FAMILY MATTERS: Grab your marigolds and help yourself

The Mr Sparkles van
The Mr Sparkles van
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THEY say, ‘when the going gets tough, the tough gets going’ and as far as Mark Johnson is concerned, this is certainly the case.

Mark worked as an insurance broker in Sheffield. He managed two branches, liaised between genuine people and reluctant-to-pay insurance companies while managing staff and making sure the company adhered to FSA guidelines.

Paul Johnson - Mark's dad, Mark's Mum Brenda, his wife Helen and Mark Johnson, far right.

Paul Johnson - Mark's dad, Mark's Mum Brenda, his wife Helen and Mark Johnson, far right.

But then the pressure got too much. Mark, 35, took time off for depression and stress. The pressure, the bleakness of the industry in which he worked and the loss of sleep through having a new baby led to him being unable to cope.

This period represented a definite low point in his life.

Now – three years on – he looks back and is pleased that it happened.

Thanks to the help of his wife and parents, Mark turned his back on the high-stress, white collar insurance industry and took a job valeting cars five days a week.

This was the start of his new life. It wasn’t glamorous, but he hasn’t looked back since.

“I started doing my own car valeting work at the weekend but couldn’t make it pay on its own so I then branched out into other types of cleaning, using the equipment I had.”

His business – Mr Sparkles cleaning company – grew and now Mark’s clients include various letting agencies in Sheffield.

But it’s mainly thanks to the help of his family that he’s been able to do it. “My mum and dad work for me and it wouldn’t be possible without their support. This is their way of helping to support our future.”

Mark’s not alone.

This year almost 4.2 million people were registered as self-employed between January and April – 84,000 more people than the previous three months.

Experts believe this dramatic rise is down to people losing their jobs, though in Mark’s case, the drive to become self-employed was personal, not financial.

But it’s not easy.

“We’re having a hard time now, as everything we earn goes straight back into the business. But although times are hard I am happy – that’s the difference.”

In his previous job, Mark had a company car, a decent wage and security working for the insurance company. But now, he’s without the flash car and spends most days on his hands and knees cleaning.

“It’s so rewarding to see the results and it’s lovely doing something that’s physical. As humans we were made to be productive. I was always knackered after a day at the office but I couldn’t sleep because it wasn’t physical. Now I’m sleeping really well.”

Mark’s mum also gets stuck in with cleaning. “We’ve just had an emergency call to get a house cleaned before the next tenants move in tomorrow. Mum was supposed to have a day off but she’s here now ready to start cleaning.”

Mark believes that society has become too vain about what it does for money.

“I have friends who have lost jobs and I have offered them cleaning work but they won’t do it. At first it felt like a step down but now I’m so much happier and I’m launching my own cleaning range – Mr Sparkles – soon. Most jobs are about posing, people are obsessed with glamour and that’s why we have so much debt.”

Mark is now open with his emotions, a shift in his personal approach that’s come about as a result of the depression.

“My dad’s also been depressed so we are a very open family when it comes to talking about feelings and that has really helped,” he says. “Now I find it really easy to talk to other people.” So, it seems, the way out of depression and stress is simple – grab your marigolds. “Indeed,” laughs Mark. “I’m on top of the world now.”


Working in a family business can be tough, as work is always brought home, but it can also be rewarding and means tthe family can build the business without committing to fixed labour costs.

Working in a family business can strengthen relations.

Children born into family businesses often learn the value of money and hard work from a young age.

Self employed business set-ups – like that of Mark’s – have increased since the recession started in 2008 and this year almost 4.2 million people were registered as self-employed.

Experts believe the surge in self-employment has come about because people have been unable to find permanent work with companies due to the stagnant economy.