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Ling Valentine

- Turning invoices into cash
- Invoice discounting
- Invoice factoring
- Debt factoring
- Factoring services

Many women might not feel too happy if their husband built a rocket with their wife's face on the side. But Chinese-born Ling Valentine was delighted by "superhusband" Jon's efforts.

In fact it was her idea to use the rocket to advertise their personal and business contract car hire website,

Originally the rocket, perched on top of a truck imported from Shanghai, was parked by the side of the busy A1 near Darlington.

The story of the truck, which was eventually moved on by the council, provided a rare moment of mirth when Ling appeared on the BBC2 programme Dragons' Den.

Ling, 34, who runs her website from her home in Gateshead, tried to persuade the show's five millionaires, the "dragons", to invest ¯¿½50,000 in return for a five percent share in her company.

While the panel was impressed by Ling's entrepreneurial flair they were worried about her vagueness over financial figures, particularly pre-tax profits. Peter Jones described her lack of business nous as terrifying.

Dragons too greedy

But when two dragons offered her ¯¿½50,000 in return for a 15 per cent share each Ling stunned the panel by turning them down. Her final comment that: "The Chinese eat dragons for breakfast", made her a mini hero on the internet.

Looking back at her TV appearance she says it was "good fun but the dragons were just too greedy. Beforehand I'd decided I would be prepared to give away ten per cent but suddenly I'd had enough and walked away."

But the experience wasn't all bad.

"It's made me think about the future of the company more and I do spend time reading the financial press now."

Ling's customers are mostly individuals and small businesses and she earns commission for every deal that is signed. She believes renting brand new cars holds many advantages. "It offers new technology, people like new toys and you don't have to worry about the residual value."

Although Jon's background is in cars, Ling studied chemistry at university in China before moving to Finland to take an MSc.

She spent a lot of time in internet chat rooms because "the weather wasn't enjoyable" and 'met' Jon in one devoted to China, although she still doesn't know what he was doing there. They married in Helsinki in 1997 and she considers herself 'Chinglish'.

In England she started working for the CarShock car supermarket chain which Jon helped run. She jokes that he asked her to join because she was "cheap labour" but it was here that she learnt about the contract hire business and decided to set up her own business five years ago.

Ling puts her success down to personal service, low overheads and a fully computerised system that she built herself. "I live on the internet," she says. This includes being available for a live chat with customers during office hours. Her success has won her titles such as North-East Entrepreneur of the Year and the Woman in Retail Award.

Wacky website

Her website is at the heart of the business and is bursting with competitions, strange photos and examples of Ling's irreverent humour. Visitors can apply for the same free lunch of noodles that she offered the dragons and winners of a poetry competition will receive a 'genuine red book' by Chairman Mao.

But the website has a serious side. Ling has a Master's Degree in Environmental Quality from Bournemouth University and is proud of her 'green credentials'.

She supplies detailed environmental information, such as CO2 emissions, about most vehicles on her list and also tips about how to be a 'greener motorist'. Under a photo of the American film star she adds, "Be like Minnie, Be a lovely Driver".

Ling admits that she works very hard and even takes her laptop with her on trips home to China so that she can carry on with the business. She relaxes by playing table tennis or visiting the gym.

Asked what she would do differently if she was starting up her business again she says she would take fewer holidays. These days she can't remember the last time she took a break.

Interesting links

See what Ling's business is all about at

Watch Ling in the Dragons' Den

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