Snow Cat Travel is a great example of how the internet has made it much easier for individuals to start and grow a business.
Mark Knowles only launched the venture in July, and has already sold £125,000-worth of holidays and won plaudits from major guide book writers.
He designs tailor-made holidays in Nepal and Bhutan, anything from Himalayan expeditions to luxury lodge treks, mountain biking, rafting or multi-activity holidays, and cultural, wildlife, photography and spiritual breaks.
For a “once-in-a-lifetime” experience, he can even arrange a private helicopter flight to see Mount Everest close up.
The success of the business is even more remarkable when you realise that, prior to launching it, Mark, 56, had been unable to work for three years because of a mental health illness.
He said: “I wanted to get back into work and stop feeling sorry for myself. If you’re not careful you can develop a victim mentality.”
They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks – of course you can.
He was on Employment Support Allowance, heard about the New Enterprise Allowance scheme and approached the JobCentre to say he had an idea for launching a travel business.
He said: “I’d spent most of my working life in the adventure travel industry, initially as a guide and then, as I got older, I ended up behind a desk. I wanted to do what I’ve always done but to reinvent the wheel a little bit.”
Snow Cat Travel works in partnership with a tour operator in Nepal.
“My role is similar to that of a broker,” Mark said.
“Everything is to the standard of a British tour operator in terms of presentation of the product, advice, consultancy and documentation, but the customers pay the local price, which can be up to 40% less.”
The business model would not have been possible 10 or 20 years ago when anyone launching a niche travel business would have to spend a fortune to advertise and promote the brand around the world.
Mark said: “Now you can create a website and the world can find you.
“I’ve had customers from Seattle to Sydney and all points in between, only around 35% of my business is coming from the UK.”
He built the Snow Cat Travel website himself.
“They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks – of course you can,” Mark said. “The site contains a lot of information. I don’t want to tell people how good we are, I want to show them.”
In that regard he has been helped by endorsements from Rough Guides, Lonely Planet and Insight Guides, the leading guide books for independent travellers.
“That gives me credibility,” he said.
“The only thing that’s changed is the technology. People haven’t changed. Our customers are people who want to be treated as individuals.
“They want choice and flexibility. Typically, they are professional, educated, informed, astute, will use a search engine to find us and can look at the website and come to their own conclusions.”
As part of the New Enterprise Allowance package he was allocated an adviser, Annie Weir, from the Chamber’s Cumbria Business Growth Hub.
She enrolled him on our Business Start-up Support programme (BSUS), and he was able to join a three-day training course for start-ups and receive one-to-one advice from an accountant.
He said: “Annie was a sounding board. She helped me get my head around things and made me realise starting a business isn’t as difficult as it seems.”
He added: “I wouldn’t have started the business without New Enterprise Allowance. It gave me confidence at the beginning.
“It’s about getting feedback from a business professional who can either say ‘this is stupid, don’t waste your time’ or ‘yes, you’re onto something here’.”
If you are thinking of starting your own business or social enterprise, then Cumbria Chamber of Commerce and our partners are here to help with a free business start-up programme to point you in the right direction.
Our comprehensive package of support includes:
- Free meetings with a business adviser to review and develop your business idea;
- Free training covering business planning and self employment, an introduction to marketing/market research and sales forecasts, promotion and sales, an introduction to planning and managing finance, taxation and bookkeeping, using the internet and social media;
- Free help to develop your business plan and get your business up and running;
- Free membership of Cumbria Chamber of Commerce.
The £1.1m Business Start-up Support (BSUS) project is supporting 300 new businesses and 750 individuals to start businesses, creating 300 jobs.
For more information, call us today on 0844 257 84 50 or click here to visit the Cumbria Business Growth Hub web site.
The funding that supports the Growth Hub comes from a range of sources including Cumbria Chamber of Commerce, the European Regional Development Fund, Allerdale Borough Council (Sellafield Ltd’s Allerdale SIIF, distributed by Allerdale Borough Council), Barrow Borough Council (FEDF Coastal Communities Fund Supply Chain Initiative, the Coastal Communities Fund is funded by the Government with income from the Crown Estates marine assets; it is delivered by the Big Lottery Fund on behalf of UK Government), Carlisle City Council, Eden District Council, South Lakeland District Council and Cumbria LEP.
The BSUS project is receiving up to £1,112,686 of funding from the England European Regional Development Fund as part of the European Structural and Investment Funds Growth Programme 2014-2020. The Department for Communities and Local Government is the Managing Authority for European Regional Development Fund. Established by the European Union, the European Regional Development Fund helps local areas stimulate their economic development by investing in projects which will support innovation, businesses, create jobs and local community regenerations. For more information, click here.