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Sierra Leone Business: START-UP BUSINESS STARTING AND MANAGING A CLEANING SERVICE BUSINESS WITH MIMIMUM CAPITAL

There is a popular adage that says ‘cleanliness is next to godliness’. Most people desire to look smart and clean, to live in a decent and neat environment so little wonder that the cleaning service business is quite popular and lucrative especially in hot and dusty climates, where incidentally, many of our household chores, cleaning inclusive are mostly manually carried out. Most people desire cleanliness in their lives but most do not have the time nor space to carry out these activities themselves. If properly executed, cleaning services are one of the few businesses that rarely fail and it takes minimum capital to start-up. What is a cleaning service business all about? Cleaning refers removing something unwanted. These unwanted elements could be dirt or impurities, dust, debris e.t.c. The cleaning service business comprises any business operation that deals with the cleaning or clearing of unwanted elements from objects or the environment usually restoring back to its original state. It includes any of the following 1. Home cleaning services 2. Janitorial services 3. Post and pre construction cleaning services 4. Dry cleaning services 5. Upholstery and Rug cleaning services 6. Lawn mowing and gardening services 7. Fumigation and Pesticide services 8.Waste disposal services
This growing industry consists of two primary market groups: consumer and commercial. The consumer arena consists primarily of residential maid services, carpet/ window cleaners and a variety of other cleaning services required on a less-frequent basis. The commercial arena is dominated by janitorial services, which typically provide a wider range of services than maid services. They mostly target offices, companies, schools, hospitals, banks etc.   While it is recommended that you decide on a niche and concentrate on building a business that will serve your chosen market, it’s entirely realistic to expect to be able to serve multiple markets successfully. You could work as an individual cleaner or have a group of cleaners under your supervision.
Most cleaning service businesses can be operated on either a part-time or full-time basis, either from home or from an office location. This flexibility is what gives this industry a strong appeal to a wide range of people. Abdul Sesay was a staff with one of the main banks along Siaka Stevens street until he was laid off due to downsizing two years ago. While still working he had been nursing the idea of starting a business of his own. Developing a saving culture enabled him save part of his monthly salary which he used to start a cleaning service business. Despite the usual challenges faced by new start-ups Abdul’s cleaning service business Megawash Ltd has grown into a full-fledged cleaning company having 8 people in his employ. Mr Sesay says, “We offer a wide range of services to a very limited clientele. We have refined our customer base to a group that we feel we can best serve in a way that will allow us to maintain those customers permanently.” This means that though you can multiple clean, it is important to have a number you can manage so you can provide unique services that keep them coming back.
Getting started: A cleaning service usually does not require any specialized educational qualification. However a prospective cleaner may need to undergo some form of personal training and training in the use of necessary cleaning equipment and/or cleaning solutions. For any type of service business, you need a determination to make the business work, a willingness to please the customer and the dedication to do a thorough job always. Beyond actually being able to do the work, a cleaning service operator needs some basic business skills. You need to understand the administrative requirements of running a company, you should be able to manage your time efficiently, and you must be able to build relationships with your employees and your customers.
1.Capital requirements in setting up cleaning service business
Most of the cleaning service operators I spoke with used their personal savings to start their businesses and then reinvested their early profits to fund growth. The size of your business will determine your initial startup capital. It is advisable to start small with probably you and one or two other persons. To start a small scale house or office cleaning business you will need a vacuum cleaner and few other washing equipment and detergents.
The value of honesty as a cleaner cannot be overemphasized. “Clients must have total trust in the people who come to clean their homes,” says Mr Abdul.  This is important whether they’re cleaning bathrooms every week or carpets twice a year–or dusting and vacuuming an office at night. Once a cleaner has compromised his integrity, it becomes difficult for him to be reengaged by the clients. Word goes round so it may be difficult to forge new cleaning engagements.
2.Obtaining your first clients
The hardest part of starting your own cleaning service or any other service/business for that matter is obtaining the first clients. Most clients want to know how long you have been in business and want references. Getting those first clients takes time, persistence and patience. You won’t get a hundred clients overnight. The best thing to do is let clients know that, yes, you are new to the business but that you have thoroughly researched all aspects of the cleaning business and assure them that you know what you are doing and that you are quite capable of cleaning their home to their satisfaction. Be confident in your engagements with prospective clients – it assures them that you are on top of your game. It would serve you well if you have a few people you can provide as references, if possible those known by your prospective clients – it assures them that their homes or offices are in good hands.
3.Marketing
As in any business, advertisements is very crucial. Telling family, friends and neighbors by word of mouth is a very good way to start. Strategically identify a few people you could volunteer to do minimal services for at no charge. This way, they see first hand what you can do, may decide to engage you and spread the word for you. Do not be discouraged if your “no charge service” yields no fruit at first. The most important thing is that people know what you are doing. You may run local adverts using handbills and banners. You can also ask your local businesses if you can leave some cards on their counters. The social media comes in very handy for marketing and publicity. Use creative and attractive profile pictures and do not hesitate to employ the services of a good web designer at the appropriate time.  On line shopping has become very popular and a lot of working women will shop for services while at work.  Everyone who owns a business should have a website. Clients can check you up at their convenience and get the impression that you are serious about your business.
The wider your marketing and publicity base, the more customers you are likely to get. Offer existing clients a discount when they refer a friend. You may offer existing clients a discount when the friend accesses your services three times.
4.Have a good customer service relationship
Treat your customers well. They are the reason you are in business so they deserve the best. Remember one of the most important qualifications for a cleaning service is TRUST. Be dependable. Most clients value punctuality and may desire an every week or every other week schedule on the same day every week. Always keep this arrangement unless by mutual agreement there is a reschedule. If the reschedule is occasioned by you make it at the earliest possible date to keep your customer duly informed and prepared for the inconvenience. Do the makeup cleaning at the earliest possible time.
5.Growing the business
It is widely believed by industry veterans that in order to achieve business growth, you must get out of the home and into a commercial facility. Certainly, doing so will help you create a successful and professional image, but before you begin shopping for an office, maximize the period you are working from home and ensure that you do not launch out prematurely. Your office space should be large enough to have a small reception area, work space for yourself and your administrative staff, and a storage area for equipment and supplies. You may also want to have space for a laundry and possibly even a small work area where you can handle minor equipment repairs. Depending on the size of your staff, consider allowing for a recess area. You may consider making refreshments available to boost their morale.
After you have been cleaning for a while and earned your clients’ trust, you may decide to offer additional services like the ones indicated at the beginning of this write-up to your clients.
Starting and managing a successful cleaning business takes time and effort. Despite the challenges you may face at the beginning with dedication, passion and resilience it can grow to become a thriving and profitable enterprise.
John F Fowler is a business consultant, entrepreneur and youth entrepreneurship development trainer. He has produced books on various SME business start-ups . For business advice contact him on info@startabusiness.com.ng.
By John Fowler,whatsapp +234 802 325 4577, www.startabusiness.com.ng
Monday March 13, 2017

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