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How To Start a Carpet Cleaning Business: The Beginner’s Guide (2017)

How To Start a Carpet Cleaning Business in 2017: The Definitive Guide For Beginners

 

So, are you thinking about starting a carpet cleaning business?

Great, I’m so glad you’re here!

My goal in this article is to explain the necessary steps to get your carpet cleaning business off to a great start. We’ll cover many of the common topics, but try to add a unique spin on things and provide some value and insight. Quite simply, this is the article I wish I had read when I started my carpet cleaning business six years ago.

I started my business in 2011 with zero experience. The first couple of years were slow, but I was always reading, watching, learning and implementing, bit by bit.

This guide contains the key things I’ve learned along the way, and I’ve tried to lay everything out in a simple step-by-step format.

Why start a carpet cleaning business?

There are many reasons why I, and many others, find carpet and upholstery cleaning the perfect fit for their financial ambitions and lifestyle. Here are 3 obvious ones:

  • It’s a low risk business. Ok, I’ll admit the risks increase if you grow your company, employ staff and commit to leasing premises… but the initial investment vs potential returns are very favourable if you do your research and invest intelligently.
  • You get to choose when you work. Carpet cleaning is one of the few business that offer genuine flexibility. Unlike a shop front business, you can fit your business hours around your family commitments and lifestyle.
  • Low barrier to entry. Admittedly, this encourages many people with dubious intentions into the industry, but if you’re intent on building a solid reputable company, you can do so with a limited budget and a thirst for knowledge.

I’m pretty sure at least one of those benefits has already crossed your mind. And if you’re still reading this, I’m guessing you’re looking for more detailed advice and some sort of plan? So, let’s get started!

The 5 basic steps to starting a successful carpet cleaning business

There are many easy, free ways of validating the potential of starting a carpet and upholstery cleaning business (analysing service and location search data via the AdWords keywords tool being one popular example).

But, assuming you’re not living over an hour away from a town with a reasonable population density, you can be confident you have the makings of a profitable business. You just need to get things moving.

Here are the steps we’re going to cover:

  1. Choosing the right equipment for you
  2. Carpet and upholstery cleaning training
  3. Defining your target market and pricing your services
  4. Finding your customers and marketing to them effectively
  5. Growing your business

Step 1: Choosing the right equipment for you

Before starting my carpet cleaning company, I spent hundreds of hours reading forum threads, blogs and reviews that covered and reviewed machines, chemicals, vans and other equipment.

I wanted a new truckmount machine, but the reality was that my budget didn’t stretch that far. I ended up compromising and plumping for something between a portable and a genuine truckmount – a second hand Prowler (shoehorned into the back of a Citroen Berlingo!)

It was a great little machine, if somewhat temperamental, and so within a year I had sold it and purchased an Airflex Storm portable.

A year later we added an additional Airflex (Turbo) to the business before eventually being in a position to afford a new Hydramaster Boxxer 423s.

Along with various rotary’s and a couple of spotter machines, our two Airflex and the Hydramaster complete our current set-up.

But what carpet cleaning machine should you start with?

My advice is to get the best machine you can afford; whether that be new or second hand. If you can afford a new truckmount, then it’s probably an easy decision.

But maybe much of your work will be based in high rise apartment blocks and offices? In which case, a powerful and manoeuvrable portable would better suit your needs? I have had great reliability from both our portables – a second hand Airflex Turbo, and a new Airflex Storm.

Purchasing a new machine may give you extra peace of mind, but most second hand machines that are sold through the main suppliers will be solid and provide years of reliable carpet cleaning.

Quality brands include the Airflex range; Alltec; the Jaguar; and of course the Hydramaster truckmounts. There are also some other reputable brands that we don’t have experience using and so don’t feel it is fair to comment.

And many of the main equipment suppliers often have second hand and reconditioned machines and equipment for sale.

When budgeting for your first machine, remember to account for essential accessories and a basic start-up range of chemicals.

At the very least, you should budget for the following essentials:

  • Carpet and upholstery cleaning training course
  • Powerful extraction machine
  • Heater
  • Vacuum pipes
  • Solution hoses
  • Carpet cleaning wand
  • Stair wand
  • Upholstery wand
  • Agitation machine (or brushes)
  • General purpose rotary machine
  • Grooming brush
  • Turbo dryer
  • Vacuum cleaner
  • White towels
  • Strong general pre-spray for polypropylene carpets
  • Upholstery pre-spray
  • Pre-spray for wool carpets
  • Range of specialist spotting chemicals for stains such as urine, coffee, wine and paint

Phew! That’s quite a list… but you’re not done yet.

Choosing your first carpet cleaning van

Having spent most of my start-up budget on a small Prowler truckmount and other must-have equipment, I had very little left for a van.

In fact, I just about managed to scrape together enough money to buy a dodgy 2003 Citroen Berlingo from auction.

This was a big mistake.

I had so little room that would drive to jobs with my Sebo vacuum lying across my lap! Suffice to say, I wasn’t sorry when it bit the dust six months later.

In subsequent years I purchased a couple of Ford Transits, a Citroen Dispatch (too small), a Citroen Relay and a Vauxhall Vivaro.

All have their pros and cons. In my experience, you’ll spend more money than you think on running, maintaining and repairing your van.

I am far from an expert on such matters, but I’d advise researching and finding a reputable local dealer and choosing a van that will comfortably house all your daily equipment, with room for any extras you may need to carry in the future, such as a spotter machine, rotary and wet vacuum.

There’s nothing worse than running out of space and making your job set-up more difficult than it need be; especially if you’re doing multiple jobs per day.

Whether you choose to purchase new or used will depend on your finances and personal preferences.

Step 2: Carpet and upholstery cleaning training

Professional training is non-negotiable.

Sure, you can watch a few YouTube videos and pick up the basic techniques, but if you don’t invest in at least a basic one day carpet and upholstery cleaning training course, you’re leaving yourself and your customers exposed.

I attended two courses before I ever cleaned a carpet or sofa. The first was the NCCA training course, and the second was at Cleansmart.

Both were excellent.

In addition to the courses we are now running ourselves, there are others, such as the ones run at Alltec, along with infrequent bespoke training days that many of the carpet cleaning suppliers sometimes run.

The one issue I had with most training courses, is that they were manufacturer led. Which meant that there was usually only ever the opportunity to use their own brand of equipment and chemicals.

Indeed, this limiting factor meant that when I was in the process of choosing my second machine (a portable) I had to travel around the country to the various manufacturers in order to trial the equipment and make an informed decision.

But I always wanted some decent on the job experience, testing the machines and chemicals in a live environment.

Alas, this wasn’t an option, until now. Sorry, I couldn’t resist the shameless plug!

Anyway, if you’re not in a position to make it down here and attend one of our training courses, be sure to book onto your nearest professional course to you and try and supplement it with some work experience if possible.

Step 3: Defining your target market & pricing your services

Generally, you can choose to occupy one of two positions in the marketplace.

The first is to service the price motivated customer, always competing and winning or losing jobs on the monetary value of your product.

I’d argue this is not a good starting point for any carpet cleaning start-up business without the resources or finances to attract a high volume of customers and expand quickly.

The second is to align your business with the customer that values a superior service and will pay a higher price for it. (One caveat I’d add is that some customers don’t really know what they want – nor the price they want to pay – and it is entirely possible to convince them that you are offering a value rich service, no matter the price.)

In any case, here are some basic tips that will help you define your ideal customer:

Paint a picture of your customers

List all the different types of customers that need their carpets and sofas cleaned (proud and conscientious homeowners, estate agents, rental tenants, commercial facilities managers etc). Group them into commercial and residential and divide residential homeowners by location – high income households tend to be located in specific postcodes.

Consider some other relevant factors: Are they married? Are they male or female? What age brackets?

Who will gain the most?

Who is likely to benefit most from your service and why?

Brainstorm and record your thoughts.

Note any likely customer objections in each demographic (price, effectiveness etc) and plan how you’ll demonstrate to your market that the cost of NOT choosing your company to carry out their carpet or sofa cleaning is GREATER than the savings offered elsewhere.

This is an important stage that will help inform all your future website and marketing copy. Don’t be afraid to address objections such as price. Write down why you believe you offer a level of service and value that other companies don’t.

Remember you’re in a niche industry

Try to be the answer to everybody’s prayers and you’ll probably fail.

Although many general cleaning companies offer carpet and upholstery cleaning, they often struggle to build the reputation and charge the prices they otherwise could if only they positioned themselves as a specialist cleaning company (carpets, flooring and soft furnishings).

In my opinion, you’re better off being a big fish in a small pond rather than the other way round. You’ll find it easier to build your reputation and get more from your marketing. (If you already run a general cleaning business, I’d advise utilising a separate brand and website for the carpet and upholstery cleaning side of your company.)

So, considering all of the above points, do you want to work with:

  • particular types of customer – high income individuals, men, women, old, young etc?
  • in a particular radius – will you stick to servicing a tight radius or travel further afield?
  • in a specific sector – commercial, residential, or both?

Who is your competition?

Who else is working in your location and servicing your potential customers?

And how will you differentiate yourself and be uniquely positioned to solve these customers’ problems in the future?

Will you be operating equipment that is more advanced and powerful than your competitors? Will you offer a more personal service? Are you clear how you will portray your brand and business differently to your competition?

If you are unable to answer these questions, you haven’t yet identified your ideal customer or you aren’t clear about what you’re actually offering.

Differentiate and align yourself with the type of customer you want to attract.

And then price your service appropriately. (I’ll leave my thoughts on the finer details of pricing for a future article, but I will say if you’re a professionally trained carpet cleaner that uses specialist machinery you should not be competing on price with general cleaning companies.)

Suffice to say, offering perennial HALF PRICE SALES, cleaning rooms for £10, 2 bedroom houses for £60 and large sofas for £25 is not going to make you wealthy or your service valued.

Step 4: Finding your customers and marketing to them effectively

This step comprises the meatiest part of this article – and by far the most important.

Although each of the following deserves it’s own lengthy article (coming soon), I hope it serves as a useful overview.

Because without any effective marketing channels, you won’t last very long in the carpet and upholstery cleaning industry.

Here are some of the common marketing strategies and platforms:

Carpet cleaning website

If you’re not planning on having your own website in 2017, then I’m afraid we can’t help you grow your business.

It is where you should be trying to drive all your customers to – from all your other marketing channels.

It needn’t be too expensive to build a website in this day and age of pre-built templates, but you should spend a good deal of time choosing wisely and making sure it has the framework to display your images and content at their best.

In my opinion, carpet cleaners who aren’t getting the majority of their new business from their website are either failing to drive enough web traffic to their pages, or their website and content simply isn’t up to scratch.

Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)

As per Wikipedia: Search engine optimization (SEO) is the process of affecting the visibility of a website or a web page in a web search engine’s unpaid results—often referred to as “natural”, “organic”, or “earned” results. In general, the earlier (or higher ranked on the search results page), and more frequently a site appears in the search results list, the more visitors it will receive from the search engine’s users; these visitors can then be converted into customers.

Having a functional and modern website is important, but it’s useless if nobody ever sees it.

Your goal as a business owner is to get your website ranked as highly as possible on page 1 of Google for all your services in each location you wish to operate.

As the saying goes: “Page 2 of Google search results is the best place to hide a dead body.”

For example, if you are a carpet and upholstery cleaner operating in London, your aim should be to increase your rankings for the keywords “carpet cleaning London”“carpet cleaning companies in London”, “upholstery cleaners in London” etc.

If you achieve a high page 1 Google ranking for multiple services in multiple densely populated locations, you’ll have plenty of leads and phone calls and your business will almost certainly be profitable.

There are numerous factors that influence SEO results and Google rankings, but a keyword optimised website containing unique location / service pages, and comprising of high quality content, is a great starting point.

AdWords

AdWords is often described as a minefield and an easy way to burn through your marketing budget. But it needn’t be so.

It works very well for established businesses as well as for start-ups whose organic rankings aren’t yet strong enough to capture many leads.

I’d suggest learning how to build your own campaigns, or hire an AdWords professional that comes highly recommended.

Don’t forget: it is not enough to simply get searchers to click on your website – you also need to convince them to call after they’ve landed on your web page.

And this is perhaps why some carpet cleaners dismiss AdWords as a failure in their location, or for their business – their website copy may not be good enough to persuade the searcher to take the next step and call to make an appointment.

Indeed, one of the sure-fire ways to immediately improve an underperforming AdWords campaign (without any technical knowledge), is to improve the writing on the landing page.

It’s also important to point out that the profitability of an AdWords campaign will be directly influenced by the prices you charge. And if you’re charging £10 per room maybe it’s better you swim mostly in the murky waters of …

Facebook

Facebook can be an effective marketing platform for many carpet cleaning companies. It allows you to share updates and special offers to people who have liked your business, and you’re able to promote your page and boost your posts to reach more people and prospective customers.

We have had some reasonable success with Facebook, and it continues to play a part in or marketing strategy – mostly as a kind of real-time window into our business.

The downside is that it will only show your posts to a small percentage of people who like your page. So, even if you’ve paid a pretty penny to acquire your “likes”, Facebook won’t actually show your future posts to many of your followers (although there are some neat little tricks that can be used to tweak the percentages of this, which we’ll cover at a later date…)

Another common complaint, is that you’ll only entice the wrong type of customer via Facebook. ie the price shopper. This is true to some extent, but often it’s due to the post or advert inherently being an interruption to the user.

Facebook users are rarely browsing the platform with the intention of finding a carpet cleaning company, and so when they see an advert or post, they’ll instinctively ask “how much?” out of curiosity and because they don’t know what else to ask.

Your mileage with Facebook may vary. We still regard it as a worthwhile tool for our own carpet cleaning business, albeit one we rarely spend money on these days.

Twitter

I think we’ve booked just a handful of jobs directly via Twitter since we started trading.

That’s not to say it doesn’t have its advantages (some customers may find you on there but choose to initiate contact via email or phone).

But I would never consider spending money on Twitter advertising.

We do continue to use Twitter, but mainly as an auto feed for posts from our Facebook page.

Google Plus & Maps

Elevating your business to the pack of 3 maps listings that reside on page 1 of the search results is a big deal.

It is important that you add your business on Google maps and encourage customer reviews (however difficult they may prove to get on this platform).

Don’t even think of writing your own reviews or getting somebody to write a couple for you under different names. It WILL catch up with you and bite you on the bum!

In addition, Google Plus remains an important platform for seo and search marketing reasons. We will cover this in detail in a future post, but for now, I’ll say it’s worth you taking the time to update and post on your page every couple of weeks or so.

YouTube & video marketing

YouTube is all the rage.

But does it merit such increasing attention for carpet and upholstery cleaners?

Mostly, yes.

Video is an excellent way of letting your customers see behind the curtains of your business and it also has some positive seo implications.

A well placed video on your website can help your seo and help improve user experience, while increasing the time a searcher spends on your website.

All good things.

Video marketing is something we’ll be utilising more of in the coming months in our own business.

Pinterest & Instagram

Although we do have pages on Pinterest and Instagram, they are not platforms we have used to any great extent.

They can work quite well for many industries, but you can’t be everywhere at the same time and I feel there’s more mileage in concentrating our efforts elsewhere at this moment in time.

Leafleting

I shudder when I remember the days I used to push two toddlers in a double buggy while delivering leaflets myself. In the early days, before our website ranked highly and we had just a few Facebook likes, it was one of the only ways I drummed up any business.

There are many factors that influence the success or failure of a leafleting campaign – some of which you cannot control. The important thing is to make sure your flyer gets noticed and isn’t browsed while walking towards the bin.

It must be different in appearance  to other leaflets that commonly fly through the letterbox. The size, thickness, colour and content will all influence the outcome. If you’ve merely thrown together a copy cat design and scribbled a list of generic features, you should expect to get a poor return.

I’ll admit that we very, very rarely distribute leaflets, flyers or postcards anymore as we are busy enough without them (except for daily neighbour nudgers / 5 arounds). But leafleting is a strategy we may use again at some point in the future.

Networking

Assuming the lions share of your customers will be residential, I believe there are better ways to spend your mornings than sipping cheap filtered coffee in a stuffy breakfast room full of corporate types.

That’s not to say there aren’t effective networking groups out there – and I have been to a few myself – but I’d rather spend that time writing some notes for a new web page or sending and answering emails.

If you enjoy networking and it suits your personality (and you think it may help you gain new commercial work), it may prove effective for you.

Door-to-door sales

This is not a strategy I’d rush back to in a hurry, but guess what? It worked very well.

The first time I knocked on a door and introduced myself I was shaking like a leaf … but needs must!

In my opinion, the best approach is to politely introduce yourself and explain what you do and ask if they’d mind if you left them a brochure with more information they can read at their leisure.

This works particularly well if you’ve been working for a neighbour and you explain as such before handing them your leaflet or contact details.

Don’t discount this sales strategy in the early days of your carpet cleaning start-up!

Referrals, up-sells & nurturing relationships

A solid referral is worth its weight in gold: the referral likely already has an idea of price, and knows they’ll get a good service.

Don’t be afraid to (sensitively) incentivise your customers to recommend anyone they feel would benefit from your service.

It also makes sense to inform your customers that you offer a genuine value ad-on such as Stain Protection. You’ve already spent the money to acquire the customer and it’s a solid up-sell that will help the customer while adding profit to the job.

Finally, make sure you keep in contact with your customers via email or post. No matter how important you think you are, many customers will forget your business name 12 months from now, and so an occasional email to remind them it’s been x years since their last clean is a sensible strategy.

You can do this via a basic spreadsheet database and your email account, or via email marketing software programs and CRM’s.

Copywriting & content marketing

Now that we’ve covered many of the marketing strategies you can use in your business, there’s something incredibly important that rarely gets mentioned.

And yet, it affects the result of every marketing and sales strategy you’ll ever use.

I’ll be clear:

You can grow your business faster than your competitors – even if they have a new truckmount and you’re running a second hand portable.

You can grow your business faster than your competitors – even if they’re better and more experienced carpet cleaners.

You can grow your business faster than your competitors – even with a tiny fraction of their budgets.

How?

By marketing more effectively.

But how do you do that if you’re all using and pumping the same marketing channels and targeting the same customers?

By improving your copywriting.

There’s a great deal of marketing tactics discussed, chewed over and spat back out daily on carpet cleaning forums and groups.

Leafleting, cold-calling, seo, Adwords, networking … they’re all given a share of the limelight.

But copywriting quality barely if ever gets a mention, despite it being a critical factor in the success of carpet and upholstery cleaning marketing.

You see, any discussion on the merits of Adwords or any other strategy is redundant without first analysing the impact of the page the searcher lands on.

If you are getting a healthy volume of clicks via google Adwords and organic SEO rankings, and you’re not converting them into calls, it’s not because Adwords doesn’t work. More likely, it’s because your web page is failing to convince the searcher that you are the answer to their problem.

Similarly, there’s plenty of discussions about the timings of leaflet deliveries and narrow targeting strategies, follow ups etc. Yet, if you post 5000 leaflets and have a poor response, is it because leafleting doesn’t work anymore? Or could it be that you’ve once again failed to offer a compelling reason for the reader to make contact with you? (I feel it is important to add that I do believe print marketing is not the force it once was, and that there are better ways of spending your marketing budget).

The persuasiveness of your writing impacts every single piece of marketing that you publish, and therefore your profits.

  • A well written leaflet will provide greater returns than one populated with lazy generic bullet points.
  • An intelligently crafted web page will pre-sell your service and pre-qualify searchers, turning many callers into buyers before you’ve even had to open your mouth.
  • Copywriting that is aimed at your target market filters out most of the customers you don’t want, and speaks directly to the emotions and needs of those you do.

You don’t necessarily need to be a very talented writer to tell the story about you and your business, but you do need to put in the effort to tell your story (or hire a good copywriter to do so.)

In my opinion, your homepage must tell much of your story, without forcing the searcher to fumble around looking for the answers on your supporting menus and service pages.

A text deficient, brand-focused homepage may look cool, snappy and hip when it belongs to a silicon valley start-up or big brand, but in this business you will lose potential customers who don’t have the time or inclination to navigate their way around a carpet cleaning website.

They just want the job booked and the work done god damnit! And they want to feel confident, assured and warm about the company they choose.

The quicker you can convince your readers, the better.

In our experience, long form (higher word count) content usually trumps shorter content in the carpet cleaning industry

Which leads us nicely onto the subject of…

Blogging

If there’s ever a section of a website that is almost always universally neglected, it is the blog.

And yet the blog page of your website is very important.

Sure, I’ll concede that many of your run-of-the-mill carpet cleaning customers won’t ever venture onto your blog page, never mind read any of your articles.

But there are profound benefits to regularly updating your blog with articles of sufficient length and detail. Think of it as the fuel that powers the engine that is your website.

While many of your competitors obsess over backlinks (yes, they’re important, just not as important for local search results as they are for national and international results), you can significantly improve your website rankings by starting to regularly publish high quality content.

Articles of substance will get read by the very discerning consumer and they’ll also improve your brand’s authority in the eyes of the modern day god that is Google.

And with some careful planning, blog posts can be an excellent way of obtaining high quality natural backlinks from relevant websites.

That’s the marketing part of this article covered. We’ll be writing further in-depth posts on each topic in the future, but for now, let’s move onto the last step.

Step 5: Growing your carpet cleaning business

 

So far, we’ve covered 4 of the steps I aimed to cover:

  1. Choosing the right equipment for you
  2. Carpet and upholstery cleaning training
  3. Defining your target market and pricing your services
  4. Finding your customers and marketing to them effectively

Now we’re ready to discuss the 5th step.

Growing your carpet and upholstery cleaning business.

While all four previous steps contribute greatly to establishing and growing your business, there’s something that’s just as important to your long-term success.

I could have chosen to write about how adding additional niche services such as stone floor cleaning (a great choice by the way!) will help you increase profitability and round out your company.

But instead, I’m aiming this step at those of you who actually want to create a real sustainable company, and not a one-man band that relies solely on you for your income.

I found out the hard way that this job takes its toll on the body as you get older!

If you’ve already ticked the boxes with steps 1 – 4, the determining factor in your success will be your attitude and work ethic.

You’ll have bad days and you’ll have lean periods.

You’ll have days when you don’t want to get out of bed.

In busy times, you might not see your children for more than a few minutes for days on end.

Make no mistake, if you want to build a business that will support your family, you will have to make sacrifices in the early years. Evenings, weekends and early starts can be the norm, but it won’t last forever.

Stop complaining, embrace the challenge, and market yourself and your business confidently.

Be a doer. 

To build the cash surplus necessary to employ your first member of staff and purchase the additional vehicle and equipment needed, will take a huge leap of faith, a strong stomach, and a large detour out of your comfort zone.

This is not to criticise those who enjoy the freedom, comfort and reliability of working alone, but if you’re looking to start a carpet cleaning business that will ultimately grow into a self-sufficient company, you’ll need to be prepared to do what others won’t.

Exciting though, isn’t it?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Melissa Edwards
Director of Carpet Cleaning Masterclass

 

Call us on

07464 936286 / 07464 936286

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