After a lifetime of adventure and breaking boundaries at work, Vicky Price set up her own business in 2017 and has not looked back. Her company Best Choice Cleaning Company currently has 7 employees and works with a number of contractors. They offer a one-stop-shop for businesses, in London and Kent, who enjoy the ease of being able to have all of their office cleaning, maintenance, waste management and renovation needs met by one firm.
Thanks to Vicky for taking time out of her busy schedule to complete our start-up Q&A.
What is your background and what does it bring to starting your own business?
I feel pretty unique as a business person because I’m in my 40s, I’m working class and I left school at 16. Most of the female entrepreneurs that I read about in the media are graduate high-flyers in their 20s and 30s. They’re well connected, often wealthy and they tend to run glamorous companies. I feel like I’m on the opposite side of the spectrum of that but I know that there are other women who are just like me. I hope that I can be an inspiration to them.
In terms of my personality, I’ve always had an adventurous spirit and I’ve been happy to grab life by the horns. Before I started Best Choice Cleaning Company, I worked supporting the homeless and people with drug and alcohol dependencies. It was emotionally challenging work but I really enjoyed being able to support people in transforming their lives.
Prior to this, I worked as one of Rentokil’s first female pest controllers. I loved the job. I enjoyed the freedom of not being chained to a desk and I enjoyed getting out there and meeting new people. Luckily I have a strong stomach so the creepy crawlies – and there were a lot of them – never bothered me. After this job I spent three months working as a fisherwoman in Australia. I knew that prawn fishing wasn’t the job for me after 24 hours but unfortunately the boat wasn’t going anywhere near land for 3 months so I was stuck in the middle of the ocean with hundreds of thousands of prawns and 12 weeks to reassess my life. You learn a lot from every job and as a fisherwoman, I learned to appreciate the hard work that goes into providing a nation with food. I also learned a lot about myself and what I needed from a career to be content.
These combined experiences gave me the confidence that I needed to start my own company. I had good people skills, good management skills, I could work under pressure and I knew how important it was to treat employees well. Something, in my experience, that not all bosses take into consideration.
Why did you start your business?
I started my business for a number of reasons. I was burned out from my work within the charitable sector. The role was mentally and emotionally draining. Clients could occasionally become violent at a moment’s notice and it was heartbreaking when clients who you’d built relationships with over the years lost their lives to drugs and violence.
Over time it felt as if we were becoming less effective in our work as the focus shifted from helping people to get back on their feet towards filling forms and ticking boxes. My days were spent dealing with red-tape and budget cuts.
I was also overlooked for a promotion that had been promised to me. But worst of all, my mother died.
We’d always had a strong relationship so when I lost her, the bottom fell out of my world. She was such a big support to me and her passing made me reassess everything in my life. Part of my drive in setting up my business was to do something with my life that would make her proud.
What are your values and what role do they play in the business?
Honesty, integrity, never being afraid of hard work and treating people as I want to be treated. As an employee I’ve been witness to terrible service from cleaning and maintenance companies: moody staff, little evidence of any cleaning being done and zero value for money. I would always end up rolling up my sleeves and cleaning the office myself once the cleaners had gone just because the office was still dirty.
It made me very aware of how differently I would run my own cleaning business. For me, I don’t understand why you wouldn’t want to go the extra mile for your clients.
On the flip side, you also have to wonder why the cleaning staff were moody. As someone who spent many years of my life as an employee, I understand that the experience isn’t so rosy for everyone. I make a point of treating my staff fairly and with respect and I’m always very open to hearing their suggestions of how I can help them to perform their jobs better.
What are the high points?
I had a lot of fear in starting a business just because I didn’t come from a family of business people or have friends who were in business. Everything was new to me and there were some steep learning curves. But honestly, just being able to realise my dream has been a high point for me. Having autonomy has also been gratifying.
Happy customers. It helps me know that the business is on the right track and we’re doing what I set out to do.
Being able to make a positive difference in people’s lives. This has always been important to me in my work. It’s something I came to realise on the fishing boat! I’m glad that I’ve been able to continue this through my Best Choice. We’ve had a big opportunity to make a difference working on the frontline during COVID. There has been so much fear around and you can just see the wave of relief on people’s faces when we come in to do our deep cleans.
What were the toughest challenges and how did you get over them?
COVID-19, it’s been hard for so many businesses but imagine offering commercial cleaning and maintenance when everyone is working from home! Honestly, though, it didn’t affect us as much as I’d imagined as we work with a lot of social housing clients who needed to keep operations going.
Staffing is also tricky at all stages of business, particularly at the beginning. Working in repair and maintenance you can get a lot of alpha males who don’t want to take any direction from a woman and who think you haven’t got a clue about how things work just because you’re female. Fortunately, it’s just a small minority of men but they do sadly still exist. The best way I’ve found of managing them is just by making them fully aware of my knowledge and experience and establishing strong boundaries right from the start.
How did you fund the business to start with?
I bootstrapped my business. I didn’t have family or friends to assist me so I took in lodgers, I downgraded my car, sold things to raise funds and I made sure that I had six months’ worth of savings so that I could try to give the business my best shot.
What marketing tactics do you use?
Much of my business has come from word-of-mouth referrals. Satisfied customers spread the word so the best thing to do in any business is to give your customer the best possible service and experience.
Outside of this social media and SEO is important for all businesses these days so we make sure to utilise this.
Where do you get support from?
Friends and family and clients too. Clients have been so supportive in championing my business without me even having to ask. Friends and family help to ensure that I stick to a good work-life balance.
Who has inspired you and why?
My mum. She was very hardworking and would have loved to have had her own business. In fact, she did try to set up a catering business. She taught me and my sister that it didn’t matter that we grew up on an estate or that we were working class, we could still achieve our goals. She really encouraged us to follow our dreams and turn them into reality.
What are your future plans or goals?
Currently, we offer services in the London and Kent area, I plan to include more regions and just start to slowly grow the business at a steady pace.
Three things you have learned?
To always give my best
Communication is key
The importance of being organised and keeping up with your paperwork.
Your best piece of advice?
How will you ever know if you don’t try? Take that first step no matter how small it is and build from there. You may just surprise yourself and end up with the life that you always dreamed of.
Best Choice Cleaning Company – Website www.bestccc.co.uk