When working parents, heavy travelers, single professionals and two-job holding individuals need to balance life with living, many survive only with the help of an efficient housekeeper. Large agencies around the U.S. employ cleaning crews, dispatching them to residences and businesses around the clock, but if you don’t want to be someone else’s employee, starting your own housekeeping service could be the answer to your dreams. Be prepared to work hard but the rewards are many: you can pick and choose your own clients, set your own hours and enjoy the prestige of being a business owner. Who knows – some day, you might be recruiting staff to help you out!
Pick a name - Shakespeare asked the question about what's in a name. You’re the only one who can answer it. Deciding what to name your business is a great way to make your plan reality. Ask friends for suggestions, check the Yellow Pages to see what names are already taken, and then sit down with a pen and paper to come up with the perfect one.
Determine the equipment/supplies you will need - Check out the maid’s cart at a hotel and you’ll get a good idea of the basics you’ll need to start your business. A professional vacuum will likely be your biggest investment and you must choose cleansers, bleaches, disinfectants, carpet care chemicals and other cleaners that are effective on tough jobs. If a family of allergy sufferers hires you, invest in product specifically formulated for people with sensitivities to strong chemical compounds.
Locate a source for wholesale cleaning supplies – Warehouse clubs are a great source for cleaning supplies, but the downside of these discounters is that they don’t always carry the brand(s) you prefer. Find industrial supply stores in your area that cater to cleaning services. Their prices may be a bit higher, but you’ll get large quantities at reasonable prices. Alternately, scour the Internet for cleaning suppliers, remembering that shipping costs could push any savings you may get over your budget.
Make a brochure and business cards – If you know your way around a computer (or if you can enlist a desktop-savvy child, relative or friend) make a three-panel brochure from an 8.5 x 11” sheet of paper folded twice. Use one panel to introduce yourself and another to list the services you offer. The third panel can list testimonials; quotes from satisfied customers. Be sure to get their permission. Don’t list prices on your brochure. Make a separate price list and slide one into brochures as you give them out so you can raise or lower your prices on the fly. Likewise, get pre-scored business card stock at the office supply store and make your own cards by following the package instructions.
Set ground rules – Customers have been known to push the limits on housekeeping staff but if you start out with ground rules, you’re covered. For instance, if you don’t wash windows, say so. Alternately, if you like scrubbing bathrooms but don’t want to do the family laundry, make it clear. Define your working hours and book each client on a specific day of the week to budget your time efficiently. Finally, write up rules for financial matters so you’re not left in the lurch when a customer bounces a check or is late with a cleaning payment.
Compare local housekeeping services to set your hourly rate – Setting a wage should take these expenses into consideration: supply replenishment, equipment servicing, travel time, insurance, postage and anything else associated with running your business.
Investigate insurance and bonding options – Make sure your auto insurance covers you as you travel to and from a job. Ask about a business policy to protect you from liability claims. Add coverage to keep you afloat if you are hurt on the job. Find out what it takes to be bonded; being bonded gives customers extra assurance and incentive to hire you.
Market yourself and get referrals – Never leave home without brochures and business cards and don’t be afraid to offer an incentive – like one free cleaning – to customers who send new business your way.