Ask Steve

Ask Steve: After a Failed Past Attempt, How Can I Start a Successful Cleaning Business?

carpet cleaning vacuum soilHello Steve,

I will be starting my second carpet cleaning business this spring and would like your advice, as I had a carpet cleaning business that folded about three years ago. I used a portable back then but have now saved up enough to buy a used truckmount and a rotary extraction cleaning head.

I presently live in New York City and with my past failures my question is simple: What should I do to really make it this time?

-New York “Newby”


Hey Newby,

Yes, you can do it. Many years ago I started out with a very weak portable and no rotary extraction. (Rotary extraction was not even around back then!) Sixteen years later I sold out and retired from full-time business at the tender age of 38. How did I do it? First of all, in my long-winded way I'll tell what I didn't have going for me:

1. I didn't have great equipment: You should buy the very best (read labor-saving here) tools you can afford. But equipment will not make you successful on its own.

2. I wasn't all that great technically: Yes, you should constantly be trying to better yourself knowledge-wise. But there are a huge number of “technical wizard” carpet cleaners that go broke very year.

3. I didn't have any capital: My wife Sioux and I started the business with an under-powered portable, a Ford Pinto station wagon and less than $3,000 in the bank.

4. I didn't have any formal business education: The streets are full of broke (and out-of-work) MBA's.

5. I didn't have the great "support group" that publications like ICS provide.

6. I wasn't even good looking like I am sure you are! (I am handsome now but that is another story!)

So what did I have going for me that not only let me survive but even prosper despite my appalling lack of business knowledge, capital and equipment? Well, let me count up what I had in abundance and I hope you have these qualities and skills too for a successful start-up…

1. I was really stubborn: Looking back, I honestly think I was too stubborn (and possibly too stupid!) to realize just how miserable I was sometimes. (This can be a blessing!) When bad things happen (and yes we did have our disasters!) a truly stubborn person just grits his teeth and keeps working. Speaking of working ...

2. I worked insanely hard: Carpet cleaning is just plain hard physical work with often brutal hours. When you add in the emotional and mental demands of owning your own business, too many people just zone out and fall into complacency.

3. I kept my overhead very low: If your living or business expenses are high then when bad things happen (as they always do), you will be toast. So Sioux and I never went into debt to buy consumer goods.

4. I was always selling: It didn't matter where I was - restaurant, hardware store, neighbor's home or at the day care center, I would hand people my card. This in turn led to…

5. The development of commercial routes: Sure, nobody likes the hours. (That's why ASAP you hire employees for the night work.) But regular contract commercial work gives your business a financial base that you can count on, especially if your commercial work is made up of lots of little regular accounts instead of one or two big ones.

We cleaned around 60 bars, restaurants and other accounts every month plus lots of other regular contract work that produced around $30,000 a month in cash flow we could count on. This was huge for me.

NOTE: Write me at for my free “How to Sell Commercial Carpet Cleaning” manual. I’ll e-mail it to you free of charge or you can download “Selling Commercial Carpet Cleaning” HERE.

6. I had the support of my family: Being successful does entail sacrifices, some of which inevitably fall on your family. You can't handle the constant drain of a complaining spouse!

7. I diversified financially: Totally by accident I bought a home many years ago. Then I bought another one without selling the first one. Then I bought a warehouse. Now our rental income from our paid off properties provides us with a very comfortable retirement. You personally may not choose real estate. That’s fine. But right now, from the get-go, start paying yourself first by investing (outside of the business) a percentage of your total gross income.

8. I tried to make a “cheerleader” out of each and every customer: Our entire advertising, marketing and promotional budget for the last year I was in business was 2.8% of sales. (This is incredibly low since most companies devote at least 10% of their gross to advertising.) It could have been zero and I'm not sure that we would have seen any fall off. Why? Because we made “cheerleaders” through the value-added service actions and the attitudes of our employees. What’s a cheerleader? Customers who were so delighted they constantly promoted our company to everyone they knew on a consistent basis!

Wow, Newby, I haven't written an “Ask Steve” this long in ages. But your cry for help struck a chord. You will be successful if you truly want to be. We will all be rooting for you. Now don't leave us hanging...

 Steve and ICS want to consult for you! For a personal reply write Steve HERE with your questions, problems, struggles and challenges! Your help is on the way! A new “Ask Steve” will debut in the ICS eNewsletter every Thursday. Register to receive it by clicking here.  

Did you enjoy this article? Click here to subscribe to i Cleaning Specialist Magazine.

Recent Articles by Steve Toburen

You must login or register in order to post a comment.



Image Galleries

The 2014 Experience Conference and Exhibition

A look in photos at the 2014 Experience Conference and Exhibition, which was held from April 24-26 at the Embassy Suites Convention Center and Spa in Frisco, Texas.


Yes, it's only February now - several weeks or months before the thaw depending on where you live - and hopefully this winter has been a profitable one for your business during the historical slow season. But now's also the time to start planning for the busy season - spring - so that you can hit the ground running. In this episode of The Hitman Advertising Show, John Braun shares tips and tricks on how to make this spring your most profitable yet.
More Podcasts

ICS Cleaning Specialist Magazine


2015 March

The March ICS issue features content on cleaning services, green chemistry, encapsulation, terrazzo floors, educating clients and new products.

Table Of Contents Subscribe

Janitorial Work

In addition to residential and commercial carpet cleaning, do you do any janitorial work on the side?
View Results Poll Archive


The Carpet Cleaner's Book of Unlimited Success! (ebook)

Don’t worry about the recession or about your competition.  Now you can be the owner of over 400 ways for carpet cleaning professionals to make more money and get more jobs!

More Products


Director_Buyer.jpgThe premier resource and reference guide for the cleaning and restoration industries.

Click here to view


facebook_40.png twitter_40px.png youtube_40px.png


Truckmount.jpgEquipment listings and specifications from the leading industry manufacturers.

Click here to view