Mara (Marie Vaughan) [maraegypt]
What did you first read? How did you begin to write? Who were the first to read what you wrote?
First read....comics. Writing began on my website, outside that I wrote some stuff I didn't recognise when I read it later so was too embarrased to let anyone read it - it read pretty good actually - too good for me I thought at the time! Then eventually I started to blog - now whatever is going on inside just pours out when I start typing! I seldom read back over what I have written now and don't really care what others think of it - writing mostly for myself, unless I am writing factual info I think people want or need.
What is your favorite genre? Can you provide a link to a site where we can read some of your work or learn something about it?
My blog http://maraegypt.blogspot.com/
What is your creative process like? What happens before sitting down to write?
If I wake up in the morning with something going round and round in my head or I find myself having an imaginary conversation with someone that goes on and on! The only way to stop it and get it out of my head is to write it down - so I do! If I sit down with the specific intention of writing for the sake of writing....nothing happens, waste of time so I don't bother!
Are you equally good at telling stories orally?
Deep down inside, who do you write for?
Myself - for the most part I hope my family don't read my stuff! Not worried about anyone else reading it. Funny thing is that in secondary school writing compositions was a nightmare for me - mine were very childish so while I was what you would call "well-read" I couldn't do honours english because I could not interpret literature and definitely would not let anyone inside my head through writing compositions! Guess I have "evolved"!
Is writing a form of personal therapy? Are internal conflicts a creative force?
yes and yes!
Does reader feed-back help you?
Only if it's positive!
Do you participate in competitions? Have you received any awards?
Do you share rough drafts of your writings with someone whose opinion you trust?
Do you believe you have already found "your voice" or is that something one is always searching for?
Yep! Found my voice! Both verbally and in writing!
Do you write on a computer? Do you print frequently? Do you correct on paper? What is your process?
Write on computer - manual writing too slow for my thoughts! Never print. Re-read mostly once only. If I am writing and it's not flowing easily I hit the "back erase" key and sit till the sentence starts properly and then it usually flows freely again. If I'm struggling it's because the words are not reflecting "me" properly.
What sites do you frequent on-line to share experiences or information?
Twitter, Facebook, Blog but hoping that google+ will be my main one - playing around with it at the moment!
What do you recommend I do with all those things I wrote years ago but have never been able to bring myself to show anyone?
Leave them be!
How did the entrepreneurial spirit rise up in you? Were you exposed to entrepreneurship in your family or your social environment when you were a child?
My grand-mother had one of the first post-offices I believe, then my parents added a shop. I think I got it mostly from books! We had a primary school library when many didn't + a fortnightly mobile library and I had a friend whom I swapped books with so both of us read about 10 books every fortnight each up to the age of 12!
Describe your business plan as briefly and simply as possible.
My business plan "go with the flow and be ready for the next opportunity - catch it while it's flying!"
Entrepreneurs have a reputation as "control freaks." How do you avoid that?
My son, Stephen taught me to let go! There's also a great book called "The 4-hour Work Week" by Timothy Ferris which Stephen had been trying to get me to read for 2 years - it works.
How do you balance work with relaxation?
What is your main motivation: being your own boss, adventure and discovery, getting rich, doing good for others, or is there something else?
All of the above!
What do you think of big corporations? Would you work for one?
No, wouldn't work for one - most of them spend too much time pushing paper around I think!
Describe two moments of maximum fear and maximum satisfaction that you have lived through in your business adventure.
Maximum Fear - the day Mara House was "finished" and ready for guests - it was fine to say - like the film "Field of Dreams" - "build it and they will come!" that had kept me going until this moment of "readiness" now there was a big void ahead of me.....how to fill it? Terrifying!
Maximum Satisfaction......December and Christmas 2008 when I was turning down bookings for both Mara House and Salahadeen Restaurant because I was full to capacity!
Are these times of crisis good for beginning a business?
Of course, the best time for anyone with nerve, time and money!
How important have PR and social media been for you?
PR not so sure unless you count in the essential personal PR with guests.
Social Media - priceless!
What skills would you advise a want-to-be-entrepreneur to acquire?
Knowing when to start and - like the song says - "you gotta know when to fold, when to walk away and when to stay!"
What business are you in and what is your position? Are you an owner or an executive?
I own and manage "Mara House" in Luxor and "Rooms in Cairo" both provide accommodation, advice, tours etc to tourists.
Can you provide a link to a site where we can get to know more about you or your business.
What is your story? How did you come to run a business?
My story......my story could fill a book but briefly as regards my current businesses in Luxor and Cairo.....I reached a day in my life when I suddenly realised my children (2) did not need me anymore, I was doing contract computer work and the current contract was ending, it was December in Ireland - cold and wet - I thought I needed a change since I probably had another 50 years or so ahead of me! Egypt seemed like a good idea. My kids thought it was a good idea! So in 3 weeks I sold my house, had Christmas with the family and moved to Egypt in January.
What happened after that was a case of "going with the flow" - an Egyptian man kept offering me a piece of land I didn't want so he kept dropping the price - when it came to 20,000 euros I thought to myself - "well, can't lose on that anyway, even if I just let it sit there!" So I bought it!
I looked at the land every now and then, started to think "I could do something with that" so I checked out the price of blocks, cement, steel etc. and thought "that's for nothing!" Got an architect to draw up some plans and started building - now to be honest I was going to build one floor but my experience in building the one floor made me realise I was no longer in Ireland and if I was not going to be living on a building site forever I would have to plough ahead and complete the whole building or at least aim for it! My experience of building in Egypt is a story in itself so I will leave it at that!
18 months later Mara House was finished, having cost me in total 60,000 euros including the cost of the land.....not bad! I was now the proud owner of 9 furnished apartments in Luxor available for rent. That was 2005
A business is based on creating relations of trust with clients, suppliers, employees... How do you create and maintain yours?
Clients - the relationship is a circle for me because 99% of my guests come from personal recommendations or on the strength of reviews written on Mara House or Rooms in Cairo. From the first email contact where I give the clients as much or as little info/advice they want until the time the arrive and leave I try to put myself in their shoes - their happy holiday is my priority - what comes out of that is good reviews online - mostly TripAdvisor, and personal recommendations to their friends/families and so the circle continues.
Suppliers - I pay them on time - that makes them happy! Unless I am debating an issue/problem with them that is!
Employees - I'm the boss - but I'm a good boss! Helpful and understanding if they have a problem. Tough on them if their work is not up to standard. My current employees I value highly, it took me a long time to find them and we respect each other.
What is “selling” for you? What is your technique? What is the greatest lesson you have learned about selling?
Greatest lesson - if I do my best for the client they recommend me and word of mouth is the best selling/marketing tool - and it's free. So how do I sell? I do the best I can everyday - by the way my best may not be satisfy everyone everyday - but it's always my best on the day, can't do anymore!
How do you generate ideas for your business? Are you used to brainstorming with someone?
I listen to my guests and sometimes I wonder why I didn't think of their suggestion/idea before. Most of the time they are not even aware they have said something that triggered an idea for me.
How does one develop the instinct to detect business opportunities?
By taking chances!
Clients do not always know what they want. How do you correctly interpret their comments and requests?
It's easy for me because my business is in Egypt and people are obviously coming to see the antiquities. I've been to all the temples and tombs so many times I know the best and I know the least interesting. When guests arrive (sometimes before they arrive we exchange lots of email from which I try to get an idea of their preferences) but when they arrive I have a quick chat with them, try to find out their particular level and area of interest. I give them all the information they need to make informed decisions and plans. I am up front in telling them what they shouldn't miss - not trying to sell a tour. I don't care if they take my tours or not - I do care that they see the best, and to be honest my tours are the best. My guides don't side-track my guests to bazaars etc. for commission.
Now and again I get guests intent on doing their own thing - that's ok with me. I don't push - I give them the info and just want them to be happy with Mara House. If they go with my guides they are usually extra happy and that's a bonus for me. Now and again I have a disaster if a guide/driver is having a bad day - then I have a bad day. I try to make up for it to my guests if I am aware of it - but this doesn't happen often.
I always ask guests, when I show them to their suite, to please be sure and tell me if we have forgotten to supply something, there is a problem, or something we haven't thought of that they need. When they do we take care of it. What I really hate is when a guest doesn't bring something to my attention but say it in a review online later!
One thing that kept coming up in reviews was location - for ages we were getting a low score on location then one day a guest asked me about the poverty in the neighbourhood and we had a long chat about it. After that I always bring up the subject with guests in our initial chat - Mara House is not in a poor neighbourhood - it is in a developing residential area where houses are going up, not falling down. Then I tell them about local customs re. ownership of front of houses, entrances etc. etc. and point to the houses of rich people in the street, explaining the difference between exterior and interior. Once guests realise it is not a poor area - just that my neighbours have different priorities the score for our location underwent a significant increase and became a non-issue.
So, listening is important.
Do you have a well defined future plan, or is it in your head rather than on paper?
I had a plan....it went out the window with the Egyptian Revolution! We have a bright, exciting future but it may be slow in becoming apparent. Egypt has always been and will always be - unique. I believe that something wonderful will evolve here - we just have to go with the flow in the meantime!
What types of promotion or advertising have you tried? Which have worked best?
Word of mouth and personal referrals resulting from good customer care is the best type of advertising anyone can get. Most of my guest come to Mara House because of the reviews on sites like TripAdvisor http://bit.ly/dTFM8r .
Other than that I have a simple website with good information (it's amateurish because I taught myself how to set it up so I can keep updating and change parts of it such as the travel tips. http://www.egyptwithmara.com and I do a personal blog. Twitter - I am finding more and more useful.
Are the words "New" and "Free" magic in your sector?
Only at the lower priced end - which doesn't apply to me!
What role does technology play in your business? Do you believe that you are where you need to be technologically speaking?
Technology - I'd be dead in the water without it! I am where I can be at the moment.
How do you make use of the Internet? Have you already tried all the possibilities that the Net can offer you?
Yep! Website, twitter, blog, facebook, linkedin! I think they are the major players - Linkedin becoming more important in bad economic times.
What is the competition like? Have you have learned things from them?
Yes, I've learned that being up front, honest, genuinely helpful and different puts me miles ahead! Egyptian way of doing business - til now anyway, maybe the revolution will change it to some degree - Egyptian way of doing business is to compete on price so to offer what appears to be the cheapest option but then to find other ways of getting the "extras" such as commission (on everything) to bring the price up to what it should have been in the first place. This leaves the customer angry, frustrated and sometimes severely out of pocket - so I don't do business this way. My clients know I don't compete on cost. I put honest price on my services - no hidden extras.
How indispensable are you? Would your business survive if took you a year’s sabbatical?
With the staff I have now - probably!
Which decisions turn out better: the immediate, visceral ones, or the ones reached after mulling the matter over for a few days?
The immediate, gut instinct ones!
If you wrote a book about everything you have learned doing business, what would the title be?
Well, as regards Egypt...."I'm Irish but the Egyptians drove me to drink!"
What is your advice for surviving the economic crisis?
I have to survive the global economic crisis, the Egyptian Revolution and the unrest in the Middle East...........my advice to myself is "try to relax, wait and don't sweat the small stuff! This too will end!"
What blogging system have you adopted and why?
Blogspot - easy to set up and easy to use.
How many visits a day do you get? What type of comments do you receive?
70 - 80 visits per day, not many comments.
How often do you post? Does regular posting of your blog require a lot of effort on your part?
Whenever I have something to say! I'm luck I seem to have a lot to say so it doesn't require any effort!
How do you promote your blog?
Twitter, Facebook and my own website
What advice would you give to someone who wishes to begin a blog?
Begin a blog if you have something to say - blogging for the sake of blogging or blogging for business - if the writer's heart isn't in it or they are not being honest and open - the reader can usually tell - those blogs eventually fail.
Did God create the world in seven days, or do you believe in the theory of evolution?
Do you believe many illnesses can be caused by the mind?
Most of them
Do you believe it is true that humans only use 10% of their brain capacity?
It's obvious! We're still killing each other in the name of God and religion!
Does brand name influence your buying habits?
Do you think tipping is a good custom?
Yes and No.
Yes, for those in countries where wages are low.
Yes, because it is a tangible form of appreciation.
Giving business gifts is just another form of tipping so tipping goes on everywhere just under different disguises.
No, because it annoys people who come from countries where "obvious" tipping is not a custom.
Do you defend animal experimentation for the development of medicine that can save human lives?
No. There is always a better, natural and more obvious way - it just doesn't pay drug companies to use them. That's why they want natural remedies banned.
What is your opinion of the rise in popularity of plastic surgery and implants?
A symptom of our lack of confidence, self-esteem and the way we have become enslaved by the advertising we are subjected to in daily doses.
Do extraterrestrials exist?
Of course they do! Can anyone today be so parochial as to think we, humans, are the only "intelligent" species in the Universe?
What is the secret to happiness?
When I find it - I'll bottle it and market it! Guess it's somewhere in all those self-help books!
What is a friend?
someone who is still there when you are finished doing your ....whatever...
someone who gives their opinion but doesn't need to beat you over the head with it!
someone you like to chill out with
someone who is there when you're in trouble
someone who gives you what you ask for (if possible) without judging if that is what you really need or not
someone who is your friend because of who you are not what you are, not what you have, not what you can do for them
true friends are scarce!
true friends are priceless!
Does the soul exist?
I sure hope so - otherwise this is all a waste of .........
Please list three important words for the world today.
Tolerance because it could bring Peace
Transparency because it could end Fear
Happiness because (genuinely) happy people have no need to make others miserable.
What is the best attitude to have for experiencing life and not missing out on its intensity?
be present in the moment - sounds simple but is not easy. Most of us are usually focused on a past moment or planning for a future one. Like taking a photograph - the photo holds the picture but the photo-taker does not experience the moment.
On your death bed, what do you think you will regret not having done more of in life?
I hope I won't regret anything because regret is a waste of time and emotion. I try never to do or say anything I might later regret, if I make a mistake or take a decision that turns out to be "wrong" I just make another decision to correct my course and move on - I don't dwell on it, no point, regret changes nothing.
Anyway I have found that if I step back from an event, action or non-event etc. and wait I can see that the "disaster" was actually a "blessing" without which something better would not have happened.
For example, my son and myself were all set about 9 months ago to take on a beautiful but dilapidated building in Downtown Cairo, refurbish it (because he is fantastic at that) and turn it into a boutique hotel. At the last minute our main co-investor pulled out. We were disappointed and let the building go but we didn't dwell on it. 9 months later - look at the sh** we would be in now had the investor not pulled out! We would have bought the building, have finished the refurbishment and be ready to open RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE OF THE EGYPTIAN REVOLUTION - we would be in deep doo-day financially with not a tourist in sight to stay in our lovely mansion! 3 months on from the ousting of the President the tourism market in Egypt is not recovering fast enough, change is coming ever so-slowly, no matter what people say - Egypt's recovery is going to be long and slow. Yes, this is the best time to be in Egypt but try telling that to people outside who are subjected on the international news to every little skirmish that happens anywhere in Egypt now!
Mara (Marie Vaughan)
Ireland & Egypt