Skip to Content

How to Start an Aquarium Maintenance Business

In the United States, the gold fish is big business. This is because it has been found out that over half of the pets owned in the U.S. are fish (including both freshwater and saltwater fish).

This goes to show that there may be more aquariums in the country compared to other countries. Since a house always needs periodic maintenance, how much more an aquarium where you sometimes have about 5 live creatures living in them.

This goes to show that an aquarium maintenance business is one profitable business in the making. These businesses let people have beautiful, healthy aquariums without personally cleaning them.

If you’re a fish hobbyist with experience in maintaining and starting new tanks, the aquarium maintenance business may be for you.

You can start this business easily and from your home, and you can even take it further by running it as a mobile business with your current vehicle.

This business is easy to start on your own or with a partner, and it requires few supplies. Many aquarium maintenance services offer to set up tanks for clients and then maintain them.

The aquarium maintenance business requires expertise, so successfully running your own aquarium before going into business is a necessity. Before you start visiting clients, make sure you have the proper registration, insurance and supplies.

Many people enjoy having fish, as they’re a relaxing and peaceful pet. People don’t always, however, have the time or inclination to properly look after a fish tank. An aquarium maintenance business cleans and maintains aquariums, usually serving both businesses and individuals.

Some of the benefits of starting an aquarium maintenance business include:

  • Low start-up costs. This business only requires some basic supplies such as buckets, water changing tubes, faucet adaptors, and so on, but the tools to professionally maintain aquariums are not as expensive as the aquariums and equipment you’ll be maintaining.
  • You don’t need an office: An aquarium maintenance business does not really need an office base. Your base of operations likely will be your home and the vehicle you use to travel to your clients. You’ll be able to deduct these expenses when you file your taxes, so you are not spending much in that regard.
  • You can turn your love of fish into a business. If tropical fish are a passion for you, this is a great way to earn money doing what you love while sharing your expertise with others.
  • You can work as much or as little as you want. This business can be done as a side job to earn extra income, but if you build up a large enough client base, this could be a full-time job.
  • You can expand your business into other areas such as aquarium setup or selling aquarium supplies to your clients.
  • You have a wide range of potential clients. Many businesses that have aquariums in public areas contract with someone to clean and maintain them, but there also are many individuals who like having aquariums but don’t have the time or expertise to properly maintain them.
  • Extra income can be earned by selling the supplies necessary to maintain healthy aquariums. For example, if a client’s water needs to be treated with a specific additive, the client can very easily buy the additive from you if you have it in stock.

13 Steps to Starting an Aquarium Maintenance Business 

If you think this business is for you, here are proven ways you can setup your aquarium maintenance business in the United States.

  1. Put together your business plan

Whenever you are starting a business, even one as small scale as aquarium maintenance, your business plan should be a high priority for you. You need to write a workable business plan for your aquarium maintenance company. Before you proceed, you should first decide what your business will focus on: maintaining existing aquariums, installing and maintaining new aquariums, and saltwater or freshwater aquariums.

You should equally determine your target market, whether you are going to serve businesses, homeowners or a broad market of fish enthusiasts. Research existing aquarium maintenance companies and evaluate how well, or not, they’re meeting the needs of your target market. Define ways that you can set yourself apart from the competition by offering lower rates, specialized services such as creating artful tanks, knowledge of rare fish, guarantees, or by showcasing your expertise.

Choose a business name that will attract your target market and differentiate you from competitors. Make a list of supplies you’ll need and ways in which you’ll market yourself. Set your prices by researching what other competitors charge. There are loads of other things that will make your business plan comprehensive, so you need to make some research before you start.

  1. Set up your legal entity

A lot of small businesses prefer to start with being a sole proprietorship until they grow bigger. This can work really fine for them, but it may not work for your aquarium maintenance business. One little leak can do a lot of damage and if you are found liable, they could go after your personal assets (house, bank accounts, cars, etc). This can spell doom for your business.

Setting up an LLC is cheap and easy, especially since it will be just you. The LLC is a separate legal entity so they can’t go after your personal assets if something happened (unless you don’t pay payroll taxes, are malicious, commit fraud, etc.). The point is that it is a good barrier between you and the liability created by working on aquariums. For the minimal cost to set up an LLC and renew it annually, the protection is invaluable. It also makes you look more professional.

Establishing a legal business entity such as an LLC prevents you from being personally liable if your aquarium maintenance business is sued. There are many business structures to choose from including: Corporations, LLC’s, and DBA’s. You should also consider using a registered agent service to help protect your privacy and stay compliant.

  1. Register for taxes

You will need to register for a variety of state and federal taxes before you can open for business. In order to register for taxes you will need to apply for an EIN. It’s really easy and free. You need to pay taxes to the government, so this is a necessity.

  1. Gather your supplies

You will need supplies to carry out your aquarium maintenance business. You will need cleaning supplies such as siphons, nets, algae pads, buckets, planting sticks and tongs, and plastic tarps and towels, and you can get these from local or online aquarium supply stores. You can also purchase fish food, saltwater test kits and any necessary medications but pass the costs along to your clients.

Search online auction websites for good deals on gently used aquariums and stands if your business installs aquariums as well. Buy these as well as filters, gravel, heaters, lighting equipment and other decorations on an as-needed basis. Visit local wholesale conventions to purchase interesting fish as necessary; make sure to bring your business license with you, as it will be required to make purchases.

As an aquarium maintenance business owner, you need to have your own kit. To put together this kit, you will need;

  • Three five-gallon buckets
  • Three full-size towels
  • One hand towel
  • Two clamps (hold buckets together and hold tubing as needed on jobs)
  • One 25′ Python Water Changer
  • Metal faucet adapters (2-3 for different sink styles)
  • Algae pad
  • Algae pad with handle
  • Razor scraper
  • Lee’s Small Specimen Container
Supplies to have in the car to use as needed:
  • Extra razors
  • Red Sea Aiptasia-X with syringe and multiple tips
  • X-acto knife
  • TLF Aquastik coral epoxy
  • TLF Coraffix gel
  • Lee’s Large Specimen Container
  • Buckets with lids for transporting fish (one, two, and five gallons)
  • Siphon/gravel vacuum to use on saltwater tanks
  • Zip ties of various sizes
  • Labels for cords
  • Extra 25′ Python Water Changer to use for parts and as an extension
  • Trash bags
  • Bulkhead wrench
Dry Goods you can sell to clients:
  • Seachem Prime in three sizes (50mL, 100mL, and 250mL)
  • New Life Spectrum Thera+A foods: 1mm 80g, 2mm 150g, 3mm 150g
  • Acurel carbon pellets
  • Filter media bags
  • Filter cartridges for specific client filters
  • Aquarium Salt
  • API AlgaeFix
  • API AccuClear
  • AquaClear 110 impeller shaft (relatively common problem when so many clients have AC110s)
  • Seachem Stability
  • Poly-Filter
  • Seachem Purigen
  • Air Stones
Equipment and Supplies you can keep at home:
  • RO/DI system with extra cartridge for each stage
  • 33-gallon trash can with auto-shutoff for RO/DI water storage
  • 33-gallon trash can to mix saltwater in
  • Refractometer
  • TDS meter
  • Bucket/boxes of salt mix. I use the buckets to store the open salt in because they seal a lot better than bags and boxes.
  • Test kits (pH, KH, Mg, Ca, nitrate, nitrite, ammonia, and phosphate). You should only test clients’ tanks if they ask for it. The answer is almost always more water changes, which few are willing to do or pay for.

 5. Open a business bank account with credit card

Using dedicated business banking and credit accounts is essential for personal asset protection in your aquarium maintenance business. When your personal and business accounts are mixed, your personal assets (your home, car, and other valuables) are at risk in the event your business is sued. In business law, this is referred to as piercing your corporate veil.

Additionally, learning how to build business credit can help you get credit cards and other financing in your business’ name (instead of yours), have better interest rates, higher lines of credit, and more. This separates your personal assets from your company’s assets, which is necessary for personal asset protection. It also makes accounting and tax filing easier.

  1. Write a business contract for clients

To not get into trouble unnecessarily with your clients, you need to draw up a contract for them to sign before you can work with them. State which services you are responsible for and how often you will perform the specific duties. Include a statement that you are not responsible for the death of fish unless you have done something specific to cause their deaths.

This agreement should also clarify client expectations and minimize risk of legal disputes by setting out payment terms and conditions and service level expectations.

  1. Apply for liability insurance to protect you from damages

Aquarium maintenance is a dicey business as any mistake from you can lead to the death of the fishes under your care. Expect an expensive premium as aquarium maintenance companies often have issues with damages due to flooding. To forestall this, you need to get adequate protection through insurance. Contact an insurance broker so he or she can help you choose the best insurance for your business.

  1. Set up business accounting

Recording your various expenses and sources of income is critical to understanding the financial performance of your business. Keeping accurate and detailed accounts also greatly simplifies your annual tax filing. This is why you need a good software to take care of your business accounts.

  1. Obtain necessary permits and licenses

Quite a number of licenses and permits are required for you to successfully run an aquarium maintenance business. Failure to acquire these permits and licenses can result in hefty fines, or even cause your business to be shut down.

An aquarium maintenance business may also wish to look into applying for a resale certificate, which allows retailers to purchase goods intended for resale without paying sales tax. This is especially useful as many aquarium maintenance business owners sell products used to maintain aquariums between cleanings.

  1. Get Business Insurance

Just as with licenses and permits, your business needs insurance in order to operate safely and lawfully. Business Insurance protects your company’s financial wellbeing in the event of a covered loss.

There are several types of insurance policies created for different types of businesses with different risks. If you’re unsure of the types of risks that your business may face, begin with General Liability Insurance. This is the most common coverage that small businesses need, so it’s a great place to start for your business. Another notable insurance policy that many businesses need is Workers’ Compensation Insurance. If your business will have employees, it’s a good chance that your state will require you to carry Workers’ Compensation Coverage.

  1. Market your aquarium maintenance business

After your business is up and running, you need to let people know about it. Your business cannot succeed without clients, so you need to start sourcing for them. You can start by creating fliers with a list of your services. Describe how you clean aquariums and what you do to ensure fish health. Design professional-looking fliers that distinguish you from competitors. If you are an expert in tropical fish, say so; if you create artful tanks, mention it.

Include contact information such as phone numbers, email address and website address, if you have one. Post fliers on local bulletin boards, place ads in online and print versions of local newspapers and start a fan page on a social networking site to get the word out locally. Visit local businesses, such as doctors’ offices and restaurants, in person to offer your services, particularly if you’re in the business of setting up tanks. Drop off a flier or business card at each place you visit.

One of the best places to put up advertisements is in pet stores. Business owners may even want to purchase a small office space within a pet store where they can store their supplies. Those who don’t want to pay for an office or storage space can ask what a store would charge to put up a couple of posters or leave brochures in the store.

Providing complimentary service for store employees may also help business owners find new clients. While this can take some time, employees will be able to personally attest to a business owner’s expertise and level of service.

  1. Learn to keep your clients

Getting clients is one thing, but do you also know how to keep them? Keeping your clients happy is a key important factor to be successful in this business. Publish some classified advertisement in local newspapers. Register your business with a local directory. Fixing the next schedule will help you to get the return business. Make contact with business houses, educational institutes, hospitals who keep aquariums as relaxing decoration for their clients.

Have business tie-ups with interior decoration professionals of your area. You need to build a good relationship with the fish stores, pet store or veterinary doctors. You can get a reference from them if you can build a good rapport.

Create a website for your aquarium maintenance service business. Maintain a blog and post article and photos periodically. Ask satisfied clients to give feedback on your site. Educate your clients about aquarium maintenance. Give special discounts to your regular clients.

  1. Establish a Web Presence

A business website allows customers to learn more about your company and the products or services you offer. In business today, the rule is that you cannot do your publicity using only offline medium, you should go online as well. One of the first things to do is to get an interactive website. You can also use social media to attract new clients or customers.