Welcome to Saturday Business chat. Today we meet Mhairi Gordon-Preston, who offers business coaching to the creative sector through her company, Suit-Free Business Help for Designers. Mhairi started her business just before I started Libro, and it’s always interesting to see how contemporaries of mine in different fields are doing.
Mhairi has found an important niche in the business support market and clearly understands her creative clients and their different ways of thinking. I would guess that it’s her previous experience running businesses and her own creativity that has made her so open to collaborating with others, as when people start out, they often think they can do it all and run themselves into the ground trying to do things they would be better off outsourcing. Mhairi has got some great advice and information on the lessons she’s learned.
So, let’s meet Mhairi!
What’s your business called? When did you set it up?
My business is called Suit-Free Business Help for Designers. I started in June 2009.
What made you decide to set up your own business?
I’ve been on and off self-employed since 1995 … originally because I was fed up with commuting! But I started this particular business after my then job was made redundant.
What made you decide to go into this particular business area?
The vast majority of business coaching and advice is not aimed at creative people, with their amazing free-form brains and preference for visual learning. It’s aimed more at linear thinkers who are happy to read a lot of jargon.
Had you run your own business before?
Yes. I’ve run a design business, and a business helping community gardens and urban wildlife centres!
How did you do it? Did you launch full-time, start off with a part-time or full-time job to keep you going … ?
I was working part time for a charity when I started this business. However, when I first went self-employed, I just did it: gave my notice at the design agency I worked at, did a bit of freelancing through agencies and at the same time, developed my own clients.
What do you wish someone had told you before you started?
When starting Suit-Free Business Help for Designers, I sought out tons of information and advice, and I’ve had a business coach the whole time, so while I don’t claim to know everything, I feel I have enough information … for now!
What would you go back and tell your newly entrepreneurial self?
Get advice on how to market research whether people will pay for your ideas. I did lots of market research initially, but made some assumptions about people’s willingness to pay money, rather than specifically asking about it.
What do you wish you’d done differently?
I wish I’d got my website designed properly a lot earlier. I put up a basic one myself, but it was far too ugly for my audience of designers, so I didn’t like to tell people about it … not ideal for an online business!
What are you glad you did?
I’m glad I got a business coach, and also found advice and information for my specific type of business. I’m also glad I connected with other start-ups and people in my line of work
What’s your top business tip?
Get a specific, and clearly defined picture of your ideal client in your mind, including what problems they have, that they will pay you to solve for them. Yes, you probably can deliver services or products to lots of different types of people, but the problem is, when you come to market them, if you try to speak to everyone, no one feels you’re speaking directly to them, and you’re just in a crowd of very similar businesses.
How has it gone since you started? Have you grown, diversified or stayed the same?
At the moment it’s me, plus skill-swaps with other professionals, and some help via online freelance boards. I’ve swapped creative business coaching for photography, copywriting and web design. I don’t want to work all hours, and I want my business to grow hugely, so I plan to bring in other people on a more formal basis as soon as possible, to do everything I don’t enjoy or that I’m not as good at.
Where do you see yourself and your business in a year’s time?
Helping creative businesses get more clients and more income, by doing the things they love, and while still having a life. The difference is, I will be doing it from a hammock on a warm, sunny beach, rather than in cold, rainy England.
As long as you can get your email in that hammock … I’m looking forward to finding out how your business grows and develops towards that goal! Thanks for your honesty about your learning experience, and detailed advice, Mhairi!
Mhairi didn’t provide any further updates after this first interview. As far as I know the website is 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.