It’s the end of July and I should be writing about my annual Sweep Swap.
Regular readers will know in the last three years, I’ve spent a few days over summer shadowing a sweep in a different part of the country.
But this year’s didn’t happen. Well, sort of didn’t.
I had made tentative arrangements to shadow a sweep but then something happened. A chance conversation which basically led to the expansion of Mr Soot Chimney Sweep.
My colleague Peter had been helping out occasionally, fetching and carrying while I was doing the sweeping. Back in February, on the way home from another busy day, he mentioned how he may like to try his hand at sweeping.
He’d seen me do it often enough and fancied a go himself. He’d done the odd sweep here and there but wanted to do more. I was delighted at his interest, so immediately encouraged it.
Then, an hour or so later, having dropped him off and pondered on it a bit more, I asked if he fancied doing the full Guild of Master Chimney Sweeps Training Course.
He did, so the date was set for him to go down to Surrey for his 4-day stint.
I decided to join him on the jaunt down south, as it would enable me to catch up with two sweeping companies who I’d actually visited in 2019 and 2020, namely Paul from SweepSmart and Josh of H Firkins & Sons respectively.
Both companies were larger than the traditional ‘one man and a van’ sweeps which make up a majority of sweeps in the UK.
Although I did shadow both of them again, the conversations this time were more business than sweep technique-orientated.
Systems. Processes. HR. Managing people. All the so-called ‘boring’ but absolutely vital stuff needed to grow a business.
Paul and Josh are great company and we get on very well. Both are excellent at what they do and I find them very easy to talk to.
Following Peter’s four days, it was time to head back north for a period of intense on-site training before his final Guild assessment.
Having someone under you tutelage isn’t for everyone, but I actually enjoyed it. We tackled everything – open fires, stoves, woodburners, nests, integrity tests, CCTV inspections – the lot!
By the end of May, he was ready for his final assessment so we headed to the Cambridgeshire/Suffolk border.
Peter went for his assessment while I had a much-needed catch up with Lawson Wight, chairman of the Guild and one of the people who trained me when I first started out.
Like Paul and Josh, Lawson is extremely knowledgeable and, having been a sweep for decades, he has pretty much seen it all. I spent the day running through my business expansion ideas and stress-testing them with him.
His experience and advice has always been really useful, and this occasion was no exception.
The day ended with Peter walking through the door and revealing he’d passed his Guild assessment.
Peter had apparently played a blinder, especially one one exceptionally filthy chimney, and feedback from his assessor was impressive.
After a well-deserved cuppa and quick photo op with Lawson, welcoming Peter to the Guild, we were back on our way up the M1.
So yes, this year’s Sweep Swap has been more like a series of meetings with old friends who helped me on sketch out what became a fully fledged growth plan for the business.
The response has been overwhelming, and I’m so grateful for all those sweeps who have been in touch since to offer their congratulations and support.
The most striking thing has been that there are a number of sweeps who are thinking of doing the same as I’ve done – taking on staff and expanding.
In fact there were more than I realised. Then again, there aren’t many ways of floating such ideas other than on the phone or in face-to-face meetings which, of course, have been in very short supply over the past 18 months!
For me, the whole process of growing the business has been fascinating both professionally and personally.
I’m the sort of person who really enjoys learning and sharing ideas. I like seeing people doing well and getting ahead, regardless of who or where they are.
Things like Sweep Swap are just part of an overall quest for me to learn more, be better educated in my chosen field and to improve each and every day. This now encompasses business management and growth.
As I’ve said previously, the decision we’ve made earlier in the year really do stand us in good stead for this autumn and winter when the busy sweeping season starts.
None of it was planned to happen so soon, but then again life is all about recognising opportunities and making the right calls at the right time.
So yes, as for Sweep Swap 2021, I didn’t quite pan out quite as we initially imagined.
But on reflection, I’d say it was actually better.
Far, far better…