SugarCat Publishing: Rachel Morgan-Trimmer
After years of entrepreneurial dreams, Rachel Morgan-Trimmer finally took the plunge in April with her own internet publishing firm
Name: Rachel Morgan-Trimmer Age: 30 Business: SugarCat Publishing Type of business: Internet publishing Start date: 1 April 2005
When did you first decide you wanting start your own business? I’ve always wanted to run my own business, but it was years before I decided what to do. My last job was with a small company, reporting directly to the MD, and it was there that I picked up a lot of the knowledge about how to run a business.
Tell us about your business SugarCat Publishing makes information websites in niche markets. These sites are free to people using them, and revenue is generating from selling the advertising space. The two key USPs of our sites are firstly, that there is a need for them, and secondly, that there is nothing else like them. We launched our first site, www.thecareerbreaksite.com in June this year, and we have several more in development.
Was it your first business idea and where did it come from? No, I have had lots of business ideas (and still do!). However, many of them were impractical and/or had high start-up costs. The idea of internet publishing grew over a number of years – I always wanted to build my own websites (rather than for clients). Once I figured out a way of generating revenue from them, I was ready to go!
Was your decision to start a business inspired by any other companies or individuals? Yes, my father had run his own company from when I was very small, so I grew up with strong entrepreneurial ideas. Also, I met other entrepreneurs in a diverse range of fields through networking, and seeing their achievements was inspiring.
What makes you think there’s a market for your business? I knew for a long time that there was a market for a career break website. Career breaks had had a lot of coverage in the press, and I knew there was no other website dedicated to offering impartial advice and information on career breaks, with online resources. We were right too – we have had a lot of press coverage since we launched, and our site is becoming well known through word of mouth.
Once you’d decided to start a business, what did you do first? I went on a career break! Partly it was so I knew what I was talking about when I set up The Career Break Site, and partly because I knew I wouldn’t get the chance for a few more years. While I was travelling, my mum taught herself advanced web design (as you do) so she could work for me when I got back.
What research did you do? I did a lot of online research to make sure there would be no competition for The Career Break Site. I also cut out every newspaper article on career breaks that I could find. While I was on my career break, I sounded out people about why they were there, what they were doing and what they wanted to do when they got back. I’ve also had a lot of useful information from talking to my clients.
What advice did you seek? I talked to my dad first, and also spoke to a few key contacts, who offered useful advice. I didn’t approach any official body (eg BusinessLink) immediately, as I didn’t need financial assistance, and I have already had a lot of training. However, I have plans to go to more networking and training events in the future.
What other help did you get? It sounds a bit fluffy, but my friends have been really supportive and that makes quite a difference. Starting your own business can be quite an emotional experience – and having a decent support network can really make a difference. Some of them have given me excellent professional help (such as PR and marketing) and have refused to take payment for it, which has saved me a lot of money.
Also, having my parents work for me is fantastic, as I know they’ve both got the best interests of the company at heart. They’re very good at their respective jobs, which frees up a lot of my time, as I don’t have to micro-manage them.
Does the government need to provide more help to people trying to start a business? I think the government already provides a lot of help to business start-ups, and they have some very useful information online. Perhaps more specialist information would be helpful; for example, links to websites with information on online marketing. Some information is too general to be of any tangible benefit.
Talk us through the process of writing your business plan. I didn’t write one! For a small company with a fairly simple structure, it didn’t seem necessary.
How much did it cost to start the business? We started on a budget of exactly nothing. Anything I bought for the business (such as software) came out of my own pocket.
How did you fund this? My own savings. I already had a number of assets (eg a computer) which saved me a lot of money.
Similarly, how are you funding your running costs until the business takes off? Again, out of my own pocket.
Have you made any provisions for business not being as prosperous as expected? Yes, I am already planning to cut costs by moving. We also have some plans to borrow money if we need to.
When did you stop working? I left my day job last summer, and went travelling. I have freelanced before so it wasn’t a huge transition, and, as the business developed gradually, there wasn’t a big launch or anything. I think the biggest moment was getting my business cards back from the printer with ‘Managing Director’ on them. That and my first sale.
Are you working from home or from premises? I work from home. My parents work from their own home which is a three-hour drive away. It works really well because we’re not in each other’s way all the time. Our subcontractors are as far afield as London and Edinburgh, and I haven’t even met them all yet! It’s a great benefit of having an internet business that geography isn’t really an issue.
Unlike lots of homeworkers, I don’t get tempted by daytime TV, but I do really miss the office environment. I enjoy the flexibility though. I may find premises in the future – definitely if I hire staff. Even if I stay working solo, I would like to rent a desk in an office (a lot of freelancers do this).
How many hours are you working at the moment? It’s hard to say as I work very flexibly. Although I’m typing this at 10pm which gives you an indication of the sort of hours I keep! I also work at the weekend if I’m not busy. We don’t work on our birthdays, and we try to take both American and British national holidays off (I’m a dual national). I think taking a day off like that once in a while is really beneficial – I like to spend it going through several weeks’ worth of newspapers and cutting out relevant articles.
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 divide my time into sales, marketing, website development and admin, with half my time spent on sales and marketing. I can usually prioritise fairly well (having done a course on time management) so the urgent and important things get marked with a red pen. Another thing I do is organise my time according to when I do things best – sales and marketing in the morning and late afternoon, dull administration in the post-lunch slump, and creative activity in the evening.
What about staff, is it just you? Technically, I’m a sole trader, but my mum works full-time as a subcontractor. We work very well together as we share similar views about a lot of things (eg the fact that our site must be really easy to use above anything else). My father works part-time as the financial director, and my sister also helps out occasionally. My other suppliers work according to the projects we’re doing. Working with subcontractors means I don’t have to be ‘the boss’ all the time which means there’s a more open environment for people to share their own ideas (even if they conflict with my own), which ultimately results in a better finished product.
Because we’re so spread out, we almost never have meetings, which saves a tremendous amount of time. In the future, I would like to hire staff, mostly in sales and marketing.
Is the amount of red tape that comes with taking on an employee something that concerns you? Yes, it is a concern, as is the cost. It’s not just the salary, it’s all the other things that go with it, such as insurance. If I do hire people, I will get outside help and advice with regard to contracts etc, to make sure everything is covered, for both me and my staff.
What marketing and advertising have you done so far? Because I run a website, most of my marketing has been online. We’ve taken out a few classified ads online, have used ‘pay-per-click’ search, and we have been working on a search engine optimisation programme. We’ve also done quite a lot of PR (which has been fairly easy, as we were the first to market with this site), and are building up some really good relationships with journalists. Viral marketing is working for us (where we make something funny and people email it to their friends), and we’ve also done some guerilla marketing (eg setting up a blog).
Where do you hope to be in 12 months time? Within a year, the Career Break Site will require less maintenance, and the sites that are currently in development will be launched. Also, a lot more people will be planning their career breaks!
What are the main obstacles to growth? Time and money are the obvious ones, but also, the fact that we are on a steep learning curve means we are not growing quite as quickly as we would like. The plus side of that, though, is that we don’t have any preconceptions regarding the best way to do something, and our skills and knowledge are bang up to date.
How do you plan to overcome these? We only need to learn a particular thing once, which means our learning curve is starting to flatten out a bit. This should free up more of our time, which in turn will mean we can generate more money.
Tell us about your website. Our website is our business. It’s vitally important that it’s easy to find and easy to use. We’ve had a really good response to it so far, and are building up a strong loyal following – people come back to the site time and time again.
We designed it ourselves and built it to high usability standards (so everyone, no matter what their computer, ability, connection speed or whatever, can use it). As well as usability, the tone of voice was important – we wanted people to feel like they were talking to a friend.
There are lots of things we could have done differently, but because we built it to be easily updatable, any changes we want to make have been quick to implement. As well as making necessary technical changes, our site is constantly being updated, so it’s always fresh. Not only do people come back to our site because of this, it also means we can evolve to meet their needs.
What are your main ambitions, to make a lot of money or enjoy what you do? I started this business because I wanted to be my own boss and have a job that didn’t feel like work. It’s a great feeling knowing that you’re there because you want to be there, rather than because you have to!
My long-term ambition is to make enough money to set up a charity – an achievement centre for underprivileged children.
What have you found difficult about starting up and what do you wish you’d done differently? I think the most difficult part is not knowing where the gaps in your knowledge are. For example, on our site, we didn’t realise we needed to name the files in a particular way. Although we can change this, it would have been a lot quicker had we known this in the beginning, but at least we know now for next time!
What skills and personal characteristics do you need to start your own business? You need to be organised, enthusiastic, knowledgeable about your product or service, but above all, you need to work hard. You also need to be a good listener – it’s a key element of selling.
So what advice would you give to anyone thinking of starting a business? The same piece of advice my dad gave me: ‘concentrate on making a good product quickly and selling it quickly.’
I would also add that you must always see things from the customer’s point of view. Do they want your product? Will they pay the price you want? Do you make them feel valued? Are you doing something to make your life easier, or theirs?
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, of course!