Visual Surveillance Solutions Ltd: Justin Thompson

Startup profile: Justin Thompson, a man with a mission

When Justin Thompson left the forces he set himself a new mission to start his own business within three years. He tells Startups.co.uk how that mission was accomplished.

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: Justin Thompson Age: 30 Business: Visual Surveillance Solutions Ltd Type of business: CCTV Installer Start date: Jan 2003

When did you first decide you wanting start your own business?My initial thoughts of working for myself started when I was about to leave the forces. I was involved in surveillance work and thought the natural progression was to find a position within a CCTV Company.

I knew from the outset that my goal was to work for myself, so I set myself three years of research to find out how they operated and what the customer requirements were. Eventually, I became confident that I could start on my own.

Tell us about your businessVisual Surveillance Solutions Ltd specialises in CCTV, offering design, installation, upgrades, maintenance and consultation services. I am also licensed to assess systems for the Data Protection Act.

Was it your first business idea and where did it come from? No, there’s been many. My first ideas were inventions related to hobbies and interests, but none of them really got off the ground. I guess my heart wasn’t really in it at that time of my life.

Was your decision to start a business inspired by any other companies or individuals?My father was my inspiration. He worked hard at a steel works, and then when he was forty he gambled and sold his house for a small general dealers. He has worked 12 hours a day seven days a week and has never looked back. I thought: if he can do it, then I can too.

What makes you think there’s a market for your business?This industry in my local area of Middlesbrough is very competitive, but I believe that quality workmanship and excellent customer after sales will, with time, build a strong customer base for my company. Also this industry is only 8-10 years old so there’s lots of growth expected over the coming years.

Once you’d decided to start a business, what did you do first?Research, research, research. Not only about the business idea but also about myself. It’s important you are aware of your own limitations before such a big move in life.

What research did you do?I asked companies what the most important factor was when choosing from a selection of quotes. I found that the answers were different depending on if the person worked for the company or owned it. You need to get as much information from people and other sources as you can.

What advice did you seek? I enlisted on a Start Right In Business programme where I received help structuring my business plan over the course of several meetings. I also sat down with an accountant to decide if being VAT registered would benefit me.

What other help did you get? The greatest help I’ve had is support from family and friends telling me I can make this work if I’m committed to it 100%.

Does the government need to provide more help to people trying to start a business? I think there is no support for people who have worked all their lives prior to taking the step to working for themselves. I was refused a Prince’s Trust loan because I hadn’t been in prison or unemployed for months, and Start Right In Business then told me there were no other grants or low interest loans available for me.

This was a real set back after the work I had put in. I think the government should help businesses that have started up, and have shown a commitment, by awarding them a grant after a few months of trading.

Talk us through the process of writing your business plan.I asked all the banks for their business packs and worked through them with Start Right. The difficult area for me was trying to forecast the finances: I knew what it would cost to set up but I didn’t have a clue what work I would get over the coming months. And I got that bit so wrong – always underestimate.

How useful has your business plan been and do you think you’ll stick to it as your business begins to grow?It is a reminder sometimes of what I am trying to achieve and how I would like the company to grow, but progression comes with hard work not what your business plan says.

How much did it cost to start the business?£2500

How did you fund this? Slowly, buying the equipment bit by bit. Having a family to run left me with no savings each week, but by spreading it over a period of time I was only left with the essentials at the end to buy. I also borrowed £500 from Dad.

Similarly, how are you funding your running costs until the business takes off?We are living from the wife’s income at the moment, but the business is slowly starting to take off after getting advice from someone from your forum. I am also listed with an agency where I work night shifts when I have the energy.

Have you made any provisions for business not being as prosperous as expected? No, I haven’t. We will just keep working at it until it’s a success.

When did you stop working? I left full time employment in November 2002. Leaving the safety of a wage was similar to leaving the army, a mixture of worry and excitement. My first day I just sat there all day and thought it’s up to me now how far I go, not someone else.

Are you working from home or from premises? I had no other option than to work from home after being refused loans and grants. I am happy I made this decision because my overheads are low, and if I had started from a small unit the cost would have finished my dream already. The business involves me going to see clients, so I don’t tell them unless they ask. When the business has some funds I would love to operate from a small unit on an industrial estate, but for now I am finding it manageable.

How many hours are you working at the moment? I am working about 60 hours a week but this increases if I am working night shifts as well. The frustrating thing is knowing most of your work isn’t productive but must be done. The hours of work just aren’t a problem for someone who runs their own show, you get out what you put in, so its you that collects the profits of hard work, not your employer.

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 start at 8:30 and work until the wife starts to give me earache. I always have something to do; I suppose it’s the worry of failure that drives you on.

What about staff, is it just you? It is at the moment, but I keep the dream of running my business with the best engineers in the industry.

Is the amount of red tape that comes with taking on an employee something that concerns you? I have read a lot on this and yes, there are definitely areas with red tape attached, but the support is there from many people, including yourselves, and most of it is to protect the people who you employ. I will probably notice it more when I come to employ my first engineer.

What marketing and advertising have you done so far? I am in the Cleveland yellow pages, I’m registered on a few free website listings and at the moment I’m sending out information packs informing clients of the services I provide.

I spoke to a lady on the Startups forum and she has been a breath of fresh air for my company. She now manages my telesales for a few hours a week. This is an area that I knew I would struggle with; I’m an engineer, not a sales person. They’re two completely different skills. Get help if you need it, remember, know your limitations.

Where do you hope to be in 12 months’ time?I would like to say in new premises with an engineer and sales person, but realistically I hope to have a growing client base and a good reputation. I will have achieved my first goal if I am still trading in month 12.

What are the main obstacles to growth? The size of the market, I guess. If there’s a lot of competition then you have to work extra hard to get your slice of the market. Once you achieve that, growth will be inevitable.

How do you plan to overcome these? Getting money for a new business isn’t easy, so my plan is to work hard and learn as much from people as I can. I am new to this so I will take any advice that might give me that edge and success.

Have you got a company website? I’ve secured my company domain name but I don’t have a web site as yet. It’s one of those subjects that will develop with the business but I cannot justify the cost at the moment.

What are your main ambitions, to make a lot of money or enjoy what you do? All I ask of myself is to provide the best possible family environment I can and try to enjoy what I am doing at the same time. Being optimistic I would like to think I could have four offices covering the north, south, midlands and Scotland.

What have you found difficult about starting up and what do you wish you’d done differently? Getting money to invest in the business is the most difficult thing to overcome and I wish I had spent a few more weekends saving rather than spending.

What skills and personal characteristics do you need to start your own business? The most important is knowledge of the subject that you are about to commit your whole life to. You must have a passion to be a success and know your limitations. But the most important personal characteristic I would say is discipline.

So what advice would you give to anyone thinking of starting a business? I would say don’t worry about the hours you are going to work to make it a success, because you will find that part easy once you are working for yourself. Don’t be put off by what people say. If you think you can make it work then trust yourself. Who dares, wins.

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? I certainly will, lets hope I am still here.

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

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