How can I get customers for my house cleaning business?
August 30, 2011 2:59 PM   Subscribe

I’m trying to start up a housecleaning business, but can’t figure out how to actually get any customers. I’ve been putting flyers on houses in fairly upscale neighborhoods – McMansions, hip urban condos, places populated by professionals and executives. I have an ad on craigslist, although my city doesn’t use craigslist much. I’m not getting anywhere with either of those methods though.

I’m currently living on unemployment benefits, so taking out expensive ads in local magazines or newspapers isn’t an option, although I could afford to run one in the local freebie classifieds paper if I thought anyone actually would look there. Word of mouth won’t work for me at this point because I don’t have any friends who are the type to hire housecleaners, or who even know anyone who would hire cleaners. (Actually, most of my friends live in other cities, anyway.)

Since I have worked in marketing and design and am good with Photoshop, my flyer looks good, so that shouldn’t be an issue. I mention in both my Craigslist ad and my flyers that I use eco-friendly cleaning products. I have a "call to action" in them - "Call today for a free consultation!" I've gotten two calls, one from a flyer, one from the Craigslist ad. (Neither one developed into a job, but that's my fault because I wasn't aggressive about asking for it. I'm going to change that, but first I need the calls!)

So I guess my questions are:
1. Where would you look if you wanted to hire a cleaner? Okay, now assume Craigslist doesn’t exist – where would you look?
2. Where would your parents look?
3. What could I put in a flyer/ad that would make you want to call me rather than another house cleaner?
4. Should I switch from putting flyers in fairly upscale neighborhoods to putting them in the two extremely upscale areas?
5, Would mentioning some sort of "first time discount" make that much of a difference? I haven't noticed anyone else in my city doing that.
6. Bonus points if you know of a cheap place to run copies of the flyer. Hundreds of flyers at nine cents per page is killing me, even though I’m doing 2 per page.

I’m in a major Texas city, but anonymous because a.) my family doesn’t know I’m unemployed, and b.) if my family found out I wanted to clean toilets for a living, they’d plotz.

posted by anonymous to Work & Money (43 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
1. Where would you look if you wanted to hire a cleaner? Okay, now assume Craigslist doesn’t exist – where would you look?

I do some work for a furniture conservator and sometimes clients ask him for referrals for services like a cleaner.

I appreciate that your flyers are professionally done and I think that will be an asset as your business grows, but in wealthy neighborhoods people rely on word of mouth recommendations from neighbors or people like furniture conservators, real estate agents, contractors, architects, et cetera.

Do you know anyone like that or do you know people who could make introductions for you?
posted by mlis at 3:11 PM on August 30, 2011

I use a house cleaning service, which I heard about from a, word of mouth worked best for me. If I didn't have anyone to ask, I would have googled. So, maybe consider some google ads...

However...have you considered dropping off flyers at real estate offices? When people list their houses, they certainly may need help cleaning.

Also, for printing, you could try going to a local print shop instead of kinkos. Often they'll give you a deal. You could even try to barter with them--a free clean of their shop for some prints?
posted by fyrebelley at 3:11 PM on August 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

I found my housecleaner through an ad for discounts that were mailed to the house. The coupon had a website for the housecleaners that I could go to check them out. There was a discount associated with the ad that was a decent deal. They also clearly stated that they were bonded and insured which was important to me.

I would put the flyers in upper middle class areas rather than extremely upscale because the extremely upscale people probably already have either a) live in help or b) someone who is their regular housekeeper. The fairly upscale communities will have more people who can afford a house cleaner but not a full-time housekeeper.

As for cheap copy places, our local UPS store sometimes runs a 5c day for black and white copies. You might want to keep an eye out for those. Even 4c off the 9c might make a difference.

One last note, one of the reasons I decided not to go with a single housecleaner was my fear that I would have to pay employment taxes for that person. I know there is a certain threshold, but I so did not want to even begin to deal with it. So, I went with a large company's local franchise who clearly stated that they took care of those kinds of things.

Best of luck in your endeavour - I hope you find clients very soon!
posted by Leezie at 3:12 PM on August 30, 2011

Groupon. It's a terrible deal for you at first (the customer gets a half-priced cleaning, and Groupon gets half of what's left over), but you should get repeat business.
posted by supercres at 3:15 PM on August 30, 2011 [3 favorites]

I'd Google for a house cleaner in my city.
posted by TooFewShoes at 3:15 PM on August 30, 2011

1. Supermarkets / grocery stores, apartments, rental offices (see #3).

2. N/A - my mom was a stay at home mom who thought cleaning the house was a natural talent that came easily to all women

3. Prices - give me an idea of what you charge, i.e. "Starting at.....". Also make it clear you clean not just houses, but also maybe offices and stores, and that you are available for daily, weekly, bi-monthly, monthly schedules. Also I have used housecleaners every time I moved out of an apartment or rental unit and am eternally grateful I didn't have to spend my last few hours in an empty apartment cleaning out my nasty oven or the bottom of the toilet bowl.

4. Lots of busy middle class people use housecleaning services too - maybe not as often, but they do. Several of my friends do (mostly busy working moms) and they are not rich. They have someone come in just once a month to hit all the spots they don't have time to do.

5. No, that just seems desperate. Maybe, and I know this is hard, but knocking door to door in neighborhoods and just introducing yourself to people might get at least your foot in the door.

6. Why not walk into an office supply store and actually barter with them? Clean for an hour in exchange for xxxx free copies and the ability to post your poster in their store?

Good luck, Anonymous!
posted by HeyAllie at 3:15 PM on August 30, 2011

I have friends who live in hip, urban upscale condos. They find cleaning services through their doorman, usually. Example: they walk into their building, doorman says hi, friend says, "hey, my apartment is messy, do you know any good cleaning services?" and the doorman says, "yeah, most of the people in the building use SuperCleaners, here's their card." So I think you best bet would be to go into the lobbies of buildings like that, make friends with the staff, and leave some flyers.

I don't think I know anyone who would call a cleaning service based off a flyer they found on a telephone pole or that was tacked on their door.
posted by phunniemee at 3:16 PM on August 30, 2011 [2 favorites]

I've never called anyone from a flyer. Additionally, I'd find it pretty disingenuous if a company advertised itself as "eco-friendly" on a flyer. If you do flyers, post them on bulletin boards in coffee shops, libraries in nicer neighborhoods, etc.

I search for businesses on Yelp, usually, or I ask friends (or MetaFilter). Focus your efforts into establishing some sort of online presence, and ask around your personal network to get those first few jobs. Word of mouth and positive reviews are incredibly valuable.
posted by Metroid Baby at 3:18 PM on August 30, 2011

Word of mouth, definitely. Here where I work, one person asked another person if they were happy with their cleaning lady, and next thing you know practically everyone here is using that one small cleaning company.

Like everything else is life, it's all about who you know. Unfortunate at times, but true. Apparently making friends with busy and decently-paid geeks works too.
posted by cgg at 3:21 PM on August 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

Ah, I was just talking last night with a friend who's looking for a housecleaner and doesn't want to hire anyone except those she finds through word-of-mouth. The very nature of housecleaning — inviting a stranger into your home when you're not there — makes it the sort of thing where people aren't going to pay attention to flyers on telephone poles. You're going to need connections and people who'll vouch for you.
posted by adiabat at 3:21 PM on August 30, 2011 [4 favorites]

You should mention it to everyone you know. You never know if one of your broke friends has a parent/aunt/employer/friend or neighbor who might mention needing a cleaning person.

Otherwise I would focus on coffee shops, libraries etc which are local.
posted by SpaceWarp13 at 3:27 PM on August 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

Don't really hire house keepers, but here are some ideas that I would try

1. If CL did not exist, I would look in a weekly free paper (I'm not sure why you are not trying this - view your business like an experiment, try, if it doesn't work try something else). Or I would google and also see if I can find a review of the company or person (this is critical to me before I decide to work with person X).

2. As my parents are a bit less computer oriented, a church bulletin board or word of mouth. Have you tried church bulletin boards? Supermarket bulletin boards? You mention condos,but where in the condo? (most have bulletin boards in the front or in a laundry room).

3. Alternative ways to contact you (email vs phone). A price listed (X/hour).

A couple other ideas -- I would say eco-friendly products can be used (but make it obvious there are other choices)--build up a client base before you reject clients, as some may want you to use bleach (who knows).

Are there other services you are willing to provide? Laundry? Walk Fido? List it -- this may give someone the push, although charge accordingly.

Also, have you contacted other cleaning services? Perhaps they can subcontract you. I would call/email all the cleaning service companies in your area and see.

4. Try putting some in both areas -- it is an experiment, you have nothing to lose. Just try it and assess.

You mention that you are skilled in Photoshop, making flyers and design work....what about offering that as a skill? Approach small businesses to anyone who may need this -- I think there would/could be more work in that area for you as you have a background that probably demonstrates that skill.

posted by Wolfster at 3:31 PM on August 30, 2011

I have friends who live in hip, urban upscale condos. They find cleaning services through their doorman, usually. Example: they walk into their building, doorman says hi, friend says, "hey, my apartment is messy, do you know any good cleaning services?"

Yes, this is how it works in New York. You ask the super or Concierge. There is one family that cleans almost every apartment in my building, they have been doing it for going on 20 years.
posted by Ad hominem at 3:34 PM on August 30, 2011

Word of mouth, because people have to trust you to let you in their house when they're not there.

*rental offices (they may hire you to clean cheaper than their existing service between tenants, when there's nothing to steal, and promote you to recommending to renters.)
*advertising through churches and other religious organizations (veneer of extra trust, people may be willing to help you bootstrap)

Also, yes, I'd want to know the price before I'd bother calling. Maybe $x for 2000 square feet or $x for 3 beds/2 baths or $x/hour or $x for deep cleaning 1 kitchen and 2 baths or SOMETHING so I'd know if you and I are in the same ballpark.

Also this: "Maybe, and I know this is hard, but knocking door to door in neighborhoods and just introducing yourself to people might get at least your foot in the door."

In the upscale neighborhoods I've lived in, this would NOT have gotten your foot in the door. really the only people who made door-to-door sales were boyscouts, girlscounts, and this guy named pin oak man. (Long story.) Now I live in a middle-class urban neighborhood where we're subjected to a daily onslaught of door-to-door peddling and OMFG I HATE IT. And people around here only hire door-to-door people to do OUTDOOR chores ... you don't want to let them in your house because of crime fears. (I suppose they can case the joint from outside, but they could do that from the sidewalk too.)

Here's my goofy value-add: if they provide two cookie sheets, you'll bake them two dozen cookies (with dough you bring from home, so you don't add to the kitchen mess) while you clean. They come home to a clean house THAT SMELLS LIKE CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES and then they get to eat them.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 3:35 PM on August 30, 2011 [3 favorites]

Every time I've hired a housecleaning service, I went with the person/service recommended by my doorman / landlord / apartment manager. My last couple apartments gave me a move-in package with a bunch of fyiers and coupons for local businesses. I'd try to get a flyer or business card in something like that.
posted by mullacc at 3:35 PM on August 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

I also would Google and/or go by word of mouth. My parents would probably go purely by word of mouth.

Great tips above. Also, do you have a web presence? It might be a good idea to have a simple website with some basic information about you, your services, and your availability.
posted by moira at 3:41 PM on August 30, 2011

My mom cleaned houses for a couple of years. She poached one customer from a service that she worked for, then went off on her own and basically got by on word of mouth. A one-off might rely on a flyer or a Craigslist ad, but a repeat customer is going to ask someone. (We are currently considering having someone come in every other week or so, and would use the woman my wife's mom uses).
posted by Gilbert at 3:44 PM on August 30, 2011

Adding: I would never go by a flier alone, and I loathe being approached by door-to-door salespeople. And seconding: target upper middle class as well.
posted by moira at 3:45 PM on August 30, 2011

People want referrals and indications you're not going to rob them blind while they're at work.

Clean the houses of a couple friends and associates for free, in exchange for a good review on Yelp and whatever other site is popular in your area. (I frequently consult for things like this.)
posted by Kololo at 3:46 PM on August 30, 2011

Recently I found a business card on the door of my apartment from a cleaning business run by two women. The card was very nice... professionally done, yet friendly. I briefly considered giving them a call to find out about pricing, but after I looked closely at the card I noticed that nowhere did it mention that they were bonded/insured. If I were going to hire someone I didn't have word of mouth references for, I'd only hire them if they were bonded. So if you are, be sure and say so on your flyer.

Upscale people might be pickier assuming they have expensive family heirlooms or other irreplaceable stuff in their homes. My middle-class ass is mostly concerned about whether I could get my TV or computer replaced if my cleaner broke it or made off with it.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 3:48 PM on August 30, 2011

I make it a point NOT to do any kind of business --- whether it's ordering a pizza or handyman/housecleaning services or anything else --- from anybody who stuffs a flyer under my (condo) door: every single one goes straight into the trash, no exceptions.

I agree with the people who say make a deal to leave a stack of flyers at a real estate office, as well as asking other businesses (doctors, car repair, etc.)
posted by easily confused at 3:49 PM on August 30, 2011

I found my cleaning lady through my accountant, but I think the idea of approaching real estate agents is brilliant. If you offer a great deal on move out clean-outs they will likely have a client to recommend you to. If you do a great job, it will eventually morph into a word of mouth client base.

When I cleaned houses, way back in the day, I got my full time client base by cleaning condos. I landed one client in a condo community in Sarasota populated by older folks. I was just slightly cheaper than the competition and the word spread like wildfire. The benefit of an older condo community is that they talk. Over cards, over coffee, over everything.

Good Luck! Cleaning houses is a great way to make a living on your own terms.
posted by PorcineWithMe at 3:56 PM on August 30, 2011

Word of mouth.

Also, if you expand your services to include driving/errand-running, you could probably get a pretty good senior client base.

Maybe see if any senior services organizations could hook you up?
posted by thinkingwoman at 4:11 PM on August 30, 2011

Ask if you can leave your card or flyer for the teachers at the local schools.
posted by tamitang at 4:16 PM on August 30, 2011

Credentials: I have always had a cleaning person -- over the past 12ish years since I moved out of Mom & Dad's house, in 5 different homes, 4 different services. (I am horrible at cleaning and would rather skip a few dinners out than live in filth.)

I nth what everyone is saying about word of mouth. I would be extremely reluctant to hire anyone who hadn't worked for someone I personally knew/trusted to come into my home (frequently without me here) to work. People I would trust would include my realtor (this is GENIUS, definitely do this and offer the move-in/move-out cleaning specials), concierge/doorman (also smart), and anyone from my place of employment whose job it is to counsel new employees who have just moved to the area (some large companies provide a lot of this type of info, usually through their HR departments).

If you don't have one already, I strongly recommend you get a clean, professional-looking website. It doesn't have to be anything fancy or expensive (for example, you could make a good site on blogger for free -- your own domain name would be good). Make sure all your contact info is on there and, if possible, your pricing (or at least some idea). Include an incentive for people who visit your website like half off their first cleaning or whatever. AND include testimonials from happy clients. If you have no clients, clean for some friends or whatever for free and get them to write you some and be your references.

Also, make sure you are appropriately insured. In swanky neighborhoods especially, there is no reason for someone to take the risk of hiring someone without liability and other insurance. I don't know if that's within your means currently given your employment situation, but it's something to keep in mind.

And finally, do some reading on how to close the deal with people who call you to inquire about services. Don't be afraid to ask people to hire you and to pay you.
posted by pupstocks at 4:17 PM on August 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'd like to suggest a different demographic -- my father lives in one of those 55+ retirement communities/apartment complexes. Someone got a flyer, and it made a lot of sense -- they'd moved into a small place because it's easier to maintain as their body ages, and cleaning is just hard to do. I would guess that the flyer was more like "You don't have try to dust the ceiling fan or run the vacuum, our rates are affordable, and we totally won't break or steal your stuff" more than "our cleaning products are environmentally friendly."

At any rate, everyone there meets for coffee/drinks every afternoon, and the word spread like wildfire about this cleaning crew. People invited others to come in and admire the cleaning job (not kidding -- I myself got two tours during one visit with my dad). I believe most of the residents now use the same crew, which is sweet for them because they stop at one place and can work all day. Of course, the residents have bragged about the cleaning service to their children who live in the same area, and so my sister and a lot of other people are using the same cleaners.
posted by Houstonian at 4:17 PM on August 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

Our neighborhood has a local parents' listserv on Yahoo. People ask for stuff, get rid of stuff, and ask for recommendations for cleaners and nannies. If you know anyone who's a parent, ask them to post a recommendation for you on the local listserv.
posted by Ollie at 4:20 PM on August 30, 2011 [2 favorites]

Could you offer a heavily discounted cleaning to a few friends on the condition that they'll promote you, say via Facebook, if they're happy with your work?

Seconding word of mouth. I would never respond to a flyer.
posted by cymru_j at 4:28 PM on August 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm looking for a cleaner in Maine, and have checked Craigslist, will check Angieslist, and will check references. You need references.
posted by theora55 at 4:32 PM on August 30, 2011

I hate to echo what everyone else is saying but yes, word of mouth is really the best way - or working for a company. I would try to get in good with some apartment buildings or condo associations. Could you see if maybe the building manager would hire you to clean common areas? That way they would get to know you and trust you.

Also nthing recommendations about a website, Facebook page, Yelp, and references.

Do not do Groupon or any of those daily-deal sites - they're really terrible for the business.
posted by radioamy at 4:35 PM on August 30, 2011

My parents found their current house cleaners through their contractor. I found mine through a supermarket flyer. My sister found hers through word of mouth. My parents are reasonably well off, my sister teaches school and I am a really broke web designer. My sister likes eco-friendly products. I don't care. My mother likes bleach. Don't make assumptions about who hires house cleaners!

Also do not do Groupon.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:44 PM on August 30, 2011

Another thought--maybe see if some daycares would let you leave flyers. Families using daycares likely have two working adults and a need for cleaning.

Also, listing prices, with the caveat that they are estimates, is a great idea. People do not realize how affordable having your house cleaned can be--at least I didn't!
posted by fyrebelley at 5:06 PM on August 30, 2011

Hello! Why are you putting posters on telephone poles?! Where I've found great recommendations for house cleaning services: Angie's List, community websites and Yelp.

Over the years, the things they've had in common:
- a great, simple, easy to understand website
- the ability to book cleaning over email. I *HATE* dealing with scheduling issues over the phone and voicemail. Let me email you 2-3 times that work, and you respond with the precise time.
- a very quick initial appointment to set the price
- bonded and insured
- great recommendations by people who are not obviously shilling for the service (i.e. fake Yelp accounts)

Things I like:
- ability to pay by the hour, rather than the house - sometimes I really just want the bathrooms and kitchen done, and a light vacuum.
- Give me a coupon for x% off for the first time clean - it's always a crapshoot whether the new person will be good, and if you can take some of the worry out, I'm much more likely to go ahead and book you first
- Do not slack off after the 3rd time cleaning. For some reason this happens all the time. The first cleaning or two is great, and by the third, they're forgetting a few things, and by the fourth, they're 30 minutes late and don't do a thorough job.

Tips for you:
- find the community website in your area. Buy an ad there, or see if there is a "services" section to post in
- Maybe offer brand new clients (for now) a 50% reduction in exchange for rating your services on Yelp and Angie's List. Make sure you do a good job!
- Offer new clients a 25% reduction. Don't do Groupon. Just give first-time clients a good reduction. By that I mean - know the going rate for cleaning in your area, and then give a legitimate discount on top of that. Don't arbitrarily increase your rate, then give a discount. It's dumb - I know the going rate.
- Have a nice, clean simple website. No flash. Legible on a cellphone/iPad. Have a way to contact you through the site or via email. ASK THEM how they'd like to be contacted.
- Do not force clients to call you on the phone. If they prefer the phone, great, otherwise, let them deal with scheduling over email.
- Provide your cell phone number
- Always be on time
- Don't wear heavy perfume or smell like smoke
- Ask clients how they'd like their floor washed, counters wiped (if they care)
- Some general chit chat about the weather or something ("How long have you lived in this neighborhood?") is fine for a few minutes, but please don't make me talk to you about my life, job, art on the walls. Seriously, I really hate thinking that I'm being forced into a social relationship when I really really really just want a calm & professional relationship.
- Have a few specials - I've loved my cleaners for having a "Guests are coming!" special. It includes a general clean-up of the bathrooms, kitchen, changing the linen on the guest-bed, and a quick vacuum. It's about 50% less time and 50% less cost than a regular cleaning, and I've done this fairly frequently.
- Find local yoga places, health food places, gymboree places, community classes and ask to leave your cards there
- Baby shops - offer a 25% reduced fee for first cleanings for new moms, or as a gift for new moms! Maybe even a special for x hours of cleaning and pick-up for $Y --- let people hire you for a few hours to just deal with the house. If it seemed like you understood what that meant -- meaning, they will not be picking up the house for you, you will deal with that as you go along, and not be horrified by bottles and newspapers and random blankets everywhere! -- I'd totally buy it for a gift for new moms!)
- Try bartering services for now!

Good luck! It's hard work to get established, but my current housekeeper is always booked and seems to be happy enough with her line of work. And I am so happy to have someone I trust, is on time, is drama free, and can work within my budget!
posted by barnone at 5:15 PM on August 30, 2011 [5 favorites]

I'm a concierge and refer cleaning services to people all of the time. We have two companies that we refer; they've been working in the building for years and years and unless they screw something up it's unlikely we'd ever refer anyone else. A positive track record and word of mouth are so important for this I can imagine that it would be very difficult to get the first handful of clients. (The good news is that this is probably the single most challenging part of going into this business, so once you're past this phase it'll get easier.)

Well-designed fliers are a big plus, as they lend a professional / legitimate / trustworthy air to your endeavor. Your design experience is definitely an asset. A simple website also helps, for the same reason. Do you have business cards? Those may be more handy than fliers, as it's easier for people to hold on to them and then look up your info later.

I know it's hard when money is tight, but I'd suggest offering a deep discount while you're trying to establish a client base. That's really the only way that you, as an untested cleaning service, could get my attention, as someone who refers cleaning services. This is the chain of events that you want to set in motion:

1. You come in (in person) and say you're starting a housekeeping business. In order to establish a client base and get some positive feedback, you're offering a special deal for the first client referred by me: Not only will you come in and do an amazing job, you'll also charge a scandalously low price. All you ask is that the client let me know if they're happy with your service.

2. The next time someone asks me for a cleaning referral, I say, sure, I have a couple of options for you. There are these companies, they've worked here for years and I can vouch for them. But there's also this other company, they came in the other day with a special deal. And I explain the arrangement: New business, so cheap price the first time in exchange for feedback if you do a good job. If the client is feeling adventurous, they bite.

3. You come in and kick ass. The client is happy, they tip you well and tell me you're awesome.

4. As a reminder for me (and hedge in case the client forgot to sing your praises): A week after the appointment, drop by, smile, say you hope the client got back to me with the feedback and thank me for my help setting it up. Bring business cards or fliers to leave with me.

5. You're now on my list of companies I refer, and with any luck that one deeply discounted job eventually yields a few long-term repeat clients for you.

This is how you would break through the barrier with this particular concierge. Are there any newly built condo buildings in your area? They may not have established ties yet with a cleaning company and so could be hungrier for your services (and therefore require a less drastic discount). Leasing agents (who handle the rental of units on behalf of owners) are also a good resource; they use housekeepers every time a unit turns over. I like the ideas upthread, too, about places like senior housing.

And of course Craigslist and the occasional flier couldn't hurt. And remember there, too, that word of mouth is the goal. For example, if you clean someone's unit and they're happy, let them know you're working to build a client base, so if they refer a friend to you you'll give both them and the friend 30% off on their next appointment, or something like that.

Good luck!
posted by kprincehouse at 5:49 PM on August 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

Maybe you should tap People Like Me. That is to say, two employed parents with small children who have no time for cleaning.

Where do you contact us? Put flyers in the lobby of the local daycares.
posted by Knowyournuts at 6:06 PM on August 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

Definitely have an email address on the flyer as well as a phone number, and respond to emails quickly - I hate having to call places to ask questions. Have a website that lists your prices. Offer a first time discount, and something like - "pay for 5 cleanings, get the 6th free."

Can you clean some friends' and family's places/offices for free or cheap and have them post positive reviews on all kinds of business-reviewing websites? I like to look up reviews before trying a totally unknown business, and if they sound genuine, I'd be more willing to try and trust them. Can you maybe volunteer your services at an elderly people home/senior citizen living places/community center/hospital? Also ask them to give you positive reviews and testimonials you can use (well, don't ASK for positive reviews because that's annoying, but do a good job and ask them to leave a review), and then they will allow you to leave your flyers there as well, and hopefully the elderly people or their families will take some flyers. Go into local small businesses and offer them a super cheap or free cleaning and ask if they will give you a review and let you post your flyer if they are satisfied with your service?

Also ask your friends/family to mention you to everyone in conversation. Leave flyers in building lobbies and visible public places, but don't drop them off at everyone's doors.

I hear the return rate for Groupon customers is terribly low. But may be worth a shot if you politely ask all those people to leave reviews.
posted by at 6:19 PM on August 30, 2011

I did a google search for "house cleaning [suburb]".

From that list I narrowed it down by the amount of pricing information they gave on their website. I understand that you can't give an ironclad price because circumstances might require unique techniques, but a simple "vacuum, clean, windows = $50~$70 approx" goes a long way.
posted by trialex at 6:30 PM on August 30, 2011

Just another data point for you, I found my cleaner through Angie's List.
posted by imabanana at 6:33 PM on August 30, 2011

I just bought a house. The previous owners left it kind of messy. My real estate agent recommended a cleaner. I trust my agent's recommendation because if I tell her that the cleaner was no good, she'll never recommend that cleaner again. And the cleaner gets a lot of business from this agent.

Can you advertise where a real estate agent might see your flyer, such as the lunch spot closest to a large real estate office? Maybe do a great job cleaning an agent's house for a discount? Then they can start word of mouth for you.

Also, you could troll the real estate webpages, find out which houses have sold, and target those houses specifically. We got a note (not a fancy flyer) from a pool guy congratulating us on our new home and offering the first pool cleaning for free. We nearly took him up on it. Except that our real estate agent recommended their pool guy to us before we got a chance.

I like the idea above about somehow catering to new moms. I wanted to help a friend through early motherhood, but she lives in another state. If I could have bought her a cleaning gift certificate, I would have. I couldn't easily find something like that, so I bought her a gift certificate to a local restaurant that did delivery instead.

Good Luck!
posted by pizzazz at 8:15 PM on August 30, 2011

Our local free-cycle has a separate chat list where people ask for recommendations for these sorts of services. Sometimes locals post saying they are offering cleaning or looking for cleaning customers.
My suggestion is to be a bit specific. I don't have a cleaner, so my oven is waiting for me to get to it, and my windows are way overdue. Those sorts of jobs can be put off a long time as you do the day-to-day house work. So why not try a flyer with a main offer that says "I'll clean your oven, from $25" or another flyer for "10 windows cleaned for $30". These little jobs might get you some business straight away, and it might get you a foot in the door for other services, and the potential for some word of mouth (remember to ask every customer if they know anybody else who might be interested).
Good luck!
posted by bystander at 3:13 AM on August 31, 2011

Another vote for targeting upper middle class. I am exactly in your target demographic and if you were in Wisconsin and not Texas I would ask you to memail me. I don't personally know anyone who has a house cleaner in my area, so I plan to ask my "local Internet friends" (people I haven't met) on Twitter and G+. I also - just today - got a 50% off coupon from Living Social so I may try that company.

My parents would definitely ask other people they knew. I highly suggest you get over your fears about your family's disappointment. They would be a great source of customers. Case in point: I had a housecleaner when I lived in Illinois who came recommended by my mother-in-law. The only other time I've used one is when we moved out of an apartment and I just didn't want to deal with the tub, oven etc. I called the most well-known local Big Company.

If I were you, I'd put up flyers for dog-walking and you can mention that you also clean houses. Your dogwalking customers will either hire you for that or mention that to their friends.
posted by desjardins at 9:25 AM on August 31, 2011

Are there organizations (especially women's) that hold meetings that you could legitimately attend, thereby making some contacts who might use your services? I'm thinking like Entrepreneur groups or Photoshop Professionals or University Women or Junior League or something like that. Offer your services as a door prize if they have a raffle (that would work at a PTA group too).
posted by CathyG at 10:04 AM on August 31, 2011

Oooohh, good idea, CathyG: how about the local Welcome Wagon? Maybe coupons for a percentage off the price of the first visit for people new to your town. And contact the local Cahmber of Commerce too --- most of them have weekly mixers/breakfasts/lunchs that are great business-to-business networking events.
posted by easily confused at 7:52 PM on September 4, 2011

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