How to start a cleaning business
- Jeanine Hoekstra
- How to
- 19 Jul 2021
- Edited 28 Aug 2023
- 7 min
Do you have plans to start your own cleaning business? There is always work available in the cleaning industry, but bear in mind that competition is fierce. The advantage of starting a cleaning business is that you can start out small and will not need to make substantial investments at first. Read how to go about starting a cleaning business.
Regardless of the type of business you are starting, you will always need to set up your accounts, take out insurance, pay taxes, and register your business with the Netherlands Chamber of Commerce KVK. The topics below are specifically intended for new business owners in the cleaning industry:
- Business owner or not?
- Health and safety risks
- Finding your first customers
- General information for new business owners
More than 80% of cleaners in the Netherlands work part-time. You can run a cleaning business on a part-time basis, combining it with a job or family life. Whether KVK and the Dutch Tax Administration classify you as a business owner depends on a variety of factors.
Cleaning as a business owner
You are a business owner and must register with KVK if the following three statements apply to you:
- You supply goods or provide services, in your case cleaning services;
- You charge commercial rates for these services, and
- You do not only clean for family and friends, but also have a customer base.
The Dutch tax authorities use different criteria in determining whether you qualify as a business owner for the purpose of value-added tax (btw) and income tax. The entrepreneur check (in Dutch) helps you check whether the Dutch Tax Administration also classify you as a business owner.
Home-based services scheme
If you clean for private individuals and work for the same employer a maximum of three days a week, you do not qualify as a business owner. In this case, you will be subject to the Regeling dienstverlening aan huis (Home-based services scheme) (in Dutch). You are entitled to have more than one employer. You must declare your income in your income tax return, under ‘inkomsten uit overig werk’ (income from other employment).
The number of cleaning businesses has grown significantly over the past five years. In 2016, 16,052 cleaning companies were registered with KVK, compared to 21,482 on 1 January 2021. The majority of businesses operating in this industry are small businesses, while 70% of businesses are sole proprietorships. In other words, the competition out there is fierce.
In order to set yourself apart from your competitors, you can choose a specialisation, such as floor maintenance, glass and window cleaning, or cleaning newly completed properties. Check out what competitors in your area are offering and make a competition analysis. This will help you decide how you can achieve a competitive advantage. Learn more about the market that appeals to you. This way, you can make a choice that is right for you, and you will be secure in the knowledge that your supply meets your target audience’s demand.
It is essential for me to use my own supplies
Naomi Engelhardt also did some market research before launching her business, Luxury Cleaning Services. “I had a hunch there was a lot of demand for private cleaning services out there, as I noticed how many people on classified advertising website Marktplaats were looking for cleaners.” She has witnessed the private market, in particular, grow rapidly in recent years: “Dual-income families are becoming more common, which means there is less time for household tasks, especially if there are children.” Engelhardt says her clients value her resourcefulness and flexibility (she does not have a regular day off during the week). “It means I can keep in regular touch with my clients, even now that I do not actually do all the jobs myself. I try to be present at all the sites to the extent possible, including at office buildings and glass-and-window-cleaning jobs. It gives me the opportunity to ask them how they are doing and ask for feedback.
You are not required to request a permit to start a cleaning business, nor are qualifications required for basic cleaning work. If you plan to do specialised cleaning work, including in healthcare, removing graffiti, or exterior building maintenance, it is recommended that you take a training course first. You will then be able to demonstrate that you know exactly how to handle these types of jobs.
There are special quality marks for cleaning companies, which allow you to show that your business provides high-quality services. These quality marks are issued by industry associations Schoonmaken is een Vak! (SieV!) and employer organisation Schoonmaak- en Bedrijfsdiensten (OSB).
There are courses and training programmes that teach you what starting your own cleaning business involves. While this is not required, it can help you if you are not certain where to start.
Operating a cleaning business, you may encounter any number of health and safety risks. For example, many detergents contain irritants or toxics, and on top of that the work can be physically strenuous. If you are starting a window cleaning business, you will be required to regularly work at heights, which also comes with its share of risk. The website elkedagweer.nl contains information about the risks involved in working in the cleaning industry. Read what you can do to mitigate these risks. You can also protect yourself by taking out insurance.
While some insurance policies are compulsory, others are simply practical and convenient. Which ones do you need? The KVK Insurance Check (in Dutch) helps you choose your insurance products.
Once you have identified your target audience, the next step is to find the best way(s) to reach this audience. For example, you can create a website or Facebook page for your cleaning business, making it clear what kind of services you provide and how they can contact you.
Try to generate as much publicity as possible. Tell everyone you know that you have started your own cleaning business. Ask local media outlets to post an article about your new business. You may even be able to schedule an interview. Advertising on online platforms such as Marktplaats is another accessible option.
Satisfied customers are the best advertising for your business, so be sure to leverage this: ask your customers to write a review on Google Maps or Facebook.
Dual-income families are becoming more common, which means there is less time for household tasks.
Engelhardt discovered her target audience by distributing flyers: “When I had just started my business, I made my own flyers and distributed them around the neighbourhood. I started getting the first phone calls after just one week. I had distributed my flyers in different neighbourhoods, and I noticed I was getting more responses from some areas than others.”
Engelhardt: “When you are just starting out, you might still be a little cagey. You go to see a client and are not sure what to expect. Sometimes a customer cancels a job, and that’s something that would get me down sometimes. I would wonder to myself what I could have done differently or whether my rates were too high. I no longer feel that way: I know what my purpose is for coming and that cancellations are not intended personally. It is something you must just learn to accept.
As the owner of a cleaning business, you are required to charge VAT. This means you must charge VAT to your clients and file an income tax return .
Residential cleaning services are subject to the lower VAT rate of 9%. Cleaning the exterior of homes and specialist cleaning services, along with window and glass cleaning services, are subject to the high rate of 21%. One exception are buildings with occupancy rates of at least 50%: in this case, you can charge the low VAT rate for indoor window and glass cleaning.
I started getting the first phone calls within the first week of distributing my flyers.
If your revenue exclusive of VAT is less than €20,000, you may qualify for the Small Businesses Scheme . This will exempt you from VAT and you will not be required to charge VAT to your clients, nor will you be able to reclaim VAT or file any VAT returns. Note: if you are planning to invest a large amount of money in the coming years, including in a company car, the Small Businesses Scheme is not for you.
You have to file an annual tax return on your income: the profits from your business.
If you are unable to handle the work on your own, explore opportunities to hire . You can also do this if you run a sole proprietorship. Engelhardt soon got more jobs than she was able to do herself. “I was up to my eyeballs and had no idea if I would be able to get everything done. Fortunately, my husband was willing to join my business as a partner. We currently have three permanent employees, and during peak times we also work with a number of independent contractors. This has enabled us to handle all requests as soon as possible.” If you hire for the first time, you are required to report this to the Dutch Tax Administration and KVK, as this means you will be required to pay payroll tax. You are also required to comply with the terms of the RAS Collective (Collectieve arbeidsovereenkomst, in Dutch) for the cleaning and window cleaning business. This sets out the rights and obligations of employers and employees in the cleaning industry.
In addition to the above, new business owners might also have to deal with the following:
- writing a business plan
- keeping financial records
- securing funding
- choosing a business name
- creating a marketing plan
Tip: if there was a word on this page that you did not quite understand, check out this glossary for a simple explanation of difficult words such as ‘VAT’, ‘competitors’, ‘employer’, and ‘business plan’.
Engelhardt shares a personal tip: “It is essential for me to use my own supplies. Sometimes a client will forget to buy a particular item, which means you cannot do your job. This is why I soon decided to get a company car. If you open the hood of my car, all you will see is buckets, dust rags, and detergents. A car allows you to quickly get from one place to another. As a cleaner, you are always on the move, and you cannot do everything by bike. After about two years we also bought a van, including a water tank, which we use to clean windows and the exterior of buildings, so that we are completely self-reliant in these areas as well.”