How to Start a Window Cleaning Business: Zero to $700k a Year


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Johnny Robinson

Johnny Robinson built a $700k a year window cleaning business — while he was a full-time student.

If you want to start your own business, it doesn’t necessarily take a never-before-seen business idea to have a never-before-seen impact on your life.

Johnny’s a long-time Side Hustle Show listener, and we actually recorded this on his last day of college.

Tune in to The Side Hustle Show interview to hear:

  • How Johnny and Orange Window Cleaning got his first customers
  • The marketing engine you can borrow for your own business
  • How he fulfills the work and the tech and tools he uses to manage the whole operation

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Why Start a Window Cleaning Business?

Johnny told me that he doesn’t have any entrepreneurs in his family and used to think that he’d need a degree in business to start his own business.

It was only after working in his first real job—a summer gig as a lifeguard—that Johnny realized two important things:

  1. He didn’t need a degree to start a business
  2. He absolutely didn’t want to work for someone else

Johnny said he started Googling how to start a business, listening to The Side Hustle Show, and absorbing as much information as he could — all while still in college.

He and his friend Sergio started brainstorming business ideas, and the first idea Sergio suggested was cleaning car windows. Johnny said he didn’t think cleaning car windows would bring in enough cash.

But he started Googling window cleaning to look into it further and came across the business of cleaning windows on commercial and residential properties.

Johnny also found a YouTuber that was vlogging about his own window cleaning business and how he was making great money.

“That’s what sparked it, and we’ve been doing window cleaning ever since,” Johnny told me.

Window Cleaning Business Startup Costs

Orange Window Cleaning cost $150 in materials to get started.

“I sent Sergio $75 and he put in $75 and we bought a bucket, a squeegee, and a pole off Amazon and we started going off knocking on doors,” Johnny explained.

As the business grew, they invested more in branded t-shirts, truck wraps, insurance, software tools and more. (More on their tools of choice below.)

Competitive Analysis in the Window Cleaning Industry

Had Johnny and Sergio done a little more research, they would have found window cleaning to be a $2 billion industry, but spread across nearly 40,000 businesses. That means the average window cleaning business does around $50,000 in revenue a year.

Like many other blue collar businesses, window cleaning is highly localized and there may not be a dominant local or regional player in your area.

How to Get Your First Window Cleaning Customers

“We started with storefronts,” Johnny told me.

The first store the teenage duo pitched was a donut shop. The owner said if he liked their work, he’d pay them. So they eagerly cleaned the windows, which took about an hour — much longer than it should have, but it was their job.

The owner was happy with the cleaning, but offered to pay them in donuts! Still, “We were stoked about it,” Johnny said. “It was the first job we landed.”

The next day, they started cold calling more businesses door-to-door. Johnny told business owners they’d undercut the competition by a few bucks, and they knocked on a lot of doors.

Their next customer was a dry cleaning business, and they got paid $12 for one and half hours work.

Then they landed a mechanic’s garage and earned $40 for an hour’s work and a burger shop on a $50/month recurring contract.

Johnny said they secured a lot of accounts in that first week and stuck with storefronts for all of 2017.

They ended up doing about $5,000 in revenue that year.

Transitioning to Residential Window Cleaning

The following year, Johnny wanted to change course and scale his business. While the door-to-door efforts were working, it was took a lot of rejection and time to land relatively little work.

He knew he wanted to break into the residential market, but wasn’t sure how.

how to start a window cleaning business

(photo courtesy of Orange Window Cleaning)

One day, Johnny was sitting in his car and saw a window installation contractor drive past. This gave him the idea to reach out and ask if they needed window cleaners to come in after they installed windows.

They actually said they had that covered in-house, but this didn’t stop Johnny. The idea of finding a strategic referral partner stuck.

He started calling around other businesses that might open the door for him to get into residential window cleaning.

Johnny started calling the top cleaning services in his area on Yelp, and found a win-win relationship. It was a natural fit—the cleaning services’ customers were already spending money maintaining their homes, and the cleaning businesses didn’t already offer window cleaning.

In exchange for the referrals, Johnny gave the cleaning services 15% of his bookings as a “finder’s fee.” Those strategic partnerships were the source of his first residential window cleaning jobs.

How to Market a Window Cleaning Business

“The real turning point didn’t come until we started to understand reputation and digital marketing,” Johnny explained.

One of the maid service businesses Johnny was working with told him he should start a Yelp account and begin collecting reviews.

Johnny followed the advice and started asking customers if they could leave a review.

As more positive reviews came in, Johnny saw his business ranking higher in Yelp. As his business ranked higher, more organic leads came in.

orange window cleaning on yelp

Seeing success with Yelp, Johnny decided to also set up a Google My Business profile to bring in more leads through SEO.

Johnny’s top tip when posting pictures to either Yelp or Google My Business? Add a caption and location to every image: “It helps out a ton with ranking.”

How to Streamline Your Window Cleaning Operations

Another turning point for Johnny and Sergio was implementing software to speed up collecting reviews, providing online quotes, and building a great website.

Johnny described “two pillars” to his business:

  1. Providing a frictionless customer experience
  2. Having flat-rate pricing

If your home service business can do these two things well, “you’ll beat anybody,” Johnny told me.

Orange Window Cleaning started using Nicejob.com to communicate with customers and send out scripts asking for reviews. Johnny credited NiceJob with helping them go from five Google My Business reviews to more than 130 in a year.

orange window cleaning reviews on google

They also used NiceJob to rebuild their website and make it a lot more user-friendly. They built in an online quote feature and integrated Housecall Pro, which helps manage scheduling.

When we spoke, Johnny said they were the only window cleaning business in the county using this tech stack and offering online booking. He’s sure it gives them an advantage over their competitors.

Flat Rate Pricing: How Much to Charge for Window Cleaning?

“We don’t do any in-person bids anymore,” Johnny explained. “That was a big thing for us.”

As their marketing engine gained momentum, more leads were coming in on a daily basis and it was becoming too time-consuming to go out and quote jobs.

Johnny and Sergio came up with a flat rate price of $15.75 per window. When a customer clicks the “Get Quote” button on their website, it takes them through a few questions and generates a price.

If the window count is different when their window cleaners arrive — and this happens on a daily basis — Johnny said they can easily adjust the price.

How to Scale a Window Cleaning Business

As with any service business, there’s only so many hours in the day for you to perform your service. If you want to grow, you need to remove your labor from the equation.

For the first three years, Johnny described using his personal cell phone number for the business and taking calls while he was in class. “I always put the business first,” he explained. “Even if I was in a final, I would step out of class to take a call — because it could be $1,000 job — you don’t know!”

With the Yelp and Google marketing starting to gain traction, it got to the point where Sergio was having to go out to jobs and clean windows by himself as the calls were becoming so frequent.

At this point, Johnny knew he needed to hire help if he was going to scale the business and keep delivering great service.

His primary hires have been:

  • An administrative assistant / office manager
  • Additional window cleaners

Admin/Office Manager

Johnny said bringing on a virtual receptionist / office manager to handle the phone inquiries was one of the best decisions he made because it freed up a lot of time for him to work on other areas of his business.

His current office manager is a virtual assistant based in the Philippines, who’s “crushing it”—booking around $3,000 of work a day.

Window Cleaners

Johnny started out hiring W-2 employees to fulfill his the ever-growing volume of window cleaning work. Struggling to keep up with new jobs, he tested working with subcontractors for some new accounts.

What he found was that the subcontractors were outperforming the W-2 workers.

Johnny said this is because they are business owners themselves—they have their own equipment, and are more experienced.

Today, he relies heavily on subcontractors. He had the W-2 workers he wanted to keep on transition over to be subcontractors as it’s a lot less expensive.

Johnny told me the best part of working with subcontractors is that he doesn’t have to put money into putting a truck on the road, buying cleaning products, and so on. All in all, it allows him to scale faster with less risk.

Recurring Window Cleaning Contracts

“We push for quarterly, but most people do twice a year,” Johnny told me, when I asked if he’s able to set customers up on a recurring window cleaning contract.

Johnny nurtures his customers and keeps in contact with them by plugging their details into Housecall Pro.

Housecall Pro sends out text messages and email reminders three months after a job has been completed, as well as when a customer’s windows are scheduled to be cleaned again.

Window Cleaning Profit Margins

If you’re doing the work yourself, window cleaning is extremely profitable. The startup and equipment costs are low, so it’s mostly just your own time.

In Johnny’s case, with subcontractors now doing the work, they earn 50-60% of the job value. (Subcontractors typically start out getting 50% of the job value. This increases to 60% if the subcontractor sticks with Johnny for 16 jobs.)

This ensures all of his costs are covered and makes his revenue fairly predictable.

What’s the Best Place to Advertise a Window Cleaning Business?

Johnny said the business is at the point where he can turn up ad spend and get more jobs if he has enough subcontractors in place to fulfill the work.

He told me he’s getting a return of 20x on ad spend with Yelp. Johnny is achieving this by, “being a little bit better than the next guy at making our ad look good.”

Johnny said he uses a picture of himself and Sergio smiling and standing by their trucks for their ads.

orange window cleaning

This is a step up from most other companies that just use their logo or a poor-quality image of someone cleaning a window.

Johnny also adds a link to their portfolio of work, which is something Yelp allows you to do as part of their ad package.

This makes the ad bigger, which Johnny said helps to make the ad stand out and attract more clicks.

Growing Through Acquisition

Last year, Johnny and Sergio bought another window cleaning business, but did it in a really creative and low-risk way.

When someone in his LeTip networking group mentioned he had a client looking to retire and sell his window cleaning business in a neighboring city, Johnny was interested.

Initially, the seller wanted $300k upfront for the business. But after looking through his accounts, Johnny could see that the business wasn’t worth that much — his prices were below market rates and while he had consistent clients, there weren’t any written contracts.

Johnny worked with the seller for 3 months educating him on the sale process and what he would need to change if he bought the business (namely raising prices), and they worked out a deal.

“We couldn’t justify giving him a bunch of upfront cash for relationships,” Johnny explained.

The deal they settled on was to pay the seller $1,000 upfront in goodwill, then 15-25% of the future jobs they booked from his client roster.

This performance-based deal is set to last 3 years, with the referral percentages dropping each year.

This safeguarded Johnny against losing money if those customers balked at the higher prices, and allowed the seller to receive regular checks. The good news? Most of the seller’s customers stuck around.

Insurance and Liability Protection for a Window Cleaning Business

When starting out, Johnny said he and Sergio didn’t have any insurance as residential work didn’t require it.

Their first commercial customer they secured though, and the customer asked to see proof that they were insured.

Johnny said they now have general liability insurance for coverage up to $1,000,000, as well as the necessary auto and equipment insurance.

Dealing with Seasonality

Johnny is in Southern California, so the weather is pretty good year-round. Still, Johnny said he sees around a 75% drop in revenue over the holiday period.

He added Christmas light installation, pressure washing, gutter cleaning, and solar panel washing to his list of services to bring in some revenue and keep his guys busy, but is thinking about dropping those extra services next winter.

What’s Next?

Johnny had launched a maid service just a few days before our interview, so has another business to focus on this year.

With just 5 days running Yelp ads he told me he’d already booked $4,500 in cleanings with no online reputation.

Johnny said his goal is to do $50,000/month by February 2022.

Johnny’s #1 Tip for Side Hustle Nation

“Just start something and stick with it.”

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Alternatives To Starting a Window Cleaning Business

Window cleaning is a relatively simple, low startup cost, local business idea. But there are tons of other side hustle ideas or business models that may appeal to you as well.

Here are some options that are still fall in the “local service” arena.

Suggested Playlist: Local Business Ideas

Money is already flowing through your city, town, and neighborhood. Here are some actionable ways to get it flowing to YOU!

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Mobile Detailing

Josh Belk and his brother Austin turned their passion for cars into a $6000 a month mobile detailing business, while still going to school full-time.

One cool thing Josh told me was that for most of their customers, it was their first time getting a car detailed. To me, that signaled a service with increasing demand.

House Cleaning

House cleaning is an interesting option, and one where it’s particularly common to come in and play “middle man.” By that I mean contracting with professional cleaners and helping them fill up their schedules under your new brand.

If you can effectively market for new customers, like Anthony and Jhanilka Hartzog did, you can have a relatively hands-off service business. When we spoke, they were doing $20-25k a month in bookings, with other people handling the actual cleaning.

Pressure Washing

For around $300 in equipment, Scott Anderson was able to start his pressure washing business. The cool thing here is — with jobs often priced in the $200+ range — you can break even on your startup costs really quickly.

Pet Waste Removal

And finally, pooper scooping obviously isn’t the most glamorous job in the world, but someone’s got to do it! The advantage of this model (along with house cleaning above) is that it lends itself well to recurring weekly customers.

Side Hustle Show guest Erica Krupin built her pet waste removal business from a side hustle to over $1000 a week. Once a customer gets used to your service, it just becomes a part of their budget as long as they have that dog.

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5 thoughts on “How to Start a Window Cleaning Business: Zero to $700k a Year”

  1. One of the best and motivating interviews,,
    Great words of wisdom, Ideas, and general “Hustle”
    AND no sales pitch for this or that program :)

    Reply

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