Business Overview


This businesses is needed where there is no local municipal sewer system. Customers install and perform basic maintenance on their own private septic and waste system. Then, the company is called in to pump out the waste and dispose of it properly. The service can also include an actual cleansing of the tank as well.

Who is this business right for?

This business is perfect for individuals who enjoy daily travel, don’t mind getting dirty, and are willing to work flexible hours. Business owners who start a septic tank cleaning service must also like being around and interacting with other people on job sites and customers as well. Cleaning septic tanks can be hard, dirty, and grueling work, so keep this in mind.

What happens during a typical day at a septic tank cleaning service?

The day-to-day activities of a septic tank cleaning business include meeting with clients, checking septic tanks, and pumping them. The pumping is normally done with a large truck and a hose, which is lowered into the septic system in the front or back yard. The hose then pumps the tank and hauls away the waste material. 

A septic tank cleaning company may service multiple customers during the day, maintaining an active rotating customer list. Other day-to-day tasks include doing paperwork, invoicing clients, and maintaining a log of current and past-due customers.

What is the target market?

Preferred customer types are those that live in areas not serviced by municipal water or sewer supply. Customers who are on their own well and sewer system need routine maintenance. While businesses do sometimes own property with a septic tank, most customers will be consumers living in single-family residential homes.

How does a septic tank cleaning service make money?

This business makes money by charging customers to clean and maintain their septic tanks and systems. Most tanks need to be cleaned every 1-3 years, depending on the size of the tank and the number of people using it. So, companies may provide interim complimentary advice-based services on how to clean and maintain the tank and system between pumpings.

What is the growth potential for a septic tank cleaning service?

Growth of this business can be slow or fast, depending on demand for services in your area. Competition may be limited in some areas, in which case growth may be exponential. Local laws and regulations may limit or control how septic tank companies operate. This may or may not allow you to expand into new markets and grow your business. Make sure you check local laws and regulations before making business expansion plans.

Getting Started


What are some skills and experiences that will help you build a successful septic tank cleaning service?

This job is skill-intensive. Because septic systems are dynamic and complex ecosystems, containing a host of biological organisms, the downstream effects of a mistake can be expensive.

A few of the more important skills necessary for this business include extensive operation monitoring, operation and control, critical thinking, troubleshooting skills, quality control and analysis, judgment and decision-making skills, monitoring, active listening, and complex problem solving.

Septic tank cleaners must be able to read, monitor, and adjust dials, gauges, and other indicators to make sure a machine is working as it should. They also need to be able to troubleshoot systems out in the field. Since there can be any number of problems on the job, critical thinking and problem-solving is a must.

It also helps to have a plumbing background or experience in the industry before starting your own company.

What are the costs involved in opening a septic tank cleaning service?

This is an expensive business to start. Startup costs are include a pump truck and a place to dump the waste material. Most used trucks can be bought for between $20,000 and $30,000. Other than that, you may need office space and the usual business and office supplies. Your biggest cost will be buying and maintaining a fleet of trucks.

What are the steps to start a septic tank cleaning service?

Once you're ready to start your septic tank cleaning service, follow these steps to ensure that your business is legally compliant and avoid wasting time and money as your business grows:

  1. Plan your business. A clear plan is essential for success as an entrepreneur. A few important topics to consider are your initial costs, your target market, and how long it will take you to break even.
  2. Form a legal entity. Establishing a legal business entity prevents you from being personally liable if your septic tank cleaning service is sued.
  3. Register for taxes. You will need to register for a variety of state and federal taxes before you can open for business.
  4. Open a business bank account. A dedicated checking account for your septic tank cleaning service keeps your finances organized and makes your business appear more professional to your customers.
  5. Set up business accounting. Recording your various expenses and sources of income is critical to understanding the financial performance of your business. Keeping accurate and detailed accounts also greatly simplifies your annual tax filing.
  6. Obtain necessary permits and licenses. Failure to acquire necessary permits and licenses can result in hefty fines, or even cause your business to be shut down.
  7. Get business insurance. Insurance is highly recommended for all business owners. If you hire employees, workers compensation insurance may be a legal requirement in your state.
  8. Define your brand. Your brand is what your company stands for, as well as how your business is perceived by the public. A strong brand will help your business stand out from competitors.
  9. Establish a web presence. A business website allows customers to learn more about your company and the products or services you offer. You can also use social media to attract new clients or customers.

Select your state below for an in-depth guide on completing each of these steps in your home state.

Where can I find a business mentor?

One of the greatest resources an entrepreneur can have is quality mentorship. As you start planning your business, connect with a free business resource near you to get the help you need.

Having a support network in place to turn to during tough times is a major factor of success for new business owners.

Recommended: Fizzle.co offers video courses and a supportive online community of like-minded entrepreneurs. Try one month membership for for free.

What are some insider tips for jump starting a septic tank cleaning service?

Marketing your business is important. Check out the competition and what’s working (and what’s not working) before you dive in. Learn from others’ mistakes in the business. Then, fill in the gaps not serviced by your competitors. Often, in this industry, it’s a matter of providing better service and friendlier customer service, than the competition.

Growing Your Business


How to promote & market a septic tank cleaning service

Market your business locally through the newspaper, on local T.V., and local pay-per-click advertising. Consider sending out direct mail to local residents or posting fliers in community bulletin boards.

Recommended: Get started with local advertising for your business with a $300 credit from Yelp.

How to keep customers coming back

Because this industry has long relied on price cutting and commoditization of the service, you can differentiate your company by setting a higher standard than your competition. Make sure someone friendly, helpful, and patient answers the telephone, for example. Show up to jobs on time, always honor your quotes, and provide more service than what you originally promised.

How and when to build a team

You can operate this business with one truck, but it will remain a small business. Expand as your funds allow. This business has theoretically unlimited potential as long as there are customers in your service area that need septic tank cleaning and maintenance. Start with one truck and expand to two when you can. Add additional office support staff when you have at least 3-5 trucks.

Legal Considerations


State & Local Business Licensing Requirements

Certain state permits and licenses may be needed to operate a septic tank cleaning business. Learn more about licensing requirements in your state by visiting SBA’s reference to state licenses and permits.

Most businesses are required to collect sales tax on the goods or services they provide. To learn more about how sales tax will affect your business, check out our informative guide, Sales Tax for Small Businesses.

For information about local licenses and permits:

Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Regulations

Septic tank cleaning business owners may interact with harmful chemicals such as industrial cleaners and it is important to reference to OSHA’s (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) rules and general standards for chemicals:

  • Standard 1910.1200 states that employees be adequately informed of all potential hazards when working with chemicals
  • Standard 1910.132 states that the necessary personal protection equipment be provided to the employee working with chemicals, such as safety glasses, a face mask and suitable gloves

Services Contract

Septic tank cleaning businesses should require clients to sign a services agreement before starting a new project.  This agreement should clarify client expectations and minimize risk of legal disputes by setting out payment terms and conditions, service level expectations, and intellectual property ownership. 

Recommended: Rocket Lawyer makes it easy to create a professional service agreement for your septic tank cleaning business when you sign up for their premium membership. For $39.95 per month, members receive access to hundreds of legal agreements and on call attorneys to get complimentary legal advice.

Vehicle Regulations

Registration

Businesses are required to register vehicles which will travel across state lines for commercial purposes. Check here for a list of state requirements.

Class B Driver Licensing Requirements 

In most states, licences are issued by classes, operating according to the weight of the vehicle being driven. Drivers of standard cars and trucks require a class A commercial driver’s license (CDL), while operators of heavier vehicles, including most tow trucks, require a Class B CDL to operate. More information can be found here.

Oversize Vehicle Permits

Some states, including Michigan, require a businesses to obtain an oversize/overweight vehicle permit for its trucks, sometimes also referred to as “wreckers.” More information about state weight load permitting can be found here.

Reduce Personal Liability

Structuring your business as a limited liability company (LLC) ensures your personal assets are protected in the event your business is sued.

What is an LLC?

Form an LLC in 5 easy steps

Earning Potential


How much can you charge customers?

Charges vary, but most companies charge a flat or fixed fee for emptying a septic tank.

These fees run between $75-$200, but they can be as high at $350 or $400. for larger tanks between 1,500-2,500 gallons.

What are the ongoing expenses for a septic tank cleaning service?

Ongoing expenses for this business include office overhead and expenses, truck maintenance, and local fees for waste removal and disposal. Depending on where you live, how much mileage is put on the truck during the year, and how much business you're doing, these costs can be high or low. Some companies realize maintenance costs of up to $15,000 per year, per truck.

How much profit can a septic tank cleaning service make?

Profit is highly variable in this industry, and depends on local competition and market demand. Some businesses struggle to make 5% margins, while others maintain a 20% margin.

How can you make your business more profitable?

You can make your business more profitable by minimizing overhead costs. In this industry, it’s common to lease pump trucks in the early years. However, these lease costs add up and can decrease profit margins over time.

That’s because the cost to lease may be lower than buying a truck outright in the early years, but becomes much more expensive as time goes on.

Also, try to use as much personal savings as possible and avoid expensive commercial loans.

Next Steps

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