FRIENDS SAID I WAS MAD TO LAUNCH A TRAVEL BUSINESS
I was a partner in a successful property business, but for a long time my heart hadn’t been in it. The passion had gone and I was bored. Then one day I was driving down to A34 from Oxford and had just come off the phone with a very difficult client who was driving me to despair. And I heard a programme on Radio 4, on which Jenny Murray was interviewing women over 50 who’d started their own businesses. One businesswoman said something that hit me like a hammer. “If you are thinking about a new venture it’s really important to follow it through, because when you’re in hospital having your hips replaced that will be the moment when you’ll regret that you didn’t do it, because it will be too late. And I thought ‘She’s right’.
I was 52, my daughters were grown up and I had nothing holding me back. For a while I’d been dreaming of launching a bespoke travel company. I’ve always loved Southern India with a passion since travelling there in my teens. I’d been back many times since then and become knowledgeable about the country and felt confident I had a unique service to offer. But when I told a girlfriend I was going to launch a travel business she said ‘Are you mad? The travel industry is so complicated. Why don’t you just do a cupcake business?’
After that I kept very quiet about it for a long time, researching the industry while still doing my property work. I wanted to make sure I understood the package travel regulatory side which is indeed quite complicated. Finding a good ground agent in India also took a lot of research and two more trips to India, pretending I was a tourist.
“When you’re in hospital having your hips replaced that will be the moment you’ll regret you didn’t do it”
Apart from my husband, who was very supportive, I only shared my plans with a couple of girlfriends who’d been very successful in business themselves. I’m quite a stubborn person and very thorough in my research, but the cupcake comment just made me more determined. My friend felt it was so completely different to anything I’d done before and didn’t appreciate that there were many transferrable skills. She was right that travel is a hugely competitive industry, but what really drove me was my passion for the destination.
Luckily I’d had a very good year in the property business and had managed to put aside a sum of money. Which was fortunate because for the first three years, the phone sometimes didn’t ring for six weeks. There was just no business coming in. I’m quite resilient since losing my mum at 25. Being the eldest of the family I’d had to take responsibility. Not having her there to support and guide me perhaps allowed me to push on with my mad ideas where others would have stopped. But it also gave me the resilience to roll with the punches.
I joined two networking groups and that helped build my confidence, getting me out there and talking about my business. It was a way of convincing myself more of what I was doing, and I also got a little business that way. By the time I got my first clients it was 2011 and I was 54. When I sent the first two or three groups to India I hardly slept a wink while they were out there, worried about something happening to them. I realized I had to get over that if I was going to carry on.
“I joined two networking groups and that helped my confidence, getting me out there and talking about my business.”
Seven years on my business Points South is doing very well. I’ve increased my turnover by 25-30% each year. So that I’m not working every single day of the week, last year I enlisted an assistant to do my social media and help with the technology, which I’m not great at so it makes sense to have help. I’m not very good at taking pats on the back, but I can take satisfaction from the fact that I let my passion and determination win through. What gives me enormous happiness is when I get repeat business from the same clients, who tell me they’ve had life-changing experiences out there. It’s lovely to share my passion for india with people who perhaps wouldn’t have discovered it if it hadn’t been for my business.
It’s not all easy, of course. First thing in the morning I look at my phone and if there’s an issue with one of my clients out there I have to get on and deal with it. But at least I’m doing something I believe in and find exciting. With property you end up being a bit like someone’s counsellor, whereas with holidays they’re basically a lovely thing. I’ve now got clients who’ve come back three or four times. When I look back now I’m so glad I listened to that voice and I sometimes think ‘What would I be doing now if I hadn’t?’ I’d be bored and unhappy.
MY RESTART TIPS
Unless you’ve got real passion it’s going to be hard to keep going at the preparation stage. So only start a project that you genuinely care about.
Be careful who you surround yourself with. Some friends are not supportive, feeling threatened or left behind when you make a big change. Avoid those friends, at least while you’re planning your venture.
Setting up your own business, the key thing you need is resilience. There are so many disappointments along the way. So develop a thick skin and make sure you have supportive people around you.
Spend your money wisely. When you run a business you get so many people trying to sell you advertising, PR and marketing. I could have spent a fortune on PR but in fact I paid £35 for an advertorial in the local press and out of that I got three really good pieces of business and from there it’s mushroomed.
You have to be a strong character to do this. Working in a team, it can be a negative trait to be strong-willed, but if used in a situation where it’s an asset, you’ll reap the rewards.
Being older and more experienced means you can say what needs to be said to difficult people. So don’t be afraid to have the confidence to say something rather than keeping quiet and letting that person steamroller over you. You have the know-how to push back.
Words: Marina Gask