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My Life – By Holidays For The Disabled Founder – Paul Fogarty

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A few years ago my wife and I decided to relocate to Brighton to live nearer to my wife’s family. Immediately after this move, I registered with the job centre and started to look for an office based job. After serious consideration it was clear that going out to work on a daily basis would be too difficult and tiring. The job centre called me in and re-assessed me and the interviewer couldn’t believe I was actively looking for work and was claiming job seekers allowance. She signed me off, cancelled the job seekers allowance and registered me to some other benefit so I didn’t have to work. Some people might have thought that was the best news ever but for me it wasn’t. I wanted to be the father my family were proud of and someone my children could look up to as a role model. I wanted to be able to support my family, be self sufficient and earn a living so we could enjoy the nice things of life and not struggle and rely on state hand outs for the rest of my life. I was glad to have the benefits there as a temporary safety net but always wanted to get off them as soon as possible So I decided to try and set up a business from home. I scoured the internet trying to find a suitable job. I bought job lots of returned toys and sold them on eBay, I bought jewellery and sold that on eBay, I bought job lots of clothes to sell on eBay. With all packaging posting etc this was not something I was physically able to do independently and was now relying on my wife’s kindness. This was very hard work for very little money.

After more searching on the internet I saw an advert to ‘become a letting agent’. This sounded a good idea. Being in Brighton the letting market was huge and after being persuaded by the sweet-talking agent, I handed over £200 and soon a little box with CD and a book came through the post. I followed the instructions step by step and toured the local streets with my family doing door to door leaflet drops in an attempt to get my first property to let. I eventually did get my first property to let, I was so excited! My wife and I went round and met the owner and managed to bluff our way through all the questions. But he seemed fairly convinced and off home we went very pleased with ourselves. Next job was to get a tenant to rent the property!! This was even more difficult and again required a lot of my wife’s help and time. Not that she minded but with a new born baby and family to look after this letting agency was becoming very difficult with still no money coming in.

At this point, I realised that the work I do from home must be something I can do independently. Despite having no arms I am able to work a computer very well, so this was key. It had to be computer based.

Earlier on in my career I worked in the offices at British Gas and Skandia Life Assurance and I became very good on the telephone! So telephone and computer it was!! I did more research but now was going round in circles and was coming across the same old get rich quick schemes and other various scams!

Two of my brothers were at the time making a lot of money from writing websites. This sounded a great idea and I could learn everything I needed to earn my living from them! Off I went. I created an auction website (like eBay), I also had the basic letting website and this I could easily alter into a site where landlords could upload their properties for free and I would make the money from advertising. From these two websites and with lots of very hard work, I did make a little money and the profits

slowly grew week by week. Whilst the websites were growing and income was rising I offered my services as freelance Search Engine Optimisation Expert and anything really to do with websites. I got a few pieces of work but no way near enough to live off!

During a holiday abroad, my wife and I met our villa owner and she recommended us to Maureen who could sell us cheaper flights for our next holiday. On our return, we contacted Maureen who turned out to be a travel agent, working from home and making a very good income. Wow, this sounded great. I love travelling and have travelled a fair bit so this really was something that interested me. Even more exciting was the thought that this could be something I could do with just my PC and telephone. We contacted The Global Travel Group for more information. Unfortunately, to buy a franchise would cost us £24,000 and at this time we couldn’t afford this amount of money so we left this idea on the back burner.

A short time afterwards, fate smiled on me and I inherited some money. This then gave me the opportunity to look into the franchise idea seriously! A lot of time went into looking into the different consortiums and we spoke to other agents as well as Maureen and were sure that Global Travel Group was the best option. This was a huge step and a HUGE amount of money to possibly throw away but by now I was sure that with my knowledge of websites and SEO, my good sales and telephone manner this was to be the winning formula. After much deliberation, we organised a meeting at Global HO to find out more about the franchise. After much discussion, we came away from the meeting with our brains absolutely buzzing! We were told we were going to make many thousands of pounds in our first year alone. “Great where do I sign..? “ I thought.

I think this meeting was September time 2007. After a long drawn out process, I signed the contracts. I had to attend a two week training course in Chester to learn the systems, the rules and regulations and in May 2008 my work PC was installed and I was ready to go!. At this time I had no real niche and was just trying to get business from family and friends which was much harder than anticipated.

For three years being a travel agent was a real struggle!! The recession had hit and the travel industry was suffering. It was very tough competing online with the big reputable brands like Thomson, Thomas Cook etc. Although my site was getting found in search engines, I realised that many travellers would bypass my little company – Fogarty and Co. when one click away was Thomson or Cosmos a brand they knew and trusted! Each month, I was losing money and was having to borrow money to put into the business in order to stay afloat. But I did this because I was determined that this business WAS going to work. There was no way I was going to just give up on this but at the same time I knew I could not continue to lose money and get into debt.

At this time, a member of my family suggested that I specialise in holidays for the disabled traveller but for a while I disregarded the idea. I am not sure why, and this may sound strange, but despite having no arms and only one and a half legs, I didn’t think that I had any experience in this field. My travelling experiences when young had always been with my family although I did go back-packing by myself to Thailand. More recently I had enjoyed holidays with my own family but was always

catered for in a naturally caring way so the idea of hoists and travelling with a wheelchair etc was something I was not used to.

After further financial struggles and getting closer and closer to a point where I was beginning to have serious concerns, I did a good old Google search on ‘disabled holidays’ to find maybe a handful of companies that were actually specialising in this field! I rang to inquire the cost of their holidays and couldn’t believe my ears at some of the prices these companies were charging. I could offer like for like holidays for sometimes up to 20% cheaper! I was disgusted to hear these prices but in another way I was elated! From being one in a million of other holiday websites on the web and having had to throw away most of my commission, I realised that if I specialised in holidays for the disabled to compete, I would then be one of a dozen.

Now, at last I felt confident that I had found my niche and could provide disabled holidays at an affordable price! I researched the most popular words used by people when they were looking for a holiday to suit a disabled traveller and discover the phrase was ‘Holidays for the disabled’. I looked and couldn’t believe the website name www.holidaysforthedisabled.com was available.

By April 2011 I had the domain and the website. Within a year I was ranked no.1 in Google. Now I get in the region of 100 visitors a day from search engines and many repeat bookings and from recommendation of customers to their friends. In my first year of specialising in disabled holidays my sales were up over 110% from the previous year.

I do mention on my site and to people on the phone that I am physically disabled and straight away clients feel a greater bond in that I do understand and empathise in just how important the smallest of details are to making sure the holiday is enjoyed.

Our slogan is

Affordable – Accessible – Enjoyable

Affordable – I do not charge a supplement or any additional cost for a disabled holiday compared to a mainstream holiday.

Accessible – Our hotels are assessed and only suitable properties are used.

We guarantee an accessible room for our clients before asking for payment. Clients need to know that when they get to the hotel they can get in the room, can have a shower, can get into bed.

Sadly too many other companies don’t guarantee adapted rooms, or they say they do but actually don’t!

Going on holiday shouldn’t be a risk or a gamble.

Enjoyable – It’s very important that the holiday is enjoyed by everyone travelling. Kids or partners, parents etc. It’s important our holidays are enjoyed by everyone.

Over two years on from starting holidays for the disabled I am still working from my conservatory on my own. It’s a lot of hard work but I find it very very rewarding. The feedback from customers is amazing and to hear stories of people who thought they

could never go abroad and come back and had a wonderful experience makes all the hard work worthwhile.

Check out Holidays For The Disabled www.holidaysforthedisabled.com