Small business in the spotlight ... Katie Leamon

Katie Leamon is based in London, with a family-run production studio in Essex. Photograph: PR

Describe your business in a nutshell

Luxury cards and stationery, all handmade in England. A lot of them are also handprinted and the rest are handfinished. We do paper products - cards, stationery, gift wrap - as well as a few other things like pencils - but the main focus is the cards.

What inspired you to start the business?

One summer a few years ago my brother found this at home stamp-making kit, and over one weekend we made all our drawings into stamps.

In 2011, I made some into cards and took them to a shop in Bermondsey and then a couple of months later it was [London department store] Liberty's Open Call [pitching day]. They picked up on the cards and said how much they liked them. A month later I did the Pulse trade show [annual exhibition for gift and interior sellers] and that's where I met Selfridges and Paperchase.

How important are trade shows and how do you prepare for them?

Trade shows are absolutely essential for our business.

A week goes into how products are displayed at a trade show - the finishing touches are very important to me. For example, we always paint the walls in a show to go with all the illustrations. And then we just make it into an inviting, homely space, with lots of fresh flowers and a vintage feel. We use [props] that are similar to the look and feel of the brand, trying to get that personality across. When I first started out, I would start to plan what the next show would look like a few months in advance.

Hand address things to particular buyers to give it a really personal touch

Katie Leamon

A lot of the time when you first meet people at trade shows you have no idea what store they are from. You are pitching to them in the same way as you are pitching to Joe Bloggs.

Is 'Made in Britain' good for sales?

A lot of our stockists like the fact that it is all made in England - it is really important. I think if everything was done overseas where you don't get to see the whole production process, I wouldn't feel comfortable from a design point of view. You need to make sure that everybody involved really gets the brand.

How do you ensure your products stand out to buyers?

Address things to particular buyers to give it a really personal touch so they know they are not just being sent a selection of everything. You need to pitch personally to them.

There is so much competition, so I think it's about trying to stay ahead of the game, trying to think of that new collection and get it going quite rapidly. I have spoken to buyers at times and asked: "What can we do to make sure we are still here in a few years' time?" They say that they want to see something fresh at a show. So trying to keep ahead while staying true to your brand is important.

What are your plans for the future?

I would like to do some collaborations. I like the idea of doing a wallpaper or homeware collaboration. Also I would love to do partyware - it's really big in Australia. Things like paper plates and paper cups for high-end events like bridal shows.

What's been the hardest part of running a business?

I would say probably managing the people. I don't have a particularly business brain, I am definitely more creative-minded.

What advice would you offer to budding entrepreneurs?

You need to think about exactly what sort of brand you want to be and have a set idea of the brand identity before you start out so you can keep it really tight and really niche.

Katie Leamon is the founder of Katie Leamon

Buy-to-let: bank offers 113pc mortgages - on repossessed flats in Spain

The mortgage tracks European interbank rate "Euribor" plus 0.9pc for the first year, rising to 2.39pc plus Euribor afterwards.

By comparison, most Spanish mortgages tend to require a minimum 30pc deposit and interest rates start from 2pc above Euribor.

Unlike mainstream mortgages, these loans only apply to particular homes. Buyers can choose from a handful of Spanish apartments - all of which have been repossessed from bankrupt property developers and are now owned by the bank.

"People view it as free money," says Tim French of Iberian Properties, an estate agent and mortgage broker based in Spain. "I try not to market too many of these properties, as there are risks involved.

"Over the last five years there have been a lot more British buyers interested in these types of deals, I think mainly because sterling was weaker, and interest rates are also low."

Mr French told Telegraph Money: "The bank wants to get rid of these properties. With interest rates stuck firmly in the gutter, investors are looking elsewhere for investment opportunities. One particular strategy is the rental property market, you or if you have the funds available you buy a property and then get an income from the rent. With property holding its value nicely, it's an opportunity that offers a degree of security whilst still returning decent returns on your investment. Sadly, you need to be aware of potential problems. The following link offers answers to questions such as Does Direct Line Landlord Insurance Cover A Single Property?.It lent aggressively to developers before 2007, but when the credit crunch hit, their developments didn't sell. When their valuations dropped, these properties ended up having mortgages higher than their value."

Banco Popular, the fifth-largest Spanish bank by deposits, has set up an online property portal, Aliseda, to market the homes. The properties are also being snapped up by investment firms to market to British people interested in buy-to-let.

But commentators are sceptical that many borrowers would actually be offered such a risky loan. "In my experience, the bank will come back to applicants with 100pc instead, but it all depends," said Mr French. "We never know exact figures with these things, the banks make it up as they go along at times."

Banco Popular was not available for comment.

"I would question why 110pc mortgages are being made available," said Simon Conn, an overseas property broker.

He said: "Why has the property been repossessed? Is it because the original owner had personal cash-flow problems, or is it that the property is situated in a poor location and therefore could not attract the potential renters?"

There is little prospect that these particular properties will increase significantly in value, he added, arguing that Spanish homes remain over-supplied in many regions.

"It is unlikely there will be property growth in Spain for many years to come," said Mr Conn. "This is due to the number of properties, including those that are repossessed, which are still available."

But with a strong pound, helped by languishing property prices in Spain, surely there are bargains?

There has been a 48pc surge in interest among British buyers looking to buy in Spain, according to data compiled for Telegraph Money in January.

Andalucia, the region including Costa del Sol and Seville, is the most sought-after Spanish location among British buyers, where the average budget is

Prince Andrew's Sunninghill Park in Berkshire mansion has been left to rot and decay

12-bedroom Sunninghill Park in Berkshire, which is only around 30 years old, is now under Heathrow flight path

Dubbed SouthYork because it resembles Southfork, the ranch-house in TV's Dallas, it was sold for

Accident Claims Specialists directors jailed for fraud

March 5, 2013

by Brian Turner

Story link: Accident Claims Specialists directors jailed for fraud

Two fraudsters who made thousands of pounds from fraudulent insurance claims have been jailed.

Shakir Javid was sentenced to three years in prison at Newcastle Crown Court on Friday (1 March 2013) for masterminding the scams. His accomplice, Amjed Malik Iqbal, will serve two years and four months behind bars.

An investigation was launched after a complaint was made to police back in 2006 into claims handled by Newcastle-based company Accident Claims Specialists (ACS) and the two company directors, Javid and Iqbal.

Northumbria Police detectives, working with the Insurance Fraud Bureau (IFB), raided the business premises and homes of Javid and Iqbal in October 2010. Thousands of documents and accident claim files were seized. Officers discovered evidence of claims for fictitious accidents and inflated personal injury and credit hire claims following genuine incidents.

Ben Fletcher, Director of the Insurance Fraud Bureau (IFB), said:

"These convictions conclude several years of joint-investigation by Northumbria Police and the insurance industry. Given that many of the fraudulent claims submitted did not look overly suspicious in isolation, the fact the scam was exposed is testament to the industry's 'zero tolerance' stance towards fraud.

"As honest policyholders, we all pick up the bill for these insurance scams, with around
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