Sara White & Tom Hughes - Cautious Train Media

Business-PortraitCautiousTrain1-300x225A business born out of necessity, Cautious Train Media is a two-man, or one woman-one man, team run by Sara White and Tom Hughes. They offer engaging, creative online video content to Irish businesses. Events, interviews, testimonials, show-reels – you name it, they film it!

What led you to starting your business? After 10+ years in the film and television industry the two of us were made redundant within a few weeks of each other, so we decided to take the plunge. We had really great support and advice from FÁS, and by keeping our overheads down during start-up (working from home, hiring freelancers project to project etc.) we realised we didn’t need to take a huge financial risk to finally live the dream of making videos and working for ourselves.

How did you raise the start-up funds you needed? We made it a philosophy of ours to not take on large financial risk. With the nature of our business allowing us to cut initial overheads, we didn’t require large start-up capital. We’ve self-funded to an extent and received a small equipment grant from the Department of Social Protection.

What was the most significant lesson you learned in starting your business? Learn from your mistakes, not to take rejection (or small failures) to heart, but to learn from them to build and grow your business.

What’s the best book you’ve ever read, business or non-business? Tom is a voracious reader, devouring books by the day. His most recent favourite is The Big Short by Michael Lewis – a great lesson on understanding what you’re selling and the pitfalls of greed and excess. Sara’s most recent favourite is Get Rich, Lucky Bitch by Denise Duffield-Thomas. A provocative title but a really down-to-earth, “non-gimmicky” book; it’s about releasing your money worries, and about getting the best out of life & business.

Who is the entrepreneur you admire the most? We are both big fans of social entrepreneur Niall Harbison, founder of digital agency Simply Zesty. We think he’s had a huge influence in progressing Ireland into the age of social media and creating value around it as a tool for business. We managed to speak to him briefly at an event recently and he had some sage words of advice.

What have been the biggest challenges in your business to date? This is our first real foray into business and, while we have plenty of creative experience, things like tax, accounts, business banking, business planning, financial projections etc. were all a steep learning curve. We’ve had a lot of help, from Wicklow County Enterprise Board and FAS in particular, and we’re learning something new every day.

What has been the proudest moment in your business so far? Our first big contract was fantastic; a real validation of what we’d decided to do. Also, as our work is on a public forum (all our videos on social media, YouTube, Vimeo) allowing us to track views and comments. We’re very proud watching those numbers rise and the feedback is so positive and complimentary.

What was the best piece of business advice you ever got? Being politely told by a FAS employment officer to stop BS-ing ourselves with thoughts of random business ideas (think candy bouquet service), get down to what we love and make that our business. From that day we’ve pursued video production and never regretted it. I think we may have learned to hate candy bouquets though!

Can you recommend a good time management technique for other entrepreneurs out there? Time-management is so important for us, as there is only the two of us. Aside from the creative aspects we also need to look after day to day admin. We picked up a great tip along the way if you’re feeling overwhelmed: write down everything occupying your mind (business or not) in a long list. Break down that list into various to-do’s, including your work one. Then, prioritise! One of the best time-management tools we purchased…a whiteboard.

What magazine do you never miss each month? Blogs and online articles have replaced many of our physical magazine subscriptions. We subscribe to some great social media sites such as Hubspot and Social Media Examiner. Film Ireland is great. Oh, and we still have our National Geographic subscription, but it comes to the iPad now :)

What is your favourite film? We’ve always found this question near impossible to answer. Will have to just go with some recent ones: Moon, No Impact Man (great environmental doc), Drive, Marth Marcy May Marlene and pretty much anything Wes Anderson.

What is your favourite ad? We don’t watch an awful lot of TV anymore (big Netflix watchers), but we do pay attention to viral video. Not so much an ad, and longer than most, but we absolutely loved Toyota’s Meals Per Hour video. It highlights how Toyota sends in experts to streamline processes for non-profits, in this case a charity delivering meals to those affected by Hurricane Sandy. Added bonus, for every view this video gets Toyota will donate 1 meal.

What advice would you give aspiring entrepreneurs thinking of starting a business? Firstly, don’t try and start a business in an area you have no passion for. If you’re doing something you love (for the most part) it won’t feel like work. Secondly, don’t try and do everything yourself. Hire an accountant to do your books, for a start.

What do you like to do when you’re not running your business? Our most prominent combined interest is travel. We met in 2008 while volunteering in China and travelled home overland on the Trans Siberian through China, Mongolia and Russia. So our connection has a solid base in adventure and travelling and we try to get away as often as we can. We hope to one day combine this with work in making tourism and travel videos, both at home in Ireland and abroad.

Have you found the self-employed formula for a work/life balance? This is an on-going process! Not only do we live together, making a home and raising our dogs :) we work closely on all aspects of the business…from a home office. It’s important to allocate your time well in this scenario. While we’re not into the standard 9-5 (and often we’re out on shoots), we definitely advise having a cut-off time for work. Not eating in front of the computers, taking proper breaks, not letting work items take over the house. And always having some ‘me time’ set aside.

What’s your website?

Do you have a Facebook page?

Are you on Twitter?@cautioustrain

How has Wicklow CEB helped you and/or your business? We have a fantastic business advisor, Niamh Byrne, who we meet with regular to troubleshoot issues, talk about business plans and all the other ‘admin’ stuff we’re trying to keep up with. It’s been an invaluable service.

If you could start up all over again, would you do anything differently? Be firmer on pricing from an early stage and be sure of our own value. Not taking things too much to heart/personally.

Sara & Tom provide promotional & business video content, showreels and even book trailers under their video service provision. They also have a Social Media arm, and have a blog too! Many thanks to both Sara & Tom for taking the time to sit in our virtual hot seat. It’s great to see enterprise continue to thrive in County Wicklow; this partnership is a perfect example of how the recession has brought about another great new local business. We wish you and all our entrepreneurs continued success.CTcover