Microtech’s Road to Business Success

I want to earn money

Chris McMail was more interested in working hard than doing well in school. From a young age he had a great work ethic, learning from his first jobs. Working as a market trader, he learned how to sell, how to build relationships, no matter what the weather, or what he was asked to do, he worked hard.

Chris actually left school with 7 ‘O’ Levels and 4 Highers and then he came to our college to study Computer Data Processes. Full of confidence, drive and ambition, he left college and set up his own business with a £3000 grant, selling computers. Microtech was born. Fast forward 30 years later, and Microtech has a turnover of £6m employing over 60 staff. Here’s how he did it.

Low-Risk Business

I was 21, living at home with my mum and dad, with minimum living costs to consider and therefore starting my own business was a low-risk opportunity. Whilst my parents couldn’t give me much practical help, they provided lots of moral support. My biggest challenge in the early days was getting a bank loan for £3000 to get started. I stayed in Ardrossan, approached the local bank and was turned down. I moved on to the next town, and the next, until I was eventually approved for a loan in Ayr! That was my first lesson in resilience – to have confidence in myself, positive thinking and just refuse to take no for an answer.

microtech-0019

Add value to your product

I stood out from other businesses because I didn’t just sell computers – I offered technical support, adding value to the hardware and software products.

In the early 1990s, NHS Ayrshire and Arran tendered a contract to provide a professional computer support service for every GP practice in Ayrshire. It was the first time I had gone through a procurement process. It was a long-convoluted process, and I was determined to not give up and see it through. We won the 3-year contract but this partnership actually lasted 7 years. It was a huge turning point for the business and it cemented our relationship within the healthcare sector.

Deal or no deal

We then became a distributor for a product called Docman – a document management system which enabled practices to go paperless – initially we sold 50 to GP practices. Then NHS Scotland offered a tender to supply the whole of Scotland. It took a year to go through the procurement process. The Final Offer meeting was probably one of the most challenging experiences of my business journey.  We were faced with a very difficult choice at the meeting which could have resulted in us walking away with nothing. It was a terrifying moment when the call eventually came in from the procurement team. I stood up to take the call, hoping to feel more self-assured, more assertive! I even stood on my desk – hoping this would help! We did it – we got the deal and overnight the business grew by £200K per month!

Teamwork makes the dream work

Now I had a different kind of problem! I only had four staff and I needed to quadruple my team of programmers as quickly as possible! I surrounded myself with a great team, and together we supplied 1000 GP practices with the document management system. The total contract value was circa £8m by 2008 and by then, we had saturated the market. While we would still support these customers, we needed to diversify to sustain growth.

Chris2

Understand customer needs

We now had a good understanding of the IT requirements within the healthcare sector, so we decided to grow organically by offering new products and services for our existing customers. A good example of this that most people will recognise is, the Patient Call Systems and Check-in Systems you find in doctors waiting rooms.

We also grew our business by acquisition. We took over Paligap Ltd – a full service design agency that had got into financial difficulties, so we safeguarded six jobs and created Microtech Digital. Microtech Digital offers website design and development. We also bought a company called Telehealth Solutions, which helps patients to manage their long-term health conditions.

You can read more about the full range of our services on our website https://www.microtech-group.co.uk/

Today, we continue to explore new opportunities, we have a turnover of £6m and the future continues to look bright.

Our main challenge continues to be finding the right staff. We are looking for staff from all disciplines including, computing, design, business, customer service, sales, marketing, telecoms and more!

Your road to business success

  • Work hard – develop a work ethic – put in the hours
  • Believe in the power of positive thinking
  • Find a role model – mine is Tony Robins “The Power of Positive Thinking
  • Learn to deal with your challenges by putting them into perspective
  • Never take no for an answer
  • Take every opportunity
  • Understand your market and always be thinking ahead
  • What can you do to support your customers and help them grow?
  • When you have a difficult call to make – stand up! J

If you have enjoyed reading my blog and would like to talk to us about job opportunities, please get in touch with my HR team:

fiona.findlay@microtech-group.co.uk

#AyrshireEntrepreneur

Coffee on the go with The Espresso Kart

EK5Starting a business was an idea that had been brewing in Stuart Pell’s head for a number of years.

So this summer, with plenty of experience behind him in the hospitality sector (he has previously managed a couple of Ayrshire restaurants), he finally decided to ditch his advertising job and start a mobile coffee business.

The seed was planted to start selling his own coffee back when he lived in Australia, with his now wife. He was out there working for a coffee roasting company, and when they returned to Scotland to start a family, going back to Australia was out of the question.

He then thought: ‘well how could I bring some of that lifestyle here?’

The coffee culture in Australia is massive right now, and one business model that resonated with Stuart was the idea of bringing coffee to the customer.

Here Stuart talks about how he took that idea and turned it into a successful business venture.


The idea                    

EK9

I’ve always had a passion for coffee, and when I worked with the coffee roasters in Australia, they showed me how to do coffee right. I think over here there are a lot of places that are now starting to do it, but the vans are not offering coffee the way these roasters taught me. It might be quick, but it’s not necessarily the freshest milk and it tends to be bean-to-cup machines so it’s poured automatically.

So I started thinking about setting up my own van. I had originally thought about a trailer, but I didn’t want to be tied down to one location. I think consumers are now looking more and more for things to come to them.

I was working in advertising before this and the way you target advertising is very much you getting in front of the consumer, rather than the consumer searching for you. So that’s when I started thinking – how can I get out to people? Particularly those in out-of-town areas where there’s a need or want for this coffee, and how can I get there as fast as possible.

The van

There were two different options I looked at: the option of going down the franchise route, or doing it all myself.

There are companies in the UK who you can pay £30,000 to franchise your van, kit it all out, do your marketing for you, so that all you’re left to focus on is making up your route and selling coffee.

From a cost point of view though, I thought I could surely do it cheaper.

That’s when I started working with the guys who worked on my van, Van Transform. They asked “what do you really need?” and so we looked at the size of van, how quickly it would be able to pack up, and whether it could have everything I wanted.

In the end it was very bespoke. It took around three months to source the right equipment, the right batteries to run it, and to figure out all of the practicalities of it.

The coffee

I’m of the opinion that a coffee is the way you, the customer, wants it, and that it’s important to be adaptable to another person’s needs. So that’s the ethos I’m going for, you get coffee your way.

Right now I’m with Thomsons Coffee Roasters, who are Scotland’s oldest roasters. But that wasn’t the reason I went with them. We had this taste with the coffee over in Australia that I wanted to replicate. I went to lots of different roasters who were claiming they were doing the beans the way I wanted them, so I went on a tasting mission to find the right one.

The coffee I do is quite a dark roast, with hazelnut tones, and that was something the guys in Australia spoke about when I got in contact with them to ask what it is they aim for.

Right now Thomsons roast their beans every Monday, so it’s as fresh as can be. I’ve worked in restaurants before so I know you can get a bag of coffee beans that could sit there for six months, and really they’re no worse off for it if they’re kept sealed. But I think it’s just a nice thing to know that the beans in the coffee you’re drinking are no more than a couple of weeks old. I think you notice a difference.

The day-to-day

EK10

It started with social media, doing some posts on Facebook and just seeing what came in. There was a massive reaction to it. We tried to catch people’s eyes, and I’m not afraid to chap people’s doors with a nice product.

I knew that initial reaction could just have been the novelty factor for some people though, so the next step was to get in touch with businesses.

The basic idea right now is that from 7:30am to 9:30am, I sit at a location, which catches people commuting to work. That’s at Southcraigs at the moment and whenever I say I’m going to be somewhere I always give it at least a month to see whether it’s worth my while. From then it’s pretty much going from business to business.

I also do events. I didn’t realise that CrossFit people would be so into their coffee! So on the back of discovering that I attend a lot of CrossFit events and cycling events.

It’s all East Ayrshire at the moment, Monday-Friday. I have a street trader’s license which allows me to trade anywhere apart from within 50m of somewhere that sells the same product, so it’s quite a flexible license. I originally thought I would do two days in South Ayrshire, three days in East Ayrshire. And it’s still something I might still try to do if I can find a way to fit it all in.

The challenges

The biggest challenge I have got right now is not demand. The sales side I’m more than happy with, especially up until 12pm. Once people get their coffee, I’m lucky enough – fingers crossed – that no one has ever complained about it or even said they prefer it a different way. A lot of people have been saying they prefer it to a lot of franchise coffee that’s out there.

No, the biggest challenge is time management and being at places when I say I’m going to be there. Not everyone is willing to buy a coffee every day, there’s flexibility. But I’m trying to keep consistency in the product and in my own schedule. I hope that it can reach a point where I’ve got a set route across the week. I’m offering a quality, reliable service that’s willing to adapt.

Another challenge is that I’m across all social media platforms and can be reached on my mobile phone too, so I need to be able to keep on top of all of that.

I feel a bit brass neck sometimes going into the businesses saying “are you coming out to buy your coffees from me?”, but at the same time I’ve got to let them know that I’m there.

The future

EK6

The big thing I’d be looking to do, but wouldn’t be able to afford any time soon as the cost of the machinery and the process is just too much right now, would be too roast our own coffee beans. It’s something I’d love to do in the future.

Right now though it’s just me, there’s no other staff. So moving forward there are two options in my head: going down the franchise route, or setting up another van with somebody working directly for me.

Part of me thinks about whether it would be a viable franchise. I do think it would be an attractive brand in different areas and when I first started it, franchising was 100% what I was going to do. But now I’m worried about diluting the quality.

The more time has gone on, I’m thinking it would probably be best for me to just have another van. Consistency of the product is just too important to me.

That’s still up in the air at the moment though, to be honest. I’ll see how it goes to December, then make a decision. It’s one of those two that will be the next step.

Another thing I’d like to do is enhance my LinkedIn to try get more corporate events set up through that.

I also don’t have a website yet. I know what I want and I know they’re not cheap. One of the main things I’d like is to set up a tracker on the van so that people can look at my website and see where I’m at. I think the van in itself is quite different to what everyone else is doing anyway, but that would add another unique take to it.

You can get in touch with Stuart by emailing coffee@espressokart.co.uk or by visiting his Facebook or Twitter. #OurAyrshireEntrepreneurs

What Ayrshire College has done for me – Frank Gormanley

Frank

Frank Gormanley is the founder of the Ayrshire-based marketing and business consultancy Forever Greatand a board member of the Ayrshire Chamber of Commerce. He has also previously been a lecturer here at Ayrshire College.

So that’s a snapshot of where he is now.

But where did Frank’s journey begin? Listen to his story here!

Starting a business – Bhaile Bakery is a breadwinner

Bhaile Bakery-12

Diana’s lecturer Stuart Fitzsimmons drops into Bhaile Craft Bakery in Ayr

Diana Parusheva, a former student on our bakery course, has followed her dreams and passion for bread and set up her own business; Bhaile Craft Bakery.

Pronounced B-à-l-æ, it means “My Village Bakery” in Gaelic. It’s an artisan bakery and coffee shop in Ayr (behind Aldi) and on 27 August a new shop was officially opened in Ayr Street in Troon. With their first year anniversary coming up in a couple of months since opening, the artisan bakery has been winning awards as well as winning the hearts of the locals.

How did it all start?

My love affair with bread began with a five-day bread-making course at Lesleys Kitchen Bread School in Muirkirk.

Lesley is a really passionate teacher, and her enthusiasm rubbed off and I was hooked. I started to experiment by making different products, and I took them into my daughters nursery and everyone just loved them. I was encouraged to take a stall at the local farmers market, and the demand for my bread just grew from here. The busier I became the more I realised that I could open up my own shop. I came to Ayrshire College and completed a one year bakery course. I learned new skills and learned to work in an industrial kitchen. My experience helped me to raise my aspirations even more, and when I left college I was ready to make my dream a reality.

Who are your customers?

My location in Ayr means that I don’t have passing trade, so customers have to seek me out – and they do! Most of my customers are from Alloway and they are very loyal. 50% come in every day and we’ve got to know their names. We are like a big family exchanging happy banter. Word of mouth is the way I am growing my business. Once people discover us and taste our products, they come back for more. Every day there is something new and we love surprising our customers with new ideas. Our products are great looking and they taste phenomenal. I love how proud my staff are of the products they bake. It’s my happy place, and it’s a great feeling to be part of such a creative team.

What makes your bread unique?

It’s made from scratch – just like my grandmother used to make. All that goes into my sourdough is flour, water and salt. Start with beautiful stoneground locally milled flour, add flaky sea salt and crisp Scottish water, mix until the dough comes together and then let nature and time take its course. About 40 hours later, we have a delicious loaf. There are no additives or chemicals, which means the bread is good for you. There is nothing else like it in Ayr.

Bhaile Bakery-2

Were you really inspired by your grandmother?

She didn’t teach me to bake, she was a science teacher and I spent a lot of my time growing up in the school. I learned about the importance of a work ethic and never giving up on your dreams. My daughter will be the same and will grow up around this business – it will help her to be more grounded. This business is everything to me, nothing else matters.

You have a good business brain – did you come from a family business background?

No, my parents were both doctors, so I come from quite an academic background. Running a business is all new to me, and I am learning something new every day. When I reflect on what I have done in the last year, it’s actually quite scary. But, I just get on with it. When you are doing something you love, time passes so quickly, you become energised and find you develop a “can do attitude!”

I received a little help from Business Gateway and got advice on setting up my premises. I am currently experiencing some challenges as the planning department are questioning the retail side to my business because I am based in a retail park. I have received so much support to keep us open, I employ 14 people and we have a successful business. There are so many reasons to keep going on this site. It is stressful waiting to hear the outcome.

I have designed and built my own website and I have enjoyed this side of my business too.

Where do get your ideas from?

I trained as an artist and photographer so I am a very creative person. I have nurtured and developed a fantastic team who just love to create something new and are constantly bouncing ideas off one another. We get inspiration from what’s seasonal, what’s trendy, magazine features, recipe books and the internet. We like to try new combinations and our customers love to try our samples. It’s important to always innovate.

I hear you really are a breadwinner!

Yes – In the last nine months we have achieved amazing success in regional and national competitions. We are winners of:

  • Great Taste Award 2018 – for our French Sourdough
  • Chamber of Commerce Most Entrepreneurial Business of the Year

We are finalists for:

Ayrshire Chamber Business Awards 2018

  • Start up Business of the Year
  • Ayrshire Food and Drink Award

Association of Scottish Businesswomen National Business Awards 2018

  • Most Innovative Start-up of the Year Award
  • Most Enterprising Business of the Year

Bhaile Bakery-13

What are the opportunities in your sector?

There are so many opportunities to help me develop my business. One option is to diversify into the wholesale market. However, I don’t want to do that, as it will dilute my product and I want to remain in control of my brand.

There are opportunities to enhance my products with bread making technology. I would like to learn more about how technology can help me develop my products in this niche market.

I am interested in exploring international markets so that I could sell my products in Europe. My bread has a European style with Scottish influences, so I believe there would be a market for us there. I am a member of the Scottish Bakers and we’ve made connections with members of the Department for International Trade to help us enter new markets.

Right now, my priority is opening a new shop in Troon. It’s a great location next to other artisan food shops, and I am excited to bring our new concept artisan bakery and coffee shop to our customers in the heart of Troon. On 1 September the Troon Art Club will be exhibiting their work in both bakeries. It’s a great opportunity to combine my love of baking with my passion for art.

#AyrshireEntrepreneurs

#NeverTooLateToLearn

Things I wish I’d known when I started my acting career

Written by Krystal Johnstone

logo

When I finished my HND Performing Arts course I had no idea what I wanted to do, I just knew it wasn’t waiting tables, that’s for sure! Four years on, I am self-employed  – the managing director of STR Productions and this is my take on surviving in this highly competitive creative world.

My darling departed

Create your own opportunities

Acting and performing is a very competitive industry —there are a lot of people grappling for a comparatively low number of jobs. Unless you’re one of the lucky ones, you will need to work to make your own opportunities. This was the main reason l became self-employed.  I don’t think it matters if you have a degree or a masters, there isn’t a job waiting for you when you leave university. So, I made my own work. It annoyed me that there was so many people, like me, struggling. I decided I wanted to change that. I love what I do now and how the work changes – every day is different.

Be inspired

College taught me how to buckle down and get work done. I was fortunate enough to have a great lecturer in drama that really supported the students and showed everyone that there are various roles to work in within the theatre industry. Initially I thought the only option I had was to be an actor, until I became aware of all these other opportunities.

Raise your aspirations

The turning point was definitely, when my lecturer gave me the chance to do a week-long workshop, meeting people who worked in various roles in the theatre world. I remember walking out after the week thinking, I am going to start my own company!

Identify your values

My business is called STR Productions and we support various artists from writers, actors to musicians. We promote equality and inclusion in the arts, regardless of gender, sex, background or what people look like, we offer them the same opportunities. It is sad that I have seen many people turned down because they ‘don’t fit the bill.’ We also want to change perceptions about the creative worth of actors. People can’t live on exposure – they need to earn a fair wage. It’s about respect.

STR Productions create events; from music nights to productions and make them affordable to people in the area. Parts of Ayrshire are some of the most deprived areas in Scotland. We offer work for everyone. If someone comes to us and says they have an idea, say they have written a script, we give them the tools to create a play out of it. We have created a network of people, that support each other in making more work, and in return this supports local venues by bringing more people through the doors to generate more income.

Because you’re worth it

What makes my business unique is everyone is paid! I honestly hate people asking creatives to work for free. You wouldn’t ask a plumber or a joiner to work for 15 hours for free so why do people think it’s okay to ask a creative to do it? Everyone we work with we try to change their mindset from thinking, “If I do it for free I’ll get recognised”  to “ Ideserve to be paid”.

If we all decided one day we weren’t working for free, rates would get better!

Our customers range from private clients, councils to individuals. We run a tight ship because reliability is everything. If someone is paying us to do a job, we do everything we can to make sure they get what they want, on time and for the budget they have. Budgeting is extremely important!

Burnsfest

Creating opportunities in Ayrshire

There are not a lot of opportunities in Ayrshire for actors but we are working hard to  change that. In an area where there was absolutely nothing we are slowly creating opportunities for event work, writing, acting, directing, training, music etc. Undeniably there are opportunities in the creative market outside of Ayrshire.

Build your network

The main challenge in the performing arts industry is finding work. Creative arts isn’t like a normal job, where you send a CV and that’s that.  Mostly you find work through networking – it’s all about who you know. If someone likes you, they will recommend you. Also, it’s a heavily saturated market. It can get quite competitive for anyone in the creative industry, especially when there are so few paying jobs.

On the business side – the good thing with working in various places is that you meet a lot of wonderful people that you learn from. Be mindful and choose your business advisors carefully. 

Learn resilience

For my business to thrive I need to be reliable! I honestly cannot emphasise that enough. Work hours can be downright crazy for creatives, but you can’t be late or leave early. Definitely do not apply to do work and then never follow up! Only apply if you know you can do it. Which brings me to passion. You really need to be passionate about what you do because it’s is hard, and if you don’t have passion and are willing to keep trying then you will find that you’ll drop of the map. Tenacity and resilience are essential in this business.

Christmas Kilmarnock

Be sociable

You need to be social and nice. I know that probably sounds obvious but spend that extra half hour to mingle at an event, it won’t kill you. As for being nice, I know many employers who never hire people again and those people are left wondering why. It’s because of their attitude. You can be the best actor, musician or lighting tech but if you spend the whole time moaning about it, you’ll get the sack and blacklisted. People talk and employers hate it. No one will tell you that either.

Never stop learning

Lastly, leave your ego at the door. Don’t be afraid to admit you’ve made a mistake or you don’t know how to do something. Everyone is always learning, we never stop. Making mistakes is how we learn so swallow your pride and ask. I have had to teach myself all about running a business and I’ve learned from throwing myself out there, and picking it up on the job.

Teamwork makes the dream work

I run everything behind the scenes but I work with a team of amazing people. They all have their own talents and I think that is great. I have assistants, graphic designers etc. Sometimes opening the doors to other people brings fresh ideas and that’s always welcome. As a director, you need someone to say your idea sucks and another idea is better. That’s okay – it’s about being humble and accepting outside help. There is more to be found in a sea than a pond!

We need people like you

We are always open to people to join! I look for people that have the confidence to work on their own, not be afraid to voice their ideas and to be dedicated. I’m going to bring up reliability again. I just can’t highlight enough how important it is. If word gets around you are unreliable, no one will want to work with you and please trust me, word definitely gets around. Just now, we are looking for lots of people, to create and run various workshops/classes, help with event work, actors, theatre work and more (if you are interested in joining us please get in touch!).

outdoor event

Straight talking

In the future, I would like to start get into workshops for business that cover a lot of the topics I have discussed here. Looking at how to market yourself, capacity building, creating electronic press packs for a band, how to run events and get people interested in what you have to offer. I think a lot of that is notoriously hard to get straight answers to, and I would really like to help people who were once like me, totally lost in all the online advice.

The rewards of being self-employed are, you get to be your own boss. If you don’t like how some things are working out, you can change it.  I love the responsibility. Also you can choose your own work, when you work, and ultimately you are doing something you love.

#AyrshireEntrepreneurs

#StartHereGoAnywhere

#NeverTooLateToLearn