How to Start a Pool Cleaning Business

Written on February 19, 2020
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As anyone who’s owned a swimming pool can attest, there’s more to pools than pulling off the cover and going for a dip. Whether it’s in a backyard, a gym, or an Olympic stadium, swimming pools require regular, professional maintenance and upkeep. That provides an opportunity to start a business as a pool cleaner. After all, the U.S. pool cleaning industry totaled $6 billion in revenue last year and has experienced growth of more than 6% since 2014.

It’s easy to see the appeal of starting a pool cleaning business. You’ll often get to work outdoors and assist clients ranging from homeowners to hoteliers, and startup costs are typically only around $2,000. Meanwhile, professional cleaners can expect to make $50 to $60 per hour, with weekly full-time earnings of $2,000 to $2,400. Businesses that offer repairs in addition to cleaning services can charge significantly more (usually $150 to $200 per hour).

But as is the case with any small business, you can’t just jump straight into the deep end. You’ll want to make sure you’ve put yourself on a path for success, both in terms of creating a thorough business plan and doing the research, certification work, and marketing necessary to help your pool cleaning business cut through the noise. We’re here to help you do exactly that.

Ready to dive in? Here’s how to start a pool cleaning business of your own. 

1. Do Your Research

Before you start a pool cleaning business, you’ll want to learn as much about the job as you possibly can. While it’s not particle physics, there’s more complexity (and science) than you might expect. Whether or not you’ve cleaned pools before, your customers will be expecting you to have a high level of expertise about water quality, filtration systems, and the various chemicals used for cleaning.

While there’s plenty of great information available online, we’d recommend taking a reputable certification program, like the Certified Pool and Spa Operator (CPO) certification program from the National Swimming Pool Foundation. In some states (like Florida), you may be required to pass a similar test before establishing your business.

Looking for more guidance? Consider talking to your local pool dealer. They can be a wealth of pertinent information—not only on the basics of pool cleaning, but also the extent of demand in your local market. What’s more, you might consider partnering with them down the road for equipment, supplies, and customer referrals.

2. Write a Business Plan

Writing a business plan is an essential step for any entrepreneur, and pool cleaners are no exception. If you’re not sure where to start, don’t worry—there are plenty of templates available online. While they’re typically generic rather than industry-specific, they can provide a sense of the kind of information you’ll need to include and how it should be organized.

Some of the key details include your target market, the local competition, how much revenue you expect to generate, your predicted operating costs, and your plan for marketing the business. In an area with a lot of other pool cleaners? This is your chance to explain how you will stand out from the pack (maybe you specialize in using non-chemical treatments, for example) and why your market can support another business in this space.

The more specific you are, the better—especially when you have an audience in the form of a potential lender or investor. For example, if you live in a part of the country where your business will be dictated by seasons (likely peaking during the summer months), be sure to give special attention to how you’ll continue to produce revenue when the weather turns cold. Expecting to hire additional help during peak season? Get specific: How much help? At what rate? With what impact on your bottom line?

3. Choose Your Legal Framework

Your business plan is also a great place to discuss the legal structure of your business. A sole proprietorship is simple, easy, and inexpensive to set up, but it comes with some potential drawbacks—chiefly, that you could be held personally liable in the event that your business is sued because you are considered the same legal entity.

Other types of business entities include LLCs (limited liability companies) and S- and C-corporations. Both options provide greater degrees of protection for business owners, but they require more legwork. You’ll need to file articles of organization or incorporation with the appropriate offices of your state or local government, and may be required to appoint a registered agent responsible for receiving official notices on your business’s behalf.

Speaking of state requirements, make sure you’re doing your due diligence and following all local laws (if you’ve already received a certification or license, you may be a step ahead here). Every state is different, and some require you to jump through more hoops than others. In California, for instance, you’ll need to have four years of experience as a pool cleaner and pay a licensing fee every couple of years. Acquiring business insurance may also be part of the process here, especially if you plan on hiring employees. 

You’ll also likely want to apply for employer identification number (EIN) with the IRS, which you’ll use for tax purposes, as well as if you seek business funding or open a business bank account.

4. Buy Your Equipment

Now that you’ve written your business plan and legally established yourself in your state, you can begin to set up shop. Good news: Aside from your method of transportation, the up-front investment for a pool cleaning business is fairly small. Here’s a quick list of some of the supplies you’ll need to get started as a pool cleaner:

  • Pool skimmers and brushes
  • Leaf rakes
  • Water testing equipment
  • Cleaning chemicals
  • Vacuums and hoses
  • A vehicle that can accommodate all of your gear
  • Business software for handling scheduling, billing, etc.

Beyond these essentials, you might also consider purchasing business cards and company-branded apparel for yourself and any employees. Establishing an online presence can also include some expenses, like purchasing a domain name and buying ad space.

While startup costs are pretty minimal, if they’re beyond your current means, you may also want to explore your business loan options. While traditional bank loans are typically out of reach for new businesses, equipment financing, microloans, and credit cards can all be viable options to help get your business off the ground.

5. Market Your Business

When you’re ready to start getting the word out about your new pool cleaning business, there are a number of different routes to take. At the budget-friendly, low-tech end of the spectrum, you can begin by networking with other entrepreneurs (try pool builders and supply shops) and going door to door to introduce yourself to local pool owners. Try running a promotion to attract your first few customers, and encourage them to leave a review on Yelp or a similar site. If you don’t live in a part of the country with a consistently warm climate, focus your marketing efforts at the tail-end of winter and beginning of spring, when people are starting to think about reopening their pools for the season. 

Online, you’ll want to have a professional-looking website, ideally with customer testimonials that can demonstrate the quality of your work. You can also make your business more visible online by adding it to Google Maps or creating SEO-friendly content (like blog posts about the do’s and don’ts of pool cleaning) that will get more eyeballs on your site.

Don’t forget about social media. Establish Facebook and Twitter pages for your business, which give you another outlet for reviews, content, and customer interaction. It’s also worth considering platforms like Instagram—while not every business is suited to it, everyone loves a good summer pool pic. Try posting before-and-after pictures that show off particularly dramatic results, and make sure you’re cross-posting from Instagram to Facebook to save yourself extra work.

6. Separate Your Finances

As you start to build your customer base, you’ll want to maintain separate accounts for the money associated with your business. You may be tempted to use your personal accounts, but this is problematic for a number of reasons. For one, your taxes will be much more difficult if you don’t keep your finances separate. Plus, this separation will also help protect your personal assets in the event that your business runs into any financial or legal troubles.

To start, open a business bank account. New businesses will likely choose a checking account, as they don’t have a lot of extra cash to keep in the bank. But once your pool cleaning business is more established and you have some savings, feel free to open a savings account as well, so your balance can earn interest. Next, choose a business credit card and spend responsibly.

7. Assess Your Profits

With your business up and running, it’s time to take a look at how things are going. Do you need to adjust your pricing? Offer a deal to attract new customers? If you’re having trouble getting repeat business, what steps are you taking to keep customers coming back?

As mentioned above, you can improve your profits by acquiring some light repair skills, which command a higher price than cleaning services alone. This could mean learning how to patch cracks, resolving filter issues, and fixing clogs. Another approach is to sell equipment to your customers to help them maintain their pool in between professional cleanings.

If you find that you’re struggling in the off-season, it may make sense to try expanding your client base beyond homeowners with pools. There are plenty of potential customers with indoor, year-round pools (like gyms, hotels, and rec centers)—reaching them may just require a different marketing approach. 

The Bottom Line

Whether you’re planning to operate full-time or seasonally, running a pool cleaning business can be a great opportunity for new and experienced entrepreneurs alike. With the right knowledge and a small initial investment, it’s relatively easy to get started—and the high number of pools in the U.S. (there are 10.4 million residential ones alone) means there’s plenty of room for business owners who don’t mind getting a little chlorine in their hair.

Christine Aebischer

Christine Aebischer is an editor at Fundera. Previously, she was an editor at the financial planning startup LearnVest and its parent company, Northwestern Mutual. She has written for print and online on topics ranging from personal finance and insurance to luxury real estate and interior design. She has a degree in journalism and English from The College of New Jersey. Email: christine.aebischer@fundera.com.
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