This month sees us celebrate our 10 year anniversary. In the past decade we have gone from letting a single cottage in Eskdale to letting over 250 cottages throughout Cumbria.
This anniversary lead me to thinking. In a volatile economy where 1 in 3 new businesses fail within three years what special qualities can help guarantee success? I'm in no doubt here. There are three elements, Luck, Timing and Sheer Hard Work. You could sum it up as 'Opportunism', being in the right place, at the right time, and grabbing the opportunity in both hands.
Certainly, all three elements played their part in our start-up. With no capital behind me, I agreed with our next door neighbour in Eskdale to rent her cottage long-term on the understanding that I could sub-let it as a holiday cottage. Right place: right time. This was in 2003, at the beginning of the internet’s takeover of marketing, and I had just completed a course in Web design. With this behind me I achieved almost 100% letting in that first year, and soon other neighbours in Eskdale and Wasdale were asking if I could let their cottages too. By the end of the year I had three cottages to let.
My other major philosophy runs counter to most business thinking. I don't see business as ruthless competition - dog eat dog - but as cooperation between businesses: a symbiosis where each is partly dependent on the others, and each plays its part in helping the others. Here in the Lake District Tourism is the major industry, and all parts of it are interlinked. The shops need the B&Bs, the holiday cottages, and the hotels, to accommodate visitors each week. The holiday cottages need cleaners, maintenance staff, attractions, footpaths, the fells, to provide a venue people want to return to time and again. The whole industry needs the farmers to keep the fells and fields, and the farmers need tourism as a diversification opportunity. There's no room for selfishness, and I believe this is the great strength of the Lake District. It has an atmosphere of trust, peace and neighbourliness that visitors pick up on and appreciate. It has a lot to teach the whole world of business.
Ten years on, I'd like to look back on many other opportunities taken. Our move to Keswick, the centre of the Northern Lakes; the move from an office at home to a prime office in town; the gradual building to the ten people now actively involved in the office. But the ten of us are just the tip of the iceberg. Sally's Cottages needs an army of cleaners, maintenance staff and suppliers, and I am proud that a business that has grown from such small beginnings can contribute to so many people's lives and incomes.
To celebrate ten years of ever-expanding business, we're planning a complete overhaul of our website and computing. We're always trying to think about what we could do better, and I'm really excited about the new site. Things move really fast in the world of technology and it's always interesting to explore all the new things that are out there. I can't wait!