Sign-Now: Andrew Thomson
Andrew Thomson tells us how he set up his business, which provides video conferencing for the deaf
Company name: Sign Now and Sign Tube
Founders: Andrew Thomson, Caroline Thomson, Dean Humphries
Age: 44, 42, 44
Based: Grangemouth, Scotland
Staff Numbers: 8
Tell us what your business does
We provide sophisticated yet simple to use video conferencing for deaf and hearing people, a dedicated website for the deaf community (Sign Tube) and filming and on-line interpretation services.
Where did the idea for your business come from?
Personal frustration at the lack of access to services and people for deaf users.
How did you know there was a market for it?
There are 9 million deaf people in the UK with poor access to information and services – the market was waiting to be opened up.
The company was founded by 3 profoundly deaf people giving us a unique insight into what the deaf community wants and needs.
What is your Unique Selling Point (USP)?
Our key differentiation point is our ability to offer clients a one stop shop for translating data into British Sign Language (BSL), creating video clips and hosting information on our own dedicated website. We provide a unique video conferencing facility to enable deaf and hearing people communicate without the need for BSL, deaf to deaf communication and 24 hour instant access on-line interpretation.
What were you doing before starting up?
I was working for Royal Bank of Scotland for nearly 20 years. It was very difficult decision to leave since the job. Self employment is extremely hard to start because of my deafness. And of course there was an impact on our family due to the loss of ‘safe income’.
What appealed most about being your own boss?
Having control of my own destiny and being able to show other deaf people that it can be done.
What planning did you do before you started up – did you do market research, put together a business plan etc?
I created a business plan and took advice from Falkirk Council, the Local Enterprise Network and friends and family.
How did you raise the money?
A combination of business loans and savings.
What challenges have you faced how have you overcome them?
The greatest challenge was generating interest and gaining orders. PR and Marketing to the hearing community for a deaf person is difficult, but not impossible. We now have a specialist on board for this task.
Where is your business based?
We have an office suite in Grangemouth.
How have you promoted your business?
Personal networking, presentations to business groups and direct marketing campaigns have all played their part.
How much do you charge?
Pricing is based on bespoke packages for customers.
What about staff?
We have 8 people in total. Staff are selected carefully to ensure that they fit into our company ethos.
What has your growth been like?
Our growth has been steady and in this current year is expanding at an increased rate. We are profitable and on target with all of our goals.
What’s the impact on your home life been like?
Hectic is the word! We have two children, too. We try to keep business and home life separate to ensure that the quality of life is fulfilled.
What would you say the greatest difficulty has been in starting up?
Taking the first step and leaving behind the security of a regular wage.
What was your first big breakthrough?
Falkirk Council agreeing to a mini webs site for the deaf community – we update this site every two weeks.
What would you do differently?
Started our PR and marketing sooner.
What advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs?
Never give up! If your idea is good and you have the enthusiasm then the breaks will come.
Where do you want to be in five years’ time?
In a position where I can create many more job opportunities for the deaf community and have proven that being deaf is not a barrier to being truly successful.