Posted: Wed 19th Jul 2023
Enterprise Nation partnered with Mastercard and Strive to deliver an online 'One Stop Shop' for entrepreneurs.
An initiative of the Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth, Strive will give 650,000 British micro and small enterprises the support they need to thrive in the digital economy over the next three years and beyond.
We're catching up with some of the business owners who have been using the initiative's Make a Plan discovery tool to find out about how it's benefited them so far.
Here, we talk to Julie Breckon, whose business Worldwide Explorer Travel Holidays is an independent travel agency, providing personalised and sustainable travel experiences.
When and how did you make the move into owning a business?
I first made the move around eight or nine years ago. I was employed at the time and wanted to gradually reduce my hours as my business developed. About four years ago, I felt ready to run a business full-time and opened my current one, Worldwide Explorer Travel Holidays.
Did you know where to go for support?
I had no idea. I didn't really know what support was out there at that point. But since then, I've realised that there is masses of support for start-ups and for more experienced business owners too. Since then, I've made sure to utilise any support I've needed.
I got advice from friends who had businesses in terms of what I needed to do first. One friend mentioned speaking to an accountant to find out more about tax. I did follow this advice and it was very beneficial.
In the early weeks and months, what went well? What didn't? How did you overcome any problems?
If I go back to my initial business, it was much easier than the start of my current business. The biggest problem was getting customers. As a new business, that can be hard. But my customer base began to grow and now I get lots of repeat bookings and referrals.
I managed to grasp the day-to-day running of a business much easier than I expected. This had been a concern as I had no previous business experience or business qualifications at that point.
However, I signed up to business courses for the aspects that I felt I needed to understand better, as I also wanted to have something a bit more formal to help me feel more like a business owner.
With my second business, the client base was already there, but the pandemic hit. I worked every day of the pandemic, making amendments and cancellations, but I didn't get a penny of income for two and a half years, because I only get paid if my clients actually travel. That was really hard.
I realised then how lucky it was that I'd initially continued with my previous job in paid employment until I was ready to go full time. Those savings got me through the pandemic and kept my business running. Due to loopholes with the criteria, I wasn't entitled to any form of government support, as was the same for many other people in the same industry.
You used the Make a Plan tool. What specifically has it helped with?
The Make a Plan tool has helped me to identify the areas that I need to focus on developing within my business and skillset. I'm now in a position to prioritise what I need to do now and what's going well.
What do you see as the next steps for your business?
I've actually been doing a lot of sustainability training and I was recently selected by the Travel Trade Gazette as a sustainable travel ambassador, so I'm now focusing on making my business more sustainable and also offering more sustainable holiday options.
I'm contacting suppliers to establish which ones have values that align with mine and which ones are focusing on sustainability so that I can produce a portfolio of go-to suppliers and products.
What are your more longer-term plans?
Long term, I aim to reduce my carbon emissions and other emissions as close to net zero as possible, to change my entire product base so that I'm only offering sustainable travel products, and to grow to the point where I can take on some staff.
What are the most important lessons you've learned from going into business for yourself?
Every day, there's a new lesson, and every lesson is important. But I'd say the following are some of the most crucial lessons:
It's hard work. There will be more bad days than good days to begin with, but stick with it. The more you put into it, the more you get out of it.
Owning a business – especially if you're a sole trader – can be very isolating. You often work by yourself, with nobody to bounce ideas off.
Get involved in networking – even if it's informal – so you have a network of like-minded business owners to support you through the tougher days, give you advice, support you, champion you and be genuinely happy with your successes.
Value your clients. Without them, you wouldn't have a business. If you treat them well and really care about them, they'll become loyal repeat clients who recommend you at every opportunity.
Always remember that tomorrow is a new day. Greet each new day with fresh eyes and an open mind, and don't dwell on what might have gone wrong the day before.
About Strive Make a Plan
Create an account, answer some quick questions about your business, get personalised feedback, then build an action plan that will help accelerate your business's growth. Take the Make a Plan tool today