Stewart White started out window cleaning as a sole trader in June 2003. Now a partner in White's Cleaning Services, a contract cleaning and car-valeting company, he says operating from rental premises has enabled him to adopt a flexible approach to business development and growth.
What I did
Opt for short-term leases
"When I started out I rented because I didn't know how long the business was going to last. You never know what's around the corner and with short-term leases if you incur problems financially you can get out. I've never signed a lease lasting more than 12 months."
Move to more appropriate premises as the business developed
"My first place was a unit where cars could drive in for valeting. But I decided to sell the valeting side of the business because contract cleaning was where the money was. Also, the unit was away from the main road and I had to spend a lot on advertising.
"As the unit's lease was on a monthly basis I just gave one month's notice and I took a 12-month lease on a small office. The business then only needed somewhere to file work and receive phone calls. I stored equipment at the premises we cleaned.
"Then the opportunity came up to rent a car valeting centre. It was in a prominent position on the main road and a good way to get back into valeting so I took it up. Initially I kept the office premises as well, as I didn't know how things would go, but nine months later I moved the office here to save on money and travelling. Although there was still time to run on its lease the landlord let us out."
Benefit from maintenance and security built into contracts
"A new landlord took over our old office while we were there and the building was given a complete makeover. The outside was painted, the premises thoroughly cleaned, and a new alarm, front door and intercom fitted. It didn't cost us anything.
"The place we're in now has also recently had a full paint job on the outside and security cameras put up. Our rent hasn't gone up because of this."
What I'd do differently
Negotiate better terms
"When I went for our first premises I paid the rent that was asked for. It was only when I talked to others on our industrial estate that I realised some were paying less. I was a bit naïve. I didn't realise we could negotiate and maybe get the rent a bit cheaper. Now I always negotiate when I meet landlords - and I always manage to get them down."