How to Start a Mobile Detailing Business

In a nutshell

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Create your own mobile detailing business for a rewarding experience as your own boss. You don’t need a lot of experience or capital to start your own mobile detailing business.

If you’re looking for a lucrative side hustle, a mobile detailing business can provide you with the profits you need to be financially successful. You’ll get to be your own boss, set your own schedule, and work with clients you want to for a change. The possibilities of a mobile detailing business are practically endless.

Opening a mobile detailing business can be difficult for some if you’re not sure where to start. After all, knowing what you need to do for a mobile detailing business and opening one are two different things. Building a business can be hard, but we’ve got the resources you need to make your mobile detailing business a successful one.

Are you ready to learn more about how to open a mobile detail business of your own? Let’s get started.

What to Consider Before Opening a Mobile Detailing Business

Before you open a mobile detailing business, it’s important to determine what your level of investment will be. This goes for time, money, energy, etc. How often do you want to detail and how much do you have to invest in supplies and equipment? These are important questions to ask yourself before you get too involved with the business.

Mobile detail businesses can be a good side hustle for college students because you can work around your classes and learn more about the people and places in your area. You can also source employees from friend groups and your college campus, although you should think about how you’re going to pay whoever you hire.

You’ll also want to consider your operating area. How far will you go to do a mobile detail? Will you work with customers who are a few miles outside of the city only, or just with dealerships in the area? The answer to these questions will help you figure out the biggest consideration of all: what are your business goals?  

It’s very important to figure out what you want out of your mobile detailing business. Where do you project it to be in the next 6 months to a year? What about 2-5 years down the road? The answer to this question will likely determine whether or not you will just stick with a mobile detailing business or decide to upsize to a permanent location once you’ve got a customer base established.

Mobile vs. Permanent Detailing Businesses

Speaking of a permanent location, let’s take a look at how a mobile detailing business compares:

  • Mobile: Low startup costs are one of the biggest draws of mobile detailing businesses. Your initial investment is much lower than if you were to go with a permanent location, especially considering you won’t have to pay for a lease. Typical startup costs can range anywhere from $5,000 to $25,000, depending on how much you pay for your vehicle/setup. It’s much easier to turn a profit from a low-cost mobile detail business where you can drive to customers that permanent detail locations can’t necessarily serve.
  • Permanent: While mobile detailing businesses are great for making money in the short term, a permanent location is obviously a long-term commitment. There’s less of a need for a company vehicle, and you can offer amenities that a covered and secure location permits. For example, you can offer before- and after-hours drop offs and store customer vehicles overnight. Many people consider a permanent location to be a sign of a successful and professional business as well, lending you an air of legitimacy that doesn’t always come with a mobile detail business.

It’s much easier to upsize than downsize, especially when you’ve got equipment, employees, and customers that expect a certain level of service.

Establishing Your Mobile Detailing Business

There are a few administrative tasks you’ll want to tackle before soaping up the buckets and sudsing down the car.

Business Plan

A business plan is more than just something you present for a business loan. Sure, a business plan can be a way to get a loan in the future, but there’s more to it than that. In fact, it can be a roadmap of your goals for the business, as well as a way to measure success.

For example, you should include both short- and long-term goals in your business plan. What do you intend to accomplish within a 6-month period? What will you strive for long-term: will it be earning a certain amount, or even moving to a permanent location perhaps?

Along with your goals, you should also come up with ways to measure your success. If you want to gain a certain number of customers by a certain date, figure out what you can do to make that happen. Maybe you focus on marketing and advertising, relying on special packages or offers to draw customers in and build your customer base.

The final, and arguably most important piece of the business plan is the contract you make with yourself. It’s much easier to know where to begin if you’ve got a goal in mind, as well as metrics to show that you’ve been making progress. No matter how your mobile detailing business turns out, you can at least know that you followed your business plan with all your effort.

Create a Budget

While it might be tempting to go out and spend a bunch of money on supplies, it’s important to have a budget set up. This budget will help you with day-to-day operations, as well as investing in things like marketing, employees, and even taxes.

Your salary is one of the biggest things you’ll want to budget for. If you plan on having employees, budget for their compensation as well. You’ll also want to tackle things like supplies, insurance, marketing and advertising, and self-employment taxes.

Taxes are something you should collect as part of your pricing, but you can also claim certain things on your taxes at the end of the year. Finding a licensed tax advisor can certainly fall within your budget as well.

Business Checking Account

Keeping your profits separate from your personal checking account helps your business to stay clean and organized. It’s also super helpful come tax time, when you can simply refer to the business checking account for transactions, costs, etc.

In many ways, a business checking account can also add legitimacy to your business. If you accept checks, it’s much more official to have your customers make it out to a business name than you directly.

In some cases, you may even get perks for opening up for a business checking account. Lili is a great resource for business checking accounts, as they offer zero account fees and a free mobile app. They offer a Visa debit card for business checking accounts, which you can use to earn cashback rewards.

It pays to keep your business separate with a business checking account.

Customer Management Software

Mobile detailing relies on a customer base to function successfully. That’s where reliable customer management (CRM) software comes in. This software will help you keep track of all the information about your business, from pricing and estimates to invoices and package listings.

Many CRM packages also include bookkeeping services, payment processing capabilities, and marketing opportunities. Check into CRM software to see how it can help you with your mobile detailing business. 

Licenses and Other Legalities

Many states require you to have a specific car detailing license. This license allows you to do just that: detail cars. Some states may also require that you hold a mobile detailing business license, stipulating how you conduct business.

In addition to this specific license, you may also need local state, city, and/or county business licenses and/or permits. Every state is different, but you’ll need some way to report that you’re doing business within that area. You may also need a separate sales tax license, which permits you to collect sales tax on the mobile detailing services you provide.

You will also need to obtain an Employer Identification Number, or an EIN. Register with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) as an official business so that you can claim your income on your taxes for that year. This helps keep your earnings separate from your personal taxes, though they can be tied together depending on how you structure your business.

Insurance

General liability insurance is crucial, especially given the nature of mobile detailing. If there were ever to be an issue, you need insurance to cover any medical expenses. It’s critical not to overlook this important step, especially if you plan on staying in business for more than a few months.

If your business plan includes a long-term commitment to mobile detailing, or even detailing at a permanent location, it may be a good idea to speak to a lawyer. Ask them what insurance they recommend you get. You should also speak to them about any waivers your customers should sign to protect the business in case of any issues that may arise.

Set Your Detailing Prices for Services Rendered

Determining your prices can be one of the most difficult tasks as a mobile detailing business. One way to get a feel for what the industry charges is to look at shops doing business already in your area. Their pricing will give you a benchmark as to what price range you should be shooting for.

Most detail shops will charge anywhere from $50 to $300, depending on the service. Some may charge upwards of $500, depending on what packages they offer. More specialized services, such as paint correction or even ceramic coating, command a higher price because they require specific training and expertise.

There are other ways to organize your services besides packages. You can also quote out an hourly rate, and specify that certain services require so many hours to complete. A rate of $50-$100 per hour is standard across the nation. You may also work with tiers, where a lower tier is a basic service and a higher tier is more thorough.

No matter how you organize your services, make sure it’s in an easy-to-understand format for your customers. You want to spend time with them scheduling appointments, not explaining how your package system works.

Materials Required for a Mobile Detailing Business

Mobile detailing businesses use a number of supplies, depending on what services they offer.

Vehicle

You will need a vehicle in order to do mobile detailing. Many detailers invest in a van or SUV that offers as much storage as it does durability. Purchasing a used vehicle might save you money, but you may be able to claim part of the purchase price on your taxes. Then again, a newer vehicle can be more dependable, which is critical for a business that operates away from a permanent location.

Water Source/Storage/Reclamation

Mobile detailing businesses require having water at your disposal. You may be able to offer waterless detailing, but that’s dependent upon what services you offer. Most detailers require around 80-100 gallons of water, which they store in tanks.

It might be possible to use a water source at the location where you’re going to mobile detail, but you shouldn’t rely on this resource. Homeowners typically aren’t willing to pay for detailing and the water you use, so be cautious.

Power Supply

A portable generator powers all your components, from your vacuum and power washer to your steamer and buffing tools. Again, don’t assume you’ll have access to a power source at your detail location.

Materials and Supplies

Here’s a list of some of the other detail-specific materials you’ll want to invest in:

  • Portable pressure washer
  • Chamois cloths
  • Car wash soap
  • Sponges
  • Drying towels
  • Microfiber rags for cleaning
  • Vacuum
  • Cleaning detergents
  • Wheel and tire cleaners
  • Compounds, polishes, and waxes
  • Rotary buffer and dual-action buffer
  • Carpet shampoo
  • Buckets
  • Brushes
  • Toothpicks
  • Razor blades
  • Chemical storage

You may or may not need all the supplies on this list. It all depends on what services your mobile detailing business offers.

Supplemental Materials

In addition to the main supplies you’ll need for mobile detailing, you’ll also want to consider the following:

  • Portable refrigerator for cool drinks and snacks
  • A canopy for inclement weather and cover from the sun
  • T-shirts and/or other uniform-like clothing
  • Business cards

As you work through a few jobs, you’ll also find you might need other supplies. The more prepared you are, the less you’ll have to worry about what you don’t have.

Additional Expenses

Your budget should adjust as your business grows. Here are some additional expenses you may accrue:

  • Gas
  • Car insurance
  • Vehicle maintenance
  • Equipment maintenance and replacement
  • Supply replenishments
  • Business insurance
  • Marketing/advertising
  • Additional employees

Saving a few dollars here and there each month can help you prepare for any increase in expenses, whether it’s new employees or an increase in chemical product prices.

Marketing and Advertising

Besides the supplies you need to actually perform the details, you’ll want to invest in marketing and advertising.

There are many ways you can advertise your mobile detailing business. For example, you can stick a decal on the side of your vehicle that includes your logo as well as how to contact you. Flyers and business cards make a great handout. T-shirts that include your business name can act as both advertising and a sort of unofficial uniform.

You can also put together promotional events and offers as well. Maybe you offer a car-cleaning service for college students before Parents Weekend. Networking with local dealerships can help supplement your work, as they’ll typically need details done year-round. Never underestimate the power of a testimonial either.

Above all, the best marketing is your approach to daily operations and customer service. Go the extra mile for customers when an issue arises. Nothing advertises a company like word of mouth.

Job Outlook for a Mobile Detailing Business

The job market for mobile detailing continues to grow as more and more people want their cars detailed at home. The annual wage for detailers is anywhere from $20,000 per year to $40,000, but these numbers are for detailers who work for a certain company, whether it’s a retail location or a dealership.

If you run your own business, you’ll be able to access more of the income. Choosing to detail in a mobile application is actually more popular in many ways, as more entrepreneurs are choosing this method of detailing over opening a permanent location.

Tips for Opening a Mobile Detailing Business

Here are some tips if you plan on opening a mobile detailing business:

  • Buy materials in bulk if possible to save money.
  • Start simple. Offer 1-3 packages and build your customer base before you branch out.
  • Listen to your customers. They’ll tell you what other shops are doing wrong and what you’re doing right.
  • Used equipment can save you money, but it can take up time and resources to fix.
  • How will you settle disputes and/or bring the customer to sign off on the work completed?
  • If you don’t have any experience, start with low prices. Build up from there as your experience grows.
  • Earn passive income on social media. Post about your mobile detailing business, including services you offer, results you can achieve, and products you use.

Any business owner will tell you that as much as you prepare for owning a business, the learning curve is steep. Be patient with yourself and have fun!

Your Mobile Detailing Money Maker

As you can see, it’s possible to make extra money from a mobile detailing business. The commitments are not as stringent as other types of businesses, and you can have fun as you clean customer cars. Be your own boss and create a mobile detailing business you can grow and potentially sell in the future for even more profits.

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Brian Meiggs
Brian Meiggs
Brian is the founder of Gigs Done Right and has tried every side hustle under the sun. He teaches people just like you how to make money in the gig economy and has been featured in Yahoo! Finance, NASDAQ, Discover and more. He normally shares the latest news, videos, and topics for gig workers so they can earn more money in the gig economy.
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