Serving Grand Rapids
and nearby areas
"Happy Window Cleaning provides the best views"
LESSON - HOW TO MAKE AN ESTIMATE
Prices may change from time to time but we do have a kit for that which gives you regular prices and tells you when and how to upcharge.
To be consistent, the franchisee should not charge more than the suggested retail price.
Prices may increase on account of inflation; in which case the franchisee will be informed
The pictures shown here are the front and rear of different homes. While some of them may look somewhat similar, what you don’t see in the photos are the windows on the side and other features that warrant the price, and the actual square footage as well.
We take several factors into account when doing an estimate:
• The kind and number of windows that you have (Are they regular windows, French, storm, skylights?)
• The architecture of your property (Flat or on a hill? How difficult is it to stage the ladders? The more windows there are on the upper level, the more we have to move around the ladder, and that takes time)
• Your location (How far do we have to drive to do the job? Remember, we are traveling to and from)
The prices you see here are for the year 2020. Price points change by 4% a year to keep up with inflation.
The hours you are based on factual and actual batting averages of a crew on a similar property. We record real-time spent by a crew and track them as part of our progress report.
2 men, 1.5 hours max
2 men 1.5 to 2 hours max
2 men, 1.75 to 2.5 hours max
2 men, 2 to 3 hours max
2men, 2.5 to 3.5 hours max
2 men, 2.5 to 4.5 hours max
2 men, 3 to 5.5 hours max
2 men, 4 to 6.5 hours max
2men, 5 to 7 hours max
2 men – 6 to 8 hours max
3 men, 8 to 10 hours max
3 men, 9 to 11 hours max
4 men, 8 hours max
4 men, 12 hours max
Time is money and you cannot afford to drive your company or personal vehicle from one point to another just to estimate a project you are not even sure to get. There is no harm in explaining this to your customer when he expects an on-site estimate of the property.
1. The best way to estimate is to use Google Maps or Google Earth.
2. If the property is not tracked by Google, ask the prospect for more information – square footage, a photo of the rear of the house, etc.
3. If referred by a neighbor who lives in the same condo and the architecture is pretty much the same, then you can base it on the other customer’s rate
Estimates are based on the following factors:
• Square footage of the house/building
• The architecture of the building (some houses have rears that are three levels and difficult to reach)
• There are storm windows
• The windows haven’t been cleaned for a long time
• The amount of time it will take to finish the task
Here’s a breakdown of how much we charge depending on the above-mentioned factors:
Single Level Home or Building:
Ranch - $175, in town
Raised Ranch or requires ½ hour drive - $200
2,000 sq. ft – 2,500 sq. ft.
Front of home – 2 levels
The rear of home – 3 levels
$245 - $275
3,000 sq. ft. – 3,500 sq. ft.
$299 - $350
Takes 2 men, 4 hours with travel
4,000 sq. ft. – 4,500 sq. ft.
$399 - $499
Takes 2 men 5 hours with travel
When preparing an estimate to be sure to give the prospect an overview of what the service includes and/or excludes that way he will know what to expect. By knowing what the service includes, the prospect can appreciate the value of your service and is placed in a position where he can compare the service with others.
You have to let the prospect know when your available time will be. We normally give them at least two options/dates to eliminate the process of going back and forth on a schedule until both of you are agreed to commit to a fixed date. Window cleaning is ideally done around 9:00 in the morning so you look for a day that is open at that time. If the open date is several weeks away, you might want to consider the amount of your estimate (for example ($200) and the location of the prospect, and match it with another project on the same location (so the cleaners won’t have to drive far away). Propose this as a second alternative date at an open time (Example, the first project in Rockford is at 9:00 AM, you can schedule the prospect at noon knowing that both projects are for only $200, meaning not time-consuming and taxing for your window cleaners. When looking for another project in a similar area, make sure that the first booked project is not over $250. This is a good guide to let you know that both projects can be reasonably combined in one day.
We recommend sending an estimate by email because it allows you to share with the prospect the value that you offer and study their options. By sending an email you can explain what the service includes, what precautions the customer must take, an option of open dates to schedule the service, and even include policies such as cancellations.
Apply this rule once you have been running for 6 months and over: If the caller is a regular customer and you already have their profile, then just go by whatever information they have. If they have availed of different services over time, say in and out window cleaning last year but only exterior window cleaning this time, make sure you adjust the rate accordingly. Rates are typically steady if they are an annual customer, but if it has been years since they had their windows cleaned, you can add $10 for every two years their windows weren’t cleaned.
Storefront and Low Rise Commercial Estimating
Market Pricing Method
Market pricing is a rational approach to coping with something called the Iron Rule of Markets. The Iron Rule of Markets is that a value proposition (in this case, storefront window cleaning) is subject to what the market will bear and the market will demand like it or not, which is what decides how much a given service is worth. When there is plentiful competition for window cleaners a market is said to be saturated. Most cities with a population of at least a hundred thousand people and many smaller cities are well saturated with window cleaners in the low rise commercial or “storefront” space. The high visibility of storefronts on Main Street makes them an often-sought-after target of every Tom, Dick, and Harry Window Cleaner. To find out if there are soft spots in your territory for this type of cleaning, we use the Market Pricing Method. While canvassing the desired route you simply survey store owners to gain an understanding of what the market bears in your area.
Ask the store owner what their current window cleaner charges. How often is the window cleaner coming by - weekly, bi-weekly, twice a month, or monthly? If you take the time to canvass an entire route you will learn how many competitors there currently are on the routes and who they are. This is the best way to find underserved areas. This way when you are quoting new stores, or when management changes at old existing establishments (which happens all the time), and you find a place that doesn’t have a window cleaner, you’ll already know the going rates and be in the position to place a competitive quote.
It might seem funny, but often all you need to do to get information is by asking the question. Often a store owner is willing to tell you what she is paying for window cleaning if you have the gumption to ask her. This gives you a starting point for bids in that area. Unfortunately, people in certain neighborhoods of Miami have different ideas about what window cleaning is worth than they do in Chewelah, Washington. The only way to get this information is to ask for it.
Business people can be the toughest people to sell because they often prefer to hire a company that they think will still be in business a year from now. So if you already have projects in the immediate area that will help sway someone who might be on the fence on whether they will hire you. It never hurts to share it if you have some experience with certain types of storefronts or particular tasks. For example, it is commonplace for pizza parlors to have illuminated signs, which require diligence and caution when working with. If you have already successfully cleaned the place with those, it makes for good conversation to mention that when you are trying to land a new place.
When you are out canvassing for new accounts you will sometimes come across an area where the other bids are higher than usual. In that case, you might still command a good wage by putting in a lower bid. That is not “lowballing”. Lowballing is where you put in a bid that is insufficient financially to make the ends meet. Lowballing is a race to bankruptcy. More often than not, however, especially if you are in a more mature market (an old established city) where companies like Fish Window Cleaning, or Squeegee Squad are well-established competitors you will find that your competitors are offering bids that are the “least viable offer”. This means that other companies are smart and experienced and they have done the math when it comes to the cost to deliver the service. In that case, offering a lower bid is not a successful strategy in the long run. Mike Merrick, the founder of Fish Window Cleaning was a banker before he purchased his first route. To his credit, he kept to what knew, commercial window cleaning. The Fish Model is 80% commercial routes and 20% residential. Fish has very low direct costs because they pay workers by a commission of 33%. So a guy who cleaned a $20.00 storefront gets $6.00 whether he does it in fifteen minutes or takes an hour. A company like Fish rewards highly productive people, who can clean 50 or more storefronts in a single day fairly well. But for most of the people who work for the company is hard to make ends meet. And since the other companies already have the low-hanging commercial fruit tied up in their stables, and to do it cheaper is financial suicide, in many places, it is best to focus on the work that pays better.
Happy Window Cleaning offers opportunities in rural areas and smaller cities, not just the big cities where the others are well established. And the fact is we are just as strong and competitive when we go against the others because we understand our competition. Scott Britton’s first window cleaning company was in a county with a population of just 30,000 people and his cleaning company did well over a hundred thousand dollars in that small pond. At the time, Scott did not allow any of the bigger competitors to get a foothold in his territory. The bottom line is that customers are most loyal if you show up and do a decent job for them. But to be clear, building a route where a single cleaner has anywhere near 50 accounts to do in a single day, will take years to establish in most places.
While Happy Window Cleaning does not recommend focusing solely on storefronts for most territories, and certainly not in Grand Rapids, MI where our flagship operation is headquartered, we can teach you how to win accounts anywhere and against anyone. The relevant topic is the opportunity cost of chasing $20 storefronts, when there are thousands of baby boomers, people born between 1946 and 1964 with homes that need cleaning where the average ticket is roughly $280,00 per account, per visit. Still in some areas storefronts present a good opportunity and you will be fully prepared to take your share of them.
For many low-rise commercial accounts, including restaurants, bidding by the man-hour makes sense. In general, you need to get $50.00 per man hour to cover all of your costs and have a tidy profit left over. This is going to take a while to work up to especially if you are primarily focused on low-rise commercial cleanings. If you invest a solid three months, you should be able to penetrate any market, even the most mature. Scott Britton proved his concept of Happy Window Cleaning back in 2010 out in Las Vegas at a time when the nation was in a great recession and unemployment in that major city was a historical 16%. If Scott could do it there, at that time, it can be done anywhere at any time.
Another way to look at commercial accounts is called “rate work”. Examine all of the time you put in at the business on a given day. In the beginning, it is most efficient to go boots to the ground and canvass the route, having your tool belt on, ready to clean. This signals storeowners that you are prepared and ready to clean immediately. This shows that you mean business and some will be prepared to pay cash right out of the till. If you spend six solid hours canvassing and clean just three storefronts, grabbing the low-hanging fruit along the new route, you will have averaged about 8.53 pennies per hour. Don’t become discouraged. By the 12th week, you will find that you will be able to get close to that $50 per hour mark if you keep at it. You will find that now that you are in business for yourself if you learn to scale your business properly your true hourly rate (the amount you pay yourself which is a combination of revenues from several crews) will increase several-fold over time. Such is the power of multiplication. There is no limit to the number of crews nor territories you can own, but that which you place on yourself.
But for our purposes here we mean the hourly rate of a single crew, on a particular route as it pertains to the price point we give to the customer. A window cleaner who sets his hourly rate too high will eventually lose his customers to the lowballing competition. Sadly, this is inevitable given the amount of competition there is in most markets. Since storefronts are the low-hanging fruit of our industry and since they are relatively easy to do, competition is fierce for those types of accounts. If you happen to be a slow window cleaner, you will discover that your prices will be two or three times what your competitors charge. You are better off sticking to cleaning homes where high quality is better appreciated. Store owners and business-to-business accounts tend to be very price-conscious. No sense in beating around the bush, high rates do not survive in this market.
Fish and some other companies use rock bottom rates to drive away from the competition. If a company like Fish got to your town before you arrived chances are they have the storefronts locked down. If a shopping center has ten stores and eight of them are cleaned by Fish, that means they are driving and setting up just once to earn maybe $250. If you have one job you have the same drive and set up a time to earn maybe $20.00. With an employee paid hourly at $15.00 with matching payroll, you’re on the hook for that much just in labor costs by the time they get there to set up, break down and come home. It doesn’t make any sense to fight for work that is already being attended to well by someone else. Not when there are plenty of opportunities in other markets of the window cleaning industry. With a two-person crew in a van, you will soon lose money cleaning storefronts.
On the other hand, storefronts offer some flexibility in scheduling, since they tend to be staffed and open during daylight hours. Most store owners won’t mind if you come at a different time on scheduled days. Although you need to be mindful of their traffic patterns. Cleaning an International House of Pancake IHOP restaurant in the morning is a bad plan for everyone involved. Since storefronts are quick and easy to clean there is more competition to service them and whenever there is more competition for a given market, that drives prices down. Since Fish and other companies use rock bottom pricing to keep other window cleaners away, I find that it is best to let them have it, since it keeps them busy and away from the better paying opportunities. Those companies have hundreds of accounts in rural areas they occupy and thousands of accounts in bigger cities because their business model is about 80% commercial and 20% residential. Since they service these accounts all winter, they have less of a peak and valley and tend to keep at least several staff employed. Happy Window Cleaning goes after the construction cleaning and other sources of income that pay better to help smooth out the seasonal aspect of window cleaning in a northern state. Going head-to-head against Fish for storefronts is suicidal. On the other hand, since Happy Window Cleaning does a lot of high-end accounts, we are very good at handling more complicated jobs. We also can break off pieces of routes from all major competitors where performance is lagging among their crews.
The best approach is a marketing mix that makes sense for your area. Begin by building both residential and commercial accounts and using the market price method to probe new opportunities where they can be found. We will help to set targets for you to hit.
Estimating Mid-Rise Commercial Window Cleaning
Our industry is standardized by trade groups like the International Window Cleaning Association P.O. Box 2092 | Maryland Heights, MO 63043 • 800.875.4922.
The HWC working definition of a “mid-rise building” is any commercial building over one story but less than five stories. Five stories and up are considered “high rise”. The difference between high rise and mid-rise is that high rise must be cleaned from the top-down, typically with “chairs” harnesses, and ropes using one of the approved anchoring methods. Since in recent years’ water fed pole systems have introduced very lightweight but rigid poles that can be used up to 70ft, it is possible to clean buildings from the ground that traditionally would have been cleaned using the chair method. Companies that focus on high-rise work pay very high insurance rates. Currently, Happy Window Cleaning is not involved with high-rise cleaning. However, because there are many more buildings that are bigger than storefronts but which can be cleaned using from the ground methods, there are plenty of opportunities to land steady repeat commercial accounts in the mid-rise market. This section of our training is about how to work up mid-rise commercial window cleaning proposals.
The first thing you should determine is the identity of the contact person for the building you are interested in cleaning. Make your introduction using the Happy Window Cleaning® postcard, cold calling, or dropping by to leave a business card. Wear a nice button shirt and company logoed Happy cap and vest or jacket, smile, and use good etiquette to make a good impression with the person minding the front desk, or filtering the calls.
The difference between a professional marketing firm and some guy who doesn’t know how to sell is that the professional knows that no one wants to listen to someone until there is a connection made. One of the easiest ways to make a connection with someone is to show an interest in them right from the beginning. This doesn’t have to be complicated. It can be as simple as being courteous for a moment of their time rather than to interrupt and impose your objective without considering the person you are inconveniencing. Simply ask “Am I calling you at a good time, do you have a few minutes right now?” That small courtesy will open doors. A sense of humor and being real will open doors. Rarely will jumping into a monologue win anyone over. The point is to make a good first impression. If you walk into a place, start by admitting to yourself that you do not have an appointment and ask if it would be all right to ask a quick question. Once you have approval, ask who is in charge of the window cleaning, and or janitorial. Make sure to note whom you are talking with. Later on, when you are speaking to a decision-maker you can mention that you were talking to Sue and she said that you are the person who makes the decisions about window cleaning” This small piece of “inside information” can be an ice breaker. After all, you aren’t just some joe blow off the street, you are someone who knows who Sue is. After asking the building manager to bid on their window cleaning and getting his approval to remember to thank him for the opportunity. If the person gives you a business card, make sure to give him one of yours. Be confident and prepared. Enter your new contact person into your smartphone right away so you won’t miss their call later. Be sure to take the time to write a brief description of the buildings you are now familiar with.
Things you must learn are what service is required and how often? How often does the building exterior get cleaned? Once per year? Quarterly? Monthly? Perhaps it is just a one-time deal because there is a corporate event coming up, or the building is going up for sale. How often does the inside of the building need cleaning? Write a checklist and be sure to cover all of the items when you have the decision maker’s attention. Find out if there are any brochures or other plans that show the building’s layout. After you have parted, take the time to draw a diagram of the building. Designate the parking area and begin to visualize the work ahead. Besides cleaning windows, what are the concerns of the building manager or owner? Take note. Will your bid include calcium removal? As you sketch the building note that it is a top view or a side view. How many sides are there to the building? How many windows are there on each side? How many windows are there on each floor? It is best to write this information down next to the drawing.
You must learn where the water supply is. Water is very expensive. Expenses accumulate. Getting water on-site rather than supplying it saves thousands of dollars in water bills. Hauling large quantities of water is not cheap either. Find out where the water sources are and if they are working. Locate all of the water outlets. If you can’t find them on your own, get someone who can help you. Mark an X on your drawing wherever water is found and is working. Better you do this now than later when you have sixty dollars an hour worth of labor standing around unable to work because there isn’t any water.
With midrise window cleaning getting water to clean the windows can be a major constraint in productivity. In many cases, the water spigots might be located 500ft apart. If you are using a Water Fed Pole (WFP), you will need to calculate how many feet of supply hose will be necessary to clean the building.
What is more, you need to know what type of water key is necessary to do the job. Again, find this out sooner rather than later. Don’t wait until you have a bunch of workers standing around to try and figure out the solution to a potential problem. Sometimes the water is locked behind a panel or in the ground. A water spigot in the ground requires a special key or keys. Visit your local plumbing supplier and buy every key there is. Make sure your crew knows what kind of key is necessary and how to get to the water.
What are the size and shapes of the windows on the building? Take some measurements. Stand and clean one window with a timer or at minimum visualize how long each type will take, given the process that you will use. How long will it take to set up the WFP system, or to set a ladder in place? How about climbing up and then down the ladder? Measure each step and do the multiplication. Don’t forget to add in the time you spent estimating too. There are usually no more than three or perhaps four types of windows in most buildings. On some buildings, all of the windows are the same. Still, you double the cost to clean a second story or triple the cost for a third-story window because it is always more work to clean the high windows. Write down the length and width of the windows. This way you bring the best tools for the job. You want to be competitive it begins by being the most proficient.
You can never have too much information for the bidding process. If you are cleaning sliders or double-hung windows, chances are it is a bad idea to use the WFP. Well-Sealed stationary windows are the best for using that system.
Does the building have only windows or is it covered with spandrels? Spandrels are exterior glass that covers a building as part of the design. You can’t tell the difference between a spandrel and a window unless you are up close or there is a light on inside. With this type of exterior, it is necessary to count all of the glass because if you do not the overall appearance will not be good.
Count the number of windows on each floor noting which side of the building the windows face. Some buildings have sides with no windows, so knowing which side is what will help you to plan the job, and marking this on the diagram will refresh memories later on when you must clean.
A bit of research about the architecture and the composition of the exterior of the building puts you in the winner’s circle. All glass exteriors for example are best cleaned with water-fed pole systems. On a Georgian or Romanesque Revival, an extension ladder might be necessary to reach certain structural elements such as moldings.
Ladders must never be placed against the glass. Glass will crack or seals will be broken. The angle used on ladder placement is an important safety issue. Having a ladder at too steep of an angle is unsafe and uncomfortable for the cleaner. Safety first.
Other considerations about the building exterior are whether drips must be wiped off or not. With white painted concrete drips show up and these must be wiped dry with a towel. If not, the drips will be obvious and cause an expensive problem. So, you must include the time it will take to towel dry all of the drips in your estimate. With a WFP you can flush the dirt away from the building, but keep in mind that this also takes time and uses up your resin and filters. Ladder scuffs and marks are unsightly and will cause customer complaints. Cover the ladder ends with soft bonnets or rubber shoes. Rough sandblasted concrete walls are better at hiding drips than painted surfaces.
As you conduct your walk around the structure take notes and pictures with your phone. Are there any cracks, scratches, stains, or damaged windows present? Keep your eyes open for potential problems. If you think there is something unusual about a window, investigate and document the issue. Get up close and inspect the glass from the side while doing your “chicken dance” because the sun shows all abnormalities on a window at different angles. Write down those remarks on your window bid sheet. By noting these things, you save yourself grief later trying to explain to the person in charge that you did not cause the damage.
Cracks in glass can be caused in any number of ways. Buildings shift, pressure can build up under foundations. Sometimes the painter might have cracked the window and not even realized it. Keep in mind that cracked glass can be difficult to spot through dirty windows.
Acid burns can occur from using the wrong acid to remove mineral deposits. But they can also happen from repeated use of a lessor acidic chemical that has been applied over time too often. Addressing a mineral stain is addressing the symptom and not the problem, and like taking a blood pressure medicine, the medicine itself is poison. An acid burn appears milky white on dark glass, and foggy on the light glass. It is important to understand that anytime harsh chemicals are used on glass there is a risk of the glass reacting with the chemical. Take mirrored windows, for example. When burned by an acid look discolored because the mirrored element of the window is destroyed and dark discoloration appears. When these problems are spotted, they need to be documented properly. Look over the windows carefully. If proposing to use harsh chemicals, be sure to explain the risks and do not proceed unless the owner signs a waiver of liability.
Note any calcium deposits on the windows. Calcium deposits form when sprinkler heads overreach their targeted vegetation. The problem should be addressed by adjusting the sprinkler heads so the hard water isn’t allowed to dry on the glass in the first place. Rainwater was very low total dissolved solids and therefore this is a manmade problem. Let the property manager know that calcium deposits are not part of a regular window cleaning, but are a separate service.
Lime stains occur when concrete walls are not properly sealed. Rain leaches lime out of the concrete and deposits it on windows. Here again, note these observations from the beginning.
MID-RISE COMMERCIAL WINDOW CLEANING - Part Two
Windows that are set at a distance from the exterior wall can be difficult to reach with a pole and may require a ladder, boom, or other means to reach. In some cases, you might be able to use a “ledger” or similar tool for a water fed pole.
The ground that slopes away from the building increase the distance needed to be covered by ladders and or poles. Some two-story buildings in such a setting can seem like four-story buildings. What is more, sloping landscapes create time-consuming issues for staging ladders and might require a second person to hold the ladder which increases labor costs considerably. Sometimes you can use a ramp, or dig out soil from beneath the ladder's feet (if the sod hasn’t been laid yet in new construction) No matter what you plan to do, make sure you note the additional time those actions will take and bid accordingly.
What obstacles if any are in your way? Air conditioning units, sheds, shrubs, and flower gardens can all present an obstacle course that slows a job way down. Check to see where cars are parked. Sometimes parking lots are designed to go right up to the building and you do not want your people bumping into expensive automobiles, or in apposition to drop tools on the vehicles. You can arrange for people to park elsewhere that day. Arrive early and partition off the area with cones and or a temporary fence or you might be able to clean the area when no one is occupying the building. Someone once said, “those who fail to plan, plan to fail”.
Perhaps nothing is a greater hindrance to window cleaning than trees. No question, getting around them or working between their branches to clean windows takes time and energy. Some windows prove impossible to clean because tree branches or shrubs press up against the glass. Again, it is best to let the property manager know about the situation and discuss how he or she would like you to handle the situation. You might offer to trim the tree if feasible with the understanding and a signed waiver stating that you are not responsible for any damage aesthetically or the health of the tree, but are simply flowing the direction of the property manager so that you can do your thing which is window cleaning. Sometimes the manager might just decide to skip those particular windows. But if you do that without having the discussion you might be called back to clean them.
How high up the wall are the windows? Avoid the frustration of finding out that you don’t have the right ladder or pole to reach the highest windows. One way to approach the issue is to carry your longest pole with you when you estimate. Then you can go to the highest point and physically extend the pole to see if you can squeegee the window. This way there is no question that your equipment will reach. On commercial buildings floors average 12 feet per floor, you might guess that the third floor is 36ft, but depending on the structure and the slope of the ground, that might not be right. Additionally, some buildings have a parapet wall that extends the glass cleaning above the top floor.
If you measure the first level and the structure is equidistant sometimes you can guestimate the height of the higher remaining floors. Window height plus wall height equals total height.
What other obstacles might be in your way? Stand back and visualize cleaning the building with your equipment. Overhead power lines can be a hazard. Using a water fed pole system can be dangerous around electrical lines. Using ladders and water, in general, are a bad combination when working near power facilities. Overspray on electrical outlets and light fixtures can cause short-circuiting and even fire. An ounce of precaution is worth a pound of cure. Cover outlets and lights with plastic before you spray.
Heavily used walkways present another safety concern. People walking around the building or into the entrance may not be paying attention to your workers. This can be a safety hazard for both your people and the public at large. Knowing high traffic times and taking measures to avoid people traveling below your people's working increases safety for everyone. You may need barriers like orange temporary fencing, or safety cones might be sufficient.
Some sits might be behind a fence or locked gate. In that case, you will need to coordinate with management on how to navigate the site.
When using a boom lift, you will need to imagine moving the machine around the site from all areas. Can you get close enough to make it work? Is the ground firm enough to handle the weight? Septic tanks below ground irrigation systems and other factors might make using a boom impractical. Find out whether you can drive on the ground.
Which way does the sun cross the sky in relationship to the building? As our experienced window cleaners will tell you, it is best to avoid direct sunlight when cleaning windows. Water evaporates quickly on hot glass. Here in Michigan, the southern exposure gets the most sun. The east side of the building will get blasted in the morning and the west side gets hit in the afternoon. By projecting the path of the sun you can figure out where to begin work and or the best time to clean the windows. Make notes for the next time. Best to start in the back in the morning, etc.
TIP: When working commercial jobs, presentation is king, so focus on making the building's entrance sparkle, because this sets the tone for the rest of the building!
Bidding or Interior Window Cleaning
Are there cathedral ceilings or a high inside foyer? Oftentimes poles don’t work particularly well inside. You will want to know what size ladder will do the job. 28, 32. 36 or 40 feet will usually do it.
Working inside takes at least 50% longer than cleaning exteriors because of having to work around interior walls and furniture. There may also be blinds and other things to contend with on the inside. You will want to walk the entire area and see for yourself. In your written estimate you will make a condition that you require unrestricted access to all areas when you need to clean to achieve sufficient productivity in your operation. You must spell out what happens if you are denied access at any time during your operations. If for any reason you don’t have access to a specific area, skip that spot and move on to the next area to keep on schedule and remain financially sufficient.
Consider how you will clean greenhouse or skylight windows. Make sure to explicitly state that those are extra items, charged separately, and not included in a standard window cleaning. When you are counting windows on an interior you must count all of the glass. Some windows may face hallways on “party walls” or exist between offices, not just the glass on exterior walls visible from the outside of the building. Be clear in your estimate which windows you are contracted to clean. A proposal is only as good as the meeting of the minds between the parties. Put it all in writing, clearly and simply for due consideration and acceptance.
You must ask if the windows have any special aftermarket tints or laminations. If so, you need to know if the tint scratches easily. The cheaper ones do. Sometimes you cannot use a squeegee on such interior windows. You might need to use a cotton towel or even a sea sponge to avoid damaging them. Sometimes all you can do is wipe gently. The first rule of Happy Window Cleaning® is to not harm.
Take into account whatever obstacles are in front of the windows. Offices are occupied by individuals and people tend to make space their own. Stuff on window sills or tables directly in front of the glass poses a constraint to your productivity. Remove the constraint by writing in the stipulation that people move their stuff or else you must skip cleaning their windows. Two hundred windows with items to move on each accumulate to an unprofitable scenario.
Is there a special time when the cleaning must take place? Banks, for example. usually require this work to be completed after hours. Some managers will not allow you to work when their people are around. Other managers require you to be chaperoned. Find out what the deal is before you decide what to charge. Again, be very clear about access to your written proposal. This should be considered when they pick from the available dates that you provide. Keep in mind that in large office complexes some people might not have gotten the memo about your coming. Some people may refuse your entry because they have important work to finish, or they have a meeting going on. Commander’s intent is a military term that is a concise expression of the purpose of the operation and the desired end state that serves as the initial impetus for the planning process. It may also include the commander's assessment of the adversary commander's intent and an assessment of where and how much risk is acceptable during the operation. Your commander intends to make sure your window cleaning crew understands that time is money, when in doubt don’t miss a beat, move on.
When you conduct your walkthrough and inspect the interior and exterior, you need to figure out the time needed to complete all of the non-cleaning tasks, even the time spent making the estimate. Also factor in the drive time for employees. They are paid to sit in the van and drive to and from the site. Remember to calculate setting up equipment, tearing down equipment, and even the time you spend laundering your towels.
Here are some questions you should ask when making an estimate:
1. What equipment will be needed for the job?
2. How many sets of equipment?
3. How many towels?
4. Any unusual sized ladders or squeegees, handles, or other equipment needed?
5. How many extension poles?
6. How many ladders, and what sizes?
7. Will the ladder ends need to be covered up?
8. Is all the equipment clean and ready to go? What type of water keys are necessary?
9. Will you use your water-fed pole?
10. Will you need a boom?
11. Will you need safety cones or other barriers?
12. Will you use a swing stage or boatman’s chair? (High Rise cleaning not covered)
Deliver your proposal promptly. Try to submit your bid the day after surveying the site. Save everything. Even if you don’t win the job, this time, they might have you do it the next time.
Things to Consider When Doing an Estimate
According to the Administration on Aging, The Aging population of people over 65 years of age in the USA reached 39.6 million in 2009. In 2030 that number is expected to nearly double, a ladder when the body’s healing goes a bit slower than bygone days. Of course, there are many working in the demographic that can afford to pay cleaning who could perform the work but simply choose to hire it out. These adults take advantage of cleaning services because they work hard at their day jobs and would much rather spend their free time enjoying family or hobbies instead of cleaning. According to Wikipedia the average home in the USA has more than seven hundred sq. ft. per person. From my experience, the average home has forty windows at Five Dollars each is Two Hundred Dollars gross revenue to a window cleaner for each cleaning. The top twenty-five percent of wage earners are raking in over Eighty Thousand Dollars per annum and their homes being the biggest investment that they will ever make translates to their caring for the structure and enjoyment are high priorities for them.
In an age where so many products and services are designed to take advantage of consumers, the best way to stand out is to offer real value for your customers. In the case of window cleaning, this means you have to think of how much of your time a job will take to complete and charge appropriately.
Window cleaning allows you to pay workers a reasonably good hourly wage. According to Rick Suttle of Demand Media window cleaners earn on average $13.89 per hour. Of course, what seems like a good income for one person might be a poor income for another; the expectation for one’s pay is relative to where one has already been in life. That is why employers always include that little space on applications asking you how much you earned on your last job. Learn to offer wages that are competitive and build a company that rewards good performance and do not tolerate poor behavior.
There are, indeed, several cleaning books on the market, and at least one of which makes the wild claim that you can make Two Thousand Dollars per day window cleaning. I must inform you that achieving that kind of volume takes time. With just one helper, the average residential window cleaning (forty windows) earns you about Two Hundred and Fifty Dollars and takes three hours to complete. Most days you’ll finish two sites (travel prep, estimates, trips to the bank), and if you work hard you have enough light to do three homes. Two Thousand Dollars per day comes only with years of dedication and a client list covering thousands of repeat customers. Still, this is a business of great possibility. If you are fiercely determined to grow, willing to travel a wide territory (or a densely populated city), and if you operate your business efficiently you could indeed be at the Two Thousand Dollar per day in as little as seven to ten years. For perspective, consider that we’re talking about more money than most television stars can earn as characters on a nationally televised sitcom! However, that would be an exceptional operation indeed. Most window cleaners find contentment in a comfortable living by way of completing one or two homes per day during the good weather and do only what they must in the bad weather.
The cleaning business is hard work and insofar as compensation is concerned, you can only do well if your fee structure is fair to all involved and this includes yourself. Only those who value themselves have the gumption to charge near what you are worth. With that said, times are hard and those who can afford the cleaning services know that times are hard, not for them (of course), but for other people who work for a living. One must be realistic about the margins one expects to earn at a service occupation in today’s economy where there is serious competition. There are limits to what people will pay you to have their homes and commercial space cleaned and there are limits even to their loyalty to you when others come along and charge considerably less. Once I built my reputation I was able to command fees at the top of the scale, which is up to a hundred bucks per hour and per crew. But I also knew when to lower fees, adjusting to quash the advantage of new players who recently entered the marketplace. The average is about seventy per hour per crew. If you wish to earn really big money per annum, over six figures as discussed above, you will need to have multiple crews handling many routes and accounts.
We touched on the topic of project management when we discussed specializing in what you do best. As you have noticed, all of these niches have their order of operations, designated tools (current assets in accounting terms) cleaning agents (a project cost), transportation, performance bond if required, and labor cost. Your job as a business owner is to plan your project in such a manner as to achieve the greatest efficiency. So if all of the variables are expressed as dollars, you will want to put the fewest dollars into the project that it will require to achieve specific results. In other words:
In dollars – Out dollars
X times 100 = % efficiency
In this case “in” would be the projected revenue and “out” would be the total project costs. These are the variables one must think about to successfully estimate and complete a project profitably. Express costs in a manner that is easily understood by the one who will be reviewing your proposal. Your employees, if you have any, should be able to understand what is required of them so that your company completes its mission of exceeding the expectations of your client, not only being paid for your services but earning new fans of your business. The other aspect of project management is working with a team of employees who are properly trained and who understand the value of their contribution.
Once you have decided what service mix you will offer, the next thing you will want to do is to conduct a time study to determine the man-hours it requires to clean a given area. For example, in window cleaning, simply time yourself cleaning a single-window then multiply by the number of windows in the building. Also remember to account for staging, travel, moving furniture and window treatments, and any other factor that will require your time. When you have a helper, use a stopwatch and time him cleaning the window. Now he knows that you know how long cleaning a window properly takes and when you send the worker out on a job by himself he will know what your reasonable expectations are. A time study is essential for project management even if you choose to charge for your services in some other manner.
Often, if I don't want my bill to reflect a high hourly fee, I will itemize the bill. For instance, a forty window home is an average home. Forty windows at Five Dollars per window for interior and exterior cleaning equals Two Hundred Dollars; but if the job requires the disassembling of screens, cleaning screens, and reassembly, then that is a different story and I will have to charge in addition to window cleaning, unlike homes where there are no screens as is the case of most homes cooled by central air conditioning. So, if there are twenty screens I might charge Two Dollars per screen which is another Forty Dollars tacked onto the bill. But wait, if the home sits on a hill and the side windows require leveling the ladder at each window (wheel chalks or planking), this is very time-consuming and laborious, and the “staging fee” could be as much as the window cleaning or even more, whereas if the landscape surrounding the home is flat and moving the ladder from one window to another is easy I will waive the staging fee entirely.
The idea is to earn a fair wage for my effort and the service within the parameters set by market demand. For many people, paying the itemized bill when you and a helper spend four hours on the job seems more reasonable than stating Sixty Dollars or Seventy-Five Dollars per hour especially to those who might be earning Seventeen Dollars to Thirty-Five Dollars per hour at their professions. Remember, some folks who are retired may be living on a fixed income, and it is socially responsible to offer our elders a generous discount. Personally, it is very fulfilling to me whenever I can help someone who has physical limitations, and if the person is an elder, I understand their financial limitations.
Take the case of what happens from the customer’s perspective. She has recently experienced a sense of annoyance because her beautiful view has become soiled. Dirt and grime are obscuring an otherwise pristine view overlooking a blossoming orchard or the white caps breaking on Lake Michigan. Now, this prospective client has worked extremely hard in her career to be able to afford such a view, and seeing things in a restricted light she is not content. Now comes along your direct marketing piece. It presents a picture of a sparkling freshly cleaned window, it has a disarming hassle-free guarantee, and even offers a discount if she calls before the expiration date. Your call to action has fanned her already existing flame of desire for a great view, causing her to visualize her windows improved by your service offering. In short, the prospect now wants her windows cleaned and it is only a matter of time before she calls.
According to the Bureau of Labor statistics job prospects for Janitors and Building, Cleaners are expected to grow as fast as average from 2012 to 2020. There were 2,324,000 documented workers in 2012 and there are expected to be 2,800,000 in 2020. As companies continue to outsource, the employment prospects for experienced well-trained cleaning technicians are very good. Specifically, window cleaning is not as yet recognized by the Bureau of Labor as a separate and distinct occupation. Nonetheless, just take a look in any local telephone book to see that window cleaning is presently a flourishing occupation. The fact that there is competition attests that there is a market for the service. Assess your SWOT - Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats to your business.
Your target audiences (a fancy way of saying potential customers) in the window cleaning niche are by and large stable people who can afford the convenience of having someone perform what they could conceivably do for themselves (except for disabled and elderly persons) but would rather pay someone else to avoid the hassle. In other words, your potential customers are people who are already to some extent living the American Dream, and they tend to be better educated and more affluent than the average Joe.
To be frank, a well-presented direct advertisement for window cleaning is all that is necessary to attract the attention of a would-be client. Timing is everything. If you are needed and available and so long as you do not blow the opportunity, you can learn to be a window cleaning contractor. Nearly as important to your marketing efforts is to uphold diligent and consistent communication with every individual on your client list to ensure adequate repeat business in the future. Build an opt-in email list right from the start.
Case in Point
Sparkle Window Cleaning is a fictitious company I just made up to make a point. This is the kind of company whose reputation you do not want to emulate.
Hip’s job title is “salesman” and he is an estimator for the company. Hip knows just how to lay it on thick when preparing the proposal. Like most successful salesmen, Hip is a likable guy who appears to listen to the prospect’s concerns and is skilled at crafting a convincing pitch by meticulously writing all the line items that the customer wants to be included in the cleaning. Therein, Hip promises to remove all insect excrement, paint overspray, tape, stickers, clean the sills, and tracks, and for a bit extra he will remove all of the screens and rinse, soapy brush final rinse, and carefully reassemble the screens when once they’ve air-dried. Hip knows what customers want and he will even offer to walk the comfort pet if necessary. Hip offers the lowest bid possible to make sure he gets the job for the company. The conversion from prospect to customer is won by Hip’s salesmanship and the job is put onto the schedule for completion.
Slick has been the company’s window crew foreman for eight months and is probably the weakest link of all. Remember, a company is like a chain in the respect that it is only as strong as its weakest link. Slick arrives at the job site ten minutes late and pulls the company truck into the driveway behind the client’s Jaguar. Saving himself a twenty-yard walk from the street Slick is pleased with himself for parking so close to the door. Just then Slick realizes that he has to pee bad so he rings the doorbell and greets the expecting client with a request to use her bathroom. With that indelible impression made, Slick soon gets to work (forgetting to put the seat down in the bathroom) nevertheless, Slick does a reasonably good job at cleaning the exterior side of the windows. After a few hours of labor though Slick is beginning to feel the fatigue and his workmanship fades on the interior portion of the home. Slick dry dust some of the interior windows rationalizing that they weren’t so bad, to begin with. Slick knows the company policy is to squeegee clean every pane and to clean tracks and casings properly with a damp rag. Also, he saves time because he begins to skip properly squeezing the excess water from his scrub brush and he leaves faint but noticeable streaks on the walls below the clean windows. In his haste, Slick has moved a chair and three tables away from windows but can’t remember exactly where they were at when he started, so he puts the furniture back approximately where he found it. Finally Slick’s helper, Mr. Cool, showed up on the site two hours late. After about twenty minutes of work, Mr. Cool began to get warm so he took off his sweatshirt and tossed it over the dining room chair, but Slick allowed it since the article would only be present for the duration of the cleaning and Cool usually remembers to grab his sweatshirt afterward. This time, he didn’t.
At the end of the day the windows which were heavily soiled looked pretty well and Hip, Slick, and Cool felt confident that Mrs. Proper would be pleased with their performance and she will at least be willing to pay the bill. Although Mrs. Proper did pay the bill what Hip Slick and Cool would not realize is that they had sabotaged the lifetime value of their newly acquired client. Many clients will not complain when they are not satisfied with your company’s performance. They simply will never call again. In the case above their mediocre performance did not lend to maximizing repeat business, nor did it lower customer acquisition cost.
The moral of the story is that although windows require repeat regular cleanings, they do not have to be performed by your company. Every action upon arriving at the worksite should be conducted by providing the perfect experience and pampering of your customer.
Don’t Worry About the Competition
Henry Ford said it best: “The business to be feared is the one that never thinks about the competition but just goes about improving his own business all the time”. Besides, the fact that there are other window cleaners in the telephone book means that there are already people willing to pay for your services. Now all you need to do is figure out how to make your service more valuable to those people than the others. One way to do this is to provide an exceptional service experience to your customers.
Consistency is how you stand out in the crowd. This is how they will remember you, by how well you tend to the details of their wishes. Show them that you care about how enjoyable the experience of hiring your company is. You want them to remember you for all the right reasons!
The window cleaner would begin to put a smile on the customer’s face from the very beginning and build on that tempo until the very crescendo. The result should be to exceed the customers’ expectations memorably so that the customer remembers the positive experience and would be willing to tell others all about it.
The key to success in window cleaning is to deliver great work every single time, meet your projects’ deadline, finish ahead of schedule if possible, and make the entire experience enjoyable for the customer. Above all is the last one, be fun to work with! People enjoy working with people who seem at ease in their skin. Once you earn the reputation that you are reliable you will have a booked schedule all of the time while others who do not pay attention to the details will be scratching their heads and wondering how you did it. Don’t worry, it is our little secret.
Your customers probably have not thought of all of the hours that you spend marketing and the trouble you go through behind the scenes in your business to make accepting that project possible. To avoid sticker shock, you might humbly explain that you pay the insurance and other fixed expenses and that only a small portion of your fee becomes your salary. Such candor when delivered with genuine empathy will take you a very long way in business.
Transparency and meeting expectations are what make one successful at cleaning contracting. Some organizations will have specifications for what they expect on a given job. Be prepared for a lot of different ideas of “what clean is” from various clients. Many times a client may have trouble communicating what they need, therefore it is best to conduct a thorough evaluation of the site. What duties does the customer’s in-house staff normally do on their own? If you are hired, will they continue to perform those duties? If your company's help is supplemental then your proposal should reflect the actual work that you will be performing. Taking the time to get this right and to properly interview your prospective client will set the tone right off the bat for a positive working relationship and reflect on your professionalism.
Many clients are willing to pay a premium to have a hassle-free relationship. If they wanted to babysit a janitor they would have hired one on their own and supervised him. On the other hand, some people do micro-manage and this type A personality will have ideas about not just the results they want but the best method to get those results. While it is true that there may be more than one way to skin a cat, try to remember who is signing your paycheck. Being in business for yourself does not mean that you do not have a boss; if that is the attitude that you are going to take you will fail.
One last word about estimating. It is best to strike while the iron is hot, so try to get that estimate in a day or two after your site tour. An estimate that is typed and organized says something about your work so ask yourself if the presentation of your estimate provides the image that you seek for your company. If it is sloppily written and your prices are low, can the customer reasonably expect quality workmanship from you?
In a large city, you may be asked to estimate the number of locations for the same franchise owner; offers like that are nice but always remember to balance your time spent in marketing so that you do not become too reliant on any one client. Send the owner a thank you card. Remember these business owners are people too, a little appreciation for the opportunity will go a long way.
BUILDUP: WINDOWS NOT CLEANED FOR MANY YEARS
“Buildup” is a term coined in the cleaning industry to describe a situation where soils have accumulated in layers over many years. Buildup does not occur over a few seasons. Windows get filthy in a matter of months but that is not buildup. What is important from an operational/productivity standpoint is that buildup cannot be anticipated, and it cannot be distinguished from normal year-to-year accumulations of soil. A visual inspection alone of a window cannot determine when the last cleaning was, or if there is preexisting buildup. That is because dirty looks dirty even when there isn’t a buildup of layers. Like the remodeler who discovers three layers of flooring beneath the carpeting during demolition, the cleaner only discovers buildup when attempting to clean.
Let’s say that we have provided a proposal to clean the home for $275.00. There are forty double-hung windows of a certain size, on two levels with a certain degree of accessibility, and all other factors that go into such a proposal being the same. The proposal is made in good faith, and the fact that there might be additional charges for buildup is explained for the prospect’s due consideration. We are known to go the extra mile. What’s more, we have honored every one of our proposals last season. A few times we found ourselves in situations where the buildup caused us to go ten extra miles and this leaves everyone feeling worn down and defeated. In such situations, the technician finds himself under pressure to hurry because the project goes over budget with insufficient profitability.
In reality, what we had proposed to perform was a standard cleaning which because of undisclosed buildup turns into something else. Here is what is involved. For an experienced technician cleaning one side of the double-hung window (two panes) ranges from sixty seconds for the best of us to a minute and thirty seconds per side of the window) Professional window cleaners usually fall someplace in between that proficiency range The most extreme job with buildup in my career was a ranch home whose widowed owner admitted they had not had the windows cleaned even once over sixty years in the home! (For simplicity's sake the above calculations exclude other steps in our standard process such as cleaning the tracks, sills, and screens. [As a side note, to understand the big picture (which is the value created and delivered by the service) direct labor is just one-third of the true cost to bring a service to market, hence every company’s “income or loss statement” contains three distinct sections labor being a big part of one those sections.]
Before we can understand how a technician can quantify build up I must first explain our process for a standard cleaning. Imagine that I (or someone better looking if you wish) am in my uniform and wearing my tool belt standing in front of a double-hung window. Using my cotton pre-moistened well-wrung scrubber I apply the one percent concentrated cleaning agent to the glass. Paying attention not to get any drips to the wall or the floor, I gently use a circular motion to agitate the surface while providing a bit of dwell time to penetrate the soils. Next, I make my critical edge with a dry towel and squeegee. Upon inspection (doing what we call the chicken dance) to see all angles I notice that some things remain, including some light paint overspray, insect excrement, and a bit of tree sap. So, I apply the cotton scrubber to wet the pane a second time. This time I use a different agitation device, a bit more abrasive than the cotton scrubber but not so coarse that it might damage the glass. I wipe and squeegee then step back and examine for a few expected tough spots and touch them up. That is what a typical routine cleaning of glass entails.
Build up is what (if anything) is left over once the second squeegeeing is completed. The cleaning process necessarily stays the same. This means that we cannot use a stronger concentration of detergent. Stronger does not work better. If you would like to understand why you are welcome to call me or just ask any of our cleaning technicians, they can explain the cleaning chemistry.
Similarly, there is a limit to the coarseness and intensity of agitation that is safe to use on a given surface. Just as there is a limit to the force that can be safely applied to a pane of glass. When build-up exists, the only prudent recourse the professional cleaner has is to repeat a cleaning. The first two repetitions are our responsibility. That is what we have contracted to do. The third pass is going the extra mile to please our customers on what is turning out to be an exceptionally difficult job.
There is no way really to sugarcoat the following. We know that our prospects already understand that window cleaning is hard work. It is what we are paid to do, it is what we have chosen to do with our lives and we are serving our customers with the best of intentions. We are also prone to injuries from sharps on tracks and frames risking infections. Patrick Quin, my former employee who took over Scott’s Janitorial in Ludington died from such an infection. Pat was working long hours in the service of others, did not properly tend to his wound, and succumbed to blood poisoning.
A window cleaner certified by OSHA in occupational safety as myself regularly encounter pesticides, volatile organic carbons from the paint which are vaporized in the waste solution, biological pathogens, stinging insects, and all manner of nastiness. Window cleaners do what most people don’t like to do even once every day. There is more to the job of window cleaning than the risk of falling off a ladder. That is the unsung reality of being a professional cleaning technician. We don’t complain. We do what we do because we love being in the fresh air under the sun and we love to serve. We also happen to know best how to do the job as safely as possible. Don’t get me wrong, those of us who clean windows long term genuinely enjoys the job. The point is simply that there are two sides to everything. We want our prospects to fully understand the value that window cleaners deliver.
When you hire a professional, you transfer the risk to the latter, and in our case, we assume and accept that the risk is transferred to us. Further, we do everything possible to train and to provide our people with a safe working environment including ladder safety training, best practices, carrying first aid supplies, etc.
There is also such a thing as a reasonable expectation in the intensity of the work itself. The body of a cleaning technician is not infallible. Being such, we expect our technicians to be physically willing and able to clean two to three regular-sized homes in a single day. That is a lot of work. But the human body is resilient and we provide the highest quality tools of the trade to support our teams in their work. Consistent with the Parable of the Talents, with our open-book profit-sharing model, we pass a share of the harvest to our employees and reward productivity. We feel a responsibility to provide a path for the growth of our people who work so hard for all of us.
Let’s assume that a home has not been cleaned in ten years. The build-up in such a case might take two cleanings to get it into top shape. Now if we had been the cleaners from the time the home was new, the buildup would not have happened. Of course, we also understand however that our clients sometimes inherit the problems from previous owners, etc. Let’s face it, we all live busy hectic lives. Things can get away from the best of us. We do not judge.
We are here to serve, and we do so enthusiastically. We care about our employees and we care deeply about our customers. We simply want the best for everyone. We really cannot possibly tell whether there is build-up until we have started to clean. Now to put this issue into proper perspective we see build up maybe once in twenty homes. Most of what we encounter is the normal soils of a season, or a few, maybe three seasons at worst. There is some variation in “the volume and variety of solid deposits depending on if a house sits close to a road or on a lake. Those are factors we take into consideration when we provide a proposal. The good news is that for the most part, a standard cleaning does exactly what it should. Therefore, our policy is to clean a window that has to build up until it is “as good as it will get”. We are only prepared to deliver just the one cleaning the same way that our customers expect the window cleaners to be in their private space for a certain time. This is how we will be training our staff to handle buildup going forward.
The buildup is a problem that we encounter with new customers primarily. That is because our old customers have us back frequently. Some new customers may wish to pay for a second cleaning. Just keep in mind that there is a limit however to what we can expect from our employees who are moving from one job to the next on the schedule for a single day. For this reason, when we encounter buildup we are obligated to provide the one standard cleaning that we were hired to do. If the client wants to, we will make it our priority to schedule another window cleaning session on a mutually convenient schedule. Beware that we are usually booked solid a few months ahead during peak season. Also, we do not presume to know what is right for our customer’s budgets.
UPCHARGING FOR SERVICES CASE STUDY
• How should upcharges be made in situations when we are not able to foresee that such circumstance that warrants so is present when making an estimate?
• Thesis Statement: Upcharges should be made judiciously in a manner that is favorable and acceptable to both the company and the customer.
Crews 1, 2, and 3 set out to do the jobs assigned to them based on the job order sheets they got.
Crew #1 was led by Bob and he works with Alex, an apprentice window cleaner. They have only one job for the day and it is for $299. When the crew arrived, Bob noticed that there was buildup. The customer was busy running his home-based business so he did not bother to discuss this with him. Instead, he told Alex that they have to do the best that they can to give the customer a great experience. What should have been a 3-hour job (rough estimate) became 7 hours as they worked on the buildup. When the job was done, they charged the customer $299 because Bob feels they have to honor the quote.
John is the leader of Crew #2 and he works with Caleb. They have two jobs for the day, one is for $350 and another for $299. Just like Crew #2, John noticed there was buildup. He talked to the customer about the procedure and how working on the buildup is going to cost more. The customer was willing to pay more so her windows will look nice. Thereafter, he calls Customer #2 to tell her that his crew will be running late because the first job is taking longer than expected. Meanwhile, in Caleb’s earnest effort to get the job done faster, he scrubbed the window so hard that because of the force applied, he consequently broke a window.
Crew #3 was led by Roy and he works with Drew. They have only one job for the day for $299. Contrary to their expectations, the customer’s house is full of French windows. It takes twice or even thrice the time to do them compared to regular windows, they thought. The customer was not home so Roy took the initiative of upcharging the job to $700 and left the invoice as instructed by the customer. When she got the invoice, the customer complained. Management explained that upcharges were explained in the estimate she received via email and that by accepting the estimate she agreed to everything that was written there. The customer admitted that she didn’t read everything and thought the quote was firm but paid the fee.
Ethan is in charge of Crew #4 and works with Frank. The job is for $299. The customer was not home. It shows that the home was neglected for a while and cobwebs have formed on the corners of the walls. Ethan and Frank removed the cobwebs first and added $100 for their labor to the bill for window cleaning. They made a note on the job order that next time it should be $399 because the job for cleaning the windows itself is worth $399 and not $299. The customer called the management to complain about the upcharge.
Alternatives and Constraints
Crew #1 –
a. No need to bother the customer. He/she wants the job done.
b. The crew leader should inform the customer that there is a buildup.
c. The crew leader need not verbalize the need for an upcharge. Just do it. It’s in the estimate anyway.
d. The crew leader should have informed the customer that are extra charges for cleaning the buildup as explained in the estimate
e. The crew leader should think of the interests of the company by making sure we are not short-selling ourselves
f. Honoring the quote is important. It’s not about the money.
a. It’s okay to bump the second customer after all there’s no fixed time for afternoon customers.
b. It’s okay not to inform the customer that the first job will take longer, after all no definite time was fixed. Just call when the crew is on their way.
c. Call the second customer and ask if it’s okay for them to arrive several hours later than scheduled.
a. It is always wise to upcharge when necessary. We are in the business for the money.
b. The customer is expected to know when upcharges apply.
c. The crew leader could have called the customer first instead of just leaving an invoice with a hefty bill.
a. The crew leader should have called the customer about the extra service
b. There is no need to inform the customer. Just upcharge after all they couldn’t do the windows without clearing the cobwebs.
c. It’s okay to upcharge for one service and adjusts the price later for window cleaning to make up for the miscalculation in the estimate as a whole
a. Customer will raise the issue that he/she was not informed
b. Customer doesn’t want surprises
c. Company pays for more hours of labor than the customer paid for
d. Next customer will be upset because he already fixed his schedule
e. The window cleaner will be rushing to the point that it affects the quality of work or worse, cause damage to the customer’s property
f. Bad reputation for unjust upcharges.
a. Customers should be informed both ways: in the estimate and verbally while on the job, either in person or by phone.
b. The fact that the customer is busy or not around is not an excuse. You are working on his project, he is paying for it, so if there is a problem (upcharge is in effect an adjustment of the terms in the contract), he should know what he is paying for.
c. Meeting of the minds is important to avoid surprises on the part of the customer, after all the window cleaning project is an agreement/contract. This way, they cannot accuse us of unfair dealing. While a customer is informed of possible upcharges in writing (through the estimate), experience shows us that not all customers read the entire estimate. It is not our fault that they don’t do so, but by reminding them verbally and by communicating with the customer, a mutual decision can be reached.
d. While the crew leader should think of the interests of the company by making sure we are not short-selling ourselves, he should make sure that proper procedures are observed so the company doesn’t get a bad reputation of upcharging arbitrarily.
Three possible scenarios after the customer are informed:
1. The customer will accept the upcharge and you can proceed as agreed upon, making sure it does not adversely affect the second appointment for the day if any. (Note: Experience shows us that so far, none of the upcharges that we have done in the past have adversely affected the next customer’s schedule. The crew leaders were able to manage it and do the jobs as scheduled).
2. The customer will say no to the upcharge but will ask you to deliver the service for what the amount agreed upon covers (example: clean the windows for the quoted price and we’ll schedule another time for the buildup).
3. The customer will want to cancel, in which case you enforce the cancellation fee which is worth half the value of the project. This cancellation policy is found at the bottom of every estimate sent to a prospect.
1. The crew leader should communicate verbally with the customer at all costs. If communication is not possible, honor the quote but make a note so the customer can be informed later on, and management will take note of the fact as well.
2. Upcharge reasonably, for specific and valid reasons.
3. Respect the customer’s decision, but also respect the time of the next customer (if any) as well.
4. When you’re working on a job, stay focused. Do not do the job sloppily because you have another job to do later. Don’t worry so much about the rest of the day so that you are sacrificing the quality of the here and now (the present job).
5. Adjusting the time for the next customer is acceptable if he/she agrees but never reschedule the next customer for another day just because you chose to prioritize the needs of the first customer.
Bottom line: These recommendations go together. The main goal is the lifetime value of the customer. True, it’s not all about money. While we want to be compensated for our hard work, we also would rather have a repeat customer than an upset one-time customer for big bucks. The best way to achieve this is by effective communication with the customer.
Proposals and Negotiations
Most of the time the path to signing a window cleaning contract is direct and clear, it is just a matter of listening to the client and writing a proposal that meets the client’s custodial needs at a reasonable fee, and which promises to earn profit for the company. The formal Request for Proposal Process whereby all proposals are “sealed, is a process designed to elicit the best possible cost scenario for the concerned by seizing the advantage from the outset of communication. There is no question whether your company will be going up against other companies in the process, which is a foregone conclusion. In the book 3-D Negotiations authors David Lax and James Sebenius describe a three-dimensional model for negotiations being “Set Up, Structure and Discussion.” The “setup” is laying the groundwork for a satisfying outcome to the negotiation. The structure is your process for doing business and the discussion is everything that happens between the request for proposal and the actual drafting of the agreement for signatures. These concepts are central to every competitive contractor. Lax and Sebenius describe how one can effectively “tip the scale in his favor, even before the negotiations begin so that you can make the best deal possible.
You might be wondering what that looks like for a cleaning company. Preliminary negotiations are tied to your company’s reputation in the marketplace. Think of the perspective of someone looking to hire a cleaning company, no matter how formal the process for outsourcing is a company is still comprised of human beings who talk to each other. This is where branding matters. If two bids are comparable in every way except that one company is an unknown and the other company is a household name, well you do the math. So what can you do to build or improve your brand? For one thing, you use a smart tagline that represents your company’s value in the marketplace. I give credit to a company in Michigan that came up with a simple jingle that rhymes with their name and sticks in the mind. It goes: “Modernistic Simple and Quick the first in quality and convenience….” So much is said by those words. People looking to hire a cleaning company aren’t looking for a brain surgeon, they also don’t want to deal with a trashy contractor, and they just want the work done without a hassle. Your tagline needs to say that. So you’ve done that and now you have an actual opportunity to convert a prospect to a paying client.
Think about how you will make the prospect’s experience match what it was that drew them to your company in the first place. In other words, above all, be consistent. How do your company vehicle and uniformed staff appear to the public? If a contractor drives up to perform an estimate in a beat-up clunker there may be some question in the mind of a prospective client as to whether the company will even be around in six months. If some of this sounds suspiciously like marketing that is because it is; value creation, communication, and value delivery are completely interdependent in real-world applications.
It is best to position yourself as a consummate professional (clarify) all the way. In this business, you will often find yourself working across generational and class lines, real and imagined. So you need to position yourself in a manner that your prospects are open to dealing with you. Wear a uniform. Send the message that you are building a solid company and the mission is most important, more important than your ego!
The second part of negotiations is learning all you can about the company you are proposing to work for. First of all, who is in charge? Are you even talking to the right person? By understanding that company’s vision, mission, values, where they’ve been, and where they are going you are fully armed to make your case to them. Remember, in a sense, you are asking to align yourself with them. Companies care about whom they associate with. It is at this point that you have gathered all of the facts such as the specifications for cleaning (after probably taking ten or twenty minutes with a Google search) for your proposal that it is now the time to ask for an interview. The interview consists of your asking multiple pertinent questions to discover all that is important to your prospect and in what particular order.
Let’s consider an office cleaning proposal at a travel agency. Important questions are:
• Does your company recycle and if so, to what extent?
• Does anyone at the company has known allergies to clean agents? (good time to chime in a message about your green and hypoallergenic line of cleaning products)
• Are there items that you are currently handling in the house that you wish to continue as it is? Often there are preexisting personal preferences such as the customer may wish to clean her dishes in the lunchroom sink.
• Will the customer order trash liners, soap, hand sanitizer, facial tissue, C-fold hand towels, toilet paper, and feminine napkins? Or perhaps they would like you to order and stock those items?
• Are there specific fragrances or products that the customer prefers or that should not be used on the premises?
• Where is the circuit breaker box (in case you trip a circuit)?
• You should ask what day is trash day and what type of container does the concern has? Perhaps you could pull the trash out to the road for the smaller office which does not have dumpster service.
• Would they like to have the windows cleaned regularly? (You do the entry doors as a part of the regular service)
Once you have all of the required information you begin to draft a proposal that essentially you think will most benefit the other party in terms of freeing up their time to focus on their important work, (in this case, getting commissions from hotels and fees from their clients) You will show how your company employs a checklist and that you will be personally conducting regular incentivized inspections for quality assurance purposes. You will emphasize the several means of communicating with you that will be made available to the client to reach you at all hours. Your cellphone number and welcome text messaging, email, fax, smoke signals; give whatever tickles their fancy. Be sure to include that you will be furnishing all of the cleaning agents and tools to perform the work.
The setting of the project will help you to determine the subtleties around the deal. For instance, if the concerned is a business that hosts its clients at the premises there may be an upcoming event or party which makes the deal more urgent for them. In sum, the set-up of the deal is your process of gathering information, interviewing the prospect, and formally planning a project to create the most value customized for a peculiar client in his particular situation. If your process is great, it will prove itself conducive to getting a good deal even before you deliver the written proposal. If your reputation is legendary, many prospects will not even bother to invite competing proposals from the pack of competitors.
The structure is the second element of negotiation. This is essentially where you rewrite your draft in as much iteration as it takes to produce a polished yet concise proposal that is likely to be appreciated and approved.
Critical Thinking Exercise:
What is it exactly that you propose to do for the client? Hint: Show how it is superior rather than saying that you are better. Proposed actions are solid whereas generalized promises are hollow.
When we say “clean” we are speaking in general and too often subjective terms. However, when science is applied to cleaning and thereby you establish procedures that are within or even exceed the highest standards of the industry as a whole, well, then you have earned the right to confidently claim that you deliver the best results possible. That is something to truly be proud of.
There are very real tradeoffs in window cleaning contracts that are open to consideration. Once you have drafted a proposal that is everything the customer would like and then some, you show what is involved to realistically achieve such a project. It might be a cost-prohibitive proposal, and when done in all honesty it often is, so you lower the expectations of the client by convincingly showing him what it would take if no corners are to be cut. Now, if someone else comes along and makes wild claims they will not be so believable. You have educated the prospect.
What are the anticipated barriers or objections to your proposal? What concessions are you willing to make?
The bottom line is this, contracting is all about reaching common ground and maintaining a mutually satisfactory relationship.
The overhead in window cleaning is minimal, and you are only limited by how much actual work you can perform on a given day. This limit of production by labor for a service business is called scalability. In planning business growth, you will constantly evaluate the controllable variables to scale your throughput (units cleaned per day) upwards. The more work performed the more revenue generated and greater is the profit. In window cleaning, it will take cultivating a great team of cleaning technicians to achieve growth once you have filled your schedule to its maximum capacity. Another important kind of throughput is presenting proposals for new work. While some bid processes are closed and the time for completion is set in stone, with the majority of your estimating work it will be up to you how quickly you deliver a proposal to the client after you have inspected the site(s), obtained specifications for the work and met with the principals involved. I always assume that my estimate is one of several and if I’m going to completely wow my prospect then nothing shows professionalism like a thorough and fast proposal. If I can get a proposal finished within a day or so, then I leave the impression that my project will be completed on time. Having a throughput of no more than three days for proposals also ensures that I get them completed and move onto other opportunities.
In general, the longer a customer has to wait the less satisfied they will be. The only way to improve throughput is to start measuring it and figuring out ways to improve your time. Project management is a study of incremental improvements by way of time management. Shave a half-hour here, improve delivery by a day there and it all adds up in the year and shows up on the bottom line of your P & L Statement.
Window Cleaning in Different Places
Geographical location has a major effect on the frequency that windows become soiled and need cleaning. Desert areas offer the most opportunity due to loose soil and free wind to carry the soil. Some residential clients will have window cleanings performed monthly in such conditions. Likewise, beach homes tend to collect sand; dwellings closer to roadways get soiled more quickly than those with better tree coverage set back from the road. Extremely cold climates are less ideal for window cleaning. However, because sunlight is important even Alaskans living in the Arctic Circle clean their windows from time to time.
Residential Window Cleaning
Glass is a wonderful substance, it allows us to view our world and enjoy the view without being subjected to the harsh elements of wind, heat, and cold. We can work in comfort while looking out upon the horizon envisioning the possibilities of the future. Once we leave work we drive home in relative comfort, and if it is raining we turn on the wipers to clear our vision to the path home. It is pleasant after a long hard day at our jobs to take a few moments once we arrive at home to reflect upon our day, and your best reflection comes in clean windows! Window cleaners take pleasure in tending to a customer’s panes (pun intended)!
It is doable to own a window cleaning operation and not own a vehicle but since most homes have a second story and are more difficult to travel to by bus, a vehicle is ideal to perform residential window cleaning.
Commercial Window Cleaning
Depending on the geography, and whether it is an urban or suburban environment, the frequency of commercial client calls change. In the southwestern USA in the desert, people have their windows cleaned more regularly because the sand and dust blows with little vegetation impeded. In areas with forest and high grasslands, there is less blowing soil and windows stay cleaner longer. Generally speaking, commercial establishments everywhere will have their windows cleaned on a bi-weekly or monthly basis. The amount of traffic and type of establishment also matters. Restaurants in particular have an interest in maintaining the highest level of cleanliness in the presentation to their customers. They will usually pay to have the windows cleaned at least twice per month.
When cleaning commercial establishments, try to arrive early when there are no customers so you can do the interior. As the place becomes busy you can move to the exterior and clean those as well. If there is a drive-thru, clean that too! Some restaurants are more soiled than others, and those serving breakfast such as IHOP tend to have tiny syrupy fingerprints all over the tables and windows and could take a bit longer to scrub clean than the average Wendy’s or Burger King. One person can clean an IHOP in about three hours, two hours of which will be interior and one-hour exterior. An average-sized Wendy's takes just one and a half to two hours to clean.
I charged One Hundred Sixty Dollars per month to clean the exterior and interior windows at this location, a job that was a lot more fun in the summer than the winters in Michigan. Cleaning the playland was a bonus.
Learning to clean skyscrapers using ropes, anchors, and counterweights is a great way to get media coverage and launch your window cleaning business. The pay is very good but the liability insurance tends to be a bit pricey. In any event, since high-rise window cleaning involves supervised training and safety considerations these are beyond the scope of this book. We recommend that you receive proper training in climbing and repelling and do not attempt anything dangerous without such training.
Avoiding contact with electrical wires, beehives, and slippery roof tiles are just some of the hazards encountered when cleaning windows and skylights. High rise work requires training with climbing gear, counterweights, and repelling. While I will illustrate some basic safety tips, I advise that you take a course in mountaineering before attempting to climb the Sears Tower. To learn more about keeping yourself safe in your workplace, I suggest sitting through an “OSHA” General Occupational Safety class.
The Tucker and Other “Spot Free” Systems. While there is no substitute for a human being up and close with window solution, a razor, a window scrubber, squeegee, and blue husk rags, the next best thing is a soapy brush on a pole and a spot-free window solution. These systems use the technology of reverse osmosis to remove excess minerals from the rinse water which is especially important when the water cannot be completely removed as it is with a squeegee. Set up is relatively fast with these systems and they can reach several stories. If you do not have the proper training to use climbing gear this is an alternative, however, the results are not nearly as good since it is impossible to remove tree sap, insect excrement, paint, and hard water deposits (from rainwater) using these systems. The spot-free system is a great follow-up cleaning to a thorough deep cleaning and if used frequently will keep windows from accumulating stains that tend to bake onto glass and harden over time. The disadvantage of these systems is that it takes a superhuman to physically lift the extended poles and improperly lifting can result in serious injury. An extended pole is a lever. As the pole is stretched out it must be held in a vertical position for the duration of cleaning. The force required to lift the telescopic pole becomes geometrically greater with slight changes in the angle, similar to lifting a ladder but since the pole is much longer the force is much greater.
The good news is there are plenty of two-story commercial buildings that are not for insurance purposes classified as skyscrapers. With a few short extension poles and a four-foot step ladder, or telescopic ladder, a window cleaner can conceivably even take his tools of the trade onto public transit, such as buses and light-rail trains to get to the busy office buildings, restaurants, and retail establishments that need repeat cleaning to keep that spotless presentation and curb appeal that is essential to their successful operations.
Find out how construction firms rank compared to the others in your local Business Journal (most places have a business newspaper that ends in “Journal”). These newspapers typically have a book that they sell listing the top companies in the area by rank. It includes the names of the principal players and their contact names. When something winds up from the desk of the CEO, the Maintenance Manager who will probably decide whether to hire you or do the work in the house will look it over thoroughly. On the other hand, referrals work from the bottom up more often than not. Being friendly to a receptionist will often result in her passing along your information to someone at the firm in a position to do business. This type of business is all about proper timing. It takes a lot of canvassing and when you do that you will wind up at the right place at the right time some of the time. It is a numbers game.
Building contractors range from part-time general contractors to those who own large construction companies whose numerous build multiplex residential and commercial units annually. Some projects might consist of hundreds of units, such as the sound insulation project in San Francisco around the airport. You might require several crews and a few months to complete such a project. In the beginning, it is most likely that you’ll start with smaller projects. A construction cleaning is the same as residential and commercial construction. Windows usually have stickers that must be removed (you may need to save the stickers if the building inspector has not done a final inspection). Sheetrock dust is typically heavy, therefore, you may do an initial cleaning after the drywall sub-contractor applies mud to the seams and before the painters are scheduled to arrive. Later you will be called back to do a final cleaning before the building is shown, or before the owner moves into the building. It is best to visit the office of the contractor and make yourself known to them as soon as possible. Most of these outfits are looking for the lowest bidder, but that does not mean that you shouldn’t point exactly how you offer a superior service that would justify a higher rate. The number one thing with building contractors is reliability. These guys expect you to keep your appointments and to finish on time. Rescheduling this kind of job because of a conflict is a recipe for trouble. Keep your word, do a great job and enjoy regular repeat business.
Many office complexes only have windows cleaned annually or twice per year. The janitorial company may subcontract this work. The janitorial company may clean the entrance areas frequently, but typically anything above the first floor is not cleaned frequently. Some exceptions happen. I have had banks and other professional buildings whose managers want cleanings quarterly (every three months) and an insurance office that had cleanings monthly. The best way to approach contracting is to never assume that you understand what the prospect wants until you have given them a good listening to. Schedule an estimate and spend most of the time questioning the client. What are they expecting? Then provide them with a few options. The ideal seamless cleanliness which is the best presentation of their building to the public would be your Gold Plan. The Silver Plan would be what most everyone else does, the average and generally acceptable standard that offers respectable prestige to the office and reasonable upkeep of the fixed asset (the building). Though I wouldn’t specifically insert the word prestige or status into one of my estimates, you do wish to imply the benefit more subtly. “To maximize your company’s presence in the public eye with sparkling clean windows, I present the Gold Plan….”
Property Management Firms
These are the ones to get to know. They operate on a percentage of gross rental receipts, usually around six to eight percent. They are not the owners, and they have less discretionary funds to work with so you need to give them the best possible estimate. I recommend offering to demo your capabilities. Give the property management firm an official-looking certificate that entitles them to a complimentary (free) cleaning. Make sure that you get introduced to the owner of the firm and personally hand him his complimentary cleaning certificate. Tell him to use it when he needs to make a good impression, like on a vacant home, for example. Now is your chance to wow the customer. Take some “before and after pictures” with the client’s permission and send him a copy. Once you have wowed the client, it is time to cash in a little bit of the goodwill that you have earned. Promptly ask for permission to send email updates about your company’s goings-on. And remember always to ask for referrals. Most of these guys manage hundreds of units with constant turnovers and lots of repeat business. Get on their vendor's list.
High-End Exclusive Residential (Gated Communities)
These are by invitation only. Some of the more exclusive communities can be hard to get an invite. The best thing to do is to ask everyone who you know for a referral to people they know in that complex. Find out who is managing the property and send them a postcard introducing yourself. Offer a free cleaning to show your stuff. Persistence pays off.
Nursing homes have special security concerns especially about patients who suffer from dementia. Patients are necessarily treated in a manner one might expect for inmates in a penitentiary and personally, this was hard enough for me to see. It’s worse when I had to participate in restraining them from leaving the facility. There really should be a staff member at the door every time you have to enter and leave the building. It is best to request this consideration. Otherwise, you might find yourself trying to clean and at the same time standing in the path of someone who wishes to get by you and whose sole purpose in life is to get out the door! Sadly, I once had an elderly woman named Frankie try to escape as I exited a small-town nursing home while taking equipment out to my truck. Fortunately, I had some martial arts training and was able to tackle the ninety-five-year-old woman, and hold onto the dominant position and then secure an armbar submission. By that time the facility security had finally shown up with proper restraints and the nurse gave both the woman and me something to calm our nerves.
Okay, coming clean now, I didn’t tackle anyone and there were no restraints nor drugs involved in the actual incident, but there was such an event where a lady wanted out of a nursing home where I was window cleaning and it broke my heart to tell her that I couldn’t let her go through the door which I had the code to get through.
Hospitals and Medical Clinics
Doctors’ offices, dental offices, and the like have a special need to have an especially clean presentation. While janitorial in medical settings increasingly entails several layers of red tape coming from numerous regulatory and oversight sources, window cleaning is typically pretty straight forward. Still, in such settings, the cleaner must be especially mindful of the staff and the goings-on, i.e., the business of caring for their patients. These types of projects are typically done after hours at small independent offices and walk-in clinics, but in a 24-hour hospital, there will always be staff and patients to contend with. Keep in mind that these types of jobs can end up taking a lot longer than anticipated. Plan well and charge accordingly.
One of the top considerations in medical settings is of course the idea of disinfection versus sterilization. Disinfection is, by definition, the process of eliminating most pathogenic micro-organisms surviving on a given surface. The disinfectant that you put down is met by a demand (the bugs) and what is leftover (parts per million of disinfectant) is the residue. With all disinfectants, it is the demand which is being disinfected and the residual that keeps on disinfecting but only to the point of equilibrium. Here it is stated another way: Dose equals demand plus residual. Sterilization is the destruction of all microorganisms and only occurs in a closed system like an autoclave. Custodians do not sterilize. These concepts are important in so far as you as a window cleaner go so that you do not misrepresent what it is that you do. By cleaning a window you neither disinfect nor sterilize the window. Knowing this, therefore do not use such language in any of your company literature. That said, cleaning a surface does help to remove nasty stuff, since the soil is removed, bugs that live in soil are also in part removed. This is why washing your hands with just soap and water is advised to remove germs. Remember that all cleaning is accomplished using four variables - solvent (water being the universal solvent) of a given temperature, some kind of agitation device (from a sea sponge used on fine fabrics to a wire brush to clean rust off of iron), a cleaning agent (water-based, and non-water-based), and last but not least Dwell Time. Think football. The Defense’s job is to SAC the offense.
Typically, hotels have in-house staff. Motels may hire out but are the cheapest of all customers. This is because they employ room attendants and pay them very little. So they see cleaners, in general, as cheap labor to be exploited. Sounds harsh, but when I’m consistently offered twenty-five cents per window when I get Four and Five Dollars to clean the same-sized windows elsewhere I have to call it as I see it. Hospitality is an animal of its own. The owners tend to think of themselves as the owner of their own cleaning company, and in a sense, they do have more experience than other businesses since their main thing is keeping up the building, the rooms, and the common areas to the liking of their guests. They have dealt with every kind of spill imaginable and they do know what works and what does not work better than most others. An exception is for high-rise window cleaning where you can earn upwards of One Hundred Dollars per hour, but only on the luxury hotels and then only in primary markets (big cities).
Pest Control Companies
Pest control companies can be a great source of repeat business for window cleaners. Spiders in particular tend to make an awful mess on exterior windows. The pest control guy’s job is to kill the bugs and inadvertently he can’t help but poison the widows. Often, partnering with these guys makes sense as they can hand out your cards and some might even offer them a finder’s fee. I like to reciprocate whenever possible and refer to my customers only to those service companies that I truly know will take especially good care of my clients. For this reason, I do not pay the finder’s fees. My workmanship is my best calling card; still, plenty of reputable businesses do in certain parts of the country, so I thought I would mention it. Check your local customs in your area before implementing such practices.
Real Estate Agencies
Real estate brokers and agents are a great source of repeat business! The ones that you visit regularly and cultivate relationships with will keep you at the top of their vendor list. Nothing helps curb appeal more than sparkling clean windows. Concentrating the bulk of your direct advertising budget on key people who are in the position to offer you work is the best use of your dollars and time. Still, cast a wide net to ensure that there are always enough new opportunities coming in. An open house introductory offer is one where you collect on your first cleaning only after the home has sold! That way the broker has nothing to lose and everything to gain. The business concept of success is this: Do what you have to.
I will be the first to admit that I didn’t have to do a lot of free cleanings to get my own business going. Some people willing paid me more than I asked for. Yes, even the owner can get a “tip”. But it is truly about proving yourself willing to go the extra mile. Ultimately, it is a good experience that will impress the client, not the free cleaning. Many people wouldn’t allow you to do something for them for free even though you made the offer, but those who do take advantage will feel compelled to refer you to others. Of course, I would suggest that you limit the number of free offers that you do make over a given period, assuming that everyone will take full advantage of them. I would tell you to stick to extending them to people who are in the position to reciprocate, but nothing feels better than helping someone who can’t do the job for himself and asking nothing in return. Once in a while, I do a window cleaning for a non-profit or for someone who just can’t do it for themselves. You should feed not only your belly but your soul as well.
Although these are typically some of the lowest paying jobs on an hourly basis, they offer some of the best exposure for your business. Remember the whole time that your company truck is parked in the restaurant’s lot, and while you work in your embroidered uniform, you are attracting attention. On many occasions, numerous people have asked me, albeit sometimes jokingly if I will come home with them and do their windows. My response is, as a matter of fact, “I will. Here is my card!” Sometimes it results in a lifelong customer too (for the life of the business)!
Condo Associations and Senior Housing
Condo Associations often leave window cleaning up to the individual condo owners, but senior centers are typically owned by a single entity which you must bid on the cleaning.
By government contracts, we mean janitorial or cleaning contracts for your city, county, state, and federal governments. These are great contracts but get some time under your belt before you get into this level.
The government usually posts advertisements for projects and invites the public to bid on them. Ads are usually found in the newspaper or the agency’s official website. On the city level, you can also visit www.statelocalggov.net or check out the list of your state’s official website in this book. For contracts with the county, you can see the county’s Purchasing Department for more information. For information on bidding at federal contracts, visit the Federal Business Opportunities website (https://www.fbo.gov/?cm_sp=ExternalLink-_-Federal-_-GSA) to view opportunities that might interest you (creating an account to log in is necessary). Another website to search for opportunities is www.GovCB.com. This website can be searched for free for only one week, after which you have to subscribe and pay to continue searching.
It is a basic requirement for bidding on a government contract that you get a D-U-N-S Number, a unique and nine-digit identification number for each physical location of your business.
When registering for your D-U-N-S Number, you will need the following on hand:
• Legal name
• Headquarters name and address for your business
• Doing Business As (DBA) or another name by which your business is commonly recognized
• The physical address, city, state, and ZIP Code
• Mailing address (if separate from headquarters and/or physical address)
• Telephone number
• Contact name and title
• Number of employees at your physical location
• Whether you are a Home-Based Business
You can get your D-U-N-S Number at http://fedgov.dnb.com.
Register your business with System for Award Management (SAM) at www.uscontractorregistration.com, the primary database of contractors that the United States government uses. While not every government agency would require that you register with them your company and your sub-contractors (but the federal government does), this could spell a big difference between another bidder who is not.
Make sure you read the advertisement thoroughly to find out if you qualify and if your company meets the government agency’s physical and legal requirements. Disadvantaged groups such as small businesses and those owned by minority groups, women, or veterans have distinct advantages.
Budget is a crucial determining factor so calculate your budget. Your budget should include materials, overhead expenses, and other incidental expenses. In some cases, pre-bid meetings are held and you can attend these and use this as an opportunity to ask questions before formally submitting your bid. Insurance and bonds which ensure that the government is free from any liability (especially in case of accidents) are normal requirements when bidding for a city project, so be sure you have these. Your bid packet is supposed to contain information about your company, such as its history and work references, and any other information the city government may require. In sum, make sure that your bid packet provides for a stress-free proposal for the government agency. Parts of bid packets are neatly labeled and usually placed in a binder.
You will be notified if your bid is accepted. It is important to deliver what is expected of you, especially if you win the bid. Beware of penalties built in for non-performance. This is standard for government contracts and can take a bite out of you if you are not careful.