Antoinette Daniel, founder of ethical cleaning agency Just Helpers.
Jane Imrie

Bdaily Festive Focus 2020: “An extra dose of kindness” is the key to a happy Christmas for Just Helpers founder Antoinette Daniel

Continuing our Festive Focus 2020, Bdaily spoke to Antoinette Daniel, founder of ethical cleaning agency Just Helpers about her plans to challenge the pay and economic structures in the cleaning industry and how a messy loud Christmas is her favourite kind!

How has 2020 changed the way that you live, work, and think?

“This year I have become very comfortable within my four walls and grown very used to working alone.

“I have learnt that I am considerably more of a resilient and creative thinker than I knew, and that even with extreme mental fatigue, I can navigate my business and colleagues through some pretty serious situations. I feel more positive about our ability as a business to thrive in the year ahead.

“Having been a cautious long-term thinker and planner (aka slow!) I surprised myself by pivoting into a whole new product – an antibacterial fogging service.

“I remembered that this is how I was when I first became a solo business owner. I was much better at being innovative and agile. It’s been great to return to those roots.”

What has been your single biggest challenge and how have you overcome it?

“One of the core values of our business is around building authentic and deep relationships with everyone in our circle.

“We take pride in delivering a very high standard service, and love to pop in on colleagues to check in on them, provide on-site training and moral support, as well as on-boarding clients face to face in their homes.

“We also love to gather and celebrate as a big team at least three times a year. With the social distancing restrictions, we have had to learn to do a lot of our people-interaction virtually.

“We are still learning how to harness the power of technology to do virtual video site checks, team meetings that don’t make you want to pluck your eyes out and company-wide events. We have used video and voice messaging a lot more and Zoom has become our new best friend.

“I have started doing regular Facebook lives where I can explain some of the networking conversations I’ve been having, and we’re learning to use conferencing sites such as Hopin to network in a more meaningful way.

“While this all has its positives, we have really missed the tangible opportunities to build relationships in a more holistic, multi-dimensional manner.”

What has been the biggest unexpected positive to come out of this year?

“We had some major team challenges this year, resulting in 50 per cent of our management team leaving. This really impacted those of us that remained. For a significant period of time, our workloads almost doubled, and we were overstretched.

“However, this unexpected shake-up allowed me to think more creatively about what our staffing needs were, and also whether the remaining team were in the right roles. As a result, for the first time, I have been able to hire two C-Suite staff members who will complement me and increase our strategic capacity in new and exciting ways.

“I have the energy to dream big again and know that I have a hardworking and committed team who love what we do, work well together and are invested in the new ideas that we are currently birthing.”

What does your ideal Christmas look like?

“My ideal Christmas is a messy, loud, large family gathering. Though I’m an only child, I have a large extended family and I’m close to my foster family (who I lived with between the ages of 10 and 16).

“In fact, it is their model of Christmas that makes me happiest: it starts with presents in the morning, church for me and then the long wait for Christmas dinner. We often rotate who cooks. Last year I catered for 15, so I’ve got my head down this year as we debate who will be chief cook.

“We would have a beautifully decorated table laden with food and all the kids (adults now) would be there, with their children too and there’d be a blend of family friends who are firm fixtures at the dinner table.

“After dinner, we’d devolve into games and eventually end up singing and dancing. More friends and family would drop by later on in the evening and we keep going until the last person is standing. I’d love that so much – maybe next year.”

How do you think people and businesses can support each other during 2020’s festive season?

“I am passionate about ethical businesses and would love to see more people shopping locally, and with suppliers who pay the London Living Wage and are doing their bit to be eco-conscious.

“So many businesses have gone under this year, and it’s heart-breaking to see. Consider shopping with those smaller businesses, especially those that are offering unique products. It could be the difference between survival or closure for them.

“We have to continually remember that this has been a tough year for many of us and although it sounds sappy, keep looking out for each other, having an extra dose of kindness, flexibility and understanding for each other is the only way we are going to get through and help each other rebuild next year.”

What does 2021 look like for you and your business?

“It has been stressful navigating the constantly shifting landscape this year and the frequent and necessary stopping and starting of the economy. We are looking forward to settling into a more stable external environment, especially with the introduction of a vaccine.

“We will be restarting our end-to-end business management tech development project and will be looking for investors to get behind that.

“We will also be launching our new Home Executive Assistant service in London, which is a hybrid cleaning and concierge service liaising with your work EA to ensure that home and work are gloriously and seamlessly under control.

“Personally, I want to start a trust fund that once matured will become a grant making facility for entrepreneurial young care leavers. I’d love to see other investors get involved with that too.

“But first, I’m planning a much-needed sabbatical in the first quarter so that I can take some time out to reinvigorate and get my creative juices flowing again. I’m excited and hopeful about next year and believe that it will be a transformative period for me and the business.”

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