Being out of work is stressful. The answer to your financial woes is as close as that new subdivision or rental property you drive past every day.
Do research before deciding this is the job for you. Becoming self-employed and setting your own hours is attractive, but you first must sell yourself to those in the market to pay for your services. Hard work will have to be done just to start making money. This is not a lucrative business. Most home cleaning services are corporations, and the small companies that operate in your area are very competitive. Keep in mind, most of the small teams have established themselves, so edging them out will be a numbers game.
Call other cleaning services that advertise in your area, posing as a potential customer to get an idea of what the average rate per square foot is. You will be surprised as to how many will disclose rates on the phone, even though that is the kiss of death in this business. You must be willing to outbid, and offer cheap rates that yield very little profit until you build your clientele. Do not advertise your rates or disclose them over the phone. Make appointments for a free estimate, and then talk money.
Make fliers at home, and keep them simple. Being too wordy will almost guarantee the contractors will toss them in the trash or use the backs of them to write their measurements or other notes. Fliers can be printed at home using a regular ink jet printer. Don’t panic if you haven’t designed a logo or a catchy phrase to accompany it. Fancy fonts and clip art will not get you jobs, your rates and professional demeanor will. Just make a bold heading, and bullet list what you will do. Never list what you will not clean.
Distribute fliers at construction sites during hours of business. Dress professional, and meet the owner of the company or the site foreman to get information on how to contact the owner. Do not speak with laborers. They have no authority to hire you, and typically are not reliable when it comes to passing along messages to his boss. Visit real estate agents. They are always looking for someone to clean a house after a tenant or previous owner of a home moves. They also tend to be in a hurry to get the clean up done so it can be staged for showing to potential buyers and renters. The longer a property is vacant, the more money they lose. Realtors don’t like to get their hands dirty, so take advantage of that.
Also, design a written agreement that you and the potential client will sign before work is to begin. Include the actual square footage of the property and rate per square foot you are charging. This prevents either party from having a financial dispute later when the time comes to collect on the finished job. You can find samples of contractor templates on the internet for free. Take a camera with you, and photograph all damages to the property. This will help avoid being accused of damages the realtor or contractor may not be aware of. If they have no proof you didn’t do the damage, they will take it out of your pay.
Unless you have a background in handyman work or construction, do not obligate yourself to tasks such as hanging doors or tearing out flooring. This can become a liability quickly, and can cost more than you will make if you are held liable for damages done as a result of going beyond your realm of expertise. Be cautious that some realtors will ask you to remove carpeting that is ruined, so they can get a cheaper rate from flooring companies when new carpet is installed. It saves them “tear out” fees. You are there to clean, not repair damages. Make that very clear.
Never bid on a job over the phone. You have to see the space, how much work will have to be put into it, and how large the space is to know the exact price, and how much labor will be involved. Not all contractors and realtors are 100 percent honest when it comes to disclosing this information. You may be told the house is just a little messy and is 1,200 square feet — in reality it may be a disaster that will take more than one day to clean, and be larger in size. Both of those factors will mean more money for you.
Some points to use as a rule of thumb are:
Purchase cleaning supplies at discount stores. There is no need to wield a trunk full of expensive, mail order or professional grade chemicals. Cheap cleaners have the same basic ingredients as the more costly ones. Never bring your business supplies into your own home. Some homes may have insect or rodent problems, and you don’t want to bring the germs and insect eggs/larvae into your living space.
Every home you clean is a potential repeat customer and a business reference. Conduct yourself professionally at all times and, under no circumstances, should you smoke or swear while on a client’s property. Believe it or not, those are the two most off-putting things you can do.
Start small. Don’t go after the largest, most expensive homes right off the bat. Start with small, cookie cutter subdivision homes and for rent by owner properties first, then work your way up.
Obtain a business license and bond before approaching real estate agents for work. Most of them will not do business with you unless you are licensed and bonded.
If you have not been licensed or bonded yet, hone in on homes that have “for rent” signs on the lawn. The landlord may be looking for someone to clean a recently vacated home, and they typically don’t require you to be licensed or bonded, they just want the work done right away so they can rent the home to someone else.
Don’t make promises you can’t keep. If the home is large or excessively dirty, don’t guarantee it will be cleaned in one day. Be honest about the time it will take you to do the job, and assure the client it will be thorough and up to their specifications.
Never work by the hour. As I mentioned earlier in this article, this type of business is based on square footage. You will make a significant amount more charging by measurement. (Example: Charging 15 cents per square foot multiplied by 2,000 is $300). Most homes that size can be completed in one day.
If you are cleaning rental properties, make sure all items left by previous tenants are removed prior to cleaning. You will overwork yourself having to move around left behind possessions, and you run the risk of being accused of theft should something become misplaced or removed by someone else.
Take it to the Web. Build a free website and showcase before and after pictures of your work. Offer seasonal specials such as “Spring cleaning 25% off”. Utilize social media such as Facebook and Twitter to get your name and services known locally. Your friends may not need their home cleaned, but someone else might. Be sure your Facebookpage is viewable to everyone, not just friends. Use status updates to advertise your special promotions and the time frame you are offering the discounts.
Ask before using clients as references. Some will not want calls to their home or business phone lines questioning your abilities without prior knowledge. It catches them off guard, and may interrupt their routine. Make sure you find out what times of the day they can be reached if they agree to be a reference for you. It has been my experience if you ask first, clients will no hesitate to give you a good reference.
Cleaning homes for a living is not difficult to maintain, once you have established yourself as a legitimate business. It takes very little money to start, but a lot of patience to build the business from the ground up. You won’t become rich overnight, or even moderately comfortable. If you have the drive and motivation to succeed, you will.