It’s Sometimes Right to Say No

Business can be a funny old thing. When you start up your new company, it’s all about revenue and making money any way you can, so you’ll pretty much take anything that happens to come your way.

It’s the same with staff, when you’re busy and need help, it’s hard to be picky. Sometimes you just haven’t got the time. With hindsight, time and a buffer of money, I’m sure I’d have done a few things differently and ensured that the business we got was not only worth having, but profitable and a good fit to the vision we had.

I remember taking on a building with a snooker club in it. The building was in a pretty run-down area and was an early morning clean. To get in the entrance we had to move people sleeping there as we couldn’t reach the locks. It was usually pitch dark and before the mobile phone and torchlight app had been invented. Inside there was an old and worn tiled floor staircase leading to the 1st floor landing where there was a toilet and the entrance to the club. We had to clean the staircase to the top, another three levels and if people had snuck up there before the club had locked up, they were usually still there when we tried to clean the landings. Needles, broken bottles and even metal bin lids that had been used to be the base of a fire all had to be moved or cleared away. The toilets had a stainless steel urinal trough, usually filled with broken glass and the toilet cubicles had vomit and faeces on doors walls and of course, there was the floor. With no hot water, we’d just do our best to clean the place before leaving a few wet floor signs visible and locking up as we left. I cleaned this building myself for several months, starting around 6am and finishing close to 8am when the Iranian owner of the club would sometimes turn up and give me dogs abuse for not ‘Kicking the tramps’ out of the doorway and doing a ‘crap’ job of the toilets! We’d do this six mornings a week all for a little over £20 a month in profit as we’d use several mop heads a day, gallons of disinfectant and far too many black bags which carried everything from human waste to used syringes.

But I needed the business as I wanted more work of the building management agents, so had to take the rough with the smooth.

When we first started in business and I couldn’t handle all of the cleaning myself and needed help, I got a call from a young man with a van who seemed very helpful and offered to get around the jobs I couldn’t do. I thought that this was exactly what I needed and I even bought him a mobile phone to keep in touch. Mobiles then were really expensive to buy and use. Only after a month or so when the bill came in, did I realise he was phoning half the population of the north east every day and even had enrolled on ‘joke lines’ at £1 a joke and he received dozens a day! It cost me a fortune. Money that I just didn’t have and to make things worse, he was pinching the supplies he was given and selling them to friends. Now we take our time to recruit the right ‘fit’ of person in to the business. It doesn’t always work but we try hard to make sure that the people we work with are suited to, not only the type of client, but also their culture. Getting a member of staff to become a valued member of their team is great. Seeing our operatives being invited to corporate gatherings, Christmas parties and other events is brilliant. It shows that they’ve become part of the customers team as well as ours.

Lately we’ve declined bidding for a contract we’ve had for almost four years because the customer’s requests going forward with staff and wanting to transfer some of their own in-house staff to us was not economically viable and held huge potential risks. We love to work as partners with our clients and the way we are set up with managers and supervisors to support the cleaning teams and liaise with customers works well with customers who value having a clean and sanitary place to work and bring their clients in to.

We work with some absolutely amazing companies and their people. Building and developing relationships is vital and we’re pretty good at it. Of course, we can always improve and sometimes we make mistakes but the secret is to communicate well and put the issue right as quickly and efficiently as possible. In 2017 the business grew by 43% which is incredible in todays economic climate. This was largely down to word of mouth (or maybe word of mouse!) and the fantastic team of business development and marketing managers we have who bring on so much new business our poor operations team haven’t time to breathe.

So, with lessons learnt and better decisions made about where we, as a business want to be, we move on. The decisions now made by trusted staff who have the confidence and authority to make such judgements. Ah yes, delegation, that’s for another blog sometime.