Mette Poynton is my newest virtual pal, although we first met face to face when I was holidaying last month in the Cotswolds and enjoying a delicious coffee and cupcake. I felt an instant connection with Mette and her chums, Tom and Wendy, and we had a fascinating chat and I blogged (as is my wont) about it and the rest is social media history.
Warning: At over 3,000 words this is the longest contribution yet in this series, but Mette tells a great story, so do save it until you have time to savour it.
Welcome Mette and thanks for agreeing to be part of this series of interviews with female business owners. Tell my readers some more about you please?
My name is Mette. This is a very common name in Denmark where I’m from. I’m married to an Englishman, Kim, and we have twins, a boy and a girl named Matthew and Noelle.
I’ve been self-employed since 2002. I moved to London in 1996. I started dating Kim in January of 2000, and in 2002 we moved to The States for a year and it was here that my self-employment effectively started. We were not allowed to work in The States as we did not have the proper papers, but Kim bought three properties that we rented out. In order to know what was what in that particular “game”, I took the estate agents’ exam and was then a licensed realtor in the State of Florida. With this newfound knowledge, I dealt with tenants and the properties alongside our actual realtor, giving us the peace of mind that everything was handled like it should be.
We were not successful in getting our papers in order to be allowed to stay and work, so in 2003 we went from Florida to Denmark where we bought a house that needed some TLC. Kim restored this while we lived in it and it was here that I set up my own business for the very first time.
During our time in The States, Kim and I got married. The planning of our own (very modest) wedding had shown me a little something about weddings in general and the various things on offer. I noticed that Denmark was light years behind in this industry and I had a feeling there was an opportunity in bringing some of the glitz and craziness of the US wedding industry to Denmark.
I was right, it turned out, and the short version of this chapter of my self-employed life is that when we left Denmark in 2009, my online wedding store was the biggest in all of Scandinavia. It had, however, taken a hit in the credit crunch and the recession – the wedding industry in Denmark, as in most other countries, suffered greatly because when money is in short supply, a big, fancy wedding is not at the top of the list.
The long version of the chapter that covers the Danish leg of my self-employed life includes a lot of learning by doing, a whole bunch of mistakes (big and small) and a lot of sweet victories too. Basically, I did EVERYTHING that had to be done myself. I am an impatient soul and rather than wait until I had the funds, the knowledge or the know-how to set sail on what I thought were good ideas, I would always just jump in and do it.
So when I needed to build a website and realised how expensive it would be to have someone who knew what they were doing to do it for me, I taught myself how to do it instead. This resulted in some sub-par websites at first, but I kept going until I had it right and for this reason, I’ve never since had to pay anyone, I’ve never had to compromise and I’ve always gotten it exactly the way I wanted it.
When I bought stock that didn’t sell, I was the only person to blame, something that lead me to become the sort of buyer who buys less with her heart and more with her head and with profit in mind.
When I became lonely sitting behind a computer screen on my own all the time, I decided to spice up my day with something that could make money as well as be a welcome distraction. I saw an ad in the local paper, they were looking for a local photographer to go out and take pictures whenever something happened locally. I thought this might be fun as well as earn me a little extra money and I jumped in. This jump lead to a part time job as a photographer and, soon after, journalist on that paper. This job lasted for six years and the money I made from it was a most welcome extra income for us.
When I realised I could also make money by doing graphic work for the newspaper and that this would also give me a very useful skill in my own business, I bought a graphic design program and taught myself how to use it by simply reading the manual and using Google to read about what others did.
When I saw a downturn in the business – one I couldn’t see the end of as it was due to the global financial crisis – I pulled the plug and did what was best for my family and we left it all to start over in a country with better possibilities for both me and my husband and for our family’s future, a very scary move at the time but one that, luckily, proved to be the best move we ever made.
On a personal level, it made much more sense for us to be in the UK:
- I prefer the UK to Denmark – always did – I like the Brits
- The school system is better here and as we were parents now this was a factor.
- And in the UK, my husband could work (in Denmark the options for a non Danish-speaker are very limited) and the sole responsibility of bringing home the bacon would not be on my shoulders
And what’s your business now, Mette?
My business is essentially a set of websites promoting different tourist destinations in the UK. I live in The Cotswolds and the first website I did was CotswoldsConcierge. I recently launched CornwallConcierge, I’m now working on CymruConcierge and will also be doing one for Cumbria, Yorkshire, Scotland, London and more.
The Concierge concept came about because my husband was a Head Concierge in London hotels for 25 years and sharing his personal experiences about where to go and what to do in London and offering that special service to visitors was his business. When we moved to The Cotswolds, we saw a huge gap in the market: no one was proud to be from The Cotswolds, no one was bringing The Cotswolds together and there was no place online or otherwise where a visitor could get information about what was on offer in this beautiful and fabulous part of the country.
I then took the skills I had gained over the years, from my years in hospitality in London, the years of self-employment in Denmark and the time I spent in Sales and Marketing working for a Danish company here in the UK, and they all came together in this business.
- I do the web and graphic design on the website, branding and products.
- I write about what’s out there to experience in The Cotswolds.
- I sell advertising and I market the business.
When I started this business, I was quite low on a personal level, we had lost almost everything we had due to the financial down turn, we had just moved house again for the third time in a year and a half and the business I had started, and that had been a huge success for a good number of years, suddenly was no more. And when we moved, our twins had just turned one so I had been through quite the ordeal with a year of IVF treatments and nine months of pregnancy. Then having little babies around, then closing the business, then moving to the UK, working things out in a new country, then working for someone else and not loving it, and so on. I was tired and not feeling so fantastic to put it mildly!
But I had no choice. I knew that this was the way for me and for my family, so I jumped and then I dealt with the hurdles as and when they came. And now, nearly two years later, I see that the fruits of all the hard work are finally within my reach and it was all worth it.
The Cotswolds Concierge is now well and truly established online and in The Cotswolds. I have just taken on my first employee, a lovely woman who will be my Sales Manager for The Cotswolds and beyond. The Cotswolds Concierge is still in its early stages as there are so many more steps of the business plan, but we’re ahead and on track.
Next step is Cornwall Concierge where I will, essentially, be duplicating what I did with the first website. And so on.
This series of interviews is designed to inspire others, mainly women, on the same path. What tips would you share with them over and above the abundance you’ve shared already? No really, Mette, what a great story!
My favourite saying of all time is this: “Jump… then the net will appear”. It completely sums up how I do business. If you believe in something, you MUST follow your instinct and just DO! There are always reasons to not do something and there are always risks, so if you cross the line where you’ve thought for so long that you’ve discovered too many reasons NOT to do something, you’re not going to do it. And if you don’t DO, you’ll never succeed.
Make sure what you do is something you love. If you don’t love what you, if you do something for money rather than passion, you’ll never do it well.
Don’t be afraid to fail… I’ve had far more ideas that failed than ideas that succeeded, but you learn from the ones that you fail at, you’ll get to the next idea and that could be a successful one.
I’ve never looked at what others do. If I had, I might have not done some things that turned out to fail but at least my failures are MY failures and MY lessons to learn from. Don’t copy someone else’s good idea. If you do, you’ll always be behind and those who had the idea will be way ahead of you. Be original.
Don’t worry so much about others trying to copy what you’re doing. I have created a website that, technically, someone could copy. I have created a set of services and products that, technically, someone could copy. But no one can copy my soul and my spirit and those are what my brand is truly made from so don’t worry about others, just do your own thing.
Learn from those who know what they’re talking about. When I spent 18 months working in someone else’s company, I didn’t enjoy it one bit and I knew it wasn’t ever going to me my path but I made sure I made the most of it all the same. There was an incredible guy who was the marketing director at this company. He was brilliant and whenever he opened his mouth to say anything, I made sure I listened. I often wrote down the things he’d said. I happened to be at this company at a time when he was heading the re-branding of the company. I paid close attention to anything that went on, asked him questions whenever appropriate and basically just soaked up as much information as I could from him. He taught me more about branding and marketing than any book or article could have ever done.
Ask someone for advice. You never know, they might just know something you don’t and they might just be willing to share it. This is hard for most people especially those Brits that I adore so much, because most people are hardwired to keep knowledge to themselves, not share anything and not give anything away for free so asking someone for advice would mean you risk being rejected. Ooh, how uncomfortable an embarrassing! I say “Get over it!” If the worst that can happen is that someone says no to your request for advice, then this is a risk worth taking because you might just be talking to a nice person who is happy to share what they know and they might just share something that could prove invaluable for you.
Have a Business Plan. Basically, if you don’t have a plan, you don’t know where you’re going and if you don’t know where you’re going, you’re probably going nowhere. I started out making a 5-year-plan for my business. This plan is a work in progress where timelines are pushed and new things are added all the time, but I have plan and therefore I have a general direction and this pushes me to constantly move forward, something I believe is paramount if you want to succeed.
What did you struggle with most in your start-up phase, and how did you crack that?
Learning everything myself. If I’d had to wait until I had the money to pay for others to teach me or to pay others to do the things I didn’t know how to do, I would have never done anything. And although this is, of course, a struggle, it is also something that will eventually become your biggest strength because you will have gained the knowledge as well as the tools to do things yourself. Someone said once “Knowledge is Power”. Some say it was Francis Bacon, whoever it was, they were right! Because even when I have to hire others to do the jobs I can no longer find time to do myself, at least I will have done them and know what’s required.
What have you learned about yourself while working solo?
When we moved back to the UK, I continued to work for the paper for a year and I also kept the part of the wedding business that was transferable so I had an income for a while. But soon I realised this was not working from the UK, so instead I accepted a job offered to me by a friend as account manager in the UK for a Danish company. I stayed in this job for a year and a half the main thing it taught me was that I am not cut out to work for others. I did not agree with many management decisions, I did not love the product I had to sell and I found company politics to be such a negative distraction every day that I was never going to be happy there. I needed to become self-employed again and The Concierge was born.
Did you choose self-employment or did it choose you? Any regrets?
I think I was just never cut out to not be the boss. I have far too many ideas and far too much drive to be kept in place by someone else’s rules or walls.
I have no regrets, but self-employment has also brought hardship to me and to my family. It was hard to start from scratch back in Denmark with no clue about how to do anything. It was hard when things took a turn for the worse due to the financial crisis and there was not a single thing I could do about it but watch I happen.
The reason I accepted to work for someone else for a short while when we came back to the UK was so I could have the security a monthly pay cheque offers you, and it has been the hardest thing my family and I have ever had to do, to go back to self-employment. Because when the pay cheque stopped, we had very, very little. We were saved from going hungry and from not having money to pay rent on more than one occasion by my parents. We lived on 200GBP a month for groceries, clothes and household items for a long time – I wrote about this on The Huffington Post.
We are still poor but things are turning and I see now that we will make it out on the other side stronger and happier for it so no, no regrets!
What one encouraging thought sums it all up?
Do it… it’s worth it!
As part of The Concierge, we’re now offering postcards. We’re making map postcards and every one of our advertisers gets a postcard with something from their business on it. These will all be sold in the region in various outlets, gift shops and so on, and a further way to promote the businesses.
Do you feel lonely and isolated when working for yourself? How do you get your social needs met and what do you recommend in this regard?
I’m not at all lonely working with The Concierge now; I am out and about meeting people all the time.
I did start a monthly social get together for all those Cotswolds tweeters out there, #CotswoldsTweetMeet. This monthly event has become hugely successful and is something I and all those who attend very much look forward to each time. It is completely relaxed, no clip boards and no agendas. It showcases a different venue each time, giving my advertisers the opportunity to show off their venue as well as give tweeters from all over The Cotswolds a chance to attend a tweet meet in case they find some are too far from them and so on.
I started this tweet meet because I wanted all those Cotswolds businesses who interact on Twitter to get to know each other, both on a professional and a personal level. We’ve had 5 tweet meets so far and friendships, business relationships, even a brand new business partnership have developed just from that. This makes me quite proud and very, very happy.