NTM007: Running Multiple Businesses with Ailsa Stinson

Aug 04


Today we hear from an amazing woman who is clearly stashing a Tardis in her garden, even though she flatly denies it. Ailsa is based in the North of Scotland and is running 3 businesses as well as raising a family. This is another inspirational chat, this time about how sometimes a business is not online but is in fact tied to location.


Ailsa is based in Elgin and has been for 4 years now. In her previous life, she worked in London as branding consultant and travelled Europe in a full on, interesting and exciting job. From there, she moved to Shropshire where she managed to get an advertising role working for the local council and have a couple of children.

Shortly after her second child was born another posting came around, this time to Anglesey, where it is far more difficult to find employment due to widespread restrictions requiring Welsh-speaking employees. Ailsa does admit that maintaining a career is very difficult as a military spouse but getting a 'job' doesn't tend to be any harder than for your average person. She does also note that the move to Valley allowed for the realisation that becoming a military wife can be like accidentally signing up to become a 1950s housewife! Of course, the other side of that coin is that it encourages us to set up businesses, which we would probably have never done otherwise and to build flexibility into our own lives.

When Ailsa moved North, she and her husband decided to buy a cottage on Skye to rent out as a holiday home, albeit without considering that this made them business owners. That was her first dip of her toe into the murky waters. The next dip came, as it so often does, with the aid of wine. A friend of Ailsa's was having a tough time with the cleaning job she was doing and had decided to quit. Recognising what a shame that would be, given the great reputation she had built up, Ailsa asked her round for wine,like any good friend should. They got to chatting about branding and progressing the business in the hope of getting her friend excited again. Ailsa then took the tack of trying to convince her to employ cleaners and just manage the business and before the night was through it was decided they would do this together. See what a bit of Dutch courage does...

Ailsa explains how difficult it was in the beginning to manage the business and her small children, particularly in those times with a partner away when you have to fulfil every role in the household. After the tough first few months, her friend decided that she didn't want to carry on with the cleaning business, and in truth Ailsa didn't want to either. There was a certain buzz around the business, so she threw herself at it and after a difficult 12-18 months Lossiemouth Cleaning Fairies is now quite successful, ticks along nicely and fits well around the children so she's really pleased she stuck at it.

Now that that business is on an even keel, the feeling of boredom is sneaking back in, and so Ailsa has started up a third business. The new business was something that she had in her mind all along, as it harks back to her passion and the job she so loved in London. She has one client who has encouraged her to pursue the branding aspect. She also found that she was talking about branding and marketing with her friends regularly and essentially offering her advice and expertise for free, so has now decided to set up B is for Brand and do it professionally again. Given that this is something she loves, she is now looking at packaging Lossiemouth Cleaning Fairies and spending the next 12 months making it attractive to potential buyers. There is an important lesson here - you do not need to be tied to a business just because you started it. You can sell/close/evolve as you see fit and move on to something else if you want to.

firestarter by threephin via Flickr

firestarter by threephin via Flickr

'So how does one fit all this into a day?' I hear you ask. Ailsa does confess that it isn't easy. She divides the day into pockets and makes sure she knows what has to happen in each one. One issue she does come up against is that in the cleaning business, a lot of potential crises crop up first thing in the morning and that coincides with a very busy time in any household that has small children and school runs to negotiate. Being aware of this means that Ailsa is able to develop a strategy around it and make sure that the rest of the household understands that she needs to keep her phone nearby and be ready to deal with issues as they arise.

Nursery time is dedicated to priority tasks for her businesses. From 1500-2000 Ailsa focuses on family time, then work begins again until approximately midnight. It is fair to say she doesn't get much time for Holby City.

A new addition to the routine is a personal trainer. Ailsa, and I, cannot stress enough the importance of making time for yourself and looking after yourself. It is too easy to focus purely on work and feel that you are doing the right thing but you will inevitably suffer some fatigue and your work pace and standards suffer as a result. If it's exercise that works for you then that's great. For some it will be facials, others will need a hearty sports massage. Whatever it is that brings you positivity and a healthy feeling; indulge in it.

One of the biggest challenges Ailsa has faced, and it will be one that resonates with most of us, is the lack of a network and support system that you would have if you stayed at 'home' or in one place for a decent period of time. Most small business get off the ground through word of mouth and family recommendations, but that just isn't possible in our world. Ailsa does point out that on a patch you are surrounded by like minded people who are generally more than happy to help and will take the kids for you to get to a meeting, but you need to set your pride aside and just ask. After all, you know you'd happily do it for them. As we have heard often in our podcasts so far it is also a real benefit to have a ready made community set up for you. It allows easy marketing on WAGS pages, a large group of potential customers that are easy to reach and for Ailsa also meant a good pool to select staff from.

It is interesting to note here that I heard recently that in the US something like 90% of military spouses are either unemployed or under employed. Definite food for thought there and an area I'm keen to tap into with this network. I want to use serving or spouse partners to work with wherever I can and allow more of us to flourish.

So what would Ailsa liked to have known before the bottom of the bottle that night? That she should have VAT registered her company from the off. It seems simple, but the bigger message here is not to underestimate yourself and your ability. The turnover for Lossiemouth Cleaning Fairies has taken Ailsa by surprise and meant she has been caught out and will potentially have to pass on a price increase to her customers who have so far not had to worry about VAT. Make sure you set yourself up for success and that all your paperwork is in order to facilitate your growth. Don't underestimate how much more successful you can be that you originally thought at the outset.

The biggest tip is to get yourself to those coffee mornings. You never know who you might meet that could help you, or you them, or who you might work with. They are not just social, though that element is important too.

Some good advice Ailsa has is to take the chance and go for it. You don't need as much knowledge as you think, you'll pick that up along the way. You must enjoy it though, so spend time thinking beforehand about what you like and create around that or you will end up in a negative relationship with your business. Try never to be overwhelmed or sweat the small stuff: one problem at a time, one day at a time.

Find Ailsa here:

Cleaning Fairies website and Facebook page

Holiday cottage

B is for Brand


If you are moving to or are already living in Scotland then you need to be aware of the Business Gateway. They were a tremendous help for Ailsa and provided free advice and courses. They were very motivational and stayed in touch. It also allowed her to meet other small business owners or those thinking of setting up a business. They were particularly helpful in the hiring of staff and with free resources around contracts.

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