Dusting off cleaning skills proves a home-grown winner

A self-taught entrepreneur discovered hidden talents when she decided to set up shop cleaning people's houses, writes Miriam Steffens.

A self-taught entrepreneur discovered hidden talents when she decided to set up shop cleaning people's houses, writes Miriam Steffens.

When Julie Finch-Scally walked out of her job in a bank after a clash with management, she was well into her 50s and struggled to find new work.

The only industry that would welcome her with open arms was the cleaning business, where all that mattered was rolled-up sleeves and a willingness to get the job done.

Finch-Scally joined a cleaning agency desperate for staff and went out with duster and broom for a while "but I thought there must be a better way of doing it", the now 71-year-old says. Thus began Duster Dollies in 1993, her home-cleaning franchise that now spans six agencies around Sydney and has a turnover of about $1 million a year. And the indefatigable septuagenarian is keen to take it back to a national level, having lost franchisees in Melbourne and Adelaide due to age and family reasons late last year.

It's a classic small business story of a self-taught entrepreneur who, without formal training, decided to run her own shop, setting it up with the help of an able accountant.

Finch-Scally got a second telephone for the living room, her business line, and started printing pamphlets that she hand-delivered around the neighbourhood offering her cleaning services. She was surprised by the response: "After two weeks there was too much work. The amount of people who want their houses cleaned, it was just amazing," she recalls.

Finch-Scally soon took on other women as subcontractors, before turning the business into a franchise in 2002. She was named the NSW/ACT franchise woman of the year in 2009.

These days, it's pretty rare she has to do any dusting herself, running from home her franchise of cleaning agencies, that in turn send their own subcontracting cleaners to private residences. For every hour of cleaning done, she reaps 10 per cent in royalty and marketing fees.

To cement her brand and streamline its operations, Finch-Scally has devised a 15-page manual for Duster Dollies, and written an A-to-Z book on home cleaning, The Third-Oldest Profession. Now she is preparing to add Facebook and Twitter links to her website. "There's lots of changes in technology we should keep abreast of," she says.

The secrets to business success? "If you're passionate about something you will succeed," Finch-Scally says. "And doing the house for someone else and you're walking out of it and it looks nice and clean and tidy, you do feel you have achieved something."

She's now planning the next step, wanting to exit the business in a couple of years. But retirement is far from her mind: Finch-Scally has enrolled to study international law at ANU, a thing she always wanted to do. How does she expect to deploy it? "I think everything you learn you can use somewhere along the line, and I always have."

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