How to start a mobile car detailing business

Mobile car detailing is a great business to bootstrap and can often be started with the equipment you already have in your garage.

Buy a web domain and get hosting. I like Bluehost for a cheap yet reliable option. Upload WordPress to your web hosting platform. Either build it yourself with a premium theme for around $50 or pay someone on a freelancing site a few hundred dollars to build a website similar to one that you like. Get someone to design a simple logo and some basic marketing material.

Send a Google My Business (GMB) postcard to your home and build your profile. Upload photos. Create posts weekly. Get a Google Voice number to communicate with customers and get your domain email address forwarded to GMail so you can use the tools there. Check out this list of tools to use in the early days.

Do some reading on content marketing and basic SEO principles so you can structure your site correctly. Use a tool like ahrefs or hire an SEO/content marketing specialist to help you design your site structure and content strategy and also analyze your top ranking competitors with the goal of out ranking them over time.

In your free time read, watch and learn everything there is to learn about car detailing. Write a lot of great content for your website aimed to help people who are trying to detail their own cars or wanting to learn more about the process. Make videos and take before and after pictures of the vehicles you work on and post them on your website, GMB and your social channels.

Consider hiring a mobile detailing outfit (your competitor) to do one of your vehicles. Watch them and look at and note the equipment they use. Maybe even get a part time job at your local car wash so you can get some experience and learn their process. Detail your own vehicles. Detail vehicles for friends (and make sure they leave you a review with photo). Take before and after photos and make videos for your website and other channels.

Taking into consideration your startup budget decide what equipment you want to purchase. You’ll need a nice mobile vacuum as well as a portable generator with enough wattage to meet your power needs on the road. If you aren’t ready to invest in a generator you can ask early customers to use power at their location. I recommend getting some momentum and making some money before making any significant investments.

Early on if you don’t want to invest in all the equipment you could simply do a full interior shop vac and vinyl/leather wipe down. Once you get some momentum and are ready to make additional investments consider offering a number of packages at different price points like shampooing, exterior washing, leather & vinyl conditioning, waxing & polishing and supplies like new wiper blades and air fresheners.

It’s time to get some early customers.

Get about a thousand flyers made with your number, web address and a nice bit of copy. Make sure its legal in your area to put flyers under car windshield wipers.

Go downtown with a backpack and some comfortable shoes. Maybe some headphones and a podcast. Time to do some walking. Put a flyer under the wiper of any moderately nice looking car. Avoid the 1990 beaters with bumpers falling off. At the next local football game or event go through the parking lot and hit a lot more cars in a lot shorter period of time.

Get business cards made. Its time to find people who we know could benefit from your services. Who is your ideal customer?

Realtors need clean cars because they often drive around clients. Walk in your local realtors office. Smile and make conversation. Give them your card but more importantly take their business card. Follow up with them by email reminding them you’d love to offer your services to them. Even send them a gift like an air freshener if the initial conversation was good.

Local businesses might use your service as a way to spoil their employees around Christmas time or during a particularly busy period. My friend who is a loan officer just did this for all his employees as a token of appreciation after they had a good month. This is a great opportunity to show up to one location and detail multiple vehicles. Efficiency = profit.

Add value first. Building relationships with potential repeat customers is more important than making a profit on day 1. Email the realtors and offer them a free detailing so they can see your work. They’ll love it and they might just pay you to do it once a month for the rest of eternity.

Have all of your early customers write you a review on your GMB location and upload a photo. Photos are huge and really help your ranking as well as the trustworthiness of your business.

Don’t compete on price. Make turnaround time your competitive advantage. You will charge a higher price for your service but you’ll be able to fit customers in right away and your service will be superior. You will be professionally dressed and greet them with a smile. Just answering the phone every time and having an attitude of excitement will get you in the top 10% of businesses around.

When you get more momentum invest in some equipment. Buy a used cargo van and get a vinyl decal on it. Get a water tank for it and a power washer so you can do exterior washes without using a customer’s water. Slowly upgrade your equipment over time.

Differentiate yourself from your competitors by getting some out of the box software that allows you to communicate with your customers very effectively. When you’re on your way to their home or business they should get a text message or an email. In that should be a link and a photo of the technician thats on the way and a description of how the service will go and what to expect along with frequent questions answered.

When you leave they should get a receipt emailed to them instantly with a report. You can charge their card on file instantly. Jobber can do all of this.

Now you have a choice. On one hand you can do this yourself and continue to make a really good hourly wage as a side hustle. If you go this route continue to do a really good job and raise your prices until you have just the right amount of work. Your hourly wage will go up. When you get too busy and your lead time starts to slip raise your prices again.

Or make a hire. If you do this simplify the job and take customer service and payment processing off of their plate. Don’t take cash and only take payments online. Have your employees install a time tracking app on their phone that tracks their location and their hours for your review. Use a digital on-boarding and payroll company like Gusto or Paychex. Stay very organized using quickbooks online. Hire an accountant and bookkeeper for $500 per month or less.

A few notes: Make sure to register your business and get insurance before you start. A market study is always a good idea as well to get a feel for the competitive landscape. My favorite way to do this is call around to all the competitors acting as a customer and asking 100 questions. You’ll be surprised what you learn.

Want more? Subscribe here to get short, concise emails from me once a week to help you build a better business. I also share a business idea like this each week to get you fired up and get your gears turning.

Don't know where to start?
About Me

I started the Sweaty Startup in December of 2018 because I believe the Shark Tank and Tech Crunch culture is ruining the real spirit of low-risk entrepreneurship.