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When it's Time to Say Goodbye – A Perspective From the FM Sector

When it's Time to Say Goodbye – A Perspective From the FM Sector
19 September 2023

Founder of Westbury FM Sonia Murton outlines the importance of mutual core values in the client-contractor relationship, and when it’s time to say goodbye.

Sonia Murton is the Founder and Managing Director at Westbury FM, Listed in The Independent’s E2E Top 100 Female Entrepreneurs and named one of the Top 100 Influential Women in Construction.


"As painful as it can be to let a client go, especially in our highly competitive industry, maintaining our company's integrity, employee morale, and quality of work is far more important."


I founded a thriving start-up in the UK construction and facilities management space in 2017. I opened Westbury Property Maintenance. (Since rebranded to Westbury FM), it was just myself and three multi-skilled engineers from a small office in Sidcup, SE London. We started with two clients. By the time COVID-19 hit, just two and a half years later, we employed 30+ people, and 80 per cent of our business was in retail and hospitality. During lockdown, I took action: driving the company in a new direction. A move that saved Westbury and the staff who worked there and ensured critical facilities continued to function. Three years later, we have a team of 65.

In my six years of running the business, I recognised that positive client relationships are often at the heart of our success. Clients are the lifeblood of our industry, and creating and fostering strong relationships is crucial. However, I've also learned that not every client is the right fit, and there are times when the best decision is to part ways. I found that clients aligning with our values contribute significantly to our growth. Conversely, those with misaligned values can cost us more than just monetary loss.

The foundation of any successful business relationship is shared values. When a client's values are not aligned, it creates a persistent tension that disrupts the harmony and effectiveness of our operations. This misalignment can become painfully apparent in our industry, where integrity, safety, quality and sustainability are often valued above all else.


Misaligned Values in Business


Misalignment of values can pose significant challenges. Our company upholds specific core values, and when they do not align with a client's, it can hinder progress and mutual understanding. In such situations, I strive to find common ground or reassess whether the partnership benefits both parties.

Our facilities management service is much more than maintenance because we care enough to understand and respond to the needs of every individual business we work with. We often know our clients personally and work to support their operations in the way that works best for them. Our satisfaction lies in business growth, customer service, staff well-being, safety, and delivering a consistently high service that leaves clients free to get on with strategic delivery. It was always part of our vision to provide the industry's most caring, flexible, can-do facilities management services. I believe that's how we've ended up being the trusted, respected FM service we are today.

In the FM sector, cost control is crucial. Yet, excessive cost-cutting can undermine the project's quality and employees' welfare. While offering competitive pricing is essential, it should not be at the expense of quality workmanship, materials, or my team's best interests and welfare. In my experience, clients who focus solely on reducing costs can become problematic. Not only does this perspective often result in the undervaluation of our services, but it can also lead to compromises in project safety, quality, and employee wellbeing.


A Clash of Morals


Moreover, when a client disregards the importance of fair pay and workforce welfare, it clashes with my fundamental ethical principles. Underpaying staff or insisting on unfair employment conditions is not only a legal issue; to me, it's a profound moral one. We should aim to promote a fair and safe working environment for all workers, whether they are our direct employees or subcontracted. Maintaining a relationship with a client who doesn't align with these values is risky.

As painful as it can be to let a client go, especially in our highly competitive industry, maintaining our company's integrity, employee morale, and quality of work is far more important. Our reputation is at stake, and maintaining respect and integrity reflects positively on the business in the long run.


"I aim for a reasonable and sustainable net profit target for a business of our nature. If this is not achievable, I'd rather step back than jeopardise the stability of the company and the jobs it provides."


Refraining From the Race to the Bottom


When clients enquire about how we intend to save them money, our response centres on our commitment to efficiency, quality, and sustainable strategies. We leverage our industry experience and innovative practices to optimise processes, reduce wastage, and deliver high-quality results, resulting in cost savings. Additionally, our strategic approach to resource management further ensures costs are kept at a minimum.

I aim for a reasonable and sustainable net profit target for a business of our nature. If this is not achievable, I'd rather step back than jeopardise the stability of the company and the jobs it provides. Fair pricing is necessary, and contractors absolutely must refrain from this detrimental race to the bottom with prices that render profitability and fair pay impossible. I aim to stand firm, act sensibly, and disengage from ruthlessly competitive pricing. It's far better to scale back than face the risk of a failing business.

Despite the prevailing economic situation, I still see ridiculously low rates that clearly won't allow for any profitable outcome for the FM contractor, and some clients adamantly reject any price increases, fully aware of the financial strain contractors are experiencing. It doesn't make sense for clients to engage with contractors operating at a loss. Contractors bidding at a loss leads to a downward pricing spiral that could ultimately lead to our collective downfall. The principles of economics remain the same.


Agreeing a Change in Terms


Tough conversations are often unavoidable in business, especially when renegotiating contracts or discussing sensitive issues. It's important to me to approach these discussions with courage, honesty, and transparency.

Clear, open dialogue helps build stronger relationships, solve problems more efficiently, and drives mutual growth. I don't want to be afraid to have these conversations with my clients. Sometimes the terms no longer work. Contract terms that worked in this market just a few years ago simply aren't feasible in the current economic climate. I'm happy to communicate this effectively to clients and propose alternative terms that work better for both parties in the new market context rather than go along with the 'take it or leave it' approach we often face in this sector.

Talking to clients about reducing their terms needs to be handled delicately. I convey to the client that shortening terms can sometimes lead to increased efficiency and better resource management. Explaining the mutual benefits and potential cost savings can help clients understand our viewpoint and be more likely to agree to a change in terms. Accepting unfavourable terms can have far-reaching implications, including disengaged staff, payroll issues, and disrupted cash flow. Employees may feel undervalued, resulting in lowered morale and productivity. Cash flow issues could even threaten the business's long-term survival.

Sometimes, saying goodbye to a client is the best decision. Prioritising the company's core values, the welfare of our employees, and the quality of our work is a testament to our integrity. It shows our commitment to the industry and demonstrates that our business is more than just a service – it is a reliable partner that stands by its principles.

Picture: a photograph of a piece of paper mounted in a typewriter showing the words "Time to say goodbye". Image Credit: Shutterstock

Article written by Sonia Murton | Published 19 September 2023


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