Nightbreeds: Mike Hesketh

Mike Hesketh, founder of Nightbreeds, tells Startups.co.uk about teaching, battling ill-health and his very big snakes

The business world can be a predatory place but Mike Hesketh is well accustomed with some of nature’s most deadly. He runs Nightbreeds that runs educational programmes and retails in exotic animals. He tells startups.co.uk about teaching, battling ill-health and very big snakes.   

Name: Mike Hesketh Age: 35 Business: Nightbreeds Type of business: Exotic animals/equipment breeder/retailer, mobile exotic animals/art education specialist. Start date: December 2004

When did you first decide you wanted to start your own business? I have tried to run my own business before, which failed due to ill health. The decision this time was a natural progression from a long-standing hobby, the acquisition of new qualifications (teaching) and my love of making art. (I am a freelance artist). And also continuing health problems, which makes working for an employer very difficult at best).

Was your decision to start a business inspired by any other companies or individuals? It seemed like a logical progression, especially in light of my specialist knowledge and skills. However, seeing the way most pet shops operate makes me want to improve things a lot. My business is two pronged – the reptile/equipment retail, and the educational visits. As far as I am aware, I am the first really qualified person in UK offering these services.

What makes you think there’s a market for your business?One of latest directives in the educational sector is the need to draw the arts and the sciences closer together – my venture does this very directly. Another directive is that learning should be interactive and innovative, criteria that my venture fulfils in every way. This country is full of individuals who are prepared to sell exotic animals without providing the buyer with appropriate information – this is wrong! There is a real need for experts within the hobby. It is a vastly expanding market, and up to date captive care information must be provided with every sale.

Once you’d decided to start a business, what did you do first? I wrote a very basic business plan and strategy to cope with necessary expansion. I then contacted several organisations for support and possible funding.

What research did you do?Spent a year or so finding out what other similar businesses were out there, completed swot analysis, etc. I then looked into possible funding sources and legal aspects, etc.

What advice did you seek? I approached Preston Creative Industries initially, then the Preston Business Venture, who then put me in touch with University of Central Lancashire business school. I was then able to enrol on the New Entrepreneur Scholarship scheme, which when completed, allowed me to access funding for business. My next strategy is to access local community funds and arts funding.

What other help did you get?For those that completed the course, north west chartered accountants and business advisors Moore and Smalley offered £500 towards accountancy fees, which I have decided to accept this year. This has taken a huge burden off my mind, as I can concentrate more on expansion and less on end of year tax returns.

Does the government need to provide more help to people trying to start a business? The government need to do much more. In my experience they offer little support and no real incentive to new businesses. I started my business on a shoestring budget, and it has been very difficult, and still is. New business is vital to the economic climate in this country, if there were more support offered at the beginning, and in the early growth years, for new businesses, any more would survive, thrive and help maintain the economic climate of the UK. Look at the lengths Charles Dyson had to go to.

Talk us through the process of writing your business plan. A really good comprehensive business plan is provided to all students that undertake the NES course at UCL. Not only that, the course helps its students to develop the skills and awareness to be able to complete the plan in a very professional format. It is an awful lot of hard work, and it took me some weeks to complete it. But I’m glad I did, as I now have a strategy to follow for the first few years of my business.

How useful has your business plan been? My business plan is a very integral tool to the success of my business. It gives me targets to aim for, and it keeps me steering on the right track at all times. If I ever lose faith in what I am doing, my plan reminds me that my business is a viable one, and that I should do well if I continue on the right track. Not only will I stick to it, I hope to have to re-write it, in order that it can cover the expected growth.

How much did it cost to start the business?It is difficult to say really because of difficult circumstances, if I had to guess I’d say around £10,000.

How did you fund this?The start up money came from NES scheme £3,500, £500(Preston Creative Industries), the rest of the cash was injected from my part-time job, disability benefits, and certain work related benefits. As I said earlier, this was started on a budget of almost nothing.

Similarly, how are you funding your running costs until the business takes off? SSP from employer, work related benefits, disability benefits and income from business.

Have you made any provisions for business not being as prosperous as expected? Please explain them. No. I have never been in a secure financial position due to my disabilities, this is the closest I have been to financially stable in a long time.

When did you stop working?Although I am off sick at the moment, I am still ‘on the books’. I am thus employed (Part time) and self-employed. The day when I can stop work and rely solely on business income will be a huge day for me. It will be nothing short of the realisation of a dream. It has been a very long hard road for me, now at least there is light at the end of the tunnel.

Are you working from home or from premises? I work from home because I did not want to get into huge amounts of debt in order to set myself up. As I said, I set this up on a shoe string budget. Maintaining a professional approach is easy – that isn’t about premises, it’s about attitude! Moving to premises is a must as I have run out of space at home. My five-year aim is to move into dedicated premises, which will be funded in part by arts funds and community funds.

How many hours are you working at the moment? As many as it takes, generally 24 -7, but it’s worth it. Even if I fail at least I can say I gave it my all.

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? Hectically. I have a very long list of ‘pending’ items that need addressing if I am to ensure long-term survivability of my business. Every week or so I sit down with this list and cross off items once I have completed them. However, the list is by no means exhaustive, it keeps growing back every time I knock items off it. It is really important to have ‘me’ time, especially in light of my health problems. Sometimes this is possible, other times it isn’t. I think it is vital to always have your personal goals in your head at all times, that way you ensure you find time for yourself. It is really easy to get lost in the business.

What about staff, is it just you? I have a small bank of knowledgeable ‘casual’ staff I use from time to time. But generally it is all me. If my business takes off as planned I will definitely need staff, as I can’t be in two or three places at once! Finding the right staff will be very difficult though because of the nature of my venture.

Is the amount of red tape that comes with taking on an employee something that concerns you?Yes it is. I am not even thinking about that at the moment because it is far too soon, But nearer the time I will make use of the continued support that UCL and the NES scheme provides.

What marketing and advertising have you done so far? Have set up an extensive developing website and e- community. I have had full colour flyers and posters printed up, which are being distributed to vets, shops, etc. I am making a nuisance of myself with NW papers, and getting as much free publicity as I can. I have had a slot with BBC Radio Lancs. I have joined as many website forums as time allows. Publicity is a continuing thing – it never stops.

Tell us about your website. I designed my site, and found the pictures/wrote the text, mapped it out, etc. But I have a friend that codes it all and arranges it all, etc. It is important to me that my site looks as professional and as ‘pretty’ as possible. I wouldn’t do anything differently, I just need more time to be able to finish writing texts and photographing animals. It has a long way to go!

What are your main ambitions, to make a lot of money or enjoy what you do? Both! There’s no point in doing this unless it makes money, otherwise it is just a waste of time and resources. Similarly, what’s the point of having shed load of money if you can’t enjoy it? I am lucky enough to be in a position to make money from something that I enjoy immensely – does it get any better than this?

What skills and personal characteristics do you need to start your own business? An extensive knowledge of your chosen field. Knowledge is power after all. The ability to self-assess yourself, and admit that you may need help to realise your ambitions. Help is out there, you just have to find it. The realisation that you probably don’t need to do it all on your own. But most of all, the sheer determination to see it through.

So what advice would you give to anyone thinking of starting a business? Get as much help and advice as you can. Get the support of friends and family, this will be vital as the workload increases. They will also be there for you if it all ends ‘bottom up’.

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