I was offered a fantastic opportunity to speak at a recent ON Business Membership event, prior to the Sandi Thom gig at Carnegie Hall on 13th April 2014. I knew that some people would miss out and would want to hear what I had to say, so I have published my whole speech here on the Get It Done Cleaning Blog.
I’d like to personally thank Bill Mair for asking me to speak and for organising another great event for his members.
In the past few months Get It Done Cleaning Services has had a lot of press regarding the adoption of the living wage. In his speech, Derek Cowan talks about how the living wage has a huge amount of potential benefits, not just for Get It Done Cleaning Services, but for the employees of Get It Done, their families, other local businesses and the economy as a whole. Read the full speech to get to grips with Derek’s philosophy of business and how people are the most important aspect of any successful business.
Transcribed Speech by Derek Cowan on 13th April 2014
No man becomes rich unless he enriches others
It’s such a great thing to be asked to speak and to be in a room with fellow business owners that I’m sure could teach me a thing or two, and have done.
Also, being in a building like this, Carnegie Hall, named after Andrew Carnegie, it feels amazing, I’ve got such an affinity with Andrew Carnegie, I think he’s done such great things.
At the same time, Andrew Carnegie, as you’ll maybe know, was a real taskmaster with his employees, he really did push the boundaries with them, but at the same time, he was the world’s richest man when he sold his business. He soon realised that after that, he wanted to give back, because there was no point in dying a rich man, so he gave hundreds of millions of pounds to charities, to build libraries, build theatres. He was an exceptional man in the end.
I hope you’re all looking forward to hearing Sandi, because I had a look at Sandi Thom, and she’s had a struggle, she really has, she’s fought really hard to get where she is. She’s got a real can do attitude, she never gives up, and that’s something that for anybody in business, we really need to have that can do attitude, never give up, because it’s really tough at times. We all struggle from day to day in our businesses, so in the music industry especially, that’s something that…if somebody makes it, you’ve got to give them a pat on the back, because when you’re hot, you’re hot, and when you’re not, you’re not (Click to tweet this). So it’s really important to grasp opportunities when you can, and run with them.
Treat others as you would like to be treated
Andrew Carnegie once said, no man becomes rich unless he enriches others, so I kind of like that in a sense that he has given back. I think we’ve all been stuck in a rut from time to time, and personally I have. Waking up in the morning, having that feeling in your stomach, don’t want to go to work, all these sorts of things. When I left school I was kind of forced into a job and I didn’t like it, I hated it in fact, and I went from 16 years old into an apprenticeship and then hated it, and that really ground on me, and it took me six years to actually realise that this isn’t for me. I was a fabricator welder at the dockyard on Rosyth, and I got no thanks from the management, I got no thanks from anybody, to be honest, it was just tough, it was really tough, and it got to me mentally and it just wasn’t good.
The thing is nowadays in society, we don’t want to be treated unfairly, we don’t want to work in conditions that are not good. We won’t tolerate low pay. If we’re not getting paid a decent wage, then what happens? We look elsewhere, we want to make a difference in our own lives, we don’t want to be on a minimum wage, we want to be improving all the time.
If you want things to change, you’ve got to change
I remember when I first started my business I was pretty much skint. I had no money whatsoever and for those that know me, I was a Remax estate agent and when the recession hit in 2008 it crippled me, it had a big effect on my life. When we were selling houses we were selling them and we were getting great money for people and all the rest of it, and then Northern Rock hit and it was like…what’s just happened? I think we’ve probably all had some kind of effect from that recession, but for me personally, I was actually doing okay. I was earning good money, driving a nice car, all the good things in life, and then all of a sudden it was taken from right under me, because I was self-employed. I wasn’t on a wage, I couldn’t just say, oh well, that’s just the way it is, that completely drained me. So I went from earning x amount of pounds to zero. All the savings I had made, all the credit cards I had, they were all maxed, everything, it pretty much bankrupted me and it was really hard.
What I did, I finally realised after losing all hope that things were going to improve, that I needed to make a change, and what I did was I looked at various different industries, various different things I could do. I ended up starting a cleaning business based on everything I’d learned from Remax, the whole customer service aspect, the sales and marketing, everything that really helps in any kind of industry, really, but especially the cleaning because it was local set-up, there was a demand, and I went for it.
It was tough because I started with zero money, so I had my own vacuum cleaner from my house, got some cleaning materials from here and there, so very low cost. I had to borrow £600 from my dad just to buy a van and he wasn’t very supportive at the time, but last year he realised that being in business is actually a good thing. He gave me the money, I paid it off in weekly instalments and it was great. I had to give my car back that I had before, so I could get started.
Make people the core of your business
When I started the business I had the philosophy that it’s all about making money – about squeezing every single bit of profit that you can get from your customer and making a successful business – because I didn’t want to fail again and be in a position where I had zero money, so I thought, well, let’s make the most amount of money we can from our customers. I soon realised that was mental, completely backwards, and it’s not the way to run a successful business.
Instead of having the profits at the core of the business you need the people at the core of the business (Click to tweet this). If you put the people at the core and the customers round them, then the profits come, it’s a natural way to have a successful business. Focusing on getting the right people in your business has a great effect on your customers and if you’ve got happy customers it makes profit, so to me it was a defining moment about a year and a bit ago, which completely reversed the way I thought, because I wasn’t really progressing at the speed or the growth that I would like, so I had to change the way I was working. Because we had almost like a turnstile effect with our cleaners, I really had to make a change.
As business owners we can make a difference
I feel that we’re on the verge of something really big in the jobs market. Our unskilled workforce is really struggling, they’re working yet they don’t feel better off. They don’t feel motivated, they don’t feel like working is going to benefit them. Unfortunately us as business owners need to make a bit of a difference here and we need to speak to each other, we need to work together, we need to help focus the government and MPs and tell them exactly what’s going on, on the frontline.
As business owners, do we think that giving a well-paid job is unreasonable considering the output, motivated workers? I predict that employers that don’t embrace the living wage will result in a number of things happening. The government will enforce the living wage eventually and a workforce will demand this increase if their benefits are pulled apart. We might have other issues where our workers will be forcing the issue on us as employers and then local authorities will demand from us as business owners that we treat our people well. We already do, but what they want to see is that we’re paying them a fair wage. More importantly, the public, our clients, they want to see that we’re treating our people well. They don’t want to see us mistreating our workforce.
Adopting the living wage
So what is the living wage? Well, it’s not the minimum wage that’s currently enforced. The minimum wage is on a sliding scale at the moment, from £3.72 to £6.31, depending on the age. The minimum wage is supposed to help an under-skilled workforce and the living wage is necessary for someone to live outside of poverty. Someone that is on minimum wage will struggle to put food in their belly and this isn’t right, so we need to embrace this living wage. The living wage hourly rate is £7.65, irrelevant of age, so to give you an example, we have an apprentice that’s just finished their time and she was facing getting paid £5 something an hour. She’s now getting £7.65 an hour which is a massive increase. I’ve also seen a massive increase in her confidence, she’s hugely motivated to talk to her clients and to improve our business, it’s incredible.
The average worker for me will get an extra £30 a week in their pocket. That might not seem a lot to some people, but for someone that’s pretty much on the bare minimum, an extra £30, just think about what you could do with an extra £30 a week.
Everyone benefits from the living wage
When low skilled workers have a decent wage they spend. They’ll spend that money and it has a positive effect on our economy. Some of us might not pay the minimum or living wage, we might pay £20, £30, £40 an hour or more, but it doesn’t matter, because you’ve probably got businesses that sell goods or services, and this is where it’s so important to understand the living wage and know that it affects you – indirectly – but it affects you. Having a motivated unskilled workforce is having an amazing effect on the economy, and I predict that if this comes into play, then we’ll see another hike in our economy.
Attracting the best people
I think most of us have struggled at times to get the right people into our businesses, and paying the living wage not only motivates the good staff but attracts the very best that are out there, so what I’ve found is that we attract the best cleaners who want to work for us, and the cleaners that are with us want to stay with us, they want to recommend friends come and work for us, the output is so much higher, there are so many positives that comes from just paying a decent wage that it’s almost crazy to not pay anything less than that.
Changing from a cost proposition to a value proposition
I had a vision to see past the short term and look to building the future. My business introduced the living wage in January and since then I’ve had an exponential growth rate. A lot of people said it was crazy, they thought, why are you doing this, it’s going to cost you an arm and a leg, but what happened was the business changed from being a cost proposition to a value proposition, and that in itself, an extra couple of pounds to the customer, it doesn’t matter to them because we’ve built up a strong brand with strong ethics, and that to me is more important than anything, and the customer sees that.
The customer doesn’t mind paying that little bit extra, it’s not a lot of money in the grand scheme of things to them, to know that they can trust us, to know that they can work with us and know that things are going to get done right.
Do your people know that you value them?
As a business, our profits have increased, we’ve retained more customers, our customers are spending more with us and these are all great things for any business. At the end of the day, all the workforce wants to do is to feel valued, feel part of something big, know that you give a sh*t about them. Be fair, be firm, but more importantly, give them a wage they can live comfortably on, because this is what the country needs.
Keep it clean!