Not too posh to push a hoover

Self-employed mother Victoria Clough tells us why running your own business can be the key to happiness for a woman in her fifties.

Woman with a hooverCleaning an immaculately clean house is much more exhausting than cleaning a total pigsty. Honest. For one thing, where do you start?

How do you make a difference?

Why my clients want to pay me to scrub invisible finger marks, dust dust-free surfaces and bleach already sparkling white loos provides hours of equally sparkling conversation for my fellow scrubbers and me. It also gives us a much better (paid) workout than the really dirty houses we transform, as you have to scrub much harder cleaning dirt you can’t see than grime you can. And, by the way, we feel much more at home in the grubby houses; they’re more like our own.

We do other stuff too, from helping at parties (which I love – much less stressful than one’s own parties and you know the host/ess is having a lovely time because you are there helping) to walking dogs and de-cluttering. Once I even delivered a car to the West Country. Almost nothing we do is regular for longer than a few weeks because we need to be free to help people when they are desperate. This is so much more interesting for us and gives real meaning to the phrases ‘no two days are the same’ and ‘no job is too small’. Also, we see round a lot of corners of our heavenly part of the world and sometimes even up the local motorway – and into lots of gorgeous and not-quite-so gorgeous houses and gardens.

Why do I do it? I am, like so many fifty-somethings, fairly well qualified (A levels, bilingual secretarial course, various low-key IT courses and I trained as a State Registered Nurse) with bags of experience (I speak French and have travelled a lot, worked in nursing, journalism, as a PA and I have done a stint working in a nursery school) but I have a husband who travels a lot for work and my youngest child is only 10. I am also from a long line of classic English pragmatists and count Florence Nightingale, the educator Ann Clough and her brother, the strangely practical poet Arthur Hugh Clough, among my forebears. Not to mention my paternal grandmother who was born into a rather flashy Birmingham family with chauffeurs and governesses, yet who rolled up her sleeves to be a housekeeper for four years when her husband was made a POW on the Burma Railway and there was ‘no money’.

But perhaps most importantly I live surrounded by fields and hills near a small but slightly fizzy (rather than buzzy) market town in Middle England and every job advertised locally that would halfway accommodate my children’s school/university hours and holidays as well as my husband’s travelling normally attracts approximately 500 applicants. Most of them are younger than me and lots have groovy, relevant and recent London or even New York experience to boot. And, being fresh from whizzy full-time careers in The City (rather than having worked part-time for 20 years in a small town in whatever jobs fitted in with the children), way more impressive IT skills.

Anyway, I enjoy the life I have made since setting up my own business six years ago. I get to spend (profitable) time with some of my best friends, and would recommend self-employment to anyone desperate to earn some money and to do more with their time than have girly lunches, take the dog for a walk and go to the endless round of charity fairs on offer in rural England, spending money you don’t have.

In order to succeed in running my kind of business you would need the following; to be available at all times, the desire to earn, a love of practically all humanity, discretion, some attractive yet practical aprons (with large pockets), a well-fitting pair of Marigolds, a bucketful of cleaning equipment, a hugely pragmatic nature, some good and reliable friends with similar attributes, a bit of business sense, a strong stomach, energy and, as a bonus, curiosity – although nobody doing this should actually admit to being nosy. Oh, and resolute cheerfulness. Nobody, not even a dog, likes a grumpy cleaner, walker, carer or waitress. You could also do with a healthy ego; if it would be battered by being someone’s cleaner or quasi-butler, however temporarily, don’t even think about it.

In the last two weeks I have cleaned an unbelievably tidy and operating-theatre-clean house, de-cluttered and cleaned the flat of a man with both diarrhoea and disposophobia (think How Clean is Your House and double it), had a site meeting and a coffee with a delicious builder at a flat for which I will be supervising the refurbishment, cooked lunch for and ‘helped’ a 79-year-old man with dementia to do the crossword, walked two dogs, provided three days’ bed, breakfast and walkies for another dog, organised a two-teenager leaf-sweeping session for someone’s enormous tree-filled garden and taken an 84-year-old lady with Alzheimer’s swimming (luckily my own occasionally dodgy memory didn’t let me down and I remembered to take her home afterwards). It has earned me nearly £400 and kept me away from the charity fair I could so easily have gone to and spent the same amount of my overdraft on.

However, occasionally I do justify having proper relaxing fun in what I like to call ‘targeted PR’. For example, last week I went to a useful, wonderfully funny, rather smart (in a Barbours and Hunters welly type of way) ‘How To Decorate Your House for any Festive Occasion’ demonstration (tea, coffee, flapjacks, stollen cake, back-of-the-class giggling and local gossip all included). It was a little bit out of my usual stomping ground and I went on the basis that I could extend my business empire. All it needed for perfection was Celia Imrie and Victoria Wood, although they were definitely there in spirit. Now that’s what I call good home economics and jolly good fun.

For a rather depressing overview of current and projected female unemployment and why, if you are over 40, it’s worth becoming self-employed rather than waiting for that perfect job see this article from the Guardian.