Tag Archives: market testing

Running before you can walk

Profiling a Prince’s Trust supported entrepreneur

Ruth Simmonds has a high energy ‘go for it’ style which would seem to be at odds with her chosen business pursuits – as a Pilates instructor and, more recently, coaching other Pilates instructors.

From the little I know about Pilates, it seems to be about controlled physical exercise accompanied by mindful relaxation. This contrasts sharply with the animated exchange that is a conversation with Ruth Simmonds, founder of Therapy Through Pilates.

The apparent contradiction is explained by a serious back injury that put Ruth – a former dance teacher – in bed for sixth months and led to her discovering Pilates as part of her rehabilitation. “A full workout that aligns the body to overcome pain” is how Ruth describes the discipline.

Being bed-bound meant she had time to hatch her business idea, plan it – “a business plan is good for getting you thinking about things you wouldn’t have done otherwise” says Ruth –  researching the market, and networking. “You’ll never build a business on your own” she adds.

In a canny move that involved charging others for instruction while she herself was learning how to be a Pilates instructor, Ruth built up a small but growing core of paying customers by running two classes in a local venue. As well as generating income, she says this test trading “built my confidence and got me used to charging for my services. I find people can be funny about charging – that’s no way to run a business!”

She credits the Prince’s Trust Enterprise Programme with “giving me a push to turn the idea into a business.” With that gentle push – in recognition of the bad back – the business was up and running within a couple of months of Ruth’s recovery from the injury. Ruth describes herself as a “bit of a driver” and success means she now has others to do admin and instructors working for her.

This success has freed up time for her to pursue a new, but related, business venture – supporting Pilates instructors to develop themselves and their businesses through 1-2-1 coaching and group retreats at home and abroad.

Despite her personal effort, energy and determination, Ruth acknowledges the contribution of her Prince’s Trust business mentor. ”The mentoring is probably one of the best things about the programme. You’re sometimes too close to the business yourself to see the opportunities – you need someone outside to say ‘have you thought of doing it like this?’”

For marketing support and advice, Ruth went elsewhere through a family connection and has focussed on Facebook as her communication channel of choice for reaching new clients online. “I started with boosted posts, then went into Facebook groups and other social networks to explain the benefits of Pilates in everyday life. I offered free taster sessions – it worked well to go one further and get people to experience the benefits for themselves.”

But Ruth advises against trying all social media channels at once “You’ll be spreading yourself too thinly and it makes it difficult to track what’s working.”

The move from being a Pilates instructor to helping other instructors develop their businesses reflects Ruth’s interest in how mindset can help (or hinder) business development and, ultimately, success. Her own mindset has everything to do with being positive. “I’m someone who jumps in the deep end and, while I wouldn’t necessarily encourage others to do this, I give it my all and learn when things go wrong. There were times when my mentor advised me not to do something and I went ahead and did it anyway… and it worked!”

That said, Ruth admits she’s not too proud to ask for help. “If I hit a brick wall, I’ll reach out to others – for advice, information or inspiration. When you put yourself out there, there’s always an underlying fear of rejection – it can be scary.”   

Further information:      

Therapy through Pilates https://www.facebook.com/therapythroughpilates

Prince’s Trust Enterprise Programme  https://www.princes-trust.org.uk/help-for-young-people/support-starting-business  

Trade secrets – no competition means no market

What they don’t tell you about starting a business

“If you are genuinely ground-breaking there may be no competition, but if you think that then probably you’re either looking at product and not demand, or there is no demand.” Source unknown

When someone says they have a unique business idea, they probably haven’t done enough research. It’s very unlikely that a business idea has not been thought of by someone else, but that’s not a problem in itself.

New entrepreneurs often feel they have to be original to be successful – they take the marketing phrase ‘unique selling point’ literally. But a business set up in a competitive field – a coffee shop for example – at least knows there’s a market for the products on offer.

Coffee shop promotion by the biggest brands is also promotion for coffee retailers everywhere. This means the independents don’t need to establish demand and, while creating brand recognition and winning customers from the big players is harder, creating a better offer than other providers is the same for most start-ups.

How the independents are taking on the chain coffee shops  https://www.theguardian.com/small-business-network/2017/nov/14/move-over-starbucks-the-indie-coffee-shops-battling-it-out-on-the-high-street

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

Running on fumes – a case for lean business start-up?


Month six of my year-long journey on the Lloyds Bank School for Social Entrepreneurs start-up programme. The creative environment at our monthly group learning sessions in Ipswich at the Eastern Enterprise Hub is always stimulating. Our last gathering got me thinking…

running-on-fumesStarting a new enterprise is always a balance between getting going and doing your homework first. Clearly having a sound plan and a solid funding base before developing a business makes sense, but could the ‘lean start-up’ approach be a quicker route to financial viability?

When I was at primary school, my mother seemed to be driving around on very little petrol much of the time. If I pointed out the petrol gauge was in the red, she would simply speed up – “to get home before it runs out” she’d explain.

Yes, pressure – to get home, to meet a deadline, to get a business up and running – can lead to irrational behaviour. But maybe real entrepreneurship means just that – cutting corners and taking risks (with due regard for health and safety) and doing things differently – however irrational and ill-advised it may seem at the time.

Bedford-based social entrepreneur Lynn Serafinn uses the phrase ‘running on fumes’ in an excellent blog post on social enterprise start-ups in which she passionately argues against letting your heart rule your head when it comes to money. But maybe, just maybe, there are benefits to be had from taking my mum’s approach to overcoming a shortage of fuel for the journey? Four thoughts on this subject:

Motivation: We know that in a dangerous situation, our adrenalin kicks in to enable physical feats – jumping clean over a sofa to avoid a violent confrontation was one such achievement for an unfit friend of mine. More general discomfort can also encourage us to go further, faster. I know a couple who built a house in just less than a year while living in a garden shed that was little bigger than the double bed inside it. Their friends decided to do the same thing – but while living in a nice, comfortable warm house. They were struggling to get their house finished many years later.

Real market testing: In his much-praised 2011 book The Lean Start-up, Eric Ries suggests that it’s a good idea to put a product out into the marketplace before it’s fully developed. Getting a product developed for sale at ‘just beyond pro-type stage’ will get more genuine feedback from purchasers than will more theoretical market research. Also, Reis argues, by launching the unfinished article in which you’ve invested relatively less cash and care, you’re more likely to respond to criticisms positively and adapt your product – which is what innovation is all about.

Less padding, more purpose: Without the luxury of unlimited resources, the new enterprise is forced to hone in on essential spending (assuming you have some objective ways of defining ‘essential’) with a keen focus on purpose; what are we trying to achieve? I’m currently watching a national programme of activity evolve through two broad development routes – top-down (the deluxe model) and bottom-up (the lean machine approach). A few years from now I’ll be intrigued to see which route has been the more sustainable and, ultimately, more successful.

Attracting finance: Even when seeking start-up funding, it may be a good strategy to get your business out there before you have all your proverbial ducks in a row. A social lender recently told me “proof works” when pitching for finance. A shining business plan with figures to impress is just that – a plan and a promise – whereas hard evidence, of demand for new real products and services, counts for a lot.

What do you think – is ‘running on fumes’ the way to go fast, or go bust?

References:

Lynn Serafinn’s blog post http://the7gracesofmarketing.com/2013/10/show-me-the-money-thoughts-on-social-enterprise-start-ups

The Lean Start Up by Eris Ries www.hive.co.uk/book/the-lean-startup-how-constant-innovation-creates-radically-successful-businesses/13291794

Funding your social enterprise with or without money www.theguardian.com/social-enterprise-network/2014/feb/10/how-to-guide-funding-your-social-enterprise