Entrepreneur who couldn't afford vacuum cleaner boasts £3.5m turnover

Mother-turned-entrepreneur, 32, who couldn’t afford a vacuum cleaner and spent her last £20 on flyers to launch her own cleaning firm… now boasts £3.5m turnover and 250 staff

  • Rachael Flanagan set up a cleaning firm after she failed business studies A level
  • She could not afford a vacuum cleaner or mop and bucket setting out aged 18
  • The mother-of-two spent her last £20 printing out 5,000 flyers
  • Now she employs 250 staff across Wales and Bristol, bringing in £3.5m-a-year 

A mother-turned-entrepreneur who spent her last £20 on flyers to launch a cleaning firm now boasts a £3.5million turnover and employs 250 staff. 

Rachael Flanagan, 32, was told by people she knew that she was ‘just a girl from Wales who could not run a business’ after failing her business studies A level.

Unable to afford a vacuum cleaner or mop and bucket, the mother-of-two, then 18, from Swansea spent her last £20 to print out 5,000 flyers for her venture. 

She wore a white t-shirt with the name Mrs Bucket embroidered on the front, and drove around various estates leaving the ads under car wipers.

By the age of 23, Ms Flanagan was employing at least 18 staff, and her firm’s annual turnover was £500,000 and rapidly growing.

Rachael Flanagan (pictured) was told by people she knew she was ‘just a girl from Wales who could not run a business’ after failing her business A level

Now the company Mrs Bucket, pronounced Bouquet, has a £3.5million turnover and more than 250 staff working across Wales and Bristol.

She plans to bring in £8million-per-year in the next five years. 

Ms Flanagan’s hard-earned success has seen her handed a raft of opportunities, including taking her firm to the 2014 NATO summit in Newport. 

She’s even visited Downing Street twice, and met former Prime Minister David Cameron at a St David’s Day reception.

Married to fellow entrepreneur Daniel Stanley, 36, who runs a performance coach business, Ms Flanagan said: ‘I loved cleaning, I found it really therapeutic and it would take my mind off other things. I like seeing a visual result at the end. 

‘I didn’t even have my own Hoover or mop and bucket, I had to use my customers’, but I had a white t-shirt embroidered with Mrs Bucket that I got at the market.  

‘I used my last £20 to print out 5,000 flyers and started leafleting the area. Over the summer holidays I had a car full of my friends. 

‘We’d go around all the estates leaving flyers, then put them under the windscreen wipers of cars at the school. 

‘I built up my business from there and by 21 I had 18 staff working for me.

By the age of 23, Ms Flanagan was employing at least 18 staff, and her firm’s annual turnover was £500,000 and rapidly growing. Now the company Mrs Bucket, pronounced Bouquet, has a £3.5million turnover and more than 250 staff working across Wales and Bristol

‘All my mates were at uni drinking, and with loads of debt, but I was working ridiculous hours for this bigger dream – on my own mission.’

While at school, Ms Flanagan read business studies, media, art and IT, but wondered if she really wanted to go to university like her friends.

She recalled: ‘I just kept thinking, “I want to do cleaning.” 

‘Then when I had my business studies exam, we had to come up with a business plan and I just spent two hours writing about the cleaning business.

‘On results day I remember tearing that piece of paper open and thinking, “I’ve really not done well.” Then, when I saw a U for ungraded, I thought, “Stuff it.”

‘I think that’s where my drive came from. I had this fire in my belly and failing did not put me off. The adrenaline just kept me going.

‘Every person I spoke to was like, “Are you really going to do that? Why do you want to do cleaning?” They were quite down on me.


Ms Flanagan’s hard-earned success has seen her handed a raft of opportunities, including taking her firm to the 2014 NATO summit in Newport. She’s even visited Downing Street twice, and met former Prime Minister David Cameron at a St David’s Day reception

She recalled: ‘I just kept thinking, “I want to do cleaning.” Then when I had my business studies exam, we had to come up with a business plan and I just spent two hours writing about the cleaning business. On results day I remember tearing that piece of paper open and thinking, “I’ve really not done well.” Then, when I saw a U for ungraded, I thought, “Stuff it”‘

‘I didn’t tell my mum for three years that I’d failed that A level. 

‘To this day, I’ve never even gone to pick up my A level certificates, because they didn’t mean anything to me.’

From the outset, her business attracted praise and grew rapidly, allowing her to employ a woman who had worked in one of her father’s canteens. 

Working 60 hours a week cleaning, Ms Flanagan kept her own books, after taking some courses funded by the Welsh Government.

She then joined the Federation of Small Businesses network, where she got her first mentor, who helped her to devise business and marketing strategies.

At the ballroom at Claridge’s Hotel in London’s upmarket Mayfair district, Ms Flanagan won the UK Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award.

With her confidence boosted, she knew she had to give up cleaning herself and learn more about strategy to help grow the business.

Since becoming a mother to Sophia, three, and Spencer, 11 months, she has become an expert in time management. ‘I’m really organised. I’m a planner and schedule everything so I still manage to go to the gym three times a week and do a circuit class,’ she said

She met Nigel Botterill, one of Britain’s most successful entrepreneurs, who set up the Entrepreneurs Circle, to support other business owners.

‘He gave me a lot of encouragement and connected me with other business owners, who would ask me if I had thought of doing commercial cleaning,’ she said.

‘We won our first commercial cleaning contract in 2010, when I was 23.

‘Turnover at this point was £500,000 a year, then I was at a business event and they asked people to stand up and say what their goals were. I stood up in front of 500 people and said, “This year I will double the turnover of my business.”

‘After saying it out loud I had to make it happen. Lots of people had said to me before this point, “You’re just a Welsh girl, you’ll never do it.” But I wanted to prove I could.’ 

Winning more and more commercial contracts, the business grew and grew and, the following year, when she was 24, its turnover was £1million.

In 2018 Ms Flanagan sold the domestic side of her business for an undisclosed sum, turning the firm into an entirely commercial cleaning company.

Keen to also give something back, she also runs a network called Business and Bites to help young entrepreneurs and start-ups.

And since becoming a mother to Sophia, three, and Spencer, 11 months, she has become an expert in time management.  

‘I’m really organised. I’m a planner and schedule everything so I still manage to go to the gym three times a week and do a circuit class,’ she said.   

Reflecting on her remarkable success, Ms Flanagan added: ‘I’ve had some amazing opportunities – attending the NATO summit in Newport, South Wales, in 2014 with world leaders like Barack Obama, which was a hell of an experience, and I’ve visited Downing Street twice, meeting former Prime Minister David Cameron at a St David’s Day reception to recognise Welsh businesses.

‘I’m always so busy looking for more ways to grow, but I probably need to stop, look around and think, “Yes, I’ve done a good job.”‘

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