How to survive in a recession: meet six Kent entrepreneurs

Even in the most unfavourable of economic environments there is still the chance to make your business dreams come true, as these six local Kent residents prove

How to survive in a recession: meet six Kent entrepreneurs

Even in the most unfavourable of economic environments there is still the chance to make your business dreams come true, as these six local Kent residents prove

Is the daily grind of work getting you down? Do you yearn to throw off the shackles of the office and strike out on your own? Do you have a plan for a business more workable than my own idea to create an agency providing monkey butlers?

In idle moments most of us at one time or another has imagined what it would be like to run our own business. But turning those thoughts into a reality is a tricky process, one not helped in the last few years by the recession.

Name: Ingrid Murray

Company: We Buy Nearby

Most Read

Location: Tonbridge

Type of business: Local produce delivered to your door

Like so many good business ideas, WeBuyNearby arose from dissatisfaction. Ingrid Murray was fed up with the poor quality of supermarket food. She disliked the unnatural uniformity of pre-packaged meat and was frustrated by fruit and vegetables that turned from under-ripe to rotten overnight. 

“I began speaking to people and realised that I wasn’t alone,” she says. “What’s more, others seemed to share my growing desire to buy from local producers. But the difficulty we were finding was accessing this food, because you couldn’t get it all at one place.

“I had the idea of creating a single location, in this instance a website, where people could come and get the great quality locally produced food they wanted and have it delivered to their door.”

Ingrid visited local suppliers to discuss the concept, investigated the range of different produce she could offer, thought through the business model and started to build the website. 

“Finding premises was really difficult so I converted the stables at our home into a storage warehouse and kitchen. I then took food hygiene qualifications and began marketing the company by visiting local fairs, holding tastings and using social media channels. It was lots of hard work but the business was a passion of mine and so you don’t mind putting in the hours when it’s something that you really believe in.

And so far it’s been worth it. What I’ve found is that we seem to cater for people who want to eat locally produced food but don’t have the time to undertake the often exhaustive process of finding it themselves. But really we’re open to anyone who is fed up with the poor quality produce that you often get at the supermarket.”

Name: Lisa Little

Company: Petite-Bijouterie

Location: Bromley

Type of business: Unique hand-made jewellery

A few years ago Lisa Little found herself searching the high street for a necklace to go with a new outfit. Despite knowing what she wanted she was having difficulty finding something suitable.

 “In the end I got so frustrated I decided to buy some silver wire and some beads and make my own. I made three necklaces with my materials then settled on one to wear,” she says. “That night two friends admired the necklace and asked where I’d bought it. When I told them I had made it, they suggested I should make some more. And so I did!”

Petite-Bijouterie, which at the moment is an online venture, caters for those people who want something different from the mass-produced jewellery normally available on the high-street. This even extends to those who want something truly unique, as Lisa is happy to take on commissions.

But it’s not just adults who might be interested in these beautifully designed bracelets, necklaces and earrings. The Petite Bijouterie Children's Collection was conceived when one of Lisa's nieces asked if she would make her a special necklace. She has six nieces, so thought it unfair to make only the one.

There is now a whole range available for customers who are looking for something a little bit special for their daughters, or an unusual and unique gift for any girl aged three to around 16.

“Jewellery making is now such a passion of mine, I almost feel guilty when I’m out buying new stones or making new pieces, because to me it’s still a hobby and something that I derive so much pleasure from,” Lisa says.

“It fits in beautifully with family life. Fortunately I was in a position to be able to retire from my proper job in marketing and have been able to turn my hand, not to mention years of stifled creativity, to something new and exciting and hopefully at the same time bring pleasure to others.”

Name: Gill Bentham

Company: Hen’s Dancing

Location: Across Kent

Type of business: Women’s social network club

“Not long ago, I began to realise that there are women out there who are no longer looking after young children but still want to enjoy an active social life. They want to have fun and make new friendships but there are often no avenues available for them to do this. Hen’s Dancing was my solution to this problem,” says Gill Bentham.

Coffee mornings, supper clubs, Saturday lunch clubs - Gill’s social network club provides regular opportunities each month for women to get together. Hen’s Dancing also put on special events, such as wine tasting, trips to the West-End and inspirational talks.

“What I’ve discovered is that while a lot of women are happy to shop online or talk in chat rooms, they prefer to do things face-to-face, to get out there and meet people properly. That’s what Hen’s Dancing is all about; a forum for women to meet up and just talk and enjoy themselves.”

Although it was only launched in 2008, with groups in Sevenoaks and Tunbridge Wells, Hen’s Dancing has already spread to Canterbury and Maidstone and is looking to reach more towns in the county in the coming years.

“I’ve had lots of great feedback from our members, which I think is a reason why the club has grown so much. There are some wonderful testimonials on our website that people can go and read for themselves.

“Aside from the community element of the club, members also seem to like the fact we listen to what they say and adapt the club around them. All in all, Hen’s Dancing has had a great few years and hopefully it will continue to grow in the future.”

Annual membership costs �36 per year. Other benefits of membership include

A free legal helpline provided by two female lawyers at ASB Law A free Q&A service from resident life coach Katie Day Offers on fashion, jewellery, beauty treatments and more

Name: Duncan Matthias

Company: Entire Home

Location: Paddock Wood

Type of business: Home maintenance and building service

A lot of people go into business within an area they have worked in or at least know something about. For Duncan Matthias, the opposite was true.

“I was actually working in hotel management when the idea of Entire Home came to me. Like a lot of business ideas, the inspiration behind Entire Home was the belief that I had found a gap in the market. In this case, the fact that there are no firms that will do absolutely any maintenance job on your home.”

When Duncan says any job, he really means any job at all. Alongside the conventional services that most building firms offer, such as kitchen fitting, bathroom fitting and electrical work, Entire Home also offer to do gardening and landscaping, painting and decorating and provide a design service for your home.

But it doesn’t stop there. Even tiny jobs, the kind of jobs that most tradespeople wouldn’t entertain, such as changing a light bulb, are covered by Entire Home.

“The company’s name pretty much sums up what we are about. And fortunately for us it’s an approach that seems to work. It shows that no job should be considered too small, because sometimes that just what people want.”

Name: Liam Gooding

Company: Fruitbowl Media

Location: Canterbury

Type of business: Creative agency

While most students were perfecting the flawless lie-in, Liam Gooding was setting his sights on business success. “I had a curiosity about business even at a young age,” he admits.

“At university it struck me that I was surrounded by amazing talent, probably a unique proximity to such talent. So it made sense to combine my interest with this. And that’s how Fruitbowl was born.

“We started very simply, just building websites for people. But we quickly developed into other areas. An obvious one was web development, which covers all the stuff on a website that is custom built. And we’ve also moved into search marketing, which is all about increasing a site’s visibility on search engine results pages

“But don’t think we’re just about the web. A beautiful, well timed and well designed piece of print is the secret weapon in any marketing campaign. With a little help from us, businesses can produce astounding results with their run of brochures, business cards or flyers.”

Fruitbowl benefitted from the help of the Kent Enterprise Hub (the University of Kent’s business incubation unit), who provided business support services as well as flexible office space. With this support Liam has managed to turn his curiosity about business into a success.

“We haven’t been going too long, but in the last year I managed to pay myself a good salary and employ two and a half members of staff. I’ve also hired people from around the university at different times. We seem to have developed a niche in the pharmaceutical industry, which is an area that I can see growing in the future.”

Name: Richard Davis

Company: Virtual Gym

Location: Rochester

Type of business: Online gym

The concept behind Virtual Gym came to Richard Davis during a conversation with a friend of his who was an exercise instructor.

“I just suddenly realised that normally instructors do their job in front of a room of 10 to 20 people or if they’re really successful on television, to millions of people. There is nothing in-between.

“I gave it some thought over the next few days and began to see that because of changes to the internet, which meant that it was becoming possible to download large video files quickly, I could fill that nothing with something. And that something was Virtual Gym”

Launched in January 2008, Virtual Gym is an on-demand online gym, offering an array of downloadable fitness exercise classes. In fact, almost any exercise class you could get in a conventional gym is available here and at a much lower cost. Pilates, yoga, aerobics, dance, the list goes on and on.

Dubbing itself the world’s first online gym, the company aims to reach the 85 per cent of the UK population who don’t use the traditional gyms or health clubs.

“Most people either can’t or won’t attend a gym. This can be for a variety of reasons, but one of them is definitely the sad fact that many people are time poor. The beauty of Virtual Gym is that if you want to exercise, it can be done simply, conveniently and cheaply. What’s more, our instructors are among the best in Kent. This is the kind of quality that you wouldn’t necessarily get at your local gym and it’s available to our clients at a fraction of the cost.”

So far the Virtual Gym has had a great response from the public and it has also recently won the Start-up Business of the Year category in this year’s Kent Excellence in Business Awards.