“Underestimate Highlanders at your peril,” smiles Freda Newton MBE, as she tells me about the entrepreneurial landscape in her part of the world.

The Dingwall-born owner and managing director of Loch Ness by Jacobite knows what she’s talking about, of course, having bought the Highland tour boat company in 2002, growing and expanding its reach from a small, seasonal operator to a year-round, quality attraction taking 300,000 passengers a year cruising on Scotland’s most famous loch.

“All my family were in business,” she explains. "Starting a business is the norm in the Highlands – there are entrepreneurs everywhere. I think there is a very independent spirit and pragmatic approach among the people here. Because you’re further away from everything, you have to create things for yourself.

“And everyone is willing to give you help and advice. That ability to bounce off others is key to the success of any business.”

The 54-year-old hasn’t always worked for herself, however. Ms Newton spent years as a senior executive in the transport industry, including as managing director of Scottish Citylink buses in Glasgow, before returning to the Highlands in 2002. She wanted a new challenge but couldn’t fix on a business idea – until she went on holiday overseas with her sister.

“We were on a boat trip where 40 people had paid £20 for a two-hour trip on a very nice vessel,” she says. “We saw the potential for Loch Ness right away but knew Jacobite already existed.

“As an entrepreneur it’s important to do something you enjoy. When I got back I called the owner, who I knew was approaching retirement age, and I remember being quite nervous. He said ‘come and talk to me’ and the rest is history.

“When you buy an existing business, you want to grow and improve what's there. That’s what we’ve done at Jacobite over the last 17 years.”

Ms Newton puts the sharp increase in passengers over the last few years down to a number of factors, including the weaker pound, a rise in Asian travellers and the so-called Outlander effect. It’s also about having a quality offering, of course.

As well as vastly improving the on-board customer experience over the years, Jacobite’s newly opened café, craft shop and visitor centre at Dochgarroch, on the banks of Loch Ness, will be a vibrant hub for visitors and locals alike.

“It took us 13 years to get this venture off the ground,” says Ms Newton, who lives in Inverness. “It’s a reminder that in business sometimes you have to play the long game and be patient. If at first you don’t succeed, keep trying. Everything happens for a reason.”

The successful businesswoman also advises budding entrepreneurs to stay focussed on quality – and keep learning.

“I’ve been running businesses for a long time but I recently enrolled in the growth advantage programme at Strathclyde University,” she says. “My partner thought I’d be the oldest in the class – but I wasn’t! Meeting a whole new network has been great.

“You only have to look at where technology has taken us over the last 30 years to see how important it is to stay up-to-date. Open yourself up to new ideas and surround yourself with people who have expertise.”

Having achievable goals is also key, she says.

“I was talking to Sandy Adams of Springfield property at a dinner recently and he gave me an invaluable piece of advice that I’ve been sharing ever since.

“If you increase your business by 15 per cent a year, in five years you’ll have doubled it. Looking back, I did that from 2013 to 2018. And I’m looking to double it again between 2018 and 2023. Targets and goals keep you motivated."