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December 2005
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Follow-up to...What to Charge for Cleaning Services

Yesterday I talked about what to charge for your cleaning services. I mentioned that I thought the numbers from the CM/Cleaning & Maintenance Management Magazine's annual survey seemed unrealistic. Today I read an article about a survey done by the Facility Managers Roundtable Group of FM Link, who reported the cost of custodial services in their facilities and also the custodial productivity.

The numbers in this survey were much more realistic. According to facility managers, custodial costs range from .08 cents to .16 cents per square foot. Only a handful of respondents reported above or below this range.

In addition, they also reported that the median productivity rate is 26,318 square feet per worker per day. When you divide that by 8 hours worked, the average is 3290 square feet per hour. They also mentioned that you need to look at your frequencies when determining your hourly rate.  For example, how many times per week do you dust?  Most respondents to this survey dusted once per week. If you are required to dust more frequently than this then your productivity rate will go down. It also means you should probably be charging more per square foot.

What to Charge for Cleaning Services

One of the toughest things to decide when starting a cleaning business is what to charge for your services. In most cases, you'll charge either by the square foot or by the hour. Bidding by the job is usually not a good idea because at some point you'll probably get into a situation that will cause you to lose money.

Bidding by the square foot -- how do you know what the going rates are in your area?  Well there are no hard and fast rules here. If you read our article, Benchmarking for Cleaning Businesses, we give an idea of some general prices, but every city in the U.S. is different when it comes to pricing for cleaning services.

Continue reading "What to Charge for Cleaning Services" »

Back Pack Vacuums... cont.

The other day I talked about a discussion we had on our online discussion forum about increasing productivity with back pack vacuums.  We continued that discussion on our monthly telephone discussion forum and here's what our members shared:

One member just purchased his first back pack vacuum and is amazed -- "I don't know how I got along without it." He went to his local janitorial distributor and found a particular vacuum that was being discontinued so he was able to talk them down to $250. That's a really good deal for a new back pack because most run from $350 - $600.

He said that his wife used it at a daycare that they take care of and was able to save about 15 minutes in vacuuming time at that location -- plus it does a better job. They've also discovered that they no longer have to dust mop and sweep. Back pack vacuums come with different attachments so you can move from carpets to hard floors with ease. With the extensions, you can also reach vents at the same time.

Another member shared that he doesn't use back packs but has been thinking about it. He said he was told that once you start using them, you never want to go back. He's right!  After our discussion I think he'll be investing in his first one too.

Increase Productivity with Back Pack Vacuums

One of the discussions we've had in our online discussion forum at was about vacuuming with back pack vacuums. We asked our members if they used back packs in their cleaning business and what they liked about them. One member shared that he had just purchased his first and was very happy with how much time he was able to save by using a back pack over a regular upright vacuum cleaner. Here are some of the comments we received:

"For vacuuming, I usually use backpack because it's faster than up right vacuums and I can get into hard to reach areas. I believe it's good to use upright vacuum once and while because they have a beater bar - this is good in in traffic lanes to get up more of the dirt that it is deeper in the fibers."

"We just purchased our first backpack vacuum and can't believe we ever lived without it! What a difference in the maneuverability... floors to carpets to ceiling vents to window sills.... it was awesome!!"

We then asked:
"Would you say that a backpack is twice as fast vacuuming an office space? Are you able to move from carpet to hard floors with out making any changes to your vacuum?"

"Yes, I would say the backpack is twice as fast vacuuming an office and I'm able to clean any hard floors without making any changes to the vacuum. You can get edging on carpet and hard floor too. I can also do the high dusting with the backpack. The backpack saves you time and money, I personally to would not clean without one."

Build relationships with your Janitorial Distributor

One of our members at asked about taking his business to the next level. He seems to be a bit stuck right now and is trying to get over the hump. I remember well being in that same place. With our first cleaning business, we maintained a slow, steady growth. But then we seemed to hit a wall and didn't really grow much for about three years. Part of the reason was that we were actually very busy with the clients we already had and weren't doing much to market the business. But then the time came to make a move to get over that hump.

One of the things we did was talk to our janitorial supplies distributor. Now we had a long-term relationship with our distributor, knew all the sales people and manager very well. They seemed to know a lot about who was looking for new contractors and when some of the larger accounts were going out for bid. We were finally able to get in on some larger bids with their help. We got our first break when we bid on 5 buildings of 30-50,000 sq. ft. each and won the bid. It was all uphill from there. The main reason we won the bid was because the property manager was tired of the building service contractors he'd been dealing with over the years - most were pretty large cleaning companies who just didn't provide high-quality, consistent service. He met with me a couple of times and made several phone calls to our existing customers and received rave reviews about our service.

As far as getting cleaning accounts through your janitorial distributor, I would definitely explore this option. It may or may not work for you though - I think it all depends on your distributor. Ours was great, but we've also seen distributors who seem to know nothing about what's going on and aren't very helpful to cleaning contractors. Of course a couple years ago we moved to a small community where there was no janitorial distributor, so we couldn't try that option out here. Instead we started our own janitorial distributor business and now we're the experts in the area!

40th Cleaning Account

A couple weeks ago we received a phone call from an attorney's office. They happen to be located next to a bank that we service. They were impressed with the cleanliness at the bank and asked who did their cleaning. Isn't that a great way to  get an account?  Word of mouth is the best advertising - and inexpensive too!

I started counting up all our cleaning accounts and realized that this is our 40th account!  Not too bad considering we started this business only 2 1/2 years ago. With our first cleaning business, the growth was much slower, which we did on purpose, so it took several years to get to the level we're at right now with our second cleaning business. 

I hope this offers encouragement  to those of you who are just getting started.  I started my first cleaning business with a mop bucket, vacuum cleaner and a lot of ambition. It takes a lot of hard work, years of commitment, and and the desire to be successful -- but it can be done.

Customer compliment

In the cleaning business it's oftentimes rare to receive compliments on your services. Most people notice when things don't get cleaned, but mostly, people just take it for granted when the office looks good so it never occurs to them to compliment the cleaning service for a job well done.

When we owned our cleaning company in Boise, we took over a very large account with five buildings of about 40,000 square feet each. After about a year of service, one of the tenants reported to the property manager that our cleaning is the best they’ve ever seen in 20 years of leasing offices! They really appreciated being able to come into a clean office every morning –- they said it helps them be more productive in their work and it's important to them that office is clean for their clients.

Not only were we happy as owners to receive this rare compliment, but we were very happy to acknowledge the two employees responsible for cleaning this particular office in our monthly employee newsletter. Employees don't receive enough pats on the back so be sure to share these successes and acknowledge them publicly.

Won the bid on a new cleaning account

We put in a bid last month on an office cleaning account and they finally made a decision this week - we got the account. Sometimes it takes people a while to make a decision on a cleaning contract -- just when you've started to forget about it, they call you back. It's not a big account, but we've done some business with them in the past and they asked us to bid on it.

Something we do is ask the client where our bid was positioned in comparison to the other bidders. Most people are happy to share this information and it's helpful to know if you're high, low or somewhere in the middle.  If you consistently find that you're low bidder and aren't getting the account, then it's time to raise your price. If you consistently find that you're high bidder and aren't getting the account, then it's time to see if your prices are set too high. A good tool to use is the Bidding Calculators that we have available for members of

Now if you're doing a good job at bidding your accounts, you'll usually find that you're either in the middle or on the high end of the bidding. If you're on the high end and are winning accounts, then that means you've done a good job of showing the value your company provides to your customers. Now in order to keep the account you need to make sure that you're being true to your word and actually demonstrating the value you provide.

The client who just offered us the account shared that they took three bids and we were right in the middle. A good place to be!

Contract for floor care program

On of our members at shared with us that they recently started a floor care program for a few locations in a small foodservice chain in their area. One of the owner/operators referred the contractor to the office of the corporate "decision-maker" because she was so impressed with the quality of work they had done! He agreed to meet with them to set up a "regional" program providing the same service to "all" of their locations - they have 95 locations, 26 of which they could service in their area.

The meeting went very well! Our member shared that the decision-maker was very impressed with the presentation packet (which he modeled after the template we have at  With the presentation packet in hand, the decision-maker told our member that he was on his way to meet with the president of the company and would be discussing it with him.

Fast forward a couple weeks...I contacted our member to see if they got the floor account and they did! Here's what he said: "We have been assigned as the only Approved/Recomended Contractor for 26 Locations. The Director of maintenance was so impressed with our presentation and knowledge he wanted us to strip and wax the company meeting and dining area at their home office approx 2500 square feet. When we were completed his exact words were "I am so excited". We then were introduced to the President of the company who said" I look forward to doing business with you". I feel that if I had not taken the time to put together a professional looking bid packet we would still be waiting to hear from them."

Very exciting!! And it's true what he said about the professional looking bid packet.  This is something that can really set you apart from the competition. I can't tell you how many times potential clients raved about the presentation of our bid packet. Most aren't expecting to receive so much - they're used to seeing a couple pages on loose leaf paper. Ours is packaged together in a nice binder and includes the following: cover page, table of contents, info about our company and how we help our customers, bid letter, specifications list, contract page, reference list.

Won the cleaning bid on Dr's office

I recently spent some time on the phone with one of our members at He was about to have his first potential client meeting and was pretty nervous and asked for some advice on how to handle it.

We talked about the meeting and I suggested he take along a Bid Estimation Worksheet in order to document everything he'd need to put a bid together. I also suggested he download Cleaning Bid Packet to use for the bid.

When I asked him if he was awarded the account he replied, "I did, they called me last week and yesterday they give me the contract and the key. Thank you so much for helping me out. I really appreciate all the advise, sugestions, and tips you give me. Now I will take some time with this new account, then I will start looking for more."

Congratulations!  That's excellent for the first presentation!