Female Futures: Sharon Gaskin

Startup profile: How Sharon Gaskin carved out a career coaching niche

Her husband’s job relocation was the spur Sharon Gaskin needed to go it alone. She’s now started up her own career coaching and training company aimed specifically at helping women get the most out of their jobs. She tells Startups.co.uk why, when it comes to starting a new business, you should just do it before somebody else does.

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: Sharon Gaskin Age: 38 Business: Female Futures Type of business: Career Coaching and Training Start date: April 2003

When did you first decide you wanted to start your own business? I’d wanted to start my own business for the past few years. I felt the time was never right but really I’d just been putting it off. The impetus came at the end of 2002 when I had to relocate from Sussex to Worcestershire because of my husband’s job.

Tell us about your business Female Futures provides career coaching and training exclusively for women. We help women realise their full career potential, achieve a better work/life balance, change career direction, return to work after a career break or start and develop their own businesses. We also help businesses to attract, retain and develop women.

Was it your first business idea and where did it come from?I knew I wanted to set up a coaching business as it was right for me both professionally ( I have 15 years experience in HR, personal development training and coaching) and personally (I am a mum of two young children and one-hour coaching sessions are a lot easier to fit around their demands). I was very conscious of the need to carve out a niche as there are a lot of coaches around. I wanted to do something It was also important to me my business revolved around something I felt passionate about – helping women to reach their full career potential. I think it’s very hard for women, particularly if they have children, to really do what they want with their careers.

What makes you think there’s a market for your business?I’ve talked to lots of other women about my ideas and without exception have received enthusiastic feedback. Only time will tell

Once you’d decided to start a business, what did you do first?With help from my friends I chose a company name. Then I spent about a month writing copy for a website, having it designed and then getting it up and running Everything I wanted to do seemed to rely on me having a website, so I had to do it first. It was definitely time well spent as the process of writing the web pages focused my mind on what the business was all about.

What advice did you seek? I was lucky enough to get to know a lady called Sue Froggatt who is a marketing expert. She has been enormously helpful to me and I couldn’t have done it without her as I knew next to nothing about marketing when I started. I did go to Business Link but didn’t find them too helpful. I don’t think they really understood the kind of business I was in.

What other help did you get?Nothing specific, just friends, business contacts and family. People are always ready to help, especially if they have been though a similar experience themselves.

How much did it cost to start the business?Approximately £1,000

How did you fund this? While the coaching business takes off I have continued working as a freelance trainer for some local training companies. This has enabled me to pay for things like the website, stationery, networking activities and so on. If the coaching clients do not come through I will have to continue and do more of the training work.

When did you stop working?I left my old job as a training consultant in October last year and I felt an enormous sense of excitement at being able to take my own decisions and follow through all the ideas I had. Someone said to me that once you become self-employed you will never want to go back and work for a big company again. They’re probably right.

Are you working from home or from premises? I’m working from home at the moment, partly for financial reasons and partly for domestic ones. For example, I live less than two minutes walk from my children’s school. I am pretty disciplined about working from home and don’t get distracted easily by other things and I’ve got a separate business line which helps. I’m lucky enough to be able to use an office in a local recruitment agency if I need to for coaching clients. However, I would eventually like to find an office somewhere else, especially when the children are older, to help me draw a distinction between work and home. At the moment, I never switch off.

How many hours are you working at the moment? Officially, I work there and a half days a week as my youngest child is not at school yet and I don’t have childcare for the other one and a half days. Saying this, I’ve just added up all the extra hours I work in the evening and weekends and it comes to 50 hours a week.

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 must admit I do find it difficult to get everything done, particularly with the childcare restrictions. It should be easier in September when my son goes to school!

What about staff, is it just you? It’s just me, although I do have four associates who will take on the extra work when I get more than I can handle. I’m also thinking of taking on someone on a month’s trial to do some telesales work. This is a friend of mine who has relevant experience.

What marketing and advertising have you done so far? A wide variety. I’ve got a slot on local radio next week and I’m also being featured in two magazines. In addition I’ve been doing constant networking, have had leaflets produced, approached various women’s associations and promoted the website in anyway I can.

Where do you hope to be in 12 months’ time?Doing less marketing and more coaching and seeing a steady stream of new clients. I’d also like to be doing some work with businesses rather than just individuals.

What are the main obstacles to growth? Time and money!

Tell us about your website. As I said previously, the website – www.female-futures.co.uk – is really important. I don’t think it necessarily brings lots of new clients, as the kind of work we do is very personal and people like to get to know you first before making a decision on whether to use you. However, I do believe it’s vital for getting your name known and for projecting the right image. I wrote the site myself and then got someone to design it for me who was absolutely brilliant in every respect. I wanted the site to look professional, friendly, clear and concise, and be easy to use. I’m happy with it and I’ve had lots of good feedback. The day the website went live was the day I thought ‘The real work starts from now’

What are your main ambitions, to make a lot of money or enjoy what you do?A bit of both really. It’s really important for me to enjoy what I do and also to have a career which fits in with my family. But I don’t want to do it for nothing.

What have you found difficult about starting up and what do you wish you’d done differently? I don’t think I’ve found anything really difficult apart from wishing I had more time to do everything I want to do. The planning side of things could have been better and in many respects the business just evolved rather than being perfectly planned, but I know planning is one of my weaknesses, I like to just get on with things.

What skills and personal characteristics do you need to start your own business?Determination, a willingness to learn from others, persistence and a belief in yourself

So what advice would you give to anyone thinking of starting a business? Just do it. If you don’t, someone else will.

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