Alex Secker – 22six Productions

With a young family to support, 23-year-old Alex Secker’s life was turned upside-down when he was made redundant by Nationwide. So when his partner obtained a good job, he seized the opportunity to fulfill his ambition of starting a business.

Alex’s father worked for Sony, so he grew up playing around with cameras at home and started to make videos as a hobby. Deciding to turn his hobby into a profession, he set up 22six Productions, with the aim of creating videos and films for a wide range of clients.

However, he soon had doubts about the likelihood of creating a successful business. “I had no idea where to start. There is so much that you need to know.” Unable to claim benefits, he looked for paid work again but could only find temporary employment in fields that did not interest him.

Alex visited the Citizens Advice Bureau, who told him about the Outset programme. The fully-funded Introduction to Enterprise and Business Start Up sessions gave him an insight into all aspects of running a business. In particular he learnt the value of market research and how to price his services correctly.

“Pricing my work is something I often have an issue with; due to the nature of my business I am unable to quote a flat rate for anything.”

Understanding tax and other HMRC requirements can be a challenge so Outset’s post-start support and specialist workshops are important to Alex. “The networking events are a godsend too; it’s a great way to meet other businesses and generate work.”

Having done work experience himself, Alex understands its value and takes on students to help him with filming. He collaborates with local businesses such as Swindon Viewpoint, Firebird Films and Infinite 8 Productions.

Eventually, Alex hopes to build the business enough to take on permanent staff. His long-term aspiration is to make feature films and television shows, and to establish his company as an international brand.

Star Khechara – School of Holistic Cosmetology

Many people dream of giving up their job and making the leap towards working for themselves, but never actually take that first step. For others, there has never been a doubt that they would make their own way in life.

Star Khechara always knew that 9-5 wasn’t for her, recognizing very early in life that the regularity wouldn’t suit her vibrant, creative mind. After initially training as an Aromatherapist, Star realized that her interests lay more in formulating her own skincare products for other practitioners to use.

Word quickly spread that Star was producing high quality therapeutic skincare products, and, with the help of a friend, a publishing deal was struck for Star to write her own DIY organic skincare book, The Holistic Beauty Book (2008, Green Books).

From this beginning grew a series of workshops and requests for tuition, enabling Star to turn her vocation into a real business. Star wrote course material from scratch and painstakingly built a website from which to administer it all.

However, she still lacked confidence in her abilities to turn the enterprise into a successful business. Star says, “I was in a state of really wanting to go self-employed but lacked a definite plan to move forward. I also lacked money but really felt strongly about taking any loans as I wanted to remain debt-free.”

A timely referral from the local Jobcentre to Outset Plymouth’s Business Start Up course provided Star with just the training and advice she needed, enabling her to steer her fledgling business in the right direction.

“I received plenty of support and advice from Outset,” says Star, “including valuable lessons such as reigning in my enthusiasm and starting small. The business was launched with just £10 (my domain name!) and went on to turn over £30k in the first year with very little advertising, hardly any overheads and more importantly no debts at all.”

School of Holistic Cosmetology is now a world-class international training school for organic and natural skincare formulation, with students from all over the world. Its training solutions are constantly evolving and range from short e-courses to intensive one-to-one master-classes, as well as bespoke tuition and staff training for spas, salons and small cosmetic houses. In addition, an ‘after-care’ package of mentoring helps graduates to fulfill their dreams of creating and launching their own natural skincare business.

In 2014, Star has branched in to health and beauty consultancy offering courses and one-to-one mentoring for fellow professionals. She has also acquired land so that her students can experience growing and extracting the botanicals that their skincare products are made from.

In terms of Outset, Star has nothing but praise for the support she has received. “My advisor has been monumentally supportive of me and my business, “says Star. “It’s been a lifesaver having an organization like Outset to turn to when difficulties have arisen. In fact, without this I probably would’ve got frustrated and delayed going self-employed. Outset really helped me to pull focus and do it.”

Neil Trigger – Ghostly Publishing

Having no previous experience in a business sector can sometimes be advantageous to starting a business: when you don’t know what is and isn’t possible, you aren’t bound by the traditions and trappings of the industry and can come up with new and innovative ways to succeed.

Neil Trigger had previously worked in a variety of jobs when his daughter asked him to write a story for her on his phone. From these humble beginnings, the story grew in to Neil’s first full novel.

With no outlet to publish his work, Neil decided to publish the novel himself. After attending an Outset Plymouth networking event, Neil realised that he wanted to turn his passion for writing in to a full publishing company that was capable of selling his and other authors’ work. He subsequently attended Outset’s Business Start Up programme and received one-to-one guidance on selling his novel online as an e-book before being referred to sister company Outset Finance to become ‘investment ready’ and look at funding streams for growth.

Ghostly Publishing was formed and his novel would go on to be distributed by a number of retailers including Waterstones and Amazon. Neil says of his experiences on the Outset programme: “There is so much to learn in business. Most of it is common sense, but swimming through jargon to get to the common-sense version can be hard. Outset made it easy by explaining concepts in a plain-speaking and pragmatic way.”

Neil’s new company was successful in securing a £7500 loan from the South West Investment Group (SWIG) which gave them better cash flow, allowing them to further expand. Ghostly Publishing now has a roster of 19 authors and illustrators and has attracted investment to “dramatically grow” the business in the next 12 months.

They have also leased a new office space in Edinburgh, hired an extra staff member to assist Neil, secured an exhibit at the London Bookfair and have signed a number of celebrities to read audiobook versions of the novels including Billy Boyd (Lord of the Rings) and James Cosmo (Braveheart, Game of Thrones).

“Outset are a tremendous force for good in Ghostly Publishing’s history.” Neil said.

“The courses are a great length and have helped me greatly – I loved that I could talk to a skilled and knowledgeable advisor when I needed to. This was very, very valuable to me.” He continued.

When asked what one piece of advice he would give to new business starters, he said: “Focus on one thing…ONLY one thing.”

Michael Bennett – Homestay Bristol

Michael joined Outset Bristol’s start-up programme with the idea of using the extra rooms in his house to generate income.

“I was unemployed with no obvious prospects of employment when I was told about Outset Bristol at the Jobcentre. I saw an advert in the local paper asking for hosts for foreign students and decided to try it.”

Michael engaged with Outset Bristol in April 2011 and worked his way through the Introduction to Enterprise and Business Start-Up modules. Each programme is broken down in to 8 workshops and covers a wide range of topics including marketing, sales, tax and basic bookkeeping.

“I came to Outset Bristol because it was free to use and I thought I could gain more skills and knowledge as I was growing my business.” Michael said.

As he progressed, Michael also received one-to-one mentoring and guidance from one of Outset’s expert business advisors.

Just two months later, in June 2011, Michael registered his business, Homestay Bristol. “I was quickly inundated with calls from schools asking for my rooms,” he said.

Since then, he has expanded to acquire 3 hostel properties with a total of 75 bed spaces and 7 members of staff.

Speaking about his experiences over the past 3 years, Michael explained the evolution of his business model.

“We have shifted ourselves so that we are positioned somewhere between the YHA and a budget hotel. This has opened our offering to other markets such as stag and hen parties, sports groups and visiting schools. We also no longer provide cooked meals.

“In 2014, we are considering whether to take on a new property that has been offered to us – this will help us focus on more upmarket rooms aimed at holidaying couples.”

Michael also made it clear that Outset was an important force for good that helped him achieve his goals.

“I found the Outset Bristol programme very useful and inspiring. My confidence has grown in many areas and I left the course better equipped to face the multitude of problems that occur while running my business.”

Vincent Brissenden – FRESH…Creating Cosy Homes

Vincent Brissenden had been long-term unemployed before he joined the Outset Bristol programme. “There’s simply nothing else like it around,” says Vincent. “I tried other courses but found Business Link too impersonal. I really appreciate the friendly encouragement and ongoing support I received.”

Having previously been engaged in the sustainable housing sector, Vincent decided to focus his interior design talents on starting a new business. In July 2011, Vincent started trading his design expertise under the business name FRESH…Creating Cosy Homes. “FRESH…Creating Cosy Homes offers a quality interior decoration service with impartial eco-friendly design advice and excellent customer care.” said Vincent.

Having worked through Outset Bristol’s programme of workshops, Vincent progressed onto the Outset Finance workshops to take advantage of all the help that was available to him. Vincent was particularly grateful for the practical guidance that was given by his Outset Bristol and Outset Finance advisors. “The whole experience was really useful and provided hands-on experience on every aspect of business start-up. I received great support and enjoyed the team atmosphere where everyone was very supportive and approachable.”

Using the knowledge gained from Outset Finance’s workshops, Vincent was recently able to obtain a £5,000 start-up loan from South West Investment Group, to help fund the purchase of equipment for his growing business.

Faisel Ghazghazi – Future Fiziques

Most clients who complete the Outset NEA programme have typically overcome their own, personal challenges when starting their own business. For Faisel Ghazghazi, the challenge of finding a job after being tarred with the brush of a criminal record was significant and frustrating.

“I spent most of my life in and out of prison. I was released in December 2011 and initially found it difficult to gain employment due to my criminal record. This is what prompted me to launch my own business.

“I wanted to do something for myself and have total control of my future. With the help of Outset and The Prince’s Trust, I have been able to do this.”

Faisel was referred to the NEA programme and assigned an Outset mentor who guided him through the process of starting his own business.

“My mentor was around to advise me whenever I had difficulties.” He said. “This was very helpful and lifted a huge weight from my shoulders knowing that I was not alone and that I had support if I needed it.”

Over several sessions, Faisel prioritised the needs of his new business and created an action plan to meet these needs. He also worked with Outset’s partner organisation, The Prince’s Trust, to secure a £1700 loan and £300 grant.

“The main challenge I encountered was keeping myself motivated through the initial business growth and the worry that it would not succeed.” Faisel said.

Faisel’s business, Future-Fiziques, provides bespoke, one-to-one and group fitness training sessions. Classes include offering free sessions for local teenagers, rehabilitation from injury and boxing training.

As the business progressed, there was a growing interest in his work, especially around his contributions to the community. His efforts were eventually rewarded by being featured on ITV news:

“I do a lot of volunteer work mainly teaching youngsters boxing whilst trying to get a positive message across at the same time. The equipment that Outset NEA and The Prince’s Trust funded has enabled me to make a real difference to my community and the lives of the kids I work with. A couple of the guys also donate their time to assist the club’s efforts.”

In the three years that have passed, Faisel has made a name for himself through his community work. He continues to hold training sessions at venues around the south west, including YMCA Bridgwater, YMCA Taunton and Street Somerset, with a new class planned for Wellington Youth Centre.

When asked to reflect on his experience so far, Faisel admits he is taken aback by the response to his business:

“The difference that my classes have made in these young people’s lives is truly remarkable. During the day, my intention is to work with children who have been excluded from mainstream schools, the homeless and also offenders who are on probation.

“In the evening I will teach Martial Arts to the paying public, running these classes so the club can make a profit and support itself.”

His main goal in 2014 is to open his own club in Taunton and he has already found the perfect venue that he plans to move in to.

“I am very confident this will be a great success as I teach a variety of different martial arts that cater for men, women and children of all ages and abilities.”

“The fact that my club can be run as a successful business is a bonus, but helping others is my number one priority.”

Claudenicia Samson – PS Brazil Travel

When her advisor at Jobcentre Plus talked to her about creating her own job through self-employment and recommended Outset Torbay’s fully funded start-up support, Claudenicia jumped at the chance to find out more.

With bucket loads of enthusiasm and lots of inside knowledge about her native Brazil, Claudenicia joined the Outset Torbay Introduction to Enterprise programme to fully research her idea for starting her own independent worldwide travel company, specialising in the South American region.

“I am very passionate about my country, Brazil”, says Claudenicia. “After taking two groups there, organising their itineraries and seeing them have a wonderful experience, I knew I wanted to make it my vocation.”

Claudenicia continued to complete the Business Start Up programme of workshops where she looked at critical aspects of business including Marketing, Sales, Financial Planning and Promotion.

“I found the group workshops very interesting and informative. Everyone was so supportive. Spending time with my enterprise coach has been so helpful too.”

On completing the Outset programme, and armed with her business plan, Claudenicia was put in touch South West Investment Group (SWIG) and secured a start-up loan to help her set up PS Brazil Travel in Torquay.

“Outset helped me secure my funding and has given me great contacts and vital continuing support.”

PS Brazil Travel is a Member of the Travel Trust Association. They can arrange International flights, transfers and car hire, tours, cruises, package holidays, European city breaks, Eurostar travel and luxury holidays.

With Brazil set to host the forthcoming World Cup and Olympics, as well as its annual Carnivals, Claudenicia is looking forward to showing people the best of what the region has to offer, establishing PS Brazil Travel as the local, trusted experts.

Chris Heirani – The Creative Den

Before starting his Outset journey, Chris was working part-time in a pizza takeaway as well as studying for a degree in web design.On completion of his degree, he knew the job market was bleak. However, after hearing about Outset through a friend, he was motivated to take matters into his own hands.

“Outset was the inspiration I needed for me to take that big step forward and actually get the ball rolling and get my business off the ground,” says Chris. “While many people are finding it hard to get jobs I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to get my business started. I knew that I had found the help and support I needed to succeed.”

Chris attended Business Start Up workshops, delivered in his local community at the Anglo-Iranian Society headquarters. He also received one-to-one coaching with an Outset Enterprise Advisor.

“The advisors who taught me during my time at Outset Bristol have done a fantastic job at getting the information across in a non-complicated way that was understood by everyone, even the people whose first language wasn’t English.”

The free support Chris received from Outset meant that he could be confident that he was launching his business from a firm footing, armed with the tools he needed to make his business a success.

“I’d like to thank the whole Outset team for helping me establish my company and myself. It feels so good to own my own company and it’s now become my little baby who I hope to see grow and grow.”

Now in 2014, some 6 years since conceiving the business, Chris has amassed an impressive portfolio of work for a number of multinational business. These include LGV Transport Training, Transparency Solutions and Personal Best.

Chris has also returned to Outset on a number of occasions to ‘give back’ to other budding business owners. Giving up his own time, Chris has run an ‘Ask the Expert’ event for other clients who are already trading, giving them the opportunity to learn more about the importance of web design for their businesses.

As for the future, Chris says: “I still have a dream of getting my own premises set up but it has to be at the right time – when the business really needs it!”

Alison Gardner – Poppys Vintage Tearooms

Living and working in the same area for a long period can be a great advantage when exploring the possibility of starting a new business. Without much effort, the people who attend our workshops are able to draw on their knowledge of local services, shops and leisure facilities available. It only takes a bit more research to identify the potential gaps in the market.

Alison Gardner worked as the Tourist Information Officer in St Neots for 11 years before becoming redundant. During this period she had built up an intimate knowledge of the town she loved and so decided to focus her efforts on starting a new business in the area.

“It became my mission to start looking for a space that would suit a Tearoom.” She said. “The search took a number of years – it had to be in the perfect location away from the hustle and bustle of the high street with outside space.”

In April 2013, a long standing local business moved premises and a unit became available just off the high street in the shadow of St Mary’s Church and a WW2 memorial. After her first viewing, Alison knew she had found the right spot.

“I wanted to respect the history of the location and the sacrifice that many local people made for our country. I decided to call our new place Poppy’s Vintage Tearoom.”

Alison realised that she needed some guidance to set up her business and contacted Outset Huntingdonshire.

Funded by Huntingdonshire District Council, the programme provides free-to-use business start-up support to anyone in Huntingdonshire who is looking to start a business. Alison met with Outset advisor Stacey Pike for one-to-one mentoring sessions while attending the programme’s Business start-up workshops.

“I found the courses and sessions with Stacey very useful.” She said. “Outset Huntingdonshire gave me an insight in to how to set up a business and the hurdles you may need to overcome.”

Her hard work and perseverance paid off with Alison opening her new business in June 2013. Visitors to Poppy’s Tearooms are greeted with an original vintage decor and plenty of tasty treats including a wide range of teas, cream teas, an afternoon tea service and a selection of light lunches and snacks.

Now in 2014, Alison’s business employs 5 staff and has links with many of the local shops who she helped support in her previous role. She has also created a new summer menu, a new website and has started to offer gift vouchers as a periphery product.

“The feedback so far has been amazing, I have been incredibly busy with customers returning” Alison said. “Poppy’s will be a place where all ages can come together to share that great British past-time: a good cuppa!”

Stu Williams – Redruth Community Radio

Stu Williams lost his sight when an operation left him unexpectedly visually impaired. Outset Cornwall helped him to launch a community radio station, creating new employment opportunities and improving community integration.

After struggling with unemployment for five years, Stu came to terms with the new challenges posed by his impairment: “Living with a visual impairment means that paper work and things like that, especially figures, are very difficult to deal with.”

As a keen DJ, Stu wanted to explore the idea of becoming self-employed but didn’t know whether it was possible:

“I had previously gained some experience working in community radio, having done some volunteering with Source FM in Falmouth. This enabled me to experience firsthand how volunteering on community radio really could change someone’s life, so I decided to replicate the model in my home town of Redruth.”

After speaking to Outset’s Enterprise Coach Pam Sekula, Stu began to explore the idea of using his skills to launch a social enterprise. Pam said: “We looked at entrepreneurial skills; we started discussing the viability of becoming a DJ and [the] feasibility of how he was going to become mobile and overcome his disability.”

With Pam’s encouragement, Stu enrolled on Outset’s Introduction to Enterprise programme. The course is designed to help beginners get to grips with the challenges of starting a business from scratch and build the individual’s self confidence.

With an emphasis on inclusion, Outset staff are equipped to deal with clients that have an impairment. As Pam explained: “If someone has a barrier to participating, you have to find some solutions. We had to make sure the equipment he had was able to decipher what was in the session.”

Stu found the team’s approach vital to helping him succeed: “Outset are absolutely brilliant at dealing with [my impairment]. They email me all the information prior to the sessions so that I had all the information to hand. I was then in the same position as everyone else on the course.”

As the course progressed, Stu found himself growing in confidence with the new skill set he had accumulated among a group of like-minded entrepreneurs:

“Coming from a background of somebody who had never been in business before, joining the program was brilliant. There was a big mix of people on the program – building that team, being with other people and learning those skills about how to develop a business was very important to me.”

In late 2010, Pam sent Stu information about securing a licence from Ofcom. Fast forward two years and the station hit the airwaves after being granted an FM licence. (Until Feb 2013, the station had only been available online).

Now in 2014, Redruth Community Radio station has grown exponentially and now boasts thirty live shows involving over fifty volunteers with their youngest member being an eleven year old presenter. Stu also has the support of a central business unit including his day-to-day manager and an administration team.

Stu really valued the one-to-one mentoring that he had received from Pam: “Spending time with Pam, my development worker, she saw the potential in me to be a social entrepreneur, and that my business idea should go down the route of a social enterprise rather than a self-employed business.”

Whatever your business idea is, Outset has the knowledge and experience to make it a reality.