Monthly Archives: February 2018

Lights, camera, action

Profiling a Prince’s Trust supported entrepreneur

The logic behind young mum’s setting up their own businesses is clear – the flexibility around childcare and working from home, the excitement of turning a hobby into an income source, and the stimulation of growing a business alongside a family. Sadly, for many women in this situation the demands of juggling self-employment and parenting can be too much, even with support through The Prince’s Trust Enterprise Programme .

This is not the case for Emily Mashiter who runs her photography business from her home in Milton Keynes while combining caring for a three-year-old son with shift work at a local hotel. And all this despite her admitting “I’m one of the most disorganised people – it’s really bad.”

Photographer Emily specialises in taking pictures of babies aged between five and ten days old. The tranquil and angelic image of a young person at peace with their world (the newborn, not the photographer) belies the effort that goes into creating it. “Newborn shoots usually take about four hours; most of that time is spent putting them into a deep sleep so you can then do pretty much anything with them, while keeping them safe at all times. I love cuddling them and they always fall asleep – I haven’t yet had one that didn’t like me.”

It sounds as though Emily could have a second career as a baby-whisperer if her current photographic venture doesn’t develop (pun intended).

Emily’s love of shooting babies (which would sound terrible in any other context) started with her own son’s newborn photos, after which, in Emily’s own words, “I fell in love with little ones and it was babies, babies, babies!”  

The route to a career in photography started in childhood “copying my Dad with a point-and-shoot camera on holiday in Wales.” That initial interest was followed by A levels and a college course to learn photographic technique. A lifelong love of art, combined with her innate eye for a good shot and important editing skills, captures moments that, as evidenced by repeat commissions, delight her clients as much as the photographer herself.

Having a baby soon after leaving college thwarted plans for further study – in Wales and New York – in fashion photography. For someone who became a mum at 19 years, Emily is happy with career decisions that have brought her to her current situation where she hopes the new business is, with support from the Prince’s Trust, about to take off. “I think I made the right choice with the camera I bought originally, but I should have invested in other equipment such as lighting, and buying props to make my early work look more professional.”

In what she thinks is a wise move, Emily works with parent and babies she doesn’t already know – avoiding a potential difficult mix of professional and personal relationships. “People you know tend to want more for less. I’ve never had a problem asking strangers for money and they’ve always been happy to pay.”

The cool, calm, capable baby-whisperer that is Emily Mashiter is at odds with the disorganisation she confessed to. How does she manage to juggle clients, hotel work and motherhood? “I have a set rota for my job so I remember that. Every other weekend is free for photoshoots and I make do without ever having enough sleep. I have a very good childminder and can do business admin in the evenings when my little boy is sleeping.”

Emily’s business is called Faegrian Photography – Faegrian is the old English work for ‘beautiful’. No one who has seen her work could deny its beauty; Emily’s love of her art shines through every image.

www.facebook.com/faegrianphotography

About The Prince’s Trust https://www.princes-trust.org.uk/help-for-young-people/support-starting-business

For further profiles on Prince’s Trust supported entrepreneurs, click here  https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/category/experts-by-experience

 

Business support – what matters?

On the same day this week that I learnt, with surprise and delight, that I’d been listed as a Top 50 Adviser 2018 by Enterprise Nation, I was reminded by my employer how badly I’d missed my target for business starts. Working with a charity supporting young people with complicated lives I appreciate that, for the funders, entrepreneurial success is best measured in tangibles – loans made (and repaid!) businesses started, jobs created etc.

This is understandable – ‘soft outcomes’ like increased self-confidence and improved mental health, better relations with money and family, are harder to quantify. But it risks giving the impression, to which I’ve referred in past blogs, that only what can be easily counted counts.

A work colleague recently asked me how I would define success in my job. I explained the hard versus soft outcomes debate and then described the progress of a young woman I’ve worked with who will probably never set up her own business but has made massive strides in her personal development. I’ve only played a small part in that young woman’s achievements, but I know she’s not the only one who has benefited from my start-up guidance.

When I was first encouraged to throw my hat in the ring with the Enterprise Nation Top 50 Adviser competition, I decided I’d only do so if I got ten endorsements from the young people with whom I’ve worked over the past 20 months. With only 24 hours to the entry deadline, I had three independent nominations and ten endorsements with some truly heart-warming comments from the young entrepreneurs. See above.

Which is how I come to be in the national Top 50 listing with the possibility of being voted top in the ‘Branding and Design’ category https://enterprisenation.com/top50 If you’re considering voting and you want to get an insight into my work with young people, click here https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/category/learning-about-earning

As you can imagine, I value that expression of support from those thirteen young people far more than any pay packet at the end of the month, but I do understand that I’m employed to keep other customers happy as well.

So, I must dash – there are businesses to be launched.

The art of destruction

I was first introduced to the subject of this blog about five years ago with the words ‘get one of these babies and your life will change forever’. It sounds like a sales pitch (it wasn’t) but the claim was actually true.

If you’ve ever tried to dismantle a wooden pallet with a hammer and crowbar you’ll know the air turns blue very quickly. Bent nails (the metal kind) and broken nails (the human kind) are additional reasons to swear.

The Pallet Dismantling Bar ™ produced by Cargo Cycles in Norfolk was the tool that saved my sanity and many a pallet, fuelling my passion for making household and garden items from reclaimed materials – see https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/green-and-grey

At this point I should make clear I’ve not been commissioned to write this review and nor do I know the people who run the company (although I’m hoping to get to know them better in connection with my work as a trustee of the UK Men’s Sheds Association (UKMSA) www.menssheds.org.uk)

And it’s not just me that thinks the Pallet Dismantling Bar™ is a life-changer. Last September I helped run a UKMSA stall at the Festival of Thrift in Redcar. We were joined by 35,000 people interested in living lightly at a brilliant inspiring and life-affirming weekend. Find out more at http://www.festivalofthrift.co.uk/about-the-festival. Throughout the two days we had a steady stream of people with a passion for pallets and surprisingly few knew about the Cargo Cycles Dismantling Bar™. All that changed as we invited visitors of all ages – as the photos show – to dismantle pallets and discover the delights of using the right tool for the job. I wish I’d been on commission for the number of people who took details of the tool and assured me they would be ordering one.

 

 

 

 

 

 

So, what are you waiting for? Go to http://www.cargo-cycles.com and tell them Chris Lee from UK Men’s Sheds Association sent you – your life with pallets will change forever.  Maybe see you in Redcar on September 22/23rd?

 

Voyages of discovery

Profiling a Prince’s Trust supported entrepreneur

Sri Lanka born entrepreneur Robert Rajeswaran is passionate about solving what he describes as the ‘digital skills crisis’ by training young people to code in after-school and holiday clubs. Taking young people on a voyage of discovery – into the world of web development – reflects his own journey from an early age as a refugee, through countries and schools across the world. This may also explain why he comes across as a man in a hurry.

Within 15 months of starting his own business – Robert is founder of the GoCode Academy based at NatWest’s Entrepreneurial Spark facility in Milton Keynes – he has reached 3,000 children aged 6 – 18 and now has four fulltime staff.

A thirst for control and change

The roots of his success can be traced back to Robert’s dissatisfaction with a career start in investment banking in London where his work-life balance was compromised by long hours and where low expectations meant that progress was slow. A frustrating two years of being a small cog in a massive machine was followed by a fast-moving, fast-learning period with a financial technology start-up company. This experience inspired Robert to start his own business – to have more direct control and to make a real impact.

Robert credits NatWest’s Entrepreneurial Spark programme with giving him the space to explore – to find out what works well, to develop an openness to change. He warns would-be business owners about what he calls the “ugly baby syndrome”. Giving birth to a precious new business can blind the entrepreneur to the shortcomings of the new arrival. “Take constructive feedback” advises Roberts who credits a mentor with giving him guidance on how to ‘unfail your start-up’.

Building the team

Looking ahead, Robert is keen to grow his business – to generate the cash to increase capacity, to employ more people, and get his own space. But scaling up is not without its problems, as Robert acknowledges “Letting go is still difficult. When the business is part of you and you breathe it all the time – you recruit people who think like you and are as dedicated as you are. I’ve always tried to hire people who are passionate and share my vision.”

This may involve recruiting people who work in different ways. This can be beneficial – bringing in fresh ideas – but when it doesn’t work? “Hire fast and let them go early” is Robert’s short, sharp reply. He also warns against hiring family and friends. “Keep them outside the business – to keep those relationships strong. You can ask them for help and advice but they probably won’t challenge you. A good thing about hiring strangers is that you have to really sell your ideas – to get your views across convincingly to get them onboard.”

Robert’s man-in-a-hurry persona shines through again when he reflects on his experiences of the Prince’s Trust Enterprise Programme which he signed up to in London before joining Entrepreneurial Spark. Describing the 4-day ‘Explore Enterprise’ course politely as ‘well-paced’, he is less complimentary about the pace of change that followed. “I like to move fast and it took 18 months to develop a business plan. You can spend too much time planning.”

This ‘fail fast, fail cheap’ mentality extends to Robert’s top tips for other young entrepreneurs thinking of starting a business. “Get out to your customers as soon as possible. Before you’ve developed your product talk to them – get further faster with early testing. Spend less time on details – like business name and logo – time and money are in short supply when you start a business.”

Further information:

About the business – http://gocode.academy

About the entrepreneur – http://tamilculture.com/child-refugee-tech-entrepreneur/#

About The Prince’s Trust https://www.princes-trust.org.uk/help-for-young-people/support-starting-business

For further profiles on Prince’s Trust supported entrepreneurs, click here https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/category/experts-by-experience

 

Turning houses into homes  

Profiling a Prince’s Trust supported entrepreneur

Ask Sam Ryan to describe his business and his answer is clear and matter of fact. “I design and make wooden furniture and household items – to my own design for selling from stock, and on commission to the client’s specification. I’m also commissioned to repair, restore, and re-finish antique and modern furniture.”

Sam’s words belie the care and attention he puts into his work and the craftsmanship that oozes out of each item he creates. He has acquired those skills through three years’ study in furniture making and restoration and a further three years starting and running his own business – Sam Ryan Furniture.

His reputation is spreading and Sam was recently commissioned by a client in north Hertfordshire to re-size a large antique oval dining table made of solid oak. The client, Susanne Gallagher, was delighted with the craftsmanship. “I think Sam has done a great job with the table – it’s a complex piece and it’s now perfect for our dining room.  It must be quite a responsibility working on someone else’s treasured piece of furniture.” Sam was equally pleased with the commission. “The table is a really lovely piece, oak is a dense wood that’s easy and enjoyable to work with.”

Sam proudly describes himself a perfectionist, but he appreciates that attention to detail and high quality work take time. The master craftsmen status to which Sam aspires can only make for a viable business if there are enough people willing to pay for his handmade pieces.

. “It’s the perfectionism that people appreciate” says Sam “but it’s also a matter of getting a balance between quality and price.”    

Balancing perfectionism and productivity is just one of a number of issues confronting this young entrepreneur. On his professional journey since leaving college Sam has had to contend with periodic ill health following a major operation in 2007.  He bears that reality positively and has made the most of the support offered by The Prince’s Trust.

Sam’s involvement with the Trust started with a four-day Explore Enterprise business skills course in London in June 2016 after which he developed a business plan, with the support of a staff member from the Prince’s Trust London Office.

After a transfer between the Trust’s London and Stevenage offices, Sam successfully presented to a Business Launch Group in May 2017 and now enjoys further one-to-one support from a business mentor in Hertfordshire. Whatever the level of support from family and friends, starting a business can be a lonely affair and a business mentor for the first couple of years can serve as a valuable sounding board and ‘critical friend’.

This is confirmed by Sam himself. “The course was fantastic but the business mentoring has topped it off. It’s completely changed me from being a furniture maker and restorer to also being a businessman. I’m now more confident about running a business thanks to my business mentor.”

For Sam – the passionate perfectionist, ever keen to learn and taking pride in his work – a growing circle of satisfied customers is proof that all the effort has been worthwhile.

See Sam’s craftwork at www.samryanfurniture.co.uk

About The Prince’s Trust https://www.princes-trust.org.uk/help-for-young-people/support-starting-business

For further profiles on Prince’s Trust supported entrepreneurs, click here https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/category/experts-by-experience

 

My love affair with Twitter

In 2012, when I was new to Twitter, I was advised that the usual pattern of adoption, if that’s the way I wanted to go, would be along the lines of:

Denial – I don’t need it or want it – a waste of time

Curiosity – I wonder what they’re all talking about

Ah-ha! – I can see this could be fun

Obsession – I know it’s probably not the best use of my time, but…

Like breathing –  It’s a natural and welcome part of my daily life

14,000 tweets later, I feel it’s time to take stock and decide whether I’ve been wasting my time on Twitter for the past 6 years. I have no doubt my wife would have a three-letter-word answer to that – so I don’t need to ask her opinion.

As Valentine’s Day approaches I have to admit, I love Twitter. I feel I’m somewhere between the obsessional and like-breathing stages in my… I refuse to say ‘journey’ because I can’t stand the over-use and abuse of that word.  So, what’s behind the love affair?

I have Twitter to thank for introducing me to Men’s Sheds and Repair Cafés – in the same week around five years ago. Both have made a massive and positive difference to my life in the real, rather than the virtual, world. I am the first to admit that most of the ‘best ideas’ I’ve developed in recent years have their origins in the Twittersphere. I am regularly inspired by the creativity and humanity of so many people out there – it gives me hope for the future (just as the nastiness that is undoubtedly out there also gives me cause for despair).

Despite the ongoing romance, I feel in control – both limiting the messages I choose to see and the amount of time I spend viewing and, when I want to, responding to tweets. I ignore the etiquette of following people that follow me – I’m quite selective about the people I follow (I flirted with Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt but he was making me ill). I have a personal rule to follow no more than 50% of the number following me, so I get to see a reasonable range of tweets from those I do follow.

Like breathing, being part of Twitter is a daily pastime. Unlike breathing I can live without it – and do so when on holiday – and my mobile phone (much to the annoyance of some members of my family). For me, Twitter is a major source of news, comment and analysis and, for my paid job helping young people start businesses, it’s an essential tool for helping me to accumulate a steady stream of free business start-up resources that I drip-feed to over 150 young people every fortnight.

I personally regret the increase to allow tweets of up to 280 characters. As someone in marketing for 40 years, I liked the greater discipline to write clearly and concisely imposed by the old 140-character limit. But the new limit does potentially facilitate more meaningful exchanges. I’ve recently been party to an interesting conversation with similarly-minded people on the portrayal of older people in the media (and what we ‘should or shouldn’t’ be able to do as we grow older).

Finally, who follows me and how others respond to my own tweets, retweets and comments on others are, in my view, a real and meaningful barometer of what ideas and views (mine and those of others) strike a chord within the part of the Twittersphere I choose to inhabit. The fairly instant feedback is something that, after a 40-year career in communications, I value or, dare I say it, love.

See this wordsmith’s blog on the power of the Tweet  https://prism-clarity.com/2017/12/finding-story-part-3

www.facebook.com/TheRepairShed  www.facebook.com/RoystonRepairCafe