Name: Nicola Cooper-Abbs
Business: All Words
Type of business: Copywriter, editor and proofreader
Start date: March 2005
When did you first decide you wanted to start your own business?
I’d always wanted to be a writer. After a degree in Journalism and English I worked for a design company.
Initially I started in a general marketing role and as time went on I was doing more and more writing. I left in 2004 to go travelling and on my return realised I wanted to pursue my real passion for writing.
Tell us about your business
I provide copywriting, editing and proofreading services for a range of companies from one-man bands to corporates. The aim is to improve companies written communications - from brochures, to websites, articles, direct mail, newsletters and more. I also work on writing, editing and proofing books.
Was it your first business idea?
All Words was my first business idea. The idea initially came from wanting to combine my passion for words with being my own boss.
Was your decision to start a business inspired by any other companies or individuals?
My younger brother had already successfully started his own business and this provided real inspiration.
What makes you think there’s a market for your business?
I carried out market research beforehand to establish whether there was a demand for copywriters. I also made a conscious decision to target the small business market rather than trying to compete for corporate business.
Once you’d decided to start a business, what did you do first?
My first step was to take a look at the practical aspects of the business – the business plan, informing my landlord I was working from home, informing the tax man etc. I wanted to start the business on the right footing, not worrying about having done the right pieces of paperwork.
What research did you do?I carried out a fairly extensive SWOT analysis and market research. I also investigated my local and UK wide competitors to see how much they charged, what markets they were writing for, what their websites said.
What advice did you seek?
I did go to Business Link who were quite helpful in terms of a business plan, beyond that their expertise was quite limited. I found much more extensive information through my own research on the internet and in business books.
What other help did you get?
I had no financial support but did have a cheering squad of family and friends.
Does the government need to provide more help to people trying to start a business?
Yes. There is a lack of one primary source of practical help when you start a business. The hoops you have to jump through to get government funding hardly make it worthwhile.
Talk us through the process of writing your business plan.
I found writing my business plan quite easy. I took a very logical approach to it - breaking it down into sections and working through them one by one. My first attempt was based on a paper business plan given to me by Business Link. This was a great starting point. Business Link helped me with my figures for year one.
How useful has your business plan been and do you think you’ll stick to it as your business begins to grow?
I have revisited my plan and it is interesting to see how much I’ve moved on from the initial ideas. I have stuck with my outline for the business and the figures are roughly on track. If anything I have spent less than I thought I would as I wanted to keep money in the business.
How much did it cost to start the business?
I had no money to start the business and enough to live on for about two months.
How did you fund this?
I had enough money to pay my bills for a couple of months. Two months into the business I took a part time teaching job to keep the wolf from the door.
Have you made any provisions for business not being as prosperous as expected?
I was and am prepared to do whatever it takes. I took a part time teaching job in the early stages of the business and would have no hesitation in doing the same if the business experiences a downturn.
When did you stop working?
I had given up my full time job without the intention of becoming self employed. When I came back from travelling I had decided to go for it.
Are you working from home or from premises?
I work from home. Initially I was living and working in a one bedroom flat. I didn’t see the need for offices as I could meet clients at their offices or in a local restaurant.
I love the flexibility and freedom of working from home - nothing better than typing away while dressed in pyjamas!
If I choose to move the business towards training in writing then I may seek out local premises.
How many hours are you working at the moment?
Some weeks I work 40 hours, some weeks it is more like 70. It depends on my workload. Creativity strikes me at anytime of the day, so I often write late at night.
How are you managing your day?I’ve made a conscious decision not to work weekends unless it is vital. I’m very organised and manage my time very well - I’m yet to miss a client deadline and pride myself on this approach.
What about staff, is it just you?
At the moment the business is me. However, if the business continues to grow I intend to sub contract work to other writers.
I find it hard to be alone 5 days a week so make sure I have at least a couple of occasions a week where I go and meet someone or go networking.
Is the amount of red tape that comes with taking on an employee something that concerns you?
Yes, and to avoid it I intend to sub contract.
What marketing and advertising have you done so far?
I’ve grown my business through contacts, networking and word of mouth.
I had no marketing budget so had to find cost effective ways of promoting the business. I’ve found networking invaluable as a marketing method.
Where do you hope to be in 12 months time?
I hope to continue the growth I have and maybe have a book or two of mine published!
What are the main obstacles to growth?
It’s the old adage of are you spending time working in your business or on your business? Every time I take time out to work on the business I’m moving away from my passion - working in the business writing.
Tell us about your website.
My website was launched very recently and has already provided leads. I’ve always had a profile on Ecademy.com which has led to business and a presence on Google.
I exchanged my skills for the design and build of my site and plan to update it myself. My website, like the rest of my branding, is an extension of my personality.
What are your main ambitions, to make a lot of money or enjoy what you do?
Money is great but it isn’t why I did this. I wanted to pursue a dream and that is what I remain focussed on. If you want to make lots of money then you have to wait a while for it to happen.
What have you found difficult about starting up and what do you wish you’d done differently?
The most difficult aspect has been cash flow. I thought I’d considered most aspects of starting up. However, the one thing I hadn’t realised was the time taken from instruction by a customer to final payment. This kept my awake many nights in the first few months of the business.
What skills and personal characteristics do you need to start your own business?You need to be brave - it takes real determination to stick with a business when you have no money and you see no light at the end of the tunnel.
You need to be positive and passionate - it is so much easier to sell yourself if you care about what you do.
So what advice would you give to anyone thinking of starting a business?
Find something you have a burning desire to do and then do your research. The best ideas can come undone because people just go into a business blindly without considering demand for their product or service.
Be prepared to work hard - really, really hard. Expect the first few months to be a rollercoaster, be brave and hold on tight. And finally, take advice from experienced business people and really listen to what they say - they have been there and know what you are going through.
Thanks a lot and the very best of luck. Will you come back and tell us how you’re getting on in six months’ time?