Category Archives: Learning about earning

A life in the year of the School for Social Entrepreneurs East

My Green and Grey side hustle

I’d spent 20 years advising entrepreneurs (including those of the social variety) in the East of England on setting up and running businesses. Five years previously I’d helped create what might loosely be described as a social enterprise – the Repair Shed in Hemel Hempstead.

What had I learned and where could that knowledge take me?

I learnt that I don’t like the buck stopping with me when it comes to decision-making (I like to sleep soundly at night!) It confirmed what I’d known for a while – that there’s a big difference between working on a business and working in it (you do more toilet-cleaning than deal-making). Having business start-up ideas is not enough – however good they may be, you need the energy and determination to turn them into action – it’s hard work! And maybe two heads are better (or at least more fun) than one.

Most recently I learned about the concept of the ‘side hustle’ – a new name rather than a new idea – but one that’s significant enough to command the attention of the Henley Business School that researched the growth of the phenomenon in summer 2018. Essentially a side hustle is a business venture to supplement income from regular job. Its growth has been largely born out of flexible working practices and growing insecurity in the jobs market. At its best, a side hustle is the creative low-risk development of a potentially good business idea, at its worst it’s self-indulgence at someone else’s (ie your employer) expense. Some also see it as a sign that the jobs market is in a poor state with low pay and part-time becoming the norm. For me it was something else – an opportunity to try to turn a hobby into a small business (nothing new there) alongside a new part-time job, working with someone else.

Green & Grey is the enterprise I’m developing in Royston near Cambridge with a new-found partner-in-wood; we’re exploring creative ways to cut waste – mainly by making items for homes and gardens using reclaimed materials.  After meeting at a community breakfast (full English breakfasts are a shared passion) David and I discovered another common interest – making products from pallet wood. It got us thinking…  David likes creating (he’s the arty one) and my background is in marketing, so it seemed like a good combination. We agreed to make and market our products and, as important in my opinion, tell the story behind the enterprise, to see what would happen.

Four weeks after our very soft launch, our online presence is largely our WordPress web pages and Facebook (see links below). We recently met up in a local pub – no trouble finding time for a pint in our otherwise busy weeks – to review our progress and plan our next move. These are some of our reflections:

  • We’re happy with the brand-building, but not the sales. We’ve had a commission to make kids jousting equipment for a summer pageant, but we think we need to be more direct on the sales front
  • We’re expecting that one-off commissions will make up an important part of our work, but for now we plan to push summer items (for the garden) that can be made to order quickly
  • We’ll focus us online promotion through local social media platforms, highlighting our own local connections and our personal and professional values
  • With summer and craft markets in mind, we’ll be researching the market for smaller items that we can make and transport relatively easily
  • Above all, we’re agreed that we won’t compromise on the quality of our work and will price our products accordingly

The conversation goes on – between the two of us, but also with our followers. You can keep in touch by liking our Facebook page and we’ll be updating our journey (we’re all on a journey apparently) through future blog posts. Watch this space and tell your friends – because there is no planet B.

Further information: on Green & Grey  www.facebook.com/GreenAndGreyRecreations  and   https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/green-and-grey-store

On side hustles https://assets.henley.ac.uk/defaultUploads/PDFs/news/Journalists-Regatta-Henley_Business_School_whitepaper_DIGITAL.pdf

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Wise words from StartUp 2019 

Last Saturday I was in London for StartUp 2019 – a wonderful diverse gathering of entrepreneurs at all stages in their business start-up journeys (it seems we all have to be on a ‘journey’ these days). I’d been so impressed by StartUp 2018 I just had to return; I wasn’t disappointed…  

On getting started

“You have to ask a lot of favours at the start. Talk to as many people as possible and you may get lucky.” Tugce Bulut @tugcebulut Streetbees

“Don’t start promoting your new business too early; people get bored. 6 – 8 weeks before you launch is enough time to build interest and excitement.”  Jo Tutchener-Sharp @scampanddudejo Scamp & Dude

 “At the start I was vomiting every day through stress. Stress is a function of uncertainty and when you start a business everything is uncertain. I didn’t understand all the elements [of starting a business] – all start-ups go through this at some stage.” Steve Moore @flightclubdarts Flight Club Social Darts

“ Startup is the hardest you’ll ever work; forget work-life balance. For success it will be all-consuming – it takes a lot, it’s not for the faint-hearted.“ Jo Tutchener-Sharp @scampanddudejo Scamp & Dude

“Don’t jump too soon [from your paid employment] … when you go fulltime so much more will happen. I took a sabbatical when our business started.”  Amber Fraser, @Bravefoods Brave Foods

 “There’s no point in turning up unless you’re going to do quality. It costs the same to do a bad job badly as a good job well.”  Mike Soutar @mikesoutar

“Hold off getting your first employee as long as possible. You’ll know when the time is right – for me it was starting to do a bad job, I was reducing my face-to-face contact [with clients and other stakeholders]” Amber Fraser, @Bravefoods Brave Foods

On funding your start-up

“Don’t raise money until you have to (and don’t listen to people that tell you otherwise)” Tugce Bulut @tugcebulut Streetbees

 “I told my first investors (43 friends) – ‘whatever you invest, expect to lose it’.” Steve Moore @flightclubdarts Flight Club Social Darts

“It was eight months before we got our first investment – through cold-calling but via connections… You need to be clear about your ambitions and risk tolerances. With money you can make mistakes but blowing your life-savings is best avoided!” Amber Fraser, @Bravefoods Brave Foods

On choosing an investor… “There’s a real difference between a ‘cash provider’ and a ‘passionate partner’… If you have the right partner it doesn’t feel like you’re giving away part of your business; more like you’re gaining.” Tugce Bulut @tugcebulut Streetbees

The importance of other people

“Employing the right people is almost the hardest part of any business – if you get it right everything else falls into place, bit it takes time and mistakes.” Tugce Bulut @tugcebulut Streetbees

“You can be a lone wolf, but if you want to scale your business you need to establish relationships you can trust early on. Draw on your past experience and contacts – you can’t be an expert at everything!” Ross Jones @brandfarmfilms Brand Farm Films

“Have a strong business partner or someone else you can share your bad days with.”

“Your support network is incredibly important. You need people around you to remind you it’s not good for your health to immerse yourself in your business.” Tugce Bulut @tugcebulut Streetbees

“Have someone to whom you’re ‘accountable’ – it could be someone in a different business.”

“When you’re feeling down, go back to your clients and users [why you’re in business] it will give you a lot of energy.” Tugce Bulut @tugcebulut Streetbees

Marketing – what works?

“It’s important you’ve got a point of difference. Imagine you’re opening a magazine of your choice – could it feature your product/ brand; is it newsworthy?   Jo Tutchener-Sharp @scampanddudejo Scamp & Dude

“Building credibility, trust, face-to-face relationships, and referrals” Tugce Bulut @tugcebulut Streetbees

 “Find influencers who believe in what you’re doing – not necessarily the people with the biggest following, it’s important they are the right sort of person’”  Jo Tutchener-Sharp @scampanddudejo Scamp & Dude

“Three mistakes with PR [press/public relations]: a fear of self-promotion; having no press hook [for your approach to media outlets]; going in cold [so do your research before approaching a journalist]” Amanda Ruiz @amandaruizuk

On PR on a budget… “Don’t ‘say and spray’ – personalise your message to journalists, get to know them, understand their work and interests. Get on their radar in a good way (don’t stalk them!) help them to help you. Pitch to the right editor in the right publication. Get into the head of the magazine’s readers (and the editor).” Amanda Ruiz @amandaruizuk

How to succeed

“I like the uncomfortable times, big challenges, building stuff, constructing a business.” Steve Moore @flightclubdarts Flight Club Social Darts

“Protecting my intellectual property was really important for me. I recommend you protect it and then stand up for yourself. I was supported by my online customers – whom I regard as friends more than followers – sharing [the infringements] and getting angry.” Jo Tutchener-Sharp @scampanddudejo Scamp & Dude

“If you go into a business with a plan to sell it, it’ll never work.” Steve Moore @flightclubdarts Flight Club Social Darts

“Ask yourself – will you still love what you’re doing in 5- 10 years? Your heart and soul should be in it when you start your business.”   Jo Tutchener-Sharp @scampanddudejo Scamp & Dude

“Base your price on the market, not your costs.” Steve Moore @flightclubdarts Flight Club Social Darts

“Not everyone is going to invent Facebook. Ideas are overrated – it’s the execution that matters.” Ross Jones @brandfarmfilms Brand Farm Films

“If you’re a good leader, it’s because you can make decisions, quickly, with limited data. Some will be good decisions, some bad…. Decision-making to a businessman is like clay to a sculptor.” Mike Soutar @mikesoutar

“We look at four areas of risk: financial (mainly cashflow); people (having good staff); operational (coping with growth, including space); change (limiting your ‘operational debt’).”  Steve Moore @flightclubdarts Flight Club Social Darts

On embracing change…

“Be brave, your business plan will change, go with it – be open to change, consider the implications of each new step.” Carly Menken, Head of SME Trading, Direct Line for Business

“Don’t be afraid of what you don’t know – find out, learn, it will get sorted.” Hayley McClelland, The Fairy Dogmothers

“Back yourself – talk to others in a similar position” Ross Jones @brandfarmfilms Brand Farm Films

“Be willing to accept change and reflect on making the most of it. Make time to step back from the day-to-day – let the thinking part of your brain take over from the execution part – to be strategic.” Amber Fraser, @Bravefoods Brave Foods

“Learn how to ‘chunk down’. It’s easy to get overwhelmed, so break down [your challenges] into parts, small milestones. Change your perspective – if you have a ‘freeze moment’ go away, re-think, take a chance, learn from failure.” Carly Menken, Head of SME Trading, Direct Line for Business

And finally…

A new word: Brexhaustion. Two new abbreviations: EIS – Enterprise Investment Scheme (‘like Giftaid for investors’) and UGC – User Generated Content. A career-change website with an emphasis on business start-up https://www.escapethecity.org A book recommendation: https://www.hive.co.uk/Product/Jamie-Waller/Unsexy-Business–How-12-entrepreneurs-in-ordinary-busines/22722516

What I learned at StartUp 2018  https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/2018/01/15/enterprise-essentials-21-tips-from-startup-2018 

Investing in business success

In my work with young people wanting to set up their own enterprises, I take a particular interest in the insights of others similarly placed to provide support to business start-ups. In Milton Keynes, my meetings with young would-be entrepreneurs are held at the NatWest Accelerator Hub. Below I chat with two women who manage the Hub – Sharon Rai and Debbie Lewis – to find out more about them, their support roles, and their vision for the Accelerator Hub itself.

Sharon and Debbie are both steeped in business with combined experience in running a chain of hair and beauty salons, training, coaching, and other business development roles. Sharon grew up with family businesses around her – she describes her grandmother as a “serial hustler entrepreneur” so business is in her blood.

The role of ‘critical friend’ to entrepreneurs excited both women and it was the diversity and number of businesses being supported by the Accelerator Hub that attracted them – the scope for making a practical difference to the business development of over 120 would-be entrepreneurs each year.

“It’s about everyone in the Hub pulling in the same direction to achieve more than simply working 9 – 5 and getting an income; they want to make a difference and have a positive impact on the world around them.” Both also appreciate the freedom the backing of a major high street bank gives them to work out what’s best for the clients – without an agenda, hidden or otherwise.

I wonder how far Sharon and Debbie can stand back and put the emphasis on clients ‘doing it for themselves’? Both are clear about their role… “At the interview stage [for admission to the Hub] self-motivation is an important assessment criterion. It’s not our role to enthuse them; we’re there to pick them up when they are down, slow them down when their heads are in the clouds, and reflect back their comments when they need a dose of reality.”    

Support for Hub clients

There are two programmes on offer to would-be business owners; Debbie and Sharon makes the distinction between the two…

“The Pre-Accelerator Programme is for early-stage, or what may simply be ideas-stage businesses” explains Debbie “It’s an eight week predominantly digital [so arm’s length] offer to help with client discovery, validation of the business idea, and basic steps to assess whether the business has legs. After further reflection and work on the business idea (which might result in big changes to the original concept), entrepreneurs may then be able to apply for the Accelerator Programme.”

Sharon explains the sort of entrepreneurs coming on to the Accelerator Programme. “We may have people who are not yet trading, but may have secured investment, may have built a prototype or MVP [Minimum Viable Product], and have enough early interest to warrant the support the Hub can give them. In contrast, we may have businesses that have been trading for a number of years but want to make a step change. The critical element on the Accelerator Programme is that we’re looking at scaleable businesses. They have access to up to 18 months of support (reviewed every 6 months) but it may not be best for businesses stay for the full 18 months in one go. For some it’s a matter of getting out into the business world, or fixing a part of the business that’s not going well, and then coming back for the next step.”   

What’s in it for the bank?

The Hub in Milton Keynes occupies the second floor or a large building occupied on the ground and first floors by staff involved in commercial banking activities. It offers free facilities and programme support to Hub clients with a team led by Debbie and Sharon. I wonder about the commercial rationale behind this philanthropy and both are quick to answer…

While we’d obviously like clients to bank with NatWest there’s no obligation to do so. Indeed, if you looked at the cost per acquisition it would look like a very expensive way to get business customers! Ways in which the bank benefits from the Hub include an Entrepreneurial Development Academy where the Hub team are training ‘entrepreneurial thinking and doing’ in banking staff. Intrapreneurship is how they describe it. Fintech [technology specifically relevant to financial services] businesses and entrepreneurs may also be able to help the bank – through a healthy two-way exchange of ideas and insights.

A third potential benefit for NatWest is innovation, as Sharon explains “Being at the forefront of innovative technologies and solutions, we can feed that thinking and behaviour back into the bank.” And Debbie believes that the inter-change of ideas does effect change…

In the relatively short time I’ve been in post I’ve seen continual review and feedback and I haven’t found the frustrations of slow progress that other organisations experience. What we’ve reported gets considered, though obviously, it’s not always acted on.”

I learn that NatWest wants to be seen as the number one bank for entrepreneurs, so anything the Hub can do to turn clients into advocates must be good for business and brand. This also fits neatly with the vision for the Hub, which is to be a household name and first-choice provider when it comes to talk about ‘tools for entrepreneurs’ in and around Milton Keynes.

Defining success

I find it hard to believe that a business support facility backed by a major bank wouldn’t want some hard facts and figures to show the return on their investment. Sharon confirms that they’re working to certain Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) to assess the productivity of the Accelerator Hub. “For me, the really important measurement is the percentage success rate, and our 87% success rate compares very favourably with the 50% success [or 50% failure rate] of unsupported businesses. We also measure investment attracted, jobs created, and number of entrepreneurs supported.”

Alongside these ‘hard outputs’ are the ‘soft outcomes’ that result from bringing entrepreneurs together under one roof. These include the connections being made – between entrepreneur and mentor, or at a peer-to-peer mutual support level – to create a local community and support ecosystem that is invaluable. “The stories behind the figures are what drives the magic – creating something that is sustainable, long lasting, and with a significant local impact.” 

Sharon also identifies what she describes as a ‘fluffier element’ when defining what success looks like. “At the Hub we talk a lot about having a growth mindset – this is about supporting and enabling people to take ownership of their decisions. Success is when those same entrepreneurs hire their team and use those same principles.

Another measure of success is our ability to get entrepreneurs out into schools to inspire the next generation, to give them a sense of purpose and the heightened sense of self-worth that comes from surviving the highs and lows of starting and running a business.”

Debbie continues… “For young people, having someone coming in to school as a non-parent and non-teacher, and showing interest in them can give them a real buzz and a sense of importance. And it can be particularly powerful when the entrepreneurs are of a similar age to the students.

Having a vision for the next generation seems appropriately forward-looking for a sector like banking and financial services that has been transformed in less than a generation, let alone between generations. As we finish, I reflect that ‘banking on the future’ summarises our conversation quite neatly.

For further information about the Milton Keynes Accelerator Hub, e-mail miltonkeynesaccelerator@natwest.com, go online at www.natwest.com/accelerator and you can book onto one of the Natwest Entrepreneur Milton Keynes events via www.eventbrite.co.uk

How to sell a free service

From the Lisbon Chill Out Tours website…

We are a team of creative and free-minded tour guides who work as a part of United Europe’s independent network of free walking tours throughout continental Europe. If you support sustainable tourism or you’re just looking for a tour free of formalities, free of commissions, free of pressure and full of authentic experience – just show up to our meeting point.

There are three magic words in the marketing lexicon – new, you, and free. Despite what we may say, we’re all attracted to something flagged up as ‘new’ and ‘free’. But is it possible to run a viable business by offering a free service? Chill Out Tours seem to have done so – they’ve been operating free walking tours around Lisbon for nine years. Here are some insights into the apparent secret of their success,

Make it free and easy to join The freedom alluded to in the website blurb is not just about not having to pay for the guided walking tour – an important element in their offer – but also the convenience of being able to just turn up at a fixed time and place; no need to book. You can leave the three-hour tour at any stage.

At an accessible central location, the guides are easily identified with bright yellow bags from about 30 minutes before the start time. Importantly, they also advertise their business on their bags as they walk around the city.

Keep your publicity simple Their main publicity tool is a credit-card sized folded leaflet – printed on recycled paper. It’s handed out at the meeting point before the start of the tour, distributed to visitor accommodation (including Airbnb) and given to walkers at the end to distribute any way they can. They could have been handed out on the tour, but our guide didn’t do so.

The leaflet includes essential information in English or Spanish – meeting times and place (with a simple map), membership of different associations, contact details through social media and an invitation to find out more and share feedback. Enticing photos are used to tell the story on their website and through social media – with lots of images on Instagram and short video clips on Facebook.

Establish your credibility There’s fierce competition for your time if not your Euros – Trip Advisor lists 15 walking tours in Lisbon, and a rival provider of free (but sponsored) tours set up in 2013 with the same start time and location. So standing out from the rest is important.

The folk at Chill Out Tours do this by emphasising that all their guides are local to Lisbon and experienced – our guide Rafael had been leading tours for six years. In a veiled reference to the immediate competition, they describe themselves as the ‘original’ free tour company and stress their independence – they are not paid by any of the businesses along the tour route. They also establish their green credentials – see below – and their membership of a European-wide association gives reassurance. Ultimately, they can point to happy customers – on Trip Advisor Chill Out Tours are #29 out of 650 tours in Lisbon, with a 91% rating as ‘excellent’.

 Build your brand The public imagine of the tour company is everything if independent of support from providers of travel and accommodation. For Chill Out Tours their green credentials are important. As their website blurb makes clear, they push walking as sustainable low-impact tourism, their leaflets are printed on recycled paper, and their identifier bags are handmade from waste materials by a local company. Like all good businesses, they encourage their customers to spread the word – on and offline – at every opportunity, knowing that personal recommendation is always the most cost-effective promotion.

Make it personal With a rival company touting for business at the same time and place, it was important that the Chill Out Tour guides were  friendly and forward, without being pushy, from the start. They welcomed people coming especially, tried to attract the odd passer-by (we gained two en route) and informally they kept a check on waiting walkers who had gone to the nearby coffee bar for refreshments before the start.

At a first stop on the tour (in a quiet backstreet) everyone was invited to give their names and countries of origin, sharing a bit about their particular interests in relation to Lisbon and Portuguese culture – our expectations for the tour. Our friendly guide – Rafael – introduced himself with a bit of background (establishing his authority) and explained the plan for the three-hour tour. The tour commentary was informed and informal with references to the interests of the walkers where relevant. In short, we struck up a friendship with our guide and the group very quickly – skilfully orchestrated by Rafael – and the time passed quickly.

Be honest and upfront about the deal Although ‘free’ is the main hook (a selling point in the broadest sense) the website and the guides make clear that walkers are invited to donate what they think the tour is worth at the end. Of course, a dissatisfied customer can choose to pay nothing (but will probably not have stayed to the end – literally voting with their feet!)

The pay-what-it’s-worth principle puts obvious pressure on the guides to impress (and can make decisions about ideal group sizes a bit tricky) but the ratings on Trip Advisor confirm they’re doing a consistently good job. We were told of this payment arrangement at the start, during, and at the end of the tour.

Have a big finish – the reward As we got to the three-hour mark, and with legs getting weary, Rafael urged us on for a final climb (Lisbon is very hilly), promising a reward for our effort. For us that reward was a fine view across the city and a recap on the route we’d taken and the sights and landmarks along the way.

For Rafael the reward was genuine appreciation from the group – reflected in generous donations. Most of the 15 – 20 people in our group seemed to give willingly and without embarrassment. Comparable paid-for tours charge between 12 and 22 Euros per person and I’d estimate this was replicated by the donations on our tour.

And for Rafael, even after six years, one hopes he gets great satisfaction from knowing his obvious passion for the job, for Lisbon, and it’s living history had fired a similar interest in our small, happy, dispersing walking tour group.

Author’s note: These are my personal observations – based on a walking tour in September 2018 – I was neither paid nor encouraged to write this blog post.

Further information https://www.lisbon-chillout-freetour.com and Trip Advisor  https://bit.ly/2Rby6Rj

What young people have taught me about starting a business #3 – the support

Concluding a three-part series of what I’ve learnt over two years working with young would-be business owners….

Age, experience and influence

As business advisers to young people, I think we’re at risk of overlooking one of the most valuable resources we have in our midst – other young people of a similar age. We see it happening in group training sessions – the animated exchange of ideas in the breaks away from the formal learning. To date I’ve been largely unable to capitalise on this opportunity for encouraging peer support as a potentially effective way to sustain the commitment to business start-up.

I’ve facilitated ‘buddying up’ on a limited scale – notably where one young entrepreneur is now employing another, and a couple of ‘joint ventures’ – but there’s scope for more. Role models of the same age, albeit with only relatively greater experience, are also potentially more motivating than even successful business people from another generation.

The sharing of profiles of young entrepreneurs – covering their successes as well as their failures – becomes ever more possible in our increasingly multi-media world. This is not about setting them up cool, edgy mini celebrities, rather it’s about getting it straight from honest influencers they relate to and can trust. It’s also showing what’s possible through relatable case studies.

What it takes to succeed

18 months after launching her (successful) beauty business, one of the entrepreneurs I’ve worked with apologised for not responding sooner to my e-mail – “I’ve just had my first holiday” she explained.

I’ll be using this to get across to other young entrepreneurs a bit of the reality of setting up a new business. It’s always a fine line between being brutally honest and being positive and encouraging, but mass media and ‘get rich quick’ TV programmes can give a false impression of the life of the entrepreneur.

Guidance from those who have been there and done it (as suggested above) can be important voices in administering a dose of reality mixed with inspiration – ‘see what I achieved despite the setbacks.’ There’s also a place for giving greater attention to the entrepreneurial mindset needed to start a business (often alone) without suggesting that it can’t be learned. Many of the young people I work with have too often been told what they can’t do, rather than being encouraged to see what they might achieve.

Tough love

I’ve been accused of being too soft on the young people with whom I work – giving them too much of my time, making too many allowances for their behaviour, seeing only the best in them. An observation from a supportive and very experienced colleague “this business idea should have been knocked on the head at birth” pretty much sums it up.

At an organisational level, it points up the difficult balancing act that is living your personal and professional values – to support those that the rest of society may have written off while recognising that, ultimately, would-be entrepreneurs have got to do it for themselves and that no organisation can afford to ‘flog dead horses’.

Previously…

Lesson #1 – what it takes              https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/2017/08/28/what-young-people-have-taught-me-about-starting-a-business 

Lessons #2 – the entrepreneurs  https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/2018/09/18/what-young-people-have-taught-me-about-starting-a-business-2-the-entrepreneurs/

If you’re 18-30 and want to explore the possibility of starting your own business (or you know someone who does), The Prince’s Trust Enterprise programme is for you. It’s free and available both face-to-face and online, visit www.princes-trust.org.uk/enterprise to find out more.

What young people have taught me about starting a business #2 – the entrepreneurs

Communication skills are essential

I had a privileged upbringing – surrounded by books and a loving family that were articulate in spoken and written word – particularly around political and social change. That’s probably why I chose marketing and communications as a career in the not-for-private-profit sector.

A worrying large number of the young people I work with have poor communication skills when it comes to answering and talking on the phone, taking notes when listening to people giving advice, shaping and presenting ideas within their peer group, and a reluctance to read anything more than a couple of sentences. This is not about learning disabilities (which are also common), it’s about (not) learning basic skills in schools, or losing what they learnt in school – like writing by hand.

Some have coping mechanism for hiding areas of weakness (don’t we all?) but, when starting a business, the inability to communicate with a certain level of competence is a massive barrier. The sooner issues are identified and addressed the better; not always easy when the young people themselves don’t acknowledge there’s a problem.

Some young people think they can run an online business from their back bedrooms without ever having to leave the house. They look at me with horror when I tell them they’ll need to go and talk to people face-to-face to get their businesses started.

 ‘Quick and dirty’ may be the best way to start

The idea of the MVP (Minimal Viable Product) and phrases like ‘fail fast’ are familiar in the world of business start-ups, particularly when they are of the techy variety. I’m talking about something different here… ‘try to strike while the iron’s hot’ might be a more appropriate cliché.

Sustaining interest and motivation is young people with ‘complicated lives’ is not easy. We know that the longer the time lapse between a young person applying for business support and that support actually materialising is critical for determining how much energy they bring to the process. When real life gets in the way, the dream can fade surprisingly quickly. The ideal scenario is enquiry one week and support the next, but this is not always possible and a 4 – 6 weeks delay is more likely between first contact and hands-on support.

In a similar vein, delays while writing a business plan can result in a rapid decline in commitment to the finished product; so ‘good enough’ may be the watchword here. An idea being explored is to fill the immediate time after first contact with an involvement activity – around market research maybe, or even the early stages of drafting a business plan. Watch this space.

The delay in ‘getting started’ might be self-imposed as well. We all know that sometimes we procrastinate – putting off doing something through lack of confidence or whatever, making it bigger in our imagination that it is. This happens quite a lot with young people who find reasons for not starting a business; the search for ‘the right premises’ in one case. My reaction is to query the delay and suggest ways to get ‘test trading’ as soon as possible.

The role of the side hustle

Objectively, and procrastination notwithstanding, the ability to devote a full working week to business development is likely to get a new enterprise up and running the quicker than doing so alongside a part time job. The advice is always ‘don’t give up the day job too soon’ – test the viability of your new business idea while having a steady income to help pay the bills.

Not everyone has the luxury of having regular income while starting their businesses and, as mentioned in a previous blog, many young people are setting up businesses precisely because they can’t get someone to employ them. That said, I am increasingly attracted to the idea of the ‘side hustle’ which seems to have a raised profile in recent years. And it’s not just my imagination – the Henley Business School reported on the rise of the side hustle as recently as July 2018. Doing a ‘bit of business on the side’ sounds dodgy, but it needn’t be; having a way to test an idea without undue financial risk is a responsible route to take and, depending on the nature of the full-time job and the very part-time start-up, could be a sustainable combination.

Businesses are getting more social

I have a personal passion for a business model described as ‘social enterprise’ – it’s been a part of my professional and personal life for almost two decades. I see it as mixing the best of the charity world with the best of the business world to create an income-generating enterprise with financial, social and, often, environmental objectives.

I’ve consciously not pushed the social enterprise model to young people, not least because it’s a difficult route to go down with built-in business disadvantages before you get to the starting line. Despite this, I’m quietly pleased that an increasing number of people with whom I work come to me with business ideas that I would broadly define as social enterprises.

On the plus side, their commitment is likely be a given – they are often motivated to set up a business to meet a need they have personally identified – as someone with mental ill health or as a struggling young mum. That passion however can also be a negative – personal involvement can often blur the line between the heart and the head. Early on, agreeing the primary purpose of the enterprise is important – is it about furthering a cause or making money – often requiring some difficult decisions, with some compromise at least in the early stages.

And on a broader point, and in praise of the young people I advise, all the would-be entrepreneurs have been sensitive, sociable and considerate to each other – a million miles from the monsters we see on TV in The Apprentice!

Previously – https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/2017/08/28/what-young-people-have-taught-me-about-starting-a-business

Next – what have I learnt about the support needed

Enterprise essentials #2 – 21 more tips from StartUp Saturday

It was the first day of September – a good time to be thinking about starting a business. We’re at the wonderful British Library Business and Intellectual Property Centre in central London for a StartUp Saturday business class led by Enterprise Nation founder Emma Jones. There’s an expectant buzz within the group of 30 aspiring business owners and, interestingly (to me at least), 75% are women; confirming my theory about women and entrepreneurship. It was a day that was rich in experience, of both Emma Jones and the participants, inspiring an intriguing array of start-up businesses at different stage in their development.

I’ve now been in business advice roles of various kinds for nearly two decades and I never stop learning – the following 21 insights, quotes and tips made it into my notebook…

  1. According to the Henley Business School, developing a ‘side hustle’ [a secondary business or job that brings in, or has the potential to bring in, extra income] applies to 25% of all adults, with the figures for employees rising to nearly 40%
  1. If you’re thinking of setting up a side hustle alongside your main employment… it’s a good idea to check what your contract says, informally check out company policy, and get advice from ACAS (the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) if necessary
  1. Would-be entrepreneurs see a niche business as narrowing the potential market for the products or services on offer, creating a disadvantage. In practice, it deepens the market which can mean lower marketing costs and higher customer loyalty
  1. The secret to success in services such as photography, PR [public relations] and events is often to go for a niche part of the market. Hone in on deciding exactly who your business is for – photos for parents of new-born babies maybe
  1. It’s always worth re-quoting the cliché ‘There may be a gap in the market, but is there a market in the gap?’
  1. There are three broad sources for most business ideas: A gap in the market (no one else is doing it), a passion (I want to get paid for something I love), improvement (I can do it better)
  1. IMOFF – a mnemonic for the main elements of a business plan – Idea, Market, Operations, Finances, Friends
  1. 3 Bs to start-up and grow your business cost-effectively: beg, borrow, barter. And ‘surround yourself with experts’ when your business is young. Becoming ‘an expert’ yourself is good for profile-building
  1. Avoid ‘friends and family focus groups’ they’ll usually want to please you, rather than tell you the truth. But a face-to-face focus group, even with your most loyal customers, can often give you greater insights than a larger arms-length consultation
  1. When you can afford to… “Do what you do best and outsource the rest”. Carry out a simple cost-benefit analysis to see how you spend your time. What do you love (that generates income)  and how much time could you liberate if you outsourced what you don’t?
  1. Crowdfunding is an increasingly popular way to raise finance to start a business. And some are even launching campaigns for the profile-raising, rather than fundraising, potential. Family and friends are still the most popular source for start-up finance
  1. On business names… It’s best to have a name that is memorable and pronounceable. Your company, domain and trading names can be different [but some sort of association is helpful]
  1. While honesty should be at the heart of all your business dealings, at times it may be expedient to tell ‘future truths’. [Positivity without porkies?]
  1. 3 Cs to turn your passion into profit online – Content (around something you and others love) to build your Community (through social media) as the seedbed for Commercial development (jargon alert – monetization)
  1. Selling is very much a numbers game needing perseverance and patience. But doing even simple things to increase sales can make a difference because so few people [in small businesses] do so.
  1. People go to Pinterest to buy things (but can’t) which may explain why you can now buy on Instagram. Twitter and Facebook are not designed for sales (but Facebook ads work for small businesses)
  1. Twitter is useful for sharing your expertise, Facebook is social (for building your following), LinkedIn is good for business-to-business and ‘selling’ via Groups), YouTube can substantiate your business or build a business in its own right
  1. Measure what social media tools work best for your business, then focus on the one or two that are getting most engagement with your target audience
  1. Events can bring your contacts and (potential) customers together. “If you connect your contacts to each other, you connect them ever closer to you”
  1. DIY routes to making money. A commercial ‘how-to guide’ on YouTube is the entrepreneur’s dream – making money while you sleep. Putting on paid-for in-person training courses can both generate additional income and increase demand for your core services
  1. An ABC of plate spinning to keep you sane in business – Administration (having control – money in, money out) Business development (attracting new customers) Customer care (keeping your customers and building loyalty)

Further start-up support: www.enterprisenation.com  and www.princes-trust.org.uk/help-for-young-people/support-starting-business

The first 21 StartUp tips: https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/2018/01/15/enterprise-essentials-21-tips-from-startup-2018/