Commercial cleaning of public and private buildings and other facilities in New Jersey is a statewide enterprise. Vendors include large commercial cleaning companies and individual entrepreneurs who have only small clients and a few employees. Because commercial cleaning is considered a commodity service, success in winning contracts is largely based on price and is a competitive process. The lowest bidder usually gets the work. However, there are other ways to become a new provider and exploit some other market advantage, such as superior service.
Research your local market. Investigate existing cleaning vendors and their clients. Identify where the best opportunities are for a new provider. For example, large commercial cleaning operators rely on large facilities such as office towers, hospitals or industrial parks for their most profitable work. That leaves smaller and mid-sized clients to someone else. Focus on the areas where you are most likely to find business. Be realistic in your assessment.
Develop a database of prospective clients within a reasonable geographic radius. Remember that transportation time and expenses will eat into your bottom line. The closer the client, the better. Analyze and organize the database by size and types. For example, compile a list of all public facilities, as well as a list of all private buildings and other facilities, such as a country club or retail outlet. After you’ve segmented the database by type and size of clients, decide where your focus will be and why.
Understand the market. For example, successfully winning cleaning contracts for public facilities will usually require the formal approval of the city council or city manager. At the county level, approval will be necessary from the county commission or county manager. To win State of New Jersey contracts, you’ll have to meet state requirements. By law, public entities must usually solicit competitive bids. Contracts are usually awarded based on the lowest price or a unique mix of price and capabilities or services. In the private sector, your primary target will be the building or facility manager. As with public contacts, most private facilities also seek competitive bids based on a written scope of services and other contract requirements.
Develop a marketing plan. Decide how you will compete. For example, you can aim to become the low-price provider for a particular type of facility such as an office building. But that route limits your profitability. You can also aspire to be the quality service leader. If you can accomplish that, you can charge more and will earn more profit. Whatever your choices, put them in writing and stick to them.
Submit bids. Identify all current and near-term opportunities in your area. Contact the facilities to learn their requirements and deadline for bids. Provide strong references. In the selection process, references are important to both public and private facility managers.
Look for no-bid opportunities. Although rare, they exist. For example, an office building manager who has had numerous complaints about the current cleaning service might be open to your “emergency” solicitation if you can convince him or her that you can solve the problem by keeping tenants happy with consistently good service.
Network effectively. For example, make yourself visible at city council meetings or other public-sector events where decision-makers will be. In many metropolitan areas, private building managers meet regularly to discuss issues impacting their jobs or the market. Identify opportunities to attend such meetings and introduce yourself to potential buyers. Distribute business cards to anyone who can help you get business. Follow up to create genuine relationships that can blossom by the time the next bidding cycle for a cleaning contract comes around again. Develop sources who can tip you off when a contract will be coming up for bid or a new building will open.
Get help. Both the U.S. Small Business Administration and state, county and local governments in New Jersey offer support services for entrepreneurs who create jobs and pay incremental new taxes. Exploit every available resource to build a solid foundation for your business. Knowledge is power in every business.