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Blog posts tagged Business ideas

Why Dragons’ Den rejection was no big deal for Alago Heated Gloves

April 03, 2014 by Guest contributor

Why Dragons’ Den rejection was no big deal for Alago Heated Gloves{{}}Mick Dickinson of BuzzedUp investigates how rejection on Dragons’ Den turned out to be a blessing for Tony Curtis, inventor of Alago Heated Gloves.

Slightly more than three years ago, Tony Curtis' business idea for heated sports gloves was given short shrift on TV's Dragons' Den. Those Dragons must be fuming now, because Alago Heated Gloves is a hugely successful business, with thousands of its products warming the hands of gardeners, cyclists, kayakers, tennis players, horse riders and players at many premier sports clubs. Stick that in your pipe and smoke it, Duncan Bannatyne.

Determination, bad luck and a radical approach to funding have all played a part in Tony’s remarkable business journey. Recalling how he came up with the idea, he says: "It started seven years ago when I was watching my 12-year-old son playing rugby. It was a freezing day and no one could catch the ball – no one wanted to. He ran off the pitch at the end with blue hands and shoved them up my jumper for warmth. Once I'd got over the shock I thought, he needs heated gloves.

Light bulb moment

"That was my ‘light bulb moment’. I searched online to try to find heated gloves but nothing was suitable. Everything I saw had big bulky battery packs, electric cables – useless for sport.

"So I thought I'd have a go at inventing something and spent six months playing around with gloves, silicon tubing, a meat syringe and some heat packs at home. After destroying several kitchen appliances along the way, I came up with something that I thought would work. I took it to a brilliant design company and we went forward to prototyping. That's when it started costing money."

So how did he cover those costs? "I had a day job, but needed more money. I didn't think about investment, I found another way. I bought a camera and taught myself photography. I opened up a spare-time photography business, doing portraits, weddings, event, etc. I did that for four years, that’s how I paid for product development."

What customers did he have when launching his business? Tony answers: "Our mitts were bought by junior and mini rugby clubs throughout the country. Gradually, our full-length gloves were picked up by professional clubs, then we got emails from salmon fishermen, helicopter pilots, classic car drivers, obstacle race runners – you name it."

Crucial moment

Was there a breakthrough moment? "We were asked onto Radio 4 for a five-minute interview with Liza Tarbuck. Within 30 minutes our website crashed due to demand,” Tony remembers. “Many people asked whether our gloves could be used for other purposes than just rugby, which was a crucial moment. Overnight we changed our website, product names, packaging – everything. We changed 'Rugby Mitts' to 'Classic Mitts', changed the descriptions, positioning, etc. Looking back, it was such an obvious thing to do - but we hadn't seen it."

What advice does Tony offer to those with a great business idea but no start-up capital? "It's all about paying for prototype manufacturing and product development. I needed money, so I went on Dragons' Den a few years ago, but they just didn't get it. Of course, now I look back and I'm glad I didn’t give up part ownership of my business in return for their investment.

“For years I had no luck with the banks or other lenders either, so I had to do something radical. I discovered that I could move my pension fund into a self-invested vehicle and invested that money into my business. This was a new idea then, and some told me it was risky, but if you think about it, your pension is already being invested in someone's business. Why not invest in your own business? It certainly keeps me focussed and motivated!"

Marketing advice

Tony says he now makes 95% of his sales through his website and the remainder through Amazon. “We don't advertise,” he adds. “When we launched our cycling gloves I bought cheap train tickets to major cities such as London, Newcastle and Manchester and spent days putting credit card-sized leaflets onto bicycles I came across in the street. I must have walked for hundreds of miles with a heavy backpack stuffed with leaflets. As a result, we sold three-quarters of our stock on pre-order before the product was even in our warehouse!"

Alago Heated Gloves has taken a standard product, adapted it intelligently to a niche requirement and delivered very high levels of customer service to make a successful business. It is currently partnering with the University of West England on some very smart (but ‘hush-hush’) new applications of its technology. Alago's innovations have already caught the attention of Lockheed, the British Army and a major car manufacturer, all of which have signed development deals.

  • Blog supplied by Mick Dickinson of Bristol-based SME digital marketing agency BuzzedUp. A version of this article was previously published on Bristol24-7.

Further reading

How to reach your 'light-bulb' moment

February 26, 2014 by Guest contributor

How to reach your 'light-bulb' moment/Idea concept with light bulbs{{}}As an SME owner, I know that experiencing that inspirational moment that cements the purpose of your business is essential, but almost painfully difficult to find. The more you panic about finding your ‘Eureka’ moment, the more elusive it can prove to be. However, there are a few sure-fire ways that can help you to relax and find that moment. Take some time to find inspiration in some of the most unlikely of places and chances are you’ll soon be struck by the light-bulb moment you’ve been searching for.

Get creative

Even if you’re the world’s most practical and business-minded person, sometimes you have to unleash your creative side to find true inspiration. From roughly sketching a meaningless object to spending hours working on a more challenging piece of art, you’ll find yourself lost and letting your mind wonder onto other subjects, which could lead to you being struck by an unexpected bolt of inspiration.

Do something meaningless

Over-thinking something often means that the ideas you come up with are forced and unrealistic. Watching an unchallenging film or TV show can allow your mind to switch down a gear and come up with something much less forced.

Get lost in a good book

Unwinding with a great read has numerous benefits, but is also a brilliant way to learn and let your mind wander. It doesn’t have to be related to business in any way. Pick something or someone in whom you’re interested and passionate about or even something that will spark debate or opinion in you. Annotate as you go along with points that you find interesting, inspiring, enlightening or even empowering. You could even write short reviews or points you have learnt.

Check out successful adverts

As more people move to TV that allows viewers to pause, rewind and fast-forward, it can be easy to think that adverts are a total waste of time and money. However, there are adverts that make people stop, look and listen. Take notes about what makes these ads successful. How are they able to convey a story in a short amount of time and how do they connect with their audience? Apply these observations to your own work and think about how you can make it your own.

How you become inspired is up to you. We all have our ways that are as unique to us as our business models, but if you’re lost for ways to expand your mind, these are some easy tricks that are sure to get the creative juices flowing.

Blog supplied by Paul Lees, founder and CEO of business conference call services provider Powwownow. You can see Paul talking about his experience of starting a business below.

Further reading 

Why it pays to think BIG

September 26, 2013 by Guest contributor

Why it pays to think BIG/time to think big{{}}While you’re outlining the vision for your life, formulate some clear goals and write them down. Not having objectives is like taking a journey but not being sure of the route or the destination. Write down exactly how much you want to earn, how many holidays you want a year and anything else that is important on your wish list.

Make your personal and business goals bigger than you can possibly imagine. This shifts your thinking and helps to shake you out of your comfort zone. Even if you don’t hit your goal, you might get 75% of the way there, which is still a bigger leap than you might have made with smaller, more conservative goals.

You don’t need a step-by-step plan but knowing where you want to end up can be enough to get you started.

While I would always advocate starting out with a clear idea, and major goals, that doesn’t mean your business actually needs to start off big from an operational and financial perspective. I believe my success has been down to structured and planned growth, investing small amounts and proving the business model works before moving to the next level.

I had an inkling that Tots To Travel would take off, but it has far exceeded anything I could have imagined. But had I overstretched from the start, it may never have had the opportunity to grow.

And you don’t need to come up with a BIG idea, in fact it’s probably better if you don’t. Costa Coffee didn’t think up the café, they just reinvented what was already out there. We didn’t dream up the holiday lettings business, we just took a different approach from the companies that were already out there.

Extract taken from The Mother of Invention, written by businesswoman, author, mentor for women in business and mother of three Wendy Shand, owner of multi-award winning business Tots To Travel. The book is available to download for free.

Further reading

How my business Tots To Travel was born

August 15, 2013 by Guest contributor

How my business Tots To Travel was born/big idea{{}}In 2005 I went on holiday to France with my family when a shocking experience redefined my life.

My son Barnaby was a lovely and lively two-year-old playing at the holiday villa we were renting - when he fell into an unenclosed swimming pool. We were extremely lucky that we were there watching and my father jumped in straight away and pulled him to safety.

We were horribly shocked - though like most toddlers he bounced back pretty quickly. The problem came when I began to think about a holiday the following year and could not find a family-friendly company that met the safety criteria I now considered essential.

It's funny how the best ideas can come to you by accident – literally, in my case. I felt there had to be a safer and more enjoyable way to holiday with small children. More to the point, I knew there must be plenty of parents just like me who were looking for the same thing. An idea began to form.

In April 2006 I started what was to become Tots To Travel from my kitchen table, with a grant of just £100. This bought a logo, which I used when approaching holiday home owners. I also chose a name, Tots to France, which quickly proved too limiting and had to be changed as we grew. I launched with nine properties on my books – and it wasn't long before I found our services were in demand.

Several years later and we now have more than 350 properties across France, Spain, Portugal, Italy, the UK and Canary Islands. It’s been a huge learning curve, but I’ve enjoyed every minute, and even had another wonderful baby along the way.

Getting to where I am now, running a successful award-winning company, has been a rollercoaster ride and often a lonely one at that. While the highs are great, the lows are hard work. It can also be difficult to get away from the business, it is such an exciting journey that my brain rarely switches off, and at times it can feel relentless.

But, of course, there are plenty of good things about being your own boss. Not least that while on a day-to-day basis I work full time, I am able to organise my time around my children and I'm there to take them to school and look after them when they're sick.

I am the 'present' parent I want to be, while still having a creative outlet and sense of my own identity. I have achieved fulfillment on every level and am able to say, with confidence, that I am creating an exciting and secure future for my family.

Running my own business was the only way forward for me and I would not hesitate to recommend it as a career choice. I only wish I had done it sooner.

Extract taken from The Mother of Invention, written by businesswoman, author, mentor for women in business and mother of three Wendy Shand, owner of multi-award winning business Tots To Travel. The book is available to download for free.

Social entrepreneurs provide inspiration during Global Entrepreneurship Week

November 16, 2012 by Church Mission Society

Global Seesaw{{}}During Global Entrepreneurship Week, at Pickwell Manor in North Devon, a group of students on the CMS Pioneer Leadership Course will learn how to apply models of social enterprise to ideas that seek to enhance the lives of people and communities. The five-day residential is hosted by the Church Mission Society and students are encouraged to come along with a business idea to work on during the week. They will attend sessions on formulating a mission statement, devising a business plan, accessing different sources of funding and evaluating success. In addition, they will hear stories of social enterprises that are already thriving and get the opportunity to quiz their owners to discover the secrets of their success.

One example of good practice to be shared is Global SeeSaw, a company that sells wholesale, online and through their shop goods made by women who have been exploited through global trafficking. Run as a social enterprise, all profits are reinvested into the business to create more jobs. This gives vulnerable women, who are disproportionately affected by poverty, greater freedom.

Mark Wakeling, the entrepreneur behind Global SeeSaw, explains: “We’re committed to finding quality products that not only impress with their contemporary design, but also use recycled materials in their manufacture. While many fair trade companies pay just wages and don’t use child labour, we go a step further and ensure that all our manufacturing partners also reinvest their profits. We measure success in human lives changed, rather than wealth generated.”

Course leader, Jonny Baker, says of this unique learning opportunity: “To be sustainable, we must embrace the practices of social enterprise and seek to make a difference, while generating finances where appropriate. For too long business principles have been seen as incompatible with social action, but if we are to be relevant and innovative in the longer term, creative ways of demonstrating our faith need to be self-supporting as well as transformative. We have created this module to begin to address this and we’re encouraging our students to pursue activities that will not need to be wholly dependent on charitable funding.”

For more information on this venture see the CMS website.

Is your business idea viable?

October 26, 2012 by Paul Bryant

Is your business idea viable?/man looking up and thinking{{}}This is a question that would-be entrepreneurs need to ask themselves. It is not enough to have a good idea – or even a great idea – for a product or service. What you need to find out is whether you can provide that service or product to enough people who will pay enough so that you make enough profit.

So where do you start? The first thing is to research is what is out there already. If the market is saturated with competitors providing the same goods or services as you, then your business must have a pretty compelling USP (unique selling proposition) to make it stand out.

Check out the competition

How are your competitors doing? Companies must file their accounts at Companies House, and companies listed on the London Stock Exchange will have to provide detailed financial information to the public, which means that you can find out quite a lot about them after a few clicks on the internet.

Market research

The next thing to do is firm up the scale of your potential customer base and how much they would be prepared to pay. The best people to tell you about this are strangers (friends and family might fib to protect your feelings). If you need the results of the research for attracting funding, it can be worth paying professional market researchers who will present impartial findings in a clear way. If you end up doing the research yourself, strive for professional looking results. Common research methods include questionnaire and interviews with interested parties.

Conduct a realistic appraisal of costs

Think through every penny you need to spend to sell your goods or services, and make a note of them. Have you counted business premises, transport costs and tax implications? If you are making a product it is easy to focus on components and blank out these other issues which still have a bearing on whether your business can be profitable.

Think about business models

Finally, think about the structure of your business and whom you will be working with. If you lack certain skills, should you consider going into a partnership with someone who can make up that deficit? Or should you be considering setting up a limited company? Setting up a company can only take a couple of hours with a formation agent, and mitigates the risk in case your business turns out not to be viable.

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