Camilla Shaughnessy, 49, is the founder and director of luxury accommodation website EventfulStays.com, which lists its private properties, all available for short breaks or weekend stays, close to events taking place across the UK. Her background is in consultancy, and until recently she was the managing director of Malachi Consulting Limited, which she founded in 1994. We catch up with Camilla to talk about Eventful Stays and life as an entrepreneur.
Q: Do you think the recession is a good or a bad time to start a business?
A: If you are planning to start a new business one of the key factors is the economic and political environment and this should always be carefully considered when starting a new business. Eventful Stays is fortunate as the current economic and political climate means that more people are seeking to stay in the UK for short breaks and holidays.
Q: How did you come up with the idea of EventfulStays.com?
A: Through necessity. My husband and I had made some investments in property which were badly affected by the market crash and subsequent recession – so I started renting out our home to generate income to keep us above water.
Q: How does EventfulStays.com compare to other accommodation websites? What is its USP?
A: Our approach is quite different to holiday rental companies. Our ‘go to market’ strategy is that we target people with accommodation for the event that they are attending and the events that people are passionate about: Edinburgh Fringe, Henley Regatta and Badminton Horse Trials to name but a few. Events can also be special occasions, such as wedding anniversaries or family reunions.
Businesses frequently take twice as long to get off the ground than you expect so make sure you have adequate funding to not only build the business but to survive. Q: If you could give the next generation of entrepreneurs any advice what would it be?
A: Spend time working on your business plan and financial model. Try various permutations of the models so that you do not get taken by surprise when things don’t go according to plan. A word of caution – businesses frequently take twice as long to get off the ground than you expect so make sure you have adequate funding to not only build the business but to survive.
Q: How does EventfulStays.com receive its accommodation listings? Do you visit these individual venues prior to putting them on the website?
A: Eventful Stays has a small telemarketing team that proactively seek self-catering accommodation for specific events and great locations for short stays in the UK. Equally, property owners register with us directly so they find us more often than not. Our plan in time is to visit each property we list. We also proactively seek feedback from all clients who stay in our properties.
Q: What do you enjoy the most about being an entrepreneur in your chosen industry?
A: I enjoy the challenge of marketing through new media, being a digital entrepreneur and preparing and negotiating for investment.
Q: What have been your biggest challenges as an entrepreneur?
A: The frustrations of lack of funding and having to be continually creative even down to the last penny in promoting the business.
Q: You are an active member of ‘Modern Muse’. What does this entail and why do you feel this is important?
A: It is all about encouraging women in the work place. Not just in doing the ordinary but the extraordinary too. In reality it is about encouraging your girls as well as school leavers and graduates in what is possible if you just aspire to going and doing things outside your comfort zone. With the right support and encouragement it is amazing what talents can be discovered.
Q: If you were to go back in time and change one thing about your business, what would it be?
A: I would ensure that I had a larger pot of seed capital and a more detailed knowledge of the costs of digital media advertising.
Q: How do you balance your business and family/social life?
A: With ease. I work from home so I can still do the school run and cook supper when needed, but I can work from the early morning until late at night and just dip out for family life. I must admit that weekends are more difficult as its hard to escape the business, particularly because it is online and it runs 7 days a week, 24 hours a day.
Q: Did you have any concerns when starting up your latest business venture?
A: I was concerned as it had to succeed. We invested our last bit of money into Eventful Stays and therefore my learning curve was steep as the business demanded that I understood digital marketing and social enterprise and at the same time put all my business experience in start-ups and business turnarounds into practice – always ensuring that the delivery of the plan was founded on practical implementation
Q: Despite running your own business, do you still have a ‘work-free’ weekend?
A: Almost! Fortunately I share the weekend workload with our Sales Director and Marketing Executive.
Q: Do you think an individual has to possess certain skills and characteristics in order to be a successful entrepreneur?
[Success is our industry is] about building relationships with clients, property owners, affiliates and suppliers.
A: Yes, absolutely. Drive, determination and the ability to read the signs as the business develops and be able to respond quickly to changes when necessary. The other attribute in our business is interpersonal skills. It’s about building relationships with clients, property owners, affiliates and suppliers.
Q: Would you rather recruit young graduates or experienced business employees for your business? Why?
A: I would always seek a blend. Graduates have lots of energy and ideas, but experience also brings wisdom. Some graduates are very naïve when it comes to practical common-sense, others have an in-built instinct which just needs directing and harnessing – the blend of experience and youth with ambition is the key to success.
Q: Do you have any other business ventures planned for the future?
A: I am mulling some ideas however this business takes my total attention at present. We have some key stages in our growth that will need careful attention and then when the time is right we will either be acquired or go on the acquisition path ourselves!