How to start an upholstery cleaning business

A comprehensive guide to setting up your new cleaning venture for success.

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Launching your own upholstery cleaning business can be a great way to turn your specialist cleaning skills into a profitable business. Read on for your guide to what you need to know before launching your upholstery cleaning business.

What is an upholstery cleaning business?

An upholstery cleaning business specialises in cleaning the fabric of upholstered items of furniture such as lounges, armchairs, dining chairs and ottomans. An upholstery cleaner typically travels to residential and commercial properties to remove dirt, dust, stains and grime from upholstered furniture that cannot be removed with regular vacuuming.

How to start an upholstery cleaning business

Here are some of the key steps involved in opening your own upholstery cleaning business:

  1. Research your target market. Do market research to find out who your potential customers are. Will you be focusing on residential customers or commercial building managers? What geographical area will you operate in and what are the existing businesses in the area?
  2. Develop a business plan. Once you've done market research, the next step is writing a business plan that outlines the upfront costs for purchasing cleaning equipment, a price list and a realistic estimate of income and expenses. As part of this process, you might need to consider a small business loan or a car loan to meet upfront costs.
  3. Create a brand name. Choose a business name and a logo that will resonate with customers and clearly communicate what you do. It's mandatory to register your business name with the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC), unless you're using your own name.
  4. Purchase the right equipment. As a specialist cleaning business, it's essential to purchase the right tools. To get started, you will need a steam vacuum with various upholstery tools, and a van or another vehicle to transport your tools.
  5. Pick the right business structure. The structure of your business will depend on how many investors are involved and the level of protection you want to have over your personal assets. Many small businesses opt to run as a Sole Trader because of its simplicity and low costs, but there are advantages in structuring your business as a Company as well. We explain the pros and cons of different structures in more detail below.
  6. Consider legal requirements. An upholstery cleaning business will be dealing with customers on a day-to-day basis. Make sure you prepare legal documents, such as a Service Agreement and Cancellation Policy, to help you deal with any issues that may arise.
  7. Market your business. Most customers only clean their upholstered furniture on a semi-regular basis. This means in the early stages of the business, it's important to reach as many customers as possible. You might want to build a website that shows your completed work. Actively seeking out jobs on online marketplaces like Airtasker and hipages is also a great option.

upholstery cleaning

Skills needed to start an upholstery cleaning business

You'll need to have a thorough understanding of how to clean different types of upholstered items including couches, lounge chairs and curtains. You will also need to be familiar with working with different materials such as leather, fabric, microfiber and suede. Being a detail-oriented person who can quickly spot marks and stains is useful, as is having good interpersonal skills.

In addition, as a small business owner it's important to have a basic knowledge of bookkeeping, marketing and customer service. You'll need to be motivated and have a watertight business plan in place. Don't underestimate the amount of hard work involved in getting a small business off the ground.

Courses and qualifications

You don't need formal qualifications to start your own upholstery cleaning business, but it can help you deliver an exceptional service. In Australia, a Certificate III in Cleaning Operations can be studied through a TAFE or private training institution, and will teach you cleaning techniques, and how to handle chemicals and equipment safely.

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    Equipment and software needed to start an upholstery cleaning business

    Equipment will be your biggest initial cost when you start out. These are the key things you'll need:

    • Industrial vacuum cleaner
    • Commercial-grade steam cleaner
    • Cleaning products
    • Plastic drop sheets
    • Van or truck to transport equipment

    To lower your startup costs, hiring equipment is a possibility. However, keep in mind that although purchasing equipment comes with a large upfront cost, leasing equipment will quickly add up once you've completed a few jobs. If you're planning to be in the upholstery cleaning business for the long haul, you're better off purchasing your own equipment.

    How to structure an upholstery cleaning business

    There's more than one way to structure a business. It's important to choose the right structure for the business's needs as this determines who can make decisions, who is liable for losses and the business's tax obligations.

    The following are common business models you can use for your upholstery cleaning business:

    • Sole Trader. A Sole Trader is one individual person operating a business on their own. As a Sole Trader, you're responsible for every aspect of the business including any debt, losses or legal action. It's a reasonably simple structure to set up, you just need to get an Australian Business Number (ABN).
    • Partnership. A Partnership structure can be used when two or more people start a business together. Partnerships can be general or limited. In a General Partnership, partners manage the business together and share legal liability. In a Limited Partnership, one or more general partners have unlimited liability while the other partner/s act as passive investors and their liability is limited.
    • Company. Structuring a business as a Company means it will be registered as a separate legal entity from the owner/s. Companies are owned by shareholders and no single person is responsible for the Company's decisions or debts.

    Once you've chosen your business structure, you'll need to choose a business name and register for an ABN. Use ASIC's business names register search tool to check whether your preferred business name is already in use. If you choose a company structure, you'll also get an Australian Company Number (ACN).

    Some of the legal stuff might seem hard to get on top of at first, but there's plenty of legal advice and services available online, as well as templates and examples. When starting any type of business, it's important to have all the right legal documentation in place first to protect you and your business.

    For an upholstery cleaning business, the main legal documents you'll typically need are:

    • Service Agreement. This will set out the contractual agreement between you and your client. It details the upholstery cleaning services you'll be providing and the payment agreed to in return.
    • Cancellation Policy. Protect your business by having a Cancellation Policy that outlines the terms if a customer cancels. For example, a Cancellation Policy may allow you to keep the booking deposit if the customer cancels at the last minute.
    • Partnership Agreement. If you're registering your business in a Partnership, you'll need a Partnership Agreement between all involved parties. This outlines each person's roles and responsibilities, and helps to prevent future disputes.
    • Employment Agreement. When you hire employees, it's a good idea to have an Employment Agreement outlining the role and responsibilities of the employee, plus their remuneration and other entitlements.

    As you're providing a service, you'll also need to comply with the requirements of the Australian Consumer Law.

    Get access to legal services and documents online

    Name Product What's offered? Starting price to become a member Annual Fee from Free legal documents available?
    Lawpath
    Legal documents and templates, Access to lawyers, Legal guides, Legal advice
    $79 per month
    Essentials: $288, legal advice: $828
    You can view samples for free and you can create your first document for free.
    Choose an annual plan from just $288 and get unlimited revisions to your legal or business documents. Plus, unlock exclusive partner offers.
    Sprintlaw
    Legal documents and templates, Access to lawyers, Legal guides, Legal advice
    $599 (with fixed fee services starting at $99)
    $599
    Some documents are free to download. Get access to all documents with a membership.
    Unlimited lawyer phone consultations, free updates to documents, exclusive partner offers & legal discounts.
    LawDepot
    Legal documents and templates, Legal guides
    $4.99 per month
    $59.88
    Free one week trial available which gives access to hundreds of documents.
    Customise and download legal documents in as little as five minutes. Plus, LawDepot offers peace of mind with two service guarantees.
    Legal123
    Legal documents and templates, Legal guides
    Varies per template
    N/A
    No
    Legal123 offers a range of individual templates or document packages for consultants, app developers, personal trainers and more.
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    How much should I charge my customers?

    Upholstery cleaners typically charge customers per item. As a general guide, you can charge anywhere between $50 and $200 for a couch, and between $20 and $250 per item for other pieces of furniture.

    When pricing your upholstery cleaning services, some important factors to consider include:

    • Size of the item
    • Level of difficulty
    • Whether it requires extra expertise due to age or other factors (if it's an antique or made from an unusual material)
    • Whether it requires special cleaning products
    • Whether you are required to travel extra for the job

    Before putting a price tag on your services, do some market research on competing businesses in your area.

    Compare your business expertise to your competitors, identify potential opportunities and price your services accordingly.

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    Frequently asked questions

    Do I need insurance?

    It's very important to have insurance policies in place to protect yourself, your business and your clients from risk. For an upholstery cleaning business, the major ones you should consider are:

    Read more: Find out more about insurance for cleaners.

    How can I get more clients?

    As upholstery cleaning is not an everyday service, it's important to market your service widely and be proactive in your job search. Building a website is a great way to promote your service to a wide audience.

    You can also find customers through online marketplaces that allow you to respond to job ads for upholstery cleaning services and/or list your business in a directory. The main ones are:

    Listing your services in business directories such as White Pages, Yellow Pages and True Local is also an excellent way to connect with new clients.

    Is an upholstery cleaning business profitable?

    It is possible to make money from upholstery cleaning, but keep in mind that it will require a solid investment of your time and money first. After you've put money into equipment, insurance and promoting your business, it's going to take a number of jobs before you turn a profit. Depending on the demand for your service, you can also consider expanding your service to include other specialist cleaning services, such as carpet cleaning and window cleaning.

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