Pieter de Villiers came to the UK in November 1997, with no plan at all. He says, “Since then I have spent a few nights sleeping on a bench in Green Park and managed a bar for 5 years. I met my wife, did a music degree, had one failed business, and in 2008 I started iSpark Electrical Limited with my business partner John. We started out just running around doing every possible job we could, no matter how small or where it was. Through a painful series of events, we ended up working for three estate agents in London. The guy John and I worked for before setting up on our own put his company into liquidation owing both of us a large sum of money so we took over the contracts.
We were busy working for the estate agents, but soon realised that there was very little money in it. Word of mouth started to build up and we started getting calls for larger jobs. John and I always said we just want to run a small company with our two vans on the road.
“But then I joined the EC. After attending the first monthly meeting, my brain changed, and not for the last time.
Working crazy hours…
“I realised that I could do so much more than being an electrician, going from job to job. We started getting introduced to larger jobs, meeting architects, surveyors and other contractors. We started getting busy, and at this point it was still just John and I working crazy hours (driving to Bristol at 4am, work till 6pm to be back for a job in London the next day). The first change I made was to hire an accountant. This stopped me having to do the accounting till 11pm, and gave me a bit more peace of mind, as I was never sure if I got the VAT or payroll right.
Two big boosts…
“Two events gave us a real boost: one was getting our first contract with Grainger Plc, the UK’s largest private landlord. One job with them led to another, and we are now working for several of their property managers, have a permanent maintenance contract for one of their portfolios, and also carry out inspections and repairs throughout London, Kent, Surrey and Sussex. We are also working with them on several refurbishment projects.
“The second boost came from being introduced to Temple Building Ltd in London. Our first job for them was our biggest at that point, but they didn’t know this! I had to drop everything and go for some three phase training between the time the contract was agreed and the day we had to start. The next job for them was a mews house and two flats.
Doubled our turnover…
“Since then we’ve worked on bigger and bigger jobs e.g. working on nine four bedroom new build houses and tendering for the refurbishment of 154 en-suite bedrooms over seven floors at the YMCA Forest building.
“Since I have been an EC member, we have doubled our turnover, profit, and personal income. We now employ five electricians; we’ve just taken delivery of two new vehicles, and we are on course to do more business in the next six months than we have done in the last two years. I have also not touched a screwdriver for nearly six months. I’ve been spending so much more of my time working ON the business instead of IN it.
“The biggest impact the EC has had on me is mindset! Attitude has been everything for us. Never saying “we can’t”. I might not know how, but I bet I can find someone who can teach me, before you find out!
Technology plays a big part…
“The other major factor in our success has been relentless customer service. It is very unusual for us not to be on your doorstep within 36 hours of ringing us. I don’t think the larger companies we work for know how relatively small we are. This is only made possible through having systems in place to deal with everything. Using technology plays a big part in this. There are costs involved, but they are far outweighed by the benefits. Every member of our staff gets an iPhone when they start, and we are now also rolling out iPads. I run every aspect of the company from my car, with an iPad. I need to know where everyone is, and also they have to know where they have to be. With the iCal system, anything I put in the diary automatically turns up on their phones. I don’t spend my time emailing or phoning staff, telling them where to be when jobs change or something urgent comes in.
I read a lot more…
“Nigel’s approach to commitments at the monthly meetings is also very handy. It is very difficult to stand up in a room with 300+ business owners and admit that through lack of effort, I did not get something done. This made the deadline for our new website unmovable.
“I have also taken the opportunity to have some Adwords training at EC, have started advertising in our local magazine, set up a Facebook page and ads, registered on LinkedIn, dabbled with Twitter, have set up a CRM system and am starting to get to grips with it, and am generally aiming much, much higher than I would have before learning so much from the EC. I also read a lot more than I used to. Once you open your mind, there’s so much to discover…“