In a global economy, no industry stands alone. Each one is tied together through a network of energies, influences and economies, no matter what or where they are. Today, even wildly different industries aren’t quite as far removed as people might think.
This interconnection of markets and industries can create complementary strategies and synergies across business sectors, even if people don’t see them at first glance. That’s why expanding your business into another industry — especially one that seems distant from the one you’re in now — can create unexpected combinations that result in new, untapped potential.
The world might seem big, but it’s getting smaller every day thanks to the rapid exchange of knowledge and information. And that means that you can master the intricacies and obscurities of any industry on the globe faster than ever before — even if it’s one that you’ve never touched before.
Even so, when you’re preparing to forge into a completely new industry, it might feel like you’re trekking into unknown territory without a map. Remember the multitude of things you already do know: how to market effectively, strategically deliver goods or ensure top-level service. When we started a brewing company, we had no idea how to actually make beer, but we did know how to market and sell it. We knew we could make a profit because of our work with challenger brands. Applying your knowledge and business experience to a new industry can allow you to see things differently than your competitors do.
You’re not alone in this strategy, either. Larger companies are always on the prowl for acquisitions, mergers, and expansion opportunities. (That’s why Microsoft moved into electronics and game consoles and why IBM expanded from software, hardware, and personal computers into consulting.) But for a small business without big resources, it’s a little tougher. Start simple: Watch market trends in an industry that you’re interested in. Then, if it’s the right time and the right opportunity, seize it.
So, when is the right time to begin your journey? Simply put: If you’re trying to eliminate risk entirely, there’s no such thing as a “right” time. But there are several precautions you can take before leaping into a foreign market. Here are a few:
There’s another important factor to consider, too. If you’re expanding into a market that’s new to you, choose one that you’re passionate about. You’ll be devoting a large amount of time and energy into this new venture, and expanding into a new industry is an even bigger risk if you’re doing it half-heartedly. Make sure it’s something you love — and something that complements your current employees’ interests and talents, too.
Now that you’ve got two businesses working in tandem, you can begin to see how they influence each other and make each other stronger. Part of this flow of energy and power begins with your employees: Start by using the talent in both your businesses to help each other. This way, you can maximize your talent pool and resources and give your employees a chance at fresh, new work for an exciting project.
You’ll also begin to see your leadership team growing stronger, too. Why? Working in two industries at once makes it easy to see connections between trends and best practices in every company.
Running two businesses doesn’t mean that you have to personally take on every facet of responsibility. It’s smart to have an overarching management team for both ventures, but it’s also smart to have separate leadership for each business. Having someone to lead day-to-day operations and guide future growth ensures you won’t overlook that industry’s individual nuances and quirks.
Making your mark on a new, fast-growing industry can infuse new life into your business, but you have to make sure that you, your leadership team and your employees are all fully devoted to your new endeavor. Often, you’ll find that an insightful approach and a fresh perspective is the secret to success — and the secret to building synergy between two businesses that might not be so different after all.
Ideas are in abundance. We all know people with passion, vision, ambition and a real desire to make a difference with their new ventures.
It’s been an honour for everyone involved in my organisation, Entrepreneurial Spark, to assist more than 300 start-ups, to help them realise their goals and turn some of these ideas into business. However, in this time we have also seen some stumble and their ideas dissolve away. Lack of effective execution is the number one reason for this, in our experience.
So what are the Top 20 business founders' fundamentals to enable successful transition from idea to business?
Recently I had the pleasure of meeting David Grevemberg, CEO of Glasgow 2014 [next year’s Commonwealth Games]. He has a deadline that cannot slip. He can’t shift the whole schedule a couple of days because of unforeseen circumstances or because “it’s not perfect yet”. He must execute with precision and his team are totally aligned to this goal. If we want success and a legacy, we must behave the same way.
Blog supplied by Brian McGuire, co-founder of Espark.
Think of all the prints the average start-up produces... Flyers to advertise, letterheads, invoices, signs, the list goes on. You may think nothing of it when you phone up your local printer and order hundreds of letterheads, but in reality, it’s another big cost that you could cut.
If you have a printer, why not print it yourself? Most people would never consider purchasing a laser jet printer, but the truth is good mono laser jets are now available from about £70, with full colour versions starting at slightly more than the £100 mark.
With a great range of compatible cartridges available, there’s no need to over-spend on consumables either. Very quickly you can have a great quality setup for small money – and start looking at how to produce the collateral without breaking the bank…
You’ve got the hardware, you just need the designs and you’re ready to print. Maybe you already have the designs from a previous batch? If so, the job will be pretty straightforward. If not, then here are a few tips to get you started
If you know somebody, friend or family member, who’s good with design, ask them to do you a favour or at least a ‘mate’s rate’ discount. They should be willing to knock off a few pounds.
You may discover secret talents or previous experience among your employees, so as long as you’re not sacrificing other workloads, ask those you work with whether they have any design experience or ability.
Why not have a play around with some designs yourself? These days, internet forums and tutorials can teach you the basics in almost anything. Remember, there’s always time for re-design later, so just go for it and enjoy the experience!
As soon as you take this approach to costs, you will soon find yourself saving much more than you thought. But not only that, you’ll find yourself making smarter business decisions – looking for the cost-effective, easily attainable quality solutions.
Blog by Gary Flynn, managing director of TonerGiant.co.uk, supplier of toner cartridges and ink cartridges.
I once heard Sir Bob Geldof telling a conference that “you can’t do it all, but you can do your best’, and it inspired me to create my own corporate social responsibility (CSR) strategy for my business.
There’s never enough time or money to do everything you want to do, but you should not use that as an excuse for not doing anything at all. If money is tight, businesses can donate their time and core services to their chosen charities.
Your expertise might lie in accounting, baking or magic tricks – it doesn’t matter. Someone somewhere will appreciate your skills and this will be the most effective contribution you can make.
We adopted Friends for Leisure as our corporate charity in 2008, it’s a voluntary organisation in Cheshire that helps children and young people with disabilities, and they do great work. We provide them with all of their outsourced IT solutions, as well as organising regular fundraising initiatives.
It’s not only your services that will benefit your charity. Inevitably, corporate sponsorship of non-profit organisations raises PR opportunities and the profile of the charity rises (as well as that of your business).
Although I identified the cause I wanted my business to support, there would be no way I could pursue anything without my team’s support. By getting ‘buy-in’ from my staff I not only ensured that we could achieve a meaningful charity programme, but also that we created greater team spirit and camaraderie within the business.
Most charity events have PR value for business that are involved with them and many find that their clients/customers love to get involved too. Choose events that not only benefit the cause, but also your clients/customers, staff and other people to whom you wish to connect.
Motivating staff can be difficult at the best of times, but those who get involved with giving will also be more willing to give more to their day job and you’ll find that they buy into the ethos and culture of the business.
Blog supplied by Gary David Smith, co-founder of Prism Total IT Solutions, provider of Cloud and managed IT services to UK SMEs (and the Friends For Leisure charity).
So you’ve decided to set up your own business. Once the initial jubilation and feeling of liberation passes, trepidation creeps in, as you begin to question whether you’ve made the right decision and where on earth do you even start?
Being fairly new to the market ourselves, we were in that exact position just over a year ago and know how baffling even building a to-do list can be. If you’ve never done it before, how can you possibly know everything that needs to go on the list?
Surprisingly, one of the big ‘must-haves’ for any person starting out on their own is actually missing from most to-do lists – insurance. Simon Durkin, a senior associate at law firm DWF Fishburns, spoke to us about some of the cases he’d worked on when new entrepreneurs have ended up in difficulties, because they hadn’t quite realised the risks involved in being their own boss.
A number of the claims he’d handled recently were against “mumpreneurs” who had (accidentally) sent USB sticks infected with viruses to clients. This resulted in damage to one client’s computers and put sensitive data about their customers at risk.
if you don’t have the necessary insurance, this kind of incident – which can easily result in legal action - could be enough to stop your new business dead in its tracks.
Whatever your start-up is, you need to make sure you thoroughly research what insurance is needed. With an increase in the number of new businesses started in the UK in 2012 – reaching more than 500,000 – and with about 230,000 businesses across the UK having no insurance cover in place (according to research published by insurance broker LV=), too many start-ups are vulnerable to liability claims, hefty fines and even prosecution – all of which seriously scupper growth.
The best place to start is to take a deep breath and familiarise yourself with the different types of insurance available to business – and the insurance industry’s jargon. Read about professional indemnity insurance (which protects you in the event of professional negligence claims), public liability insurance (which helps if a member of the public is hurt as a result of your business activities), and employers liability insurance (which you must have if you employ people, including contract workers, apprentices and even volunteers).
Once you’ve got your head around those, move onto the business insurance policies that protect you from unlikely but catastrophic events - business interruption Insurance, and key man insurance.
It’s a notoriously complex area, so if you’re still unsure, talking to an insurance broker who specialises in arranging insurance cover for businesses will help. It’s easy to find brokers on the internet and even get a quote tailored to your business needs online – but if you can get a recommendation from someone in your network, so much the better.
Finally, if you’re a member of a professional association, it’s also worth looking into what support they provide. Often they have considered the needs of their members and put a package in place.
Blog supplied by Steven Mendel, CEO and co-founder of Bought By Many, the company that “helps people club together to get a better deal on their insurance”.
When starting a business we're faced with difficult questions and difficult decisions. The importance of asking the right questions cannot be overlooked.
You’re probably not familiar with the term “intuitive heuristics”. It means that when faced with a difficult question, we often ask ourselves an easier one instead and then satisfy ourselves that this is the answer we were looking for. Read Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman if you want to find out more. He cites the example of a stockbroker investing millions in a car company. Instead of asking "Is the stock currently underpriced?" he asks "Do I like the cars?" It's the easier question – but the wrong question.
If the answer to a question requires a difficult, skilled, time-intensive or scientific solution, we often ask ourselves an easier question that avoids any of the above, without noticing. We do it every day.
If we've learned anything from Nobel Prize winner Kahneman, it's that intuition doesn't really exist. It comes with experience. The footballer who can read a game and make impressive decisions quickly does not have an innate gift. He didn't know where on the pitch to stand when he was eight years old and has countless examples of mistimed tackles throughout his career. His understanding of how to react or statistically predict what will happen in a match comes from years of practice, effort and coaching. Any gut feelings you have come from your industry and life experience. Consider it, but don't blindly follow it. Collaborate with other people and learn.
An instinctive reaction to anything is "do I like it?" We know what we like and make a snap judgement accordingly, from our brand name and logo to how our website looks and feels. But if you want to sell more, it doesn't matter what you like, it matters what your customers like.
Consider customer behaviour, industry best practice and using data available on your existing customers to understand what they like, so you can give them more. What would you prefer, a product you like or a product 100 of your customers like?
Don't stop at asking what you're customers like. Ask what your potential customers will like. If you sell pies, you're not just in the pie industry, you're part of the pastry industry, the catering industry, the lifestyle industry. In 1919 a man called Jack Cohen decided to sell more than just syrup and fish paste. He started selling tea and laid the foundations for what we now know as Tesco.
There's always a danger of trying to do too much too soon, but be aware that industries, technologies and customer trends are changing all the time. Don't get left behind.
Blog supplied by Jonny Cameron of merchant service provider Retail Merchant Services
If you’re setting up a new business, you will have a lot on your plate and certain things will naturally fall down your list of priorities simply because there isn’t enough time to do everything. It’s easy to consider your social media strategy non-essential, but actually, in this day and age, it can and perhaps should be a central aspect of your business.
It doesn’t much matter whether your business centres on selling to other firms or the general public, because social media can be vital in both spheres. It just needs to be approached in a different way.
A 2012 study carried out by Business Network International (BNI) found that about three-quarters of business owners had been put off dealing with another business as a result of their use of social media. You might therefore think that the solution is to avoid it altogether, but that would be spurning opportunity through fear, which isn’t really what starting a business is all about.
BNI national director, Charlie Lawson, outlined some common problems seen in small firms’ social media output: “There are businesses that have the various social media profiles and accounts, yet no content; others that bombard with promotional messages; and a large proportion that don’t engage at all. These three strands are a combination of why SMEs are failing in their social media usage.”
You can see that while aggressive social media marketing tactics are considered a major problem, the other two criticisms in fact revolve around lack of social media engagement.
The key with social media is that it is about building relationships. This is why a solely sales-focused approach will prove unproductive. You need to interact with people and provide something of value, otherwise they will have no reason to pay attention to anything you say.
If you are primarily dealing with other businesses, it is probably best to focus your efforts on sites such as LinkedIn, which are geared towards professional networking. It’s not that Twitter and Facebook will necessarily prove unproductive for you. It is more that you are likely to get a better return on your time investment with something more business-oriented.
Conversely, LinkedIn will be of less relevance if your main aim is to build your profile with the public. Using social media is about working out where your target market spends time online and then communicating with them there. As such, Twitter and Facebook are likely to be far better promotional outlets if you are primarily selling to the general public.
However, this is not the only way to speak to people. As mentioned previously, a successful social media strategy centres on building relationships and this means providing something of value. If you are providing a service of some kind, it is advisable to try and showcase your expertise.
Nothing builds your profile more quickly and effectively than coming to be considered an authority. Providing free advice online doesn’t mean undermining the need for your own business, it means building trust and raising your profile. You can provide advice via a blog or another very effective approach is to upload videos to YouTube dealing with common problems related to your industry. This is a particularly good option if your writing isn’t good enough or you feel you would come across well on camera.
Social media is not a faddy add-on to conventional approaches to building a business. It can sit right at the heart of your overall strategy and allow greater returns for the same amount of effort. The key is to actively engage with people to build genuine relationships. This has always been central to successful business and will remain so, even if the methodology has changed.
Blog supplied by Lee Jones of Sedulo, a Manchester-based firm of chartered accountants
Visit the Marketing Donut for a wealth of practical advice about using social media for business.
A new report by “workforce management and SME support specialist” Optionis, based on a survey of more than 500 small-business owners, contractors and freelancers, suggests that only one-in-five small firms has received help and advice from their bank, with only one-in-ten regularly receiving “useful information about relevant products and services”.
When it comes to supporting growth, the research also found that respondents viewed receiving high quality advice from their bank as more important than finance, which is commonly held up as the area where banks fail to support UK SMEs. Indeed, high quality advice came second only to online banking in respondents’ list of banking priorities.
The research was carried out as part of Optionis’ Get on and Grow report, which set out to shed light on how banks could help support growth among the nation’s small firms. “Banks need to raise their game when it comes to supporting growth among emerging entrepreneurs and small and medium-sized businesses,” said Optionis managing director Derek Kelly.
He continued: “Emerging entrepreneurs and small business owners seem to be having an increasingly remote relationship with their bank. This is perhaps unsurprising, given the popularity of online banking. However, banks need to work harder to find ways to offer advice and support to [small business] customers, particularly on issues such as cashflow that are crucial to businesses survival.”
Respondents to the Optionis survey rated the current service they receive from their bank at a disappointing average of 4.6 out of 10. Bank charges were also criticised, with “fair charges” named as the third-highest priority for businesses, yet the current perception of fairness was a meagre 4.8 out of 10.
According to Optionis, the Get on and Grow report “tracks important indicators of growth relating to small enterprises in the UK. It tracks more than “7,000 freelancers, contractors and small businesses each month, looking at financial growth, entrepreneurial mobility, regional trends and gender variations”. The full report can be read here.
In July, the Bank of England announced that lending to small businesses in the UK had increased by £238m between May and June – the biggest monthly rise since statistics were first produced in 2011. The increase meant that UK SMEs borrowed £170.4bn in the year to June, however, compared with the previous year, lending had fallen by 3.3%. According to the BBC, UK businesses were borrowing “3.7% less than a year ago, and 1.3% less than in June.
In response, a spokesman for the BBA (“the voice of banking & financial services”) said: “In the current economic climate many businesses are building up their cash reserves and using this to fund activity rather than take on additional borrowing. Our own figures for small and medium-sized businesses show some £125.9bn is currently held in current and deposit accounts.
“Banks are currently offering some of the lowest interest rates in history and there should be no doubt that now is a good time for businesses to go and see their bank if they want to borrow. If you run a business with a good business plan and want funding, our message is apply to your bank.”
As the financial crisis of 2008 fades into the past, UK entrepreneurs are picking themselves up and dusting themselves off in increasing numbers. Against the odds, there were nearly 500,000 new businesses launched in 2012 and figures for 2013 are looking even better. So far, upwards of 350,000 start-ups have launched — a signal that we’re moving out of the winter of financial disaster and into a spring of new opportunity.
With this surge in entrepreneurship, naturally some small-business owners will succeed while others fail. The question, then, is how can you develop a business model that is poised for both stability and growth?
While many start-ups launch as one-man/woman-band businesses, consider bringing in family members, co-management, employees, accountants and other sources of help and support. While you may be highly skilled in your field, it can be difficult to handle all aspects of your business alone, while remaining inspired and motivated.
If you have a good team around you, you’ll find operational and administrative challenges less daunting. And if you can successfully make each team member feel that they are valued and respected, you’ll be surrounded by people who are just as dedicated to pushing your business to success as you are.
It’s also important to avoid naysayers; seek out team members who are brimming with positivity. This is especially crucial when working with family, because the family dynamic can sometimes bring added stress.
Develop a clear sense of your brand’s niche and image. If you don’t have a clear idea of what your service or product has to offer, potential customers or clients will be confused, and your opportunities for engagement will be lost. Not only do you need clarity of vision, but you must also find ways of clearly articulating this vision to a target audience through marketing and customer interaction.
This can mean engaging an accountant to teach you how to work through the ins and outs of the ‘financials’ involved with running your own business or hiring a business coach to teach you how to pinpoint your goals and determine the steps you need to reach them. Joining your local chamber of commerce can also be useful, because it will provide access to a variety of courses and workshops.
Think about the future and how your business will need to evolve to stay competitive. Pay attention to competitors and trends in both local and global markets. Above all, never rest on what you accomplished yesterday. Maintain your sense of momentum. If your business gets too comfortable, you’ll quickly find yourself left in the dust.
When I set up a technology company to help retailers, I knew we had to spend time developing our products, so I made practical help from business advice bodies and boot camps part of the plan. As a result, we enjoyed three big benefits. I believe any of them could potentially help transform a start-up’s proposition and how it is developed.
Firstly, build resources and practical assistance from government, local enterprise partnerships and business support programmes into your thinking. From the outset, I took our company into a local technology incubator. It helped us to focus on developing our software products in a supportive environment.
Universities and other big institutions such as the British Library are increasingly providing advice and space for start-ups – often for free. Cities such as Sunderland and Dublin are setting up citywide free wireless zones or making their databases available to entrepreneurs to encourage innovations. Could they make the difference to your start-up when cash is tight or you want to expand with modest funding available?
Secondly, take a look at accelerators that global firms such as IBM or Shell are setting up. Look beyond the publicity aspects, too. The biggest step up in for us was winning IBM SmartCamp, part of IBM’s Global Entrepreneur Programme, which supports innovative small technology start-ups over the longer term.
In this type of event, entrants make their pitch Dragons’ Den-style. It forces you to really focus on your value proposition and rework it. You get advice from experienced entrepreneurs and commercial managers and they’ll soon let you know if you’re trying to reinvent wheels.
In these accelerators, successful entrants open up strategic guidance, sales advice and IT support opportunities, not only at the event itself, but also in the months that follow. By winning our heat, we were given long-term office resources, such as software licences that enabled our developers to build products. Today’s big firms are opening their doors to start-up as never before.
Finally, think of the doors that large organisations’ events and advisers can open for you. The Scottish government helped our team get on entrepreneurship courses that instilled a "think big" mentality in our team. This helped us to draw up business plans, but more than that, gave us real confidence and ambition.
And, in entering start-up accelerators, firms can catch the eye of seed funds and angel investors. We gained product development that we would have missed out on otherwise. Business support, commercial advice and networking opportunities are out there ... and a surprising amount of them are free.
Blog supplied by Vicky Brock, CEO of Clear Returns, which provides predictive intelligence technology for retailers, targeting the costly problem of returned products.