With asbestos related illness on the increase, Gemma Voaden and Ruth Wyers capitalised on the chance to build a surveying business that also recommends solutions. Gemma tells us what inspired her to get up, and change things.
What did you do before you started this business?
My journey up until now has been varied. I completed a Law Degree at University College London then worked within the NHS for several years as an auditor in different capacities ranging from finance to performance and buildings.
This is where I began to learn more about building performance and the risks of asbestos. I then became a surveyor and project manager for another asbestos company.
What inspired you to start up?
Initially, it was a conversation between my partner and I whilst living in Gran Canaria when we were almost penniless, far from home and working day and night for someone who didn’t take their responsibilities seriously. We decided we could do better so put our money where our mouths were and created All Survey Ltd.
The number of deaths caused by asbestos were increasing year on year and we saw an opportunity to provide asbestos prevention solutions so booked our flights back to the UK with all guns blazing. We worked day and night to get the business up and running and began educating the UK on the dangers of asbestos.
Mesothelioma, the asbestos cancer has a zero-survival rate and there is no cure for Asbestosis; these are two main reasons why we decided to start our own business to raise awareness of the health dangers associated with asbestos.
Tell us about your business in 100 words
A specialist surveying company delivering the highest standards, providing surveys and reports which adds value for money through aftercare and advice. We are committed and customer focussed while maintaining professional standards and a high quality of service.
Our surveys ensure deadly asbestos fibres are found and dealt with appropriately, carbon emissions are eliminated realistically and legionella is caught as soon as possible. These are legal compliance surveys which most people see as ‘tick box’ exercises not realising that by having these reports and certificates you meet your legal obligations and could potentially save lives.
How would you describe your business to your grandma?
We provide specific building surveys to find any potential dangers of asbestos or legionella and assess the energy performance of them. If anything hazardous or dangerous is found, we recommend solutions and ensure they are implemented correctly.
Where do you get advice, support or help?
We are fortunate to be on the Entrepreneurial Spark business accelerator programme which provides endless advice, support and help. Our enabler has been brilliant in ensuring we set ourselves targets which can be achieved as well as additional support from mentors that meet with us regularly.
We have also received support and courses through the Business Growth Hub which provided us with free social media training that has been instrumental in our start-up through helping secure a loan of £6,000 which meant I could leave my part time job to focus on All Survey Ltd full time.
Finance is one of the most common barriers to starting up. How did you access the finance you needed?
In the early stages we used credit cards and a small family loan. Then my co-director Ruth and I worked full time elsewhere while getting the business off the ground. As we started to get some work and money coming in reduced to part-time at my job.
The Business Growth Hub helped us secure the Business Finance Solutions (BFS) start-up loan of £6,000 then half a year later Ruth went part time in her job and by the end of that year, was also a full-time employee of our business.
What has been your biggest achievement so far?
We won Small Business of the Year in the Enterprise Vision Awards which was phenomenal. Within the business the biggest achievement is employing more people. This is the best and worst thing we have done as it is a huge responsibility being accountable for someone else’s income but the results and feeling you get when you know more work is on the cards which provides security for others is amazing.
We have also secured some high-profile clients who we have been working with for the last three years so we know we are doing something right.
How do you differentiate your business from others?
We differ from our competitors through having multi skilled surveyors who can perform three surveys in one visit providing both a comprehensive report and appropriate solutions. We are passionate about saving time, money and lives by putting the customer first and empowering them with options so that they can make the decision that is best for them which also allows for full health and safety compliance.
After care is paramount to us, once we have provided a report or training we ensure the client feels completely at ease to contact us with any questions they may have in the future.
We make sure we have a network of other businesses around us so we can provide assistance to our clients for aspects that are not necessarily in our field but we can point them toward someone we feel can be of help. We are specialists in sensitive situations such as ensuring all our staff are trained and Dementia Friends, for example.
We are not only interested in the financial side, we really do want to ensure we help protect people from these hidden dangers which is one reason we offer free advice to anyone once they have completed our training sessions if they ever come across something they think is suspicious and don’t know who they should call.
What’s it like to be your own boss?
It’s fantastic, it’s scary and it’s a roller coaster I never want to end. Each day you run through every emotion possible at the beginning and then you get some respite when things level off a little but then something happens and it starts all over again. This can range from an amazing thrill of winning a new contract to more challenging human resource aspects. The success for me is that the good times outweigh the bad and the decisions we make are entirely our own for better or worse.
Where do you see your business in 5 years time?
By becoming All Survey we are adaptable to the ever changing, fluctuating market of legal compliance surveys and can incorporate the increasing trend of hidden dangers coming to light. A strong beacon is needed to face and deal with problems before they become amplified.
We are already adapting to the needs of our clients by providing UKATA training and Legionella Assessments and will continue to cater to the needs of the market place. In five years, we hope to have our own laboratory, two offices near city centre locations and at least 12 employed surveyors.
We have also set up our second business which is a not for profit organisation, the vision is to ensure no deadly asbestos fibre is unaccounted for or unmanaged within the UK. The UK Asbestos Register has now started up which will revolutionise the industry and ensure the threat of asbestos is eliminated.
What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs?
To coin Entrepreneurial Spark’s phrase – #GoDo. If you see something new, create it whether it be niche or filling a gap in the market, have confidence and go for it. Things can never improve unless you change something.
One of my favourite sayings is from Albert Einstein ‘The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.’ To make things better get up and change them.