Thursday, July 22, 2010

How To - Start Your Own Housekeeping Business

I decided to write this post and share some information in response to a question I got from a reader, although several ladies have emailed or commented with some interest in housekeeping.

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Laura Anne recently asked me, "How did you come to clean homes? Did you sign up somewhere, or just happen upon it?"
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For me personally, housekeeping is a form of self-employment that not only helps people out, but allows me to actually keep all of my hard-earned money. No one is taking any amount off the top, meaning that all money earned goes into my pockets only. I haven't been cleaning houses on my own for all that long (this is my 2nd summer), but I sure feel like I've learned a lot about it in a very short amount of time.

The beginning of last summer was when I first decided that I would try cleaning houses on my own to make a little bit of cash, because I needed money and really wanted to work for myself. I chose housekeeping because I had a little bit of hotel experience, the start-up expense was low, and I was also in a good area for it. Tourists come up here in the summer and they leave again in the fall, which is what I plan to do also.

This exactly what I did to get started. I just dove in head-first:

1. Came up with a business name

2. Paid $10 to register my business name and got my DBA (keeps anyone else from using my business name in this county for the next 5 or 10 years, can't remember which. I'll have to check my paperwork)

3. Made some really cool business cards on my computer using Microsoft Publisher (very professional looking, printed on Linen business card paper)

4. Bought a bunch of cleaning supplies (Kirby vacuum at a yard sale, mop, broom, bucket, cleaners, and rags)

5. Rounded up jobs (this was obviously the hardest part, aside from the actual work)

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Actually reeling in the jobs:

In a round about way, the most important part is to get your name out there and let people know that you are cleaning! Easier said than done, right? The thing is, once you start to actually get jobs (and you do a good job), your clients will refer you to other people, and it seriously has the domino effect.

Tell everyone you know that you are cleaning houses, and start handing out your business card. If you know anyone who works on houses (handyman-style) OR in the real estate business (realtors, property-management), they can be your BEST FRIENDS when it comes to finding work. They may work for people who need a housekeeper, or they may have real estate that needs to be cleaned so that they show it to buyers. Even if you don't know any particular people in those fields, drop by a real estate office or property management company and give them your card! Tell them that you clean houses and would love to help them out if they ever need cleaning services.

The first cleaning job I got was due to an ad that I answered in the newspaper. A lady requested house-cleaning & laundry services around her summer cottage for June, July, and August. The ad also requested that her cottage be "opened up" and cleaned before her arrival, after it had been sitting for two winters. She was coming up from Texas and her previous summer housekeeper had moved away. I sent her an email saying that I had previous cleaning experience and I would love to help her out. She emailed me her phone number, so I gave her a call and tried to sound very professional & confident. We clicked really well over the phone and she liked my attitude (and thankfully didn't request cleaning references, because I didn't have any!), so she mailed me her keys & new bedding, and off I went.

Two of my other houses came to me basically by word-of-mouth, with help from a local handyman friend. He works for himself doing construction/handyman services for people on the lake, so I gave him some of my business cards to hand out to anyone who asked him if he knew of any housekeepers. 

A few of my other houses were "passed along" to me from a couple different ladies I met who also did housekeeping. They wanted to give up a couple of their cleaning jobs and were thrilled to discover that I was willing to take them on. I highly recommend trying to meet some other housekeepers... Not only might they give you some of the jobs they don't want, but you also might get to pinch-hit for them on occasion, cleaning houses for them when they need a replacement. They can also cover for you or help you on a job that is too big for you to handle on your own. Just talking to people that you interact with on a daily basis will get you a long way. I met the housekeepers that I know now, simply because "someone knew someone who knew someone" that also cleaned houses.

Picking up jobs is really just going to be unique to each person. It depends on who you know, who you meet, where you happen to be, how good of a job you are doing, etc. I will say that for me, getting even one cleaning job has an extreme spiraling effect. For example:

I took over one house for another housekeeper who didn't want to clean it anymore. That lady ended up liking me and referred me to her friend whom I start cleaning for weekly. That lady ended up being the manager of a property management company, so she ended up calling me for random spot-cleaning jobs at various vacation properties. One of those jobs was at a clubhouse of a Private Club/Association on the lake. The owner of the clubhouse thought I did a great job, so he referred me to a lady who lived in a summer home nearby. When I went to start cleaning her house, a lady in a car pulled up and stopped next to me while I was getting my vacuum out of my car and asked if I was a housekeeper because she needed one! I handed her my card, but she asked for 2 of them... About 10 minutes later, a totally different lady showed up (she already had my card because the previous lady had rushed to give it to her) and asked if I could fit her into my schedule. I said I was already booked up, but I would squeeze her in after a different cleaning job on yadda-yadda date, although I was charging all new clients $25 per hour b/c I was so busy. In this case, just meeting one housekeeper spiraled into at least 7 different new clients.

Other methods of finding cleaning jobs could include hanging up a flyer with some of your business cards on the posting board at a local grocery store OR simply placing an ad on craigslist.

The actual cleaning:

Every house situation is a little different. Depending on whether or not anyone permanently lives in the house, you may or may not have to provide your own cleaning supplies. I started out just accepting ANY cleaning job I could find, which helped me to discovered that there are basically 4 types of homes to clean:

1. Residents - People who live in their house year-round, so you really get to know them and become a part of their life & home (year-round cleaning job)

2. Vacation Properties - People who only come up and live in their "extra" house occasionally, mainly during the summer (temporary cleaning job for a few months)

3. Summer Rental Properties (with fast turnover of renters, usually for a span of several months) - Just basically cleaning a house between different groups of people who are checking-in and checking-out (not many personal belongings to contend with and no human interaction). This is actually my favorite situation. I can listen to music and I don't have to clean around anybody.

4. Rental OR For-Sale Properties (usually one-time only cleaning gigs) - Just basically cleaning a house or apartment for a landlord (or real estate agent), after their tenant has moved out (lease ran out or whatever), so that they can find a new renter or they need to show the house to a potential buyer.

You can honestly clean houses for a living whether or not you want to remain stationary or be a bit more mobile. It mainly just depends on where you are located, because honestly, there are houses EVERYWHERE that need to cleaned. If you want to stay in one place for awhile and clean on a weekly basis, you need to find regular residents who live in their house year-round. If you instead wish to move around a bit more, staying stationary for only a couple months, you can clean houses seasonally for rental properties and vacation homes.
So how much to charge?

Back in highschool & college, about 10 years ago, I had cleaned for various hotels and got paid $6.50 - $8.10 per hour, with taxes taken out on top of that. I remember that my paychecks were always really small, even though I worked 40 hours per week. Doing it on your own, however, you can work way less and make way more. Simply because you set your own rate, whether it be $15/hr, $20/hr, $25/hr, or $27/hr. Do some research - Pretend to be in-need of a housekeeper and call around to find out what other housekeepers are charging (the going rate) in your area. Don't be afraid to charge what you are worth. You don't want to cut yourself short. You are providing a valuable service to people, you are driving your own vehicle, and you are providing your own supplies.

And as with ANY job (especially when working for yourself), you should be a hard worker and have a good work ethic. That means really pouring yourself into what you do and always doing the best job that you can. Going above and beyond what is expected of you. Leaving notes for the people that you clean for regularly, telling them all the things you got done OR all the extra stuff you squeezed in. If you decide to clean houses for your main job, it really helps if you have a knack for it and an eye for detail. You have to be observant and stop for a moment to just look around for cobwebs, spots on cupboards, things of that nature. You should be fairly efficient (if you are charging by the hour), friendly, on-time, and professional (don't wear skimpy clothes, etc). This is all the stuff I would tell someone if I were training them to work for me. lol. I currently don't have any helpers b/c I believe that good help is hard to find, but I sure could use someone to help me every once in a while. Working hard now will equate in more freedom later. :-)

I think that the most important thing you can do for yourself as a housekeeper is to do good work. Always complete a job that you will be proud of yourself for. Mainly b/c of what I said above about many of your jobs coming by word of mouth. People talk to other people, and if you do a really poor job of cleaning someone's house, they will definitely let their friends know. They will not recommend you to anyone. They may in-fact stop calling you or have you stop coming to clean for them.

Working for yourself is just another way to pursue your own freedom and get out of the rat race. You are your own boss and no longer have to answer to anyone who is "above" you on the ladder. You have the ability to go out and round up as much (or as little) work as you want, and you can even "fire" your clients if you want! If they complain about what you charge or are just a pain to deal with, let them go. Work for the people who appreciate you. What is that saying? 80% of your profits come from 20% of your clients? Basically get rid of any clients who are more of a hassel than they are worth.

6 comments:

I said...

Thats good , helping yer fellow out is good stuff. thumbs up.

shadow said...

You ever look into non-toxic house cleaning using vinegar, borax, grain alcohol, baking soda, eco-friendly soaps, and essential oils? Or do you use the standard cleaning chemicals?

Kristina Rosenberg said...

I just tried to post a really long comment, but LiveJournal was just a really big jerk to me. I'll try to type it again, but shorter.

I'm really glad that I read your blog. My sister just posted it on my wall on Facebook, because I'm a housekeeper.

My mom and I started this little cleaning business we have because it was so hard for me to find a job after high school. She had "professional" cleaning experience and I was already a good cleaner of my own home. (I'm a little OCD about stuff, and I'm very organized. -looks around room- Well, I can be...)

I did some research online for the going rate, and we decided since we were new at this that we would charge $10/hour/person. I typed up a nice ad (it sounded very professional and neat) on Craigslist. It was a shock to me that people actually responded.

There's a big trust issue with bringing in someone to clean your home because they're scouring your house and they can see how you really live and they just end up knowing a lot about you.

We went for consultations; some didn't work out, but some obviously did. A lot of our clients actually are referrals. A newer client refers me like crazy but I can't get to all of them because now that it's summer my mom is gardening full time. (She's a professional gardener!) I've taken on the clients by myself, but I also don't have a car. That will very soon change, but for the meantime I've got my old and some new clients.

I feel very appreciated by them. They don't have to give me tips or bonuses, but on holidays (Christmas especially) I will not only get a cash bonus, but I will also get a random little gift. They don't have to do this, and I don't expect it, but they do it anyway.

I've been thinking I don't want to clean toilets for the rest of my life. I want to go to Culinary school and become a pastry chef and open my own business... but it's been tough even doing the application. I'm not the schooling type; I never have been. But secretly, I've been rethinking making this cleaning business my actual career. I don't necessarily have to do all the cleaning myself. At some point, I could hire other people...

But, I do like how it's usually just me and my mom. We don't work for some big company, so we get to know our clients pretty well. They love us, we love them. Most of our (my) clients are weekly and biweekly. There is one monthly client and that takes me 8 hours to clean her house. I don't mind, though.

Of course, we have raised our price from $10 to $12 and them from $12 to $15. It's currently at $15 right now for every new client, but some of our older clients are still $10/hour because I just don't feel right raises the price on them - some of them are in and out of the hospital and I just can't do that to her. I don't mind cleaning her house for 6 hours and only getting $60.

Anyway, I said I'd try to make this shorter than the first attempt BUT it's actually longer and a lot more detailed. HOORAY

I wanted to thank you for posting this. It answered some personal questions I've been searching inside myself for the answer to. Maybe I'll eventually figure everything out - but until then, I've got my loving clients. <3

Red Icculus said...

I want to pick your brain about 2-people van living. If you are ever in the Hoosier state, I would love to meet you and reward your awesome sense of entrepreneurship.

Freely Living Life said...

Wonderful post! =)

Cheers to true freedom from the rat race. I don't know how people do this crap for years on end....

{{hugs}}

Laura Anne said...

thanks for answering my question in such a detailed way! This page has so much good information thank you very much for the tips! :) I clean one house now and just got it by word of mouth. You have given me a TON of great ideas! Thanks again! And hopefully we get to meet sometime in our travels. :D