HumAnima CIC: Kathryn Kimbley
Tell us what your business does:
HumAnima CIC is a social enterprise that offers counselling, but also specialises in Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT), a unique and emerging therapeutic approach. We offer AAT within the counselling sessions (with a temperament assessed and trained therapy dog) and can also design, establish and implement AAT programmes within establishments, according to their clients’ needs.
Where did the idea for your business come from?
I have long been fascinated in the human-animal bond but also wanted a career that would help people. I completed my MSc in Counselling Psychology in 2009 and – even before then – ideas for a business had been brewing for some time.
It seemed natural to combine my love for helping people with my passion for animals and the human-animal bond. Applying AAT to my work has allowed me to do just that.
What’s your unique selling point?
As long as people have mental health issues or experience other life challenges, there will always be a market for counselling. My unique selling point is without doubt the AAT, which really does set us apart from anyone else providing counselling in the local area. I interviewed counsellors applying AAT in their counselling practices for my MSc. The nearest one to us here in Wolverhampton is in Stoke-on-Trent, so they are very few and far between..
What were you doing before starting up?
Before starting the business I was doing my MSc. I undertook a Professional Certificate in Animal Assisted Therapy and also a Foundation Certificate in Animal & Horticulture as Therapy.
Work-wise though, I have worked in the third sector and public sector in a variety of roles, including learning support work with young people with disabilities or language barriers. I have also worked extensively as an interpreter, as I am bi-lingual Polish.
It wasn’t hard to leave that way of living, as there was little structure, routine or security. This way I know what I’m doing, where I’m going and I don’t have to second-guess bosses’ or colleagues’ expectations of me, as I am the boss!
Have you always wanted to run your own business?
Running my own business is a seed that was only sown in the last five to seven years. It was my former dissertation tutor’s suggestion that I offer AAT as a consultancy – back then it simply wasn’t an idea I had entertained.
Being my own boss was never really an issue, as I am happy to work in a team environment. But it was the ability to pursue my passions and offer people the best of what I’m good at that meant being my own boss was worth it.
What planning did you do before you started up?
I have spent years planning this business in one way or another – much of it in my head. I attended as many free business courses as possible, including Business Link’s 10-week course, Women In Rural Enterprise’s Opening Doors course, The Prince’s Trust’s business courses and various other one-day courses. I didn’t feel that I could overdo it, as I have never been trained in business.
I received a lot of support from The Prince’s Trust and am now paired with a mentor. I also received support from iSe, UnLtd and Wolverhampton Business Solutions Centre. All of them have been priceless in their own way.
I tried to do market research as scientifically as possible, but getting participants was very difficult. I gathered a series of questionnaires and, while people do say one thing, I am learning that often they aren’t as upfront as you need them to be on questionnaires and will sometimes change their minds. The market research is continuous and doesn’t stop at the beginning. You constantly need to think about diversification and development.
How did you raise the money?
Initially I applied for a loan with The Prince’s Trust. As the first financial injection it was a nerve-wracking process, but compared to other ways of applying for finance, was very easy. More recently, I applied for an UnLtd Level 1 Award grant and received nearly £3,000.
You have to be constantly thinking about different ways to finance your business and, as this is the beginning, I have to consider where to invest the most money in order to get the best return. I realise that marketing will be the biggest expenditure but it’s about knowing what the best way is to market such a business. You have to think outside the box.
I applied for a grant at one point that was rejected. The problem today is that the competition is massive. You have to make yourself bigger, better and you have to show what will be the return for their investment. It makes sense, but it is very challenging.
What challenges have you faced how have you overcome them?
The biggest challenge to date has been marketing the service. While I do have an amazing unique selling point, not many people are aware of, or understand what AAT is. I have to go back to basics to introduce people to the concept and work my way up from there.
Another problem is the impact the recession is having on potential clients. They have had their budgets cut, so are less likely to want to invest in ‘unknowns’, even if I do demonstrate the scientific evidence. Investing in a new service is a big risk and they are all staying in their comfort zones.
Where is your business based?
The business is based wherever I take it. While I can offer the service at home, I am hoping to offer it in offices that I can rent out. It is difficult trying to break up the day between home and work – and being at home means it’s that much easier to be distracted by chores and housework. Disciplining myself has been a challenge and continues to be a learning curve.
How have you promoted your business?
I have had flyers and business cards printed, but as a service it isn’t easy to market. It isn’t something people can see or feel – it isn’t tangible. I’m looking at doing presentations and workshops to introduce people to the organisation and what I do. I know that if they give HumAnima a chance they will love what we have to offer.
I also have a website and a blog and HumAnima CIC is on Twitter and Facebook. I love networking so I try to go to as many events as possible and I find that is the most valuable way to get yourself out there and known.
How much do you charge?
I charge individuals £40 an hour, although this is negotiable for those on low incomes or benefits. I looked at the average price being charged in our area and worked from that. AAT therapy programmes are charged according to the hours involved in designing the course, its establishment, development and maintenance, as this can also include training staff to manage the programmes themselves.
While I am starting out in my own business, I am highly qualified and have a very unique selling point. It is always important to value yourself, otherwise others won’t value you.
What has your growth been like?
It’s very early days at the moment. Unfortunately I am not where my business plan said I would be. But I am not surprised, especially with the current financial climate.
I fear people feel that addressing their mental health is a luxury that, at present, many cannot afford. I am hoping business will pick up in the next three to five months. Ultimately I am hoping it’ll be word of mouth that will market the business.
What would you do differently?
I would probably have done a basic marketing course, if I’d had the means and ability. This has been the most challenging aspect, and no amount of me wanting others to know about the business or believe in it will make people buy into it. It has to be done by the book.
What advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs?
Have patience. Do your homework. Make sure it’s your passion that you’re investing your time and money in. Network, network, network. You never know who you might meet, what they can do for you and what you can do for them.