The State of the Guild 2021
The Guild has delivered some notable achievements over the last 12 months. Much of the work is innovative and unique, and the Guild do things for members and the wider sweeping industry that others can’t or won’t. It’s easy to miss or forget the work that’s gone on, so here’s a recap.
Below is a chronological list of events and achievements. Following that there is an update on our websites, advertising, and plans for 2021.
These are only the main achievements – the bulk of Guild work involves lots of small positive actions. The cumulative power of small positive steps always delivers more value than the ‘big splash’ but generally go unnoticed. Our work spills over into the rest of our industry, improving things for consumers and the whole profession. Our association brings different value to different members. We hope you feel the Guild leadership and the membership benefits have helped you and your business over the last year – at least enough to renew your membership 😊.
The Guild team are looking forward to working on behalf of you and your industry over the coming year.
- The pressure to completely rewrite the content and layout for the new Trade website builds at what is already a very busy time of year. The great planning effort for all the elements of the Trade Exhibition are building in a similar way.
- 3rd Cross Association Steering Group meeting – Throughout 2019 the Guild was a driving force in helping to bring together individual sweep associations to create an official voice for the professional sweeping industry. With much work going on behind the scenes, this 3rd meeting brought all the interested parties together to finalize plans and set a date for launch of what became the Federation of British Chimney Sweeps.
- New Trade website goes live. Following the launch of our new Consumer website in November 2018 (findachimneysweep.co.uk) we commissioned a review of our Trade site. It became apparent that this site – (guildofmasterchimneysweps.co.uk) was not going to deliver what we needed, and an entirely new site was required. It was a big undertaking. The mechanics of the site and its design now make it as future proof as possible. The content was completely re-written and considerable work done on the navigation and connectivity. Monthly ‘housekeeping’ on both our websites by our IT team keep things running smoothly. The investment has already paid off handsomely with plenty more to come.
- Re-Published – ‘Our Future – The Professional Chimney Sweeping Industry. In the middle of the moves by Hetas to control the professional sweeping industry, the Guild stuck it’s neck out in July 2019 and published the ‘Our Future’ document, sending it to members and several thousand industry contacts. The Guild were the first association to publish its position with regards to the best direction for professional sweeps. We were proud to help lead the industry toward further independence and self-determination. We re-published this document to the new website to help publicize the launch of the new site and underline our unerring commitment to all professional sweeps.
- Online shop launch. The new e-commerce system allows easy browsing, purchasing and payment when it suits you. A fully automated system reduces our admin and costs. The system allows for easy addition of new products.
- Postal voting commences: The upcoming AGM included postal voting for the first time. Detailed instructions and ballots are sent to members.
- Proposed changes to company articles: Proposals from the board to increase individual members power and help further legally secure the purpose of the Guild.
- Federation of British Chimney Sweeps launch: Along with the other associations, the Guild were very pleased to announce the formation of a trade body to represent the interests of the professional chimney sweeping industry. A difficult but very worthwhile journey has delivered a means to secure the future of the professional chimney sweep.
- Sweep Stuff Magazine published: Whilst other industry publications are disappearing, ours goes from strength to strength. Good industry connections and some clever editing and production keeps the content fresh and interesting for all. Over 450 copies are printed and posted each issue. The digital version is emailed widely, published online and to various social media.
- Exhibition promotions: Promoting the Trade exhibition goes into overdrive in February with separate articles published and paid online advertising for all the individual elements of the show weekend.
- Fuels Regulation briefings: Briefings on proposed government regulation of fuels
- Record Trade Exhibition: Against an industry trend of fewer exhibitions with dwindling numbers we can proudly state that the Guild Trade Exhibition goes from strength to strength. For several years we have reported the words ‘Record breaking Exhibition’. It’s an amazing feat to pull off year on year. March 2020 was no different. Record exhibitor stands, record attendance, record dinner attendance, record funds from charity raffle, record numbers voting at AGM, record free seminars. All credit to our highly focused board and team for organizing and staging this showpiece event.
- AGM New director elected. Articles changes not approved.
- Covid-19 Working procedures guidance issued. In a fast-moving situation and after 3 re-writes in 4 days, an opportunity arose to send the first Guidance to members. The Guild board had carefully considered this guidance and felt it the best balance. We received some very harsh responses, albeit from non-member sweeps. This guidance was re-issued in May and rather ironically used by the same detractors to help them get back to work.
- National Birdguard week launch: Another simple but powerful Guild initiative bringing PR for all sweeps and adding value to Guild membership. The Guild launched the first National Birdguard week to highlight issues around birds dying and nesting in chimneys. At short notice and armed with a striking little video, a successful campaign was launched across all the Guild and its media. With initial support from Midtec Cowls and members, we reached tens of thousands of consumers. The Guild will be working with others to expand this initiative to include the whole industry next year (2021).
- Record raffle proceeds of £2150 donated to CO Gas-Safety charity.
- Federation – initial Strategy Group meeting.
- First Live Webinar – Digital booking systems: Making more good use of the downtime, we hosted our first live webinar. 47 Guild members joined Martin Lewis, Thomas Wiggins and Lawson Wight to learn about digital booking systems.
- New administrative system launch: Again taking the opportunity of downtime, the board planned and implemented a new integrated admin system, significantly improving organisational efficiency and security. The system is now returning better value for money on every Guild activity, from creating adverts and articles to processing member details and communications.
- Board suspend fees for meetings: Meetings are moved to once a week to improve response times and take advantage of downtime during the first ‘lockdown’. The board generously vote to waive their fees for supplying their expertise during this time.
- New consumer advertising programme commences 1st May: This is new advertising in addition to the regular Facebook and other online advertising. In response to the Covid-19 crisis, the board decided to help members in the most direct way possible – by boosting direct consumer advertising and increasing traffic to the findachimneysweep search site. This advertising is very successful and is now running permanently.
- Sweep Stuff Magazine: In the middle of the ‘lockdown’ we produced another excellent edition, keeping sweeps informed and entertained at a difficult time.
- Federation meetings: There were 2 meetings this month, an initial Strategy Group meeting and a Board meeting covering bespoke articles, setting out the core objectives, initial tasks, contacting the wider industry etc. The Guild formed part of a smaller working party charged with producing advanced draft Articles. It has been a privilege to work with the other associations to help secure the independence and advance the professionalisation of our proud industry.
- 5 Year Refresher goes online: Two years after its launch, the Refresher course has been adapted for live online delivery. Knowledge is power and there’s still nothing else like this course in our industry. Two presenters and up to 10 attendees allow for a thoroughly interactive day with the personal touch. Now with a 25% reduction in cost, it has been very well received.
- National Chimney Fire Safety Week promotions: It’s one of the most successful annual promotions that we do. Targeted advertising providing sweeps with good advertising resources helped us reach tens of thousands of solid fuel users.
- Federation ‘Essential work’: The Guild began work on behalf of the Federation of British Chimney Sweeps. This involved petitioning government departments, high ranking civil servants, public health bodies, MP’s, MCHLD etc. Questions were asked and requests made regarding the ‘essential’ work that sweeps undertake and the inclusion of this class of work on essential worker lists.
- National Carbon Monoxide Awareness Week: Although CO awareness is ongoing for sweeps, but it makes sense for the industry to join together and make a ‘big splash’ each year. The Guild worked with the other Federation members to produce various resources for sweeps to promote CO issues to their customers. We produced a new ‘Alarm’ video for consumer advertising and for sweeps to use on their own media. Any sweep may use this video and all the other CO resources to help keep their customers safe.
- Federation meeting. Engagement with industry bodies and other groups continues. Further engagement and progress for solid fuel representation within the APPCOG carbon monoxide group.
- Essential work. On behalf of the Federation we approached various government departments and other organisations to highlight the essential work of sweeps.
- Sweep Stuff Magazine: Another quality publication – with ‘free with this issue’ for the first time.
- SEPA – CAFS (Clean Air For Scotland) meeting: One representative from the Guild and one from the Burnright campaign attended this round table meeting along with other industry stakeholders. CAFS have requested reports from the groups attending to help inform future policies around domestic fires and fuels in Scotland.
- Cowl / bird guard delaminating campaign: The Guild approached the Federation of British Chimney Sweeps to highlight an emerging safety issue with the paint coating on some cowls. Online reporting introduced for the first time with a simple form via the website.
- Interviews with national newspapers and local radio published.
- CPL sweep promotion: Another innovative programme delivering good PR for the Guild and the opportunity for proactive members to promote themselves to consumers.
Several years ago, the Guild split its website and social media in two. In order to effectively engage consumers, it was felt we needed to completely separate our Trade and Consumer information. This required 2 separate websites and 2 separate social media platforms. It was a risk in terms of cost and potential success. Following the split and having engaged a new website marketing company in 2018, it was discovered that although the websites were attracting reasonable numbers of visitors, they had not been adequately designed or maintained. Completely new sites were needed if we were to evolve and take advantage of future opportunities.
Consumer site: The consumer targeted findachimneysweep puts members contact details directly in front of potential consumers. Since the redesigned site went live, we have been able to increase the effectiveness of our SEO and advertising efforts for this all-important consumer contact point. Over the last 12 months we have increased visitor traffic by a massive 35%. All the other website stats show very positive year on year improvement. Our analysis shows that most of this increase is not linked to the covid-19 situation and that the increase was underway long before covid came along – all good news.
We will continue to invest in the constant improvement of our findachimneysweep site. The current levels of ‘housekeeping’ work will continue. We have some interesting plans for new features coming in Jan 2021 which will further boost the site ranking.
Trade site: The guildofmasterchimneysweeps website is for members and trade. Since the launch of the redesigned site in Jan 2020 it has performed very well. It is far easier for visitors to navigate and it’s easier for us to manage. There are new functions which make it easier to run the Guild. We don’t pay to advertise this site as paid advertising is directed toward findachimneysweep, but it still gets good visitor numbers. It’s the best place to find all the articles and announcements we publish – see ‘News’ section. Anyone who is unaware of the work done on behalf of members and the for the industry would do well to look through the posts to the ‘News’ section from the last couple of years.
We publish many articles and items to the News pages on both the Consumer and Trade websites. The consumer articles are a simple way for you to promote engaging issues to your audience via your own online media. The Trade articles give an excellent picture of Guild activity and achievements going back many years.
As an organization, these two quality sites help reinforce our position as the leading chimney sweep trade association.
Advertising. The Guild runs all kinds of online adverts, all the time. They are designed to inform and engage different consumer groups. The ultimate purpose is to raise the profile of the Guild and get consumers to view members contact details. We also run advertising aimed at sweeps so they may reproduce it to their customers.
Facebook advertising: It doesn’t matter if you don’t use Facebook, lots of your customers do so we seek to engage them and direct them to find your details on our findachimneysweep website. Over the last 12 months we’ve run 30 paid ‘ad hoc’ consumer targeted adverts on the Find A Sweep UK Facebook page timeline. In addition, we run continuous long term Facebook adverts aimed at different target audiences. We periodically activate other bespoke adverts when the opportunity is right. We also run some paid advertising on the Trade Facebook page. This advertising is usually aimed at sweeps. It is either to inform and educate, or, it’s for sweeps to share direct to consumers on their own media.
Other online advertising: At the beginning of May in response to the covid crisis, we began a permanent programme of online advertising. This programme is reviewed monthly and changes made as required to get the best value. We have committed these new permanent funds to helping consumers find members details.
Training: It’s been a tricky year for training. We’ll do our best for the coming year but recognize that any plans are subject to change. One big success has been adapting the 5 year Refresher course and taking it online. It’s now a full day live interactive webinar course. 47 members have joined John Stone and Gavin Cater since June and the feedback has been excellent.
For 2021: The Guild has excellent existing infrastructure and sound financial foundations. Even if all promotion stopped tomorrow, our momentum is such that we’d continue to thrive for some time. This is a great place to move forward from and we’ll continue to build from this position of strength, improving existing benefits and developing new ones. Our websites are doing great and we’ve already set a target to increase on last year’s record. We will continue to keep the focus on the findachimneysweep site and there are some new features in development which will deliver more and better consumer engagement. There will be more new general and specific promotional programmes on top of the established ones. The magazine will continue to be printed and posted and as advertising develops, we would hope to move from 3 to 4 editions per year. The Guild will continue its input to the Federation of British Chimney Sweeps, supplying expertise, innovation and resources as our industry moves on with the most united voice in our history. Air Quality issues and industry initiatives will become even more important as government focuses on the key role of professional sweeps. The Burnright campaign will evolve with new and revised material resources for you to use with your existing customers and new promotional programmes. We will ensure that Burnright demonstrates the power of the grass roots of the industry to effectively deliver the consumer messages that politicians seek. We are working with the Air Quality teams from all the UK administrations to ensure the sweep is seen as the most important person to deliver the best results for the least cost.
We will endeavour to provide you with further useful and interesting training opportunities.
There are several initiatives in various stages of development right now. For commercial reasons we can’t reveal the all the details but we’ll keep you posted via email, Facebook and the ‘News’ section of the website.
Wishing you all the best for 2021.
The Guild Team