A businessman who built a multi-million pound recruitment agency is diversifying his business interests to beat the credit crunch.
Former factory worker Lee Bown built recruitment consultancy Recart from nothing to £3.4m turnover last year but he has now begun to look at more creative ways to boost his profits.
He has decided to launch a new business selling photographic experience packages under the banner Red Cloud Photography Days Ltd.
The new company will trade from Recart’s headquarters, a converted Lace Mill in Nottingham, but will offer themed photography courses and events throughout the UK.
Each course will be led by skilled, experienced professional photographers, who have been selected by their speciality to run creative workshop courses in wedding, landscape and portrait photography.
The new company will also offer photographic experiences – such as residential courses in surf photography in Newquay, Cornwall – and budding photographers will be able to rent studio space.
Red Cloud will also offer short courses in digital SLR photography and will help others beat the credit crunch by teaching anyone with a camera how to shoot professional standard portraits.
It’s a bold move – recruitment and photography are very different businesses – but Mr Bown is used to bucking trends when it comes to business development.
He founded Recart in 2003 and came up with the name because it combined his twin passions of recruitment and art.
He said: “There were two distinct strands to the business in those early days. On the recruitment side I worked as a consultant for external agencies billing for half of any monies I generated on the agency’s behalf.
“The art side of the business saw me acting as an agent for five professional artists who were on my books. We worked with football clubs including Nottingham Forest, Aston Villa, and Middlesbrough. The artists would do portraits of the players which were then sold in the team shops. It was a good little business model but the margins were quite low.
“As things moved on, both sides of the business were doing well but the recruitment side began to dominate. I was taking 50 per cent of the revenue I was generating so I thought, why not do it all myself? “So in February 2004 I wound up the art side of the business and set up from a home office with just a computer and a phone. After four months I moved into a business centre and things really started to snowball.
“I’m a great believer in setting goals for myself – not just fluffy goals but real firm targets which I have to achieve. Within two years there were five of us working in the company and now that number has grown to 16.
“We moved out of the business centre in April 2006 and are now based in a historic Lace Mill building in Nottingham. Last year we turned over £3.4m and we have massive plans for the future. We aim to be the No.1 in the UK at what we do: executive, technical and engineering recruitment.
“But there is a recession on at the moment and I recognise that a mature business has to diversify to grow.
“That’s why I’m launching Red Cloud Photography Days Ltd together with a partner, Matt Bingham. We are going to offer short courses as well as photographic experience packages.
“Matt is a trained photographer with a network of other professionals and I have experience of growing a business so together we make a strong team.”
Mr Bown, who divides his time between homes in Nottingham and Chiswick, West London, is now in demand as a motivational speaker.
He worked in a furniture factory for ten years after leaving school until a footballing injury forced him to take some time out.
He said: “In hindsight that injury was the best thing that could have happened to me. I was unhappy and bored working at the factory and the time off sick allowed me to re-evaluate my life. By the time my ligament healed I was ready to start my journey as an entrepreneur.
“You either set yourself goals or limitations. If you set yourself goals and work hard to achieve them there are no limits to what you can do and it is never too late to start and improve your quality of life. It’s all about being positive, seeing problems as opportunities that enable you to grow, and making things happen.”
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