This is the first in a series of occasional interviews with people that inspire me. My subject is Catherine Robson, Operations Director at Objektum Venues who started her company at the tender age of 19.
Catherine, what made you want to set up your own business in the firstplace?
I was organising a fashion show at school and two models went AWOL. As I was racing around trying to find them I realised I had a massive smile on my face, and I knew then that event management was what I really wanted to do. I thought if something makes me feel this good then I have to do it!
I got a place at University to study Arts and Event Management and I was really excited to go, but then just before it was time to start I had a really strong gut instinct that I should just go and do it – that was on the Saturday, and on the Monday I gave up my place at University!
I was 19 at the time, and my parents were very shocked but really supportive – they’ve always encouraged me.
What kind of preparation did you do?
Lots – I thought and talked about what I wanted to do all the time – I believe that if you put your ideas out there you’ll get back what you need. You have to be passionate about your ideas but not precious about them, so that when you’re talking to peole about them you can change your plans if you find you need to. That’s how I met my business partner Derek. I wasn’t looking for a partner but I met him and he had a lot of the same ideas as me – it was synchronicity. We worked out what we wanted to do, and Derek comes from a training background so we used his expertise and that helped us decide that we wanted to approach Event Management kind of from within the Training world. We made sure we had a good business plan and we did our research before we got started. You have to set yourself some questions you need to have the answers to before you get started, and for us they included things like
What’s the competition
What do your prospective clients want
What’s your USP
How much will you charge
It can be tempting to go on doing research forever but it’s important to get moving, so decide on your important questions and get started once you’ve got the answers to them. The answers feed into your business plan. It doesn’t have to be a long complicated document – if it’s 22 pages you’ll never read it. I keep mine on my desk and refer to it constantly
What was your Vision for your business when you first began?
We wanted to be seen very much as part of the training world, so we needed to understand what training providers wanted and give them that. It’s changed so much since then it’s hard to remember what it was originally! It’s really important to know where you’re going and keep your Vision in mind, and equally important to be alive to new ideas and be open to changes in direction
What’s your Mission, ie what is it that you’re aiming to do for your clients?
We’re like an outsourced branch of their company so once they’ve called us in to organize an event for them all they have to worry about is the content and getting people there, we’ll do everything else for them, right down to printing out badges and making sure there’s a clock in the room – it’s surprising how many venues don’t think about little things like that, but then they’re not trainers and they don’t think like trainers – we do.
What strengths do you bring to your business?
I think it’s a combination of lots of blue-sky thinking and creativity, and the ability to focus in on the good ideas and making them happen. And my own personal values are central to everything I do.
What do you know now, that you wish you’d known at the outset?
How simple it was going to be! As long as you have a structure, a good business plan and a good business model it’s a lot simpler than I thought it would be.
Someone once told me that people will only buy from you for one of 2 reasons: either you’re fulfilling one of their dreams, or you’re solving one of their problems. If you can’t convince them that you’re doing one of those 2 then your business is basically stuffed!
Who inspires you?
I’m lucky to have 3 people very close to me who I find inspiring. One is my Mum, who’s the most sensible, practical lady you could meet. She keeps my feet on the ground and makes sure my ideas are rooted in reality.
The second is my Dad, who’s a really creative, entrepreneurial character full of ideas. You can see where I get my strengths from!
And the third is my business partner, Derek, who’s really good at what he does, and is really firm about making sure your business is successful while still giving you the kind of life you want to lead.
If you’re running your own business it’s so important that it not only reflects you and who you are, but that it enables you to live the life you want. So if you don’t want to be working 20 hour days you need to be sure that your business model doesn’t force you to, otherwise you’ll just end up exhausted and unhappy.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years time?
Retired and on my yacht! Seriously, for me it’s about growing the business so that Objektum becomes the go-to place for Event Management – but a couple of yachts would be nice too…
What would you say to anyone that would like to run their own business, but thinks it’s not something they could do?
It’s really important to have confidence, so if you’re not confident, don’t do it. But having said that, look at why you’re not confident. If you don’t think you could go it alone, think about getting a business partner. If you’re worried about money, find a way to start small and then use the money you make that way to help you grow. If there are skills or knowledge you think you need, find a mentor or someone who can do those things for you. If you can solve the thing that’s causing you to lack confidence, then go for it!
I think Catherine is a glorious example of what you can achieve if you have a vision and some passion and go for it. What’s your vision and passion, and what are you doing to make them come alive?