Melissa Currie is an ambassador for The Prince’s Trust, was a finalist for the 2012 Young Scots Awards and owns a beauty salon in Glasgow. She was inspired to launch her own business after ill-health made it difficult to find work. Now she’s planning to launch an education centre to help unemployed people and mums get qualifications and learn skills to help them start their own beauty businesses. She shared her story with us.
What inspired you to start your own business?
Five years ago I had a really bad time in my health. I caught a viral form of meningitis and was in hospital for months, then was constantly in and out having operations. I ended up being made redundant three times in one year, and then finding that companies wouldn’t hire me due to my bad sickness record.
A few years ago now, during one of my hospital stays, I googled who to contact and The Prince’s Trust popped up. So I emailed them and told them my story, and they invited me to go on their Enterprise Programme.
What was the programme like?
It was brilliant. It was packed with information and inspiring advice. We did role playing for sales pitches and learned how to introduce ourselves to someone and get our story across in two minutes. I also learned how to market your business, understand your target market and write a business plan. They also put me in touch with a fantastic business mentor (a lawyer whose partner had opened a beauty salon), helped me find premises and gave me a grant for £250 to help buy some of start up stock.
After completing the programme, I went on marketing and tax courses so I could be more of an all-rounder and do as much as I could myself.
Where did you get the idea to open a beauty salon?
While I was on the course I started getting ideas for opening up my own beauty salon, and out together a business plan. I’d always had an interest in beauty. When I was studying for my Higher at high school I was bored so I did some night classes nail art and hand and foot therapy.
From the age of 16, even when I was working, I went to night classes and tried to keep up with the latest trends. In my free time I also started up a mobile beauty business for friends and family, and people popped round to my house for me to do their nails.
What was it like opening your first salon?
In the beginning I was a little bit scared, but the day I got the keys to my shop I was crying. It felt so good that The Prince’s Trust believed in my ability to follow my dreams and start my own business.
When I first rented the shop it was a shell, so I called my dad’s friends in to help me renovate it, and recycled as much as I could. When I finally opened the doors, I naively expected a flurry of eager customers, but there wasn’t. From day one I had to learn to push the marketing side. I still remember my very first client – she came in for a nail polish and I talked her into having nail extensions!
I never thought I’d own my own shop, and it feels good knowing I came from nothing and built myself up.
How did you market your new business?
We experimented with lots of different things to see what worked. Local ads in the paper were expensive but nothing came of them. For me they were a waste of money (and a valuable lesson) – in my first year I spent my entire marketing budget on ads in papers and magazines, but got nothing from it.
So instead I was forced to go out and start learning PR. I made sure I got out of the shop, networked and talked to as many people as possible. Social networking too has been fantastic for me. I love Facebook and Twitter, and set up Instagram not long ago – I got 300 followers in the first couple of weeks! Now I take pictures of my work and hashtag them so they’ll pop.
It’s absolutely crazy how many opportunities social media offer small, start up businesses like mine. I was really lucky opening up at this time.
How’s business going?
It’s going good, though obviously it could be better! It takes about three to five years to build a clientele. I’m from the South Side, and my shop is in the West End, so I’ve really been starting from scratch trying to build a completely new clientele.
Lots of people know my story and have been very supportive of me. And I have found that many people prefer to come to a small, independent salon like mine than a bigger chain. The local business community here has been fantastic too – they’ve even handed out business cards to their clients and members of staff. It’s so kind of them to help support me in following my dreams.
I have to be realistic though. I know I’m not going to be a millionaire yet! It’s all about hard work and being determined – that’s when you know it will work for you. I took my first holiday a couple of months ago, but still called the salon every day!
How have you found being a boss?
I found it very difficult to switch into business mode at first! In the first year, I had a high turnover of stylists. Though they were self-employed, they expected me to do the work and get their clients – something they really should have been doing themselves. Now though I have a fantastic full time stylist, and a brilliant beauty therapist with her own clientele. I also have another self-employed stylist who works on a Sunday and Monday, and a self-employed practitioner who does Botox and teeth whitening treatments.
Are you still involved with The Prince’s Trust?
Yes, I’m now an ambassador for them and give talks in schools and offices. I share my story to inspire people and help raise funds for the trust. I talk to kids about their future, and what they want to do and explain how I did it and that you don’t always need to be employed – you can work for yourself. I also organise fundraising events, such as fashion shows, for them.
They continue to support me, too. Whenever I have something I’m worried about I’ll call them and they’ll invite me to come in or ask someone to pop by and see me. They’re brilliant and I wouldn’t be where I am today without their support.
What qualities do you need to succeed in business?
You have to be determined to really, really go for it. You need to put in the time and effort and really have to believe in yourself and love what you do. There’s no point doing it half-heartedly – if you don’t believe in what you’re doing, you won’t get anywhere.
When I was in hospital, I tried to turn a negative into a positive, and surround myself with positive people. I had an operation in hosp last recently, and also had to cope with kidney failure, but I’m still here and carrying on! You just have to go for it. No one will hand you anything on a plate, you need to believe in yourself and just do it. And when you have a setback, you just get up, dust yourself down and carry on.
What are your plans for the future?
My next step for the business is to open up another premises. I also want to open up an education centre. I want to become an educator, teaching people practical skills and giving them a qualification they can use to find work or work for themselves. I’d like to set up a day or week course. I want to focus on people who have been unemployed for a long time and young mums, and get them back into the working world. A beauty business can work brilliantly with children – you can start up your own mobile business or convert a spare room into a home beauty room.