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Imagine your employer went into liquidation.
Imagine your employer went into liquidation the week before Christmas.
Imagine your employer went into liquidation the week before Christmas and you were seven months pregnant.
Would you do what Dee McNaught did and phone around all your suppliers to make sure they’d been paid? Would you then ask your clients to join you as you set up your own business?
The managing director of We Are Brass Tacks didn’t even want to have her own company. She was a good, senior consultant in internal communications, helping large complex companies get stuff done. She didn’t want the commitment of also running a business.
“When my boss came to my house to break the news, my first instinct was – ‘are you going to be OK?’” she told me.
“He was, he had a plan which did include me, but then one of my suppliers offered me £10,000 seed funding to start up on my own. They knew I had been account managing a successful portfolio of around £400,000, so they wanted a piece of that. It took me two and a half weeks to accept their offer.”
Her resistance to what might seem a golden opportunity is understandable when you consider the time of year and Dee’s health. It wasn’t an easy pregnancy and she already had a four year old and a husband who, as a police sergeant, worked shifts.
“In the end it was a friend who said ‘you’ve got this – this is what you do. Think what you’d be building for your kids – and what you’d be showing your daughter…’ That last part made me cry – and I don’t cry. But I was pregnant,” she joked.
On the 23rd of December 2015 Dee signed the Heads of Terms. In year one We Are Brass Tacks turned over £75,000. By year two it was turning over £210,000 and is projecting breaking through quarter of a million in year three.
But don’t for a minute think it came easily.
Her son Ernie was born almost seven weeks premature and spent a number of weeks in intensive care. She recounts a particularly stressful day when, in the midst of expressing milk for her son who was due to get his feeding tube removed, she received a call. It was the Group Head of a large client saying they wouldn’t be coming with her after all.
“This is where relationships are absolutely crucial,” she said. “I fed the decision back to the department head of one of the Group's subsidiaries and he was disappointed. He made the decision to ‘break rank' with the Group and continue to work with me. I will never forget that. It was a huge leap of faith and a massive confidence boost to me. He's now actually one of my most progressive clients.”
The irony is that the Group and 60% of it's subsidiaries has since come back to Dee, after the supplier they chose over We Are Brass Tacks didn’t work out.
By the end of year two Dee knew the structure of the business wasn’t right. To cut a long and protracted story short, she bought out her initial investors. They walked away with their original investment plus a healthy profit, but it was a tricky few months that again took place just before Christmas.
“I think the biggest lesson I’ve learned is how resilient I am,” Dee said. “I’m at my most confident at work – so I think founding We Are Brass Tacks gave me a focus while things were so difficult with Ernie.”
I’m in awe of the number of balls she juggled in those early days, though it wasn’t until I said, “So three years ago you were a salaried mum of one – now you’re a business owning employer of four, mum of two, turning over a quarter of a million?” that she allowed herself a little indulgent smile.
“Yeah it sounds quite good when you put it like that,” she acknowledged. “I guess I’ve just been too busy working and looking after my staff and clients.”
Which is what it’s all about, when you get down to brass tacks.
Other video interviews by Kim McAllister
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