We talk to women entrepreneurs who are running successful businesses in rural Ireland. Today, we talk to Eimer Hannon, founder of Hannon Travel in Meath.

In recent weeks we reported on how women in rural Ireland with new businesses or at least with well-developed ideas are being invited to join ACORNS 6.  The ACORNS programme is designed to support early-stage female entrepreneurs living in rural Ireland through a peer learning approach. Thanks to the support of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, and the voluntary contribution of time by Lead Entrepreneurs, there is no charge for those selected to participate.

The call is now open for applicants for ACORNS 6 and fifty female entrepreneurs from across the country will be selected to participate. Anyone interested in receiving an application form ahead of the September 21, 2020 deadline for ACORNS 6 should register their interest here

“I have always worked but never necessarily wanted to work for somebody. I was 30 and felt I should give it a go. If I didn’t do it then, I would never have done it”

Today, we speak to one of the voluntary Lead Entrepreneurs on the programme, Eimer Hannon who set up Hannon Travel in Co Meath 20 years ago.

What journey did you take to arrive at where you are?

I was working in the travel office in UCD and when I moved to another travel office in Dublin city, a lot of contacts in UCD were contacting me to arrange their travel for them. My husband was setting up his own business and we had just had our first child, so I needed to be flexible. I had the idea to set up on my own and run a travel company that was not 9-to-5. Travel is not a 9-to-5 business, but everyone was working those hours. I have always worked but never necessarily wanted to work for somebody. I was 30 and felt I should give it a go. If I didn’t do it then, I would never have done it.

Why are you doing what you are doing? What need are you meeting? What’s your USP?

Hannon Travel is a corporate travel management company and it was set because I saw a need for businesspeople travelling to have someone travelling behind them, offering them support and working with them. This was 20 years ago when you had to ring a travel company in order to travel anywhere. I set up a travel management company where the staff were always available. We work and connect with the client: we are almost like their travel PA. We set up at home as a one-woman show and we have since grown to 26 staff. Our USP is accessibility, knowledge and duty of care to our clients.

“At the moment, we are like the rose brush; we’ve pruned ourselves back and we will blossom again”

How did you fund and start the business and what are your growth plans?

It was hairy at the beginning! No one was giving loans, but I financed it through investing every penny back into business for the first five years. We have had great growth through hard work with wonderful clients, but now we’ve had to scale back due to Covid-19. At the moment, we are like the rose brush; we’ve pruned ourselves back and we will blossom again. We had to press the scale down button. But we have enough reserves and when we need to scale up, we will be ready.

What (or whom) has helped you most along the way? Who was your greatest mentor/inspiration?

Family are my number one inspiration, followed by my staff and my group of friends. I have a group of ladies who are both friends and fellow business owners who are like my board. We might go for dinner once a month and dump everything on the table and we sort it out. But I very much grew the business myself, my way. I have mentors: but what is most important is to listen to your clients’ needs. How I grew my business was by listening to the customer and giving them what they want – not what I thought they wanted.

“You are not the new person, you are part of the team from Day 1. I am always honest with my feedback”

What was the most challenging aspect of either starting or growing the business?

Cash flow challenges and balancing challenges — juggling professional and personal lives. Every couple of years, as you update your business plan, there are challenges around whether to scale up or down. At present, Covid-19 is a challenge and a massive one. We have faced challenges in the past, such as the ash cloud and SARS. Due to Covid-19, we have scaled back our business, but we are very confident that business will resume, and we will continue to be as successful as we were.

If you were to do it all over again, what would you do differently?

I would have safety guards to protect me, if everything was not going to plan. I would have had accessibly to support in event of a wobble on a business plan – something that would tide you over for two to three months. I would also have looked at strategy around PR, marketing and branding from Day 1.

Who inspires you in business?  

I really admire straight-talking businesspeople who just go and get the job done in a professional manner with the minimum of fuss. I am also inspired by my circle of female business owners who are also my friends.

What advice/guidance do you give new hires and how do you nurture talent in your organisation?

Ask questions. Be honest. Be engaged. It’s not a failure to make mistakes. If you don’t understand, just ask. Jump in and don’t be afraid to give your opinions. You are not the new person, you are part of the team from Day 1. I am always honest with my feedback.

“Make sure you have someone to question the figures with you. Even though you might have accountants, you still need to be accountable”

What business books do you read or would recommend?

Reading numerous daily newspapers is a must, I can’t sleep until I am sure I have read the papers. I enjoy any books to do with current affairs, but I am more of a newspaper reader and blogs than an actual book reader.

When it comes to working with women entrepreneurs through ACORNS, what is the top advice you give entrepreneurs?

Understand what your USP is and your market. Also, the whole financial accounts side is critical. Make sure you have someone to question the figures with you. Even though you might have accountants, you still need to be accountable.

It is critical to get yourself into a good business support network. Now more than ever, get involved in groups like ACORNS as it is good to have a group of people in the same situation as you and have knowledge you don’t have. It is like having the board that you can’t afford.

Anyone interested in receiving an application form ahead of the September 21, 2020 deadline for ACORNS 6 should register their interest here

Written by John Kennedy (john.kennedy3@boi.com)

Published: 18 September, 2020

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