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Read how Ashley’s summer job at college “back in the day”, turned into a full-time career and made him his own boss. And how his move to Northampton and training in music technology opened up his window cleaning world to the world-wide-web!
Some of the questions we cover:
"So, it happened purely by chance!
I was at college at the time, doing a course in music technology as my dream was to work in media or be a music producer. Long days in the classroom and the studio lead to a bit of cabin fever so I was looking for something different to do. A friend of mine was a window cleaner and he asked me if I could help him out and it sort of spiralled from there. I learnt the skills of the trade with him and cleaned windows part-time throughout my college course. Well, I started earning a reputation in the trade as a reliable hard worker and I ended up helping out a few other window cleaners on their rounds and this really taught me a lot.
Well, you learn that everyone has their own way of working and running a business. One size doesn’t fit all and different things work for different people. Understanding this early on taught me to keep my eyes open, learn from others and adapt my style to suit my business. It also inspired me to share what I’ve learnt with others and is an important part of what I do on my YouTube channel.
By the time I graduated I had already built up my own round and so had a ready-made business to go into. With bills to pay, I put my music producer dreams on hold and focused on building up my business in Sussex, which is where I grew up.
Then I met my wife…
We got married and then decided to relocate to Northampton to be closer to family. I had a couple of squeegees and a ladder – but that was it! I had no round, no clients and not much in the way of savings to tide us over. So it really was a completely fresh start in a completely new place! Perhaps I was a little bit naive, but I was also incredibly determined to make a go of things and so I canvassed all day, every day until I had built up a round. Some days I wouldn’t get a thing and other days I’d hit on a street with no window cleaner and pick up every other house.
It can be tough and you’ve really got to be motivated to succeed.
I had built up a successful traditional window cleaning round in Northampton and although I was enjoying being my own boss, I was getting a bit disheartened by the £15 - £20 houses and started to look for the “big scores”. Well, I’m up a ladder, (this was back in the day!) what else can I do whilst I’m here. That’s when I thought about gutter clearing, I could scoop the contents into a bucket with my hands. Then when I was up the ladder, I’d think the patio is a bit slippery, perhaps I could clean that as well. I already had a good customer base and they knew I offered a quality window cleaning service so it made sense to offer them more cleaning services.
So after months of canvassing the idea with my existing customers, I felt confident enough that the work was there and I decided to go ahead and take the plunge. To pay for the equipment I sold off some of my further afield window cleaning rounds which meant I could focus my business closer to home and spend less time and money travelling. The investment paid back fairly quickly and within months I was seeing a good profit which motivated me to reinvest in equipment to offer more services. To capitalise on the gutter cleaning I bought a gutter vacuum and then I expanded into fascia and conservatory roof cleaning as this all seemed to fit together.
Not really. I built my round up through my initial canvassing then gained a reputation as a quality and trusted window cleaner. Seeing my customers once or twice a month I could let them know what additional services I offered and being known, regular and reliable they would say “oh Ashley’s doing this now, we’ll give him a go at that this new thing”
…and it just went from there.
And now I’ve been doing it for so long, it tends to be repeat business from existing customers or enquiries that come from the website, social media or YouTube.
Window cleaning, gutter cleaning, pressure washing, facias, UPVC and plastics, conservatory roofs, and then the roof cleaning is the latest one.
It’s important to have the variety, not only is every day different but it guarantees me year-round business. There are key seasons for pressure washing and gutter clearing, but no matter what I know I’ve got my regular cleaning customers which keeps the business ticking over. I like that.
Well, it actually started out as a way to show my wife around Northampton!
I’d come home from canvassing or working and tell her about this amazing village I’d found, or property that I worked on. I was really exploring our new home town as I was building up the business and wanted to find a way to share that with her.
Then camera phones started improving and I would take lots of photos or projects that I’d completed and places I’d seen. Realising that the before and after photos were a great way to show the quality of my work, I’d compiled a folder that I’d take with me when I was canvassing as a “CV” to show new customers. Well, I didn’t always get the reaction I was expecting. Sometimes they would blank me, it was really weird! Perhaps the customer felt pressurised by my little folder of photos, so I decided to build a website, that way the customer could view my work at his / her leisure. As I diversified into new cleaning services I started adding more before and after photos along with more information to help the customer. It’s at this point I started thinking about doing the videos to promote each service I offered.
With my college background in media, I suppose I was a bit ahead of the curve on the video and social media side and so I had a pretty good understanding of how it all worked. When I first started out as a window cleaner “back in the day”, I was fortunate enough to be part of a network of tradesmen who would share their tips and ideas. I saw YouTube as a way to recreate this knowledge-sharing network and give back to a larger community. It gives me a great platform to share my experience and knowledge with a larger audience, but also learn new ways and get feedback from my viewers.
My big break came from a social media competition that Unger was running to promote the Stingray. I thought, it’s a new product, I’m curious to know what that’s all about and I’m sure I’m not alone here, so I got hold of one and made a video. The reaction was amazing with lots of views, likes and shares and that really spurred me on to cover more topics and aspects of my business. From hints and tips, through to what equipment I’m using and the different jobs I’m doing, it’s all there on the channel!
I like to get the comments! The videos are just me sharing what I think people want to know or would be interested in. It’s always a challenge to come up with new ideas and topics that I think are going to help and interest my community which is where the feedback is so important. It’s my channel and my opportunity to share my experience and my opinions with a great audience. I’ve been getting more feedback lately about how the channel has inspired and helped them grow their own business – and that’s so rewarding knowing that you’re helping others.
So, I’ve never had a real job apart from a paper round!
I love being able to call the shots and take the business in the direction that I chose. It’s my decision what services I offer and where I invest my time. I used to work 5-6 days a week but now I’m focusing on having a better work/life balance so if I want to spend the afternoon with the kids then I can.
Reputation is everything!
You’ve got to be disciplined, motivated and remember that every customer is the guardian of your reputation. Building a business involves building a reputation and so every job and every encounter with each and every customer is so important.
The great thing about this profession is the opportunity for repeat business opportunity. Everything you clean will get dirty again so provided you offer a great service and customer experience there’s every chance that they’ll book you to do it again.
Give it a try, Diversify!
This has worked for me. It hasn’t been without its pitfalls but overall its paid back. I’ve always listened to what my customers have to say and looked into the services they have requested where it felt like the right fit for the business.
I’m not a “no” type of guy and I like to try different things, so some have been successful and others have been stressful! So, watch my videos, learn from my mistakes and find out where the profit is!
Many thanks to Ashley for his Time.
“Ashley’s claim to fame is that he cleans the windows for the person who invented the Wonderbra. Well, you can bet that they’re saying, the one and only YouTube sensation, Ashley Macintosh cleans my windows!” Pippa Neal, Head of Sales & Marketing.