients and assure them that you will do a professional job.
- You can charge more because clients are paying you for the convenience of you sourcing the right products and having the right equipment in addition to cleaning their premises.
- You can clean faster when using cleaning products and equipment that you know how to use.
- You know the cleaning products and equipment will actually clean the premises properly because you have selected, tried and tested them and you are not depending upon what your clients provide.
Typical equipment and cleaning products that you will need are:
- Vacuum cleaner, with attachments for hardwood, carpet, stairs and upholstery
- Bucket or container to carry supplies
- Mop and bucket
- Dusters (long and short or extending)
- Dustpan, brush and broom
- Microfibre cloths (have separate, colour-coded ones for the kitchen and bathroom)
- Glass cleaning cloths
- Protective rubber gloves
- Protective clothing
- Cleaning brushes (use disposable toilet brushes or ask the clients to provide one)
- Laundry bag (for old/used cloths)
- Disinfectant wipes (for bathroom and kitchen surfaces)
- Shoe covers (to keep floors clean)
- Spray bottles (to store homemade products and all-purpose cleaners you need to mix with water)
- Rubbish bags
- Bin liners.
- Multi-purpose cleaner (look for products that explicitly say they are suitable for appliances and different hard surfaces like walls, counters, desks and floors)
- Disinfectant/sanitiser (necessary for bathroom and kitchen surfaces)
- Glass and window cleaner (commonly a spray-and-wipe solution used for mirrors, glass, Perspex and windows)
- Air freshener
- Heavy-duty detergent or degreaser
- Furniture polish
- Oven cleaner
- Stainless steel cleaner (for modern kitchen appliances which are stainless steel)
- Toilet and shower cleaner (buy as a separate or all-in-one solution to remove mould, mildew and grime)
- Dishwashing liquid (use to clean plates, stovetops, refrigerators and more)
- Descaling agent (removes limescale in kettles, on taps and showerheads)
- Carpet cleaner
- Laundry detergent
- Stain remover
- Wood cleaner.
Specialist equipment and products
- Pressure washers
- Steam cleaners
- Carpet washers
- Electrical floor polishers
- Car wash detergent
- Car wax
- Car dashboard cleaner
- Signage such as “wet floors”.
Once you have your equipment and products you may want to find somewhere to store it all. If you don’t have the room in your home or vehicle then another option may be renting a storage unit.
Charges vary depending on the size of the unit and how long you might be renting it for. You need to check out access too – is it open 24 hours a day? If not, if you have an early start or late finish you may have to store the equipment yourself and book it in or check it out when they open.
When storing your cleaning products, keep substances in their original labelled containers where possible and make sure that you read all the manufacturers’ instructions and warnings before use. Cleaning and disinfecting substances should be stored securely.
Safe storage should be away from heat, sunlight, foodstuffs and members of the public, especially children. Containers should all have lids and be clearly labelled. Always check manufacturers’ storage instructions, as some products may need to be stored separately from others.
The health risks associated with cleaning equipment and products
All different types of cleaning products can be hazardous substances. They include washing-up liquids, dishwasher detergents and rinse-aids, drain-cleaning products, oven cleaners, disinfectants, toilet cleaners, bleach, sanitisers and descalers.
The most common risks are likely to be through contact with the skin or eyes, or breathing in or swallowing the cleaning substances. Many cleaning substances are hazardous because they are corrosive and this can cause burns to the skin and eyes if splashed onto the body. Some may cause dermatitis (dry, sore or flaky skin) or other skin irritations, asthma or breathing problems.
Touching your face, eyes or skin after handling a cleaning substance can cause irritation, inflammation or chemical burns. Some substances can cause breathing problems if over sprayed, used without adequate ventilation or sprayed onto hot surfaces. There can also be harmful chemical reactions when substances are mixed, for example cleaning products containing bleach mixed with acidic toilet cleaners or ammonia will emit toxic gases.
Using electrical equipment can kill or severely injure people and cause damage to property. The main hazards of working with electricity are electric shock and burns from contact with live parts, injury or fire from faulty electrical equipment, or faulty electrical equipment igniting flammable vapours. You must make sure that the electrical equipment is suitable for its intended use and the conditions in which it is operated and that it is only used for its intended purpose.
In wet surroundings, unsuitable equipment can become live and make its surroundings live too. So far as is reasonably practicable, you must make sure that electrical equipment is maintained to prevent danger. You should carry out regular visual checks on all electrical equipment you use. If in doubt, remove the equipment from use immediately and check it, repair it or replace it. Remember, repairs should only be carried out by a competent certified person. If you are employing staff, ensure that they know how to use the electrical equipment safely.