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How to start a cleaning business in the UK

Strategy, Legal & Operations

How to start a cleaning business in the UK

There are few things more satisfying than making a place clean and tidy. If you’ve got a knack for neatness, starting a cleaning business could be a great way to make a living.

The prospects for launching a business in this sector are good too. There’s been a steady rise in demand for all kinds of cleaning services in recent years.

This is in part due to organisations outsourcing cleaning that would have been done in-house in the past. There’s also been a big trend among young people to take on residential cleaners.

Most of the 21,000 cleaning businesses in the UK are small (employing 10 people or fewer), and the majority are found in London and the South East.

Here’s everything you need to know about how to start a cleaning business in the UK.

Dreaming of bossing your own business? Take our quiz to see how ready you are to take the plunge

Benefits of starting a cleaning business in the UK

Is it worth starting a cleaning business, then?

While the work is physical and you might have to deal with the occasional difficult client, cleaning can be very rewarding.

Benefits of starting up a cleaning business in the UK include:

Flexible career path

Starting a cleaning business affords you a lot of flexibility:

  • Build a ‘lifestyle business’ that lets you earn an income that fits around your life.
  • Offer specialist services such as gutter cleaning, carpet cleaning or mattress cleaning.
  • Build up a company, hire people and launch your own cleaning empire.
  • Join a franchise for more support.

Potential for profit

You can certainly make a decent living running a small cleaning business.

However, unless you can offer very specialised services, you’d normally need to scale the business if you want to start earning more.

With a few years’ experience, employees and some bigger contracts, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to expect a turnover of £1m or more.

Low barriers to entry

There are almost no barriers to entry when running a residential cleaning business.

There are no qualifications or specialised skills required, so most people with determination and the right attitude can get ahead.

How to start a cleaning business from scratch in 9 steps

The following nine steps will guide you through how to start up a cleaning business.

1. Decide on the type of business you want to launch

Broadly speaking, there are three types of cleaning business:

  • Residential: Cleaning and tidying people’s homes is about building trust with customers – after all, they’re handing you the keys to their property. Besides efficient and fast cleaning skills, it’s also about building relationships and working out what the client likes.
  • Commercial: Tidying offices, workshops and shops can often provide you with bigger, steadier contracts than residential cleaning. If you’re starting a commercial cleaning business, you’ll normally need several employees.
  • Specialist: This is about offering an unusual service that people need – such as starting a carpet cleaning business, window cleaning, washing mattresses or chimney sweeping.

2. Research the market and find your ‘USP’

There are tens of thousands of cleaning businesses in the UK, so if you want to break into this sector, you’ve got to stand out from the crowd.

Start by doing some research into the local competition – what services they offer and how much they charge.

You can then decide on a unique selling point (USP). If you’re new to the industry, it might be tempting to try to be the cheapest – but it might not be the best approach.

Bigger competitors can always undercut you, and it gives customers the impression your work is of low value.

Instead, try and find a niche.

Perhaps you’ll promote yourself as a deep cleaning expert. Or maybe you can offer special services, such as cleaning up pet hair. Perhaps your niche is cleaning windows on old buildings.

Once you’ve chosen your USP, you can then use this to attract customers that fewer businesses are serving.

3. Consider extra training and qualifications

You don’t usually need any qualifications in this sector, especially if you’re starting a home cleaning business.

That said, doing a little training can be useful. It’s always handy to make sure you know exactly which chemicals to use on which surfaces or how to clean electricals.

It can also be useful to learn about health and safety. Cleaning is a physical job, so it’s worth learning about correct posture and how to protect your skin and hair from chemicals.

In certain niches, you might need professional qualifications, especially if you’re cleaning industrial spaces or offering specialised services such as chemical spill cleaning.

The good news is that there’s a lot of free training available online.

You can also find professional training courses on websites such as Reed or the Business Institute of Cleaning Science (BICSc), which teach you everything you need to know about starting a cleaning business for under £100.

You’ll then get a certificate that shows customers you’re running a professional business.

4. Create a business plan

A business plan is a document that explains what your business is, the service you offer, how much it costs, and how you plan to grow it.

Having a business plan is useful because it helps you to focus your thinking and build the company systematically.

Your business plan should include:

  • Executive summary: Summarises what’s included in the document.
  • Business overview: Explains what the business does and its USP.
  • Market research: This section describes demand for your services, as well as looking at who your competitors are.
  • Description of products/services: Overview of the cleaning services you offer. This can be a list of different types (weekly home clean, deep clean, end of tenancy clean, etc).
  • Sales and marketing plan: Describes how you’ll attract new customers.
  • Key people: Description of the main people in the business and their skills/experience.
  • Financial plan: Includes your pricing, expenses, the amount of money needed to start the business and projections for good, average and poor revenue.

5. Boss your admin

If you’re starting a cleaning business in the UK, there are several administrative decisions you’ll need to make early on:

  • Sole trader or limited company? A sole trader means you’re self-employed and are not financially separate from the business. A limited company creates a new legal entity that is separate from you. As a limited company director, you are effectively employed by your own business.
  • Accounting. You’ll need to record all customer payments, expenses (equipment, travel, etc.) and pay your taxes on time. Accounting software can make this much easier by creating and sending professional invoices, tracking who’s paid you and helping you prepare your books.
  • Hiring people. If you plan to hire other people, you’ll need to pay them a salary and fulfil your legal obligations as an employer. Payroll software can support you to do this by automatically calculating employee wages, sorting out tax and making sure you comply with HMRC’s requirements.

6. Get to grips with finance

When thinking about how to start a cleaning business, finances are crucial. Think about:

  • Your pricing structure. You’ll need to price your services competitively and decide whether you charge by the hour, day or job type.
  • Start-up investment. As part of your business plan, you’ll need to calculate how much money you need to launch the business, including costs for equipment, marketing, hiring people and so on.
  • Payment acceptance. How will you take payment? Most cleaning businesses accept cash but customers might prefer bank transfers, card/mobile payment or even old-fashioned cheques.
  • Insurance. Cleaning business insurance is vital – if someone slips on a floor you just mopped you could be sued. At a minimum you’ll want limited liability insurance and if you’re hiring others, employer’s liability insurance.

7. Stock up on essential cleaning equipment

You’ll want to set aside money for different kinds of equipment for your first couple of months.

This will vary depending on what service you offer – and sometimes the customer will provide most (or even all) of this equipment:

  • Sponges, cloths, rags: Around £50
  • Mops, brooms, buckets, latex gloves: Around £100
  • Chemicals and cleaning fluids: Around £80
  • Vacuum cleaner: Around £250
  • Cleaning trolley: Around £150
  • Van: Around £4,000
  • Uniforms: Around £150.

8. Get busy branding

Your cleaning business will need a name and a logo – especially if you plan to grow. Choosing a name is a key decision.

It should be short, easy to remember and hint at your specialism (commercial/residential/specialist).

Always check that someone else hasn’t already taken the name with the Companies House name availability checker.

Only limited companies can register and reserve a business name, and therefore prevent other people from taking the same name.

You needn’t spend a lot of money on getting a logo designed. You can often find a graphic designer on sites such as Fiverr who’ll produce something for you for a low fee.

As part of your branding, you might want to design a simple uniform for your staff bearing the logo too.

9. Market your cleaning business

Many cleaning businesses gain their first customers through word of mouth. This remains one of the most effective approaches to getting new leads.

But if you really want to grow bigger, it’s worth investing in more active marketing methods.

This might include:

  • Printing out flyers and posting them through letterboxes
  • Approaching clients directly (e.g. calling up the head of facilities at a company)
  • Taking out ads in local papers
  • Creating a website
  • Investing in online adverts (Google, Facebook and similar)
  • Setting up a business page on social media sites
  • Creating your own content and posting it online (e.g. videos about how to clean pet hair).

What do you need to start a cleaning business?

If you can see yourself starting a cleaning business, it’s helpful to sit down and figure out exactly what steps you need to take. Our business readiness quiz helps you do just that.

By answering a few simple questions, you’ll get personalised recommendations for the skills and knowledge you need to turn your dream into reality.

Are you ready to be your own boss?

Dreaming of bossing your own business? Take our quiz to see how ready you are to take the plunge.

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