TWENTY NINE years in business has taught entrepreneur William Little many lessons, the most important being: “You have to be honest, you have to have a believable concept and there has got to be a need for the product, or it will die.” The father-of-two (son Wayne and daughter Jenna) established the Cleaning Doctor franchise in 1998. Initially in 1985 William started in the Fermanagh, Clogher Valley and West Tyrone area with a carpet and upholstery, floor and restoration services. Today, that company has grown into a network of over 40 franchises in Ireland and the UK, with William hoping for growth in the UK market in the near future.

It was 1985 when William realised that life as a civil servant on the eighth floor of Dundonald House was making him “feel like a battery hen”. He saw an advert in a UK magazine about starting a cleaning business and set up Little William’s Cleaning Services. Three years later, a UK equipment and chemical supplier asked William to become its sole distributor for the whole of Ireland. Hi-Tec Cleaning Group, which is now the supply arm of the Cleaning Doctor was founded.

“Over 13 years, Hi-Tec Cleaning Group, assisted over 200 people to get into the cleaning industry,” William reflects. However, he still had the vision and the dream of building his own brand that he could market throughout the world. “At 3am one morning I came up with Cleaning Doctor. I thought that someone was bound to have come up with that name already, but when I searched, I could only find one other Cleaning Doctor in Hong Kong.” William decided to give others the opportunity to emulate his success through franchising. He developed the Cleaning Doctor brand and designed marketing techniques that were based on an American model which he ‘Anglicised and Irishised’.

He explains: “I went to the nth degree in building all the things I had learned over the previous years. I manualised it, systematised it and approached Franchise Services Development in Norwich who mentored me and made Cleaning Doctor into an international franchise, just like a McDonalds franchise.” In return for a monthly fee, a franchisee will receive training from William and all their equipment, marketing tools and back-up support. His group of companies employ seven staff at Cleaning Doctor and Hi-Tec Headquarters in Springfield providing back-up support to franchise owners.

“I have very intelligent people from all walks of life operating as franchise owners,” William states.

Despite two recessions and a recent depression, the business is surviving “because the throw-away society is gone”. William explains: “Rather than replacing a sofa or hard floor, people will invest in professional cleaning; people want to save money.” Society wants to know exactly who and what they are getting for their money, therefore the photo of the franchisee is “integral to the Cleaning Doctor’s success”. William notes: “We don’t hide behind free telephone numbers. We are upfront, straight and honest and we guarantee every job 100 per cent, thereby taking all the risk away for the client.” His original Fermanagh business is run by his son Wayne. Cleaning Doctor clients include almost all Councils on the island of Ireland; Mercedes Head Office, Dublin; Raddison Hotel Group; Lough Erne Resort and Harvey Nichols. “Our customers are many and varied, but very important is the lady in her own Fermanagh castle,” William comments. business is “exceptionally good” in Edinburgh, Kerry, Limerick and Cork.

Within Fermanagh, William is pleased to note that “all the negative talk that has been in the media is a lot less”. He says: “There seems to be signs of a slight recovery nationally, but it’s a little bit slower in Fermanagh. Hopefully it will improve in two-three years.” According to William, a business owner must have six attributes: “a believable idea, honesty, outperform their competitor with service; common sense; and trust their gut instinct.” William adds: “You need to be street-wise, seek advice from family, friends and John Treacy and his team at Fermanagh Business Centre. Also, you have to remember that behind every good man is an even better woman.” Mentors are important, William stresses. He has searched out a number of innovative business mentors from across the globe, whose help he has found to be invaluable over the years.

“Running a business can be lonely. Surround yourself with positive thinking people,” he advises. “Fermanagh is a beautiful place, however whenever you are a businessman you must invest in yourself and rub shoulders with successful people. You must embrace the latest technology to enable you reach out to today’s intelligent client. You may also have to travel to the four corners of the world to seek knowledge from a technical and marketing point of view on your product.” In 2004, William and some franchisees visited a business bootcamp in Tampa Arizona with 564 cleaning companies from all over the world. They were the only five Irish men. “We got a standing ovation because of our forward thinking,” Mindset is important in order to become an entrepreneur, according to William. “Our business is based on respect, decency and working with ethical people.” Entrepreneurship is something that is in your blood, he believes. “Entrepreneurs are always up before the clock. You will get an idea in the middle of the night and think: ‘How will I record this in-case I forget?’ If you’re not thinking like that, you’re not made for business.” He concludes: “One of the most enjoyable things I have experienced in my life is seeing my dreams realised. I could not have done this without the help of my wife Ruth and my local dedicated staff.” In his spare time William enjoys reading (he recommends ‘The Emyth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About it’, by Michael Gerber); rallying and travelling in his motor home.