Updated: Mar 22
In recent years, the gig economy and the increase in the cost of living has given birth to a new breed of entrepreneur: the hustler. Hustlers do anything required to increase and supplement their incomes however possible.
I'm here today with one of 2023's most lucrative sig gigs: cleaning parking lots. Would it surprise you if we told you that sweeping and cleaning up dirty parking lots and garages is actually one of the nation's most popular up and coming side hustles?
It is easy to understand why. There is plenty of demand, particularly around cities, and the materials you'll need to get started are negligible. Plus, in time, it is even possible for you to take your business full-time!
Keep on reading to learn how you can start a parking lot cleaning business.
Can you build a business cleaning parking lots?
You absolutely can. For those readers that don't believe me, consult with Google. I turned to the search engine and looked for "parking lot cleaning." What I found surprised me a little.
There was no shortage of companies in my area offering these exact services. Check it out for yourself.
Another thing that surprised me was the lack of quality web presences among these companies. Sure, they registered business profiles on Google, but other than that and some contact information, information was a little hard to come by.
But what this means is that this business may not even require you to build and maintain a website at this time. Instead, it seems like building relationships with property managers, business owners, and others may be a more worthwhile use of your time.
You may also opt to build a website in an attempt to differentiate yourself from the competition in your area.
Why clean parking lots anyway?
Your first thought at this point is probably "why would I clean parking lots?" After all, the work can be hard, smelly, and a little gross, particularly if you're in a city somewhere.
But in more instances, the work won't be.
You should consider cleaning parking lots because:
The barriers to entry are low: You won't need any special educational credentials or piles of cash to get started. In fact, you can get your business off the ground for just a few hundred dollars.
It is work people are happy to pay for: Most business owners or city parking lot managers are happy to offboard the work to somebody else. This is where you come in.
It is profitable: Once you acquire some clients and start to establish your routine, it will become quicker for you to complete jobs. And with this speed comes the ability to take on more clients and increase your income. More on pricing your services in a couple minutes.
But if the work ends up being wrong for you, remember to check out our list of the most unique side hustles to consider.
How to start a parking lot cleaning business
Getting your new venture off the ground is a 5-step process, but these steps don't have to be anxiety-provoking. Rather, treat the following as a checklist of sorts:
Decide what services to offer
Craft a business plan
Find parking lots to clean
Scale your business
1. Decide on parking lot cleaning services
So, you've decided to take on a side gig cleaning parking lots in your area. You're probably wondering how to get started and what services to offer to assure that your business is competitive in the marketplace.
Cleaning a parking lot may take one or more different forms, including:
Sweeping and clearing trash or debris
Pressure washing pavement
Chemical treatments to remove oil, grease, or other fluids
Most commonly, though, when we talk about cleaning a parking lot, we're talking about more standard offerings such as sweeping and removing trash and other large debris from the trash cans or ground.
I've talked to a few people that have been successful in this space, and I've discovered that offering a couple of ancillary services can be a great differentiator when it comes to trying to sign on a client. Some examples include:
Clearing trash cans across the lot or garage
Treating/cleaning oil and chemical stains from pavement
Repairing any potholes or other potential liabilities
Removing snow in the winter
You can always decide to start with a base offering and ask each customer if there are any other tasks that they would like to be completed.
2. Craft a business plan
Your next main objective will be to craft a business plan to guide your next moves. It doesn't need to look beautiful or be grammatically correct, but it does need to have enough information to help you make the right business decisions.
My recommendation? Talk to people. Lots of people.
I'd advise you to reach out to existing business owners, as well as those in your niche, to better understand the challenges and opportunities they face on a daily basis.
Next, you'll want to complete a SWOT analysis, which will outline your:
Strengths: Those qualities that set you apart from your competition
Weaknesses: Parts of your business model that need to be worked on
Opportunities: Things that can improve or help you grow your business
Threats: Risks to your business model
With your SWOT analysis completed, you'll probably just want to do a little market research in your area to make sure the demand for parking lot cleaning services matches your ultimate plans for growth and expansion.
Essentially, make sure your business fits in your area. You don't want to spend money to start your business, only to find out that your market size is only two or three customers.
3. Find parking lots to clean
With your business plan complete, your next goal will be to make a list of target clients (parking lots you'd like to take on and clean). It is not hard to find lots to clean, as you can drive around or even use Google or Apple Maps to help you identify targets.
Depending on where you live, you may consider surface lots/garages in cities, or lots for local businesses, restaurants, and other establishments. You may even consider reaching out to hotels or Airbnb owners, one of many ways to make money on Airbnb without owning property.
I recommend that you create a simple spreadsheet to help you keep track of your prospects and leads. It is helpful to include:
The address of the lot
The business owner/property manager
His/her contact information
Once your list of targets is complete, you'll be ready to tackle client acquisition.
4. Client acquisition
Your next goal is simple to understand, but not as easy to execute on. To have a business, you'll need to find clients. Beyond finding clients, it is critical that you
find customers in a really cost-conscious way.
Luckily, I do have a number of good recommendations to help you find new and later retain new customers, including:
Build an online presence
Talk to people and build relationships
Build an online presence
Building an online presence isn't as difficult as it seems.
Consider creating a website featuring your services and contact information, as well as setting up social media accounts on platforms such as Facebook and Twitter to reach more potential customers.
All of your materials should be colorful and show off the quality of your work.
It is also important to have an active presence in local directories such as Yelp, Google My Business, and your local Chamber of Commerce websites.
Cold email and calling
Direct outreach can be another great idea. Use some combination of cold calling, mailing, and even an email campaign. I'll be honest - it isn't always a fun process. You will experience at the very least a fair amount of rejection, and potentially more. To this day, I still employ cold emailing as a way to boost my web presence and make ourselves more accessible to readers and customers nationally.
But over time, you will also acquire customers. The key is to focus on relationship building first and the selling process second. What may be a rejection right now may turn into an opportunity in a couple months' time if circumstances change. As such, you'll want to make sure that you always handle rejection with grace.
Create a service brochure
Another strategy that you may consider is preparing a one-page pamphlet of your services. Oftentimes, when you first connect with a property manager or business owner, you will not get a "yes" or "no" on the spot. More often is a decision-making progress that takes a longer time to reach.
You'll want to be prepared for this by having materials for these individuals to review after your meeting or call. You'll want it to look professional (use Canva to design it), and you should include the following information:
Services offered (before and after pictures help)
Any past reviews or testimonials to showcase the quality of your work (this will take time to build)
Pricing and contact information as required
It is important that you ask your customers for reviews on Google and testimonials for your brochure. In fact, in our opinion, you should do so even if you need to give discounts or otherwise incentivize your customers to give you feedback.
Creating this brochure doesn't have to cost you anything either. You can use free tools like Microsoft Office, Paint, and Canva to design and put together a professional looking document in a couple of hours.
Talk to people
We've alluded to this strategy before, but when you're starting a business, you need to talk to people. You never know who has connections, and at some point, something will break in your direction. As you're starting your parking lot cleaning business, you'll want to start by making a list of prospects - lots that you are interested in cleaning.
Next, you'll want to find out who owns the decision-making process with each of these lots. Apartment complexes may have property managers that handle all vendor relationships, for instance. Commercial lots also may, or the property may belong to the individual business itself.
But the key to finding all of this out is to just talk to people!
My top tip here is to view the process as an exercise in relationship building. An opportunity you are excited about may not pan out, but a property manager you build a relationship with may be able to refer other leads and businesses to you.
5. Scale your parking lot cleaning business
At some point, you'll likely want to turn your new side hustle into a full-time business that can support you financially. And while it may be hard to believe, the time to begin planning for this is actually now.
You likely don't know exactly how to expand your operation into something more commercial, but we recommend that you consider the following bullet points for now:
Would you consider hiring independent contractors?
Will you purchase more industrial equipment?
Something else altogether?
With scale comes the need to embrace things like liability insurance, which can provide extra protection against potential damages or injuries. Additionally, with scale comes the need to build efficiencies to manage all of your clients. Online booking systems can help with this, and they'll allow clients to get information and schedule lot cleanings online.
Having the answers to these questions may not be critical now, but beginning to think about them is. We lean towards hiring help, since you'll have the opportunity to train them to do things the way you expect them to be done. And in return, you can pay them a portion of the proceeds, keeping the rest for yourself.
Parking lot cleaning: Materials to get started
One of my favorite aspects of cleaning up parking lots for money is that you won't need a ton of materials or equipment to get started. In fact, in most instances, you'll need only the most basic of items, including:
A blower (either backpack or handheld, like what you would use to clear leaves in your yard)
A broom and dustpan
A way to dispose of or otherwise remove any accumulated trash
But depending on how quickly you are looking to scale your operation, you may also opt for other materials as well.
You may also opt for commercial grade cleaning supplies for your larger clients, including:
Degreasers/detergents for removing dirt and oil
Pressure or power washers
You may also want to purchase protective equipment such as goggles, gloves, masks and steel-toed boots to protect yourself while on the job.
Additionally, you will need to think through the process of dumping the trash and debris that you collect. Can you use a dumpster on site or will you have to come up with some sort of alternative arrangement? If not, you may be on your own to visit a local landfill, and if there is a cost associated, make sure to build it into your pricing.
Speaking of which...
Pricing a parking lot sweeping gig
One of the most crucial aspects of starting your new gig is setting your rates. In the case of cleaning parking lots, you'll want to take a few different variables into account, including:
The perceived difficulty of the cleaning
The size of the lot (in square feet)
What you need to make hourly to be profitable and make the work be worth your time
Keeping these three bullets in mind, plus any other factors that may be important to you, you can take your first stab at pricing your initial jobs.
Many parking lot cleaning services offer weekly cleanings and invoice their customers monthly. To help you come up with a better pricing model, we recommend that you take extra care to not underestimate how long a job will take. All things considered, you'll likely want to price your services so that you can walk away earning at least $50 an hour for your services.
If you're successful in getting your clients to sign longer-term contracts, you may be able to earn more profit as a result. You may also consider offering additional services such as trash collection and snow removal during the slower months of the year.
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