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A window washing business cleans residential, commercial, and institutional windows on a retained or per-assignment basis. As the owner of a window washing business, you’ll be responsible for recruiting clients and washing the windows—on a one-time or regularly contracted basis—of residences, apartment complexes, storefronts, colleges and universities, funeral homes, car dealerships, and other properties—potentially just about any structure that contains windows. You can start your business alone or buy into a franchise operation for its experience and support. Some window washing businesses specialize in high rise window cleaning, but this involves a much larger capital outlay for equipment, training, marketing, and insurance.
Who is this business right for?
This is a service business, so you should have an instinct for salesmanship and a commitment to superior customer service. You should also be good at managing people, since you might have at least a few employees.
What happens during a typical day at a window washing business?
Your typical day might include the following activities.
- Cold-calling or otherwise attracting new business and marketing your services
- Scheduling appointments for cost-quoting or washing windows, scheduling employees, and handling on-the-job problems or challenges
- Buying supplies, renting equipment, invoicing clients, and otherwise conducting day-to-day operations
What is the target market?
Anyone within your area of operations who owns or manages real estate with windows is a potential client, but those who’d like to maintain the appearance of their properties are your primary customers. This can include homeowners as well as commercial and institutional property owners. The demographic makeup of your geographic location will help define your primary client base.
How does a window washing business make money?
You’ll either price your window washing and associated services on a per-pane, per hour, or per-employee-hour basis. You might also offer monthly contracts on a flat fee basis.
What is the growth potential for a window washing business?
Your success will only be limited by the competition in your area, the number of potential clients out there, and your sales and marketing efforts and proficiency.
What are some skills and experiences that will help you build a successful window washing business?
Window washing is considered to be a commodity service, meaning that a window should look just as clean regardless of which commercial service took on the job. Your differentiation will be your sales ability, competitive pricing and attentiveness. You’ll make sure that your cleaning crews arrive as scheduled and do the job properly the first time. You should check with every client to gauge their satisfaction with the job, since their continued business and word-of-mouth is critically helpful in your success.
What are the costs involved in opening a window washing business?
Window washing, even at a modest entry level, is not inexpensive. You have to pay for at least one transport vehicle, basic equipment, cleaning supplies and liability insurance for yourself even if you’re your sole employee at first and you’re only taking on jobs on one- or two-story structures. Here’s how your costs break down:
Transport vehicle with signage—$7,000 per vehicle-plus. This would be the cost of a used van in reasonable condition and wrap-around signage. This type of vehicle is important not only to get one or more workers to the job, but also for transporting heavy and cumbersome equipment and supplies.
Gasoline and maintenance—At least $5,000 per year. This actual expense will depend on how many vehicles you own or operate, the age and condition of the vehicles, your area of operation, number of clients, current price of fuel, and other factors. As you can imagine, this figure could be much larger in your case.
Liability insurance and bonding—$350 to $1,000 per employee. This is critical in your line of work since a worker could fall off a ladder and be slightly injured even when working on a single-story structure. Visit this insurer’s website to learn more.
Tools and gear—More than $750. This would be the cost of a modest extension ladder, buckets, squeegees, water hoses and water-fed poles for low rise work. As you might imagine, your expenses escalate the higher your assignments take you or your workers. In that case, add harnesses and hard hats to the basic inventory. Cranes and scaffolding can be rented as needed. Visit this window washing products website for an idea of the gear you might need now or in the future, and the costs involved.
Cleaning supplies—$200 (est.) You can start with only enough cleaning supplies to handle jobs already contracted. Keeping your inventory low prevents cash flow and storage hassles.
Office/storage space—Zero to $12,00 per year or more. If operating on a budget, you could conduct your business from home and keep all of your equipment and cleaning supplies in your work van. As your business picks up you might feel the need to rent adequate space for workers to meet and your gear to be stored.
Sales and marketing—$2,500 or more. This is to cover logo development, signage, web development, initial advertising, and related expenses.
Employee costs—Figure at least $25,000 per employee per year, even if that employee is you. If you’re starting alone and have saved enough to support yourself before you start generating adequate income, this figure might be lower. On the other hand, it could be higher depending on minimum wage or cost of living in your area.
Business licenses and related licensing—$300 or more, depending on location.
Association membership—Annual dues of $250 or more. Membership in the International Window Cleaning Association will earn you discounts on products you’ll need, training and support, and an opportunity to earn certification in the various areas of specialization in window cleaning. This could be a critical selling point to customers concerned about safety issues.
What are the steps to start a window washing business?
Once you're ready to start your window washing business, follow these steps to ensure that your business is legally compliant and avoid wasting time and money as your business grows:
- 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.
- Form a legal entity. Establishing a legal business entity prevents you from being personally liable if your window washing business is sued.
- Register for taxes. You will need to register for a variety of state and federal taxes before you can open for business.
- Open a business bank account. A dedicated checking account for your window washing business keeps your finances organized and makes your business appear more professional to your customers.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 window washing business?
Start low to the ground. Issues of safety and equipment costs rise with the heights to which you send your people. If you concentrate first on simple one-story or two-story jobs, it will give you a platform for training workers, figuring out pricing and work efficiencies, and building a reputation. This means first going to residences, storefronts, car dealerships, and other structures fairly low to the ground before scaling the heights when you gain more confidence and expertise.
How to promote & market a window washing business
To gain residential business, you might rent a booth at home and garden shows or simply distribute fliers in car windshields at area malls or churches or in restaurants and other places where the locals hang out. Your vans with signage and well-displayed contact information can also draw favorable attention.
To attract commercial clients, join your local chamber of commerce and consider cold-calling businesses for work. And for all prospects, commercial, institutional, or residential, make sure you have a professional-looking website.
Recommended: Get started with local advertising for your business with a $300 credit from Yelp.
How to keep customers coming back
Encourage your existing customers to give your contact information to others. You might grant a discount on the next service call for any customers who give you referrals. The typical homeowner might hire your services twice a year, but many of your commercial clients might need you every month, so keep your customers satisfied and get them on service contracts whenever possible.
How and when to build a team
While you might start out on your own, you’ll soon see the need for bringing on employees. You might decide that two-person vans and work teams are needed for ultimate job efficiency and safety. If that’s the case, build your employee base with fleet size. But don’t build a workforce too quickly if you can avoid it, because you’ll reduce the need to layoff workers during slow times. Also remember that in many locations window cleaning is more or less seasonal work.
State & Local Business Licensing Requirements
Certain state permits and licenses may be needed to operate a window 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.
In business where services are provided on an extended basis, a services contract is often put in place outlining terms and conditions of service.
Window 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, and service level expectations. An example of a service contract can be found here.
Labor safety requirements
It is important to comply with all Occupational Safety and Health Administration requirements.
Relevant requirements include:
- Employee injury report
- Safety signage
Certificate of Occupancy
Businesses operating out of a physical location typically require a Certificate of Occupancy (CO). A CO confirms that all building codes, zoning laws and government regulations have been met.
- If you plan to lease a location:
- It is generally the landlord’s responsibility to obtain a CO.
- Before leasing, confirm that your landlord has or can obtain a valid CO that is applicable to a window cleaning business.
- After a major renovation, a new CO often needs to be issued. If your place of business will be renovated before opening, it is recommended to include language in your lease agreement stating that lease payments will not commence until a valid CO is issued.
- If you plan to purchase or build a location:
- You will be responsible for obtaining a valid CO from a local government authority.
- Review all building codes and zoning requirements for your business’ location to ensure your window cleaning business will be in compliance and able to obtain a CO.
How much can you charge customers?
Some businesses charge on a per-window-pane basis of about $4 or so, while others think about the time it will take to perform the job and try to make $50-$80 per employee per hour. So if you’re charging out your services on a $60 person/hour basis and you send two workers for a job you expect to take two hours, you’d charge $240 for the job. Here’s an informative article on pricing your services.
What are the ongoing expenses for a window washing business?
Your largest ongoing expenses will be the cleaning supplies you use, fleet fuel, maintenance costs, and employees. Therefore, these costs will rise and fall depending on your current volume of business.
How much profit can a window washing business make?
The variables include local competition, the types of businesses and building structures in your area of operation, your sales abilities, and many others. Here’s one web author in the field who estimates that it’s possible to earn $60,000 per year operating a window cleaning business.
How can you make your business more profitable?
There are many associated business activities you could explore to boost sales and net profits. This includes pressure washing of homes and buildings, window tinting and other building janitorial/cleaning services.