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setting up a holiday business - recommendedfamilyholidays.com

Hi there, my name is Lucilla Paull.  I have 2 children aged 5 and 6, both boys and they are superstars.  I recently became disabled following a very poor pregnancy - I got SPD with my second child and it caused spinal problems and the operation I had just after my second child failed about a year ago.
I used to work in derivatives (investment banking technical stuff) having qualified years ago as a Chartered Accountant but couldn't visit my clients any more as I was in a wheelchair after the operation failed.  So, I set up a new business http://www.recommendedfamilyholidays.com/index.html which has loads of self catering holiday cottages, villas, gites, family friendly hotels and the like - the unique nature of the website is that other mums and dads leave recommendations for holiday destinations and rate them - the more recommendations a property has, the higher the profile it has on the website.  I am alway looking for new ideas on how to improve the website so would welcome any feedback from mumsclub members.
I set up the business just last year and this year I am having, on average, 7,000 unique visitors per month so I must be doing something right! Fortunately, given the disability I can work wherever I need to and whenever I feel well enough - hence I am currently laying in bed with the laptop!
As I say, the disability changed my life and just 3 weeks ago I had a triple spinal fusion which went rather wrong and have been in rehab trying to learn how to walk again, very frustrating but fortunately mostly I had internet access so I could still work - it takes my mind off my problems.  My mobility is still pretty poor but they did at last let me out of hospital this week in time for my husband's 40th birthday on Wednesday which was a real achievement and although I have lots of work ahead to try and get the strength back in a weakened left side and to get mobile, the medium term outlook is pretty good - in 6 weeks time I would hope to be upright for 50-70% of the time, rather than just laying in bed or on the sofa - that, for me, is much better than I was before.  Unfortunately in the long term it is highly likely that I will have to have more spinal surgery, but hey, with this new business I will be able to carry on which is ideal.
I came up with the idea for the new business as when looking for a family holiday for myself and the kids, it was really difficult to find the right facilities - with children, hotels are generally speaking a bit of a disaster, especially with young children as they want something when they want it, not when the hotel wants to provide it!  But on the other hand, I still wanted to have a holiday so many of the holiday cottages on my website have kids clubs, baybsitting, dishwashers, washing machines, TV and DVDs for quiet times, cots, highchairs etc so you don't need to take the kitchen sink and some sort of catering service so that I don't have to cook every night - perfect for us as a young family!  So, as it was so difficult to find places like this, I set up a business that fitted the bill and also introduced the recommendation system - normally the best holiday you every have is one that is recommended by a like-minded person. All recommendations are verified as genuine and if the feedback is poor, I fully investigate the issues with both parties so that any "malicious" recommendations cannot ruin an owners business - something other websites with a feedback service have really struggled with.
When I started out, being a trained accountant in derivatives, I didn't know a thing about advertising and marketing - but I am learning quickly as all new mums starting a new business will know money is always tight, but I set up the business for just short of £4,000 and this year I will make a small profit of around £1,000 which I am really thrilled about. Next year, the plan is to be able to re-coup all of the start up costs and start paying myself a small dividend which will allow me to gain back my own independence rather than having to rely on my husband - as other mums know, this is very precious and I will celebrate heavily! 
I also didn't know how to build a website so I taught myself DreamWeaver (apparently, the software for the best websites) with a little help from a friend and now I run/update/change/modify and improve everything on the website including forms, tables, images, text etc.  The other thing I didn't know about was SEO - Search Engine Optimisation - i.e. how to get yourself really noticed by Google and get more visitors to your website.  For terms like "family holidays" I am already on page 4 of Google and if you are a little more specific like "Family Holidays in Cyprus" or "Family Holidays in France" then I am already on page 2. SEO takes a long time to get right and I am really proud of what I have learnt and been able to achieve, as again, I do all of this myself.  During May this year I  had nearly 9,500 unique visitors to the website and for the first week of June it is well over 2,500 unique visitors - I feel this is a real achievement.
The plans for the future are to expand the business into other regions and also build up the number of properties on the website - currently there are over 500 holiday properties in UK, Ireland, France, Cyprus and Morocco plus some family friendly hotels all over the world - I have an affiliation with a family friendly travel agent for the hotel side of things. Most of my holiday properties are fully booked for the peak school summer holidays this year already and June is also looking heavily booked so I really need some more properties to help fill this gap so as not to let my website visitors down - I always offer to help find them a holiday if I can - and I do want to cover other more popular family holiday destinations too in the future like Spain and Portugal - I am working on it but realise as only one person on my own, I can only achieve so much at once, but at least I know where I am planning to head!
As I say, it is a complete change of career, works around the kids and my disability plus it is a massive challenge and I am absolutely loving it!
Article By Lucilla Paull

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