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Commercial cleaning can be a profitable business if you approach it with the proper strategies. Learn how to get started from one of the industry’s experts.

Commercial cleaning and residential cleaning are two different worlds, but many entrepreneurs strive to operate in both markets. Jeff Cross, ISSA media director, talks with Sharon Cowan, CBSE, president/CEO of Cleaning Business Consulting Group about what business owners need to know to enter the commercial cleaning industry.

For a residential cleaning company looking to expand into the commercial space, Cowan says the first decision to be made is how much commercial business you are after and whether “you’re going to dip your toe in the water and just take what organically comes your way, an occasional office here and there, or if you’re going to have a full-fledged division and really set up some goals, set up a budget, some timelines, and some action plans.” She explains that just dipping your toe in may not require many changes but adding a full commercial division to your business takes a lot more work and planning. For those considering this move, Cowan recommends attending every convention, training, and event possible, and even hiring a consultant to help you learn about running a commercial cleaning business.

For entrepreneurs ready to make the leap into commercial cleaning, Cowan offers these four strategies for getting started:

1 | Finding clients

Finding clients and securing commercial accounts requires all types of marketing techniques, from digital marketing to cold calls. Cowan notes that “any service business is a people business,” so networking and community involvement are key. She recommends getting your name out into the community so that you are the first to come to mind when someone thinks about needing janitorial service.

Additionally, face time with clients is far more important in commercial cleaning than residential. Rather than offering online quotes and booking, commercial clients need in-person consultations to determine the cleaning schedule, scope of work, and price. “Being seen and seeing people” is what you have to do to be successful in the industry, Cowan explains.

2 | Pricing jobs

Proper pricing for commercial jobs is crucial but difficult to do online, so she recommends meeting in person with the client to see the space, discuss their needs, and build that client relationship. As with residential cleaning, jobs are priced based on the time required for cleaning, but you can clean much more commercial square feet per hour than residential square feet. “We might move through a house at 800 square feet an hour to clean, whereas in a commercial property we might move through at 2500 an hour to clean,” Cowan explains. In a commercial space, there are a lot of variables that can affect how much time a job takes and how it will be priced, which is why in-person estimates are necessary.

It’s also important to note that profit margins in commercial cleaning are typically not as strong as residential profit margins; however, the volume and regularity—and thus the revenue—is usually higher with commercial clients. Because it takes many residential clients to generate as much revenue as just a few commercial clients, commercial cleaning also requires less travel and is fewer clients to manage, follow-up with, and retain.

3 | Hiring staff

Staffing for commercial cleaning looks different as well. Cowan says that 90% of commercial cleaning is night work, so rather than seeking full-time “career cleaners,” you should be looking for part-time cleaners who are seeking supplemental income a few nights a week. She explains that these employees can be easier to find than full-time day cleaners, and they tend to be very stable employees who have day jobs (with references and work history you can track) and are happy to work a few hours a week.

4 | Keeping clients

Once you’ve hired your staff and your commercial cleaning division is up and running, your next challenge is keeping the clients you’ve gained. “The secret sauce for keeping those accounts is consistent delivery of service,” according to Cowan. “And the way that you maintain that is by consistent supervision. You can’t give people a mop and a bucket and keys to a building and not see them again for a month.” It’s important for a quality control supervisor to check on your cleaning crews in the evening, which will improve staff communication, rapport, and accountability. Additionally, Cowan recommends having a supervisor visit the accounts during the day to perform inspections when your client is present. This builds confidence and rapport with your client and shows your commitment to providing impeccable service.

For more information, training, and resources to help your business expand into commercial cleaning, check out ISSA; ARCSI, a Division of ISSA; and ISSA’s Cleaning Management Institute (CMI). Cowan also recommends seeking out mentors in the industry who have done what you are trying to do.

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