The Editor’s Office: Caroline Lashley

Oprah Winfrey has inspired Caroline Lashley to start her own business

Oprah Winfrey’s successful rise from humble beginnings has inspired Caroline Lashley to start her own business. Her PR company, The Editor’s Officer, is only just underway, but Caroline hopes it will one day be an international player in the multi media world. She talks to Startups.

Startup profiles 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: Caroline Lashley Age: 41 Business: The Editor’s Office Type of business: Public Relations Start date: March 2003

When did you first decide you wanting start your own business?Running my own show was always something I had wanted to do since I was about 20. I’d have got eaten alive if I done it then because I was inexperienced, so I decided that if I ever wanted to run my own business, I’d do the research and everything else properly before I put myself out there – hence the 20-year delay! It did give me the chance to get my law degree though, which has come in very useful.

It was also, in some ways, a natural progression in my career – there was nowhere else in my company that I wanted to go and I reckoned that rather than have my boss’s job, I would create my own and write my own cheque.

Tell us about The Editor’s OfficeIt’s a virtual press office aimed at sole traders and SMEs – people who often need access to press relations but don’t always have the time or skills to run their own publicity campaign or raise their company profile.

Was it your first business idea and where did it come from? Pretty much, although one of my other passions is fashion – if The Editor’s Office goes well, I may well pursue that, too. But right now, I’ve got enough going on!

Was your decision to start a business inspired by any other companies or individuals?I’ve got relatives overseas who run their own small businesses but if there was one person to be singled out, I’d say Oprah Winfrey – she’s a really good example of how, from small beginnings, you can be in a position to make a difference.

What makes you think there’s a market for your business? When I started attending networking events and was discussing the idea with people I’d meet, the one question I was forever being asked was: “Are you up and running yet?” At the time, I had to say to an awful lot of people, “No, I’m not ready yet…”. All those missed opportunities – but at least I knew I had a good idea.

Once you’d decided to start a business, what did you do first?I did a skills audit. I think this is important as many times we do jobs we hate but we often learn things from them. Then I decided my likes and dislikes in terms of what I really wanted to do – just before I got my law degree I discovered I didn’t want to be a lawyer.

After that, I realised I needed refresher courses to bring myself up to date on various computer skills and packages, as well as writing courses for journalism and PR. I also did short courses in marketing, photography, DTP, and web design.

What research did you do? I did so much research – it was worse than my law degree! I did much of my research online, read business magazines and newspapers extensively and spoke to friends and relatives.

What advice did you seek?When I first started researching this idea, I contacted ‘Up & Running’ but didn’t find them that helpful. Business Link and my local enterprise agency in south London where much more helpful.

What other help did you get? I did a small business course at the City Lit in London, and attended some workshops run by the Inland Revenue.

Does the government need to provide more help to people trying to start a business?Grants shouldn’t be so hard to get – if they want to encourage people into creating small businesses and contributing to the economy, it’s no good the making things tough. Creating a business is already hard work without tying us up in so much red tape that we can’t move – where’s the flexibility in that?

Talk us through the process of writing your business plan.I’m still writing it – I had help from my sister who’s a part-qualified accountant, so it’s all kept in the family. I’ve also read a few books and had all the high street banks templates, as well as some useful advice from Denise Lewis at Alatron, among others.

How useful has your business plan been and do you think you’ll stick to it as your business begins to grow? The business plan’s been very useful – I’ll probably stick to it as necessary and where I need to change, the plan will get changed.

How much did it cost to start the business?A lot of time and a four-figure sum!

How did you fund this?I bought all the equipment and other incidentals needed for the business from my salary, when I still had one…

Similarly, how are you funding your running costs until the business takes off?I’ve got some money set aside for running costs until the business takes off. I suppose if push comes to shove, I could always temp but I don’t really want to be going there.

Have you made any provisions for business not being as prosperous as expected?I’ve not made any provisions other than maybe working as a temp until such time as The Editor’s Office makes a profit.

When did you stop working?I handed in my notice at my day job as a press officer in April 2003. It was a pretty big moment telling my boss I was moving on, but sometimes in life you have to know when to pack that suitcase and go.

Are you working from home or from premises?I’m working from home right now to keep costs down.

How many hours are you working at the moment?Probably too many in this transitional stage – I guess it must be about 50 hours but I haven’t put an actual figure on it.

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?In making the transition from employee to self-employment, I’ve had to prioritise what’s important and what’s necessary. Most of the time, both elements are combined but it’s useful to know the difference between the two. What’s necessary isn’t always the same thing as what’s important.

What about staff, is it just you? Right now it’s just me. Maybe in the future I’ll look to take on staff on a virtual basis and more likely freelancers.

What marketing and advertising have you done so far?I spent the last financial year doing the footwork – lots of networking events, joining and being active in online communities, and attending business events and seminars.

Where do you hope to be in 12 months’ time? With a good handful of clients on my books and hopefully issuing a monthly newsletter or a monthly magazine of some sort – anything’s possible!

What are the main obstacles to growth?Just started, so haven’t got to that stage yet…

How do you plan to overcome these?When I reach that stage, I’ll revisit and adapt the business plan as necessary.

Tell us about your website. It’s still in the process of being designed, but I was fortunate enough to be one of the twenty businesses to take part in a business initiative organised by my local Chamber of Commerce and a south London newspaper group. It was a very attractive package – a four-figure sum’s worth of advertising and a website for a nominal fee for 12 months.

What are your main ambitions, to make a lot of money or enjoy what you do?Both – although I do have ambitions to run a very successful multi-media company, both here and overseas.

What have you found difficult about starting up and what do you wish you’d done differently?Holding down effectively two jobs while making the transition from employee to self-employment – operating on fine or six hours’ sleep is not easy.

What skills and personal characteristics do you need to start your own business? You definitely need a lot of passion, commitment, hard work, self-belief in your idea and a will to succeed.

So what advice would you give to anyone thinking of starting a business? Be very prepared and be flexible. Do your research, get your backing and 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? Of course…

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