Sunday, 4 April 2010

Spring is coming. Get those cameras out!

Sorry, but it's been longer than 7 weeks and I really don't want to count how many.. Work never stops, so it's lucky that I enjoy it so much. Lately, I've had some wonderful clients who have been so generous with their time and willingness to put a review on Trip Advisor. (Hi Daniela, I hope your Night tour photos turned out well!!) I realise now what a big impact this site can have on Hairy Goat's success so I'm happy that clients are willing to put in a review. Spring and summer is looking like a huge improvement on the last 8 months, which has been a continual struggle. Enquiries are continually coming in from all over the world which is really exciting.

Recently, I joined Visit London which is the main tourist website for London, but it's an uphill struggle with this site. It gets 1.3 million hits every month, so you think it will have a positive effect.. But it doesn't make sense that only a few tours are listed under What's On/Tours, but this is only a page set up by the editors and what's listed there is only what takes their fancy at the time. So even if you search under that section for alternative tours, nothing else comes up as an option. And the rest of us that provide all types of tours are listed under Places to Go/Attractions.. Which unfortunately, is completely inadequate and inappropriate and you don't find out any of this out until you've handed over the family inheritance in fees. I'm certainly learning a lot about what works and what doesn't. I thought this Visit London would be like the Holy Grail of tourism info, but it's useless so far!

Anyway, enough of this whiny drivel.

The spring weather is here. London's temperature seems to have shot up and the usual pattern of rain every hour for 5 minutes, sunshine for the rest of the time and amazing cloud formations has arrived. So don't let the thought of rain deter you, it doesn't last long and there are photography benefits to puddles and umbrellas.. honestly!

London is full of tourists at Easter, and all the locals have stayed away due to engineering works on so many of the train lines. Buses have been overflowing and I do wonder how London will cope with the Olympics.

My new brochures have been printed and on Tuesday I go back to handing them out at commuter train stations in the morning for a few hours. Over the winter months, I've had a break from doing this as it's far too cold to stand stationary on the street for longer than 5 minutes, or too wet. So it's back to getting up at the crack of dawn and having harrassed commuters looking at me like I'm lower than a gutter rat/ too old to be doing this/or just leave me alone.. Should be fun ;-) Actually, surprisingly it's not as bad as you expect as every few minutes someone stops to talk to me and is quite friendly which is really nice. Funnily enough, as soon as someone stops, everyone wants a brochure.. So, if you see me in the morning wearing a Hairy Goat fleece or jacket, giving out the brochures come and say hello.

I'm finding that quite a few people have now heard of Hairy Goat which is fantastic. When you go somewhere completely random, talking to strangers and in the course of conversation about what you do etc, someone says "I've heard of Hairy Goat" it's a real buzz. It would be a bigger buzz if they came on a tour asap, but at least I'm having an impact and people remember the name.

London Photography Mystery Tours now start from Bank tube station and lately I've been walking more of the back streets in this area investigating those little treasures which London has in abundance. So today has been a day of research and compiling information. I have so many reference books, but isn't the internet wonderful? Everything at your fingertips! It's such a treasure trove of information.

But it's been a long day, and tomorrow I have a bespoke tour to do.. So it's time to put my feet up, relax with a cold drink and think about something else besides the history of the Drapers Hall, the St Augustine Friars, the camels on the Merchant Taylors Hall, and the amalgamation of multiple banks over the centuries. That does make me sound boring, I know!

Catch up with you again soon..and I hope you all had a lovely Easter.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

I've been walking all over London

Did you miss me? Just joking, though a few people have asked for an update so it's nice to know this blog actually gets read.
I hope you all had a safe and warm Christmas and New Year and 2010 brings a brighter future for many.

It's been a ridiculously busy time and I had high hopes of putting my feet up and slothing in the bean bag dozing while pretending to read or watch a dvd. But requests from potential clients for photos of various areas of London sent me out on the beautiful blue days. While it was "freeze your bits off" cold, there were some great photo opportunities with the snow, bare trees, frozen fountains at Trafalgar Square, along the river and so few people around. The good thing I noticed was that if someone was in my photo, I only had to wait 20 seconds and it was clear. Not something I think I could do at the peak of summer!

The snow and biting cold of the last few weeks has dented the enthusiasm of many amateur photographers and I can completely understand this. After an hour out there I can barely feel my fingers, have no idea what happened to my feet and I'm slurring like I've spent 3 hours at the pub. Some of the Night Tours have had to be postponed as it's just not been practical in the freezing weather. But the weather is warming up, so rain, hail, sleet or snow, (but preferably in sunshine) the London Photography Mystery Tour still runs in the day time, so come for a London walk with me.

This year will bring more opportunity to market the company in so many ways. I plan to revamp the brochures, put signage up at Tower Hill Tube Station, advertise on renowned London tourist websites, and increase the exposure to the tourist market in as many ways as I can. With a concerted effort and definitely some money, I think Hairy Goat is going to do very well. Some of my clients recently put great reviews on Trip Advisor and I'm rather stoked! It should help with the international market and I really appreciate the effort that they have made on my behalf.

So many people have helped me with keeping my company running, with suggestions, or actual help, support and even just catching up for a coffee when I've need a break and a friend. So to those people, thanks so much for your support. You may not make it into my Will, but I certainly think highly of you ;-)

Anyway, time to go and it won't be 7 weeks until the next blog.. I promise!

Saturday, 28 November 2009

I don't have time to scratch

Well, what an interesting few weeks it's been. So many people have advised setting up on Twitter etc, but who has the time to sit and twit?? I don't have time to scratch most days and hence the delay between blogging posts.

In the last few weeks I've taken a booking from a company for massive number of people on a bespoke walk as a Christmas function. It will be broken down into smaller groups leaving at staggered times. The tour numbers started much lower but once they heard what we were doing, the numbers went up by 50% almost overnight. So the idea of a London walk doing a Mystery Photography Tour is pretty popular and unique. If anyone is stuck for a last minute Christmas function, this is it! Anyway, doing the research, incorporating several pubs along the way, training 4 extra guides for the walk, running market stalls both in London and out in the boonies, holding night tours, and all the general non-stop running around like a Hairy Goat has kept me really flat out.. Oh, and don't forget the radio interview on Westminster University's station with a couple of lovely guys Darby and Ed on .

And I've eliminated a stalker. With a bit of luck and care, there won't be another..

Plus I've taken on my first commission job for taking photos for a lady's bathroom. Do you know how hard it is to find a reasonably priced rubber duck in London, that also doesn't have a brand across it's chest??

The photo of the London bus and taxi in the rain is still selling and I know that one of them is heading over to Australia as part of a present to an English lady who misses England dreadfully. Looking at that picture may help get her over the homesickness. Though it still stops people in their tracks when I display it at Leadenhall market. Everyone loves it.

When I started up Hairy Goat I thought that there would be tours 7 days a week, twice a day.. It hasn't worked out that way yet, but summer will bring an increase in tour numbers and dates again. By then maybe some of the tour guides will feature Hairy Goat, and it will be on the tourist websites . They are an extortionate price to join, but they do provide access to a phenomenal amount of visitors. But meantime, I'm expecting that over Christmas there won't be an abundance of people on tour so the last tour for 2009 will be on Sunday 20th Dec and the first tour for 2010 will be on 2nd January. If there is anyone out there wanting a tour in the middle of that time, the minimum number will be 3 adults and you need to get in conctact with me. Otherwise during that time I'll be making some major changes on the website, catching up on the mountains of paperwork that never seems to go away, and having a couple of sleep-ins! And giving my feet a well earned rest.

Am about to head out on a night tour and thankfully it's not raining. But it's going to be a nippy time.
Catch you later.

Monday, 9 November 2009

Searching for a unique present?

So, cold weather has certainly arrived and Christmas is on it's way. A London walk on a brisk day is great.
In the last few weeks I've sold a few copies of the photo of the London Bus and Taxis in the rain. A shop in Charing Cross has also taken some on to sell. Whenever anyone sees that photo, the standard reaction is "That's London". When I was telling a lady in Cass Art about it and I showed her a small version of the photo, she promptly bought a copy, and so did the lady in the line behind me! Ask me if I was excited?

Over the last few weeks, Gift Vouchers have been selling really well for both birthday and Christmas presents. It's an economical £20 for a day tour and £30 for a night tour, plus there are £5, £10 and £20 for anyone not sure whether to buy a photo or a tour as a present. So, it seems like I'm going to be busy in the New Year, which is great. I had expected numbers to completely drop or almost disappear since the end of summer but it's been a great relief to see that there are keen people out there.
I've started running some bespoke Night Tours and dates as well, so if you have an urge for doing something different in the evening, either come along or call me to arrange a tour. Otherwise the Night tours start mid afternoon on alternate Saturdays so we can still catch some sunset before all the lights come on.

What about a cheap Christmas work function? We still want them but naturally companies don't want to spend as much these days. A tour is a great way of socialising and talking about anything except work! And then you can have a drink or dinner afterwards.. and maybe run a competition on the best/worst/most interesting photo.

The feedback from recent clients has been great and I thank them for taking the time to write in. I'm in the process of registering Hairy Goat on Trip Advisor (sorting out a glitch at the moment) so hopefully that will bring in some extra feedback and clients too.
Thanks to everyone who is telling anyone about the tour. It's really appreciated and I can see that word of mouth is starting to work.

If you know of anyone that has an old brochure distributed in summer or has plans to come on a tour, could you please let them know that tour dates and times have changed (and will continue to do so over winter). Please check the website or call me to confirm times and days. It simply isn't possible to notify everyone of the changes except via the website and new brochures. So it has happened that someone turned up at the old time and wasn't impressed to find me not there.
This first year of operation for Hairy Goat is really turning out quite differently than I anticipated. It's still very much a struggle to get enough clients, access to the tourist market is not as simple as I expected, and maybe I should have researched some more before setting up the company.. But then if I had, I may have just gone travelling around the world instead! But then, I may not have had the intense challenges, met so many interesting and helpful people, (nor the people who seem to have an issue with the Hairy Goat name), or pushed myself so hard and learnt so much!

Thursday, 22 October 2009

There's always something happening!

Hello again.. Remember me?
When I looked at the date of the last post it made me realise just how busy I've been. 5 weeks is a long time between updates. In that time, BBC London website contacted me and came out on a London walk with the Hairy Goat London Photography Mystery Tour and gave a great review on the website. For some reason I can't add the links, but they are on my website if you want to read all about it. Group Travel Organiser are about to do a feature as well.

What else? Yep, Market days are now a feature, with a stall down at Greenwich Market on Saturdays, and Leadenhall Market on Wednesdays. The hardest thing to deal with is the 2km walks and 65kg of photos to wheel or carry up and down hills and train station steps. Thanks very much to those who have helped me along the way, but unfortunately there are very few of them! Where did "giving a helping hand" go? One day I'll get a car as a taxi fare is extortionate.

The compliments are flying thick and fast on the photos, but so far it's not paying the bills. Everyone else with stalls at the markets are saying the same thing, that no-one has any money. Personally I think that the money is there, but everyone is hanging onto it "just in case"..or waiting for the last minute Christmas Sales. I'll be at BP's Compass Point offices on Tuesday 2nd Nov and some of their other offices shortly.

However, I took some of my images into a shop on Charing Cross Road and they have bought one of them in postcard and poster formats. I was so excited that when I was in Cass Art buying some stock, that I told the cashier about it and showed her the image.. She promptly bought a copy on the spot, as did the lady in the line behind me. That made my day!

Tonight is the first Night Mystery Tour.. So far the weather is looking pretty good and I hope that it all works out well. Last night I did another walk around and it's amazing how much happens in a day.. Coverings are going up on Tower Bridge (again), lights have been turned on and off in various locations, so it's just as well it's a Mystery Tour so I can change it on the spot! The next tour is on 31st Oct.

The day tour frequency has been reduced for autumn and winter as most of the clients seem to be commuters who are now back at work, which leaves me time to run the stalls, plus pick up a bit of photography work for a previous employer. I had been dreading a possible return to part time work back inside a building, but their offer will keep us both happy and keep the bills paid.

Being outside all day, every day is something I really enjoy and from the looks on some people's faces when I'm handing out brochures, there's a bit of pity and curiosity that someone my age is giving out brochures for a living..Don't feel sorry for me, the freedom to run my day as I see fit is superb!
Anyone noticed the spectacular sunrises we've been getting over Tower Bridge lately?

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Does anyone know where I can get an extra 6 hours into my day?

Hello and long time no type!
I can't believe how manic it has been. Tour numbers picked up for a while, and then the sales, back to school week, the Thames Festival and Nottinghill Carnival hit London and Hairy Goat became a low priority for anyone and everyone except for a couple of us. Even some of the tube lines weren't working properly so London was a difficult place for a week or so.

Over the last few weeks I've had terrific support from another Aussie girl, Axx, and a young English girl, Bxxxx who have helped hand out brochures every morning and afternoon. Bxxxx had been living on the streets for some time and I hoped I could give her enough work to help get her back on her feet. Axx is a complete boon and knowing that I can give her any job to do and it will be done properly would make me the envy of many a boss.
Unfortunately, a few lousy weeks makes all the difference and I can't afford 2 helpers, which is a complete shame as the confidence Bxxxx picked up after a couple of weeks work was really obvious. So if anyone has a need for someone to help with brochure distribution or odd jobs, I have the person for you.. Just get in touch with me.

Over the last couple of weeks, photos, mounts, tape, and copious amounts of paraphernalia has been filling my room. Tomorrow I launch my photos on Greenwich Market customers and hope they have cash to splash. I'm so excited at how well they have turned out as A3 or A2 size. So if you have any interest in seeing the actual photos, come along and say Hi. It's been an exceedingly time consuming process to set up mounts for 70 huge photos. And I must confess that the thought of spending most of my day in one spot and most likely sitting down, is pretty exciting. However, as falling asleep on a train within 2 mins is a standard occurrence for me these days, I'm sincerely hoping I don't get caught napping on the job if it's quieter than expected!
Have a lovely weekend and will provide another update soon.

Sunday, 23 August 2009

A mixed week.

London Mystery Photography Tour

Just when I think I may have cracked the market, someone teaches me a lesson in humility. Saturday, Monday and Wednesday clients arrived, but then the other days were disappointingly empty. Though I still had more work to do than I can achieve, I'd much rather farm that out to someone one else and go for a meander around the city streets of London instead!

And hasn't the weather been sensational for quite a few days? Don't think about the occasional shower/storm, generally it's been great. Those of you who peer out the curtain and see a grey sky, and then crawl back into bed miss the fantastic opportunities of buildings with no shadows and reflections with no glaring light. And for those of you that decided a sleep-in was more important, you won't believe what the Thames looked like this morning, plus the shadows of the lamps on the PLA building were fantastic. Yesterday morning the Thames was like a glassy pond and the shine was intense. I can't help but stop and take photos.

And when the day is beautiful like today, well, what could be better than walking around for a few hours discovering the city of London in fine detail? On the weekend, there's hardly anyone else around and standing in the centre of the street isn't a hazard!

Someone turned up on my tour who kept me on my toes. This gentleman had been pretty much all over the city, more than once, so a quick revision of intended locations for the day was required..Fortunately I still managed to show him some sights/ sites, that he hadn't seen before.

A few clients recently have said that they are the "guinea pigs" for groups of friends and colleagues. If they like this tour, the others will all come. I can only say that if you wait too long to find out for yourself, I'll be broke and Hairy Goat will have closed down and you will have missed out on a great tour.

This week I had several gentlemen early in the week who intended to tell their international friends that "this is the tour you need to do when you visit London". All clients have wanted brochures to give to friends and colleagues. It's difficult to get people to write on a blog on my behalf and I have no intention of faking anything. So attached below are either comments that have been received either by email or verbally from some of my clients.

From Adam on 3rd Aug via email. Comments: Quick note to say thanks for the tour on Saturday. Very interesting and your knowledge of quirky London facts is impressive. Good luck for the future.
From Ian Riley on 26 July via email: I very much injoyed to tour last week. Thanks for your time and expertise
From Wajjid ( verbally) on 17 Aug: This is the tour I'm going to tell my friends to do when they visit London.
From David and Warren (verbally) on17 Aug: I've had the most wonderful afternoon and can you do a night photography tour?
From Kath and Tom (verbally) on 15 Aug: What your are offering is unique. There is nothing else like it. We're going to tell our friends that they need to do this tour and can we have some more brochures?
From Neil and Maurizio (verbally) 23 Aug: Keep it up as it's a great tour and in time it will be very successful and can you put our names down for a night time tour?

So, what are you waiting for?