Welcome to Debbie Copas of Norfolk Coastal Holidays, our new interviewee for today! This is another business that started almost by accident, but using an area of experience and interest rather than a totally new alien concept. In fact, Debbie was already self-employed in a very different area of business, and has other part-time work as well – this is called a ‘portfolio career’ and is becoming an increasingly common form of self-employment (I have a friend who has just started running a network marketing company and being a freelance consultant, so it’s certainly not rare these days). As with all of my lovely interviewees, Debbie shares lessons learned and things she is glad she did – I’m glad that we are all sharing such useful information in such an honest way.
What’s your business called? When did you set it up?
It’s called Norfolk Coastal Holidays. The seeds started with the purchase of my first holiday home in April 2009. It didn’t have a name to start with, as I didn’t intend to start a business! I still advertise my two properties under their names, Beachscape and Tides, as I haven’t fully integrated the business name across all my marketing.
What made you decide to set up your own business?
I owned a holiday home that was being fully managed by others. Circumstances changed; key staff were made redundant, all the managers changed and the commission structure altered. Suddenly the process no longer worked and I needed to look at marketing and managing it myself.
What made you decide to go into this particular business area?
I have holidayed in Norfolk all my life, so regard it as my second home. I have also taken self catering holidays every year across the UK and abroad, so combining two areas of interest to me made sense.
Had you run your own business before?
Yes, I had been a self-employed beauty therapist for over 25 years, firstly working as a mobile therapist and then from my different homes over the years.
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 wasn’t intending to manage it for many years to come, but once I had decided to do so, I took a few weeks away from the agency to advertise myself. I was far more successful than the agency, so after 5 months, I decided to go it alone. I still had my part time work as a therapist and I also work in a school as an exam invigilator. Everything I’ve done has always had to work around my three children, so being self-employed is a great way to do that.
What do you wish someone had told you before you started?
Quite how many hours of my life it would absorb and how unfit I would become, spending so many hours at a computer. There are no nine to five hours involved when somebody wants to book a holiday, so it can be difficult to really relax and switch off from work.
What would you go back and tell your newly entrepreneurial self?
Relax – it will be OK in the end!
What do you wish you’d done differently?
Had more time to establish a great website. It was created in a panic and I’ve never been happy with it. It’s on my to do list for a complete change, as are so many other things!
What are you glad you did?
Two things. Firstly, I found a forum called Lay My Hat, where fellow holiday home owners hang out and offer advice. It’s invaluable and they’re a great bunch of people from around the world to chat with. Secondly, investing in a piece of specialist rental software called PIMS, that was created by a fellow Lay My Hat member. It streamlined the booking process and sends me daily reminders so I never forget what I need to do!
What’s your top business tip?
Always be prepared to listen to others and learn. Gain new skills and network: there’s a world of fellow small business owners out there who are willing to help. Remember that you cannot do everything and that sometimes it’s quicker and more profitable to use the skills of others rather than try to teach yourself everything!
How has it gone since you started? Have you grown, diversified or stayed the same?
It has been very successful, and so I decided to invest in a second property which joined the business in October 2011. It was around that time that I realised I needed to create a name, and a brand, that would allow the business to establish itself in the future. I won’t be fully using the name until my new website is created, but I have at least secured the domain name.
Where do you see yourself and your business in a year’s time?
I’m still learning a huge amount on the marketing and social media side, so I hope to have ventured into Twitter and several other areas of marketing. I think this year is more about consolidating what I already have. If the business expands in the future, it will be as an agent for other local properties. I can then pass on all the experience I’ve learnt, to help other owners. I’ve been asked several times already, but I’m not ready for that leap yet!
So, lots of exciting things in the future after a sensible year of consolidation, and it’s good to be asked to do things before you quite feel ready, as you know those opportunities are waiting for you when you are at the right stage for them. I love Norfolk, and wish Debbie all the luck in the future in such a lovely part of the world (if only they hadn’t taken off that direct train from Birmingham to Norwich …). See how Debbie was doing exactly a year later here!
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.