Changing my life and going it alone

Entrepreneur word highlighted Kiran John took voluntary redundancy and now runs her own personalised number plate company, theplatemarket.com

Like many others, redundancy set me off on the track of starting my own company.

Tired of the usual office politics for some time, I’d romanticised about the idea of running my own business, and toyed casually with a couple of ideas.

Then the request for voluntary redundancy came, and reality hit. Suddenly excitement and fear rose within, in equal measure. Crunch time. I remember hesitating for a long time before finally pressing the “send” button on that email application for redundancy.

Not really knowing which one to choose or how to get started, I did all the usual things. Read books, attended seminars and business start-up exhibitions. These are good for the “functional” aspects. But no amount of advice really means anything till you jump in. That’s when it starts.

For some it’s obvious what kind of business they want to set up. But not for me.

I’d recently finished a self-build. So my first thoughts were to combine this experience with project management skills. But the thought of the day-to-day 24/7 nature didn’t fit with the lifestyle I had in mind.

The other main idea revolved around personalised number plates. I’d recently bought one for myself, and some ideas had triggered off in my head. But I knew nothing about this market. And what’s more, despite an IT background I knew absolutely nothing about setting up websites or the unique challenges of an online business.

The whole thing galvanised whilst attending a seminar by the late Sir John Harvey Jones. I’d watched Sir John in a programme called “Trouble at the Top” whilst still a school-kid. I remember being fascinated by it, and everything he said made sense despite my lack of knowledge of business at the time.

Sir John’s seminar hit a chord with me. In particular, his comments on the difference between a “job” and a “business”. Doing what you did before, but effectively freelance, he defined as a job. It’s limited by the number of hours you can work and the rate you can charge per hour. There’s nothing wrong with that. But the key word was “scalable”. I decided I wanted something scalable – I knew I’d be bored quickly if I didn’t.

Why personalised number plates? I love cars, so it seemed like a natural extension.

To me it doesn’t really matter whether you sell number plates or knickers… 80% of it is about the business not the product.

Lots of research led to spotting a niche in the market, and a company was born. Website in place, I finally launched in November 2005. The first sale felt amazing. Not just because it was my first sale, but because the client cried. I’d sourced a private registration number he’d wanted for over 15 years, and that felt good.

Eight years on, I’ve had many tearful clients. It’s still a huge challenge. The “mechanics” are relatively straightforward. But getting the right offer, and evolving in a changing world is what it’s about. When you rely on people visiting your website, small change to Google’s search engine algorithm can be the difference between a good and bad month. And big changes wiped 50% off revenue in one strike. Ouch. Without the big budgets of larger competitors, the biggest challenge has been keeping the traffic flowing to the website, and having to keep up with search engine technology has brought me close to calling it a day.

Technology and the internet are constantly evolving, and keep us on our toes.

Just two years ago smartphones were still relatively low in use, and there was only one tablet on the market. Now they’re commonplace and customers are accessing our online presence very differently, prompting a complete rebuild of the website. Online business, I’ve found, is not for the faint-hearted. Customers demand all the bells and whistles, as well as the best expertise, advice and customer service – all from a touchscreen in their pocket.

Setting up and running a business is a constant rollercoaster. The price: uncertainty and insecurity. There are no guarantees. The reward: autonomy, freedom to make (and learn from) many mistakes, and the buzz.

Kiran John

About Kiran John

Entrepreneur? Maybe! But first and foremost a social creature who enjoys exploring parallels as we travel along life’s journey. Day-to-day I deal in personalised number plates.