Committed to the Business and Each Other: Best Advice So Far

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Over the last nine months I’ve been lucky enough to interview six fantastic couples as part of my Committed to the Business and Each Other series. All six couples run a successful business together and it’s been fascinating to find out how their very unique business partnerships work.

We’ve heard from:

These six businesses have been very generous with their advice and the insight they’ve given us has been very valuable. Below I’ve collated some of the most useful gems of wisdom.

JJ Associates International on working with your other half: “Be understanding with each other and realise even couples are different people. Think before you speak and when you do talk to each other only use positive terms, that way you will both always feel good about the way ahead.”

Hoobynoo World on business planning: “Chiara is a meticulous planner, but the business grew at a slow and steady rate. In this sense, we weren’t taken by surprise and could snatch the time to do strategic planning week by week, ahead of any large events that might take place (for us, being a gift company, these include all the ‘special days’ of the year).”

The Acorn Gallery on sharing ideas: “We love chatting with other businesses and swapping notes. Pocklington is great for that too! We’re members of the York Lifestyle Group too which gives us another forum to work out and share new ideas. We’re always happy to pass on ideas and helpful tools too… in fact someone joked with me yesterday: ‘that was a great chat, thanks, how much do I owe you?’”

RC Bridgestock on who to turn to for support: “Our most useful resources have been our family/friends and ex colleagues in all walks of life who have eagerly joined us on our journey – and now they are all very much part of ‘Team Dylan’. From them we gain up-to-date knowledge of various professional enterprises”

Colin Murdoch Studio on developing a working style that will suit you both: “Think about (and talk about) your different work styles – do you like a quiet workspace or do you like lots of chat and brainstorming throughout the day? Make a list of your strengths and weaknesses and see how they balance out between you. If one of you is highly organised but the other isn’t so great with that, it might work perfectly within your business that one of you is doing the organising, whilst the other can do what they do best. You’ll each have different skills and talents.”

Sara@StJohn’s on being prepared for the unexpected: “Always look beyond in terms of business development. Never assume business will be static: there is always something that disappears overnight and you must have options up your sleeve.”

Want to read more? You can view the full Committed to the Business and Each Other archive here. I’m always on the hunt for inspiring new couples to interview. If you’d like to to take part, please get in touch!

Committed to the business and Each Other: Hoobynoo World and a Bloke Called Dave

Being in business with a partner or family member can work brilliantly, but it can also be extremely challenging. Family and couple businesses is an area I specialise in, and I’m fascinated how the relationship dynamics can make or break a business. 

In my Committed to the Business and Each Other series, I speak to a range of couples and families in business to find out what they feel is the secret to their success.  

Today I’m speaking to David & Chiara Stone, a husband and wife team from Ramsgate in England who work together to run two very different businesses. 

Elevator pitch time! Please tell us about your business. 

They’re very different businesses, but we work both for and with each other! Chiara runs Hoobynoo World, an acrylic jewellery brand of cute, cartoon fashion accessories and phone-covers that also houses Hoobynoo Pet Shop, a company that produces quirky, illustrated pet tags, bowls and dog hoodies. David is a children’s author who publishes books with Hodder in the UK and Disney & Penguin in the USA, but he spends the lion’s share of his day writing the popular comedy lifestyle blog ‘Bloke Called Dave’.

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Thinking right back to the beginning, what prompted you to go into business with your partner? 

Chiara worked for me, initially, running my author website and arranging meetings. Then, as her business grew and overtook mine, both financially and as a demand on our time, the roles reversed and I now spend most of my day fulfilling the orders for Hoobynoo World. I then write in the evening and she completes the first edits of my manuscripts.

Did you consider how your relationship would be affected by being in business together? 

We thought it would be hard, especially with two small children. Certainly, we were worried about the divide of time, being in such close proximity for entire working days and also how we were going to share the drop off/collection of our children or how we were going to manage them on the days that they weren’t at school or nursery.

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What kind of business planning did you do? 

Chiara is a meticulous planner, but the business grew at a slow and steady rate. In this sense, we weren’t taken by surprise and could snatch the time to do strategic planning week by week, ahead of any large events that might take place (for us, being a gift company, these include all the ‘special days’ of the year).

Would you say that you and your partner member have similar strengths or different ones? 

Completely different. David suffers from depression and freely admits that he needs time alone and has to frequently make the effort to stabilise his mood before shifting through large amounts of orders, whereas I am an inherently happy person who rarely stops smiling and dancing through each day… even as I’m packing!

What has been the biggest challenge to you for working together? 

Fitting the day together, and also switching off. David and I both frequently work until midnight and have to make a special effort in order to ‘take time’ for ourselves. Any movie we watch is usually accompanied by the sounds of ripping sticky tape!

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What do you consider your biggest achievement so far? 

Growing our new business together so significantly while keeping David’s book career on track (he has a new series out with Hodder in the UK during 2016).

Has working together changed your relationship outside of the business? 

Definitely. We now consider family time to be the break from work and it often takes both children to be in the house, running around, for us to remember that we are, in fact, a couple and not just a business.

Have you made use of any outside resources e.g. business experts to support you? If so, were they helpful? 

We have had success funding, which was a huge boost. We’ve also had a lot of freelance consultancy help and, of course, David has a terrific literary agent.

What advice would you give to other couples/families who are thinking of starting a business? 

Really think about it, the good and the bad. It’s great financially if things take off, but in some cases this means you have to be a terrifically strong couple to survive it. We’ve known marriages to survive unsuccessful businesses and a few that has dissolved as a result of successful ones! There’s always a sacrifice to be made.

What’s next for your businesses?

Hoobynoo World is growing at an alarming rate and we now attend events like the London Pet Fair and run online Market nights. We’re always adding new breeds to the list, so our news is basically to keep watching! David’s blog, Bloke Called Dave, now has newspaper syndication and we’re in discussion with all the major publishing houses, including Bonnier, Orion and Hodder, about turning the blog into a book. David has also started vlogging.

If you’d like to find out more about either Hoobynoo World or Bloke Called Dave, you can find them online http://www.hoobynooworld.co.uk Twitter: @hoobynooworld Facebook: hoobynooworld or http://www.blokecalleddave.co.uk Twitter: @davidgrimstone Facebook: blokecalleddaveblog

Committed to the Business and Each Other: An Interview with Sara@StJohn’s

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Being in business with a partner or family member can work brilliantly, but it can also be extremely challenging. Family and couple businesses is an area I specialise in, and Im fascinated how the relationship dynamics can make or break a business.

In my Committed to the Business and Each Other series, I speak to a range of couples and families in business to find out what they feel is the secret to their success.

Today Im speaking to Sara Danesin and David Medio, a husband and wife team from York. You may know Sara from her time as a MasterChef finalist in 2011. After her success on the show, Sara and her husband David set up a foodie business consisting of a supper club, cookery classes and consultancy.

I approached Sara and David to take part in Committed to the Business and Each Other after I attended one of their supper club events. I was so impressed at what a good team they made: Sara delivered a delicious dinner and David was an excellent host and story-teller. If youre thinking about attending one of their events, I highly recommend it! 

Elevator pitch time! Please tell us about your business.

After Sara was a finalist in MasterChef in 2011, David took advantage of a career break from his work as a Marine Scientist to help her set up a food based business. It was quite a change from Sara’s role as deputy sister in ITU at York Hospital! The business included a Supper Club based at their home a stone’s throw away from York Minster, tailor made cookery classes at home, teaching at a number of cookery schools across the UK and being an Ambassador for AGA, as well as developing recipes for a broad range of businesses in the UK and abroad. The Supper Club has hosted more than 4500 people in less than 4 years.

The business is a partnership whereby David deals with most of the business development aspects, accounting and administration, and Sara delivers the goods!

Thinking right back to the beginning, what prompted you to go into business with your partner/family member?

We had 900 requests for dinner at the Supper Club the day after MasterChef ended: there was no real choice but to develop a ‘home based’ venture. Hiring a professional to develop such a business would have been expensive and perhaps would never quite have achieved the same level of effectiveness in cost-benefits nor would it have provided the same level of ‘cosy-ness’. In addition, a home based business meant no overheads: crucial for any start up.

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Did you consider how your relationship would be affected by being in business together?

Not really. We just did it. Sara wanted a change and David had a paid break from work. It was an opportunity that could not be missed.

What kind of business planning did you do?

David did some financial planning to see what break even points were needed to make the business feasible. I guess we were very fortunate in that the Supper Club, which was enough to support the family, had on average a one year waiting list.

Would you say that you and your partner have similar strengths or different ones?

Completely different ones. David is a planner, organised and thinks ahead. Sara delivers top quality food which at the end of the day is crucial. She is also a fantastic teacher when it comes to food: an inspiration to many.

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What has been the biggest challenge to you for working together? 

Spending long periods of time together during the day! This is a first given David has always worked away a lot.

What do you consider your biggest achievement so far? 

Establishing a business that could go on forever with little, if any, overheads, and something that can develop new ideas and last indefinitely. But most importantly, a business that is extremely varied for Sara.

Has working together changed your relationship outside of the business? 

Yes possibly. There has been a lot of tit for tat; and a realisation that one needs separate spaces and time-outs.

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Have you made use of any outside resources to support you? If so, were they helpful? 

Very few. Only occasionally have we hired staff for large events.

What advice would you give to other couples/families who are thinking of starting a business?

Make very robust business plans.

Always look beyond in terms of business development. Never assume business will be static: there is always something that disappears overnight and you must have options up your sleeve.

Do consider how your relationship might be affected.

If you’d like to find out more about Sara Danesin and David Medio you can find them online at www.saradanesinmedio.com. Sara is also on Facebook and Twitter.

Committed to the Business and Each Other: An Interview with RC Bridgestock

Bob & Carol - Merrie Gardens

Being in business with a partner or family member can work brilliantly, but it can also be extremely challenging. I specialise in working with Family and couple businesses and I’m fascinated how the relationship dynamics can make or break a business.

In my Committed to the Business and Each Other series, I speak to a range of couples and families in business to find out what they feel is the secret to their success and some of the lessons they have learnt along the way.

Today I’m speaking to RC Bridgestock, a husband and wife team who live on the Isle of Wight and are originally from West Yorkshire. Robert (Bob) & Carol Bridgestock are a co-author team who have written five novels and have consulted on TV dramas including Happy Valley and Scott and Bailey.

I’m particularly interested to hear what Bob and Carol have to share as I’m a big fan of their books and TV work. You may also remember that Phil and Yin Johnson of JJ Associates International (who I interviewed in January) appear as characters in some of the RC Bridgestock novels.

Why did you decide to write crime fiction?

With nearly half a century of combined police experience, we bring unique insight of how real life cases are conducted into fictional stories. This adds authenticity rarely seen in British crime fiction, coupled with warmth, humour and humanity that we experienced during our careers. By reading our stories we hope our readers will be immersed in the world we create just as much as we enjoy imagining it and that our passion for entertaining crime fiction, coupled with our insight into the investigation room of a major case, leaps from the pages.

Thinking right back to the beginning, what prompted you to start writing with each other?

On retirement, Bob received a Certificate from West Yorkshire Police in appreciation and recognition of 30 years ‘Loyal, Devoted and Exemplary Service to the Community’.

During the last 3 years of  Bob’s 30 year CID led police career he took charge of 26 murders, (including the largest multiple murder investigation carried out by W.Y.P in 30 years), 23 major incidents, including drive by shootings, over 50 suspicious deaths and numerous sexual assaults. He was also a trained hostage negotiator dealing with suicide interventions, kidnap and extortion. He taught future CID officers at every rank from all over the world, at the internationally acclaimed West Yorkshire Police force training school in Wakefield.

He was also involved, at Superintendent level, in a protracted high profile investigation of police corruption in another police force, being the most senior officer on site. As a young detective he worked on the Yorkshire Ripper enquiry and the Sarah Harper murder. For his life’s work he received over 25 commendations from high court judges and chief constables who credit him with personal commitment and professionalism, expertise and diligence, as well as competence with skilful leadership in sensitive, complex high profile cases with the subsequent presentation of compelling evidence.

I also worked for seventeen years with the same force as a police support worker. Together we had a vast amount of experience to share and put the world to right on what is correct police procedure. One of Bob’s pet hates is reading a book or seeing a TV drama/film where that was blatantly misconstrued. But, he would never write a factual account with disregard to a real victim of crime, who he feels serves the life sentence. So after being told we ‘should write a story’ by others, we decided to write factual procedure in fictional stories with the thoughts, feelings and experience of those who have been there and worn the t-shirt to try put that straight.

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Did you consider how your relationship would be affected by being in business together before you started?

No, not at all! We love being with each other and are the best of friends, as well as being husband and wife.

What kind of business planning did you do?

Absolutely none. What started out as a bit of a hobby has been a serendipitous journey and who knows where it will end? The evening class to write a book to show the children and grandchildren what our lives in the police were really like turned into a fictitious story with real police procedure (our thoughts and feelings as Jack and Jen to uncover the real man beneath the mask of the detective) and somehow this evolved into the Dylan series…

Would you say that you both have similar strengths or different ones, how do you implement them in the business?

We are not that different in character. Bob and I have the same principles and goals. We are both natural leaders but respect each other greatly, so we’re more than happy for each other to take the lead at any given time. We have a habit of finishing each others sentences – so alike is our thinking – it’s spooky! Neither of us are particularly business minded, we give too much away :-), that’s why we need a very good literary agent, publisher and accountant – all of which we are very lucky to have.

We have different roles in our writing process and both are happy with what the other does so we don’t have any arguments or fights – a lot of healthy discussions though because to us our characters are very much alive.

Bob writes the crime plot of the book from start to finish – I wouldn’t have any idea of how a crime investigation goes even though I worked for the police. From finding the ‘body’ the reader sits on DI Dylan’s (who is very loosely based on Bob) shoulder while he goes through police procedure to catch the perpetrator(s). Then Bob gives, 60/80 thousand words to me and I start at the beginning and give the victim a background, a life, and set the scene for the murder. I also add the family life and personal drama of Jack and Jen (who is very loosely based on me) as I go through the narrative.

Each book stands alone in terms of the crime story, but if you want to read the family saga it is best to start at the beginning of the series with the first book ‘Deadly Focus’.

What has been the biggest challenge to you working together?

Who breaks off what they are doing to answer the telephone!

Outside Gate FilmaWhat do you consider your biggest achievement so far?

Oh, gosh, we have had surpassed so many of our expectations and achieved all of our goals and so much more over the last seven years but the greatest achievement for us both was finishing our first novel ‘Deadly Focus’ and getting it published. Writing over one hundred thousand words is by no means easy, but it’s a hell of a lot easier than finding an agent and a publisher.

Has working together changed your relationship outside of the business?

Our relationship changed for the better the day Bob retired from the police force. No more pagers, calls out in the night or unsociable hours… we were free to do what we pleased for the first time in our married life. We moved 300 miles to the Isle of Wight and once again relished spending time together – although I am usually found up stairs in the office and Bob at the dining room table working these days.

Have you made use of any outside resources to support you? If so, were they helpful?

Our most useful resources have been our family/friends and ex colleagues in all walks of life who have eagerly joined us on our journey – and now they are all very much part of ‘Team Dylan’. From them we gain up-to-date knowledge of various professional enterprises – for us as much as our stories are fictional they have to be procedurally correct in all areas.

What advice would you give to other couples who are thinking of starting a business?

Define your roles from the outset. Set goals that you can achieve and make sure your objectives are shared. Our golden rule is to look for the positive in everything.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

Don’t wait till tomorrow to follow your dream. A year on you will wish you had started today… And no one is too old to write. Why not consider writing about your life – if for nobody else but for your children and grandchildren? Don’t you wish your grandparents had written about there lives for you to read?

STOP PRESS! Since Bob and Carol did this interview for me theyve had some very exciting news: the Jack Dylan crime series is going to be made into a TV series! They’ve also been taken on by a new agent who is thrilled to be representing their work.

If youd like to find out more about RC Bridgestock and all their recent news you can find them online at rcbridgestock.com. You can also follow them on Twitter @RCBridgestock, Facebook and Linkedin.

Thank you Bob and Carol for sharing this fascinating insight with us!

Committed to the Business and Each Other: the Series So Far

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Three months ago I launched the Committed to the Business and Each Other interview series. The idea for this series had come to me a long while before, and it had been a bit of a labour of love to bring it to fruition. Business partnerships can be very tricky to navigate, especially those that are made up of couples or family members. Many of the couple and family businesses that I’ve worked with have had a huge amount of wisdom to share from years of trial and error, and I was keen to harness that wisdom and share it with others.

So far I’ve been lucky enough to have interviewed Colin Murdoch Studio, a husband and wife photography team, JJ Associates International, a husband and wife information finding service, and The Acorn Gallery, an art gallery owned by a husband and wife. All three of these businesses have fantastic stories and it’s been wonderful to be able to share a few of the secrets behind their successes!

I’ve been particularly pleased with how generous my interviewees have been with their advice. I’ve also been impressed at how much stock the couples have given to considering how well they work together as business partners, not just as spouses! The interviews all contain some excellent insight into how to plan going into business with your partner, how to make sure your skills complement each other, and how to ensure that you still spend time together outside your business.

You’ll be pleased to hear that there’s a lot more to come. I have some really exciting interviews scheduled for the coming months including a look into the working life of a crime writing duo!

If you are in business with your partner or a family member and would be interested in being featured in my Committed to the Business and Each Other series, please get in touch. I’d love to speak to you about how you make it work, share some valuable insight with my readers and, of course, push a bit of publicity your way.

My Committed to the Business and Each Other interviews go live on the first Monday of each month. To make sure you don’t miss out, why not connect with me on Twitter or Facebook?

Committed to the Business and Each Other: An Interview with Diane & John Wass of The Acorn Gallery, Pocklington

Shop Front - Tubs and Basket

Being in business with a partner or family member can work brilliantly, but it can also be extremely challenging. I specialise in working with family and couple businesses and Im fascinated by how the relationship dynamics can make or break a business.

In my Committed to the Business and Each Other series, I speak to a range of couples and families in business to find out what they feel is the secret to their success along with some of the lessons theyve learnt along the way.

Today Im speaking to Diane & John Wass, a husband and wife team from Pocklington.

Elevator pitch time! Please tell us about your business.

The Acorn Gallery is a place where we can show off the artwork that we believe is really special. Work that is beautiful and unique. We deliberately look for artists whose work stands apart from the crowd and has a defining style about it. Sometimes they are already well known and collectable but sometimes they are at the very start of their career and we love to give them that boost and see them develop.

Customers know they are always welcome to come in and browse, there is no pressure here. Art was made to be enjoyed and it’s great when people come in to have a look around and see what’s new.

We love helping people find just the right thing to finish their newly decorated room, our Home Approval service is very popular because it allows people to see what the artwork looks like in their home before they decide to buy. Interest free credit also helps you manage to get what you want when you see it so that you don’t miss out.

Thinking right back to the beginning, what prompted you to go into business with each other?

This is our second business and it was always going to be a partnership. It’s what we do, it’s how we work. We are strong together!

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Did you consider how your relationship would be affected by being in business together before you started?

We have been together since 1986 and married since 1990. We’ve worked together since 1993 and for us it really works! We’ve had people ask us how we do it and some have said they’d go mad if they were together 24/7 but for us it’s great! We talk a lot and we bounce off each other really well, so there isn’t much that we can’t do between us!

What kind of business planning did you do?

Diane: Well I’m the figures person so it was me that gathered all the financial information about monthly bills, how much stock we would need and how much we needed to sell to earn enough to make it viable.

John: Together we planned and organised the shop fitting that we needed and drafted in Diane’s dad and brother, both of whom are joiners, to help. This really was a family effort!

Would you say that you both have similar strengths or different ones, how do you implement them in the business?

Diane: Haha! John would tell you he just does as he’s told but for most things we talk about the options and then decide what’s best… then talk about it again just to be sure! I’m quite creative and John’s very practical so we balance each other well. We have learned that sometime’s it just best to just trust the other person and see where it takes us.

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What has been the biggest challenge to you working together?

Diane: One of the biggest challenges has been getting our brand out there so that people know we exist. We always knew we couldn’t just sit back and wait for people to find us: we had to be very active in getting The Acorn Gallery’s name in front of people.

John: Another more personal challenge has been making sure we get ‘together time’ so that not everything we do is work: although we often do end up chatting about work related things but that’s just how we are :)

What do you consider your biggest achievement so far?

Diane: The UK has 5.2 million small businesses and in 2014 we were chosen to represent them as one of 100 Small Business Saturday UK Ambassadors. We attended a reception in Downing Street in December and had a ‘well done’ speech from George Osborne. It gave us the opportunity to meet other small businesses from across the country who are all striving to make their voices heard.

John: It’s a major achievement that we are still open and trading! It can be very difficult to be a small business in a small market town but Pocklington is very special and we are well supported by local people as well as visitors who come back to us in person and via the internet year after year.

Has working together changed your relationship outside of the business?

Not in a bad way, if anything it has made us stronger. If there is ever an issue we have to talk it out, or laugh it out! That’s our way :)

Have you made use of any outside resources to support you? If so, were they helpful?

Diane: We haven’t used any ‘official’ bodies but we love chatting with other businesses and swapping notes. Pocklington is great for that too! We’re members of the York Lifestyle Group too which gives us another forum to work out and share new ideas. We’re always happy to pass on ideas and helpful tools too… in fact someone joked with me yesterday: ‘that was a great chat, thanks, how much do I owe you?’

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What advice would you give to other couples who are thinking of starting a business?

Be good to people and don’t rest on your laurels!

Is there anything else you would like to add?

Being a small, independent business is hard work but infinitely rewarding. Support small businesses yourself and you will be part of something bigger than you could ever imagine!

If youd like to find out more about The Acorn Gallery, you can find them online at www.theacorngallery.co.uk . You can also find and connect with them on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest. Im sure they have some fantastic images to share, so be sure to check them out.

Thank you Diane and John for sharing your story with us!

Committed to the Business and Each Other: An Interview with JJ Associates International

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Today I’m speaking to JJ Associates International, a husband and wife team from Bradford who now work internationally. Today they’re speaking to use from their European base in Portugal.

JJ Associates International, established in 1987, is owned by Phil and Yin Johnson.
 


Elevator pitch time! Please tell us about your business.

Our company is renowned for providing clients with any information they request. This could be as simple as an address or as complex as an in-depth company or individual profile (with the subject’s permission) to be used in a Due Diligence background verification check. This legal and licensed information is gained through research and databases specific to the clients requirements, budget, and most of all permissible cause. We do all of this in the strictest of confidence and in line with data protection regulations.
 
Our clients are mainly commercial and include a vast range from large corporations to smaller companies, including lawyers, solicitors, banks, security consultancy, HR recruiters, hedge funds, insurance companies and stores.

Thinking right back to the beginning, what prompted you to go into business with your partner/family member?

Yin :-

For me it has been something I have known all my life. My parents were the some of the first Chinese people that came to the UK and were in business together running a food stuffs shop that supplied restaurants throughout Yorkshire as well as their own restaurant and take away. Family business is something I grew up with.

However, taking over JJ Associates International required a career change and grassroots training in a area I knew nothing about. I was reluctant at first. I overcame these obstacles and gained training and knowledge of the law and legal fields with some great people and companies and haven’t looked back since. In fact I am very proud to say that in the first year of taking over the business, Phil and I trebled the annual turnover and gained a new client base.

Phil :-

The opportunity to work together in this industry came from a telephone call from a long-time friend who I had worked with in the investigations and credit rating business. This friend was retiring and offered me the chance to take over his business, JJ Associates International.

My very first job was as an office boy in a detective agency and credit rating company in Bradford. 
The grounding I gained in that role, including shorthand, typing and outside investigation experience, gave me a real opportunity for the future.

Did you consider how your relationship would be affected by being in business together?
 


Yin :-


Very much so. Working with someone close to you can be problematic, however we are both very positive thinkers and up beat. We both have our areas of strength and deal with different areas of the business. It’s been the way we have worked from the beginning. Phil’s previous experience was invaluable at the start. The business has evolved and totally changed from day one, and we do feel we are at the forefront of our industry. We are specialists in providing international coverage and have networked and travelled extensively together to achieve this.

Phil :-

As you can imagine, I was very enthusiastic about taking on the company because of my previous experiences. I thought it would be hard to convince Yin that our future was in an industry she had never been involved with, especially as it sounded like the premise of a TV series! As usual it was no problem and she is amazing in our company.

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What kind of business planning did you do?

Yin:-

Our main plan in the beginning was to grow the business. This we achieved: we became one of the leading firm of legal support agents in the Yorkshire area and we had numerous sub-contracted agents dealing with cases for us nationwide.

Over the years we could see that there were big changes taking place in the industry. This was due to law firms merging and changes in legislation, the data protection act, privacy laws and human rights. Of course, changes in the financial market also affected company budgets, and cases were being handled in bulk at discounted prices.

At the same time, in the early 90s a huge thing changed: technology! We needed to retrain ourselves. This was really the start of JJ Associates International as the business it is today. Planning to buy the first computer for the office was exciting and has proved to be one of the most important ways we have evolved.

Our visits to the USA and being part of our business community there has taught us both a lot about our business and professionalism in our industry as investigators. We are members of many of the state associations there and continue to learn and speak at conferences there.

Phil :-

The business planning initially from my point of view was to re-establish and re-connect with all the contacts in the legal and business profession that I had when I previously worked in the industry. Fortunately many of them were still there and some had risen through the ranks ad were able to use their influence to recommend us to their clients.

Our business planning now continues in making certain we keep monitoring the way the information market is changing and keeping up with it. Of course we are no longer restricted to the UK, so that means working in different time zones. We also work to make the best of the technology that is available.

Would you say that you and your partner have similar strengths or different ones?

Yin :-

We certainly have different strengths and abilities.

I organise and delegate well, which I was required to do each and every day in the beginning, with regard to the route planning and case load distribution nationwide. In addition to this, I was the surveillance operative for many of the insurance fraud matters. I would be out at different locations with my video camera and camera waiting for the evidence. Most of the time I used covert surveillance, but on occasion I was out in the open. I was rarely challenged as my cover was a stereotypical Chinese tourist: loaded up with my camera I had a pass to almost any place without question! We were proud to be one of the only companies to offer this service to our insurance company clients.

I am also a speaker of different languages and have used this in translation matters, especially when it comes to Chinese/Cantonese. One of the high street banks would use me for most of their translation or undercover matters of investigation. It also worked with normal undercover cases as I don’t necessarily look like what people expect when they hear ‘Mrs Johnson’. This has worked tremendously well for information gathering.

I did thoroughly enjoy working surveillance matters and on numerous visits have assisted our American colleagues whilst on visits there, which has brought back memories. We now have teams of operatives that we use for these matters worldwide, with up to the minute equipment and technology.

More recently I deal with all the organisation of our travel plans, flights, accommodation and city and country knowledge, including language.

Phil :-

I have a passion for the technology and have done since the inception of the internet. I knew and fully believed that within a few short years of it being more prevalent every household and business would have an access to information that previously they could only dream of.

I made it my purpose to make certain that JJ Associates International had a presence on as many social media platforms as possible. We were one of the first members on LinkedIn. This was because we realised it wasn’t a threat to share information, but to quote a friend of ours: together we are better. I have the confidence to know that there are enough opportunities to go around, especially when you cover the world as we do.

I cannot take all the credit for this, but I did realise early on that it was very important to create a brand image and as the USA was becoming our main market place in the last few years, we knew we needed to have an attention-grabbling look.

Yin developed our graphic branding to convey this message and I now only wear Hawaiian shirts, even with a business suit! This has proved a very successful way to get attention for myself and our business.

We use the same profile pictures for all our media and brand images and this is really very important for our online presence. We also use Facebook Business pages to promote our image and services as do many forward thinking clients.We also use LinkedIn as a CV and Twitter every day to promote our company.

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What has been the biggest challenge to you for working together?

Yin :-

Being patient! I think we will both agree on this one.

Phil :-

I agree with Yin! I also try (but do not always succeed) to think before I speak. This is true not just of working together as a couple, but as a general rule I have found during our 28 years in business.

What do you consider your biggest achievement so far?

Yin:-

I think it’s being able to convey our business across continents and make our business fit in with how we wish to live. It has it’s ups and downs as all businesses and self employed people will agree, but we enjoy a lot of freedom purely because of technology and now social media, which we both love. We are available all times of day or night which is something our clients like, we have in-depth knowledge of various places in the world as we have experienced them as locals rather than tourists. We are very flexible which we have to be as working with people in different time zones can be a challenge, but it works for us. Our social time may be different to everyone else’s as we can be handling matters at any time. Most of our family and friends understand this.

Phil :-

Many of our achievements during the past years have really sprung from the reach that JJ Associates International have gained and the trust our clients place in our company. Some of the most satisfying achievements have been non-financial. We were involved as instigators of a further investigation in the USA which prompted the release of an inmate who had been convicted several years previously. We have also handled cases in many countries that achieved the returning of children to their lawful guardian after the breach of court orders. Our normal day to day activity continues, in my opinion, to be our biggest achievement as we never know who is going to ask us to do what next. The mere fact that some of the most high profile and largest corporations in the world continue to ask Phil and Yin Johnson of J J Associates International to assist is mind blowing to me!

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Has working together changed your relationship outside of the business?

Yin :-

I would say that yes we have changed, but that would happen as part of life. We are fortunate to be able to spend time together both with work and outside of that, and business certainly doesn’t get in the way, it’s actually our way of life.

Phil :-

We are so much more confident in our relationship outside of business and I believe it is our ongoing experiences doing so many different things within the business that has enabled us to develop this attitude. It is a real pleasure to share these experiences together 
 
Have you made use of any outside resources to support you? If so, were they helpful?

Yin:-

People in our business, especially from the USA, have proved to be invaluable to us as a company with our continued education in this industry. We have found the American Investigators a great group of people who are willing to share and learn together in order to move forward. We have learnt a lot from their forward and positive thinking attitude.

What advice would you give to other couples/families who are thinking of starting a business?

Yin:-

It’s a big decision to make and to be with your other half can be very testing 24/7. It can also be very rewarding. There are lots of factors to take into consideration. Working together is not like being together, our work ‘head’ is very different to our relationship ‘head’: your feelings will be knocked along the way so you must think about that too.

Phil and I work together within the business but are not ‘joined at the hip’. We have very different ideas and sometimes we do clash! This would happen in business with any other colleague so you have to remember that, and try to pocket your ego.

My advice would be to define your roles, and to remember roles do change from time to time.

Phil :-

I would advise any couple who have some exciting plans together to go ahead and develop them. The world has changed and you cannot rely on a job for life anymore. If you have the foresight and confidence go for it! Before taking the plunge make sure you do your research and see if there is any way you can make your company stand out from the rest. Be understanding with each other and realise even couples are different people. Think before you speak and when you do talk to each other only use positive terms, that way you will both always feel good about the way ahead.

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Do you have any future developments you would like to share?

Yin:-

Yes, 2015 is going to be very exciting. We will be continuing with our involvement with another Yorkshire couple who work together, Bob & Carol Bridgestock. They are crime writers and TV storyline consultants who have written and published 5 books so far about DI Jack Dylan. The sixth is being published and the launch date in May 2015. They are the advisors for Happy Valley TV program which was aired last year and achieved much acclaimed reviews and awards with the writer Sally Wainwright and actor Sarah Lancashire. They also advise on storylines for Red Productions which produces Scott and Bailey. Our involvement is actually as characters in their book series! We were introduced in their fifth book Reprobates. We will also feature in the sixth book as assistants to DI Jack Dylan who will be solving a crime in Hong Kong.

Phil :-

We are really positive about 2015 as it will be a fantastic year of opportunity for us. As well as what Yin has outlined which is so exciting, we have have also been involved with some investigator colleagues in the USE with their Radio/Podcast. They are setting up a new venture called Global Investigators Media Group and I have been asked to get involved and possible become a host on one of their shows. We can’t wait to get started.

If you’d like to find out more about JJ Associates International, you can find them online at www.jjassociatesinternational.com. You can also find them on Facebook at
www.facebook.com/JJAssociatesInternational, Twitter at @jjassociatesYin and @philjjassociate, and at LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/yinjohnson and www.linkedin.com/in/philipjohnson.

Thank you for speaking to us Yin and Phil!

Committed to the Business and Each Other: An Interview with Colin Murdoch Studio

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Being in business with a partner or family member can work brilliantly, but it can also be extremely challenging. I specialise in working with couples and family businesses and I’m fascinated how the relationship dynamics can make or break a business.

I’m thrilled the introduce my new Committed to the Business and Each Other series. Each month I’ll be speaking to a couple or family who are in business together to find out what they feel is the secret to their success.

Today I’m speaking to Colin and Heather of Colin Murdoch Studio, a husband and wife team from Skipton, North Yorkshire. I’m very pleased that Colin and Heather agreed to be my first interviewees, especially as they had so many interesting thoughts to share.

Elevator pitch time! Please tell us about your business. Heather: We’re a husband and wife photography team, mainly providing wedding and portrait/lifestyle photography, with a little commercial work thrown in from time to time. We’re based in Skipton, North Yorkshire and work throughout Yorkshire and Lancashire, as well as further afield (we’ll go anywhere for a good wedding!)

Thinking right back to the beginning, what prompted you to go into business with your partner?

Heather: Colin and I had been living abroad prior to 2012 (we met and married whilst I was working in Bermuda, where he was born). We knew we didn’t want to settle in Bermuda in the long term (it’s beautiful but has an extremely high cost of living!) so we’d steadily made plans to move back to the UK and after lots of research and visits home, we chose North Yorkshire as the place we wanted to be. Colin had been self-employed for a lot of his working life, but we initially thought we’d both go back to ‘9 to 5’ jobs over here. However, after taking a bit of time out when we arrived, we decided that we’d go the different (and ultimately harder, but more rewarding) route of setting up our own business.

Colin: I have a Fine Art background and have spent most of my working life in creative fields, mainly in graphic design and photography. Having owned my own advertising agency at one stage I knew I didn’t really want to go down that route again, and had been trying to get away from design and move more towards doing solely photography for a long time. With the move to England it seemed like the perfect time to try just that and pursue a lifelong dream. If it didn’t work, at least we’d have tried it whilst we could!

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Did you consider how your relationship would be affected by being in business together?

Colin: I had been in business with a partner once before, so it was definitely something that I thought about (and possibly worried about) more than Heather might have initially.

Heather: Spending all of our time together, working from home, wasn’t something that worried me but I probably didn’t consider how differently we both work when we first went into this. We both have our strengths and weaknesses and it’s learning how to deal with those so that we complement each other that can sometimes be the hardest. The biggest thing, of course, is that it’s hard to switch off from work, especially when potential clients email or call in the evenings or on our planned days off, and they can’t be ignored. We really have to make a concerted effort to take time out and not talk about work when we’re not actually working.

What kind of business planning did you do?

Heather: Once we’d made the decision to start a business, we took our time doing research about the local market (we were initially based in Harrogate), deciding who our target market would be, what exactly we wanted to provide, and putting together a business plan so we could see it all in black and white and have something to work towards.

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Would you say that you and your partner have similar or different strengths, how do you use these?

Colin: Our strengths are quite different but they complement each other well. Heather is really organised and on the ball at dealing with clients, and is good at answering their queries and questions. So she generally deals with that side of things. She’s also really good at writing so she handles our blog, and copy for our website and marketing materials throughout the year.

Heather: Colin is a creative so although we both take photographs, I see him as more of the expert in that department and defer to him. He deals with all the photo editing (which he’s a complete perfectionist over) and things like designing our website and making things look pretty! So I think we work well together. Colin brings things together overall and has a lot of experience and I’m a stickler for the detail and making sure everything happens when it should!

What has been the biggest challenge to you specifically for working together?

Heather: Probably learning how to deal with the differences in the way we work. When we’re not out shooting, I quite like to work alone in my own headspace when I’m in the office. I like to be able to think and if I could sit by myself all day long writing and planning, I probably would (which probably makes me sound very unsociable…and I’m not, honestly!) Colin needs time like that when he’s editing, but he also likes to talk things through a lot. I’m all for that and I know it has to be done so that we can keep on top of things and forward plan but I know that I can sometimes get a bit antsy when we’ve spent all morning talking about things we need to do but haven’t actually done anything yet. I like to get on with things but I understand we have to have regular meetings to make sure we’re on track.

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What do you consider your biggest achievement so far?

Colin: Next year will be our third year of photographing weddings and we’ve now hit the target we set for ourselves in terms of bookings for next year. There’s still room for more but each year so far we’ve more than doubled the bookings we took the year before and I think having moved to a completely new area where we didn’t know anyone and really having to build things up from zero, we’ve accomplished a lot.

Heather: We’ve also made a concerted effort to network with other local businesses (especially of the wedding variety) to get ourselves out there and known. I definitely feel that over the last six months or so, we’re finally reaping the rewards of that and people finally know who we are!

What impact has working together had on your relationship outside of the business?

Colin: It’s been hard to switch off from work which I knew would be a problem, having been in business before. Self-employment really can become all-consuming if you let it. So we have to make an effort to step away from that. Particularly when a business is new and you really want to put your all into it to get it up and running. You don’t want to miss anything and you want to get it right every time!

Heather: Yes, it’s hard to get away. I tend to expect a certain level of service from companies I deal with and I want to provide that same level of service to our clients, or potential clients. For example, if an email comes in at 9:30 p.m. with a wedding enquiry (as it did last night) I’ll reply to it that same night. And if I really can’t, I’ll at least reply saying I’ll be in touch first thing in the morning. I like to build a relationship with our clients right from the start and I know that I would appreciate that as a customer myself, so it’s how I want to handle things but it can be hard if you’ve been out for the evening on ‘date night’ and you come home to work that needs to be dealt with!

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What advice would you give to other couples who are thinking of starting a business?

Heather: I had thought about what it would be like to self-employed, working from home and spending time in each other’s pockets, but I never really thought about the differences in how we actually work on a day to day basis. And how do you really know that until you start working with someone if you’ve never worked together before? So I’d say think about (and talk about) your different work styles – do you like a quiet workspace or do you like lots of chat and brainstorming throughout the day? Make a list of your strengths and weaknesses and see how they balance out between you. If one of you is highly organised but the other isn’t so great with that, it might work perfectly within your business that one of you is doing the organising, whilst the other can do what they do best. You’ll each have different skills and talents.

Colin: Also, no matter how much you say you’ll make time for your personal life together, there will be (many) times when work will encroach on things. You’ll find yourselves talking about work when you’re out for dinner, or with friends who ask you about work and how it’s all going, and no matter how much you love your job there will be times when you need to get away from it but you can’t – so can you handle that?

Is there anything else you would like to add?

Heather: Once you iron out the challenges, it’s really rewarding working together and we know that our differences are actually what makes it work and makes our business go from strength to strength. I can’t imagine doing anything else now!

If you’d like to find out more about Colin Murdoch Studio, you can find them online at…

www.colinmurdochstudio.com
www.twitter.com/cmurdochstudio
www.facebook.com/colinmurdochstudio
www.pinterest.com/cmurdochstudio
www.google.com/+colinmurdochstudio


Thank you Heather and Colin for giving us such a great insight into your business!

I’m on the look out for more couples and family businesses to interview, so if you’d be interested in taking part please get in touch.