Be Your Own Boss…

Entering the world of employment can be scary, especially if you’re not sure about what you want to do or where your skills could come in handy. However, there are other ways of making your mark on the world other than joining somebody else’s company – start your own!

Being an entrepreneur can be a very daunting prospect, but with more and more creative individuals jumping on the entrepreneur-train, it’s never too early, or late, to bring your bright idea to life.

Starting your own business can lead to a very rewarding career. Following in the successful footsteps of Steve Jobs (Apple), Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook), Coco Chanel (Chanel designer) and all the ‘dragons’ from TV’s Dragon’s Den may seem like an impossible task, but all you need is a really great idea and the the know-how to get started and you’re half-way there.

Last year, University of West of Scotland graduate Andrew Smillie started his own company, Crabbit Sparra, a “creative consultancy that specialises in idea generation, bespoke audio production, mobile application creation, QR Code development and sound art installation.” We caught up with Andrew to find out what it takes to start your own business.


What inspired you to start your own business?

Audio always excited me. I started recording radio programs (don’t do that, it’s illegal!) on a two deck stereo when I was eight, and I soon discovered that if you paused the recording, you got a cleaner edit than if you hit STOP. I can’t tell you how much this amazed me! Fast forward 20 years, an honours degree gained and a recession in full swing led to one conclusion; create your own company that’ll allow you to make not only great content for clients but that will give you an outlet for your own content.

What motivates you to keep driving the business forwards?

I call it the ‘Wallpaper Problem’. A client will give you a problem to solve and by using a roll of cheap, thick wallpaper and a box of crayons you can design ways and means of solving this problem. And of course, you get to colour it in too. That’s what drives me forward. Using my imagination, experience and a Crayola box set to solve problems.

What’s been the most difficult thing about starting your own business?

How long have you got?! In all honesty, the only problem I’ve had was the first week; that ‘not knowing’ if it was a worth while endeavour  It was scary! And no amount of ‘Business Now!’ or ‘How To Create A Company In 24 Hours’ books can help that. It’s a leap of faith; a punt. Once you get past that stage and have a few stiff gins everything is ok-doke.

What’s the most rewarding thing about being your own boss?

I could list the usual suspects: working on your own, setting your own hours and so on. But for me it’s the first listen, the first look, and the first experience of publishing content we’ve created. That definitely gets a Fonzie cool score of two thumbs up.

What advice would you give anybody thinking about starting their own business?

Don’t do it! Stay in school and become a plumber! Only kidding, I would advise anyone thinking about starting a company to picture what it is you want, how to achieve it and what you’ll need to get there. Most importantly, be a practitioner of good manners. You are the face of the business and as such you need to act like it. I’m a firm believer that there’s no such thing as a ‘self made man’; we all rely on each other, so be just as kind to the jani as you would to a company exec. It speaks volumes about your character.

How did you come up with the name Crabbit Sparra?

I’ll never tell! What I will say is that the louder a wee beastie, such as a sparra, moans and makes its presence known, the more people become aware of it. Quiet Sparra just doesn’t work somehow!

Your company “helps firms communicate in new and imaginative ways”. Who have you helped and how did you help them?

The clients we’ve worked with include Philiphaugh Salmon Viewing Centre, Glasgow Central Station and also the Ayr Campus of the University of the West of Scotland.

At the Salmon Viewing Centre, they had an audio tour using audio players (little blue boxes with speakers on them). Problem was though folk were forgetting to return the boxes! So, we helped them by creating an online page to hold the audio tour which visitors could access with their mobile phones via QR codes which we provided.

With Central Station we hatched the idea of creating historical audio stories about the station (who built it, famous faces who have passed through its gates) which were accessible via QR codes; a first in the UK.

With UWS, students and staff were finding the new campus a challenge to navigate. So we made them a multilingual audio guide map which can be accessed through mobile devices via QR Codes around the building.

What is the future for Crabbit Sparra?

We’re working with a couple of clients just now and for various reasons (mostly legal) I can’t name them as it would tip the hat of what we’re up to before ‘it’ is ready. But when they’re done, you’ll know about them. Believe me! We’re also working on our own content as well. We’ll soon be producing two very different types of podcasts along with some radio comedies too. Basically a ‘day aff’ is a very, very distant prospect!

What would you say are the key attributes an entrepreneur must have to succeed?

Humour: when standing at Kilwinning Station at 7pm on a wet night in January without a brolly, you have to be able to laugh.
Dedication: not stopping when problems, whatever they are, start appearing. You have to plough on.
Confidence: to be able to walk into the boardroom of a company and layout for them what you can offer and why they need your services, requires confidence.
That and as I said before, manners. If you haven’t got any, you might want to think about doing something else.

Did going to university help you in anyway with running your own business?

It did, without a doubt. What I found, much to my surprise, was that the theory underpins and informs your practical skills and through that, you have the ability and the confidence to take on projects. That and I finally learned the mechanics of why using the PAUSE button in a recording made a cleaner edit than pressing STOP; I could explain it but it’s real geek stuff!

Follow Crabbit Sparra on twitter, @CrabbitSparra, or visit them online at


Feeling inspired by Andrew? There are loads of places to go for help!

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