How I created a multi-million pound company despite A-Level failure

Rachael Flanagan traded going to university to start Mrs Bucket. 11 years on, she employs 300 staff, has offices across Wales and boasts a £2.5m turnover

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Name: Rachael Flanagan
Company: Mrs Bucket
Company description: Domestic and commercial full service cleaning company
Started in: 2005

Describe your start-up barrier:

People’s negativity. When I told people I was forgoing university to be a self-employed cleaner so many people said to me: “Why would you want to be a cleaner? You can do better for yourself, you can go to university!”

But I could see there was a business to be had in cleaning.

I used to come home from school and find mum complaining that either the cleaner hadn’t turned up, left early or had done an unsatisfactory job. I started cleaning for pocket money thinking I could do a better job.

After cleaning for a few more of my mum’s friends and family, I decided to become a self-employed cleaner.

How did you overcome the negativity and build a successful business?

I proved them wrong! I went from failing my business A-Level in school to setting up a multi-million pound business. I was very young when I started out at 18 years old, with very little money – just £20 which I spent on flyers – and a hoover.

In spite of my age, I had a clear goal in mind for the business and wanted it to become a leading full-service cleaning company. Once I started up, I heard horror stories about the number of cleaning businesses home owners had used due to poor standards, unreliable staff and hard to reach managers.

I set out to establish a company, located in key central locations, that would employ the best cleaners and managers and invest in them so that they consistently deliver a high-standard service.

Being hands-on

When I first started the business I did everything from cleaning, to answering the phones and bookkeeping. After three years, I had 20 cleaners so took a step back from the day-to-day operations to concentrate on growing the business. I have since recruited area managers in Cardiff, Newport and Swansea to oversee operations, allowing me to focus on business development and strategic growth plans.

Breaking with convention

In an industry that is notorious for using untrained people, I went about bringing professionalism to the marketplace with our own in-house training programme and cleaning software.

We are the only cleaning company in South Wales with its own in-depth training programme. Each cleaner is trained in our specialist Cleaning Academy which arms them with the skills required to ensure the highest standards of cleaning at all times. This training is coupled with the recruitment of professional cleaners who are all CRB checked.

I also created a software system called Mop-It-And-Go which is a customer management programme built specifically around the company’s processes. The CRM systems allows the team to be flexible and responsive to clients’ cleaning needs and allows us to target new business across the region.

Ignoring the “naysayers”

I built the company slowly, expanding the team when I needed more help, and I didn’t let my age or lack of qualifications or experience stop me. I am extremely driven, and the knowledge that there IS market demand for high quality cleaning services has kept me going.

I didn’t listen to the naysayers who thought cleaning wasn’t a good profession to get into; I’ve clearly proved that it’s a workable business model!

What was the outcome?

Through hard work, determination and a great team, we have expanded from a one-woman operation 11 years to having offices in Swansea, Cardiff, Newport and Bristol. The business turns over £2.5m, employs 300 staff and works with over 250 domestic and commercial cleaning clients.

Most importantly for us, despite our significant growth we have been able to maintain our 98% customer retention rate, which proves that our investment in staff and technologies to provide a high level service is paying off.

What questions should others consider if they want to start a business but lack qualifications or experience?

  • Are you passionate about your business idea?
  • Can you make yourself stand out and offer the best quality product or service?
  • How will you establish and maintain your standards?

What one piece of advice should other budding entrepreneurs take on board?

Learn from someone else’s mistakes so you don’t make them!

Is there anything you would do differently?

I would have employed staff earlier on to outsource more of my admin work/resection duties. This would have freed up a lot more of my time to work on the business in the early days!


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