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Investing in your local community

September 15, 2010 by Matt Bird

Investment is a common term for most start-ups, usually in the context of technology, buildings or staff training, but what about philanthropic investment? And in particular, should a start-up look to give to the local community when finances are usually so tight?

Your community would benefit from it

We’re in the midst of a recession and that doesn’t just affect commerce, but also local activities and groups. Any assistance you can give to your local community will surely be appreciated and remembered, for example, sponsoring local events or sporting teams. It need not be financial; products, time and manpower are just as valuable a commodity for some projects.

To my mind, if you can afford even a small input, there is no reason not to invest – a humanitarian deed for the day is a great way to live. But as with any investment, there must be a return – mustn’t there?

Could it benefit you?

A truly philanthropic investment would yield no direct financial return for your business, but with my most cynical of capitalist hats on, why be in business if not to make money? Yes, do things for the community, but away from work, with your own time and your own money. After all, without profitable businesses, there is no economy, no livelihoods and no thriving communities in the first place.

But there are less tangible returns that you might gain, for instance, on the public relations front. Everyone loves a ‘feel good’ story and if you have the opportunity to make a difference in your local community and can publish it correctly, this charitable activity can do wonders for your reputation.

Take Christmas, for example. If you normally send cards to customers and suppliers, think again. Instead, perhaps you could email everyone and explain that you are donating £xxx to a local cause.  Everybody wins, including the environment.

What if it backfires?

Breaking News: “Lovely generous business gives money to [insert charitable cause]” . Who doesn’t read it and replace the “Lovely generous business” thought with “looking for some public good will” judgement. We all do. And does this feeling really disappear when it is a start-up or small business? Has today’s hurly-burly environment removed our ability to see a selfless act and not be suspicious?

My thoughts

Personally, I think all businesses should make an effort to give something back to the community, whether you are resident there or if your business is simply based there. My employer invests an awful lot in the local Alveley community in Shropshire, with barely any of the investments receiving mention outside the parish. But it’s worthwhile because we see the appreciative faces, receive the handshakes and know our small contribution enabled an event to get off the ground and realise someone’s dream.

Yes, businesses exist to make money, but there is no need for that money to sit in a bank when it could be put to good use.

Matt Bird of printer cartridge supplier, StinkyInk

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Tap into graduate potential

September 15, 2010 by Anita Brook

We’ve all heard the news that times are tough for graduates, suffering from cut-backs in jobs and graduate schemes due to the ever-present state of the economy. While bad for ex-students, this is potentially good news for employers as there is a massive pool of keen and well-educated young people, ready to bite your arm off for a job, or even just work experience.

In some respects, these young people are blank canvases that can be moulded to fit your way of working. And, with more degree courses than ever before including a work-placement, plus the majority of students having to supplement their income with a part-time job, it’s likely that employment isn’t a completely alien concept.

Why graduates are great for start-ups

If your business is in the fledgling stages, taking on experienced members of staff might be a risky expense you can’t afford. What graduates lack in experience, they make up for in brains, quick-thinking and a fresh attitude. The majority are eager to learn and will cost a lot less than somebody that has earned their stripes following many years on the career ladder. If it’s just a placement you’re offering, potentially, graduates won’t cost a penny – although I have to say, I am not particularly supportive of the current trend for abusing the situation and getting graduates to work for long periods, for nothing.

Funding streams

There is funding available. In the North East, for example, Graduates for Business, offers £70 a week towards the salary of a graduate for the first 15 weeks of their employment. Specifically aimed at smaller businesses, qualifying SMEs must have less than 250 employees and be able to pay new graduates a minimum of £14,000 a year. For information about graduate funding in your area, visit www.businesslink.gov.uk.

Placements

For a short-term commitment, a placement can provide a mutually beneficial exchange between employers and graduates – particularly in the summer holidays when those that are still studying have a lot of spare time on their hands. Depending on the length of the placement, this doesn’t necessarily have to be paid – especially if it’s over the summer break – however be realistic, if you take someone on for six months and don’t pay them a bean, then that’s a little unfair!

Rate my placement is a website for undergraduates looking for work experience and employers offering internships – like a job dating agency. Students will ‘rate your placement’ so it’s important that if you get involved, you provide good levels of training. Placements can be anything from a few months to over a year.

Giving these young people a chance could be good for your business and will help dent the massive levels of graduate unemployment. If all goes well, you never know, you might find just the right person to take your company on to the next level.

Anita Brook, founder of Chartered Accountancy firm, Accounts Assist

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How I started my maternity clothes business

September 13, 2010 by Louise Boyes

Claire Keogh, Bethany Clydesdale and Louise Boyes at the North East Baby, Toddler and Maternity Roadshow in July 20109 June 2009 will always be a memorable date for me.  It was the day I decided to leave behind a 13-year career as a human resources manager, not to mention a good salary, to ‘go it alone’.  Scary.

When you look in the mirror every morning and dread the day at work that lies ahead it really is time to consider other options. I’d procrastinated for far too long about starting my own business – I could kick myself for not doing it before I reached 40.

A friend and I spent considerable time researching what sold and what didn’t on eBay. We carried out so much research we became more confused than when we had started. I felt as if I was wasting time, while my savings were dwindling. There wasn’t an additional household income, so I needed to get my backside into gear quickly. My friend and I were moving at different speeds and in different directions, so I had to have that conversation, but it was important to retain our friendship.

I decided to concentrate on maternity clothes, accessories and gifts. In the planning stages I decided I would still use eBay to sell my products and I hadn’t even considered having my own dedicated website. It became apparent very early on that operating my business on eBay was not viable. The cost, in my opinion, is too high. More importantly, the suppliers I wanted to work with wouldn’t sell wholesale to me if was using eBay as a sales platform. The concept of Global Maternity was born.

Why maternity clothes? Firstly, I love how pregnant women look. I’ve been there before (albeit 13 years ago) and the clothes available for pregnant women now are great quality and look beautiful, too. Secondly, the initial financial outlay to launch my business was going to be significantly less than if I opened a general women’s fashion store.

My website (www.globalmaternity.com) went live on 1 February 2010. Selecting and buying the stock was enjoyable, but tough. I wanted one of everything, but knew I didn’t have the budget. It would be so easy to get carried away, but I had to stop myself a couple of times. Delivering exceptional customer service is my absolute passion, no matter what I am doing. It’s what I did as a human resources manager and it’s what I do with my business.

It’s been a huge learning curve and still is. Global Maternity isn’t where I want it to be and I have so many plans, but I’m realistic enough to know it will take time. Above all else, I’m enjoying myself and will never give up.

Louise Boyes, Global Maternity

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Blogging your way to more business

September 07, 2010 by danihiggi

Without a doubt, contributing to a blog requires commitment and time if it is to produce effective results. However, making use of blogs is an easy, fast, inexpensive and effective publishing tool to spread the word about a new business, generate customers and increase prospects. 

Blogs are corporate tools that allow businesses to communicate with the public to provide information about products and services being provided. To be effective as an advertising tool, the blog should be linked to the company website and provide relevant web content about the company’s products to attract prospective customers. To grow a blog, it should be updated consistently in order to include new and ongoing entries. Investing in blog advertising is a rewarding endeavour but it needs to be sustained in the long term.

Blogs provide the following four key benefits when promoting a business:

1 An effective platform for content marketing

Content marketing is a method of promotion designed to attract customers by providing valuable content about the business, products and services that it offers. Rather than being a brazen and overt marketing strategy, content marketing takes the form of publishing content that delivers information through important articles, press releases and news feeds. This approach treats established and potential customers as intelligent individuals. Content marketing provides accurate, honest and relevant information that consumers need to know before purchasing products and services. There is no better place for content marketing than on a blog.

Selecting and streamlining news feeds from credible industry news sources and linking them to blogs will keep interested readers returning to blog pages on a regular basis. It also prompts viewers to return to the blog for news updates which secures repeat viewers and potential customers. It is best to integrate a credible news feed with other non-competitive website links which subtly promote and advertise the business. Adding neutral, industry relevant, and credible news feeds and web content allows the business to present itself as a knowledgeable and accurate source of information in its respective market.

2 Low-cost advertising methods

Setting up a blog on Wordpress, Gizmodo, and Compendium is a free alternative to having actual web presence. Blogs can be linked to other social networks, such as Twitter and Facebook, to attract potential clients. Blogs provide an effective way for small businesses to share their expertise and offer press releases in a larger market to bigger audiences. They are user-friendly tools especially for business owners who know little about HTML.

3 Input from customers

Setting up blogs with opportunities to moderate and answer questions and comments from clients presents a human face of an enterprise and allows a business to speak directly with clients and address their concerns. No company can expect to be an industry leader without an authentic and ongoing interaction with its customers.

4 Search engine magnet

Blogs are search engine magnets, directing not only curious bloggers to business landing pages, but also regular and targeted traffic from Google searches. Search engines crawl content and keyword rich blog sites, bringing the blog (and business landing page) closer to the top of page ranks.

When composing blogs, be sure to make your contact information clear and make navigation easy to help convert views to sales.

Dani Higginson, Purecontent

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I have become (un)comfortably numb

August 31, 2010 by www.inafishbowl.com

I enjoyed reading the article written by Marty Zwilling about the personality traits of an entrepreneur.

In his article, he describes the personality of the entrepreneur to be:

  • visionary
  • creative AND logical
  • energised by risk
  • eager to listen to the input of others
  • motivated
  • Jack of all trades
  • and most important of all, enjoying the journey.

I enjoyed the article because I can see that I have all of these. I have a strong vision of what my sector can be in years to come and I would love to be an important player within it.

I am eager to listen to the input of others, and inafishbowl.com has been an amazing experience. I have had some really useful advice from experts on the expert panel, and more recently from Imran Hakim and Iain Scott whose blogs reassure me that I was right to postpone the launch of Rico Mexican Kitchen in a major supermarket chain – thanks guys! I’ve also learned so much from my fellow Fishbowlers and I’m quietly jealous (in the best possible way, of course!) of Owain and Dom’s partnership, and that they can rely on each other to share the tasks.

However, if I’m honest, I’m feeling kind of numb and somehow not enjoying the journey as much just at this point. I have had some highs, but the low of finding that I have to be on such very tight budget is getting me down. Or maybe it’s simply because I’m tired? Maybe I just need a few days off.

Well, I had to be up today at 3:30 so I could greet the distributor who was taking my very first orders of our brand new product, TAMALES to some really funky restaurants in London. I should be really excited, I know it’s a day I will remember in years to come, but instead, I feel numb. I just keep saying to myself that I need to be patient, as success will come with perseverance, resilience, and not before a long list of failures which one learns from. I’m in it for the long haul!

You can find out more about Marcela on the interactive business website www.inafishbowl.com

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