Welcome to Saturday Business/Freelancer Chat. Today we’re going to meet a partnership of two women, Jill Nielson and Judy Lawson, who run Last Minute Cottages, an interactive website (rather than an agency) that allows holiday cottage owners to advertise their vacancies at short notice, allowing them to fill last-minute gaps. I think this is our first partnership – something that can be tricky to operate, although Jill and Judy seem to be getting it right! Although they hadn’t run their own business before, crucially, they did know all about the business area they were going into, and they identified a niche that they could fill usefully and well. I like reading about people who started part-time, having only just gone full-time with Libro myself, and it’s good to have role models who have gone before me!
So without further ado, let’s meet Jill and Judy!
What is your business called? When did you set it up?
Our business is called Last Minute Cottages Limited. Judy and I started Last Minute Cottages as a partnership in 2006. The business includes 3 web sites, Last Minute Cottages, Big Cottages, and The Hen House. We became a limited company this year.
What made you decide to set up your own business?
Jill had the original idea, having owned and run holiday cottages in the UK. She found she was unable to easily advertise any late availability other than through an agency. Not advertising through an agency left her unable to advertise vacancies that became available at late notice. So, she decided to set up her own website! The idea was in its infancy when Jill met Judy, who moved from Scotland to live nearby in Devon. We set up a partnership, which has recently become a limited company and have never looked back!
Researching the idea further, we decided that there was a niche in the holiday advertising market and that this service could be of great benefit to all those holiday property owners who did not advertise their properties through an agency.
We wanted to create an interactive site, where advertisers were able to update their own vacancies, prices, special offers etc., as often as they needed to do so. This would allow advertisers to be able to advertise a vacancy at a moment’s notice.
What made you decide to go into this particular business area?
We both have experience of owning and managing holiday accommodation in the UK and France, so it is an area that we know well, and we wished to answer a need to advertise late availability. We could see people were becoming more flexible with their work and taking breaks at short notice was becoming much more popular.
Had you run your own business before?
We have both run businesses together with our husbands, but this venture was something totally new! Neither of us come from business backgrounds.
How did you do it? Did you launch full-time, start off with a part-time or full-time job to keep you going … ?
We started off in a small way, part-time, and have gradually worked up the business to what it is today, learning along the way. We worked around bringing up children, running busy households and helping with our husbands’ businesses. It is now a full-time job for both of us.
What do you wish someone had told you before you started?
Listen to sound good business advice given from reliable sources such a Business Link. You can’t do everything yourself, so outsource tasks to other people.
What would you go back and tell your newly entrepreneurial self?
If you have a great idea and are passionate about marketing it and turning it into a business be prepared to work all hours and to travel through an immense learning curve! Face everything with an enquiring mind and lots of energy.
What do you wish you’d done differently?
Nothing really. We have made some mistakes along the way but that is all part of the learning curve.
What are you glad you did?
Went into partnership with each other! We work really well together, have become very good friends and enjoy our work!
What’s your top business tip?
Communication. Our customers, potential customers and visitors to the sites are the very hub of our business. Answer every query, email, phone call. Never become a faceless organisation. Building a good relationship with your customers is very rewarding.
How has it gone since you started? Have you grown, diversified or stayed the same?
Our business has grown well since we first started. We began with our site, Last Minute Cottages and then started our second site, Big Cottages, when we realised that larger self catering properties did not always advertise so well last minute. This site is now also well established and works well alongside Last Minute Cottages. About 2 years ago we started another site, The Hen House, after requests for our advertisers to set up such a site. The Hen House offers quality self catering accommodation for hen party weekends. Very recently, we have expanded our self catering accommodation on Last Minute Cottages to include properties in France. This is a very new venture for us and one we are excited to be working on. We have also recently registered as a limited company.
Where do you see yourself and your business in a year’s time?
This last year has seen many big changes for us, with many new projects undertaken and planned. We shall be continuing to work on all the sites and in particular Last Minute France. We hope that the next year will see us completing our planned expansions and continuing to improve the service we provide now.
Exciting times, then, for Jill and Judy, as they expand across the channel – but as they have a history of seeing a niche and filling it, I’m sure this will meet with just as much success.
Jill and Judy didn’t provide any further updates after this first interview. As far as I know the websites are still live as of September 2013.
If you’ve enjoyed this interview, please see more small business chat, the index to all the interviewees, and information on how you can have your business featured. If you’re considering setting up a new business or have recently done so, why not take a look at my new book, Going It Alone At 40: How I Survived my First Year of Full-Time Self-Employment.