In this week's SME Focus we hear from an Australian entrepreneur who has developed a specialist recruitment firm in Scotland after running a micro businesses on eBay while raising a young family.
Name: Tracey Eker.
What is your business called?
Where is it based? Glasgow.
What does it produce?
Flexiworkforce is an online recruitment job site dedicated to flexible working for skilled people.
How many employees?
Myself aside, I have recently recruited two marketing specialists with one more to follow shortly.
When was it formed?
I have been working on Flexiworkforce since June 2013. Our site soft-launched in June with an official launch scheduled for later on in the year.
Royal Bank of Scotland are piloting the site over the next three months over three regions of the UK, with a view to having a commercial agreement thereafter. They have introduced me to important contacts and guided me on certain topics.
What is its turnover?
I expect that Flexiworkforce will make around £300,000 turnover within the first year of launching.
What were you doing before you took the plunge?
My background is in finance and business-to-business sales. After growing up in Australia, I went to London where I spent ten years working in the recruitment industry, before moving to Glasgow. I have spent most of the past eight years juggling the demands of three school-age kids and running two successful cottage industries: Dingoes Vintage and Funked Up Junk.
I ran Dingoes Vintage from home after giving birth to my twins in 2005. I have a love for vintage clothing, bags and shoes and so I started an eBay shop selling my own collection. These items sold very quickly so I started scouring the web for more, which in turn led to opening an ebay Shop. I have only recently stopped doing this as I don't have the time - but I do have a vintage wardrobe to die for!
Funked Up Junk was started from my other passion for old furniture. I enjoy traipsing through charity stores and taking home a stray, unloved piece of furniture and then giving it the 'kiss of life'. I displayed my items in the window of the Salvation Army on Glasgow's Dumbarton Road, which had the added benefit of boosting the interest in the shop from the street traffic. It was a 'little ripper' of a business and even earned me slots on TV (Kirsty Allsopp's -'Fill your home for free' and STVs 'Too good too waste'). My garage is full on furniture waiting to be Funked Up.
The businesses brought in thousands over a year but still below my yearly tax allowance, so I could get by.
All this is a long way away from my original vocation of Marine Biology!
Why did you take the plunge?
With the children getting older I started to search for part-time work to fit around my child care commitments. I quickly became frustrated at how hard it seemed to find high-quality part-time work opportunities. Consequently, I started doing some research and found that, with the economy recovering strongly, UK employers were raising concerns about skills shortages. I thought that there must be a huge number of people like me who had good skills that these employers could use if we could find the right opportunities.
How did you raise the start-up funding?
With savings, selling shares and using my husband's saved up 40th birthday funds. We recently raised £150,000 angel investment from Kelvin Capital.
What was your biggest break?
Getting a place on the business accelerator programme at Entrepreneurial Spark, which offered mediation, an office space and other much-needed support, free of charge.
Royal Bank has introduced me to some great contacts and potential customers. It is a great vote of confidence to a start-up having a national company wanting to use your service for their recruitment needs. We now have a FTSE 250 company, Hays, trialling the site.
What was your worst
While I can't recall any one big mistake, the whole process of starting my own business has been a real learning curve - a steep, steep learning curve! Waiting for feedback and news from clients and potential investors can be extremely frustrating. This was especially difficult when I was in the
early stages of building my business. However, these experiences have made me more clued up on the processes that my business needs to go through, and this definitely has eased the journey somewhat,
What do you most enjoy about running the business?
The fact that every day is different. I love being at the
helm of my own project and learning so much in the process.
I enjoy making new contacts
and I appreciate the opportunity
I have had to work with a
wide range of knowledgeable, skilled experts throughout the journey.
What do you least enjoy?
The technical aspects of the business! Having said that, I feel that I have achieved a lot in teaching myself new skills that I would have previously never believed I would be able to do. Constantly having to pitch my business to potential investors can be a bit wearing. It's good fun, but sometimes the pressure can get to you!
What are your ambitions for the firm?
We are looking to turnover £300,000 in year one. By the end of year three I hope to have 10 employees working flexibly - of course!
I have just been accepted
into E-Spark's high growth business section called the
NEST, for 12 months so all my office and utility costs will be covered. This is invaluable to a new business and I still have their team of advisors and mentors to hand.
What are your top priorities?
My top priority is the official launch of our website this year; to have 3000 vacancies listed on the site by the end of our first 12 months of trading; to secure three large corporate clients by the end of 2014; to launch our Flexiworkforce App in the Autumn.
What could the Westminster and/or Scottish governments do that would help?
I think that more needs to be done to give SMEs a fighting chance to grow and thrive. We are still making our way out of a recession, and it is still difficult for SMEs to gain a foothold.
However, the Government is lowering employer's National Insurance contributions which is a great help to SMEs.
What was the most valuable lesson that you learned?
To persevere, build a supportive team, and maintain good organisation! Also to exercise, otherwise your body becomes a twisted knot of tension and those closest to you seem to copy any negative vibes you release! It's important to maintain good health, as often the business can seem to take over completely!
How do you relax?
I don't! I always seem to be on the go. That being said, I do still enjoy spending weekends with my family and occasionally letting myself chill out with a good interiors magazine or game of Scramble in the garden with the kids. Also I am a closet knitter - the ultimate mind number.