More than skin deep

Profiling a Prince’s Trust supported entrepreneur

Nichola Macarthur is a perfectionist. This is a good thing for someone whose business is beauty – particularly as she trains people in different beauty therapies. When Nichola was completing her business plan – an excellent document by any standards – she wasn’t happy until all the minor grammatical errors had been corrected. All businesses should aspire to the highest standards and, although many fall short, The Shire Beauty Training Group – Nichola’s business – does not appear to be one of them.

Perfectionism of the level exemplified by Nichola is a common problem for start-up entrepreneurs who are also craftspeople – how to balance perfection and productivity, and the implications for pricing. Time is money and if people won’t pay for the hours on the job, then there’s no business, however high the quality of the work. Being able to ‘let go’ and accept ‘good enough’ is essential for anyone starting and growing their own business.

But, her own admission, Nichola has not always been so ‘perfect’. “At college I was quite naughty. I was the one standing outside the classroom, believe it or not.” She soon got over this wrinkle in her career. “I went straight from college into the beauty industry, starting my own business at 19, renting a room in a tanning shop and ending up taking over the business.” But that wasn’t to be the end of her stumbling. “I was really young, blew all my money on stupid things, and it all went down the pan.

A characteristic of a successful entrepreneur is their ability to learn from mistakes, to reflect, and bounce back after failure. Nichola returned to employment in different salons broadening her experience, while studying for a training qualification in beauty therapy. She started teaching in 2011 but it was the ‘conveyor-belt’ training environment that gave her the impetus to set up her own training academy that incorporated her own style of working.

That style and the expectation of the highest standards of herself and her staff seems to be working well.  Nichola is finding that her meticulous approach to running her new business is a real asset. Just over a year after launching in Hertfordshire – with over 300 students having taken classes and an impressive 70% return rate – the business has already stepped across the county boundary into Essex, and Nichola has long term plans for further expansion.

This initial success is not without a lot of hard work and the change from being employed to self-employed has made additional demands. “You’re in charge and responsible for everything. There’s no one to push you. You have to have a lot of passion and inner drive to get up in the morning and make things happen – everything is on your shoulders.”

Unlike other providers, The Shire Beauty Training Group operates seven days a week, including evenings, to cater for would-be students’ daytime working and parenting commitments. This is, in Nichola’s words a ‘unique selling point’ for her business but it puts considerable demand on her time with classes keeping her busy every day and most evenings.

The excessive hours seem to be paying off in terms of student success in getting employment. Nichola’s connections in the beauty industry mean that she has had great success in helping students through the recruitment process to find them placements with salons. Her industry connections have also resulted in commercial tie-ups with beauty brands that have, in turn, extended the breadth and depth of Nichola’s professional network, essential for business success.

Like many business start-ups, finding premises was a big headache before the business launched. Perhaps reflecting her perfectionism, Nichola says “I put a lot of time into looking for the right premises. I knew where I wanted to end up, so I had to accept high start-up costs. Looking back, it was worth the investment.”

Reflecting on her first year as a new business owner, Nichola has been surprised how much developments have diverged from her original business plan – something that was developed with support from The Prince’s Trust who all provided a start-up loan and a business mentor. As Nichola explains. “My business values have remained the same but, particularly on the financial side, things have turned out quite differently from what I expected. I was probably too optimistic.

A new development – part of the plan but something that has happened sooner than expected (in response to public demand) is the launch of an in-house salon run by four students of the academy. The salon is not only an additional source of income for the business, but it gives students practice and valuable work experience.

They say that ‘practice makes perfect’. Clearly Nichola is determined that her students should share the high standards she expects of herself. But, one year on, she admits she’s not yet ready ‘to let go’. “When people used to say ‘your business is your baby’ I didn’t believe them, but it’s true. It’s very personal and I rely on all my staff having high standard to keep clients coming back.”

To find out about The Shire Beauty Training Group, go to https://www.shirebeautytraining.com 

More information about the Prince’s Trust Enterprise Programme https://www.princes-trust.org.uk/help-for-young-people/support-starting-business 

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