I repeatedly heard how great it must be to be your own boss and set your own schedule. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. You’ll have hundreds, even thousands of bosses as you grow. Each boss wants something different, has different exceptions and require different attention to detail. Your schedule will be filled with stress from no work and the next week it will be filled with stress from being overwhelmed with work. Then you’ll hire people and the customer won’t be happy with them and blame you. If you’re getting into the business because you can’t stand working for someone else, you may want to reconsider. As you expand your business you’ll be dealing a lot of different people. At first I hated this aspect of the job, but soon it became my favorite part of the job. It taught me to listen to other’s viewpoints, clearly communicate with different backgrounds, handle stress, and opened opportunities professionally and personally. It also taught me to set boundaries and build protocol for my business.
Pros & Cons
Low startup costs. You can get into this business fairly cheap and grow from there.
Glass is everywhere. There’s so much work and most people don’t want to clean it themselves.
Relatively low liability when something goes wrong. It’s hard to screw things up unless you’re careless or experimenting.
You can build cashflow with repeat jobs and customers.
You get to meet a lot of people.
Low startup costs. This means you’ll compete with everyone with a squeegee. They’ll undercut your prices with no insurance or licenses and a lot of people won’t care.
Window cleaners reveal what’s left on the glass. This means scratches, water spots, broken seals, and other damage.
You can’t please everyone. It took me way too long to learn this. Set company standards and policy, and stick to it.
You have to do a lot of volume. Most contractors can survive on a few jobs a month because they have a larger projects. Filling your days with consistent work takes a lot of customers.
It’s difficult to hire window cleaners. You need people willing to do hard work but have a presentable appearance, attention to detail and good attitude to be in customer service.
The work can be really seasonal. You’ll find that potential rain on the schedule could ruin an entire week of work. This can be incredibly challenging, especially with a crew.
Over the years my customer list was growing into residential, commercial, property managers, investors, contractors, and industrial facilities. I realized each demographic had its’ own benefit and profit. It was easy to write off small storefront projects as waste of time without realizing the true benefit. Now I’ll break down my experience in working with different niches and where I found value in each.
Residential work was a significant percentage of our customer list. You get to meet a lot of people and it’s not uncommon to get tips, lunch, drinks, etc. when service is top notch. If you have a good consistent bidding system then these jobs can be very profitable. They’re not (usually) as consistent as other niches because things constantly change in your customer’s lives and it can be a lot of logistics trying to deal with the schedule. Residential work significantly slows down when it’s raining out, and sometimes leads to last minute scheduling nightmares. At the same time when the weather is nice and a holiday or event weekend (graduations, wedding season, etc.) is coming up, residential clients will call last minute and be willing to pay to get you out there.
Commercial, Industrial, Corporate
Working on large commercial projects were some of my highest paying jobs. Corporate accounts have deep pockets and they care about getting their problem solved safely and without any liability. They tend to eat up a lot of time before you even start when dealing with project managers, safety professionals, government compliance checks, facility training/walk arounds, etc. When I first started I walked away from some projects like this because of experience but later became comfortable handling and dealing with clients this large. Having a good insurance broker, licenses, bond, and safety procedures in place helped win these jobs from competitors.
Construction work can be a window cleaning liability nightmare. You’re working on brand new glass that no one took care of for months where dozens or even hundreds of tradesmen were working. If you’re new to the trade then you should take small steps, if you even want to do this work. Cleaning new windows reveals every scratch, nick, stain, and blemish after you remove the dirt, paint, stucco, glue, etc. Time and time again you will hear, “That wasn’t there before”. Once you learn to handle this work and protect yourself from liability, it’s one of the best relationships you can have. I never liked doing custom homes because they’re never consistent with how the house was built, who worked on the house, the customers expectation and how it will turn out. However, developer work was a great opportunity. By developer I mean someone who builds developments repeatedly for a living, like track homes or rental communities. When I first started I asked a developer if I could clean windows on one of his homes and if he’s happy, I want the rest. This relationship turned into constant work year round that has resulted in over 200 homes. When the developer was growing his business, we were growing as a result. He was busy and wanted someone he trusts on his projects who showed up, got the work done, and sent him an invoice. The projects were always vacant so my crew could work late or early on them which made our schedule flexible. I worked for dozens of contractors over the years and it’s a great source of revenue year round if you can manage the liability aspect of it. Check with your local government on requirements for working on a construction project.
Storefront, Route Work, Commercial Maintenance
This type of work seems to be lowest on the totem pole for profitability. It’s very competitive because everyone with a squeegee want’s to make an extra $20 a month. I used to not like this type of work because I always felt like I was losing money, especially when I was putting off other larger jobs. If I bid something for $30 someone would do it for $20, constantly. After a few years I realized the benefits of it. We would break up our accounts into weekly, monthly, quarterly, etc. to organize days where we would handle these accounts. Every time my crew would go out, they would pass out more business cards than any other day. When we had no work because of rain, these accounts were covered and consistent. I realized that even though these accounts were breakeven, they were a marketing opportunity and it provided work for my crew when there was none. As my company grew so did the accounts and our maintenance contracts turned from small store fronts to car dealerships, wineries, restaurants, and more profitable accounts. Our reputation had caught up with us and business owners wanted us instead of price shopping. We repeatedly heard the cheap guy stopped showing up. I’d imagine it wasn’t worth his time when the weather got nice. Remember when you’re bidding these accounts you’re dealing with business owners (usually). They’re busy like you and they don’t want to find someone new every couple months. They also understand your time and making a profit. When I first started, I dropped prices for some contracts only to be dropped by them a couple services later. It’s hard when you need work but stick to your pricing and value. If you don’t value yourself, then others won’t value you.
Property Managers, HOAs, Investors
Property managers have a lot going on and they want a company they can trust to take care of their properties. They’re usually managing other people’s property. Usually they have an approved vendor process. If you can get on approved vendor lists then you can bypass competitors in the bidding process. After you build a relationship with property managers you’ll become their go to guy. They love companies who know their properties, so take good notes or even pictures when you’re servicing accounts. I did this on countless apartment complexes and they hired us back every year. I’ve noticed I get more calls at the end of the year trying to spend a maintenance budget for tax write offs. After the job, update them on any issues you noticed with notes on building and unit numbers. Make them feel like you're looking out for their property.
Government jobs are another level of paperwork but usually prevailing wage so your crew will love them. It’s common for government work to get three bids on projects. The good thing is you’re usually not competing with the bucket bobs of the window cleaning world. Most companies who deal with the government are pricing it accordingly. After we worked for our local city, they would still get three bids each time for protocol but award us the project each time. We built a working relationship and they wanted a company they could trust. We started with a public library, city hall, police station, fire station, and then schools. Putting the wrong company on these projects is liability for them and the public. You can usually find the maintenance supervisor on the city websites to build a relationship.
The conclusion. Your work will come from different demographics but find value you in each, and make sure each one is profitable. Some jobs are long term recurring with a small return while others are one time but highly profitable. Look at the lifetime value in customers when building your business and submitting estimates.