Our work is reader-supported, meaning that we may earn a commission from the products and services mentioned.

How To Start A Detailing Business On The Side

How To Start A Detailing Business On The Side

Advertising Disclosure


How To Start A Detailing Business On The Side

Car detailing business

A common question people have when working a full-time job and wanting to start something on the side is, “How can I start a business when I’m already working full-time?”

If this is you, in this article, we’ll talk about how you can start a detailing business on the side. This isn’t your usual business launch – running a side business requires some different considerations, and I’m here to share insights from my work with clients.

Yes, there will be unique challenges. Yes, there will be sleepless nights. But don’t let that discourage you. Starting a side business like detailing can be incredibly rewarding and a fantastic stepping stone towards full-time entrepreneurship. The flexibility it offers can be a game-changer. It’s about getting your hands dirty (literally, in this case!) while juggling your regular nine-to-five. So let’s delve into the nitty-gritty, cut through the jargon, and shine a light on your path to creating a successful side hustle.

In this guide, I’ll talk about seven important steps to consider when starting a car detailing business on the side. 

Here, I’ll cover how to determine the validity of your business to securing licenses, paying for vital equipment, and attracting those all-important first customers, there are all kinds of challenges you might face as you look to get your new auto detailing side hustle off the ground. 

The steps below outline how to overcome those challenges and launch a successful business that helps you bring in extra cash or even transition into an entirely new career without abandoning the day job right away. 

Related: How to start a car wash

How to Start a Car Detailing Business on the Side in 7 Steps

1. Do Market Research on Car Detailing in Your Area

The first step towards creating a detailing business is determining whether there’s any need for one in the first place. 

According to the latest data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, one in every five businesses in the US fails within its first year. Although there’s a whole multitude of factors working against new business owners, offering services that nobody wants to pay for is a surefire way to cripple your side hustle before it even gets started. 

Taking the time to do market research will help you determine the feasibility of your new venture and identify your place in the market. 

The first step is to identify your target market. A few questions to research:

  • Who owns a car in your area? This is basic, but crucial. What is the car ownership rate in your target area? Are there neighborhoods where people are particularly passionate about their vehicles?
  • What types of cars are common in your area? Are they luxury vehicles, family sedans, SUVs, vintage cars, or maybe a mix? Different car types may require different detailing services.
  • Who values a clean, well-maintained car? Are they professionals who use their car for business, families who want a clean space for their kids, or car enthusiasts who take pride in their ride?
  • Who can afford car detailing services? Car detailing is often seen as a luxury service. Understand the income levels in your area to identify who can afford your services.
  • Who is currently underserved by existing car detailing services? Maybe there are working professionals who can’t make it during regular business hours, or owners of high-end cars who require a more specialized service. Look for gaps in the market.
  • What are the driving habits or needs of your potential customers? Do they use their cars daily for commuting or occasional trips? Are they frequently on long drives and therefore, would they require more frequent detailing?

If there’s a healthy number of competing businesses in your area, that could be a tell-tale sign that there’s a market for your services. If more detailers are closing their doors than opening them, that could equally be a sign that the demand just isn’t there. 

Conducting this market research will require analyzing existing market data and talking to your potential clients about the problems they face with keeping their vehicles at their best and how you can solve them. 

2. Create a Car Detailing Business Plan

Now that you’ve determined a market for your business, it’s time to start planning how you’re going to get this thing off the ground. 

This is where a good business plan will prove invaluable, helping you to answer all of the following essential questions. 

Related: Sample auto detailing business plan

A. What’s the Best Business Structure?

Most side hustlers launch their business as a sole proprietorship, though if you’re bringing someone else on board, you would need to get a general partnership instead. Sole proprietorships and partnerships are easy and inexpensive to start. 

An LLC (Limited Liability Company) is a more complicated structure, but it provides greater tax flexibility and limits your personal liability should somebody sue your business.

If you’re not sure which one works best for you, see our comparison of business entities to help you decide.

B. What Type of Detailing Services Will You Offer?

While our advice may be different if you were doing this full-time, you may find that a mobile detailing business is often a better option for a side gig than a stationary, brick-and-mortar business.

You won’t have to shell out for expensive rent on a commercial property, nor will you have any of the expensive overhead expenses that come with it, such as property insurance and utilities. 

Even if your plan is to grow your new venture to the point that you can eventually make it your full-time business, focusing on mobile services first will allow you to build up capital that you can later use to establish a permanent base. 

Of course, mobile vs. brick-and-mortar isn’t the only decision you’ll have to make. 

Will you offer interior detailing or stick to the exteriors?

How about your service packages? Could you offer multiple options at different price points to attract different types of customers?

C. When Will You Work?

One of the biggest challenges of starting any side business is simply finding the time to do it. 

Here, you’ll need to consider your current commitments. 

If you’re currently working 9-5, will you have the time and energy to detail cars in the evening, or is it better to schedule your clients during weekend hours only? 

If you’re only working part-time, is there enough hours during the rest of the working week to take on customers without interfering with other important commitments like family?

Don’t forget that there’s more involved in running your business than just working on your client’s vehicles. 

You’ll also have to set time aside for admin, marketing, advertising, and managing your invoices.

Related: Best software to run an auto detailing business

D. How Much Will it Cost to Start Your Auto Detailing Side Hustle?

You’ll find this question easier to answer by taking stock of what you have and what you’ll need to start your business. 

If you’ve taken our advice and decided to offer a mobile detailing service, then at the very least, you’re going to need a suitable vehicle to get around, a good-quality, portable pressure washer, and other cleaning essentials. 

You’ll also need to consider other costs, such as paying for your auto detailing business cards, building a website, and more. 

Don’t worry just yet if your startup costs seem beyond your reach right now. Your business plan, combined with the market research you conducted earlier, can both be used to help you succeed in getting a business loan to secure the funding you need. 

E. What are My Strengths and Weaknesses?

These last two questions are closely related, but it’s still worth answering each one in turn. 

First, create a SWOT analysis to identify:

  • Your Strengths
  • Your Weakness
  • Opportunities to Succeed With Your Business
  • Threats to Your Success.

Completing this exercise is essential for identifying any areas of the startup process that you may need help with. 

For example, you may be the most talented auto detailer in the world, but if you’re terrible at the administration side of things, it may be better to outsource those types of tasks to someone else. 

F. What is My USP as an Auto Detailer?

The strengths and opportunities you identified in your SWOT analysis will help you determine your Unique Selling Point (USP), i.e., the thing that makes your business stand out from the crowd. 

Your USP should be summed up in a few short sentences which clearly define why customers should hire you for mobile car detailing rather than your competitors. 

Creating this now will be a tremendous help down the line when it comes to creating your marketing messages and attracting your first customers. 

3. Get Your Insurance and Licensing in Place

The last thing any small business wants is a nasty fine for operating without the right licenses and permits in place. 

Car detailing California business license


Although our guide to licensing for auto detailing businesses is a good starting point for tackling the legal requirements of your new venture, it also pays to ask a city clerk or local chamber of commerce for details of any and all business licenses you might need.

In many cases, you’ll find that you won’t be granted a license unless you can prove that you have the right business insurance in place first. 

As a general rule, you’re going to need at least professional and general liability insurance. 

If you’re focusing on mobile auto detailing, you’ll also need to invest in business vehicle insurance, while bricks-and-mortar detailers will want to ensure the right property insurance is in place before any customers or employees set foot upon your premises. 

For more on this subject, see our guide to the Types of business insurance you may need.

4. Open a Business Bank Account

Ensuring your small business operates smoothly requires more than just licenses and permits. Having a dedicated business bank account is crucial to manage your finances effectively.

Opening a bank account exclusively for your auto detailing work will help keep your side hustle income and expenses separate from the rest of your finances. It can also open doors to potential funding opportunities and equip you with helpful financing tools like a business credit card. 

Keep in mind that some banks may require specific documentation such as your business license, employer identification number (EIN), and proof of address, so having these documents ready in advance will make the process much smoother. 

5. Get Your Equipment in Place

With the groundwork in place, it’s time to start gathering supplies. 

Sure, basic essentials like soap, sponges, and microfiber towels can be picked up at any dollar store, but such products are hardly going to cut it if you’re aiming for the highest standards of professionalism and customer satisfaction. 

Instead, buy from reputable auto detailing suppliers, investing in higher-quality tools that can withstand the rigors of frequent use and eco-friendly cleaning supplies. 

When it comes to the more expensive equipment like a pressure washer or car detailing vacuum, don’t worry if they’re out of your price range right now. 

One common strategy employed by enterprising small business owners is to secure clients and take a deposit from them, using that deposit to rent whatever equipment is necessary to provide the service. 

Once clients pay the remaining balance, that money can be treated as profit or saved up until there are enough funds to buy the equipment outright. 

Other Items You’ll Need to Buy

Along with everything you’ll need to service your client’s vehicles, don’t forget that there’ll be other items you’ll need to run your business effectively, such as marketing materials for attracting customers and auto detailing software to make your day-to-day business operations easier. 

6. Get Your First Clients 

Now’s where the fun begins. 

You’ve got everything in place to start your side gig, and now it’s time to get some clients. 

One effective way to do this is to act as your own walking (or rather, driving) advertisement for your business, regularly detailing your own vehicle to showcase what you can do. This is especially important as a mobile detailer, as you don’t want to show up to a customer in a dirty vehicle.

You’ll never know when that sparkling clean car of yours might turn enough heads that people want to know how you got it looking so good. 

When they do, that’s the perfect time to hand over a business card and tell those potential customers about your business. 

Here’s some other strategies you can use for bringing in those all-important first customers. 

A. Word of Mouth 

Don’t just wait until you’re asked about your business to talk about it. Reach out to friends, family, and acquaintances. Let them know you’re open for business and encourage them to spread the word. 

While it may not be appropriate to brag about your new venture during your 9-5, there’s nothing to stop you from spreading the word further by casually mentioning that you’re an auto detailer whenever you meet new people. 

We’re not saying you have to hit everyone you meet with a sales pitch or become the next Bob Vance, Vance Refrigeration from The Office, but the more opportunities you can find to talk about what you do, the greater the chance that least some of the people you tell will remember you either when they need you themselves, or they’re asked for recommendations. 

B. Website Optimized for Local Search 

No business can be a true success in the digital age without some kind of web presence. 

A website acts as a kind of shop window or portfolio, showcasing your talents through high-quality images and videos. 

It should also include an easy-to-use system that customers can use to schedule a service or make inquiries. 

Since you’ll be providing services in a specific location, you’ll also need to pay close attention to local SEO, which is a term used to describe the strategies for optimizing your website to appear in local search results when people use Google for search queries such as “auto detailer near me.”

C. Social Media 

You’ll also benefit from establishing a presence on social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok. 

Car detailing social media

Like your website, you can use these platforms to show off your best work, providing evidence to potential clients about the quality of your service. 

You can also run special offers, discounts, and promotions, as well as take advantage of low-cost social media advertising to boost your visibility on those platforms where your ideal customers hang out. 

D. Business Directories 

At a bare minimum, every small business owner should have a presence on Google My Business, a free platform that you can use to promote your business and increase visibility in search results. 

Elsewhere, ensure you have a fully-optimized profile on business directory sites like Yelp and National Detail Pros to generate leads. 

E. Traditional Marketing 

Traditional print marketing still has its place in today’s digital age, helping you to capture those customers who may not see you online and increasing your brand awareness among those who do. 

Think about it: 

Let’s say you design some high-quality flyers for your business. 

Maybe you do a direct mail campaign and send one flyer to homes and businesses in the area you want to target. Perhaps you partner with other local businesses and leave your flyers at their premises for people to pick up. 

The more customers see these flyers, the more your brand sticks with them. 

Then, when the time comes that they need a detailing service, they either call you directly from the flyer, or search online, see your business in search results, recognize you from your flyer, and sign-up that way. 

F. Networking 

Finally, never underestimate the importance of good, old-fashioned networking. 

Taking part in local business networking events, trade fairs, and other events where car enthusiasts hang out can be a great way to drum up new customers and establish relationships that could lead to any number of business growth opportunities. 

7. Go Above and Beyond to Grow Your Business

Although it may sound obvious to some, the quality of service you provide to your customers can make or break your success. 

Think about what you can do to really impress your first customers. 

What steps can you take to go above and beyond the norm? 

What can you offer customers that your competitors can’t offer or at least aren’t offering right now?

If you’ve ever received outstanding service from a business, you’ll know what a difference this can make. It leaves you with a favorable impression of that business, and when the time comes that you need similar products or services again, you’re going to go right back to them. 

The same applies to your auto detailing business.  

Deliver the best possible service to your customers, and they’ll reward you with repeat bookings, positive online reviews, and referrals. 

How to Start a Detailing Business on the Side: Key Takeaways 

So, now you know how to start a detailing business on the side and make a success of it no matter what challenges or obstacles may get in your way. 

To recap what we’ve learned today, here’s a few key takeaways. 

  • Planning is important – Before you do anything else, carry out market research to determine the feasibility of your business idea and figure out who your customers are. Creating a business plan will also prove vital for determining important details of your business, serving as a roadmap toward your future success.
  • Tackle the essentials first – Licensing, insurance, and business banking should all be in place before you start searching for clients. This ensures your side hustle is legal, legitimate, and well-covered in case something goes wrong. 
  • Rent if you can’t buy – Buying your equipment outright will always prove to be a better long-term investment, but if that’s not an option right now, you can always rent what you need to cater to your first customers and reinvest your earnings into purchasing.
  • Use multiple marketing strategies to attract clients – A combination of word-of-mouth, traditional, and digital advertising will prove essential for growing brand awareness and bringing in customers.

Check out our 10 car detailing advertising ideas for more tips on how to win customers and get your side business off to a roaring start.


How To Start A Detailing Business On The Side

How To Start A Detailing Business On The Side

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Some (but not all) of the links on StartUp101.com are affiliate links. This means that a special tracking code is used and that we may make a small commission on the sale of an item if you purchase through one of these links. The price of the item is the same for you whether it is an affiliate link or not, and using affiliate links helps us to maintain this website.

StartUp101.com is also a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.

Our mission is to help businesses start and promoting inferior products and services doesn’t serve that mission. We keep the opinions fair and balanced and not let the commissions influence our opinions.