NLB Travel: Natalie Brown

Startup profile: Find out what made Natalie Brown go it alone

Natalie Brown is the latest of our Startup profiles, where we 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: Natalie Brown Age: 31 Business: NLB Travel Type of business: Guided tours in Italy Start date: September 2002

When did you first decide you wanted to start your own business?

The move into self-employment came about after having lived and worked in Rome for six months. When I returned to London, I decided to start my own company arranging and booking guided tours of the sights in Italy.

As I was no longer in full-time employment at that time, I decided that this was the ideal time to start the business. I decided that since it would not be necessary for me to leave a well-paid job, I would not miss the sudden rapid decline in salary.

Tell us about your business

I arrange guided tours of the sights in Italy covering Rome, Venice, Florence, Naples, Sorrento, Pompeii, Capri and Sardinia. I also book accommodation worldwide at discounted rates.

What makes you think there’s a market for your business?

After returning to the UK, I discovered that there was very little information or facilities for consumers to book tours of historical sights, such as the Colosseum and the Vatican, from Britain.

I was amazed that the large tour operators and travel agents only provided this service when a customer books a package holiday. With the emergence of the low cost airlines, more people are travelling independently and are booking their flights and accommodation separately, but the option of booking a guided tour is a service that many companies do not provide to the independent traveller.

Once you’d decided to start a business, what did you do first?

One of the first challenges I had to overcome was turning the concept and idea into a reality. When I initially returned to London, my idea was not to start my own business but instead to help market the tour company that I was working for in Rome, under their own name. As it turned out, the easiest way of promoting the tours was under my own company name.

This meant that I needed to write a business plan, not only to cement my ideas but also to apply for funding from the financial institutions.

Talk us through the process of writing your business plan.

This provided a great challenge for me as I had never written a business plan before, but with the help of business planning books, friends, family and The Prince’s Trust, I succeeded in writing my first business plan.

To write the plan I used The Sunday Times “The Business Plan Workbook” which provides you with exercises to complete in relation to your own business. I found it very helpful and easy to follow. I also searched the internet for relevant information to help with writing the plan.

How useful has your business plan been and do you think you’ll stick to it as your business begins to grow?

The plan has been very useful in helping me to focus on the direction of the business. It also helped me to write a marketing plan with a clear vision and I am sure I will stick to it in the future.

What research did you do?

I started my research by visiting the City Business Library. This provided me with a lot of information relating to travel and Italy. I gained information on competitors by visiting various travel agents and telephoning tour. Also, a substantial amount of time was spent by searching the internet which gave further information relating to the travel industry.

What advice did you seek?

Advice and support was received from The Prince’s Trust, Business Link, HBV Enterprise, Hackney Chamber of Commerce, Reed in Partnership and Street Cred on starting and running a business.

Does the government need to provide more help to people trying to start a business?

I think they could help more with arranging networking events for people starting a business, as many events at the moment have to be paid for and when you are starting a business you are always concerned about having to pay out too much money at the beginning.

How much did it cost to start the business?

So far, I have spent in the region of £3-4,000 starting the business.

How did you fund this?

My own savings.

Similarly, how are you funding your running costs until the business takes off?

I have contacted The Prince’s Trust who have agreed to provide the company with additional funding that will comprise of a grant and a business loan. I also plan to visit the banks to enquire about matching the funding provided by The Prince’s Trust, or to apply for a loan.

Are you working from home or from premises?

I currently work from home as I deemed this to be the easiest and cheapest option. As the company is internet based it is not necessary to have premises and my customers come from as far away as the US and Australia.

How many hours are you working at the moment?

Approximately 50-60 hours a week.

How are you managing your day and what steps have you taken to ensure you’re able to get everything done without working around the clock?

I make sure I have a list of things to do to keep me focused and if I don’t get everything done in the day, I’ll move it to the next day.

What about staff, is it just you?

It’s just me as it’s not necessary to employ staff at the moment.

What marketing and advertising have you done so far?

It has been a real challenge for me to locate the target market and know how to reach them.

As NLB Travel arranges tours of the sights in Italy (including the many churches, museums and architectural, historical and religious places of interest) I decided that the target market was middle-class, affluent, well educated, those likely to be commanding high salaries and people who travel extensively.

So far I have been actively promoting the company on the internet and have also placed a series of adverts in The Guardian and Observer. I am also looking to work with travel agents to help with promotion.

Where do you hope to be in 12 months’ time?

My focus for the next 12 months is to build brand awareness for NLB Travel. I hope that this will increase sales and allow the company to expand and grow. I would also like to have an effective website which provides all the information of our tours and general information relating to Italy.

Tell us about your website.

The website is very important as the company is mainly internet-based with clients from across the world. The website is also used to market and promote the company. It is currently being updated to contain more information of the tours.

What are the main obstacles to growth?

For me, it is creating awareness, which in turn should hopefully increase sales.

How do you plan to overcome these?

By enforcing a realistic marketing strategy to reach the target market. This should be effective without spending too much money.

What are your main ambitions, to make a lot of money or enjoy what you do?

To enjoy what I am doing and if I can earn a decent salary along the way, even better.

What have you found difficult about starting up and what do you wish you’d done differently?

What I imagined business ownership to be like and what it is in reality are two different things. When you have your own business you need to be aware of all issues relating to it, whether they be financial or legal, including tax, National Insurance and cashflow issues. I also find that I have to work many more hours, often until 8 or 9 o’clock at night. Business ownership is not a ‘nine-to-five’ job.

I wish I’d found more out about where and how to reach my target market before advertising in the broadsheets – these can be very costly and not that beneficial.

What skills and personal characteristics do you need to start your own business?

You need to be hardworking, dedicated, motivated, a good organiser and believe in your idea, even when others doubt it.

So what advice would you give to anyone thinking of starting a business?

The road to success is a very challenging one, but not impossible. I would say to anyone thinking of starting a business to believe in themselves and their idea, be focused and aware, and last but not least, go for it!

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?

Yes. Definitely.

For more information on NLB Travel or to contact Natalie, visit www.nlbtravel.co.uk

If you’d like to be a Startup profile, email matthewt@crimsonpublishing.co.uk

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