Tag Archives: communication

Enterprise essentials – 21 tips from StartUp 2018

It’s January 13th 2018 and hundreds of entrepreneurs both young and old (but mainly young) are gathered in East London to consider anything and everything to do with starting a business. A great day with loads on on offer – so ‘pick and mix’ was the way to go.

The event was also refreshingly free from business bullshit and the hero-worshipping of edgy, sweary entrepreneurs spouting ‘awesome’, ‘cool’ and ‘disruptive’ all day. In no particular order (as they say on Strictly) I picked up the following tips by keeping my ears pinned back during the day.

  1. The recommended maximum number of questions and completion time for market research surveys is 22 questions and seven minutes (after that there’s a severe drop in response rates)
  2. Success in starting  business is largely down to a combination of ideas, skills and persistence, and lot of them – 90% of business start-ups fail within a year, 47% of retail businesses survive for 10 years
  3. Making products is not business, selling products is the business
  4. Focus on your passions, understand the core mission of your new business, be clear why you are different from other similar businesses (the competition)
  5. The difference between masculine and feminine marketing is the difference between ‘hard sell’ and ‘heart sell’
  6. Talk to as many people as possible- share your ideas freely. Unless your product is technical, forget patents (they’re expensive) and concentrate on protecting your trade mark
  7. Get your products out there as soon as possible – stop talking, start selling – just do it!
  8. Write down 50 people you think should know about your new business, decide how you’re going to reach them, and tell them
  9. “Success is selling something that doesn’t come back to people who do” A cliche, but true.
  10. Work hard, be nice to people, do your research, know your customers, be prepared to sacrifice sleep
  11. Start small, never stop learning and the business will grow with you
  12. When you start out in business think about your definition of success – is it making money, making a difference, or what?
  13. Ideas are worthless, execution is everything
  14. In your business pitch start with the pain for your customers
  15. When you start business planning, list all your assumptions and test each one [before someone else asks you awkward questions]
  16. Mentors are great for keeping you on track and keeping you going, particularly at start-up stage
  17. The highs and lows are more extreme when starting your own business [rather than working in someone else’s]
  18. Know your strengths and [particularly] your weaknesses when starting a business
  19. Tough times at start-up stage can be a springboard for great business development
  20. Understand your brand, focus on the core of your mission, follow your passion, talk to lots of people
  21. Starting a business takes three times as long as you think it will

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

 

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Trade secrets – marketing is cheap and easy

What they don’t tell you about starting a business

Marketing professionals who sell their services to businesses have to convince others that marketing is difficult so they (the businesses) need to employ someone else to do it. Without belittling the art of the marketer, a lot of good marketing is common-sense communication demanding time rather than money.

At the start-up stage, when money is tight, doing your own marketing is probably the best use of your time. When the business is established and growing, that might be the time to think about employing the services of marketing specialists, but managing that discipline and remaining in control will still be important – to make sure the business goes in the direction you want.

After my day-long marketing training days I tell learners that if they do half of what they’ve learnt during the training day, they’ll probably be doing twice as much marketing as the average small business. They find this hard to believe, but many businesses often fail to even get the basics of marketing right (which may be why they remain ‘small’ businesses?) So maybe you do need to employ the professionals after all…

For other Trade Secrets in this series, go to  https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/category/trade-secrets

What makes a great business plan?

There’s no right and wrong way to write a business plan. It’s about getting the job done – which is probably to make the best case to readers (investors, collaborators, potential customers) to persuade them to support you and your business idea.

Below are 10 questions that most business plans should aim to answer…

  1. Why are you the right person to be setting up in business? What’s your personal and professional situation – relevant life experience/ relevant training and work experience. What are your interests outside of work but relevant to your business success? 
  1. Why is this business particularly attractive to you? What’s the source of your passion – personal and professional? Why you will put in the extra effort and time to succeed when the going gets tough?
  1. Who will buy your products or services? Define your target market/s in a meaningful way (their demographics, attitudes, behaviours)
  1. Why will people want to buy your products/services? What ‘needs’ do your product/ service meet? And what ‘wants’ will you satisfy such that people will buy from you rather than your competitors?  
  1. How do you know that there is demand for your products and services? Explain your market research – show real, meaningful evidence of there being enough people willing to pay for your product/service. The views of your friends and family don’t count! The best market research is test-trading
  1. How will your business plan show the figures add up (with more income than expenditure)? This is your best estimate to show there are enough people willing to spend enough money to allow you to pay your bills (use your market research and cost/sales estimates to make the case ) 
  1. What is ‘plan B’ if things don’t turn out as planned? Will you … Scale down? Slow down? Do something slightly different? Do something completely different?  
  1. How do you know the overall business idea is realistic? Can you point to others doing the same thing successfully? How self-aware are you about your strengths and ways to compensate for your weaknesses? 
  1. How will you monitor the performance of your business? How will you know how well you’re doing? This is about more than just money – the ‘bottom line’. Will you set targets and milestones, identify relevant measures – outputs and outcomes – over the short/medium/long term.
  1. What will success look like? Imagine yourself in 12 months – what will a typical day / week look like? What‘s your vision for the period covered by your business plan?

 General advice:

  • Show development stages in your business plan. Targets for month 3, month 6, and month 12 perhaps
  • Make your plan sound certain (be positive but realistic and honest) even if some elements are not very fixed
  • Keep it simple – write for a 12 year old with no knowledge of you/ your business Quality is more important than quantity
  • Know where your figures come from (and explain the main assumptions in your plan)
  • Add other materials, such as photos, at the end if it helps the reader get a better grasp of you and your business idea.

Further reading:  https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/2017/04/28/the-business-plan-paradox/

When John Noakes came to dinner

The death of a ‘TV personality’ who has been out of the public eye for a long time inevitably brings out reminiscences that have lain dormant for many years. Not so with John Noakes, a presenter with the renowned children’s TV programme Blue Peter from 1965 – 1978.

It was only last week I was thinking about Noakes when discussing after-dinner speakers with a group of young would-be entrepreneurs developing ‘elevator pitches’ to describe their business ideas.

Back in the late 70s when at university in London, I was involved with the Geographical Society –  an excuse for having fun rather than doing anything particularly geographical. Inviting John Noakes to speak at our annual black-tie Geography Society Dinner had started as a joke…  No one was more surprised than the organising committee when the great man agreed to attend (I seem to remember we discovered a connection with one of our fellow geographers which may have helped).

All went according to plan and he performed well, as you’d expect from a professional, although I now learn he was really quite shy and regarded each public appearance as ‘a performance’ as befits the trained actor he was. Four decades later I can only remember he spoke about his love of sailing. This was some years before his two failed attempts to circumnavigate the world. The second attempt in 1984 included a planned three-day stopover in Majorca where, instead of taking to the high seas, he stayed for the rest of his life.

Remembering that John Noakes talked about sailing is more than I can say about an after-dinner speaker at another Geographical Society Dinner. This time we had invited a professional public speaker (I don’t know how we could afford to have him there). To be fair, he did promise we’d remember nothing about his talk just moments before doing his party piece – clearing a space on the dining table in front of him before performing a headstand. His name was Gyles Brandreth and he’s quite right – I remember nothing other than his headstand!

I use that headstand as an example of a hook to grab audience interest when making a presentation. I suspect that the young entrepreneurs with whom I shared it will not be imitating Gyles Brandreth to grab attention at their next business pitches, but even something a little less dramatic will show they were listening to mine.

The business plan paradox

“If you don’t have a plan, you can’t change it”

In my work with young entrepreneurs, we set great store by them developing a business plan for each would-be enterprise. I describe it as the key that unlocks further support – including a start-up loan and a business mentor. And it can. That’s the carrot for young people hoping to start their own businesses and the stick is… well… it’s me giving them feedback on their various drafts at 1-2-1 meetings. It has to be  their business plan and after each encounter, I  hope they won’t give up; no one is going to force them to stay the course. Of course, many end up ‘doing their own thing’ and we lose touch.

But then I have mixed feelings about business plans. They are, at best, an informed estimate about how things might turn out. We know they’re out of date the minute the ink dries on the page and they can be knocked sideways, backwards, and forwards by unforeseen opportunities and obstacles in the weeks following. Business plans chart 12 months ahead in a linear, orderly fashion (with words and figures hopefully describing parallel journeys) but we know that real life – personal and professional twists and turns – mean that’s unlikely to happen. We say that the business plan should be a ‘living document’ – dynamic and being constantly updated – but I wonder how many really are…

Then there’s my guilty secret – in the three years I spent setting up The Repair Shed (a social enterprise in Hemel Hempstead) my business plan lay unopened,  unloved, and out-of-date on the shelf. In fairness, I did have a 12-month project plan for the funders and I spent a lot of time explaining why things didn’t turn out quite like I said they would.

And yet… and yet …

Young people starting a business plan, and progressing it from one draft to another, shows learning in action, and achievement – massive achievement is some cases – that is credit-worthy in itself. Transferring ideas from inside heads on to paper helps make thinking tangible and, can often clarify issues and gaps in knowledge. A written business plan can share understanding between strangers about the young entrepreneur and their new venture. Even if the business plan is abandoned, it can be retrieved at a later date – a lifeline if the business is floundering, a leg up if the business was never started. And there’s proof that the author of a well-worked business plan can become much more employable as a result of that planning exercise alone.

There’s a much-quoted saying “no business plan survives first contact with customers” but I’d be happy with that – it says our young entrepreneurs have actually started trading!

Coming soon – 10 questions your business plan should answer  

The power of networking

Many years ago I went to a talk in Cambridge by Hilton Catt, co-author of The Power of Networking. I don’t know whether the publicity was ambiguous or what but, it being Cambridge, there was a digital divide within the audience – one half thought it would be about virtual networks, the other half thought it would be about ‘real’ human networks.

I’m pleased to say it was about the power of the face-to-face – in Hilton Catt’s case, for job-hunting. I was unemployed at the time and, while the evening didn’t result in my immediate employment, it reinforced what I’d been told by other jobhunters and confirmed my belief in the benefit of seeking and nurturing contacts for both professional and personal progression.

To this day, I still think you can’t beat close encounters of the personal kind – even in our tech-rich, time-poor working lives – and more so in an age of faux online friends, false news, and reality TV shows that suggest that, in business, someone has to lose for you to win.

Call me old-fashioned, but my experience of working with small business start-ups for more than a decade is that they have far more to gain by sharing their ideas (rather than protecting them) and seeking partners for mutually beneficial relationships. I’m not starry-eyed about collaboration and co-operation (as opposed to competition) but I recommend it daily, and will do so until someone convinces me there’s a better way.

In my day-job I support young people in their efforts to turn business ideas into viable and hopefully sustainable enterprises. Entrepreneurship can be a lonely road to take, so I encourage then to seek out like-minded people – even the competition – for advice about mistakes made, lessons learnt, and what works well.

The young entrepreneurs are constantly astonished and delighted by the helpfulness of others (people who remember when they were starting out maybe) with no expectation of a payback. I also pull in my own personal and professional contacts when I can. In the last six months, I’ve fixed a fence erector up with a van, I’ve arranged a would-be photographer’s night at a music awards ceremony in London as professional snapper’s assistant, I’ve unearthed (pun intended) a garden designer to pass judgement on a newbie designer’s work, and I’ve steered others towards potential collaborators, including business networks.

The day that ‘who you know’ becomes less important than ‘what you know’ and online communications make face-to-face connections unnecessary, I think I’ll pack up and head for the hills (preferably somewhere there’s no broadband).

Nine Healthy Signs (NHS)?

Some years ago a wiser man than I observed that, while the ability to demonstrate on the streets is often cited as a manifestation of democracy in action, this is not necessarily the case.

He argued that a public demonstration is, in fact, a last resort when all other means have failed to get our voices heard – as such is it a failure of the democratic process. He’d had more than enough time to come to this conclusion having spent many years in solitary confinement in a Middle Eastern jail – fallout from a clampdown on free speech.

Without meaning to make a trite comparison, it felt a bit like a last resort to me last week as we gathered in Tavistock Square (home of the British Medical Association’s HQ) to proclaim and reclaim #OurNHS. The march from WC1 ended in Parliament Square, home of a government that seems bent on dismantling the NHS in the name of increased efficiency – by which they mean meeting an ever-growing need with ever-decreasing resources. Even the best miracle cures cannot square that circle.

In the face of such apparent indifference to reality, ignoring the views of health professionals at the frontline, and a dogmatic refusal to consider other views, maybe marching, chanting, and singing is all we have left in our armoury to foster a sense of common purpose, fellowship and, however small, power and influence?

In the end the #OurNHS march was a great day out with family and the weather was kind. But it didn’t feel like a mass demonstration and the mainstream media coverage was disappointing, even the rallying speeches at the end seemed a bit tired. But in one respect the loudest noise was made, not by voices, but by the messages on placards and banners. Each competed for attention with their soundbite 140-character quips and some seriously clever imagery.

 

With camera phones capturing and communicating every detail, we live in hope that social media might somehow magnify the impact of the march itself and make it all worthwhile. Maybe those placard bearers will have the last laugh. I share some of their messages here in the hope they will help lift your spirits and stave off the need for you to use the NHS for a little longer.