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Start-ups: Why I quit racing to launch a business

Geraldine McKay

What motivates someone with a successful corporate career to risk everything by starting their own business?

Geraldine McKay did exactly that this year when she gave up her job as General Manager at Carlisle Racecourse to launch Catchfly Cumbria, a sales, marketing and PR consultancy.

She’d spent four-and-a-half years at the racecourse and before that 20 years in management roles in the hospitality industry, most recently as General Manager of the Wordsworth Hotel and Spa in Grasmere.

“I’d always wanted to work for myself,” she said. “There comes a time when you think ‘If I don’t do it now, I’ll never do it’. You have to take that step and have confidence in yourself. I’m delighted now that I did.

“I looked at the elements of my job that I had always enjoyed – sales, marketing and meeting people – and was able to build a business around that.

“You can’t just do what you enjoy, of course, you have to fulfil a business need. But I did my research and was confident there was a gap to fill.”

That said, sales and marketing is a crowded space.

Geraldine McKay

“There are lots of people offering marketing advice,” Geraldine said, “but I don’t just say, ‘This is what you need to do’. I carry out the activity to yield results. Businesses need to see a return on their investment.

“A large part of my offer is interim help to set up processes in sales.

“Often, when I go into a company, they’re not converting sales leads. It may be that they are not asking for the business – nobody is closing the deal.

“Sales is about networking and following processes.”

She added: “I can go into a client and work as part of a team. For example, if a company has lost its sales manager, I can work on an interim basis.

“When I was a general manager, a big part of my role was to ensure that different departments work together effectively. I can act as a point of contact between marketing and sales. They might have common goals but often they work in different directions. I get the two to work together.”

Catchyfly began trading in April and already has a diverse mix of clients.

They include Whole and Local, which makes artisan marmalades, jams, relish, chutneys, pestos and dressings; Helen McDonald, a holistic therapist; candle maker Mils and Boo; and the PR, social media and content specialist INTRO.

Geraldine said: “Given my background, I expected clients to come from hospitality and events, but that hasn’t been the case.

“The principles of sales and marketing are the same, whatever industry you’re in. Having a mix of clients is very satisfying.”

Before starting Catchfly, she enrolled on the Business Start-Up Support programme run by the Chamber’s Cumbria Business Growth Hub.

The principles of sales and marketing are the same, whatever industry you’re in

BSUS offers free advice and support to new businesses including one-to-mentoring from a professional business adviser, and a place on a three-day course on starting a business.

Geraldine completed the course and began working with Growth Hub adviser Justine Douglas, who specialises in assisting start-ups.

She said: “The support I received through BSUS was absolutely brilliant.

“I’d had a corporate career but there was a lot I didn’t know about self-employment. I received help with preparing a business plan and advice on finance, cash flow, tax, invoicing, insurance, pricing and IP.

“The practical advice was wonderful and Justine has been a great support.

“I’ve made a real friend in business, someone I can call and ask questions to when I need help.”

Justine also played a role in naming the new venture.

Geraldine McKayGeraldine explained: “I was going to call it Higher Branch until Justine found another business trading as Highest Branch, so I decided on Catchfly instead.

“I wanted something that promotes sustainability. The Catchfly is a hardy flower that grows well in Cumbria.”

Justine, meanwhile, is confident that Geraldine will make a success of the business. She said: “I could tell when I first met Geraldine that she was very focused and driven, and passionate about what she does.

“She was keen to access all the support she could before she started Catchfly because she knew she wouldn’t have time once the business started.

“She’s a very good listener, very approachable, and she does her research and really gets to know potential clients.

“That’s important. If I was using somebody for sales and marketing, I’d want them to get to know me and get to know by business.”

If you are thinking of starting your own business or social enterprise, then Cumbria Chamber of Commerce and our partners are here to help with a free business start-up programme to point you in the right direction.

Our comprehensive package of support includes:

  • Free meetings with a business adviser to review and develop your business idea;
  • Free training covering business planning and self employment, an introduction to marketing/market research and sales forecasts, promotion and sales, an introduction to planning and managing finance, taxation and bookkeeping, using the internet and social media;
  • Free help to develop your business plan and get your business up and running;
  • Free membership of Cumbria Chamber of Commerce.

The £1.1m Business Start-up Support (BSUS) project is supporting 300 new businesses and 750 individuals to start businesses, creating 300 jobs.

For more information, call us today on 0844 257 84 50 or click here to visit the Cumbria Business Growth Hub web site.

ERDFThe funding that supports the Growth Hub comes from a range of sources including Cumbria Chamber of Commerce, the European Regional Development Fund, Allerdale Borough Council (Sellafield Ltd’s Allerdale SIIF, distributed by Allerdale Borough Council), Barrow Borough Council (FEDF Coastal Communities Fund Supply Chain Initiative, the Coastal Communities Fund is funded by the Government with income from the Crown Estates marine assets; it is delivered by the Big Lottery Fund on behalf of UK Government), Carlisle City Council, Eden District Council, South Lakeland District Council and Cumbria LEP.

The BSUS project is receiving up to £1,112,686 of funding from the England European Regional Development Fund as part of the European Structural and Investment Funds Growth Programme 2014-2020.  The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government is the Managing Authority for European Regional Development Fund. Established by the European Union, the European Regional Development Fund helps local areas stimulate their economic development by investing in projects which will support innovation, businesses, create jobs and local community regenerations. For more information, click here.


© Cumbria Chamber of Commerce


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