Being a self-employed cleaner offers flexibility, job satisfaction, and the potential to grow your company from a solo operation to a whole agency of cleaners. It’s no wonder many people wonder how to start a cleaning business in the UK.
As with any business, there are equipment, scheduling, financial, and insurance questions to consider before you start booking your first clients. Here, we offer seven steps to follow as you set up your cleaning business and establish a name for yourself.
Is cleaning a good business to start?
Cleaning is often seen as a fairly easy business to start and build up. Compared to businesses that need a lot of computing power, the start-up costs are low, and most cleaners don’t need a professional qualification or even specialist equipment.
It’s also important to understand that cleaning is an incredibly physical, repetitive work, and it’s quite easy to injure yourself. When you run your own business, this is an added risk to consider because you won’t be able to claim statutory sick pay in the same way as you would if you were salaried.
You should also consider the fact that your income as a cleaner will fluctuate depending on how many clients you have. During the cost of living crisis, many households are looking for ways to save money on their bills, and a weekly visit from a cleaner may seem like a “luxury” to cut back on.
This represents another element of unpredictability for the cleaning industry because it can make it harder for residential cleaning businesses to build up a list of regular clients.
Put simply, it’s relatively easy to start your own cleaning business, but you may need to ride out some bumps in the road as you establish yourself. Running your own company doesn’t guarantee a regular income in the same way as cleaning for a company that works for hotels or local councils. But it usually offers higher potential earnings and the chance to grow your income by taking on more work and setting your own prices.
How do I start a simple cleaning business? Step-by-step guide
Let’s look at the stages of building a new cleaning business you can sustain in the long run.
1. Decide what services to offer
The first thing to concentrate on is positioning — decide what type of business you want to be. Generally, self-employed people starting a cleaning business choose to offer:
- Residential or domestic cleaning (houses and flats)
- Commercial cleaning (business premises)
- Specialist cleaning (for example, pool, window, graffiti, or carpet cleaning)
Within each category, you may also want to offer particular services. For example, a residential cleaner might also strip and wash beds during their contracted hours, or they might offer special services like a deep clean for people to book before they move home.
You might also want to give your business a unique selling point. For example, a cleaner who only uses organic or non-toxic cleaning products might be attractive to potential customers with small children or pets.
To choose what to offer, it’s worth researching your potential target market to find out what services your competitors are offering in your area. This will tell you whether there are gaps in the local market where you could attract more customers.
2. Price your services
The average self-employed domestic cleaner in the UK makes £22,530 a year, and generally charges an hourly rate of £10 to £20. But when you’re setting your rates, you should also take your market research into account.
Remember, deciding how much to charge isn’t as simple as undercutting the competition. Don’t forget to factor in:
- Travel time and transportation costs, as you won’t be paid for the time when you’re driving between appointments
- Wear and tear on your equipment, since you’ll have to replace the vacuum cleaner you use for work more regularly than the one you use at home
- Other annual costs of running your business, such as your business insurance
- Your equivalent of holiday and sick pay, since as a self-employed person, you won’t be paid during the times when you can’t work, or choose not to
If you decide you need to offer a discount to get your business off the ground, remember it’s much more efficient to retain clients than find new ones. This means you should focus on schemes that encourage people to rebook.
You could consider an introductory discount so new customers can try out your service without taking as much of a financial risk. Alternatively, a referral discount (for example, 20% off for a client and their friend when the friend books their first clean) may be a better way of attracting new, serious clients and growing your customer base.
A loyalty scheme (such as every 10th clean free) can also help turn one-time customers into returning clients.
3. Buy supplies and business essentials
Some cleaners use the equipment and cleaning supplies available in their clients’ homes, but others prefer to take their own high-quality products to each job. If you want to use your own supplies, consider buying in bulk to get a better deal.
As well as cleaning equipment, you’ll also need to invest in some software (and possibly a new computer) to help you manage your business. For example, all cleaners will need a scheduling system they can trust so they don’t miss appointments. It’s also a good idea to have a system to store your clients’ contact details, though you’ll need to make sure they consent to this.
To help you comply with UK business tax laws, you might also find it helpful to use some basic accounting software — or at least a detailed spreadsheet — to track your income and expenses. You’ll also need a way to write official invoices and receipts. Many invoicing apps built for UK small businesses can do both for an annual subscription fee.
If you need help funding some of these items, take a look to see if you’re eligible for these small business grants in the UK.
4. Get a business bank account
It’s good practice to have clients pay you into a business bank account, which you use to pay your taxes and any bills associated with your business. You can then transfer your “salary” every month to another personal bank account you use every day.
Sole traders don’t have to have a business account, but it makes accounting much easier at the end of the tax year.
5. Get business insurance
For peace of mind, you should make sure that you’re insured in case your cleaning causes a problem that could cause your client to take legal action against you.
At the minimum, you should look into insurance that protects you if someone slips and falls despite your safety signage. For example, all cleaners who work in public spaces should have public liability insurance. You should also have insurance to cover you if you accidentally damage someone’s property while cleaning.
This list of liability insurance options is a good place to start.
Remember, if you’re setting up a small cleaning business with a view to employing more cleaners in the future, you’ll also need to get employers’ liability insurance. This is a legal requirement for all businesses in the UK with more than one member of staff.
6. Register with HMRC
Before you start cleaning, you’ll need to register your small business. You have two important decisions to make here.
- Your business name. You may have to check with Companies House that no one else has registered your business name.
- Your business model. Starting as a sole trader involves less paperwork and can be done online, but once your earnings start to grow, operating as a limited company protects your personal finances by legally separating you from the business you run.
You’ll then need to register to complete your self-assessment tax return on the HMRC website.
Read more: How to Register as Self-Employed in the UK
7. Market your cleaning business
Once you’ve gone through the formalities of establishing your company, it’s time to drum up clients.
You can start advertising to potential customers for free on social media platforms (for example, posting on a Facebook page and Instagram through the Meta Business Suite). You can pay to “boost” posts on these sites so that people in your local area who don’t follow your page can see your online presence. You can also post in community groups as your business to introduce your services.
You can print business cards to leave in local businesses, too. Think of businesses people visit when they might also need a cleaner, like removal companies or estate agents. Posting on local notice boards in supermarkets could also be a good source of new business.
Setting up a cleaning business website is relatively simple and affordable. This can help people searching for “cleaner in my area” to find you. Include your contact details, the services you offer, and evidence of the quality of your work.
Remember that although you can’t solicit reviews from your clients for sites like Google and Yelp, you can ask satisfied customers for permission to take pictures to post on social media or your website, or ask for a short testimonial.
Do I need a licence to start a cleaning business in the UK?
Although you’ll need to be registered as self-employed, and you may need proof of insurance or even a DBS check to operate a commercial cleaning business, you don’t need an official cleaning licence.
The exception is if you want to specialise in a cleaning service that requires more equipment, stronger chemicals, or contact with biological waste. In these instances, you may have to take further training before you can start.
Even if you want to stick to residential or standard commercial cleaning services, it’s also a great idea to have a few hours of COSHH or PPE training under your belt. This can help you protect yourself, keep your clients safe, and fulfil your insurance conditions. For example, a COSHH course will tell you to clearly label all your cleaning chemicals so you avoid mixing them, otherwise your insurance might not cover you for an accident at work.
Recap: How to start a cleaning business in the UK
Starting a cleaning business in the UK is relatively straightforward. Our seven recommended steps include:
- Deciding what services you want to offer
- Pricing your services
- Buying supplies and business essentials
- Getting a business bank account
- Getting business insurance
- Registering with HMRC
- Marketing your cleaning business
Once you have these systems and processes in place, you can concentrate on building your brand, your reputation, your client base, and your revenue.
Whether you’re just starting your own cleaning business or you’re ready to take on employees, talk to Howden about business insurance today.