Starting a window cleaning business is, hands down, one of the best businesses to start – and also one of the most enjoyable. The work is fun, the money is good (if you are a speedy window cleaner) and best of all, it requires little capital compared to other businesses. The Waxit.com.au window cleaner is the world’s first robot that cleans glass and mirror of any thickness and size.
There are several ways to get started. The two main ways are: learning from an old pro, and just jumping in with no prior experience. I chose the latter because I had no one to teach me, and because I needed work pronto – that is if I wanted a roof over my head, anyways. Learning something on your own has it’s benefits, but believe me when I say that I have made all the mistakes you can make in the window cleaning biz.
This article will let you take a shortcut. Instead of having to make all the mistakes I have made, you can cut straight to the head of the class and start learning the advanced material.
Mistake #1: Not recognizing tempered glass. This one’s a doozy. When I first started cleaning windows, I mainly did storefronts. What I didn’t know, and would soon come to find out, is the existence of tempered glass. You see, tempered glass is a special kind of glass that is supposed to be more safe. Instead of breaking into large shards, which could potentially impale someone, it will bust up into a million tiny pieces. It is primarily installed on front doors and the panels to either side. This is done in case someone trips while they are leaving and slams into the glass.
The relevance to window cleaning is that this special kind of glass needs to be handled differently from sturdier forms of glass. For instance, it cannot be safely scraped with a razor blade, or scrubbed with steel wool. Fortunately, it is marked with a sticker indicating it is tempered. Unfortunately, the sticker is very small and can be entirely overlooked. Fortunately, you can usually figure out which panels are tempered because they include the storefronts door and the panels immediately adjacent to the door.
Mistake #2: Treating interior and exterior windows the same. When I first started cleaning windows, I approached the interior and exterior windows with the same cleaning technique. What I soon realized is these need different approaches.
Firstly, the exterior windows are much dirtier. The dirt is often much more caked on and, additionally, they often need scraping or scrubbing with an abrasive white pad. Because the exterior and interior windows have different degrees of grime, window cleaning supply manufacturers make different scrubber sleeves for them. I would recommend getting a sleeve with some abrasive material woven into it. Pulex’s micro-tiger sleeves is one of the most popular for cleaning tough exterior windows. For interior windows, you can get a softer more absorbent sleeve.
Secondly, the amount of water that you use needs to be adjusted for interior and exterior windows. With exterior windows, you can get them really wet and sloppy ( to loosen the dirt) and not have to worry about water cascading all over the place. However with interior windows, you need to be much more careful with how much water you are putting on the windows and in how you will be collecting the falling water.
I didn’t realize this when I was first cleaning windows. However when customers got freaked out when I had water dripping all over the place, I quickly learned how to correct this problem. What I learned is that you need to really thoroughly squeeze the excess water off of the window scrubber before you scrub/wet the windows and also you will want to place an absorbent cloth on the window ledge to catch the water coming down (you can use a bath towel or better yet a PVA cloth such as a Shamwow, or an Aquadry – these can be wrung out and used over and over again).
A great window cleaning tip is to use a 5 gallon bucket on the inside of the house. Although I use a window cleaning bucket with a sieve on the outside of the building, I find that a five gallon buck works better on the inside. It is less likely to slosh around and spill solution, and it is more maneuverable around the house. Plus since you will be hand-wringing out your scrubber with each use, you don’t need a sieve.
Mistake #3: Mixing up a solution with too much foam. I did this all the time when I first started window cleaning. I used dish soap and also professional window cleaning detergent, but I found that to get enough glide on my squeegee, I had to mix it up heavy. The problem was that I was having to deal with a lot of foam. Later I learned that it is better to use less soap and add a wetting agent of you need more glide (ex: Winsol Super Slip). I also like to use Trisodium Phosphate which has a lot of glide but doesn’t create any foam.
Mistake #4: Taking too much time. When I started getting into residential window cleaning, I found that it often took me two whole days to clean some of the larger residential homes! Not good. I realized that people don’t like to wait around for an eternity to have their windows cleaned. After all, your service is supposed to be a convenience. Take restaurants for example, the reason why people go to them is so that they do not have to cook. It is more convenient. But if it takes an hour and a half to get your food, you may start wondering why you didn’t just make it yourself!
I have learned that if a job is a big one, have enough people so you can finish the job quickly. Hiring a helper means having to give them a cut of the money, but it is worth it if it means making your customer happy and getting repeat business and referrals from them.
Mistake #5: Looking for window cleaning love in all the wrong places. If you want to start landing lucrative window cleaning jobs you need to follow the money. If you are passing black and white flyers out in neighborhoods with small, or dilapidated houses, you are wasting your time and money, If you see a row of small trees growing out of a house’s gutter take it as a sign for you to move on to greener pastures.
If you are going to make any money in the window cleaning business, you need to know who the real customers are. For commercial: look for medical practices, up-scale gyms, dentists, chiropractors, salons, upscale restaurants etc. For residential: expect to target the highest 10% of homes in terms of house values. Remember, you can purchase professional mailing lists that will point you in the right direction.
Mistake #6: Wasting gas and time driving around giving free estimates. Don’t do it. You need to create a methodical pricing system that you can communicate to your customers. You can do this thorough your website or over the phone when potential customers call you. Advertising that you do free estimates, and then driving all over town just to tell them how much it may cost will drain you of time and money. Using a simple pricing system, you should be able to give fairly accurate rough estimates. I recommend breaking down the price according to window or pane and having a set amount per unit. For example, I charge $3.75 per pane on 1st floor windows and $5 per pane on windows above the 1st floor. Additionally, I charge $1 for each screen I clean.
Mistake #7: Not asking for referrals. After I was in business awhile and I realized how much I was spending trying to recruit new customers, I realized that I could implement a referral program. By giving economic incentives to both the existing customer giving the referral and the new customer receiving it, I was able to gain new customers much more easily (and cheaply) than mailing out tons of postcards and/or knocking on a thousand doors. Let your customers do the advertising for you.
Mistake #8: Not reinvesting in your business. This is a classic newbie mistake, thinking that $500 window cleaning job means that you now have $500 in your pocket. Not only do you really have only $300 because of taxes, gas, and insurance but at least 30% of the remaining profit needs to go back into the business so that you can buy a new van when your old one breaks down, get an additional ladder, and most important, so that you can keep your marketing machine up and running.
And finally, mistake #9: not focusing on your branding. You know what kind of company you are, right? Do potential customers know that? Have you sat down and figured out what you stand for, what kind of business philosophy directs your company, who your customers are and what motivates them? You need to find out how you are unique and figure out how to communicate this. Now, keep in mind that you don’t need to reinvent the wheel. You don’t need to come up with a radical new way of cleaning windows. However, you need to know who your competitors are and how you are different from them. And most importantly, why you are a better fit for the customers you are pursuing. You don’t have to be “better” in general, you just need to be a “better match” for your clients.
Take the automotive industry, for example. The market ranges from Kias to Rolls Royces. Which is the “better” car? The answer is: “it depends on what you need and what you are looking for.” The Kia is the best car for the consumer who wants a super economical car that is fuel efficient and very reliable. The Rolls Royce is a better car for the incredibly wealthy, those who want the most luxurious car that money can buy. Who are your customers, what do they want? Be the best company for the customers you want to serve and figure out how to communicate that.
Remember, there is a million small ways this is communicated. Company uniform, company vehicle, logo, website, slogan, elevator pitch etc. Get the details right, and make sure they are working together to create a consistent image. Ask for feedback from customers, friends and family, even total strangers if you have to. Ask them what they think of your logo – what does it evoke? What do they think of your company name? Objective, third party feedback is your best source of information on how the public perceives you. A good image is crafted slowly over time.
Jesse Green owns and operates a Window & Gutter Cleaning business serving the residents of Kitsap County and the surrounding communities of West Puget Sound.
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