For many entrepreneurs, the hardest part of setting up their own business is coping with the financial aspects, but for the former nurse, Heather Gilchrist by far the biggest headache in launching her chain of children’s nurseries was having to deal with staff. She says: ‘When I started I naively thought that if I was nice to people and treated them really well, they would be happy. In the early days, if someone left because they didn’t like the job or they weren’t happy, I used to take it personally and get really upset about it.
But I learned that you can’t make everybody happy all the time.’ She also found it extremely lonely being the boss. ‘When I was a nurse I was part of a team and would go out drinking with my colleagues from work,’ she says, ‘but I realized that I couldn’t be one of the girls anymore. They don’t want me to go out for a drink with them because I am the boss. It has taken me a long time to get used to that. It’s really hard because I am a friendly person and there are lots of staff I think I could be really good friends with.’
Gilchrist hit on the idea of opening a nursery when her son Thomas was born. She started looking for a place in a nursery for him in Edinburgh where they lived. But she quickly discovered she had left it far too late and that only the worst nurseries still had places available. So Gilchrist decided to start one of her own. She says: ‘There was a demand for quality and I knew I could do better than a lot of other nurseries I had seen. I can be pretty determined once I have decided what I want to do. So I got in touch with the relevant official bodies and found out exactly what the requirements were.’ However, finding suitable premises was a lot harder than she expected.
She bought a street map of Edinburgh and marked on it where every existing nursery in the city was located. Then she went to talk to estate agents in the areas that she felt needed one. But that was where the problems began. ‘I knew exactly how many square feet I needed, but nobody took me seriously, she says. ‘It was horrendous. I think if I had been in a pinstripe suit and spoken in a posh accent, it might have been a bit easier.’
Heather Gilchrist 157 In desperation she spent hours driving around in her car with her baby by her side looking for something suitable. Eventually, a friend spotted an empty church building and called her. As soon as Gilchrist saw it, she realized it was exactly what she wanted. She bought the building for £90,000, paying for it with £20,000 raised from remortgaging her flat and £70,000 borrowed from the bank. Six months later she opened for business.
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It was hard work at the beginning. She had so little spare cash that she could not afford to buy a washing machine or a dryer for the nursery and had to take all the dirty laundry home each night. But she did not have a dryer there either and so would have to drape wet sheets and towels around the house.