Jackie Barr’s firm proves clouds have their silver linings

WHEN paralegal Jackie Barr was made redundant as a result of the credit crunch, she decided to take a chance and set up her own company.

More than a year later, that risk seems to have been worth taking after AM Lettings Limited – a property management and letting agency – was shortlisted in an Evening News-backed Dragons’ Den-style contest to win mentoring.

The Dalkeith-based firm is one of six new businesses to reach the final of the Local Business Accelerators contest, which also offers the chance to win advice from television “dragon” Deborah Meaden and free advertising.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Mrs Barr – a qualified residential conveyancing paralegal – set up AM Lettings, which boasts a mixture of family homes and flats in Edinburgh and Midlothian, in September 2010.

The mother-of-three said: “I was given the opportunity when I was made redundant to set up my own business, so I decided just to go for it.

“There were no jobs going in what I was qualified to do because of the credit crunch, so I decided to take the chance. If it worked, it worked – if it didn’t, at least I tried. It has worked out far better than I ever thought it would.”

The nationwide Local Business Accelerators competition has attracted more than 3000 entrants and will see 1500 firms across the UK receive £15 million of free advertising.

Joining AM Lettings on the shortlist are social enterprise Greetings from Leith; Vertex eCommerce in South Queensferry; Market Prepare in Prestonpans; Gardening Services Edinburgh in Colinton; and tea boutique eteaket on Frederick Street.

The finalists pitched at a Dragon’s Den-style event at the Evening News offices to a judging panel comprising entrepreneur Sir Tom Farmer, former Prince’s Trust director Geraldine Gammell and former Scottish Businesswoman of the Year Liz McAreavey.

Mrs Barr, 49, who lives in Dunfermline, said: “Entering the competition seemed like a good idea to get the name out and we don’t have a large marketing budget, so it seemed a good opportunity. Expert advice certainly would be helpful, too.

“I was delighted when I found out we had reached the final, I couldn’t believe it. It’s just nice to be noticed and it gives you a boost that you’re doing something right.”

Three winners will be selected, with the trio receiving free advertising in the Evening News and a three-month mentoring programme.

They will also go forward to the final round for the chance to be mentored for a year by Ms Meaden, and win an advertising campaign by a top agency.

Mrs Barr, who has a small team of staff which she will add to with another member this month, said it would be “fantastic” if the company was to win the competition.

“It would be fantastic just to show that we’re going in the right direction and my hard work has been recognised because I’ve certainly put in long hours, as we all do starting out,” she said.