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.
"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."
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!"
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.
According to government figures, more women than ever before are starting their own business and this has led to a steady rise in the number of female entrepreneurs. When it comes to the number of male and female entrepreneurs in the UK, the gender gap is narrowing, but there is still plenty of ground to make up before parity is achieved.
Previous perceptions about the typical profile of an entrepreneur would probably suggest that the person would typically be male and middle-aged, but business in the UK is changing and women are generally taking a more prominent role when it comes to business leadership.
It is interesting to note that at least 25% of registered self-employed workers in the UK are women and the number of female entrepreneurs is rising nearly three-times faster than the rate for men. There are understood to be more than 1.2m self-employed women in the UK who are involved in full or part-time work and according to the Office for National Statistics, the number of female entrepreneurs has risen by nearly 10% in the past two years, which compares very favourably to men (3.3% increase).
The term ‘mumpreneur’ is used to describe a woman juggling family commitments with running a business, but it is very much a ‘Marmite’ phrase as far as many woman are concerned. Some think it’s rather patronising, while others consider the term to be empowering, but whatever your view the fact remains that there are an estimated 300,000 mothers running businesses who contribute an estimated £7.4bn to the UK economy each year.
There are already annual ‘mumpreneur’ awards and numerous blogs and online directories aimed at making networking easier and opening up new opportunities and ideas for discussion for those women who are looking to start their own business.
The challenges for men and women are often different yet equally demanding in their own ways and sometimes it can be a struggle to achieve the right work-life balance.
Many female entrepreneurs become self-employed after starting a family and one of the winners at the last mumpreneur's awards is probably typical of what being a female entrepreneur involves.
One of the co-founders of Peach Pink, Vanessa Pinkney, was a former retail buyer for a large fashion retailer. She has used her contacts and industry knowledge to form a company that supplies luxury bags that are now sold in numerous well-known stores.
Her typical day will involve running her business around looking after her twin daughters, emailing suppliers in the morning, doing the school run and using Skype to communicate throughout the day, running her growing business empire from her kitchen table.
It’s almost impossible to identify the absolute ingredients to achieve success in business or we’d all be following the same path and formula. Good advice is essential for anyone starting a business and here are some key points to consider.
A robust business plan is essential and you need to test your business model to make sure it is sustainable from the beginning. Having little or no start-up capital can actually be viewed positively, because it ensures that you apply greater financial discipline.
It is important to have confidence in what you are doing and a positive can-do approach is in the DNA of most successful entrepreneurs. And as long as you always remember that the biggest asset is you and work hard at building a supportive network, the venture has a greater chance of flourishing.
There are many business opportunities out there and when you look at the examples of success from previous start-ups, it is easy to see why the number of female entrepreneurs continues to rise.
Blog supplied by business strategist Tim Brown. Tim blogs about news and trends for successful small businesses in the modern world, including the ImRubbish site.
One of the biggest recent changes to recruitment has been the rise of the video interview. Enabled by lower cost, easy-to-use video conferencing software-based systems, an increasingly global job market and cuts in HR budgets have been key drivers. And with businesses facing pressure to speed up the recruitment process, a first or second interview can be conducted via video conference, played back and reviewed quickly and easily.
So with the traditional face-to-face interview being replaced by video, how can candidates and prospective employers better prepare themselves and what should both be aware of during a video interview?
First, a video interview features the same elements as an in-person interview, so the same rules of engagement, attention and acknowledgement must be observed. This means dressing to impress, looking alert, engaged and professional throughout.
Remember, 93% of communication is thought to be non-verbal, so don't forget to pay attention to body language. Positive body language includes nodding your head, smiling genuinely and leaning forward to show interest or understanding. A furrowed brow, frowning and leaning back can all be perceived negatively.
Also ensure that you have the proper hardware and test it before you start. A good webcam is essential to maintain eye contact without losing sight of the other person, and make sure you adjust your seat/computer to frame your face.
Use headphones too, because they are much better than speakerphones, which can amplify background noise, disturb and distract you from the conversation. Make sure you have a neutral backdrop, because a distracting or messy background may cause the other person to lose their attention. Proper lighting is important to make you look your best, and you also need to be aware of any reflective surfaces that can be distracting. Finally, be prepared. Just because it is remote, a video interview should be treated just like a face-to-face one.
Blog provided by video conferencing solutions provider Vidyo.
Every business owner wants their employees to be dedicated, hardworking and willing to go the extra mile by putting in extra hours when necessary. However, there is a balance to be struck between hard work and unhealthy, obsessive behaviour. So, has Britain become a nation of workaholics?
The stereotype of an overworked executive was once associated with American high-fliers, yet in recent years this poor work-life balance has made its way across the Atlantic.
Figures from the Trades Union Congress suggest that one in eight UK employees works more than 48 hours per week, while research from the BBC suggests that more than half (54%) of Britain's workforce regularly works through their lunch break.
People who work long and unsociable hours could be doing themselves serious harm. Indeed, studies have shown that working 11 hours a day compared to eight increases your chances of developing heart disease by 67%.
In Japan 'workaholism' is referred to as Karoshi ('death by overwork') and is the likely cause of some 1,000 deaths each year.
It is crucial that owners recognise the damage that a long-hours culture can have on a business and its people.
One American firm takes the idea of combating workaholism so seriously that its employees are punished for working more than 40 hours a week.
A less drastic approach is to implement time-management tricks that can help boost productivity and performance. Time wasted by office workers during meetings has been estimated to cost the UK economy about £26bn a year. Rather than sitting around a table, you could request that staff members stand for the duration. This helps to rapidly reduce meeting length, while ensuring the same ground is covered.
Some firms use video conferencing to keep in touch with key individuals. This provides a powerful way to communicate in real time, meaning work can happen anywhere and at any time. Something as simple as implementing a flexible working policy can help to combat workaholism. When handled correctly, flexible working can boost employee morale and motivation, while reducing absenteeism.
If a staff member suffers from ‘workaholism’, your first step should be to review their responsibilities and duties, to determine whether they're burdened with an excessive workload and identify any reasonable adjustments that can made to address the issue.
Under the Working Time Regulations employees aged 18 and over are limited to working 48 hours a week. Members of staff have the legal right to opt out, enabling an increase in their working hours, but this must be done in writing and on a voluntary basis.
Start-ups and small businesses have the upper hand when it comes to tackling overworking. Effectively monitoring and managing the issue helps to prevent a workaholic culture from developing.
Blog supplied by Helen Pedder, head of HR for ClearSky HR.
George Osborne’s 2014 Budget was announced on Wednesday, bringing with it tax changes, legislative tweaks, gains for some and losses for others. With little spare cash to play with, what did the Government announce for the UK’s entrepreneurs?
UK workers can currently earn £9,440 before they start paying income tax. A rise to £10,000 was already planned for April 2014 and on Wednesday Osborne said this would rise to £10,500 in April 2015. This means £800 a year more for the average taxpayer and also means that three million workers won’t have to pay any income tax at all.
The amount of money you earn before paying the higher 40% income tax rate is going up from £41,450 to £41,865 in April 2014, then up to £42,285 in April 2015. Employer National Insurance contributions for under-21s were also scrapped - this is relevant if you employ young workers.
If you have ISAs (Individual Savings Accounts) you’ll know there are currently two types: Cash and Stock. These will be merged into one product, making things simpler, and you’ll be able to save £15,000 tax free from July.
The 10% tax rate on savings has also been scrapped, as well as many of the rules on accessing your pension savings.
To encourage new investors to back social enterprises, the government has introduced 30% income tax relief for social investment. Eligible social enterprises will be able to receive maximum investment of £290,000 over a three year period.
Also, startups are being encouraged to invest in innovative ideas in risky markets, with Research & Development tax credits available for loss-making SMEs increased from 11% to 14.5%.
Finally, the 50% relief on capital gains tax for VC reinvestors has been made permanent, which will help to continue investment support for small businesses.
A small but welcome change for the self-employed. Class 2 National Insurance contributions, which are currently paid weekly by Direct Debit, will be collected via Self Assessment.
There was a reform of Air Passenger Duty, which will reduce the cost of international travel. Extra support was also announced for UKTI - the body which helps UK firms do business abroad - and the lending available to exporters doubled.
A £200 million pot was announced for local councils to help repair infrastructure damaged by recent floods. There will also be support for 200,000 new homes at designated sites across the country, potentially creating thousands of new jobs.
The budget was fairly average for start ups and entrepreneurs - not bad, but not great.
The encouragement of business investment was the most positive news and this should help out a lot of firms, especially in the manufacturing sector. Personal tax cuts will also help to keep a bit more cash in your pockets. Finally, there was some excellent support for specific industries, but obviously this is only good news for a limited number.
Blog supplied by Nick Chowdrey of Crunch Accounting.
It was refreshing to hear that boosting UK exports was top of Chancellor George Osborne’s Budget address this week. For any business serious about scale and accelerating growth, expanding into new markets and territories is key to success.
Recently, CBI reported that small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) are 11% more likely to survive if they export, yet only 1 in 5 are actually trading outside the UK. The Budget announcement that available export finance will be doubled to £3bn, with interest rates being reduced by a third, is a clear step in the right direction.
As the Chancellor put it, the UK economy is growing faster than any other advanced country right now. But to my mind, a large proportion of this is a direct result of the entrepreneurial growth we’ve seen in the UK across the past few years. The UK government and private sector have both done a great job of putting initiatives in place to stimulate entrepreneurship, but it’s time for us to extend the olive branch even further.
The private sector and large corporations are in a unique position to help in a way the government cannot, for example, by providing access to global business networks that high-growth firms would otherwise have a difficult time accessing.
The global Dell Women’s Entrepreneur Network, is a great example of how this can be done. It brings together a global group of entrepreneurs with the aim of breaking down some of the barriers to accessing new markets through an annual conference and online network – both aimed at helping to forge cross-border business connections. We need to continue to help businesses at every stage of their growth and by investing in exporting today, we’ll be priming our economy for future growth.
Blog supplied by Sarah Shields, executive director and general manager of consumer, small and medium enterprise, Dell UK