However, his pledge to make another effort to try to help make it easier for minnows to get money out of banks went down well. This week we hear from a young woman who learned the value of persistence after finding that state agencies did not seem to be especially good at providing the support she needed to get started in business.


Name: Laura Cohen


Age: 24


What is your business called?

Lembrassa Limited


Where is it based?

The south side of Glasgow.


What does it produce, what service does it offer?

Lembrassa sells lingerie and swimwear online, specifically aimed at ladies with fuller busts.


Who does it sell to?

We are an online-only retailer selling to individual customers all over the world. Although most of our orders are from the UK, over 20% of sales come from overseas -- mainly Denmark, France, Poland, Germany, USA, and as far away as Alaska and Australia. The weak pound makes our prices attractive for overseas customers.


What is its turnover?

The turnover for the first year will probably be around £80,000 -- less than we planned. Our plan is to grow to £500,000 within three years and then double that to £1m within another two years.


How many employees?

We have two full-time employees and one part-time employee, with plans for further recruitment as the business grows.


When was it formed?

I came up with the idea in early 2007 but we didn’t start trading online until November 2008. I didn’t realise just how much work was going to be involved in getting the website designed and live. We had specialist requirements that made the website functionality more challenging to design -- for instance, customers needed to see exactly what is in stock at any given time because we only take orders for items that are in stock and can be dispatched the next business day.


Why did you take the plunge?

I think I have always had an entrepreneurial spirit. I have known for a long time that I wanted to be part of a business that made me feel driven and, despite working for a variety of employers, I never got enough of a buzz or felt passionate about what I was doing. I think entrepreneurs feel the need to take control of their own destiny because they instinctively feel that there’s an opportunity to do something better than anyone else. As a fuller-busted woman, I always felt that shopping for lingerie and swimwear shopping should be easier, more enjoyable and less stressful than I always found it.


How did you raise the start-up funding?

Initially I had expected to be able to get grants and subsidised loans through government schemes -- but that proved to be a non-starter. I turned to family and friends to raise the necessary capital to get off the ground but couldn’t raise as much as I would ideally have wanted, so kept start-up costs as low as possible and reined in our first-year ambitions.


What were you doing before you took the plunge?

I completed a BSc (Hons) in international fashion marketing at Manchester Metropolitan University. During my degree, I worked in the retail industry to gain practical insight and experience. I worked in a supervisory capacity in high street store Oasis. I also did a spell in the Bhs head office as an associate merchandiser.


What was your biggest break?

A key breakthrough was setting up accounts with our target brands. I already had knowledge about the brands that I wanted to stock on the site in terms of their product quality, popularity and range of sizes. The brand reps were very helpful and supportive in advising us on the range of styles we needed to go for when we first launched the website. This has been critical for us to compete with the bigger online players.

What was your worst moment?

There have been two real lows. The first was when the initial funding plans fell through. At that stage it looked like I would have to abandon the idea totally. But I am determined (or stubborn) and managed to raise a lesser amount to get Lembrassa off the ground.

Then last September, after intense and advanced discussions, we received an e-mail from the company who were going to design and build our website to say that they would be unable to do so in the way we wanted it done. This was a huge blow because we had committed a lot of money to registering the company and domain names and buying in stock. We had to find a new company quickly who could develop our site so that we could go live and we managed to do this, with online trading starting in the middle of November 2008. But we were months behind schedule and were not well enough established for our first festive season in December of last year. These two moments have cost us dearly in terms of first-year trading, but fortunately family and friends who funded me are very supportive.

What do you most enjoy about running the business?

I love being involved in all aspects of the business -- buying products, marketing, merchandising, etc.


What do you least enjoy?

The administrative side of things. I am not well organised in filing and accounts, but fortunately one of my co-directors thrives on that, does most of it, and pushes me to do what I have to do.


What are your ambitions for the firm?

We are just a small player in the big international marketplace. So we need to spend our marketing money wisely and continue to re-invest in the business. Every penny we earn is going back into new stock, building up the Lembrassa brand, and getting us to be the online shop of choice for ladies with fuller busts.


What are your top priorities?

To increase awareness of Lembrassa. I want to develop and increase our product range and to maintain the steady growth of the business. We may be small but we can easily take on the bigger players in our market. It is also vital that we continue to deliver on our customer service promises as it is this, combined with our product range and prices, which brings our customers back. Anyone can promise the world but it’s making good on those promises that counts.


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

I have been really disappointed by the lack of help and assistance. We have received no help from government -- the powers-that-be really need to do more to support SMEs and encourage entrepreneurship. They make the right noises but in reality, you are very much on your own. The aid available is so restrictive, so difficult to access and takes so long to come through that you really have to find alternatives for yourself. I had to raise £50,000 from private sources to get us through the first year and will probably have to go back for more to continue funding our growth.

With all the publicity and government adverts, I had thought that being a young, female entrepreneur with a solid business idea and business plan would enable me to get grants or assistance, but that is simply not the case.


What was the most valuable lesson you learned?

Robert the Bruce was right -- “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try and try again”. But I also know how essential it is to have a good team around you. We support and advise each other, help to solve issues, curse through the bad times, and celebrate together in the good times. I couldn’t have done this on my own.


How do you relax?

I am very strict about planning time off -- especially going away for a few days and getting out of my self-made pressure pot for sunshine and relaxation. It is amazing what a change of scene and a few rays of sun can do for your feel-good factor and perspective.