When Nicola O’Brien left college, she headed straight into the world of event management – a career that gave her the opportunity to travel the world and gain invaluable life experience.
I worked in events until my early thirties,” she told us recently. “However, once I got married, we realised that way of working wouldn’t fit in with our desire to start a family.”
Nicola’s career has since taken quite a turn, but her event management roots are still proving invaluable in her new role. Having flirted briefly with running a cafe and catering company – “there’s not much profit in sandwiches” – Nicola is now jointly running ID Card Centre with her husband Ben.
ID Card Centre does exactly what it says on the tin; if your business requires any form of card-based security for employee access or customer loyalty and membership schemes, ID Card Centre can produce the cards or provide the consumables and supply the kit to do it yourself.
“Our biggest customers reside in education, but we also work with banks, big corporates, healthcare, the events industry and many more” explains Nicola. “Basically, anything that can be printed on a plastic card, we can do!”
Nicola joined her husband’s business at a challenging time.
“ID Card Centre was going through a challenging time back then,” said Nicola. “The construction industry, which had been a major focus for us, was suffering – budgets were slashed and some companies were operating in survival mode. It became clear that we needed to diversify in to other markets.
Naturally, Nicola wanted to help her husband, and recognised that focusing solely on large contracts would cost it dearly. Starting with an upgraded website, Nicola set about making the ordering process for ID cards and associated products as simple as possible, but it became clear more help was required. “I suggested a focus on bringing in smaller customers in high volume to future proof the business. Ben agreed but was so busy day-to-day looking after our existing customers and didn’t want to risk our service levels dropping, so he asked me to join him full time in the business.”
Her desire to make the business sustainable ultimately prompted Nicola to seek funding and business support from Northamptonshire Growth Hub.
After speaking to a Business Adviser, Nicola immersed herself in the Ready2Grow project. She attended all of the free workshops – “the workshop on processes and policies was particularly useful due to our growing team and the fact we’re going for ISO 9001 this year”.
Furthermore, ID Card Centre was been awarded a Business Support Grant that enabled them to bring a coach into the business.
“When you run your own business, it’s easy to think ‘oh, we’ll just manage as we are’,” Nicola explained. “But when the coach is saying ‘you need to focus on what matters today’, the path ahead and missed opportunities suddenly become clear. He taught us that we needed to introduce more structure, and he helped massively with driving great communication throughout the business.”
ID Card Centre has enjoyed year-on-year growth since joining Ready2Grow, and Nicola and Ben are currently predicting a further 40% growth for next year. The increased business gained from targeting smaller clients has also prompted a rapid expansion of the team, which has grown from four to nine members of staff in two years.
We’ve restructured and grown the team as well as reconfiguring and extending our premises to allow for sustainable growth. “It’s exciting to see our plans become a reality and reassuring to know that we are doing it on solid foundations” added Nicola.
Acknowledging that running a business “can be really lonely”, Nicola doesn’t have any hesitation in recommending Ready2Grow to other entrepreneurs. “Ready2Grow is a really lovely little community,” she enthused. “You see the same people again and again and gain access to a different perspective on whatever it is you’re trying to do.
“If anyone is considering Ready2Grow, I would say go for it – 100%,” she says. “The old saying of ‘you’ve got to work on your business, not inside your business’ is so true, and every part of this project has highlighted how important that is. Whether it’s attending the courses, taking time out to learn, or spending an hour with a business adviser each week, the benefits you receive are immense.”
Ready2Grow is part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund and delivered by Northamptonshire Growth Hub, led by The University of Northampton in partnership with Northamptonshire County Council.
To find out more about ID Card Centre, visit www.idcardcentre.co.uk