Is a cleaning business profitable? How to stand out from the crowd in the facilities management sector

My name is Frederick Wayne Gruba, and I have had a successful career spanning 50 years within the Hospitality, Cleaning and Facilities industries. I thought that I would put together some essential ideas and aspects that have worked for me over the year. My experiences cover employed capacities and Managing Director of a cleaning and associated services business over the past 15 years. I hope that these interpretations will provide interest and possible guidance in running a profitable cleaning business. Enjoy the read and feel free to share your thoughts in the comment section below


1. Take Good Care of Your Employees

At the beginning of my career, I’d always held a view that my teams were vital to any business success. I set about ensuring I developed ways to achieve this mindset

Without continued support, motivation, and dedication of my team, many service and operational anomalies could surface across the whole spectrum of service delivery activities and quality management

Harnessing their work knowledge and experience provided feedback, ideas, and alternative ways of working seemed to be the right way of working together. Proving this right, it did work well for me over the years 

From my perspective, I believe that this approach is also welcomed by the team. It’s possibly more appreciated by the teams than even additional wages or employee benefits

Challenges when transferring potential TUPE individuals into existing teams proved problematic but not impossible; early on being clear that good communication was vital 

To make this process easier to manage I set about establishing a framework based on ACAS best practice. This included:

  • Delivering an open event that validated IDs
  • Checking data compared to the incumbent’s information
  • Asking 4 simple questions of each person

4 Simple Questions :

  1. What do you enjoy about the job?
  2. What plans do you have for the future?
  3. How is your relationship [with the prime client & your employer?]
  4. f I were to make you the manager tomorrow” what changes would you make?

Now, this is how we learn of the existing issues surrounding the service delivery failures. This method also highlights the incumbents service style together with very valuable “quick fixes.” 

Surprisingly, again, never were their requests for more wages or better condition etc. Suggestions were usually operation based:

  • Assistance in equipment repair
  • Providing materials for services
  • Citing lack of supervision
  • Training and general support from external management
  • Payroll errors (common across all sectors of TUPE arrangements)

Fixing these items quickly, usually restored significant uplifts in the teams’ morale. This, in turn, resulted in improved motivation and excellent service delivery for the clients. They were traditionally surprised with the rapid transformation of the team

2. Embrace the Environment

My management style has always been to strive to maintain excellent process efficiency and consistent service delivery. It relied on embracing the environment and keeping abreast of new technology and work methodologies; such as including Corporate Social Responsibility within all of the aspects of managing the business successfully

Businesses nowadays are more exposed to the importance of environmental management, inclusion and community engagement. Incorporating Corporate Social Responsibility is therefore a very common practice.

It ensures we are doing our part in supporting our world , whilst enjoying the benefit of extending our business credentials. Following this methodology attracts like-minded individuals and service partners. It also contributes a significant added value and ethos within the business. That in turn extends positively to external communities we share our world with

3. Develop Systems

Widely acknowledged is the need for robust systems developed for the professional management of operations. Developing systems helps to measure the organisations’ progress in all aspects of professional business management.

Critical systems must include:

With the rapid integration of AI, there is an even greater need to ensure that systems are functional and compliant. Processes are commonly adapted for improved productivity allowing for implementation of systems such as AI throughout the business

4. Do Not Undersell Yourself

I have strong sentiments concerning the business’s positioning. It is critical that once you establish your position in the market place you should never undersell yourself

It will become evident when building your business plan, once you’ve established your accountabilities, overheads, labour and expenses. You will then be able to set any retrospective discounts or other incentives to support your pricing schedules

Stick with your benchmark and never tempt lowering the service specification to meet a reduction in charge rate. This is particularly important when trying to satisfy a new client or reach a pre-agreed budget of a third party 

It is more productive to reduce the service specification and service time resulting in a lower overall charge rate

Nobody wants to lose a service opportunity, but being mindful of the overall impact and hidden costs is important. Underselling may impact your value in the future. It will also mean risking your quality service delivery, operational collateral and hard-earned reputation in the market place 

5. Do Not Take Every Job

It is exciting when work opportunities come knocking on your door, but in general, you should be cautious! Don’t agree to take every job that comes your way

You will already have experienced mixing your basket of different charge rates, volume sales opportunities and dealing with the odd ad-hoc request with an open and enthusiastic view

Taking on new work increases costs ( i.e. equipment hire, capital expenditure) and could add more demands in the short-term. This, however, can leave you vulnerable when no similar work follows

In practice, additional planning and expenses can result in your regular profitable work being overlocked or missed

It means drilling down to the base with the tasks needed to satisfy the potential new clients’ needs. While doing so, you are neglecting more regular work opportunities within your market position ending up out of pocket for your efforts

6. Harness the Teams’ Views

Remember about operating an open-door policy that encourages everyone to share ideas, best practice and inclusion. It demonstrates the way teams and individuals are treated and valued within the business

I always set realistic goals and targets, and it usually results in us gaining new customers or delivering cost efficiency. I have always ensured that when success arrives everyone participates in the celebrations however modest 

7. Be Careful

Always remain circumspect as people will try various approaches to obtain favour or gain access or involvement in your activities. Make sure you are comfortable with this and do not let your guard down

Many will approach you with ideas, suggestions and even offer of support. In reality this never materialises and can end up costing your business in one way or the other

Everyone can relate to the friendly individual, who casually goes on to try and find ways to become attached businesswise. In my own experience, this always results in failure, unwanted expenditure, and unhappiness all around

8. Find a Niche – If Possible

When starting it makes sense to identify your strengths in terms of knowledge and experience; where possible join the service sectors and the industry you are qualified, experienced and comfortable with

In turn, you will be confident you can provide guidance and advice to potential leads. Your clients will recognise you can manage, control and deliver services successfully

Delivering more work opportunities means will you become known for the specific work from your position of expertise. This will provide enough time in the business journey to diversify and grow organically

9. Clean like it’s Your Own

My approach to work has always been hands-on! 

The style is that of a true leader, or so I have been told. Always lead by example and be empowered in the tasks. Never be afraid to roll up your sleeves and get stuck into your teams’ work tasks

Show the same level of commitment when doing the work that you would give if it were for yourself!

Good habits tend to rub off quickly. I found I gained the respect of my role as a manager who has the capability, knowledge and experience to carry out all the work tasks needed and support anyone when needed

“A good leader is a person who takes a little more than his share of the blame and a little less than his share of the credit.” —John Maxwell

10. Tap into All Your Resources

I have always maintained an interest in my teams’ families, lifestyles, and broader communities. This approach has provided my business with an additional dimension. 

Associated relationships and work connections provide us with additional resources. They offer unlimited opportunities, points of reference and ability to increase and improve our service with excellent outcomes. Not to mention their positive impact on the community and business circles.

Many times I have discovered an expert who is from within our teams’ family or more comprehensive network. When there is a need for expertise the source is irrelevant as long as the guidance and advice proves appropriate and validated

11. Never Stop Learning

Every day I learn something new, and this has to be true of everyone 

Whether in business or personally, I always encourage empowerment. I therefore try and ensure that as much knowledge and information as possible is shared and passed on

As a critical player in the business myself, I never stop learning either. As the saying goes; We can learn something new every day. It’s therefore important to stay up-to-date with new technologies, changes in workplace practice, new safe cleaning agent etc.

Never be too proud to learn from others, whoever they are. Embrace diversity, remain humble, value the work of others. It will strengthen value and quality in the business and further drive innovation and creative commercial initiatives 

12. Invest in Customer Service

I have one regret throughout my career. It is not to have embraced the enormous benefit of Customer Relationship Management systems until much later in my journey

It is wise to invest in a professional Customer Relationship Management [CRM] system as early on as possible and gain significant and critical data for your business

Engaging these systems will allow you to be in better control of creating appropriate opportunities for existing clients. It will also help you improve the processes of finding new business and long-term clients’

Sadly, in our business, we tried tirelessly to manage this process manually but never quite achieving the desired results. I believe this was a costly setback overall 

Having said that, we can boast about a notable achievement as a business. Since 2005 we have delivered 1.5 million hours of consistent quality service delivery “incident & accident-free”. Our numerous initiatives also added value and supported our commitment to our client-partners’ endeavours

Over the years we have written down our commitments and developed numerous Charters, including :

13. Develop Digital Skills

It is vital that everything digitally is embraced and appropriate for your commercial strategies. We prepare to greet and experience tremendous change with the advancement of AI technologies being rolled out across our world. Greater efficiency, productivity and quality service delivery and considerably reduced entry-level costing are to be expected.

The use and development of digital skills and new technologies within our businesses means the difference between continued success or eventual failure

14. Track Business Costs

Despite being an experienced delegator, there is one area of the business I do not delegate. It is a timely review of business costs -v- revenue streams

My approach is to review costs based on volumes of expenditure by category; focusing on what impact this has on the overall trading success. It also involves working in collaboration to find cost efficiencies but without loss of quality 

A daily/weekly check is necessary to ensure you are always aware of the business’ financial position, remaining in full control. Informed knowledge will allow you to amend forecasts and adjust budgets in real-time; in line with your overall business strategies and objectives

Keeping detail backup records also allows for informed decisions and immediate operational changes where necessary. This includes knowledge required for up and downscaling within the business and supporting client-partners in the ever-changing business environments 

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