I’ve always been business-minded, looking for solutions to problems, finding ways to improve things and thinking of ways people could do things better.
I have several family members with their own businesses and that probably influenced me growing up, because I’ve always wanted to run my own business, too. Working for other companies and helping them grow made me realise that this was something I could do for myself, so I set about trying to make that happen.
I was introduced to Nadine, who had 15 years of experience in the travel industry, and we launched eShores in 2007. Nadine and I worked from her spare room for 12 hours a day, seven days a week. Within four months we had built the business up enough to move into a small serviced office and take on two staff. That’s when we knew eShores had really begun!
We saw a gap in the market for a travel company that provided the ease of booking online with the level of service and support offered by high street agencies. We knew that if we were to go down the luxury route and provide high quality service throughout the whole holiday experience, we could create a business that was unique in the market at that time.
Once we’d seen considerable success with eShores we decided to try branching out by launching another website that offered cheap holidays that could be booked online. Quickly we found that marketing the second website was very expensive and difficult, because it didn’t offer anything different from other cheap holiday sites.
Trying to expand the business was a costly endeavour, but it made us realise that it’s not always best to branch out into a different area. If you have something that works, it’s better to focus all your time and effort in to making it the best it can be.
We don’t regret trying out the second business. It had an effect on eShores and took our focus away from the main core of our business, but this simply taught us a valuable lesson in keeping 100% focused on the main product, because this is what works best for us.
My advice to anyone starting out in business would be: choose the market that you want to aim towards and build it around that; and make sure you offer something different – you must stand out if you are to succeed.
Business partners Gavin Lapidus and Nadine Brown run eShores, which is now in its sixth year of trading.
Big businesses often bemoan their own lack of essential vitality and wonder what they could take away from smaller, more entrepreneurial business and incorporate into their own culture.
At first thought, the shopping list is negligible. After all, who would want all the hassle and grief of being an inconsequential price-taker without all the trappings of the corporate world? However, on second thoughts, there are a number of attributes that the bigger business is positively jealous of.
The reason that small businesses exist is to satisfy a dream or fill a gap or an opportunity that others cannot see.
Most of these attributes should also exist in the larger organisation. They just seem to get beaten out of people as control, stability, safety and security become more important in what can only be described as the corporate mindset.
Starting a business for the first time is undoubtedly one of the most exciting things you can do (if you enjoy business!). However there comes a point where customer demands can weigh on your ability to progress. Here are five tips on how to keep your customers happy during the start up stages.
1. Be honest
Some business owners feel that they have to present their company as bigger than it is, which can lead to customers placing greater expectations in terms of support and business development. It would be better to be honest with your customers and for you to tell them exactly how big your business is, if not understate your size. This is not suggesting that you slack on customer service. As a customer, if you know the size of the business you would rather be told that your problem will be dealt with tomorrow and then have the issue dealt with well, rather than the issue being sorted today and receiving a half hearted response. Having a set policy (see point number two) to customer support will make customers used to what to expect, it could be argued reliability is more important than punctuality and if done right it can buy you time.
2. Have customer service processes in place
Having a process (between yourself and however many employees) in place allows you to know what to do when an issue is raised. An example could be a customer calls and has a problem, the query is logged and then the customer is told how long it will be before they receive an answer based on number of problems in front. If the issue is an emergency/urgent (this can be difficult to distinguish as some customers may claim it is urgent, but in the grand scheme of things their query can wait) being able to fast track it will be important. It can be hard when customers get angry at you, however as long as you communicate why their query is taking a while to resolve then at least they will not feel left out in the cold.
3. Get your hands dirty
Despite point number one, it is important that you get involved in sorting out customer queries, even if you happen to have raised enough money to employ someone to handle customer support. Following this rule will also allow you to have a feel for your customers' needs plus it will allow you to identify your earliest customers. That sort of recognition towards a customer from a CEO or MD is greatly appreciated. How can you make sure that you keep your original customers close? Consider having a separate email address for them (even if it is not you responding to their queries). A phone line could be going a step too far as you don't want to be held back from the day to day running of the business.
4. Have a time to shut off
Have a time to shut off from customer problems so you can focus on another area of the business each day. It all comes back to the principle of focus, if you can break your day up into focused segments you will get each segment done better than if you try to multi task by doing a little bit of everything. Read this post on how to become a better mono tasker.
5. Listen, don't ignore
Always listen and never ignore the customer. Even if you do not feel that the customer is right or cannot act on what they have said this instant, by listening to them you will be aware of the issues that your customers are raising. If you simply shut out your customers in pursuit of growth you could end up with a backlash that brings about your downfall. Little and often should prevent customer enquires becoming overwhelming in the start up stages, it's a better approach than letting them mothball and ultimately build into an uglier beast. If you have been abiding by point three you will be able to prioritise your customers and keep the major ones happy.
Nick Braithwaite, Clear Books Small Business Accounting Software