Google's handy tips turn firm's fortunes

A Harrogate-based handyman has turned his property maintenance business around after receiving free digital skills training from internet giant Google. Two-and-a-half years on, the business is now receiving £30,000 a month of new business wins.

Harrogate-based handyman Jonathon Blackburn, whose business, The Houseman, is flourishing after he implemented skills he learned at Google's Digital Garage in Leeds, now employs eight people.

Jonathon Blackburn launched his property maintenance and handyman service business, The Houseman, in 2011 on a budget of just £150. However, getting the venture off the ground proved to be much more difficult that he had expected.

He says: “In 2012 when we started trading, we did a £42,000 turnover, earning £4,000 worth of profit. However, by 2015, I was really in panic mode. We’d had eight weeks without any leads and I was on the verge of making redundancies – I could have lost the business.”

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That year, Mr Blackburn was introduced to Google’s Digital Garage pilot pop-up in Leeds, which offered free digital skills training and one-to-one mentoring support. Following on from a session where he learnt about how best to use keywords in Google ads, he immediately saw an increase in leads and new business.

“I realised I’d been following bad advice up to then. The adverts I was running were overloaded with way too many commands that were fighting each other, so none of my ads ever reached anywhere near the top of the Google rankings and no-one was finding me.

“So I started again with new ads. Within 12 hours the enquiries started coming in again and within 30 days I’d got contracts worth more than £35,000. It definitely turned my business around.”

Mr Blackburn was quickly able to take The Houseman from a single bedsit to a fully furnished office with more staff.

“We’re now turning over in one month what we turned over in our whole first year,” he says. “The Digital Garage is the reason The Houseman is where it is today.”

The impact from the advice received at the Digital Garage even allowed Mr Blackburn to change the direction of the company, and he is now able to go for higher-earning refurbishment jobs instead of lower-value property maintenance.

Two-and-a-half years on, Mr Blackburn is now receiving £50,000 a month worth of leads, converting into £30,000 a month of actual new business wins – all from a spend of just £400 a month on Google AdWords. The company now has a growing team of property management, refurbishment and maintenance specialists, working for clients across the north of England.

“There should be a Digital Garage in every town,” says Mr Blackburn. “It’s simple, it’s educational, and it’s quite honestly the best thing I’ve done – and I’ve been around for a long time!”

The brand new Google Digital Garage in Sheffield is the first ever digital skills training centre located on the high street. It is based on Barker’s Pool in the city centre and offers free digital skills training seven days a week.

Attendees are able to learn the vital skills needed to succeed in the digital age, from how to develop their web presence, grow their business or charities online, improve their career prospects or just build their confidence by using online tools for the first time.

l Visitors may attend the Digital Garage in Sheffield without an appointment for free advice. Registration for courses is available at