Category Archives: Experts by experience

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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Getting hands on

Profiling a Prince’s Trust supported entrepreneur

Hannah Stobbs knows all about the stresses and strains we inflict on our bodies – she plays rugby and cricket. It was a back injury playing cricket aged 17 that first introduced her to the magic of massage that has now become the core of her business – Hannah Stobbs Holistic Health.

Putting elite athletes and overworked employees back together again is Hannah’s passion – developed through studies at Loughborough University and ‘hands on’ experience working on the bruised bodies of fellow sports enthusiasts – including friends who would go on to be World-Cup-winning cricketers.

For a job which seems to be essentially about physical manipulation, Hannah’s description of the traits of a skilled massage therapist is perhaps surprising. “They are people who can be fairly relaxed – who know how to switch off the parts of their brains that cause anxiety. You need to have a flexible mind; to be able to do your best work even if you don’t feel at your best.”  

As the name of her business suggests, Hannah’s approach is very much about getting a 360-degree understanding of her client’s situation – to look beyond the immediate injury at the bigger picture. As Hannah explains, “I aim to get a fairly extensive client history at the start. I also ask what they would like to get from the massage session and this can raise a host of other issues – often related to stress at work.”

For Hannah, the relationship between massage therapist and client is best when there’s a shared understanding of what lies behind the problems being presented. “I aim to build a rapport – to focus attention and treatment on the most pressing issues and explain what I’m planning before I begin. Most people want to know this – it’s what they’re paying for!”

It’s clear that Hannah’s approach works – she has an impressively high return rate and has built up a solid base of regular clients, with 95% first coming to her through referrals – word-of-mouth recommendations. This is the core strength of any business and one on which Hannah is keen to build. That said, she sees part of her role as educating her clients so they don’t need to return for further treatment as regularly as other therapists might advise.

Reflecting on the first eight years of a career putting broken bodies back together, Hannah sees it as a play in three acts. The first was to gain experience – for which she was well-placed at Loughborough University, renowned for its specialism in sports science.

The next act was moving from Loughborough for post-graduate study, working on sports massage alongside other jobs, and wondering whether it could ever become a fulltime occupation. This was a testing time, as Hannah explains “I’d come away from Loughborough where it was very easy to get clients. From 60 – 70 clients, I went down to three. It felt like a big step backwards, but it taught me how to re-build my client base – through networking. I’ve made great friends through playing rugby and cricket, so I never need to massage a stranger!”

It was the third stage when, with the support of The Prince’s Trust, Hannah decided to focus on developing her business as a massage therapist. She credits that support with helping her to make better use of her time – to think more entrepreneurially. “I’m now thinking more about how to reduce time-wasting – less driving and more massaging – and generally structuring my days better. It’s also about better use of the resources I already have – working on my strengths more than weaknesses. For me, that’s my networks for developing the business through word-of-mouth.

It’s interesting how often professionals don’t practice what they preach. Hannah admits that she has had to learn to look after herself better – through mentoring and acquiring the skills to achieve a better work-life balance. For Hannah, this is a combination of playing sport, making new friends at home and abroad, and never stopping learning – three passions that should take her far, both personally and professionally.

For further information about Hannah Stobbs Holistic Health, go to  https://www.hannahstobbssportsmassage.co.uk

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

 

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

 

A passion for pallets

???????????????????????????????Creative flair, a willingness to roll up sleeves and ‘have a go’, to experiment and being prepared to fail, all make Dawn Taylor well suited to a recent, perhaps surprising, career development. Dawn is founder of York-based enterprise Purepallets which does what it says on the tin (or should that be timber?) turning pallets into crafted items fit to grace any home.

From wine racks and candle holders to what can only be described as ‘letter wall shelving’ (B anyone?) pallet product design and creation clearly excites Dawn.

But perhaps the new career move is not so surprising, as Dawn explains… “When I was young I was a tomboy. My dad was a plumber and built our extension by himself, and I helped him. I learnt how to mix cement and lay bricks, so from an early age I’ve not been scared to try new things.” 

So, practical from an early age and Dawn’s creativity – probably also rooted in her past – has been honed through a career in retailing, including 14 years as a visual merchandiser with a major UK high street store.

And what could be more creative than turning a much-maligned product – the humble pallet which many of Dawn’s friends think is only good for firewood – into a thing with real appeal, each one unique? Having “fallen into making pallet products by accident” – an unexpected commission to make a wine rack – Dawn was soon bitten by the upcycling bug. She has just started experimenting with paint effects but still delights in the beauty of the ‘pure pallet’ finish which, when embossed with the original owners logo adds to the story behind the product.

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Now taking a service break with her current employer, Dawn has nine months to see if she can ‘give birth’ to a financially viable business. The product range is developing nicely – mainly through commissions from a rapidly widening customer base that values the bespoke nature of each item. With low overheads to date – pallets are sourced locally at low/no cost, the workshop is a garage at home, social media and word-of-mouth are the main marketing tools – there may be a temptation to under-value the finished product.

But Dawn believes her promotional offer – quality and uniqueness at affordable prices – could create a sustainable business model. While pallets grow on trees (well, sort of…) Dawn’s talents do not. With these she may just be able to differentiate Purepallets’ product range from others and have champagne corks popping.

See Purepallets products at http://on.fb.me/1xtfc8T

 

Fast food, lifelong learning

Barry AllardDespite the best efforts of the slow food movement from Italy, the prevalence of ‘fast food’ and all it stands for disguises the real time it takes to put a nutritional, high-quality meal on the table and under-values the wider health benefits of cooking.

Luckily people like Barry Allard and LEAP CIC in Norwich know how food and catering can give direction and purpose to individuals leading often chaotic lives. Some of these people are now benefiting from a new enterprise – The Feed – as Barry explains.

“At LEAP we’re about supporting homeless people, or those disadvantaged in other ways, to lead more fulfilling lives. We’ve recently launched a catering enterprise – The Feed – to develop specific skills, while also providing coaching and training; person-centred support. Learners achieve personal development goals – in self-esteem, taking responsibility, dealing with the past, planning the future, gratitude – all the time getting support for progression towards employment.”

leaplogoThe journey into work for LEAP clients may be relatively short, but for others it can be a long term association. People with complicated home lives, furthest from the jobs market, can get the kind of extended support from LEAP that other schemes often simply cannot afford to offer.  One trainee is now employed at LEAP, and it’s hoped others might follow as the enterprise grows.

I wondered how Barry and LEAP got into food and the idea of setting up The Feed in the first place. I discover that, like me, Barry is passionate about food. He also points to the creativity and health benefits associated with catering.

The Feed logo“With cooking, you can get tangible results by making something quickly – a sense of achievement for the person doing it. In the longer term we hope to set up an academy with a 12 – week programme so more learners so they can get their hygiene certificates and develop particular skills – in pastry, for example –  from local chefs”.

Healthy eating is an important part of the LEAP offer: “We’re modern in terms of street food and event catering, but the food still has that healthy kick” says Barry.” As a social enterprise we also aim to embrace ethical supply in the business – we buy local wherever possible.”

I wonder what Barry’s advice would be to someone thinking of starting a social enterprise and getting into catering?

“We’re there to help homeless people into work, but it’s not an easy busy model – working with unpaid trainees in low-cost at one level, but expensive at another- managing volunteers is demanding. So I’d advise you to get support and advice from others who have already been there. Finding mentors is really important. There are people around who can reduce the fear as you go into the unknown.”

“Catering is very hard work. People often don’t realise how much preparation goes into putting food on the plate. And it’s not easy to build all the preparation time into the price of the finished product. Planning, managing trainees, producing good quality food, and making money is a difficult juggling act.”

I leave Barry with a mental image of a chef in a busy kitchen frantically spinning plates on the ends of sharp knives and decide to stick with my particular passion for food – eating it – rather than Barry’s – creating a business with it.

Find out more about The Feed at http://the-feed.co.uk and on Twitter @TheFeedCIC

Barry is in the 2013-14 cohort of learners with the School for Social Entrepreneurs on
the Lloyds Bank Social Entrepreneurs Programme at the Eastern Enterprise Hub in
Ipswich http://bit.ly/1c6lQsj