Melanie Sykes caught up with our new business columnist, entrepreneur and strategist Katie Webster, to find out how she turned her passions into profit and why the bottom line must always come top.
Tell me about your background and childhood?
Katie Webster: I am one of four children and the eldest. Investment played a large part in my family. My dad still runs his own extremely successful construction company. I remember my dad working a lot and often being away. As a self-confessed daddy’s girl that feeling of always wanting to go with him and be like him started at a young age. He often worked on a weekend and I remember asking every Friday evening for weeks if I could go with him to work on Saturday and he would reply yes.
I would bound down the stairs, eager for the day to commence only to find that he had already left. Upon returning I would ask why he left without me and he would say ‘because you were asleep’. We never got pocket money but would be paid for any jobs we did, so I devised what looking back was my first business plan.
I found out how much an alarm clock was (remember this was back in the days when the only alarm came in the form of a clock – ha-ha), worked out how many and which jobs I could do around the house to afford an alarm clock. I don’t think my parents ever knew what my plan was until the next Saturday rolled round after the alarm clock had been purchased. I can still see my dad’s face as he crept down the stairs in the dawn light to find me bright eyed, fully dressed, my packed lunch, wellies and coat in hand.
At the age of eleven I got my first paid job waitressing at outdoor catering events. It was £1.10 an hour and I gave it everything. We worked in teams and by the age of 13, I was the head of my own team. As the years progressed I stayed in the hospitality trade. At 18 I was covering manager shifts on their days off. This is where I learned the art of preparation and planning.
If we got ahead on the shift and cleaned as we went, then we could get out quicker. It was the perfect motivation for a team of 18- and 19-year-olds eager to hit the clubs!
What was your first business?
Katie Webster: I knew from an early age that I wanted to work and earn money so I studied for a business finance degree. Whilst at University I met Andrew (my husband) and we were engaged by the time I took my finals and married the year after. What I did not know at the time was our marriage would ignite my first business venture.If you have ever been wedding dress shopping you will know that finding your dream dress is an experience, a day you have probably dreamed about. I found the whole process disappointing. This was the first single business purchase I was going to make and yet it felt flat. I went home after every appointment and moaned about the experience to my parents.
My dad piped up, ‘It’s time to put your money where your mouth is then’. In the months leading up to the wedding I pondered over the idea and when we returned from honeymoon my dad had cut out a job advert from the local paper for a managerial position in a local bridal store. After 12 months as manager, I knew exactly what I wanted and how to create it. I wrote the business plan and acted; the store was in Hale (a very affluent village). I understood the appointment was about the bride and the service needed to be above and beyond. I also understood that this would be a one-off purchase; getting married is not something you repeat every day! Recommendation was key and new business was driven off a friend’s experience.
Have you always run your own business?
Katie Webster: No, I have always known when it’s time to move on. I spent 18 years in bridal, driving to the most picturesque village, working with an amazing team, selling gorgeous dresses, creating dreams and winning awards. One day on the drive to work I realised it no longer put fire in my belly. I sold the business and looked for my next project. One of my previous team members had gone on to work for Molton Brown and they gave me a call. The company was amazing, family orientated, service driven and I had a fabulous four years, won several awards and was loving life. Then my mum got sick. I was travelling all over the UK and wanted to be nearer to home. I left and took a job with a smaller independent company, closer to home. The new company was a luxury fashion brand, the role involved marketing, ecommerce, and business development.
When and how did you set up your current venture Katie Webster Business Consultancy?
Katie Webster: It had always been a dream. For many years, colleagues, friends and business owners had called on me for expert help. I had longed to create a platform whereby business owners could get actionable advice. When the pandemic hit I was furloughed like so many others. This provided me with the head space to really think about the future and spend precious time with my mum. My mum sadly passed in May 2020 and the last thing she said to me was, ‘what’s next?’ I told her my plan and she told me ‘clever girl’. In September 2020 I officially launched the business.
I thrive on seeing what others can achieve with a little help and support.
Encapsulate what your business is all about.
Katie Webster: For me business is all about having a plan, a strategy and acting! This makes the difference, along with being held accountable. The online space had erupted and there was a workbook for this and a workbook for that. Anybody can be studious for an hour and fill out a workbook but it is much harder to put theory into action.
How do you measure success?
Katie Webster: Fun! Business should be fun! No one is you and no one is reinventing the wheel. It is not brain surgery, it’s not life and death!
The bottom line is also key. Everyone has a dream of living their best life but so many of the clients I work with get too distracted by all the other elements of running a business.
Don’t get me wrong – I hate creating spreadsheets, but creating the life you love is formulaic. What’s your bottom line? Does it equate to the life you want to create? If it doesn’t then change the formula and components. Numbers don’t lie, 2+2 will always equal 4!
You have had success in every role and business, to what do you attribute this?
Katie Webster: My dad, I just wanted to be around him and be him. I was never dismissed as just a girl if I wanted to go to a meeting with him, if I wanted to go on site, bearing in mind this was 40 years ago in the construction industry, he never told me I could not drive machinery. My dad and I still talk business all the time. He is the first person that I call when I have won a proposal and he celebrates everyone’s successes with them.
What are the common myths about business consulting?
Katie Webster: That it’s easy and that anyone can do it. There is not one business model that fits all! Just because someone has success with one model does not mean it’s the right fit for you and your business. If you align the right model, success is possible and achievable. The online space has opened the visibility on success, it is fabulous at inspiring but what it does not show is the time and energy that has built up for years beforehand.
A business is generally three years in before it gains noticeable traction. There is no golden ticket but everyone can achieve a successful business. Overnight success does not exist. Three years is an overnight success in the business world, yet it is no time at all. You must push the boulder up the hill before it can free flow down the other side.
Give me a sample of a typical day at work for you?
Katie Webster: I am challenging myself to create a new morning routine. I have a habit, that many will resonate with, of opening my emails first thing in the morning and then falling down a rabbit hole. I am kicking off the start of my day with a walk or a PT session at present. Once I have returned,
I check over all my clients’ Trello boards, then move onto new clients, client calls and then finish the day by working ‘on’ the business as opposed to ‘in’ it. Every day brings something new and I love that aspect.
What advice would you give to someone starting out as a coach or consultant?
Katie Webster: Stop procrastinating, stop looking for perfection, just do it and be rapid! But write a business plan. It can be on the back of an envelope but have a plan! Work from the bottom line up.
What are the top three skills you would say you need to be successful?
Katie Webster: Passion, Strategy, Service.