With a low-cost of entry and low concentration of big firms in key markets, the commercial and residential cleaning industry is a lucrative endeavor for small businesses.

Although the industry is relatively recession-proof, successful entrepreneurs know that marketing and growing a cleaning business is critical to its survival.

Whether you’re thinking of starting a cleaning business, or just need an injection of fresh ideas, here are eight surefire ways to grow your cleaning business, as recommended by some of the cleaning industry’s top marketers and small business experts.

Picture the Kind of Cleaning Business You Want

We all start businesses with a goal in mind, but as days roll into months and months into years, we often lose sight of our goals and dreams. So as you think about growing your cleaning business, step back and think about what your dream business looks like and feels like and what’s involved in getting to that point. As Dan Liebrecht, Co-Founder of CleanGuru and marketing coach to the cleaning industry explains in this quick tip, your dream might be happy customers, employees and happy owners – the kind of set-up that provides stability and satisfaction for all.

But how do you make this dream a reality? It all starts with defining your ideal customer. Check out Liebrecht’s video tutorial for more insight on how you can target market your cleaning business for growth.

Be Different

In a crowded market, differentiating yourself is essential. Customers want to know what it is you can do for them that other cleaning firms can’t. Start by assessing your competition – what do they do that’s unique, not only in their messaging but in their actions? Use Facebook, online reviews, and word of mouth to listen to what the market is saying about your competitor’s services. What needs aren’t being served? From a service delivery standpoint, it might involve a greater emphasis on green cleaning products, flexible cleaning schedules (evenings and weekends), and so on.

Another way to differentiate yourself is to build more intimate relationships through your marketing. Start a blog, or send out newsletters offering cleaning tips (you want to show yourself as an expert in your field) or to introduce your team (bios or videos are great), so that your customers know who they are dealing with.

Focus on Customers in Each Step of the Marketing Cycle

Many small businesses are so involved in the day-to-day running of their company that they rarely step back and think about how marketing can help them grow their business. “What you need is a marketing action plan so you can lay out a path to follow, “says small business expert and SBA guest blogger, Rieva Lesonsky.

To do this, you need to define your company’s buying cycle. It’s likely you have prospects and clients at every stage of the cycle – from awareness (customers know about your business but aren’t sure what you have to offer) through discovery and engagement (where they try to learn more about you and take action that may or may not lead to a sale), and all the way to referral status (when they are so happy with you, they want to tell everyone about you).

Of course, there are other steps in between, but the point is that you should have a plan that focuses on customers in each step of the buying cycle. While some of the tools may be the same, the messages and call to actions might be different – you might want to use a direct marketing campaign to steer prospects to your website so they can learn more about you while for customers in the engagement phase you might offer a coupon as an incentive for them to hire you.

For ideas on what your action steps should look like for each phase of the buying cycle, check out Rieva’s blog: Creating a Marketing Action Plan.

Rinse and Repeat Your Marketing Campaigns

So you’ve been running a series of marketing outreach initiatives – direct mail, email, telemarketing, brochures, etc. to a select target market over a certain period. Perhaps the campaign performed well, and you won new business, great! But what about the prospects who didn’t respond? Should you remove them from your marketing list? Do you need to come up with a whole new campaign?

Not necessarily, you could just “rinse and repeat,” says Dan Liebrecht.

How? Well, first, if your target market hasn’t changed, and you don’t have time to come up with a new campaign, “…do not give up on them, keep going after them until you get them,” advises Liebrecht. Second, if you can come up with new marketing pieces great, but if your message is still valid, and it reflects the compelling reasons why your cleaning business is different, then you may be able to repeat the same campaign, using the same pieces. Repetition is good, especially if your campaign ran 6-12 months ago, and the message is still relevant. Start the cycle again, rinse and repeat!

For more marketing ideas, check out the CleanGuru YouTube channel.

Don’t Give Up Knocking on Doors

From restaurants to churches to medical practices, door-to-door sales can be a very effective sales strategy for commercial and janitorial cleaning businesses explains “Stringer,” a business expert and AskMeHelpDesk.com member.

“…you need to spend a lot of time knocking on doors (period). Never stop prospecting for leads, ever. You can get a lot of names and phone numbers (and email addresses) of the correct person to contact later… when you stop at a building to make a call simply ask who you would speak with that ‘contract’ for their nightly janitorial service, too many times this follow up does not happen and it is a shame as this direct line is your blood line to new business.”

Get in Front of Clients Through the Back Door

Don’t just knock on doors of commercial properties or make cold calls to residential clients. Get in front of potential clients through the back door. How?

  • Get out there and pitch your business to real estate agents (many offer clients complimentary cleaning services as part of the home sale – this can lead to more business for you).
  • What about homebuilders? They also send in cleaning crews once homes are built.
  • Invest in new home buyer mailing lists and send out direct marketing pieces once a month to higher income residences. List sellers include Melissa Data, USA Data, Experian, among others. You can narrow your search down to very specific demographics too.

Network Like Crazy

More advice from Stringer on AskMeHelpDesk.com: “Network, network, network…. join your local Chamber of Commerce, local networking groups (you can find them in the newspaper or your phone book), they meet weekly or monthly. TELL everyone you meet what you do and ask them for their business or someone that they know that may need your service. You may want to consider offering 10% of the first month’s billing to someone who gave you a lead… that became a sale.”

Get Your Name Out in the Community

Writing for eHow, Elizabeth Smith, stresses the importance of getting out in the community to build brand recognition.

“Put up flyers around town in places where business customers will see. Look for bulletin boards in large office buildings or shopping centers, or put flyers up in coffee shops near the offices of clients you want to secure. Use a bold headline that mentions office cleaning services, and consider tacking a few business cards up with the flyer.”

Don’t ignore community events and sponsorship opportunities. Festivals, fairs, and other local events are a great way to market your business to residents and event-goers and show your community spirit. Check out Rieva Lesonsky’s blog: How to Market Your Business at Summer Events, Fairs and Festivals for tips.

Caron is a small business owner, writer, and marketing communications consultant. Caron has blogged for the U.S. Small Business Administration, SCORE ,and other organizations on all matters relating to small business management and growth. Connect with Caron on Twitter and at April Marketing.