Interview with an entrepreneur

Interview with an entrepreneur

Angus CharltonLooking for entrepreneurial inspiration? Get it straight from the horse’s mouth as we talk to North East entrepreneur Angus Charlton who runs a number of online enterprises, including home and garden furniture business Arboreta.

Based in the busy market town of Hexham in tranquil Northumberland, Angus Charlton runs a number of online businesses importing a range of goods, from slates for the building industry to a range of sophisticated home and garden furniture for discerning consumers. Exhilarating, tough but always rewarding, Angus thrives on being self-employed and enjoys the challenges it brings.

“I source all my stock in China, Indonesia and Vietnam and travel there frequently, so getting up-to-date with Eastern business culture has been a priority for me,” he explains. “And getting to grips with the internet and selling online is crucial to the business – we sell 100% of our stock via our websites and e-bay stores so I’m keen to keep as up-to-date as possible on new techniques and ways to do business online.”

Angus is passionate about e-business and online enterprise and is keen to encourage entrepreneurship in the North East of England. He is involved with the YouTrade competition, which was launched to encourage online entrepreneurship in North East England.

Why did you get involved with the YouTrade competition?

“When the North East Regional Portal asked me to be a judge for this competition I was delighted. The competition is a really worthwhile project and has rewarded 10 budding entrepreneurs with £2,000 to start their own online business. It was a fascinating experience; as part of the Dragon’s Den-style panel, I judged business plans for jewellery and accessories, fitness equipment sales and antiques companies. Now the winners are trading online and I’m looking forward to witnessing their success.”

What advice would you give to anyone wishing to start their own business?

“Research your market and understand who your customers are and what they want. This is so important and often overlooked. Once you’ve sorted that out the next step is to make sure you have a solid network of reliable suppliers. Build a strong relationship with these people and you have a sound basis to do business. I am constantly building on my supplier base and sourcing new products – you can make great profit margins by sourcing your stock correctly.

“If you’re planning do to business overseas, be aware of cultural differences and always be willing to learn and adapt. And finally, do not ignore the internet! I do all my business online – selling, finances and banking, marketing, networking. The list goes on.”

Why did you become your own boss?

“Apart from a short stint in a music band, I have always been my own boss. I have control over my destiny and passion about what I do. I love the fact that if I have an idea I can make it real straight away. For example, when I was in China the other week I saw some JCB diggers. After a few phone calls I had bought and sold the lot the next day! Working for someone else or for a large company would mean sticking to procedures and working through tiers of management.”

Where did you turn to for advice and support in the early days?

“When I first started working in Japan, the UK Trade and Investment team provided invaluable support. They paid for translation work and even subsidised my flights there. Business Link was great in providing general advice and the Regional Portal has been invaluable when looking at internet marketing and providing information through its website and online newsletters.

“My lawyers, Ward Hadaway, were especially helpful when I started working in China. They put me in touch with a Chinese lawyer who speaks fluent English. Crucially, this means that I get all my legal paperwork in English! “

What does entrepreneurship mean to you?

“Having a great idea. Having the drive and enthusiasm to make that idea real. Having good organisational skills. Having good listening skills. And being able to mix with people of all cultures and at all levels – from the driver who delivers your goods to the next potential investor.”

What's the biggest disadvantage to being your own boss? Do the positives outweigh the negatives?

“Yes the positives definitely outweigh the negatives. I think the biggest disadvantage – at least in the early days – is that there can be a lot of scary moments. It isn’t a bed of roses running a business. It means long work hours, a lot of responsibility, and often a heaving travelling schedule. You either get used to it, or you adapt your business to suit your pace of life.

“I enjoy everything that I do: working with great people, travelling to interesting places, meeting new people, adapting to new cultures, keeping my customers happy, making a healthy profit margin.”

How important is being online to you?

“It’s critical. Everything I do, from finance and administration, to selling, marketing and networking, is done online. I don’t have any trading outlets and all my warehousing and transport requirements are outsourced.”

Do you have any IT tips?

“My best tip would be to get an online financial administration package. I use a package called Tradebox by Platform One and Sage Software which literally saves me and my team seven hours a day allowing us to concentrate on other business activities.

“It is also really important to find a good website designer who understands online trading and ways to attract customers to the website.”

How did you fund your business?

“It was a mix of personal investment, grants from Business Link and loans from commercial banks.”

What’s the biggest high?

“Cracking the market in Japan, which is notoriously difficult, was a real high. We are now selling to Cainz, the biggest DIY store in Japan. I also get a buzz from finding and working with reliable and high-quality manufacturers and I get great satisfaction from knowing that the people I employ in China enjoy dramatically improved living standards.”

And the toughest part?

“Nothing always goes exactly to plan. But then again, this is always part of the challenge!”

How do you see the future?

“We’re working in a dramatically changing world – the States, Europe and Asia markets are all changing and will probably be unrecognisable in the future. And I see everyone adopting e-business – in an ever-changing business world it’s essential to be online and do business online.”

My five best decisions

  1. Becoming an online business. I do everything online and couldn’t operate if it wasn’t the case.
  2. Working and sourcing goods in Asia. It means a lot of travel and adopting different cultural traits, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
  3. Choosing great staff to work with and that are open to change and can quickly adapt to new business decisions.
  4. Finding good online partners who are honest and straightforward, and not after a fast buck. Platform One has given me a excellent online financial system and Think built me a superb e-commerce website.
  5. Having a supportive family. Being an entrepreneur means that you often have to work late and be away from home for extended periods of time. Luckily I have a great wife and kids who back me all the way.

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