10:10 Thursday 27th January 2011
Andy Harper Show BBC Radio Cambridgeshire
ANDY HARPER: Yesterday, if you remember, we heard from Jan, who’s life took a completely new path after she took voluntary redundancy, starting a successful new career as a mature model. With hundreds of jobs set to go from local councils alone, we wanted to hear the stories of people who have already got through being made redundant. Can it sometimes be a blessing in disguise, as it was in Jan’s case? Well John Cafferkey from Cambridge contacted us, and I’m delighted to say he joins me in the studio. John, good morning to you.
JOHN CAFFERKEY: Hi, Andy.
ANDY HARPER: So tell us your situation. What was your work situation prior to redundancy?
JOHN CAFFERKEY: Well I worked in marketing for hi-tech companies in and around Cambridge for the best part of a decade. It was October 2009 that all out of the blue I got made redundant.
ANDY HARPER: You said you worked for companies. Does that mean you had chopped and changed a lot in that period?
JOHN CAFFERKEY: Over that time, no, no. Actually it was only two companies. So one in Cambridge, and one in Royston.
ANDY HARPER: Right. And how long had you been at the one where you found yourself suddenly redundant?
JOHN CAFFERKEY: Three years.
ANDY HARPER: So you’d been there three years, and it came completely out of the blue.
JOHN CAFFERKEY: It did. The company was going through a few difficulties at the time.
ANDY HARPER: But was everybody .. did the company close? Were just individuals made redundant? How did it work?
JOHN CAFFERKEY: The company’s still going. It was me essentially. As marketing you’re seen sometimes as excess fat, shall we say?
ANDY HARPER: Even though it’s marketing that eventually brings in the customers and the goods really, isn’t it?
JOHN CAFFERKEY: Exactly. But you’re seen as a loss centre rather than a profit centre a lot of the time.
ANDY HARPER: So what age were you when you got this bolt out of the blue?
JOHN CAFFERKEY: Thirty five.
ANDY HARPER: So you were thirty five. You’d been in employment for the best part of ten years really? And all of a sudden this bombshell arrives. So what was your immediate reaction?
JOHN CAFFERKEY: Panic I think is the short answer. But initially I thought to myself I should be able to find something quite quickly. There seemed to be a fair few opportunities out there. This was really as we’re going into the recession, so it was October 2009. But unfortunately, after sending out hundreds of CVs, and attending a good ten or so interviews, it starts to get a little bit depressing.
ANDY HARPER: Yes, I’m sure it does. And that’s a story we hear all the time. You apply for hundreds of jobs. A huge majority you don’t hear. In your case, you got some interviews, but it didn’t yield anything. So how long did this situation exist?
JOHN CAFFERKEY: Well all told I was redundant for about nine months, I guess.
ANDY HARPER: Nine montrhs, over the Christmas period into 2010 that would be. How did you survive financially?
JOHN CAFFERKEY: Well I got a small chunk of money from the company. They looked after me as well as they could. So that was very good of them. And the housing benefit system and what not helped out. So I managed to basically make ends meet, just about, with credit and various other loans and what not So it wasn’t ideal.
ANDY HARPER: So you said nine months this went on for. When did the realisation dawn that maybe this was going to be you in for the long haul, and you had to think of something else?
JOHN CAFFERKEY: Well to be fair it started, when you keep applying for work, you’re under somebody else’s timeframe. You need to take control back. So I thought to myself I’ve got to do something here. And to be fair I was looking at web design at the time as another string to my bow, something to help me be more employable.
ANDY HARPER: So you thought web design might be the way forward, working for yourself. So where do you start? It’s all very well to sit at home and think that I could perhaps do this at home, or whatever, but where’s the starting point?
JOHN CAFFERKEY: Well it didn’t start off as web design. I started off looking at various ideas. I come from a marketing background, an arty background, if you will. So I started looking at all sorts of ideas. And then the realization dawned on me that I needed to play to my strengths. And as a marketer, I bought in web design services from agencies. So I knew from the other side of the fence, from the client side, what was required. I thought to myself, I can do this. Went down the pub. Chatted to some friends. That’s what I say is the key thing, keep the networks open.
ANDY HARPER: When we were talking about pubs yesterday, we were contacted by business people, builders and one thing and another. That’s one of the big advantages of pubs, you do always chat to people, and it leads to something. So in your case, the pub was the salvation.
JOHN CAFFERKEY: A friend of mine turned round and said, why don’t you build me a little website, a marquee site. And I had a very very very steep learning curve, shall we say? I think the technical term is “bootstrapping”. And basically built him a website. And from there it snowballed. That at the time was more of a hobby, something to do to keep me occupied, to make me feel I was doing something constructive.
ANDY HARPER: Right. But the success of building his website then led to other work?
JOHN CAFFERKEY: Well it led to another friend of mine with a cider site. And this chap actually ended up becoming my business colleague. And we had a bit of a eureka moment. We realised that we could use, I won’t be technical here, but basically an open-source content management system, which slashed our development time, and meant we could offer a product that was equivalent to anybody else’s, for a lot less money. And that’s when we thought, hold on, there’s a niche out there for us. We can make this work.
ANDY HARPER: Now this was only last year. And here we are in the very early stages of 2011. So it hasn’t been in existence very long. But what has happened since then? Where are you in your business now?
JOHN CAFFERKEY: Well SWAYsearch came about in April, I suppose, with the first concept of it. And we started to generate a proposition around who we were. And to be honest with you, the biggest single aid to us has been Business Link.
ANDY HARPER: Oh right. Yes I’m familiar with that.
JOHN CAFFERKEY: Absolutely fantastic. I started going to Business Link seminars. And that’s when I started to understand about the financial aspects, how to set up a business. And the whole proposition started to gestate, and started to actually develop a real strong offering we could actually go out and talk to people about.
ANDY HARPER: How busy are you now?
JOHN CAFFERKEY: Getting busier. We have peaks and troughs, I think, is the best way to describe it. We’ve built a number of sites now. It’s still early days. We’ve only been going really in full force for I suppose about six months now.
ANDY HARPER: But are you making a living?
JOHN CAFFERKEY: Just, at the moment.
ANDY HARPER: Right. OK. So very much in its embryonic stages, but you can see the way forward, and you do think this is something which will pick up and run?
JOHN CAFFERKEY: We believe that our offering is something that we can really actually find a niche and a market. We target a lot of start-up businesses, people that were in my situation a year go. And using my marketing background, and the design skills, the web design, and all the optimisisation skills, we can actually go out and offer people a whole package. And what we’re finding is there are a lot of people out there that are starting businesses. So actually the market is there. So we see a very bright future for it. It’s a question of finding the right people, really.
ANDY HARPER: And one assumes that you don’t have too many overheads. Because you can do this presumably at home.
JOHN CAFFERKEY: That’s the beauty of it, yes. That was one of the key things of web design. I needed a computer and the Internet, and a bit of time and effort really. So it was a very low-cost startup, shall we say.
ANDY HARPER: John, are there lots of advantages in being self-employed? Do you enjoy the fact that it’s you really, in your room at home?
JOHN CAFFERKEY: I love it personally. It’s such a wide variety of various roles and hats you have to wear every day. There’s no day is the same. One day you’re actually being the product developer. The next day you’re the marketer. The next day you’re doing the finance.
ANDY HARPER: And do you miss not going to work, and being with other colleagues?
JOHN CAFFERKEY: A lot less so than you might think actually. I think partly it’s because I do have a partner that I do this with. So we’re always talking to each other. So we kind of avoid a lot of the isolation that I think you might find if you were working completely by yourself. But then again, if you build decent networks up, there’s a lot of people out there that are doing the same thing.
ANDY HARPER: Now you’ve been relatively successful in the early stages. And as you say, just about keeping your head above water. Have you set yourself any targets? Have you said, look, this is where I want to be at the end of 2011? This is what we need to be earning. This is what we need to be doing? Or do you just let it take its own course?
JOHN CAFFERKEY: Well this is one of the benefits of having Business Link around. They actually come and visit us, and keep prodding us to come up with targets, and what nots. So we do. We have an aim. We have a goal for the end of 2011, where we want to be financially. And what we look at then is a gap analysis of how we’re going to get there. So we’re looking at what marketing we need to do, and who we need to talk to really.
ANDY HARPER: I’ve always been employed, both in the eductaion system and obviously by the BBC, and never ever thought of doing anything on my own, as it were. But is it something which you had in the back of your mind, even when you were employed, that one day I’m going to be my own boss? Some people are cut out for it, and others aren’t.
JOHN CAFFERKEY: No. (THEY LAUGH) It had never really occurred to me. I’d always quite enjoyed being an employee, with somebody else actually taking the risk and the big decisions. And going by yourself is quite scary. At the end of the day, you’re responsible to nobody, apart from yourself. If your mortgage doesn’t get paid, it’s down to you. And that’s .. it can be quite nerveracking. But it’s a different kind of stress.
ANDY HARPER: So, advice to people? Because sadly there will be hundreds or thousands of people, even across our County, who are going to be given the sort of news that you were given in 2009. Advice to people who, like you, were stunned? What would you say to them? I know not everybody can do what you’ve done, but do you have any general advice?
JOHN CAFFERKEY: I think you’ve got to look at your strengths. Go back and look at what you can do. Everybody had certain strengths. Even if you’re somebody that .. well I won’t go into details, but anything can be made into a small business. people offering PA services, design services, whatever you do could probably be turned into your own business. I think the other key thing is do it now, while Business Link are still there. Because they will help you.
ANDY HARPER: Good. It’s been really good to talk to you. Thanks for coming in. But before we go any further, you’d better just tell us about your company, your name, the company name for instance, and if anybody can get hold of you. Obviously you’d welcome them. So go on, help yourself.
JOHN CAFFERKEY: Well we’re SWAYsearch. You can find us at swaysearch.com. And essentially we build beautiful robust and functional websites, that are highly optimised, and actually help drive your business.
ANDY HARPER: There you are. Who said there wasn’t advertising on the BBC? John, it’s been really good to see you. Thanks for getting in touch when you heard Jan’s story yesterday. And also thanks very much for coming in. It’s always nice to meet people face-to-face, and can I just say well done. and wish you all the very best for the future.
JOHN CAFFERKEY: It’s been a pleasure Andy.
ANDY HARPER: Cheers. Thank you John.