Thinking big

Dame Barbara Cartland

Ronnie Barker


Bedford Town Bridge in the snowI'm a rubbish businessman. I have tried several times to make money as an entrepreneur and never made much.  I'm much too cautious really. On the few occasions I've thought big, taken risks and stepped into the void I've come a cropper . Fortunately, on each occasion I had a day job and that enabled me to avoid bankruptcy, though sometimes only by a whisker.

My Calendar Period lasted from 1993 to 1999. The roller coaster ride it took me on taught me lessons in promotion, finance and achieving deadlines. It also gave me the chance to correspond with Ronnie Barker!

At the beginning of this period I was doing a warehouse job in Bedford that provided ideal flexible hours, enabling me to care for my mother during the day by working late afternoons and evenings. To satisfy my writing urges, I wrote during break times and at the weekends. However, I didn't have a release for my visual creativity.

Wildgoose chase along Batts FordI have always taken photos of landscapes, and people within landscapes.  I knew through my day job that people in Bedford were proud of their town and that there was no local calendar. Of course that didn't mean that anybody would buy such a thing if it existed, but I checked out the costs and searched for local photographers nevertheless.

I looked through thousands of slides at the homes of enthusiastic amateurs and found half a dozen shots that I thought had both originality and would be accepted onto someone's kitchen wall for a month. I took a couple more pictures needed and for the rest of the images I was saved by a good cameraman friend. I'd arrange the location, times and angles and then Andrew Turner delivered the high quality images.

John Howard's Statue and St. Paul's Church at ChristmasI found a big local printer, Newnorth,  that would produce the calendar at a reduced cost in return for using the calendar to send to their customers. And then I printed 2,000 copies that I could sell for my own use. Because I had reduced the costs of printing I only needed to sell 600 to break even.  The Tourist Information Centre sold 400 copies of the 34x32cm full colour, wiro-bound and shrink-wrapped calendar. I then made my profit through an enthusiastic local book store, County Books, and a tie-in with a local newspaper, The Bedfordshire Times, who sold it in their town office.

I sold all the copies of the 1994 Bedford calendar. They literally sold like hot cakes and what a lovely feeling that was!  For three months, from October to the end of the year I was being constantly called to top up supplies. It was great to have created something that I liked and that other people were willing to pay a fiver for. Wonderful emotion! And I made a nice profit. I thought, "I could do this nationwide, I could become big!" I decided to set up calendars in three neighbouring counties.

Business rule number 27. Don't expand till you've tested the market.

The Swiss Garden at Old Warden A painter using artistic licence along the promenade of Bedford Embankment The new lighting along Bedford Embankment Lambs outside Shuttleworth College at Old Warden The 18th Century Windmill at Stevington