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Lessons from my first 18 months in business

Lessons from my first 18 months in business

The last 18 months have been a huge journey - educational, tiring, inspiring and expensive. It's challenged my mental health to its limit, but I'm now out the other side and more positive and excited about Whip-It than I have been since I launched the business last July and here's why.......

As you may or may not know, as the pandemic set in, I left a very good job in the events industry and took a gamble to start my own business, crazy I know! The initial plan was to set up a convenience service for car owners where we would pick up their vehicle, take it to a garage and get it serviced, MOT'd and/or repaired and return it back to them.

Whip-It is now a Mobile Valeting and Detailing business! We do plan to launch the Maintenance side of the business in 2022, and although I'm not sure how we got here, we are sticking with valeting and detailing for now.

I have made loads of mistakes, such as employing more office staff than I had valeters, rushing the interview process, recruiting the wrong people and not truly understanding the role in which I was recruiting for, as in I had no valeting experience, and didn't truly understand the day to day struggles of my guys on the road.

The staff turnover was high which in turn was very expensive due to insurance cancellation fees and loss of earnings during their training periods. This along with the pressure of a high wage bill for office staff really took its toll on my mental health and I didn't know what to do.

The definition of insanity is trying to do the same thing and expecting different results (and having more office staff than valeters), so after going through about 6 valeters in 6 months, some of whom were sacked and others who just left, but something had to change. I stripped the business right back to its bare bones so it was just myself, Darryl my Head Valeter and Georgia, Head of Sales and Marketing and decided to get on the tools myself. I am ashamed to say that I felt a sense of embarrassment about doing this. I have worn a suit most of my working life and the thought of being on the side of the road valeting vehicles was damaging for my ego. I had to put my ego to one side and do what was best for the business, my employees and my investment - I can honestly say it's the best decision I've made and here's why...

The role of a valeter at Whip-It as it stands is a lone working role and this created lots of issues. There was a lack of policing on jobs which could affect quality, and staff suffered from loneliness which had effects on their mental health. I think this was another reason for the high turnover of valeting staff. Bonuses, targets and staff gatherings just weren't enough to keep people motivated. They seemed at their happiest when doing jobs alongside others and when they had new staff to train. When doing the job myself, I do enjoy it, there is a great sense of achievement at the end of each job and seeing the customers' reactions is rewarding. However, there is no getting away from the fact that some people may feel lonely, especially when something goes wrong or you're up against time. I now know it can be quite demoralising and stressful, and with no-one there to help you can start to spiral quite quickly. And from a business perspective, the chance of this becoming a scalable operation seemed more impossible than ever. What have I done, I was thinking.

The idea of a two person team in each van had been discussed previously, but it was always deemed not possible as we felt the 2nd person wouldn't save enough time on each job to make it a cost effective way to run the business. Of course I didn't know this because I hadn't done it myself until now.......

In steps Georgia Holbrook, loving partner and Mother to our beautiful daughter Millie and the one on the end of the phone who has great relationships with all our customers. Since I'd been on the road, Georgia had been struggling with working alone as well, with no-one to bounce ideas off or ask questions when things got tough.

So we decided to split our time together, devoting half our time to developing the two person valeting team and the other half to sales and marketing together.

I am delighted to say we have nailed it, we now have a system that allows us to complete all our jobs in half the time it takes 1 person. I went out on the road with one of my employees this week who was very apprehensive when he saw the amount of jobs in his diary, he didn't believe there was any chance we could finish it all before dark, even with the two of us. We finished the day 45 minutes early with every customer delighted with the service. He was previously very against the idea of a two person team as he just felt it wouldn't work, but after seeing what was possible Darryl is now fully on board and excited about what this means for our business.

The benefits this will have on my business are gigantic. I can now double the size of my business without having to buy more vans and equipment, it opens up the recruitment pool because I don't need to look for someone over 25 with a driving licence, it will improve mental health because valeters will no longer be working alone, it will create more accountability because each valeter will be expecting the other to work to a specific standard and create a better team bond as everyone will have a lot more contact with each other.

With the launch of Whip-It Detailing and the Whip-It Detailing product range coming soon, plus the exciting news we will be moving into our new premises in the new year, things are moving in the right direction.

None of this would've been possible if I hadn't decided to get on the tools myself and I can now honestly say I love it. Each job is therapy where I don't have to think about anything except the job in hand which is great for me and as a business we are going from strength to strength. Every time I've doubted myself and nearly cracked, I've managed to pull myself together and go again. Each time I deal with adversity I am closer to achieving the vision I set out.

We will be looking to further diversify into Maintenance and Car Sales when the time is right and I'm excited for the next chapter.

In amongst all of this, Whip-It was a finalist in for Best New Business at both Bristol Life Awards and Business Leader Awards.

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