Tristram Mayhew, “Chief Gorilla” at popular forest-based leisure adventure attraction Go Ape, provides his eight top tips on how to be a successful ‘On-tree-preneur’.
1 Find a business opportunity that you enjoy
If you do something you actually love, you're more likely to be successful at it. It will be fun rather than just work and your natural passion and enthusiasm will rub off on those around you. That can make all the difference.
Starting a business is probably the single most risky financial adventure you are ever likely to make. You can minimise the risk of failure by learning from the wisdom of those who have gone before you. There is a library full of great tips and advice that, for just a few pounds, might save you tens of thousands of pounds. One book that I recommend is Guy Rigby's From Vision to Exit.
Once you have got through the start-up phase, if you want your business to really take off you need to give it some rocket fuel. I put Go Ape through Cranfield School of Management's 'Business Growth and Development Program' (BGDP). It takes four weekends over eight weeks and is only for owner-managers. It is a potent mix of practical theory and case studies, which you then apply to your own business. The 30 or so other owner-managers on the course work on your business with you, and you on theirs, their advice and experience was invaluable. The BGPD was worth every penny. It was the point when Go Ape grew up from being a good idea into a great business. Our growth and profitability took off after that.
If you know where you're going, you're more likely to get there. So come up with a plan for your business. Be bold. Go for some big, hairy goals. It needs to inspire your team and your customers, and ideally put fear into your competitors. It should set out your vision, mission and tactical plan. Once you have worked out where you want to go, ask yourself what you have to do for that to happen. This will become your 'to-do' list.
5 Delegate and empower
If you are to manage rapid growth successfully, you must bring on a great team. You can't do it all. Unless you can make yourself redundant, you won't have a business that can truly grow, nor will you have a business that you can sell. Encourage your team to take entrepreneurial risks. Don't punish them if they make mistakes, but praise them for trying. If you recruit good people, when you drop them into the deep end, most will swim rather than sink.
6 Become a strategist
One of the main lessons from Cranfield is that you have to stop being the 'Hero' (ie someone who makes all the decisions in your business), because this limits your businesses growth potential. You need to become a 'strategist' and work on the business not in it. Your job is not to do the heavy work, but to look ahead and guide your business around obstacles, coaching, encouraging and motivating your team as you go.
Running your own business can be quite lonely. Getting to know other people who are in the same boat can be a great source of encouragement and advice. There are lots of clubs and social events for entrepreneurs, so try out a few and make the most of the advice and support on offer.
8 Enter business awards
If you are aiming high and want to be the best, why not enter some business awards? Entering the National Business Awards is a great test to put your business through. The Application process makes you take a long cool look at your whole business. Whether you win or not you get feedback on how well your business scored in a number of key areas, which helps you target improvement. If you do win it's a terrific morale boost for your team, and also introduces you to a stellar network of useful contacts and leading entrepreneurs. Entrants for the 2013 National business Awards need to be submitted before 31st May.
If you have a business website with Google Analytics enabled, it can be fascinating to see how your customers and potential customers interact with you online. But that’s just a drop in the ocean in terms of competitive intelligence analysis. It can be a complex and expensive endeavour, but if you’re running a start-up and need comprehensive but free tools, here are a few that can provide excellent analytics if you’re willing to put in the time to learn how to use them.
You don’t have to pay to view Companies House accounts if you can download them already for free online. In terms of company financials, Duedil (short for due diligence) is an excellent tool that provides free business intelligence such as insight into competitors, suppliers, investors, even clients – but you can also benchmark a business’s performance and growth over time, build sales leads and integrate social networks such as LinkedIn.
Google Analytics, Google Trends for Websites and Google Insights for Search are all good sources to use because they’re integrated with the most popular search engine in the world. But it’s a good idea to go beyond Google and mine your data to get deep insight into your website’s analytics. Comparing data sets can help you avoid sample biases that come about from opt-in panels or toolbars so that you can get a more accurate picture of how your audience is behaving in response to your marketing efforts. For example, have a look at free SEOmoz tools at SEOBook.
Every day search engines are learning more and more about how people categorise and search for information, it’s an ongoing process. A big part of it in recent years is social media, whose busy signals search engines now indirectly recognise and attribute authority to. In other words, it’s important to use and understand social media to reach your audience – and watch and learn from competitors too! Have a look at FeedCompare, HootSuite, SocialMention and Google Alerts to analyse how your social media are faring.
Competitive intelligence doesn’t need to be expensive and complicated, and if you’re willing to work at it, you can get valuable insight on your partners, suppliers, clients and customers and get a step ahead in your business.
Helen Major has been writing finance-related blogs and newspaper articles since graduating from the University of Edinburgh in 2007. She is currently writing on behalf of Duedil.
Some of us have always dreamt of having our own business, but not all of us go through with it. For those who do, it can be a real labour of love.
Bed and breakfasts (B&Bs) have been around for many years and they’re a great alternative to hotels and hostels. Not only can they be cheaper, but they are designed to be homely for all who sleep there. Running one takes a lot of time and patience, and many things must be considered for the small business owner.
First off, you need to be aware of your target market, because this can greatly affect your success. You need to be able to stand out from the crowd and be able to offer facilities and services best suited to the type of clientele you wish to attract.
Next there is the building itself and there are a few options open to you. You can buy an existing business and put your personal stamp on it; renovate a building for use as a B&B; or build entirely new premises. There are pros and cons to each and it all depends on what you want and need from it. If you have a smaller budget you may want to consider purchasing a pre-existing business, so you don’t have to worry about any initial renovation or building costs. Also, you would be able to open up for business sooner.
To make sure that everything is above board it would be wise to seek the advice of the local planning authority. There are also certificates to sort out, including a certified kitchen, a check from a health and safety inspector and a visit from the environmental health agency. If your business does not comply with their standards for whatever reason, you will not be able to run the business until it is sorted and checked again.
Research. Need I say more? It never hurts to look around at other B&Bs nearby to see how they are run and whether they are popular. You might just learn something valuable from the competition. You also need to do your research on things like running costs, rules and regulations, the local demographic and much more.
The short answer is, do it. The longer answer is…
When I set up new business development agency Retriever I set it up as a lifestyle business. I could look after a few clients, earn great money and do it all in probably only three days a week. I thought I’d found the Holy Grail and from that point on, life was going to be a breeze.
Skip forward six years, and I was still on my own but looking after 12 clients and it was killing me. I got ill, thought about the future and realised I couldn’t do it on my own if I wanted to make good money and survive.
Today I have a team of 20 and the journey over the past four years has been thrilling, but incredibly hard work too.
So back to basics…
There are so many questions when it comes to setting up your own business, but surely the most important thing is to understand your market and where you fit in.
I’ve met many people who have had great ideas and sailed headlong into a business, getting investment, spending money on marketing and all to no avail. Why? Because they simply hadn’t done enough research into who their customers would be.
It sounds so obvious, right? But selling is always going to be the lifeblood of your business and to me it seems foolhardy not to know that there is a market waiting for your product or service before you spend a single hour or penny on your business.
I don’t believe you need to worry too much about being different or searching for a USP, you just need to make sure that your product or service is of a very high quality and that you can deliver to your customers time after time.
Service is a critical feature, too. For my business it’s quality of service that has enabled us to grow the business. You want to be known for:
If you’re going to recruit a team of people, you need to be really honest with yourself about what skills you’re looking for and have the ability to employ the right people. I built my team quite quickly and one thing I underestimated was how long it takes a team to gel and work really well together.
So, with a strong idea, bags of determination and ability, the right people to support you and some guts, you’ll do well. Just accept that there will be highs and lows – and you must be ready for both. Oh, and one last thing. Cashflow, cashflow, cashflow!
By Mark Young of Retriever
As an optician I had a well-respected and secure job that paid the bills and gave me a very comfortable lifestyle, but it never quite gave me the fulfilment I was looking for.
I always wanted to run my own business and considered starting my own practice, but I didn’t think it was something I was passionate enough about to make a success of it. I had always been interested in technology and so it seemed fairly logical to do something online.
Both my business partner (a medical doctor) and I realised that there was a bit of an untapped market in the comparison website niche, because there was nothing offering anything related to health. This, in effect, was where the idea for TreatmentSaver.com was born, a website that allows people to book appointments online for laser eye surgery, cosmetic surgery and dental clinics.
Coming up with the idea for our online business was the easiest bit; taking the plunge to leave my job was always going to be trickier. I’m married and have a young daughter and trying to explain to my wife that I wanted to leave my perfectly good job was met with raised eyebrows, to say the least! My parents just couldn’t understand why I would spend all that time at university only to ‘throw my career away'. I explained to them that I would always have my career to fall back on should things not go as planned.
For me, the financial aspect was always the most difficult mountain to climb, because it’s hard to justify working long hours when you aren’t even getting paid for it. Initially, I worked two days per week as an optician, which gave me enough money to survive and this compromise worked well.
When we started our online business, my business partner and I each invested £25,000, which seemed like a heck of a lot of money at the time. As is probably true with many start-ups, a lot of the money ended up being wasted, as we figured out the best way to do things. We outsourced our web development and this was the single biggest drain on our finances. The first two companies promised the world, but were unable to deliver what we wanted, so we had to pull the plug on their work. This resulted in both a loss of time and money. It was at times like this that I felt like packing it in and returning back to my nine-five job, but with every failed website, we learnt a number of lessons about how better to assess potential web developers and understanding the mechanics of building a site.
It took about eight months to finally launch our website, which is a long time. Looking back, we realise we over-complicated things. We wanted an endless supply of cool features, but in reality we could have launched far sooner with a much simpler site.
The past 14 months has been about growing our traffic and signing up clinics, and we have now got to the point where we can pay ourselves a decent salary. The early days are definitely the toughest and having a strong family behind you is extremely important. I could not have done this without the support of my wife, so in that sense it was very much a joint decision. Hopefully, I can repay her support one day.
The Start-Up Loans Company, part of the government’s solution to help kick-start enterprise in England and create more jobs for 18-30 year olds, is being championed by tech whizz kid and serial entrepreneur Josh Buckley (@joshbuckley), CEO of gaming giant MinoMonsters. Although born and raised in Kent, in 2010 Josh moved to Silicon Valley to start up MinoMonsters, aged just 18.
Now a web veteran at the tender age of just 21, Josh already has a decade’s wealth of experience behind him, and now he is looking to help other young people like him realise their potential by becoming their own boss.
Josh started freelance coding at the age of 11 after his family bought a computer. He sold his company first company, Menewsha, a virtual world, for a six-figure sum at the age of 15. Josh then went on to create the global kids phenomenon MinoMonsters in 2011. This gaming venture has been called “the next Disney” by many commentators. Buckley raised $2m for the company at the age of 19 from leading venture capital firms.
Leading entrepreneur, former Dragon and Start-Up Loans Company chairman James Caan is hugely impressed by Josh’s business journey and believes it will inspire other young would-be entrepreneurs across many sectors. And with more than £100m to give to young people across England, such aspirations can find the financial backing it needs.
Caan believes that Josh’s story shows that business success is achievable for people of all ages, providing you have a good idea and the passion to make it work. He is delighted to have Josh’s support to help inspire young entrepreneurs in England.
The Start-Up Loans Company has already backed numerous tech enterprises, including a wide range of app developers. Now is a fantastic time to turn your passion into a business. With the help of Josh Buckley and James Caan, The Start-Up Loans Company is in an even stronger position to help young aspiring entrepreneurs to achieve their dreams. Apply today at www.startuploans.co.uk.
As an online retailer, how do you know how your product is going to sell in the 'offline' market?
With 60% of new businesses now started at home, this is a question being asked more and more frequently. PopUp Britain reckons it has an answer.
The private sector funded scheme offers start-ups a chance to put their products to the test on the high street. The campaign’s first shop, a former estate agent premises in Richmond, Surrey, which had been standing empty for a year, played host to more than 60 start-ups in its first five months.
The not-for-profit campaign intends to make use of the growing number of empty shops on the high street in order to encourage small start-ups to grow by providing an affordable opportunity to test the waters with a 'real' shop.
The scheme’s latest project is based on the iconic King’s Road. The shop is a former electronics showroom which has been empty for three months. It has the capacity to house twelve start-ups at a time, and each will pay £240 for a two week stint to cover costs.
The latest shop, which opens on 9th May, is designed give fledgling businesses from around the country a low cost opportunity to test their products in an area that has famously played a key role in supporting independent British brands for decades.
As retail start-ups begin to realise that in order to build a solid brand they need to be in bricks and mortar, interacting with their customers face-to-face, PopUp Britain could provide just the opportunity they need. It neatly helps them keep all the advantages of online retailers like Amazon, whilst having a low cost route to the high street.
If you think you fit the bill, it’s free to apply: www.popupbritain.com/apply
Ten years ago it was all about importing from China, but today businesses talk about China's market potential. However, few exporting start-ups know anything about how to get started, the various potential pitfalls or how to pitch a product for the demanding Chinese market.
You can forget about this even if you manufacture your products in China. Lower taxes, lower rent and Chinese businesses’ ability to “game the system” makes price competition a no-go for exporters. The good news is that Chinese consumers are ready to pay for quality – foreign quality in particular. Made in the UK is a quality mark and something that local suppliers cannot replicate. The only thing that really makes sense for exporting start-ups is to compete on quality instead of low prices.
You don’t need to set up a business in China to reach its market. Exporting directly from the UK is good enough for most start-ups. However, to get market exposure you will benefit greatly from having a local partner with an established logistics network and relationships with purchasing managers in the country. Relationships matter in China, they are generally considered to be more important than the product itself.
Chinese distributors can be found online or by visiting one of the various trade shows in Shanghai, Guangzhou and Hong Kong. When you have found a suitable distributor, it’s critical to sign a distribution agreement. Getting paid is not as simple as it might sound. There are commission-based distribution agreements, where the exporter gets paid based on monthly or quarterly sales. However, sales volumes are hard to verify and taking your distributor to a Chinese court is often too expensive and time-consuming for a start-up. The best option is simply to get paid upfront by the distributor and not settle for any complex commission-based agreement.
A local office and manufacturing in China, for China, makes sense when you’ve reached a high export volume. However, many exporters assume that the Chinese government requires foreign businesses to team up with a local partner to gain market access. This was true in the past, but many things have happened since then. Since 2004, foreigners can operate in China as Wholly Foreign Invested Enterprises (WFOE). Apart from a few industries, the market is free for all and no local partner is required.
Filing your trademark in China makes sense more than anywhere else in the world. It’s not uncommon that third parties file trademarks to block foreign companies from entering the market and then offering to “sell it back” for a hefty price. Your product should also have a Chinese name, thus a Chinese name trademark is also necessary.
Fredrik Groenkvist is founder of Chinaimportal, a membership service for start-ups and small businesses sourcing products in Asia.
One of the most important things to consider when setting up your new business, whether it’s accountancy or building, is health and safety. But don’t worry – it doesn’t have to be complex, just be sure to seek professional advice if ever you are unsure about your responsibilities.
Legally you are obliged to decide exactly who will be responsible for health and safety in your business. Many bigger companies delegate this to an external consultant so that they can concentrate on other things, but new business owners usually accept this task themselves. You must ensure that you or your appointed person is competent to take charge of your health and safety.
As a start up you are unlikely to need a written health and safety policy (it’s only required if you have five or more employees), but it wouldn’t hurt to have a written record of the risks you have identified and how they will be handled. No matter what type of business you run, your health and safety policy should describe how you will:
Every type of business will present a different set of risks and hazards that could affect its employees, visitors, customers and even those just passing by! For example, a member of the public passing by a window cleaner could be at risk from falling objects if the window cleaner hasn’t properly considered the risk and taken steps to reduce the likelihood of it occurring.
Of course, no one expects you to completely eradicate all risks and hazards. Many of them will be part and parcel of your new business – hazardous tools and electrical equipment are used in every trade and industry, from gardening to hairdressing and construction. But you must be aware of the risks they present and take reasonably practical steps to protect anyone to whom they could present a risk.
As a new micro business, you’re unlikely to need to delegate the management of your health and safety to others, but if you don’t have the required knowledge or experience to handle it – seek training with a professional and reputable organisation. The additional cost may seem unnecessary – but it will ensure that you fulfil your legal obligations and help keep you, your employees and your customers safe.
This post was written on behalf of Health & Safety Training Ltd
We all have exactly the same number of hours in a day, so why do some people seem to have enough time to do everything they want to do and others never seem to have enough?
If you want to be more successful, you need to use your time in a way that brings you the success you want. To do this you need to understand how you use your time and what it is worth.
A few years ago I sat down and worked out what my time was worth and how I wanted to spend it, and for the past two years my annual income has doubled. Here are my tips:
Start by looking at how you spend your time - the balance between business activities and the rest of your life. I suggest you go through your diary and colour-code the time as follows:
Notice how many weekends and evenings you are using for business meetings and events. Ask yourself if you are happy with this and if it’s bringing you the benefit you want. If so – great. If not – don’t do it anymore.
Next, understand how your daily activities contribute to your overall business (and life) goals. For example, if you want to double your turnover, you need to work out what your time is worth in financial terms. Here is how:
As soon as I doubled my income generation hours (green) and reduced the other hours, my turnover doubled. Last year it doubled again.
Here are some tips to help you focus:
Time and money are our two greatest assets. If we use them well we can create the life, business and lifestyle that we choose. It is our personal experience of time that matters. Are you happy with how you spend your time? If not then I suggest you review how you currently use your time. Work out what your time is worth – do the maths. Think about what is the best use of your time if you are to meet your goals.
In just 20 months, Vicki Wusche made the transition from single mother on limited income to being financially independent and having a property portfolio worth £2m. She runs a successful business that sources property for other investors, teaches people how to invest in property and has written many popular books on the subject.
Trade shows and conferences can be some of the most effective ways of drumming up business. Whether you’re there to meet potential affiliates, clients, employees or other businesses, you will want your exhibition stand to look as slick and professional as possible – so here are five tips for improving your chances at making a big impact:
A way of grabbing the attention of passers by, these posters make a statement and can help you to stand out from the crowd, literally, since they will be visible above heads. Two or three such posters can cover different aspects of your business or address different potential audiences. Plus, they are easy to store and transport because they are collapsible into a small space.
If you have a stand with a back or side walls, this is prime space for branding. You may choose a simple logo to draw focus to your brand; you might want specifically designed posters to communicate your products, message or ethos. Find out the dimensions of your booth so that you are not either left short or struggling to fit everything in.
A good supply of high quality business cards will be essential while networking at a conference. Ensure that they are up-to-date with all details and appropriately branded. Be sure all delegates carry a wad wherever they go – especially to talks and social events.
For a more comprehensive overview of your business and products, you might want to opt for a brochure that potential associates can take away with them. Try an unusual design or format to make it memorable and interesting.
One of the best ways to draw attention to your brand is exciting branded giveaways. A good giveaway should be memorable, useful, interesting and clearly branded. USB sticks, notepads, business card holders, phone covers can all be branded and used. Another avenue to try is a fun game or a good novelty item.
You never know what the tables provided at conferences will look like – they might be quite old and run down, so you will want to make sure you have a good quality cloth to cover up any old scratches and stains. It’s also a good opportunity to continue your branding – you might choose an on-brand colour or get your logo printed directly onto the cloth.
This guest post was provided by Nexus Design and Print.