When I first started Gleem (previously Tidy and Shiny), I pictured myself building a passive income, and being able to escape to South East Asia where I could live is solace: benefiting from the Western economy, and living a much more affordable life.
Moving to Deben House
Those avid readers out there might remember that Gleem moved offices a couple of months back into a building on King Street. Hopefully you weren’t too attached to the idea, as we’ve already packed our bags and moved on to another prospect!
Part of being a startup still in early stages seems to be not becoming too attached to aspects of the business: in our experience so far this definitely includes office space.
Once again thanks to the lovely folks at www.meanwhilecreative.co.uk, we found a brand new spot in an up-and-coming office building in Lawrence Hill, just past Old Market.
We know it seems like we’re darting all over the place in Bristol and it might be true that one of our reasons for moving is our own miniature tour of the city (we’re wandering souls here at Gleem), but the new office also comes with plenty of its own advantages.
For starters, the space is more appropriate for the size of the business at the moment. We’ve been growing at speed and needed an office bigger than our old spot on King Street, so we jumped at the chance to move on.
Another advantage is that we have a second room in this office where we can conduct interviews or formal meetings, away from the hustle and bustle of the main desks. Although, confession time, it’s currently pretty full of cleaning supplies.
We’ve also got our own kitchen and plenty of open space for us to settle into and make our own. We’re at the stage of our development as a business that we need to figure out how we want our offices to feel, and how we go about achieving that feeling. It’s a fun challenge, and one that’s an exciting prospect to take on in the new office!
Additionally, just as we’re at a pretty crucial stage of our development, the building where our new office is, Deben House, is also building itself up.
In fact, Lawrence Hill at large is one of the developing areas of Bristol, having been approved for a pretty sizeable endowment fund in July. It’s nice to think of our business as being part of the change and contributing, in some way, to improving this part of the city. Or maybe we’re just being sentimental. Either way, hopefully we’re going to be staying put for some time to come!
Here is our final article from Gleem Startup Serial. Check it now !
Utilising the opportunity for interns
Gleem was growing but we had limited funds. I started researching apprentices and other ways to help keep costs low. I found that the University of Bristol had a fantastic internship scheme available.
I set up some vacancies for ‘Business Development’ interns. Over the next month the applicants started rolling in.
I conducted some interviews and was amazed by the calibre of the applicants.
I ended up taking on 3 interns: Jay, who was an articulate and well rounded editor of the university newspaper, Khurram who was studying his masters in accountancy, and Pili, a graphic designer.
Myself and these three interns were Team Gleem. We moved into an office that was large enough for the four of us, and set to work developing the business.
The University of Bristol was invaluable in helping Gleem find interns.
Without these internships, Gleem would have struggled to grow in the early days, but the support of the University of Bristol was fantastic: it offset the cost of growing and enabled the interns to gain some fantastic experience working in a start-up.
Something that doesn’t happen too often with Universities relentlessly focussing on students applying for graduate schemes.
The internships were for a limited amount of time, so I decided the best thing to do would be to address these periods as ‘projects’, letting them focus on working towards achieving a specific goal instead of just using up hours ineffectively.
We talked about it and identified which projects would utilise their skills and interests the most, enabling them to really dig their teeth into something that they care about.
This is the method I’ve decided to focus on in every job role and hire I make at Gleem.
Based upon their interest and skill set so as to make the most of the time available.VISIT WEBSITE
The King Street Office
I started this business in my bedroom and after a few months moved down to a dining table.
From here I had started renting a single desk space at www.meanwhilecreative.co.uk where I met some lovely people.
I utilised the University of Bristol for interns and needed more space, which I fortunately found in the same business. The business felt like it was becoming something: it wasn’t just me now and we had our own space!
The space we had was fine- it was rough around the edges in terms of its finishings, but it served its purpose, providing us with a private space we could use. We were here for four months when I found a great space that was up for rent.
It was on King Street, next to the historic landmark; the Old Vic. It was also finished really well and was available to be moved into immediately.
The rent was higher and it was too much space, but it was something that we could grow into, so I took it.
The extra space and resulting extra cost could be offset by hiring out desks, which would have the added benefit of introducing a diverse range of people to the office. In short, the newfound space had no drawbacks!VISIT WEBSITE
Recruiting: Getting it wrong
Gleem was growing and it was feeling good.
I’d been in business for about 6 months and it felt like the right time to step it up a level: I was going to hire someone to work full time.
I had interns working part time, but this was a big commitment to the business.
I didn’t really know how to recruit, so I started reading online about it.
I posted some job adverts on free resources like www.indeed.co.uk and received a few applicants.
Then I got contacted by a recruiter. I listened to the perfected sales patter dismissively, but then they hooked me with one line: if you let the new employee go before their probationary period, I would receive a full refund.
I interviewed a few applicants, and can’t say I was particularly impressed by the quality, which got me second guessing this recruiter. I gave him one last chance and he sent someone who I thought would work well in the business: A young London girl who seemed ambitious.
I decided to hire her and she started working whilst my interns finished up their work at Gleem.
Month 1 seemed to go quite well, I allowed her to find her feet, whilst offering up responsibility and she seemed to react well.
Then things started to take a turn. She had booked a holiday in Germany and for the fortnight before this holiday she acted as if she wasn’t working. She was lethargic and uninterested. I had to really motivate her to work, and generated a mediocre list of tasks to perform before leaving for her holiday.
I had sought someone who would be dedicated to the business and who would be viewing it as a great opportunity for growth, but when I discovered that half of this list of tasks had not even been attempted.
I realised I had made a bad hiring decision. I decided that even though she was only holiday, because of the level of commitment I told her that I expected that it would be ok to call her to clarify what had gone wrong.
I was greeted with an aggressive and dismissive person on the other end of the line, who may as well have sworn at me for interrupting her trip abroad.
I decided that I no longer wanted someone like that working at Gleem as it was not ‘on brand’, and so let her go.
When it became time to receive a refund for the placement fee from the recruiter, I discovered that this ‘full refund’ was actually a lie from a recruiter who was about to leave his post, and was looking to make a quick placement (and the subsequent commission).I had to fight with the company but eventually received my full refund.
It was great to have a try-before-you-buy opportunity due to the cheeky recruiter, however in hindsight I can see that I hired badly.
I let emotion play too large a factor in why I hired someone: I liked her, she was straight talking and I based my decision upon that alone. I didn’t reference check her or anything.
So that was my first hire. It went badly, but again there were some great lessons to take from the experience.VISIT WEBSITE
Managing Finances In Gleem
When I started Gleem, I did it with a very small budget. I also opted to not pay myself, because I’d prefer to hire someone and grow the business further. I do however pay myself a salary, but this takes the form of a director’s loan that increases in size each month.
This was the stance I decided to take. My outlook was that some sacrifice now would pay off in the long run with a larger business.
This has been going on for about 18 months now. I have been resourceful in keeping my living costs low, however have struggled at times. Going out and doing things can be really tough if you are living in an overdraft…so I began to transfer small amounts to myself to fund my out-of-work lifestyle, not to the value of my salary, but enough to keep me hovering around the £0 mark.
However the first time I did this it was like turning on a tap: I had the ability to go out again!
I had taken a long term loan from my family and was now spending a portion of this, on the company card.
Initially I didn’t see the issue with this, as when I put beers with potential and current customers through on our books as 100% business it felt fine, but over a few months I realised how it could be deemed inappropriate.
Nowadays I transfer a small salary to myself, enabling me to enjoy my time with my girlfriend and friends, but avoiding taking money out of the company account.
This is the best way for me, as although I own 100% of the business, it felt like it broke a weird line between what is a work cost and what isn’t, and the sooner I made a distinction between the two, I felt much more at ease.VISIT WEBSITE
Starting social media and finding our feet
Social media is a powerful tool: free access to a HUGE number of potential customers. But how do you use it correctly?
I did research into other local cleaning companies and found that they all seem to post, tweet, comment links to their websites…and that’s it…not particularly inspiring.
I opted instead to ‘become the expert’: I bought a Readers Digest encyclopaedia of ‘Extraordinary Uses for Ordinary Things’, and set searching through it, identifying tips and tricks that could be distilled down to the 140 character twitter limit.
I invested 3 full days into the process, but at the end had 6 months of tweets scheduled into Hootsuite, waiting to go out, one per day, and differing times. The campaign had limited success: I did gather some new followers, but no bookings.
I decided to start speaking to some contacts I had: in particular Wriggle. Wriggle is an app that offers last minute offers to great independent bars and restaurants across Bristol and their social media interaction was awesome.
We realised that tips of the day, although useful, was actually pretty bland and so set out establishing a strategy and schedule to our social media, integrating a variety of them, including Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn.
We wanted to become ‘popular’.
The aim for Gleem isn’t to promote our deals, our offers and to directly aim for sales. We instead want to be an educational, interesting presence. If people like what we read, relate to it, and appreciate it, then hopefully, if they do ever need a clean, instead of searching Google (the modern equivalent to flicking through the yellow pages), they’ll think of Gleem and search for our website instead!
So, we have hired a new Head of Marketing to take care of everything that ‘marketing’ means.
We came up with a strategy, we push the right type of content (images, longer posts, short videos, etc) across the right mediums, and by maintain a variety to the content, we (hopefully) maximise our reach to relevant people.
We love our cleaners
Our stock phrase here at Gleem is ‘adding sparkle’.
We use it to steer our customers away from the event of cleaning, and towards the idea of a Gleem clean being an experience: a seamlessly operated clean, with happy cleaners, who are friendly, professional and go the extra distance, ensuring our customers’ satisfaction.
But the metaphor ‘adding sparkle’ doesn’t end there; we use it to talk about our opportunity to provide clean drinking water to India through Frank Water.
We use it to outline the professionalism and kind nature of our operatives on the end of the phone, live chat and emails.
The most poignant place we enjoy saying we ‘add sparkle’ is regarding our cleaners: I started the business because I wanted to build a business that people enjoy working for.
I didn’t want to feel bossed about and undervalued, and so why would I want anyone else at my business to?
From Day 1, we have focussed on finding cleaners who identify with the service that we are looking to provide.
We vet our cleaners thoroughly (http://www.gleem.co.uk/portfolio/meet-the-team) and so, when they start, we know that they are the right fit for us, we are the right fit for them and together we can provide an amazing service for Bristol and Bath citizens.
And it works!
My conversations with other cleaning companies mark this difference: the comparative churn rates of our workers.
Gleem has barely let go of any cleaners since the day we started, whereas other firms talk to me about the volume of turnover being the main sticking point in the businesses. They struggle to expand because they keep losing their cleaners, whereas we are growing strongly, primarily due to our commitment to finding the best: this may take more time, but it is worth it for the long term sustainability of the business.VISIT WEBSITE
Benefits of paying for directory listings
As I’m sure anybody who works in a small business will agree with: online directories are extremely annoying.
Take up a free listing on their sites and they will hound you, trying to sell premium listings, web design, SEO, even the kitchen sink.
At this point of the business, I had managed to avoid the majority of these, as I couldn’t justify the extortionate cost of a listing on a website I had never heard of, but then I got called by the big boys: Yell and Yelp.
I got sucked into the sales pitches and ended up taking up their offers for paid advertising. What did I discover from paying for Yell and Yelp advertising? In my opinion, it totally isn’t worth it.
It was early days, and we were trying to be as frugal as possible with our spending: focussing on advertising like Google Adwords that has an immediate ROI that is extremely measureable.
I had made bad decisions and was tied into two 12 month contracts, and was receiving nothing in return. I let this frustrate me, and researched whether paid Yelp or Yell advertising was supposedly any good for small businesses: and I discovered the answer to be a resounding No.
We still focussed on trying to build an identity on these sites, and invested decent time into optimising our pages, but in Bristol UK, where no directory has a large portion of market share (in the USA Yelp is a powerhouse of a directory).
This is by far the most negative blog post I’ve written, but paying for this advertising did teach us one lesson:
Some things do require a punt, as they may pay huge dividends, but if research proves that it’s unlikely to be a profitable venture, it’s probably worth avoiding.
We learnt a valuable lesson from paying for this advertising, and won’t be doing it again so spontaneously.
All my time was spent looking into business, cleaning, and into cleaning businesses.
I’ve joined a number of forums and trawled through them, posting on occasion, then I located the holy grail: ‘Entrepreneur Ride Along’: a community that was part of the well known website www.reddit.com.
Entrepreneur Ride Along was started by Washington D.C based Rohan Gilkes: founder of Lawn Tribe and Maids in Black. He started it to document how he began his lawn care website, the processes he went through and what he focussed on.
He later transferred this across to Maids in Black, a cleaning company.
I had located an amazing resource, and off the back of his foundations, many other people in the USA had followed suit and started their own companies.
This meant there was a community of active, ambitious entrepreneurs talking about cleaning that I could join: what a result!
A few days later I received a phone call from an irate customer: we’d broken their hob and they were moving out of their home in 2 days.
My cleaner sent me photo of the clean and I couldn’t see and breakage, but the customer was keep saying that they did it.
I jumped onto Entrepreneur Ride Along and asked what I should do: almost everyone told me the same thing: replace the hob and take the cost hit.
At this early stage in the business even one piece of bad feedback could limit the potential of the business from the outset.
Fortunately my dad is an electrician and helped me out: we bought a new hob, went to the property and replaced the hob.
I’m still not convinced that the cleaners broke it, but at least we avoided a raging criticism online!
This is what was in my head. A well-satisfied customer will bring repeat sales.
That’s exactly what happened.VISIT WEBSITE