Blog post

Ever dreamed of being your own boss?

Who hasn’t dreamt one day of being your own boss?  Working to your own rules and doing things the way you want them done.  But what is it really like to follow your passion for an idea and turn it into a business?

We sat down with Wendy Shand, founding director of Tots to Travel, a family-friendly villa and resort company that she runs with her husband Rob to find out the answers.

Wendy, a mother of three, started the company in 2006 after realising there was a lack of suitable accommodation for families with young children. The company now has hundreds of properties on its portfolio and employs 25 people.

Do you have an entrepreneurial background?

No, but looking back, it’s clear to see how the different experiences in my life aligned and led to the start of the business. I worked in marketing and PR before becoming a primary school teacher, and I’ve also lived and studied overseas. My PR background gave me the skills to write a press release about my fledgling business, which consequently got picked up by the Sunday Times. Being a mum and a teacher meant I was in tune with the difficulties and demands of having a young family. And having spent a lot of time overseas gave me a good insight and meant I was comfortable working in and around Europe. It’s not something you can plan, and you certainly couldn’t learn it from careers advice at school.

Looking back, what inspired you?

When it comes to business, my father’s something of an inspiration. He ran a very successful accountancy practice and worked all around the world. When I was small, we used to sit and watch ‘Troubleshooter’ together, a programme where Sir John Harvey-Jones would help struggling businesses — one of which was Copella, the apple juice brand. I used to love those Sunday evenings. Clearly our early entrepreneurial discussions had an effect on me!

How did the idea for your business come about?

Like most businesses, Tots to Travel was born out of identifying a need.  The germ of the idea came after two difficult holidays with our young family, where we struggled to find any safe and suitable accommodation to meet our needs. To me it didn’t seem difficult; if a property owner could provide the basics – blackout blinds, a steriliser, toys, a stairgate and a fence around the pool – it would take a lot of stress away from parents and leave them free to enjoy time with their children. Then I had this realisation that although villa and resort owners can sell July and August hand over fist, when the whole of Europe is on school holidays, it’s much more difficult to fill the other weeks of the year. Families with young children aren’t tied to peak season, so what if I could match those families to the empty properties?

What would you say are the routine aspects of running your own boss?

The day-to-day life of an entrepreneur is mainly solving puzzles.  Which is something I actually enjoy. I’m a creative person, so I can often see creative ways of getting around challenges. And if I don’t know the answers, I have a great network of people who I can go to for advice, such as Jen, our marketing director. We also have a couple of non-executive directors on our board who are travel industry through and through and their advice is invaluable.

What advice did you receive in the early stages of developing your business?

One of the first pieces of business advice I was given was to “keep it small”. However, with the benefit of hindsight, I’m not sure I’d agree — I actually think it crushed my ambition! I just worked with property owners in the Dordogne at first, but eventually I started to see the scalability of my model — I could also target property owners in Spain and Portugal. It’s a bit like going down a corridor to reach a set of doors and opening them to see another set of doors. The blinkers come off and you begin to realise what can be achieved.

Wendy Shand is the founding director of Tots to Travel, mum of three, award- winning mumpreneur, traveller, business enthusiast and author of ‘The Mother of Invention’.
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