Ruth Noyes, Lisle Combe,
I always wanted to extend the events we could offer in our large and ancient house. But my business-head wasn't ready and perhaps circumstances weren't right. It didn't work.
But 10 years later we made better plans. We'd been doing small events for charities, and we decided to do some for ourselves.
The first pop-up pub was our big risk - a make or break experiment. It worked!
We probably lost money, but we gained a lot of experience. Everyone enjoyed it. We got a lot of encouragement to do more. It gave us confidence.
So since then we've had a variety of pop-ups – film-shows, poetry readings, pubs, music nights, wine tastings and more. It's exciting creating new events.
Lisle Combe is a venue that loves to entertain, it is a very friendly venue and socialising space. I've realised that I've been playing to my strengths. I'm a people-person, a facilitator and a good organiser.
So my best decision was to follow my intuition – our welcome is central to success.
My biggest obstacle was probably my own perfectionism……
Commentary by Dave Simon
Attracting tourists to the Island is essential to our economy.
Holidays are still a popular spend for most families.
These days there is a huge choice. All the same, many people prefer to stay in the British Isles.
The Island is a home-away-from-home destination with a long history of holiday-making. We have lots of wonderful businesses working in the tourism sector.
To fight the effects of the recession, we need to attract more visitors.
The easiest, cheapest and probably most effective way to do that is to warm up our welcome. It helps to build trust because people want to know what sort of people they might meet.
It would make the Island more attractive. Guests would relax more while they are here. And recommendations to friends and on social media would be more likely.
But welcoming people we don't know is difficult. It's a skill. As we all get busier, more distracted and more digital, is this skill fading out?
A little bit of coaching could mean more bookings for accommodation providers. And more visitors for attractions. Plus better tips from guests for staff.
From advert and website writing, through telephone and email conversations, to face-to-face interactions...
We can be the best visitor experience.
Remember - Failure Isn't Fatal.
It's refusing to try again with something different that is fatal.
So maybe I jumped in feet first, trusting to common sense.
We experimented. We already used the house as a B&B, so we had a business to build on. Each experiment was small, so none of them were going to break us.
Because we have put on a series of pop-ups, each one different, it is less of a problem if one does poorly. It's not us, it's not our house, it's not even pop-ups that's the problem. It's just that one event – and even then it may have been the weather that put people off, rather than anything we did.
But the change from accommodation provider to entertainment provider required a mind-shift. We had to think in a more enterprising way – forward thinking and opportunity-focussed.
Prepare A Variety Of Products
Over the years, the pop-ups have gathered quite a fan-base. That gives us confidence to continue.
We also put on wedding receptions. Lisle Combe is a beautiful country house, steeped in history, with beautiful gardens and sea views. Receptions can be the same size as the pop-ups, but they are more intense because it is the customer's Big Day! So we limit the number we do each year.
Having a variety of products is good – they can combine, and also they give us a resilience of income.
Perhaps because we were not very clear what we were doing, we have learnt as we have gone on. That includes learning from all sorts of mistakes! And we were offered some consultancy which helped focus our business heads!
Advice Is Important
I was a teacher in my previous career. So I believe in learning – I still attend workshops. It's important to get a range of skills. I've had help with new areas like regulations and licences, etc.
The advice I wish I'd had early on was: avoid being too wary. Go for it! Learn by doing – don't put it off!
Avoid thinking yourself to a standstill. Wanting to be sure a new venture succeeds is very understandable. I thought I wanted a perfect plan each time. Now I know there are no guarantees either way, but it seems obvious that if you never even have a go, you can never succeed.
Understand Business As A Journey
My journey from professional employment to self-employed enterprise had doubts and questions. Obviously, the financial side of it was a question. Could we do it? How would the seasonal ups and downs affect the bank balance? What if the worst happened? We weren't even sure what that was!
It was quite difficult to begin with, but we pressed on as we believed it could work. And it does now. The worries have got much smaller.
Our priorities about profit have changed. To begin with, we would try events that would make only few pounds profit. But they did establish our reputation. Nowadays, we are much more careful to ensure we make some profit – we have a large house that has continual maintenance costs.
We have recognised the journey we've been on, and continue on, with periodic tweaks searching for the ideal event/customer combination.
So our attitude has changed – from being worried about security to feeling confident the business can keep going. Our security is in our ability to change with circumstances and improve our results. It is easier to prioritise our own lives now – like fun and children and holidays. And, we are proud of what we've achieved.
Recognise Your Real Value
One piece of advice I would give anyone starting is: work to recognise the value of what you provide. This can be difficult, especially if you have got used to being paid a 'going rate' in a job. It seems that international research says that most people undervalue themselves.
So you have to keep checking up on this. Use independent people, listen to existing customers, and experiment with pricing.
What I have found hardest is negotiating prices. Every event is different - customers, guests, entertainers, brides, mothers and fathers… they all want different things. We aim to provide the best experience we can, but it can be difficult to work out a price that's fair to us and to them.
We Are 'Welcome Island'
I feel the Island can do more to help itself. We could put more teamwork together for everyone's benefit. Rather than instantly seeing other businesses as competition, we can also work together as colleagues.
I feel that optimism and open-mindedness are vital for our long-term future. We need to put that extra effort into relationship-building – with colleagues, with suppliers, and with neighbours.
I am constantly promoting other businesses on the Island – our own suppliers, local attractions and the entertainers we hire. It provides a personal touch. And our customers really like that.
These helping links are the basis of our community. Start-up owners often don't realise that a go-it-alone mentality actually isolates you. It takes more effort overall, and supports the community less.
And with guests, it's even more obvious that you need to really welcome them, person-to-person. Making everyone welcome is central to success.