Andrew Safer tells you what you need for your window washing service.
MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
It was about the time when I was getting fed up with college, fed up with taking money every month from my father (who really couldn't afford it), and fed up with the whole dependency bag ... that a friend jokingly suggested I set myself up as a professional window washer.
Well, why not? Regular jobs were hard to find and I didn't want to fill out W-2 forms or gear my life to an alarm clock anyway. I decided to investigate the idea.
Mind you, I didn't know anything about washing windows aside from what we all learn as kids ... Windex, paper towels, and smears. So I thumbed through the Yellow Pages of the phone book to "Janitorial Supplies", zeroed in on a local supply house, and went on down to look over the tools of the trade.
I immediately leveled with the guy in the store, told him I didn't know a dang thing about the business, and asked him to clue me in on the equipment I'd need. He did and here's the gear I settled on.
SQUEEGEES . For starters, two (one with a blade six inches wide and another 18 inches across) are enough. It's important to get squeegees with flexible rubber edges that are responsive to the touch. My favorite model is the Master, made by Steccone Products Company of Oakland, California.
POLE. Any old wooden pole to which your squeegees can be securely fastened will do ... but I went pro right from the beginning and bought a fancy aluminum model that extends out to 18 feet in length.
BRUSH. One is probably about as good as another, as long as you can attach it to your pole and use it to slop on the cleaning solution.
BUCKET. If you already have a standard pail of some kind you may well want to use it ... although I bought a watertight canvas bucket that is perfect for traveling. I can collapse the flexible container, stick it in my backpack with the retracted pole and my other equipment ... and carry the entire business wherever I go.
CLEANING SOLUTION . I've tried several window cleaners and like Amway L.O.C. best (mainly because it's biodegradable and I can sprinkle the waste water on the surrounding shrubbery when I'm done with a job). Basic H is also acceptable and vinegar works fine. Ammonia stinks.
ODDS AND ENDS. You'll need a sponge, rags, and scouring pad ("Tuffy" brand plastic scouring pads-available in any supermarket—are the only ones I've found that don't scratch glass). And don't forget your bookkeeping department ... a 15-cent spiral-bound notebook for business records.
All this gear ran me about $25 (approximately $10 of which went into the fancy pole), so we're not talking about a helluvan investment. Remember that your tools are just as important as you are . . . so buy good stuff, treat it with respect, and make it last. I still have all my original equipment after six months of heavy use.
Your next step—after property assembling a set of tools—will to take the stuff home and practice on your own filthy windows. I start by putting the L.O.C.—only five to ten drops for each gallons—into my wash water. (Soap suds are a hindrance and I scoop most off them out.)
You'll probably have to experiment a bit to determine the angle at which your squeegee should meet the glass for fastest and cleanest work. Hold the blade in your hand until you've mastered this basic window-washing skill and then try it the hard way . . . with the rubber wiper mounted on its pole.
The secret is wetness to wetness. Douse the glass thoroughly, dampen the squeegee's edge with a sponge, and then run the blade down the smooth surface. Some of the rubber wipers seem to have streak s built into them, so if you have difficulty controlling yours, try another.
When you can really make those windows sparkle, start ringing doorbells in your neighborhood and try to drum up some business.
After a short time—providing no major catastrophes (like putting your fist through a $400 picture window) have occurred—you'll start feeling pretty confident. Go down to a printer at that point and order yourself 500 business cards with a catchy slogan (you'll be surprised how much effect that slogan will have). My cards read:
With business cards in hand, start contacting the shopkeepers and store owners in your town. Act like a professional: present your card and always try to establish monthly or bi-monthly accounts. Just being confident of the value of your service should get you through the sales pitch and land you some regular jobs.
I'v a tried advertising in local newspapers and found that I still obtain most of my work by stomping around town, ringing doorbells, and presenting my card. Actually, although you may not relish this part of the business . . . it's a great way to gain a fresh perspective on the ole home town, or to become acquainted in a new area. You do have to learn to take the good with the bad, however. On days when people are gruff and you can't find a single job, it's best to take the situation in stride, go on home, bake some bread or otherwise cool off . . . and try again when the stars are more fortuitous.
Remember, whenever you're bidding for work, that streak-free window washing is a valuable service and you should charge what your time is worth (I figure mine at $3.00 to $3.50 an hour). Calculate how long a particular job should take and give your prospective customer an estimate. Bear in mind, too—when presenting a quotation—that haggling is often the name of the game: be willing to bend a little to get some of those choice assignments.
Will it work? It has for me! I moved to Missoula, Montana last fall ... just in time to put up and clean people's storm windows before winter sat in (putting up and taking down storm windows—where the climate warrants such activity—can be a nice supplement to your window-washing enterprise). I've since parlayed that running start into steady residential work and ten regular business accounts.
Being a professional window washer is—to me, at least—a fun, honorable, and profitable business. What's more, every average-sized town can support one or two freelancers in the field ... so, if the enterprise appeals to you, check out the possibilities in your area. With a little hustle, you too can clean up washing windows!