This week I’m participating Women’s Money Week. The aim of the week is to create a dialogue about the financial issues specific to women and coincides with International Women’s Day. Each day there is a topic for participants to write about on their website. Today’s topics is about Making Money.
An ironing service is a popular home-based business for women. It’s a flexible business that you can work around current commitments like childcare and it is easy to get into -there are no or low start up costs and no specialised skills required.
I ran an ironing service for about a year when we first moved interstate and unemployment levels were high – the tips below come directly from my own experience. I had two weekly clients over this period. Both were lovely, both were working mothers and both paid me more than I charged, which is always a good thing!
As far as household chores go, I don’t mind ironing. I find it meditative – it’s when I think up many of the article ideas for this website.
I have to admit though, any enjoyment soon wears off when you are ironing other people’s clothes on top of your own ironing pile.
Ironing shirts is an art form; ironing the micro-shirts of a two year old is an extreme exercise in equanimity.
If you’re considering starting your own ironing service, below are some tips and things to consider before you begin.
- Low to no start up costs – you probably have all the equipment you need to get started.
- Easy entry – no ‘specialist’ skills or training required.
- Flexibility – you can negotiate times with your clients and iron around other commitments like other jobs or child minding.
- You can earn money while watching TV ;).
- It’s ironing. And let’s face it, ironing isn’t the most fun way to spend your evenings.
- Depending on your market and pricing there can be a low income to labour ratio.
- It can be non-scalable (in other words, it’s entirely dependent on your direct labour). It is quite possible however, to make this business scalable by outsourcing the ironing work while you focus on marketing and increasing your customer base.
Determining your market
Before starting your business, consider your target market – it will determine your specific services (like delivery), your price and your advertising (you might give advertising flyers to local daycare centres for instance, if you decide to target working families).
You will also want to look at the competition. Is there competition? What services do they offer and at what price? How can you differentiate your service from theirs?
When I did ironing, there were almost no ironing services in the area (there are many around now). I was offering a cheaper, more casual service than the competition; I was more your friendly ironing lady rather than an ironing business.
What services are you going to offer?
As well as your basic ironing service, you may also consider offering a pick up and delivery service, a mending service (depending on your skills) or a washing service.
When it comes to ironing, ask whether the client will want you to use starch or not. Also, ask them up front how they want you to deal with stains – heat will ‘set’ stains if you iron them. They may prefer you to leave those items un-ironed so they can treat the stain. Or, you may offer a stain removal service.
When it comes to delivery, a broom stick or string tied between the two garment handles in the back of your car makes for a cheap and crease-free way to deliver ironed garments. Just make sure you can still see out the rear-view mirror :).
What skills do you need?
You will need to have some experience ironing clothes (like your own), know the basics (like heat settings for different fabrics – if the item becomes ‘shiny’ for instance, the iron is too hot) and have some attention to detail. You will need to have a higher standard of ironing for your clients’ clothing than you do for your own.
Speed is a plus, both for sticking to deadlines and having a life of your own beyond the ironing board. You will also need some patience. I found clients’ clothing came to me looking like they had balled each item up as small as it would go, wrapped it in rubber bands and had an elephant sit on it until it was dry. Their ironing was never as easy as my own.
As an aside, a further test of your patience will be peasant skirts and anything with lace, elastic, gathering, pleats or frills. Business shirts practically iron themselves compared to eight-tiered, gathered skirts with lining.
Going from personal experience, being somewhat ambidextrous is also an advantage when it comes to ironing tight spots on garments quickly, like pleats in shirt sleeves.
What equipment will you need?
At the very least, a basic set up will include an iron (obviously) and an ironing board. A good quality iron makes the job easier as well as a good quality, well padded ironing board (use a good quality cover, one that reflects heat is best, helping to iron both sides at once).
You will also need somewhere to hang your ironed garments. A simple clothes horse or a curtain rod placed between two chairs will do the trick.
The last basic item you will want is a $2 spray bottle filled with water for those elephant-sat-on items.
Apart from delivery, that is the only equipment that I used in my ironing service.
If you’re thinking about taking ironing on as a full-time business, you will want to look at more professional, labour saving equipment like a commercial iron and ironing table and / or a press.
Many ironing services use those plastic garment covers and wire coat hangers – I would personally avoid these, especially if you’re just starting out or intend this to be a small, cash business.
Save your money (and the environment) – forget the plastic bags altogether (train your clients not to want them) and get your clients to supply their own hangers (they don’t need more wire hangers anyway). If you’re concerned about keeping garments clean or dry during delivery, my suggestion is to make reusable garment bags from recycled sheets, use them during transportation and then remove the garments upon delivery.
What are you going to charge?
There are several ways that you can charge for your service:
- per item
- per basket
- per hour
- by weight
Personally, I would stick to a per item or per hour rate. To get an idea of the going rate in your area, look at ads in your local classifieds or Yellow Pages.
You may also want to consider extra charges for add-on services like delivery.
I charged $30 per basket (maximum 40 items) back in 2007 with free drop off and delivery. Honestly, I didn’t charge nearly enough; I spent hours ironing and both my clients told me how much cheaper (but better quality!) my service was compared to services they had used in the past.
Don’t undercharge – it’s easier to bring your price down if you need to than to increase it.
Advertising and getting clients
Your advertising avenues will depend on the clients you want to attract. If you’re just starting out however, you don’t want to spend a fortune on advertising.
Word of mouth will be your best marketing strategy – from friends or family to start with and then from clients later on.
Another free strategy is to place flyers on community notice boards in supermarkets, shopping centres, libraries etc. Make your own flyer on the computer for free to save money.
You could also consider flyers in letterboxes, or, as mentioned above, use a more targeted flyer distribution strategy, like asking to place them in daycare centres for instance.
Another fairly cheap option is to advertise in your local paper classifieds. This is, in fact, how I got both of my clients.
Once you’ve got clients, and if you’re looking at expanding, other options to consider include placing an ad in the Yellow Pages, placing a professional ad in the local paper’s trade section, printing some business cards to distribute, and / or creating a web page to promote your services (you will, however, need to promote your web page locally).
When it comes to advertising, you want to focus on the most effective method of getting clients (again, consider your target market – where are they looking? Don’t waste your time and money advertising in places they aren’t looking), for the least expense.
Payments, receipts and paperwork
You need to decide whether you will accept cash payments only or whether you will offer other payment options like direct deposit. If you’re just doing this for some extra pocket money, then cash is the easiest option but you will want to have change available if your client does not have the exact fee.
You might also want to ask your clients whether they want a receipt. Clients may want receipts to be able to claim laundering costs on work uniform (in Australia, assuming tax requirements are met).
Speaking of tax, if you’re making more than a little pocket money (check the minimum taxable income / tax free threshold), you may need an ABN and you will need to keep records of your own income and expenses in order to accurately declare your income and claim your deductions on your own tax return. Speak to an accountant for advice specific to your circumstances.
An ironing business can be anything from doing a few shirts for a neighbour for some extra pocket money, to being a full time occupation, depending on what suits you. It’s a flexible business, meaning it is something you can do while the kids are in bed, and there is little to no outlay of cash to get started.
Have you ever ran an ironing service? Or maybe you would consider paying someone else to do your ironing? What tips do you have for making money doing other people’s ironing?
This post is a part of Women’s Money Week 2012. For more posts about Making Money, see womensmoneyweek.com.