Every Monday, we ask small businesses key questions. Here we speak to Colin Cass who, together with his wife, Tracey, owns and runs Mindsparx Black Belt Academy in Aberdeen.
How and why did you start the business?
My wife and I worked in completely different sectors and hardly got to spend any time together. Tracey worked in oil and gas and I was a nurse in a local intensive care unit, which was a really high-pressure role.
My job always took precedence over a lot of family and social events, and we knew things had to change. We wanted to combine our skills to improve our lives together and, if we could, improve the lives of those in our community.
Prior to nursing I was a martial arts instructor, and Tracey has extensive Childline counsellor training. We realised that combining our past training and experience into a new business would be the perfect fit for what we wanted to achieve.
The result was the launch of Mindsparx Black Belt Academy, in Aberdeen, in 2019.
How did you get to where you are today?
Having a martial arts mindset has really helped, because self-discipline was very important when we were starting out with the new business. Consistency has been important too, as we wanted to do everything to a very high standard. We also needed a lot of patience.
Who helped you?
We formed many great partnerships within the martial arts industry, such as those with Nest Management and the British Combat Karate Association. We also had some guidance and support from a local martial arts group who kept us right at the start of our journey.
We’ve since developed many other relationships, firstly with Aberdeen City and Shire Business Gateway and more recently with the Federation of Small Businesses. Both have been invaluable to our recent success.
What’s the best piece of advice you have ever heard?
“When the pressure is on, you don’t rise to the occasion – you fall to your highest level of preparation” – Chris Voss (US businessman, author and academic).
What is your biggest mistake?
We made many mistakes in the beginning, with us both being brand new entrepreneurs. We adapted quickly, pivoted when we had to and learned from each mistake. Failing now is not to be feared – it’s part of our plan. We just change things until we find a great approach.
What’s your greatest achievement?
Sitting back right now and looking at our journey, we can see the positive impact our Mindsparx Black Belt Academy has had on many local lives here in Aberdeen. Equally, we’ve met people who have made a huge impact on us. If we hadn’t started this adventure together, we would never have had the opportunity to make this difference or meet these people.
How are you managing rapidly rising costs and how could the government help?
Costings are always on our minds – it’s like constantly treading water. We adapt quickly and try different methods to save where we can. There is a real lack of government support for small businesses, especially within our sector. It feels like we’re simply not big enough to matter, yet we continue to strive regardless.
What do you still hope to achieve?
We have so much more to offer our community. In 2024, we want to expand our brand and branch out to other sites in the city, making our classes more attainable for everyone. We also plan to launch our second company, Northwind Healthcare, in the first quarter of the new year.
What do you do to relax?
As small business owners know, relaxing is a real luxury, But we do try to grab a date day/night when the opportunity arises. We love walks along the beach, reading and a little self-care in the spa.
What are you currently reading, listening to or glued to on TV?
I’ve just finished a book called Never Split the Difference’ by Chris Voss. I highly recommend it for anyone wanting to improve their business deals, or even just to have better communication with those around you.
What do you waste your money on?
We try not to waste money as such. It gives us a sense of fulfillment if we invest any spare cash back into the business to ensure our students get the best experience all year round.
What’s the first thing you do when you get up in the morning?
Every morning we have a set ritual for success. First, we play a motivational video in the background as we plan out our day. Then we complete as many small tasks as possible so we can focus on the big ones later. This sets us up for a great day ahead.
What do you drive and dream of driving?
We have a Skoda Fabia, easy for negotiating the city. We would love a pick-up truck sometime in the near future.