How did you start out and seize the opportunity? What barriers did you have to overcome and how did you do this?
I began my business by grabbing a chance and then spotting a gap in the market. I’d started out in fashion retail on the fantastic Marks & Spencer graduate training scheme but following my divorce and, as a single mum with two young daughters, I began organizing parties and small events for friends and family. A chance meeting in Manchester’s Midland Hotel gave me the break I was looking for and I seized the opportunity to organise a major event for the hotel. I had never done anything on this scale before but I knew I could do it.
The event was a success and led to a number of further bookings and I realized there was a clear gap in the market and that this was my chance. In business you only get a short window to get your name, product or concept known within a market place so I just had to put everything into it.
It wasn’t always easy juggling business with motherhood so I had to be realistic about what I needed to do to make my business a success. It was essential that I lay down very firm foundations very early on – in my case finding reliable, quality suppliers and venues and developing strong relationships which would stand the test of time. You have to be careful not to become a victim of your own early success so it is essential that you build a strong team and support network around you and recognize that you simply can’t do everything by yourself.
What products or services do you provide and what sets your company apart from the competition?
We organise all kinds of events from weddings and baby showers through to high profile corporate events for blue chip clients including Minster Law, ITV Granada, UEFA and Selfridges. In our business reputation really is everything and it is this which sets us apart. Quality, quality, quality, is my motto – and check, double check and then check everything again! And surround yourself by the best people and tried and trusted suppliers to make sure you always provide the very highest levels of service possible.
Any thoughts on the future of your company (growth plans, new areas of business etc) and your industry?
Having recently invested in new, state of the art headquarters in Manchester I remain confident and optimistic about the future of my business which has continued to develop, even through the recession. There are signs that the corporate events sector is starting to bounce back from the depths of recession, so we are working to maximize our market share again with sizeable UK and European business events booked into 2015. The private events sector has remained consistently strong for us but I am not complacent, so we work tirelessly to retain these clients and provide an expert service with innovative and creative ideas that stay ahead of style trends.
For me it’s a case of maintaining our focus on core business and our own very high standards. While it is very important for any successful entrepreneur to delegate I want to continue to be the ‘face’ of my own brand. I will always remain hands on as I believe an entrepreneur’s personal touch is essential to their on-going success. Oh and I’m rather excited about further potential television appearances (Liz appeared on BBC Three’s Working Girls programme mentoring a young unemployed woman back into employment in 2011).
What are your sales and marketing strategies? What do you think about using newer platforms such as social media etc to reach customers?
I think a good sales and marketing strategy is to focus on reputation, repeat business and recommendation. Word of mouth is always the best form of marketing and we are lucky to get a lot of repeat and recommended business thanks to our reputation in the events sector.
That’s not to say we aren’t always looking to reach out and meet new customers. I say talk to everyone, I do and I’ve even been known to pick up new business in the first class train carriage to London and at a London bus stop!
When I first started out I literally gave out hundreds of business cards and networked with as many people as I could. I still believe strongly that face to face networking is invaluable and if I can’t always meet someone then I will least try and pick up the phone to them as it is more personal.
As well as investing in a solid, long-term public relations campaign I have also invested significantly in my website and online presence in last 12 months. Social media helpful but I still don’t think it can beat interacting face to face with someone on a human level.
Do you have any tips for managing suppliers, customers and other business relationships effectively?
For me it is all about developing mutual loyalty, having very clear expectations from the outset and ensuring value for money and honesty. Winning people’s trust and showing enthusiasm gets you business, but delivering quality and value for money are what keeps it and helps you to grow.
What main secrets of success do you think entrepreneurs more generally need to know?
Any entrepreneur needs to be prepared to make some tough decisions along the way. It’s just a fact of business life. But a positive, can-do attitude can go a long way and I believe there is always a solution to any problem and there is nothing wrong with thinking outside the box. Hard work and determination are key, so be prepared to drive your ideas forward and break through any barriers to success.