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A challenging first six months in business

November 29, 2010 by

My jewellery-making business, Mama Jewels, is nearing the end of its first sixth month of trading, so I thought I’d share an update on our progress so far.

This week my youngest son had his first birthday and I had my first day off Twitter, Facebook and my laptop for as long as I can remember. It felt good to leave my iPhone in the drawer and go out for the day. He was three-months-old when I decided to start Mama Jewels and both my sons are very much part of the journey. I’m hoping to have them trained in jewellery-making very soon!

Very good things are happening all the time, but I am finding myself in a constant juggling act, having to work some very late nights and early mornings to keep up. Sales are increasing, but they’re still not at the levels I wanted at this stage. I keep hoping this will eventually improve.

Visits and online sales are rising steadily after the launch of our new website, which took three (very long) months to develop and even then it didn’t launch on the date planned or the revised date. If you’re planning to launch a new website, build in plenty of spare time, especially for setting up payment accounts, which took longer than I’d expected.

Mama Jewels is currently stocking in 11 online boutiques, which is steadily increasing as we follow up new leads each day. We also have three independent baby shops stocking our products offline. This number is still low, because my ability to make visits is very limited because of my childcare commitments. Over the next couple of weeks I’ve temporarily arranged some extra childcare so I can make more sales visits.

We’ve plenty of events planned coming up to Christmas, including home parties, markets and fairs in targeted areas. We’re starting to get approached by mum and toddler groups to exhibit directly, so word is getting out there, which is great.

I am currently working on improving my Ebay shop, too, which has proved very successful so far and I have approached a friend who is an expert on selling via Amazon.

Progress is good, with daily glimpses of new opportunities. Generally, consumers are feeling the pinch and they’re more cautious than ever. Hopefully, the upcoming season will give us that extra little boost and encourage shop owners to trial my products in a few more retail outlets before Christmas. We’ll see.

Amanda Waring, Mama Jewels

You can find out more about Amanda on the interactive business website


The Apprentice: Das ist wunderbar!

November 25, 2010 by Rachel Miller

Missed the eighth episode? Catch up here.

The task

Much excitement this week as the contestants find out they are going abroad. Destination: Hamburg. The mission: to sell new flavours of crisps to the Germans. Germany’s snack market is worth millions of Euros and is dominated by strong flavours like paprika. The two teams have to work with crisp makers in the UK to come up with new flavours that will tempt the German palette. Synergy is lead by Chris Bates, who has something to prove, having been in the losing team too many times to count. He has Liz, Jamie and Chris Farrell to help him. Meanwhile Apollo is lead by steady Stella and she’s working with Stuart, Laura and Joanna.

The best bits

Stuart reveals a creditable knowledge of German that he’s keen to show off. Absolutely everything is “wunderbar” according to Stuart. It’s pretty hilarious but actually his spirited attempts to speak German pay off big time. It breaks the ice with prospective customers and earns him respect. His approach is in stark contrast to Synergy’s Chris Farrell who says “I hate the Germans” at the start of the task.

The product development part of the challenge sees both teams looking for interesting new flavours. Nick Hewer’s eyes look skywards as Joanna suggests “:curry pie”. In the end, Apollo goes for beef & chilli and stilton & paprika, while Synergy chooses curry wurst and goulash. Yum yum!

The worst bits

Synergy makes two classic mistakes. Firstly, when setting up a sales appointment, Jamie and Chris Farrell are offered the choice of a 9am slot or a 1pm slot. Chris goes for the early appointment but Jamie, looking at the diary, suggests they change it to the later time. It soon transpires that there’s nothing actually in the diary at 9am. Perhaps Jamie wants a lie-in. It gets worse. Apollo gets the early appointment and wins a big order. Synergy gets diddly-squat.

At another prospective business, the manager is out and Jamie and Chris waste time talking to someone who does not have any buying authority. Apollo turns up later, the manager is in and he places an order. Kerching.

The winners and losers

The task is won by Apollo even though Synergy do get a cracking £14,289 order from one customer. But Apollo gets more appointments and more orders at the end of the day. And so this week’s loser is — Chris Farrell. Lord Sugar doesn’t think he has the entrepreneurial spark he is looking for, based, it seems, on his performance throughout the series. Team leader Chris Bates breathes a massive sigh of relief.

The ones to watch

Joanna is suddenly looking very impressive. So much so that hard-to-please Nick Hewer singles her out in the boardroom and praises her for her perseverance. “You were really firing on all 12 cylinders”. It looks like she could give Stella a run for her money.

Quote of the week

“You did try hard. You tried really hard. So hard, in fact, that you annoyed the guy. He found you quite unprofessional. I think he could smell your desperation.” Karren Brady.

Missed this episode? Watch it on BBC iPlayer.

Is your design losing you business?

November 24, 2010 by Fiona Humberstone

Most of us realise that great design can win us more business. And many of us invest in professional graphic design for our brochures, leaflets and website.

But what about the rest? What about that PowerPoint presentation you send to clients? How about leaflets you take to networking events? What about the checklist for businesses you’ve uploaded to your website?

If we accept that great design will engage, inspire and build trust with your customers (existing and prospective), what effect do you think bad design will have? You probably don’t need me to spell it out…

Many businesses design things in house. Even marketing executives at big blue chips design some pieces of collateral. And there’s nothing wrong with that. It can save time and money. But it’s those bits of collateral – your leaflet, your PowerPoint, your case studies or your self-designed blog – that can undermine your professionalism.

The bad news is that usually people don’t realise there is anything wrong with their designs. Oversized logos compete with standard colours and standard fonts to create a look that jars with all your well-produced work. The result? Your clients are confused and lack conviction in you.

It’s unrealistic to expect you to use a graphic designer for every piece of communication you produce, but you can learn some simple graphic design rules that you can apply to everything you do. And you can reduce the gap between the professionally produced stuff and your own stuff.

Do a bit of research into what makes design work. Read magazines, books (Robyn Williams’ The Non-Designer’s Design Book is excellent) and learn important from designs that inspire you. You can also find advice here on the Donut sites, too, of course.

Fiona Humberstone, Flourish design & marketing


Mama knows best

November 22, 2010 by Mark Williams

Many regular Start Up Donut blog visitors enjoyed following the story of Marcela Flores-Newburn of Rico Mexican Kitchen, Nottingham-based maker of salsas, beans and cooking sauces, as told on the inafishbowl business reality website.

For the next six months, on this blog, you’ll be able to follow the trials and tribulations of another start up, Mama Jewels, another Nottingham-based business.

The business was the brainchild of Amanda Waring. Following a successful career in quantity surveying and construction project management, recent mother of two, Amanda is taking on a whole new challenge.

For the past 10 years she’s been designing jewellery as a hobby. But following the birth of her first child she realised there was no fashionable baby and childproof jewellery for mums.

Keen to change this, she has created an impressive range which is available to buy online and in a select number of independent retailers. Mama Jewels was a Bronze Winner for Most Unique Product at the 2010 Mumpreneur Awards.

Amanda’s ambition is to see her products in large retailers throughout the UK. To achieve this she’ll have to juggle the role of being a young mum with the demands of growing a new business on a budget. How will she get on? You’ll be able to read updates each month, but for now, you cab find out more about Amanda’s business by watching this short video.

What’s wrong with being a small-business owner?

November 18, 2010 by Simon Wicks

Because this is Global Entrepreneurship Week (GEW) and because I was intrigued to see the interior of Coutts Bank in the Strand in London, I went to a panel debate on Wednesday organised by the Sunday Telegraph.

Titled ‘The time is now for entrepreneurs’, the debate featured a line up of the great and the good in UK enterprise – Brent Hoberman, Julie Meyer, Sara Murray, Joe Cohen and the man behind GEW, Tom Bewick.

These are influential people. Many are direct advisers to Government on enterprise and entrepreneurship. They are genuinely keen to help the powers that be develop an enterprise culture in the UK and to turn entrepreneurship into an aspiration for many of our young people. Some would like to see enterprise introduced to the curriculum as a formal element, alongside science, English and maths.

There was talk of rapid growth, high turnover, capital investment, economic output, and so on – all good stuff and the panellists seemed to mostly agree on everything. There wasn’t much in the way of debate going on. I was lucky enough to be picked to ask a question. To paraphrase, I said:

“We’re all talking about entrepreneurialism and high-growth business here, and all the political lobbying and Government policy and media conversation seems to be geared towards these firms. But the majority of people running small businesses in the UK don’t think of themselves as entrepreneurs. They’re small-business owners. What are we doing for them?”

The panel was perplexed. You could almost see them thinking “NOT high-growth? I don’t understand the question.” And it’s true, perhaps I didn’t make my point as well as I might. But I was surprised none of the panel took up the opportunity I gave them to explore the distinction between an ‘entrepreneur’ and a ‘small-business owner’ and think about the needs of a range of different kinds of business owner.

Instead they talked about the need to generate and support high growth businesses. Julie Meyer was somewhat withering about ‘slow growth’ firms (as she had been earlier about ‘lifestyle’ businesses); Sara Murray pointed out that the “majority of those businesses are corner shops” and that the Government wants to help create the next Tesco. “Tesco,” she said, paraphrasing Vince Cable, “is a bigger driver of economic output.”

This, I suppose, was the salient point. To be fair, Sara Murray also observed that Tesco had actually ruined hundreds of small businesses, so she didn’t necessarily agree with Vince Cable. But the panel as a whole seemed to find the idea of anything other than rapid growth alien and undesirable.

This is a shame. Let’s be realistic about this: the vast majority of the UK’s 4.5 million small businesses are not high-growth and will not become the next Tesco. What’s more, their owners don’t want to be the next Richard Branson, either. But they continue to employ people, pay their taxes and provide essential goods and services, year after year; they, too, provide ‘economic output’.

So why focus all of our attention on the tiny proportion of firms that will grow rapidly and make mega-millions? Why encourage all of our young people that it’s a realistic aspiration. It’s not – and X-Factor provides a salutary lesson here: for every Will Young or Alexandra Burke, there are innumerable other aspirants who now make a small living crooning on cruise ships or in pubs, or who have gone back to whatever they were doing before. Sure, they’re not as glamorous or as eye-catching, and they’re not making as much money for other people, but they are still valuable.

There seems to be something in our culture at the moment, where we consider only the spectacular and the highly lucrative to be deserving of attention. But tradespeople, enthusiasts who have turned their passion into a livelihood – yes, even corner shop owners – they are the meat and drink of our economy, and they all need a little thought from lobbyists and policymakers.

So while we’re blowing the trumpet for enterprise during Global Entrepreneurship Week, let’s remember that even though ‘now’ may well be the time for entrepreneurs, it is ‘always’ the time for small-business owners.


The Apprentice: The Stuart Baggs show

November 18, 2010 by Rachel Miller

Missed the seventh episode? Catch up here:

The task

The cars are coming to take the candidates to Pinewood Studios. Joanna has vaguely heard of the world-famous film studios where Harry Potter and the James Bond movies are made and hazards a guess, “I’m sure it’s a furniture store.” Standing in front of the biggest blue screen in Europe, Lord Sugar explains that the two teams have to create and sell virtual experience DVDs to shoppers at Westfield Shopping centre. This involves making a background action movie, buying props, filming people in front of a screen and flogging the DVDs.

The best bits

It was the Stuart Baggs show last night. Project leader for Apollo, Stuart was so bad, he was good. There were definite shades of David Brent. The team selected motor-racing for the backdrop which allowed Stuart to race around Brands Hatch and utter the immortal line, “I have to rein in my own extreme masculinity in this task.” Stuart’s leadership style was horrendous. He talked over everyone, made quick bad decisions, took a dramatic u-turn when he realized his mistake and then took the credit for the new strategy. At one point he says, “I think we made good decisions under quite a lot of pressure.” Guess who provided the pressure? Best of all, he kept trying to score points against Stella in a game of “how many different ways are there to say, ‘I’m brilliant and you’re useless.’” Stella simply batted him away like an annoying fly.

The worst bits

Synergy, meanwhile, was lead by Sandeesh, who was trying to assert herself and shake off Lord Sugar’s accusation that she does “naff all”. She did try, bless her, but was undermined by Jamie, who was unhappy with his role as errand boy.

Both teams displayed a very cavalier attitude to pricing. Apollo started selling the DVDs for £10 but as sales took off they decided to up the price to £15, leaving customers distinctly unamused. Over on Synergy, the team dropped the price early on and sold the DVDs too cheaply.

The winners and losers

Neither team did brilliantly but Apollo scraped a win. It’s worth watching Stuart Baggs’ hilarious reaction to winning, puffing himself up and only just stopping himself from punching the air and shouting “come on”. Ooh the masculinity! And so Synergy lost and it was left to Sandeesh to bring two team members back into the boardroom. To say she doesn’t have the killer instinct is putting it mildly. She has been the sacrificial lamb enough times, but for some reason she lets Jamie off the hook and selects the two strongest members of her team, Chris and Liz. Why, Sandeesh, why? It doesn’t take Lord Sugar long to point the finger. Sandeesh, you’re fired.

The ones to watch

Stella continues to shine like the star that she is. I’m ready to put money on her to win. But let’s hope Stuart Baggs hangs on for a few more weeks to keep us entertained and to make the saner contestants look good.

Quote of the week

“Stuart’s leadership style leaves me trembling with irritation. Who does he think he is.” Nick Hewer.

Missed this episode? Watch it on BBC iPlayer.


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