IN this week's SME Focus, we hear from one of the entrepreneurs who have built businesses to respond to the demand for services created by the ageing of the UK population.

Name:

Tim Cocking.

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Age:

27.

What is your business called?

Bright Care.

Where is it based?

Headquarters in Edinburgh with an office in Glasgow.

What does it produce, what services does it offer?

Services to help older people with the activities of everyday living. This includes everything from assisting with the linen and laundry and helping people get out and about to intensive live-in care for complex needs.

We have recently launched our franchise model, which is designed to help us expand our branch network faster.

Who does it sell to?

We provide services directly to self-funding older people who choose to live independently at home as an alternative to a residential or nursing home.

What is its turnover?

We invoice just over £19,000 per week, giving an annual turnover of nearly £1m.

How many employees?

We have around 65 staff on our payroll at present.

When was it formed?

I had the idea for the business in 2009, but we began trading in October 2010.

Why did you take the plunge?

I had always wanted to run my own business and had made a couple of attempts previously.

One involved selling computer components and I was also involved in a residential property sourcing start-up which failed to really take off after the difficulties in the mortgage markets in 2008.

I worked off a blank canvas in terms of thinking up business ideas, but after observing the experiences of my grandmother, who was very keen to remain living independently at home, there did not seem to be much in the way of specialist private care at home service which could be used to top up, complement or be a more flexible alternative to what may be limited statutory services. It did not take me long to realise that with an ageing population in the UK, the care sector, and in particular the care-at-home sector, was going to become a growing marketplace.

I spent 15 months planning and preparing to start the business and making sure I understood the sector inside out.

What were you doing before you took the plunge?

I was working in residential lettings as well as managing a small property portfolio in collaboration with my parents. As part of the journey of learning more about the care sector, I took up a post as a care assistant in a local care home in the nights and weekends, alongside my property-related work.

At the time, my wife also left her property career to find work as a care assistant with older people. She is much less active in the business these days, though.

How did you raise the start-up funding?

In 2009/10, I invested around £15,000 from my own immediate savings. I was awarded a £5000 loan from what was then called the Prince's Scottish Youth Business Trust (now Youth Business Scotland) and a further loan of £34,000 from my parents, which I am pleased to say that I have now paid off.

When I launched the franchise arm of the business, I secured a further £25,000 in loan funding from the Prince's Trust.

What was your biggest break?

When I decided to start the business, one of the main hurdles stopping me entering the sector was my lack of professional experience. Additionally, the Care Inspectorate, the industry's regulator, needed new providers to be thoroughly checked and to comply with a whole raft of legislation before beginning to trade – for obvious reasons.

I had to employ an experienced care manager from the start to help us achieve our accreditation with the Care Inspectorate. The whole process took around 15 months. Probably the biggest break was securing the right care manager who was willing to buy into the Bright Care model and my vision for the business.

It was a great day when the Care Inspectorate finally approved our application after months of uncertainty.

What was your worst moment?

It is obviously a difficult sector to break into and consequently it started very slowly. We did not take on any clients for four months, and during that period I had all the expenses of running a business and none of the income. I was beginning to wonder if there were actually any customers out there. But hard work and dedication paid off and the ball really started rolling.

What do you most enjoy about running the business?

I love building the system. It's a constant work in progress to hone, debug and improve the systems and people that run the business. The way we run our business now is very different from the way we organised ourselves when we started; we are now a lot more efficient and organised.

What are your ambitions for the business?

I would like to see our franchise model really take off building up to 150 professionally run businesses in the UK over the next 10 years. I think there are great opportunities outside of the UK too, so I am very open to the idea of European expansion of the model, but all in good time.

What are your top priorities?

Establishing a pilot franchise operation in North Glasgow, Perth, Aberdeen, Inverness or the Borders while continuing to grow and develop our company-owned Glasgow and Edinburgh branches.

What could the Westminster and/or Scottish governments do that would most help?

In my experience over the past three years or so, support for business start-ups in Scotland has been very good. I believe the support exists out there, but you have to be proactive to engage with it and make the most of it. The Business Gateway, Scottish Enterprise and Prince's Trust are three organisations that spring to mind that have been invaluable to me.

I think the education culture in schools could do more to promote enterprise or entrepreneurship as a respected career choice, instead of just bundling everyone off to university or college as the default next move for school leavers.

What was the most valuable lesson that you learned?

Never give up, and never take your foot off the gas pedal. A stationary business is a dying business.

How do you relax?

I enjoy an occasional episode of Air Crash Investigation or Megastructures on the National Geographic channel. I like to play with my eight-month-old daughter. One of my favourite pastimes is to have a nice Sunday lunch out with my wife.