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Starting, growing and selling my sweeping business by Jessica Hayes – Part 1

Women on the tools

Jessica attending the “Women on the tools” event in 2016

I came to Chimney Sweeping after a process of elimination. My ex husband had suddenly stopped paying maintenance for our 3 children. Whilst I knew he couldn’t sustain this legally I was plunged into a cash flow problem. I’d cut all extraneous expenditure and although living in the big family house, we now just used one room with an open fire. I’d called a sweep and to cut a long story short he advised me on how I could sweep my own chimney if I needed to in the future, charged me mates rates and left. I’d understood that he was going to 4 more calls that day and I did the maths.

I knew I had to find paid employment but couldn’t fall back on my previous experience since that would mean commuting, serious responsibility, and hiring a nanny. I was looking for something flexible, local, and to be my own boss. I thought more about the crazy notion that sweeping could deliver me exactly what I was looking for.

If it was possible physically then I needed to join the most prestigious association there was in order to set myself up with as much credibility as I could muster.

JessicaMy background had included running the largest network of employer associations and professional bodies in the UK under a government scheme so I knew something about the importance of getting this right. It was immediately clear that of the associations that existed, The Guild was the one with serious credibility, good leadership and a progressive attitude so I called Lawson my local rep and Master sweep to ask if he might be able to offer some work experience. I’m sure he thought it was for my son but he immediately invited me to accompany him for a day.

With his encouragement I applied for the next course and within 3 months was all set to go.

The next 6 years saw me grow my business year on year. I could tell many stories of lovely support, fantastic customers, fortunate coincidences and steep learning curves. I could also add in a few horrendous ones of hideous people with destructive attitudes but then you’ll all have had these kinds of customers.

I had the best time, I loved my little business, the purity and immediacy of doing a job with a beginning, middle and end. I met some remarkable people and made a few new friends. I got really fit and now have arms like Madonna much to the envy of my friends! I also have shocking hands and nails that no self respecting manicurist would touch!

In time I became much more choosy about who I worked for and perhaps became a little too good at walking away from people and jobs I didn’t like. It was my prerogative and the business could take it. With a bit of imagination I had used local activities networks and marketing to grow my business and far from hiding the fact that I was a woman which I had real concerns about during my training, I took the advice of my contemporaries on that first course and began to push that as my USP.

At the beginning of this year I had begun to realise that I had so much work already booked in that the prospect of the summer “quiet time” had become tarnished with the fact that it was getting shorter and shorter. August was becoming a busy month and the creep of the autumn winter season was encroaching. Spring work was buoyant and the nice long period of little work during the quiet season was becoming a thing of the past. I had to decide, did I continue for a few more years at full pelt, carry on but giving myself more days off, or do I sell my business?

If I wound down the business to a nice little earner then I’d have less of a turnover on which the value of the company would be based. Then my dad died. It’s things like this that help you make big decisions and this is what happened to me. Within 3 weeks I had decided to look at selling, valued my business, contacted who I thought would be the most interested likely buyer and struck a deal.

The rest is history…Paddy McKeown another Guild member from Walden Sweeps took over from me a few months ago and we carefully managed the process to make most of the local interest that this generated.

Paddy couldn’t have been a more perfect fit and I’m really happy that he can further capitalise on the momentum I had built up for the business. Apart from not wearing a dress he is the number one.

You can see Part 2  – Paddy’s story in the next edition of Guild “Latest News”