Alatron Ltd: Denise Lewis

Startup profile: Denise Lewis' new business is just the job

Denise Lewis gave up her day job to start a business helping others into work. She talks to about setting up IT recruitment firm, Alatron.

Startup profiles go straight to the hub of the action by speaking to entrepreneurs who have literally just started up. We find out what made them decide to start their own business, how they got it off the ground, the obstacles they’ve overcome and the barriers they still face. We’ll look at their hopes and aspirations for the future, and then, in six months time, we’ll go back and find out how they’re getting on.

Name: Denise Lewis Age: 41 Business: Alatron Ltd Type of business: IT Recruitment Start date: April 2002

When did you first decide you wanting start your own business?I had always been inspired by great people throughout my working career and decided that I wanted to be more in control of my destiny and future. Running my own business enabled me to be creative and gave me the automony I was seeking. I also had a vision that I wanted to create a company that was very delivery-orientated.

Tell us about your business It is an IT recruitment company which specialises in niche areas of IT, namely SAP, Oracle, Globus & Peoplesoft. It provides high quality IT consultants and covers both the UK & Europe and is currently working with some global blue chip organisations.

Was it your first business idea and where did it come from?It was my first business idea and was formulated at the beginning of January 2002. It was created really from a need to have a recruitment company which is passionate about delivery and service, and was consequently launched in April 2002.

Was your decision to start a business inspired by any other companies or individuals? Yes, it was inspired by successful recruiters who I had been fortunate enough to work with in the past. These shall remain nameless, though!

What makes you think there is a market for your business?I think the market needs good recruiters who offer a professional service and care about their clients and candidates.

Once you’d decided to start a business, what did you do first?I did four months intensive market research into the initial operational set-up, which included purchasing office equipment, established a database management record system, indentifying my target audience, investigating advertising / running costs and employing a website designer.

What research did you do?Extensive research into my competitors and the marketplace.

What advice did you seek? I went to Business Link and found it very helpful with giving good background advice, and my local enterprise agency were key in assisting with my business plan, which was invaluable.

What other help did you get? Encouragement and support from friends and family.

Does the government need to provide more help to people trying to start a business? There needs to be more entrepreneurial seminars and access to business funding. At the moment, there is a lot of red tape in relation to gaining funding which can be off-putting to budding entreprenuers.

Talk us through the process of writing your business plan.Business Link provided an excellent template which I still utilise for my business plan. I also used information from Lloyds TSB, who I hold a business account with.

How useful has your business plan been and do you think you’ll stick to it as your business begins to grow?It is an integral part of my business and I use it as a roadmap to where I wish to be in the future. I review it constantly and it keeps me on the right track.

How much did it cost to start the business?Initial set-up was £5000

How did you fund this? From my own savings.

Similarly, how are you funding your running costs until the business takes off?Again, from my own savings.

Have you made any provisions for business not being as prosperous as expected?I have taken out a loan as a back-up fund, but I will be focussing on the business being a success!

When did you stop working? I stopped full-time employment in December 2001. Becoming self-employed took some adjustments at first, as you have to beat yourself with a stick, rather than someone else doing that for you.

Are you working from home or from premises?I work within a virtual office set-up, which means I rent a business address and all calls are handled from a business exchange and forwarded to me at home. I decided to do this to keep the overheads down in my first year. It’s a good arrangement as I get a very professional ‘office team’, but, I must say, the novelty is wearing off and I am missing a ‘real’ office environment.

I can still be professional from home and find that I put in even more time then I would if located in an office. I plan to rent office space within the next 12 months which will probably be a unit within an office suite.

How many hours are you working at the moment?I’m working 60 hours a week and it is not enough!

How are you managing your day and what steps have you taking to ensure you’re able to get everything done without working around the clock?I find when I prepare my day the night before, it helps my next day to be more productive and positive. I keep a diary and log the important tasks which need to be done and this helps to keep my day productive. If I need to work longer hours I do as it is in my best interest!

What about staff, is it just you?For the moment it is just myself, but I am planning to employ more sales consultants over the next few years so that the business can grow.

Is the amount of red tape that comes with taking on an employee something that concerns you? When the situation arises I’ll take legal advice from the Inland Revenue, which runs seminars.

What marketing and advertising have you done so far?Job boards, e-marketing and brochures.

Where do you hope to be in 12 months’ time? Employing three more consultants.

What are the main obstacles to growth?Money.

How do you plan to overcome this?Work hard or take out a business loan.

Tell us about your website. My website – – reflects my personality and the company, and it is the first point of call for prospective clients and candidates. I am constantly reviewing it for improvements. I employed a very good web design company and wanted it to be personal and professional, with lots of activity and, hopefully, it does portray that image.

I had a bit of a dodgy start as I employed someone who did not have a clue about what I required, but the second company were imaginative and creative and definitely in tune with my requirements. On reflection, I probably should have tried to design it myself which would have been fun.

What are your main ambitions, to make a lot of money or enjoy what you do? To build a profitable business as well as enjoying what I do.

What have you found difficult about starting up and what do you wish you’d done differently? Funding and cashflow. On reflection, I wish I had more money behind me and not been so enthusiastic about every marketing proposition put to me, which incurred unnecessary expense.

What skills and personal characteristics do you need to start your own business? Persistence; motivation; self-belief; positivity; hard work; and a good support network.

So what advice would you give to anyone thinking of starting a business? To do their research and to be clear about what they want to achieve, as this is what will keep them going in the early stages when challenges arise.

Thanks a lot and the very best of luck. Will you come back and tell us how you’re getting on in six months’ time? I would be delighted to.

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