A MUM who couldn't even afford a vacuum launched a £3.5 million cleaning company with just £20 after failing her business A Level.
Rachael Flanagan, from Swansea, launched Mrs Bucket - pronounced Bouquet - when she was just 17, after spending her last £20 on flyers.
The business now has an annual turnover of £3.5 million - and is forecast to make £8 million over the coming years.
The mum-of-two, now 32, said: "I didn’t even have my own Hoover or mop and bucket, I had to use my customers’.
"But I had a white T-shirt embroidered with 'Mrs Bucket' that I got at the market.
"I used my last £20 to print out 5,000 flyers and started leafleting the area. Over the summer holidays I had a car full of my friends.
"We'd go around all the estates leaving flyers, then put them under the windscreen wipers of cars at the school.
"I built up my business from there and by 21 I had 18 staff working for me.
Rachael now employs 250 people across Wales and Bristol, and plans to more than double this over the next five years.
She has a three-year-old daughter called Sophia and an 11-month-old baby boy, Spencer, with fellow entrepreneur Daniel Stanley, 36.
She's been working since she was 15, waitressing for her dad's silver service business - and discovered her love of cleaning when she started doing the family home for pocket money.
She said: “My mum would come home and the lounge would be sparkling clean. I researched how to make the beds like they did in the hotels, too, as I wanted to put my own stamp on everything."
When I was starting out with my flyers, I didn’t expect my business to get this bigRachael Flanagan
Rachael took A Levels in business studies, media, art and IT.
She said: “When I had my business studies exam, we had to come up with a business plan and I just spent two hours writing about the cleaning business.
“On results day I remember tearing that piece of paper open and thinking, ‘I’ve really not done well.’ Then, when I saw a ‘U’ for ungraded (in business), I thought, ‘Stuff it.’
“I think that’s where my drive came from. I had this fire in my belly and failing did not put me off. The adrenaline just kept me going.
“Every person I spoke to was like, ‘Are you really going to do that? Why do you want to do cleaning?' They were quite down on me.
“I didn’t tell my mum for three years that I’d failed that A Level.
"To this day, I’ve never even gone to pick up my A Level certificates, because they didn’t mean anything to me.”
After leaving school, Rachael started working 60-hour weeks cleaning, as well as book keeping on the weekends.
“I also had a little workshop to do the books from, although I couldn’t afford to put money in the meter for electricity," she said.
“Every time I took someone on, I shadowed them for a couple of weeks to make sure they were up to standard.
“I’m fussy and have high standards. I’d look for the little things like whether they cleaned in the corners, their attention to detail and whether or not they cared about what they were doing."
At 21, Rachael won the UK Young Entrepreneur Award, which gave her the drive to keep growing the company.
She said: “When nominated, I had to be interviewed and I remember one of the judges coming in her black Mercedes to my tiny workshop with no heating in it.
"I was really nervous, but then I thought, ‘Stuff it, I just need to be myself'."
Rachael was so convinced she wasn't going to win that, hilariously, she was in the loos chatting to the housekeeper when her name was called.
After winning, she realised it was time to give up cleaning herself and learn more about growing the company.
She said: “We won our first commercial cleaning contract in 2010, when I was 23.
“Turnover at this point was £500,000 a year, then I was at a business event and they asked people to stand up and say what their goals were.
"I stood up in front of 500 people and said, ‘This year I will double the turnover of my business.’
“After saying it out loud, I had to make it happen. Lots of people had said to me before this point, ‘You’re just a Welsh girl, you’ll never do it.’ But I wanted to prove I could.
“There were some hiccups at the beginning. At one point I nearly went bankrupt because we had cash flow issues.
"I had to find £16,000 in a day to pay wages. I just cried on the end of the bed thinking, ‘What am I going to do?’
"In the end, I borrowed it from my family. But I wasn’t chasing up payments and it was a lesson I had to learn for myself about managing cash flow.”
At one point I nearly went bankrupt because we had cash flow issues. I had to find £16k in a day to pay wagesRachael Flanagan
By the time she was 24, Rachael had hit her target of a million-pound turnover.
In 2018, she sold the domestic side of her business for an undisclosed sum and turned Mrs Bucket into an entirely commercial cleaning company.
She said: “We’re in a big growth stage now. Over the next three to five years we expect turnover to hit £8m.
“We have 250 employees and will be expanding to 500 or 600. We’re across the whole of Wales and have just set up in Bristol. We’re looking to get into the education market, too, and see where that goes.”
Now a busy mum-of-two, Rachael still makes sure she takes time for herself.
She said: “I’m really organised. I’m a planner and schedule everything so I still manage to go to the gym three times a week and do a circuit class.
“My children are in the creche and with my mum and dad on a Monday, then my husband and I both take Friday off, which is my calming down day ready for the weekend.
“With children you really have to be in the moment with them, so you can’t do work stuff at that time.
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"When I was starting out with my flyers, I didn’t expect my business to get this big.
"I've had some amazing opportunities - attending the NATO summit in Newport in 2014 with world leaders like Barack Obama and I've visited Downing Street twice, meeting former Prime Minister David Cameron.
"I'm always so busy looking for more ways to grow, but I probably need to stop, look around and think, ‘Yes, I’ve done a good job’.”
In last week's Bossing It, we spoke to a woman who set up her beauty business from her kitchen table, now it's turned over £1 million and Zara McDermot is a fan.