How to get construction cleanup jobs

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by Tom Watson on April 6, 2014

One of the more popular questions I get asked about concerns construction cleanup type work. This specialty comes in many different flavors.

This involves anything from cleaning up commercial properties or single family homes once the builder completes them to simply cleaning up after a renovation has taken place.

There are many different ways you’ll stumble across this type work. Over the years I’ve done retail construction cleanup, fire restoration jobs, industrial buildings, multimillion dollar home cleanup to name a few.

How I found my construction cleaning accounts

The vast majority of all construction cleanup jobs I ever landed were acquired either by simply stopping in at a construction site or some type of direct mail effort. I know that may sound pretty simplistic, but as with most money-making endeavors TAKING ACTION is the best avenue to take!

You will want to do a little bit of BOTH APPROACHES to get money coming in. At the end of the day you need a “marketing mix” to get the best possible results. You can’t be a one trick pony and expect the phone to ring. Aim to be “well rounded” in all your marketing efforts!

As far as the specifics go, if you want to drop in at a site in person and introduce yourself you’ll want to pay close attention to your surroundings. You can do this by paying attention while on the road. Odds are you are in your vehicle for a good stretch of time each and every day.

Make use of that time by looking for any type of construction taking place on homes, retail settings or commercial properties. Maybe there is a new sub-division of homes going up near you. It could be a small group of homes, or maybe even a single home all by itself being built.

When you find these places just stop in and ask for the site manager. Your goal is to find the person in charge of the site and introduce yourself BRIEFLY. Odds are this person is very busy. My goal was to say hi and hand them my card. If they asked some questions I would answer them. Pretty simple stuff!

Retail strip malls also present opportunities for those looking for work as do any type of commercial property. If the building is “going up”, then someone will be cleaning it once complete. That’s a fact! You can also run into situations where the property is established but a new vendor is renovating the facility. That will work too!

If you want to mix in some direct mail then focus on sending your marketing material to builders, property management companies and general contractors. All I ever did was send out a sales letter, flyer and business card. Nothing fancy! The common thread through all of this is ACTION. You need a whole bunch of it.

My overall experience with construction cleanup

I can’t say I’ve done more of this type work than anyone around, but I’ve done my fair share over the years. I never really focused on it. I did it kind of “on the side” in a sense. I was really so worried about keeping the “regular work” running smoothly that I didn’t devote much time to it.

In my opinion this type work is perfect for “extra income”. This means I would not “totally focus or bet the ranch” on just trying to land construction cleanup jobs. In my experience the work comes and goes, not to mention it swings with the economy.

When all is well in the world there is plenty of work to find then you’ll be sitting pretty. However nothing lasts forever and when the economy turns sour it slows to a trickle over time. It’s not a good idea for your business to fluctuate that much. When it does your income will fluctuate too!

Construction cleanup jobs I’ve been hired for

As I mentioned earlier, I’ve done a little bit of everything over the years. Most were of the smaller variety, but some on the other hand were pretty big ones. I must admit that on a few of the larger jobs I was a little nervous during the bidding process and over the course of the job itself. All in all everything always worked out!

The retail outlet construction cleanup

To give you some actual jobs, one was a retail post construction cleanup job in a high-end retail shopping mall not too far from where I live. The complex as a whole must have about 50 shops, anything from ultra expensive jewelry stores to fancy restaurants. We saw construction taking place and stopped in.

The site was being renovated for a very large national clothing company. They basically gutted the place and started over. This meant lots of dusting, cleaning windows and detail type work as the dust got into every nook and cranny of the place. Nothing really hard to pull off from a cleaning stand point.

The guy in charge asked me for a price so I went back to my office and added up what I thought it would take to clean. I bid the job at $850.00 and he said yes. Once we started the cleaning he started to ask for more and more detail which was outside of the original contract.

This meant the job wound up DOUBLING in price by the time we were complete. So we brought in some decent revenue – and plenty of profit – for just a few days work. Needless to say I was very pleased with the outcome. If Sue hadn’t spotted the site under construction we would have missed out!

The apartment complex construction cleanup

This particular account we landed by mailing a sales letter, business card and flyer to a property management firm. We mailed the letter then NOTHING HAPPENED despite several mailings. We thought all was lost until the phone rang with a man telling me to meet him at the job site construction trailer.

Turns out it was an apartment complex that had a major fire. The management company that called me not only managed the complex, they built it too. To make a long story short they needed someone to clean each apartment once their crew was done the renovation.

There was a “catch” however! There were 68 individual apartments that had to be cleaned and the time frame to clean them was short. They were going to be ready at the rate of about 5 to 7 per day. This meant we needed to have crew on site every day until the job was done.

This meant the entire job would be fast and furious! All those units would be ready for a final clean within a two-week period. I put a price together that was just short of $10,000. They said yes and I hoped for the best! Turns out the pace of construction was slower than expected luckily. They said 2 weeks for all units, but it actually took 6 weeks.

There were still stretches of being very busy. They would complete them in bunches, then expect us to be ready to clean them on a moments notice. This meant long hours and working weekends most of the time when the call came to clean. Once all the work was complete I was a very happy cleaning business owner!

Regular customer construction cleanup

I’ll wrap this up by making mention of one final way you may get construction clean up jobs, and that is by your regular customers having renovation work done. This was the case for my last example of construction cleaning. Naturally, this job was landed because they were happy with our regular service.

To cut to the chase, this one customer totally revamped their facility. They went first class all the way, spending untold mountains of money in the process. I already knew this customer was free spending, so I bid it on the high side knowing I would likely get what I asked for.

The job was a one day clean, so I needed to make sure I had the manpower to pull it off within the given timeframe. I was told I had 8 hours on a Saturday to go from dirty to clean. So I had my 5 best people plus myself to supervise. I bid it at $1,440.00 knowing that worst case it would come to $30 per hour.

I did “kind of know” that the guy in charge of hiring me didn’t like to spend his entire day off on the site, so he would really want us gone early, maybe by 2 pm.  This meant if we hustled we could make out like bandits! This is EXACTLY what happened as we were all done just after 1 pm!

When all was said and done I made a LOT of money for a pretty easy job. I don’t want to give the impression that this is normal BECAUSE IT’S NOT! I included it because these type situations are possible from time to time if you know how to “read the tea leaves”.

Construction cleanup summary

If you are serious about growing your cleaning business then this type work should be a part of your service portfolio. I would highly recommend starting small then working your way up from there. You need to get your feet wet on jobs that you can feel comfortable bidding.

When I first started out I went around to single family homes that were going up on single lots. This allowed me to get a feel for how to bid the job and how to clean it. Before you know it you’ll feel comfortable with the process. This approach allowed me to work my way up to larger and larger jobs.

One house in particular was a huge mansion. This is crazy, but the “blueprints alone” cost the homeowner $300,000 to have drafted. Yea, that is a ridiculous amount of money to spend. The house sold for several million when all was said and done. We were lucky to clean it. In case you are wondering, we got that one by direct mail.

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{ 32 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Ron April 6, 2014 at 6:35 pm

That sound great and will look for those sites myself. When you go and bid on a account is wise to ask them what did the last cleaning service they had charge them?

2 Tom Watson April 6, 2014 at 6:49 pm

Hi Ron! GREAT question. You could, but odds are there won’t be an answer to that. Each job is so unique. What you may be able to learn is what was the actual price per square foot they paid. With that said, the jobs vary so much I would just bid it on what they want done (How long will it take and what rate will you charge). That is what I always did. You REALLY want to get YOUR PRICE, not what others charge. They may not know what they are doing, so why emulate them? That’s my approach anyway.

3 carmella April 6, 2014 at 10:08 pm

Hi Tom
I received a call from a personal owner who needed clean up on two of his songle family home properties, needless to say I cut myself short. However, he very pleased with the cleanup I was thrown a curve ball when he asked me to take on six more projects he had coming up the first of six would be a mini mart for a gas station how could I refuse. Pricing has not been discuss since construction just began.
My problem is I dont no what to charge since he made it ver clear that he was pleased with my services he would not be looking for anyone else. What should my contract entail and how do I figure the amount of what to charge?
I would greatly appreciate your time and help.
Thank you
C. Cortez
ÇC’s Crystal Clear Cleaning Services

4 Tom Watson April 7, 2014 at 8:27 am

Hi Carmella! So it looks like you got a job, did the work, he was happy yet you underbid it a little. All in all a GREAT LEARNING EXPERIENCE! My advice… think through what “you would have charged” if you had it to do over again THEN use that formula to formulate a price on these next projects.

So add up all the time you spent on the job you just did, then divide the total cost by the “updated price you would have charged” if you had it to do all over again. PRESTO… your going rate to charge per hour is now established!

Don’t get sidetracked by how happy he is or the fact he says he won’t look for anyone else. Those are nice facts to have on your side, but when you bid a job you do so with cold blooded precision. The only thing that matters is what you are doing and how long it will take coupled with price!

So this is what you do going forward… What needs to be done on each job? Convert that into how many hours it will take you to clean. Then you just apply your NEW going rate. Presto, you have a price to charge.

5 Ben April 7, 2014 at 10:43 am

Can you help to write down nice sale brochures for residential and commercail cleaning or can you refer someone.thanks

6 Tom Watson April 7, 2014 at 12:38 pm

Hi Ben! That is coming down the road a bit, so stay tuned.

7 Toria Posey April 9, 2014 at 10:20 am

What kinds of things should I mention in a marketing letter? What should I include?

8 Tom Watson April 9, 2014 at 10:47 am

Hi Toria! I’ve written about that. Take a peek at this post and use it as a template for drafting your own. http://www.cleaning-4-profit.com/2012/10/09/creating-a-sales-letter-for-your-cleaning-business/

9 Knights in cleaning armor corp April 9, 2014 at 1:16 pm

great article thank you!!!

10 Tom Watson April 9, 2014 at 1:28 pm

THANKS!

11 Maid Service April 16, 2014 at 10:35 am

I have never considered job site clean up, this could be a great way to add some extra income. Really glad I stumbled on this, thank you!

12 Tom Watson April 16, 2014 at 10:44 am

You are very welcome! Good luck.

13 Q. Williams May 10, 2014 at 12:31 pm

Hello Tom,

When sending direct mail do you send it to the corporate office or to each site where the builder is currently building? The problem I have is where I live there are lots of builders building in different neighborhoods all across town. This should be considered a good problem… I just want to make sure I get my mailers to the right location/person.

14 Tom Watson May 10, 2014 at 1:21 pm

Hi Q! I always sent them to “headquarters”. Wherever the main office is, that is where my letters went.

15 Tracy Middleton May 16, 2014 at 11:59 am

Hi Tom-
I listen with interest to all of your podcasts and find them very helpful. However, I want to mention a fact that hasn’t been discussed regarding the construction site cleanup that – insurance. I was asked to bid on a soon to be completed married housing complex for the University of Iowa, which consisted of six residential buildings and a club house. The manager gave me a sample form of the insurance requirements, which I gave to my insurance agent. I had most of the coverage, but umbrella insurance was required that was going to cost me an additional $600. Since this was the first time I bid on a new construction site in the two years I’ve been in business, and my budget is tight, I withdrew my bid (which was way to low – a lesson learned). However, I intend to approach smaller construction sites in the near future. I just wanted to mention the insurance factor – it may come as a surprise for other business owners. It sure was for me!
Thanks for your pod casts; very beneficial!

16 Tom Watson May 16, 2014 at 12:22 pm

Hi Tracy! Great point. I had a similar situation early on, and I passed on it too. I’ve only had that happen a few times over the years, but by then I had more than enough insurance for most every type job. Anyway… THANKS for commenting, as that was very helpful!

17 chris October 22, 2014 at 6:30 pm

Hi Tom, I have a question? I recently went to a Procurement fair so to get information about how to do business in Maryland. There were people from all city and state agency. I was told to register my business in order to bid on cleaning contracts. What I want to know is that a wise thing for me to do scene I only been in business for a year and only had one job that only paid 500.00 for a one time cleaning. I’m having a hard time getting business.

18 Tom Watson October 23, 2014 at 2:33 pm

Hi Chris! That type work is generally only for the BIG FIRMS. I would avoid that for now. Email me letting me know exactly what you are doing to get jobs.

19 chris October 23, 2014 at 6:18 pm

Hi Tom, Thanks for the info. I have gave and mail out flyers, even went to businesses. I just don’t know what I m doing wrong. I dress professional and speak will and always have a smile. HELP ME!

20 chris October 23, 2014 at 6:19 pm

Oh Tom, one more thing. You think because am a woman that I do not get calls?

21 Tom Watson October 26, 2014 at 9:28 am

Hi Chris! That doesn’t make a difference. Companies (or homeowners) just want their problem solved, they don’t care about gender.

22 Tom Watson October 26, 2014 at 9:29 am

Hi Chris! Call me during the week and we’ll talk. This way we can diagnose the issue.

23 Chris October 26, 2014 at 9:11 pm

Thanks Tom, I will give you that call.

24 Angela torrez December 30, 2015 at 2:50 pm

Thank-you for the info .Verry positive ,motivating and informative.

25 Tom Watson January 7, 2016 at 10:31 am

I’m happy to help Angela!

26 Becky R. September 29, 2016 at 5:22 pm

Hi Tom,

Thanks for the info very helpful!

I have my own cleaning business myself in Tahoe, CA and am trying to expand into construction clean-ups since most of the cleans I do are vacation rentals. I have already offered my business to some project managers and got a call for an estimate of a 170,000 sq.ft. hotel that is still under construction and have no clue how to bid that do you have some advise?

27 Etheldra Mays January 14, 2017 at 3:02 pm

Hi Tom,
I have a question, on Construction Cleanup’s what do you actually clean up? I’m interested in doing some Construction Cleanup Sites but I just wasn’t sure if I had the proper Clean Up Supplies/Equipment so I stay away. After reading this post I’m interested in giving it a try because I’m trying to get some Cleaning Contracts under my Company. Another question how do I find places to send direct mail?

28 Tom Watson January 15, 2017 at 11:47 am

It’s like cleaning anything else, so don’t make it more complicated. There will be lots of dust, lots of vacuuming and you’ll have to remove some stickers from new windows and appliances at times, but that’s it. Generally you perform a “rough clean”, then a “final clean”. The rough gets up about 80% of the cleaning while the final (done a few days later generally) gets it move in ready.

29 Grace February 9, 2017 at 10:46 pm

Hi Tom thanks for the information you give me a better idea to go for it!
I have been cleaning for more than 5 years with different clients (residential) but looking for an extra income i found a job as subcontractor who pay me 37″ for a house a little over 3000 sq ft doing finals that’s even included the windows who were over sprayed and a lot of drywall in it and floors even the tub was cleaned on 1 hour, so I’m very happy to have this job who pays better than my current business but I guess that price didn’t worth the time that takes for cleaning (1 person and me) how I can do for get those kind of jobs directly and not subcontracting? I’m in MD

Thanks

30 Tom Watson February 14, 2017 at 10:25 am

You have to visit the construction sites and meet the site manager and get them your card. There is nothing hard about this, just get out there and STOP IN TO ALL PLACES that are being built! That’s all I did.

31 Carly nunn February 27, 2017 at 3:34 pm

Hi there, thank you for your info as I found this extremely useful. I work for a small cleaning company working my butt off sometimes working 12 hours straight maybe with 10 ten minute breaks only throughout but after working for the company for 5 months it has been bought to my attention that regardless of all of my hard work they have been skimming my hours to the tine of 37hours in past 5 months therefore I would like to go it alone as I know I’m a keen working willing to put the hours in but am sick of doing all the hard work whilst someone else is reeping the rewards only problem is I wouldn’t have a clue on how to price a job up, what to say to sell the business? With my current employer I get sent to various building sites and do either painters clean, builders clean, reclean and sparkle which I would be looking at to do if I started on my own. Any input would be greatly appreciated. Many thanks, Carly Nunn.

32 Tom Watson March 5, 2017 at 8:41 am

You know more than you think. If you know HOW LONG something takes to clean, you can come up with a REALLY ACCURATE PRICE to charge. I can’t sum up how to bid this in a paragraph. I have an entire chapter dedicated to this question in my Start-Up Guides. Details here: http://www.cleaning-4-profit.com/start-your-own-cleaning-business/

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