If you can't get enough of that new car smell and never met a smudge or scratch you couldn't wait to fix, a car detailing business could be a great choice for you. Americans love their cars and they want to keep them looking shiny and beautiful, which is why U.S. car wash and auto detailing businesses currently make up an $11.5 billion industry.

With almost 290 million cars on the road - and all of them getting dirty - this is a great time to jump into a booming industry that is projected to grow more than 5% by 2022. Read on to learn how to create a successful car detailing business of your own. This article will cover:

Plan Your Car Detailing Business

Before jump-starting your new car detailing business, take some time to create a business plan and figure out your startup costs. Learn as much as you can about best practices in the industry. For example, research what the going rate is for washing and waxing different types and sizes of vehicles, as well as whether you should offer deep upholstery cleaning to stay competitive.

Think about:

  • How to go about perfecting your exterior and interior detailing skills
  • Where you will provide your car washing and waxing services
  • What supplies you will need
  • What types of insurance you should get

Perfect Your Car Detailing Skills

You don't need formal education or a degree to become a car detailer, but you do need to know what you are doing. The average new car costs over $40,000, so you don't want to start working on someone's prized automobile without taking some time to understand how to get great auto detailing results without causing damage.

Some ways to learn the car detailing craft are:

  • Taking a job at a car wash that offers detailing services
  • Apprenticing with a mobile auto detailer
  • Working on your friends' and family's cars and trucks
  • Taking an online auto detailing course
  • Joining auto detailing forums, such as Autopia
  • Read up on pro detailing techniques on sites like AutogeekOnline

Decide Where You Will Provide Detailing Services

You will need to decide whether you are going to provide your car detailing services at a fixed location or travel to your customers' vehicles. Each has its benefits and drawbacks.

For example, if you decide to work at a fixed location, you can detail cars year-round in a climate-controlled environment. It won't matter if it's raining or snowing; you can still work your magic. You can also take in several cars simultaneously and even sell products to prolong your customers' cars' luster.

There are drawbacks, though, to having a set place. It's expensive to rent or buy space and you will have to deal with other overhead costs like utilities and additional insurance. You will also have to rely on customers coming to you.

If you decide to run a mobile detailing business, you can take your business anywhere and your startup costs will be a lot less. When you are ready, you can hire employees to go out on the road under your brand.

The negatives of a one-person mobile detailing business are that you can only work on one vehicle at a time, you have to spend time and gas money going to your customers, and you never know if you are going to find a spot once you get there to do your work properly. Add in the possibility that certain neighborhoods don't allow businesses like yours because of homeowners association rules or water containment regulations, and you could end up losing business.

You can also think about approaching car dealerships and companies that own fleet vehicles to contract with them as a car wash business.

Stocking Up on Car Detailing Supplies and Equipment

Once you decide whether you are going to be in a fixed location or run a mobile business, you will need to stock up on supplies and equipment for both exterior and interior detailing. You may need to buy any or all of these items:

  • Pressure washer
  • Water tank
  • Hot water extractor
  • Foam cannon
  • Vacuum cleaner and blower
  • Buffer
  • Buckets
  • Microfiber towels and chamois drying cloths
  • Sponges
  • LED lights
  • Vapor steamer

If you are running a mobile auto detailing business, you will need a car, truck, or van big enough to haul all of your equipment to jobs.

Types of Insurance to Consider

There are numerous risks associated with providing car detailing services. It is always a good idea to get auto detailing insurance to protect yourself and your company against those risks. Think about obtaining the following types of business insurance:

  • Garage keeper's liability insurance: You should consider this insurance regardless of whether you are operating a fixed location or a mobile business. In both instances, you will have a customer's car in your possession. This insurance protects you when you are in control of someone else's vehicle. It should also protect your equipment against theft. You can expect to pay about $1,800 a year for $500,000 worth of coverage.
  • Business liability insurance: Also called commercial or general liability insurance, this type of insurance protects you if you accidentally cause harm to someone or their property while working on a job or if someone gets hurt while at your shop. The cost for this insurance will depend on your location, how much coverage you sign up for and how long, and whether your business employs others.
  • Auto liability insurance: If you use your personal vehicle for work, you will most likely be covered under your personal auto liability policy in the event of an accident. However, you may want to look into commercial auto liability insurance if you expand your mobile business and you or your employees operate company-owned vehicles.

Getting Your Car Detailing Business Up and Running

You will need to decide on the type of legal structure you want for your business, how you are going to promote it, and how you are going to handle the day-to-day operations of a small business.

Creating a Legal Structure for Your Car Detailing Business

The legal structures you can choose for your business are:

  • A sole proprietorship
  • A partnership (if you are going to be joining forces with someone else)
  • A limited liability company (LLC)
  • A corporation (C corp)

Each legal entity has advantages and disadvantages when it comes to personal liability and tax liability. While a sole proprietorship offers you tax advantages, you incur personal liability should a customer or a creditor sue you. A corporation offers the best protection against financial liability but you will have a greater tax liability. Many small business owners choose an LLC as a good middle ground, as this structure offers some reductions in exposure and offers the tax benefits of a sole proprietorship.

If you decide to form an LLC, you should be able to handle all of the details - choosing a name for your business, appointing members, filing the articles of organization, and paying the filing fee - on your state's corporations website. You can obtain a federal tax identification number online, as well. You will need to get an employer identification number (EIN) before you open a business bank account, enter into business contracts, hire employees, or conduct any other business in the company's name. You may also need a state tax ID number (depending on the state where you are operating) and a business license.

Marketing Your Auto Detailing Services

Once you establish your business and purchase all of your equipment and supplies, you will need to find ways to attract new customers. Here are some marketing strategies for your startup small business:

  • Contact family and friends. The fastest way to attract new customers to your small business is to reach out to people you know. Contact family and friends and ask if you can detail their cars. Then ask them to refer you to their friends and business networks. Word-of-mouth advertising is a great way to build a new customer base.
  • Put signs on your work vehicle. If you are starting a mobile automotive detailing business, a great way to advertise is on your work vehicle. Think about stenciling or painting your business name and phone number on your truck or van. You can also have magnetic signs made for the sides of your vehicle at a relatively low cost. You will be promoting your mobile business as you drive around town and when you are parked in a neighborhood and working on a job. Even if you establish a physical location for your business, you can still use your vehicle as a traveling billboard.
  • List your business on free referral sites. Thumbtack is an example of a lead-generating service that allows you to list your car detailing business for free. You pay a fee for each lead provided through the service, but it's worth it to get your new business out there. Customers leave reviews, which can also help generate business. You can also advertise your business on Craigslist and create a free business profile on Yelp.
  • Create a Google My Business account. This is especially helpful for a fixed location business, as it helps potential customers locate you on Google Maps when they search for a car detailing business in your area.
  • Print and hand out flyers and business cards. Consider printing out flyers and business cards with your business contact information. You can distribute them in the neighborhoods you want to target.
  • Create new business opportunities through social media. You can create business pages on sites like Facebook and Instagram. Ask customers to provide reviews and share your pages with their networks.
  • Create a website. It is easy to create a small business website with free website builder tools like Wix and WordPress. Be sure to link to your social media pages and put the site URL on your flyers and signage.

Running a Car Detailing Business

If this is your first time running your own business, you might be wondering how you can work as a full-time car detailer and still manage the day-to-day business side of things. For instance, you will need to figure out how to price your services and whether you are going to accept credit cards or be a cash-only business. You will need a system for dealing with basic paperwork like invoicing and issuing receipts to customers. And if you work for car dealerships or fleets, you may have to bid on jobs and then invoice your customers and collect payments.

You will also need a system for tracking income and expenses and the other accounting aspects of running a small business. And you are going to have to keep up with your own taxes.

Fortunately, with Skynova's easy-to-manage accounting software, you will have no problem running these aspects of your new business.

Succeeding in Business Is Easy With Skynova

Starting and running your own car detailing business can be fulfilling and profitable. As long as you take a little time to consider your startup costs, perfect your detailing skills, stock up on the supplies and equipment you will need, and market your services, you can create a successful enterprise.

As far as operating your business, Skynova's business templates and software products take the stress out of small business recordkeeping and accounting. Sign up for a free Skynova account to get started.