A very happy new year to you! We hope 2016 will be a great year for you, whatever your hopes and aspirations may be...
New Year is often a time of reflection - when we ponder on the highs and lows of the past 12 months, and when we have time to look at our lives as a whole. Are we as happy and fulfilled as we'd like to be? Have we achieved all that we had hoped for ourselves? It's not surprising that many business owners say that the initial decision to start their new enterprise was made over the Christmas holidays, or at the start of a new year...
It makes sense. New year new start. But would you take the risk of leaving a perfectly good, well paid career to pursue your personal passion or dream? During the last 15 months since starting Keep it in Kent, we have met so many enterprising, creative, resourceful people who have set up their own thriving independent businesses. In the last couple of months, I met up with three women who have turned their back on perfectly acceptable, interesting careers to follow their own dreams.
So I thought I would share their (very different) stories with you, as it might just provide the inspiration you need to take the plunge!
Katie joined the Police at the age of 22, and although she enjoyed it, she tells me that she always wanted to do something food related. For five years, Katie continued her role as a Police Officer, whilst making wedding cakes at the weekends and in the evenings - sometimes staying up until 4am to get them finished! Discovering a particular skill and love for making chocolate wedding cakes, Katie decided to take an online course at the start of 2015. By April she was no longer a Police Officer, but was running her own chocolate business. It wasn't an easy decision to leave behind the work friendships and the regular income, but with some careful planning (and a short-term job at a Call Centre), Katie has managed in just a few months to build up a successful business that can support her financially. As for the companionship of work colleagues, Katie told me that there's such an amazing sense of community amongst all the small food producers and craft makers in Kent. She has made a number of new friends who she regularly sees at the various events that she attends around the county.
It's clear that Katie loves her new life as a chocolatier. It may be hard work (and her home has been taken over with chocolate making paraphernalia, packaging materials and stock...) but she thoroughly enjoys the creative process and says that she is always making and trying out new and interesting flavours. Her popular lemon and lime chocolate was actually made by mistake! In 2016, Katie is looking forward to getting into the wedding market, selling to B&Bs, florists and then looking at the corporate market - as well as creating some new flavours such as salt & pepper, and wasabi pea... Having tasted Katie's salted caramel, and her ginger chocolates (it had to be done!) I'm looking forward to seeing her work her magic with her new range!
Clare worked for 15 years in Financial Services as an IT Business Analyst. Managing a team of 7 people, her job required her to travel regularly a couple of times a month from home in Kent up to Edinburgh. Clare says her work was enjoyable but incredibly stressful, particularly when her son was a baby - however, she was good at her job and loved the fact that her managerial salary funded lots of world travel with her family. 2008 was a turning point for Clare following a car accident that injured her back, and prompted the decision to give up her career in banking. Moving into recruitment meant less travelling for work, but this too was a very pressurised job, with stretching targets to meet each month.
Clare had always enjoyed applying make-up and would often help her friends before going out for the evening. Her transition from Financial Services into the world of professional make-up also happened by accident... A friend had booked herself onto a make-up course, and asked Clare to be her model. Rather than just attend as a model, Clare decided to take the course too and absolutely loved it - and so her initial dream to become a mobile beautician was born...
In 2012, Clare made the move to a 3 day a week job with the National Careers Serivice in Rochester Prison. This enabled her to build up her business gradually over a period of three years. In 2013, Claire took her first booking for a wedding party of five. It went so well that she got 3 bookings off the back of it! Having discovered her talent for, and love of wedding make-up, Clare has been focusing entirely on wedding make-up as her speciality. She has become so sought after that she only has a few dates left in 2016, and has bookings through to 2018!
Clare told me that her career in Financial Services gave her an excellent grounding in how to run a professional business. She takes the organisation of her business very seriously, and works tirelessly to ensure that everyone receives excellent service and regular communication. She is now looking forward to the possibility of taking on some administrative support to get some time back for herself and her family. Whilst her workload has never slowed down, Clare loves the fact that many of "her" brides become personal friends. She is also delighted to have become the "family make-up artist" for many of the families that she has got to know by being involved in one of the most special days - their wedding day! Clare is also extremely proud to have won TWO Wedding Industry Experts awards, which are voted for by the clients, and which gives her a fantastic stamp of approval from those who really matter.
What advice would Clare give for anyone thinking of starting their own business? Three things:
She can't emphasise enough how important it is to work out where your client base is and how you're going to cover your bills. Working part-time to start with is a good strategy to help build up a contingency fund just in case you have a quiet spell. She also recommends finding out who's working in your industry, and rather than seeing them as competition, work together to share best practices. This collaborative approach enables you to support each other and make cross-referrals, so you don't feel you're entirely on your own!
Katie loved dressing up as a child, and when she was asked what she wanted to be, she always said "A Princess!"
Little did her family know at the time, but what Katie wants, she will get... and through determination and a lot of self-belief, Katie has created a successful Kent-based children's entertainment business. To this day, they can't quite believe what Katie has managed to achieve in just a couple of years.
Katie began her career working as a hairdresser and beauty therapist, whilst finishing all her beauty courses. She enjoyed her job, but always wanted to have her own business - it was just a matter of timing. There wasn't a particular moment that Katie decided to "go for it", but when her youngest son started school in September 2013, she planned a January 2014 launch. Knowing it was a competitive market, Katie decided that she needed to focus on quality, so rather than buying off-the-shelf costumes and wigs, she commissioned her first two bespoke Belle and Sleeping Beauty costumes. Only having a Facebook page to start with, Katie was delighted to be approached by Toys R Us to help them with a Disney Doll promotion, and later by The National Trust, where she now runs a fairytale school/Princess Academy for aspiring young princes and princesses.
Katie's multi-talented team provides "real" Princesses who can sing, tell stories and teach etiquette - and not a wig in sight! In fact Katie is certain that the speed of her success is because she has created a strong brand that's different to everyone else. She doesn't advertise, as she says she doesn't need to. The next step for Katie is to franchise her business model out to four more counties in the South East, with the help of the Kent Foundation. She insists that she will stay true to her mission of providing a quality product and great customer service - even if it takes a little more time to get everything right.
So what's Katie's advice for anyone considering setting up their own business? "Just do it!" She's a firm believer in getting on with things, not to think too much or you won't do anything. She also says it's important to try things out, and follow the trends. If it works, go with it... if not, try something else. Katie feels the key to her success is to keep launching new ideas. Next on the horizon is to bring in "super car" experiences, so children can enjoy a ride in an Aston Martin to school on their birthday, and also to further develop her idea of children's pamper parties and salons.
We have no doubt that Katie will realise her dreams!
In many ways these three women are extraordinary, but in others they're quite ordinary. They have simply been bold enough to take the step from employment to becoming owners of their own businesses. So could 2016 be the year that you take the plunge? Do you have a business idea waiting to be put into action? Our next guest blog will set out some useful advice for anyone wanting to turn an idea into a functioning, profit making business - so make sure to check back next week.
Until then... Happy New Year!!