Tag Archives: Princes Trust

Changing mindsets

Profiling a Prince’s Trust – supported entrepreneur

That her new app to help young people build essential mindset skills has been successfully launched is, says creator Elise Williams, a testimony to the power of the tools she shares through the app.  She explains how she faced lots of challenges, with all the self-doubt that comes from spending money on developing an unproven resource. But she’s come through it in one piece by tapping into many of the mental strength developing skills she advocates!

Elise describes her app – Make Your Mind Up – as “Everything you wish you knew but weren’t taught at school – resilience, motivation, focus, confidence, stress control – tools for building a positive mindset and mental strength.” The evidence-based videos and tools are informed by research from many disciplines including sports psychology, mindfulness and neuroscience.

Elise’s commitment to developing the app reflects her own personal experience after leaving school and university. “I came out and stepped into the big wide world and, very quickly, I realised how unprepared I was for coping with the stress of even small things. Speaking to friends I realised I wasn’t alone – which was reassuring – we’d all gone through 18 years of education but still felt unprepared without a foundation of essential skills.”

For Elise, an important element is that the app provides an urgent solution – to help users get through a challenge. She describes Make Your Mind Up as “a pocket mentoravailable when people most need it” The plan is to spread understanding of the tools and mindset thinking through workshops with schools, teachers and parent groups; schools are invited to get in touch about trialling the materials for free. A growing Facebook community also offers valuable peer-to-peer support to users and is a useful source of feedback on content and ideas for new resources.

Despite their value in emergency situations, Elise stresses the need for regular use of the mindset tools. “There’s a danger you don’t keep the tools in your kit sharpened – it can help prevent serious development of unhealthy responses if you practice and keep your skills updated. It’s all about building up healthy habits – reminding yourself, for example, why you might be having negative thoughts.”

 As someone who knew little about app development when she started out, Elise had some useful insights for other would-be app creators. For her, finding the right developer, which wasn’t easy, is top of the list. “It took maybe six months, and I think some providers took advantage of my inexperience. When I finally found the right people I could see they really understood the concept, and they were parents of children in my target market which helped! Meeting face-to-face at the start was really important to assess whether they were genuinely interested in helping to make my idea a reality.”

As with many other businesses buying-in professional services, assessing financial estimates from would-be providers is not easy. Again, Elise took the common-sense approach. “I went to as many people as possible and got lots of quotes which I assessed against each specification for the work involved. In the end it was a matter of balancing what was on offer with what I needed and, ultimately, what I could afford. Elise urges patience in finding the right person “It’s important you don’t feel pressured into going with the first quote you get.”

Wider business lessons Elise has learnt along the way include “Not putting a ridiculous amount of pressure on yourself to make things happen instantly; they’re not going to. Trust the process – Rome wasn’t built in a day!” That said, Elise does advise others to have confidence in their ability – to be assertive with suppliers from the start, and keeping them to deadlines. Advance research can help entrepreneurs speak with more authority and Elise looked at lots of other apps (on a range of topics) to decide what feel and functionality she wanted for her own.

Which all sounds like appropriately good advice from someone who has just launched a practical advice-giving app to help us cope with whatever life throws at us.

For more about the Make Your Mind Up app go to www.makeyourmindup.co.uk, join the Facebook community at https://www.facebook.com/groups/283258582152043/?ref=bookmarks, contact Elise direct elise@makeyourmindup.co.uk

Elise is supported through the Prince’s Trust Enterprise Programme, details at https://www.princes-trust.org.uk/help-for-young-people/support-starting-business

 

Our best friend’s best friend

Profiling a Prince’s Trust – supported entrepreneur

Lisa Sinnott has made it her job to understand man’s best friend (her service users) and their relationship with her paying customers. “Dogs and cats are members of the family, so you want someone you can trust” she says.

Lisa launched her business – Albany Pet Services – two years ago offering a solo dog walking service, reinforcement of existing training such as loose lead walking, and personal animal visits tailored to the particular needs of both the animals and their owners. But it was a blind colleague, not one of her four-legged friends, who inspired her to start her own business. As Lisa recalls…

“I got a maternity cover contract with the Guide Dogs charity and worked with this amazing lady called Sue who had been blind since she was 19. She also had cancer and had such a resilient spirit. I was with her in Chelmsford at a Scout and Guide event. My contract was coming to an end and I thought – she can do anything she wants – she’s not letting her disability stop her. It was then I realised I needed to be more confident and go for stuff I really wanted to do – which is when I decided to set up my business.”

It was at this stage that Lisa contacted The Prince’s Trust and was accepted on to the Enterprise Programme – with support that she describes as “amazing”. The business planning helped her structure the ideas whirring around in her head and, she says, “Got me thinking about things people often don’t consider, such as competitor research.”

Acknowledging that starting and running a business can be lonely, Lisa says “Meeting other people wanting to set up their own business – in the same position as me – was really good; to hear their ideas and knowing I wasn’t alone. Monthly meetings with my business mentor are really helpful – for bouncing ideas around and coming up with new ideas I hadn’t thought about.”

It’s ironic, but not so unusual, that people in caring businesses sometimes fail to take proper care of themselves. Lisa has learnt the hard way that it can be very difficult to separate home and work life. She warns against letting the heart rule your head.  “I’m terrible” she says “I can be up at 7am working in bed, then doing a full day’s work. You must have self-care – you can’t keep going all the time. It’s hard when you’re passionate about something. But you must make time for yourself – spending time with friends, doing things you enjoy. I love improvisation and have recently joined a girls Gaelic football team and played in Dublin which was fun! I’ve had to create business boundaries – there’s only one of you at the start so you have to look after yourself.”

That Lisa puts the welfare of her service users (as well as keeping their owners happy) at the heart of her business is reflected in comments she makes about the lack of regulation in the pet-care industry. There’s a problem because anyone can call themselves a dog walker. Everyone should at least be qualified in first aid.”

Lisa also acknowledges that the wellbeing of her dogs can run counter to the income-generation needed to sustain the business, “In terms of group walks, some people make £100 in an hour because they take out ten dogs at a time. But that’s irresponsible – it’s not good for the dogs’ welfare, what would happen in an emergency – if one of them needed the vet? It would take a lot of time to get all the dogs all bundled in the back of the van again. And how would you protect the dog that was unwell? These are all questions to consider when choosing a pet care provider.

What advice does Lisa have for anyone starting their own business? “Value your time – remember that your time is precious. Ask questions, get advice, and if you don’t know something read and research! Become an expert in your field.”

It would seem that providing a successful pet service is as much about disciplining yourself as guiding the four-legged friends in your care.

https://www.albanypetservices.co.uk

https://www.princes-trust.org.uk/help-for-young-people/support-starting-business 

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  

More than skin deep

Profiling a Prince’s Trust supported entrepreneur

Nichola Macarthur is a perfectionist. This is a good thing for someone whose business is beauty – particularly as she trains people in different beauty therapies. When Nichola was completing her business plan – an excellent document by any standards – she wasn’t happy until all the minor grammatical errors had been corrected. All businesses should aspire to the highest standards and, although many fall short, The Shire Beauty Training Group – Nichola’s business – does not appear to be one of them.

Perfectionism of the level exemplified by Nichola is a common problem for start-up entrepreneurs who are also craftspeople – how to balance perfection and productivity, and the implications for pricing. Time is money and if people won’t pay for the hours on the job, then there’s no business, however high the quality of the work. Being able to ‘let go’ and accept ‘good enough’ is essential for anyone starting and growing their own business.

But, her own admission, Nichola has not always been so ‘perfect’. “At college I was quite naughty. I was the one standing outside the classroom, believe it or not.” She soon got over this wrinkle in her career. “I went straight from college into the beauty industry, starting my own business at 19, renting a room in a tanning shop and ending up taking over the business.” But that wasn’t to be the end of her stumbling. “I was really young, blew all my money on stupid things, and it all went down the pan.

A characteristic of a successful entrepreneur is their ability to learn from mistakes, to reflect, and bounce back after failure. Nichola returned to employment in different salons broadening her experience, while studying for a training qualification in beauty therapy. She started teaching in 2011 but it was the ‘conveyor-belt’ training environment that gave her the impetus to set up her own training academy that incorporated her own style of working.

That style and the expectation of the highest standards of herself and her staff seems to be working well.  Nichola is finding that her meticulous approach to running her new business is a real asset. Just over a year after launching in Hertfordshire – with over 300 students having taken classes and an impressive 70% return rate – the business has already stepped across the county boundary into Essex, and Nichola has long term plans for further expansion.

This initial success is not without a lot of hard work and the change from being employed to self-employed has made additional demands. “You’re in charge and responsible for everything. There’s no one to push you. You have to have a lot of passion and inner drive to get up in the morning and make things happen – everything is on your shoulders.”

Unlike other providers, The Shire Beauty Training Group operates seven days a week, including evenings, to cater for would-be students’ daytime working and parenting commitments. This is, in Nichola’s words a ‘unique selling point’ for her business but it puts considerable demand on her time with classes keeping her busy every day and most evenings.

The excessive hours seem to be paying off in terms of student success in getting employment. Nichola’s connections in the beauty industry mean that she has had great success in helping students through the recruitment process to find them placements with salons. Her industry connections have also resulted in commercial tie-ups with beauty brands that have, in turn, extended the breadth and depth of Nichola’s professional network, essential for business success.

Like many business start-ups, finding premises was a big headache before the business launched. Perhaps reflecting her perfectionism, Nichola says “I put a lot of time into looking for the right premises. I knew where I wanted to end up, so I had to accept high start-up costs. Looking back, it was worth the investment.”

Reflecting on her first year as a new business owner, Nichola has been surprised how much developments have diverged from her original business plan – something that was developed with support from The Prince’s Trust who all provided a start-up loan and a business mentor. As Nichola explains. “My business values have remained the same but, particularly on the financial side, things have turned out quite differently from what I expected. I was probably too optimistic.

A new development – part of the plan but something that has happened sooner than expected (in response to public demand) is the launch of an in-house salon run by four students of the academy. The salon is not only an additional source of income for the business, but it gives students practice and valuable work experience.

They say that ‘practice makes perfect’. Clearly Nichola is determined that her students should share the high standards she expects of herself. But, one year on, she admits she’s not yet ready ‘to let go’. “When people used to say ‘your business is your baby’ I didn’t believe them, but it’s true. It’s very personal and I rely on all my staff having high standard to keep clients coming back.”

To find out about The Shire Beauty Training Group, go to https://www.shirebeautytraining.com 

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

Getting hands on

Profiling a Prince’s Trust supported entrepreneur

Hannah Stobbs knows all about the stresses and strains we inflict on our bodies – she plays rugby and cricket. It was a back injury playing cricket aged 17 that first introduced her to the magic of massage that has now become the core of her business – Hannah Stobbs Holistic Health.

Putting elite athletes and overworked employees back together again is Hannah’s passion – developed through studies at Loughborough University and ‘hands on’ experience working on the bruised bodies of fellow sports enthusiasts – including friends who would go on to be World-Cup-winning cricketers.

For a job which seems to be essentially about physical manipulation, Hannah’s description of the traits of a skilled massage therapist is perhaps surprising. “They are people who can be fairly relaxed – who know how to switch off the parts of their brains that cause anxiety. You need to have a flexible mind; to be able to do your best work even if you don’t feel at your best.”  

As the name of her business suggests, Hannah’s approach is very much about getting a 360-degree understanding of her client’s situation – to look beyond the immediate injury at the bigger picture. As Hannah explains, “I aim to get a fairly extensive client history at the start. I also ask what they would like to get from the massage session and this can raise a host of other issues – often related to stress at work.”

For Hannah, the relationship between massage therapist and client is best when there’s a shared understanding of what lies behind the problems being presented. “I aim to build a rapport – to focus attention and treatment on the most pressing issues and explain what I’m planning before I begin. Most people want to know this – it’s what they’re paying for!”

It’s clear that Hannah’s approach works – she has an impressively high return rate and has built up a solid base of regular clients, with 95% first coming to her through referrals – word-of-mouth recommendations. This is the core strength of any business and one on which Hannah is keen to build. That said, she sees part of her role as educating her clients so they don’t need to return for further treatment as regularly as other therapists might advise.

Reflecting on the first eight years of a career putting broken bodies back together, Hannah sees it as a play in three acts. The first was to gain experience – for which she was well-placed at Loughborough University, renowned for its specialism in sports science.

The next act was moving from Loughborough for post-graduate study, working on sports massage alongside other jobs, and wondering whether it could ever become a fulltime occupation. This was a testing time, as Hannah explains “I’d come away from Loughborough where it was very easy to get clients. From 60 – 70 clients, I went down to three. It felt like a big step backwards, but it taught me how to re-build my client base – through networking. I’ve made great friends through playing rugby and cricket, so I never need to massage a stranger!”

It was the third stage when, with the support of The Prince’s Trust, Hannah decided to focus on developing her business as a massage therapist. She credits that support with helping her to make better use of her time – to think more entrepreneurially. “I’m now thinking more about how to reduce time-wasting – less driving and more massaging – and generally structuring my days better. It’s also about better use of the resources I already have – working on my strengths more than weaknesses. For me, that’s my networks for developing the business through word-of-mouth.

It’s interesting how often professionals don’t practice what they preach. Hannah admits that she has had to learn to look after herself better – through mentoring and acquiring the skills to achieve a better work-life balance. For Hannah, this is a combination of playing sport, making new friends at home and abroad, and never stopping learning – three passions that should take her far, both personally and professionally.

For further information about Hannah Stobbs Holistic Health, go to  https://www.hannahstobbssportsmassage.co.uk

What makes a great business idea?

As readers of this blog will know, I work with young people to help them launch their own businesses. Business start-up success is, of course, as much to do with the capabilities of the would-be entrepreneur as the quality of their business idea, but invariably I judge the latter before I know the former.

 

When I first hear a business idea, I subconsciously and unfairly assess it by whether the idea personally appeals to me. My passion for social enterprise, for example, tends to make me more positive about business ambitions that are more than just ‘making money’.

Over the past 20 months I’ve been told about over 100 possible businesses. Beyond my personal interests, what can I conclude about the elements of a potentially good business idea?

Is it a novel idea? If you take the ‘five f’s’ – fashion, food, facial treatments, photography and fitness – out of the frame, there are probably less than 50 other ideas. Of these, few have been particularly different, but two stand out.

The first is a shoe-selling service for people with different sized feet and amputees with only one leg. A young entrepreneur with mild cerebral palsy has feet that are two sizes different meaning she needs to buy two pairs of shoes to get ones that fit properly. She knows how costly this is and wants to solve the problem for herself and others by selling odd size pairs and single shoes.

The second business involves selling pearls in oysters that are then set in jewelry pieces of the customer’s choice. Each oyster (scanned at source to ensure it actually contains a pearl) is opened live on social media, with the owner looking on, creating an excitement which builds as the jewelry piece is created in the following weeks (for supply in the oyster shell?)

What are the start-up costs? Cost is as much about the time as the money it will need upfront. Even techy start-ups – with the right in-house expertise – can launch a MVP (Minimum Viable Product) to test the market without a major financial investment. I’ve written elsewhere about the value of not investing too much time and money in a new venture, making it relatively easier to ‘recover’ if/when the enterprise doesn’t take off. Some argue that a high personal investment makes the entrepreneur work harder to make the business succeed (but it can also make them blind to the dead horse they’re flogging).

What’s the competition? Novelty adds interest and ‘instant appeal’, but the most unusual business ideas may be novel for a very good reason; that others have tried unsuccessfully to make them work. This may be down to timing or location, but the rate with which some restaurants continue to change hands on the same site after successive failures makes me think that many restaurant owners believe they alone can buck the trend.

That said, there is something to be said in favour of starting a business in a crowded marketplace – a coffee shop for example. The number of people already selling coffee confirms there’s widespread demand for the product and/or service. And, to some degree, publicity for just one coffee shop benefits all coffee outlets in the locality. When competition is fierce it’s then ‘just’ a matter of doing better than the others. Like the barbershop in my home town which opened on Sundays when the other four barbers didn’t (now three of them do).

One way to tackle the competition is to go for a niche within the particular business sector – something that, with the advent of cost-effective communication through social media, is now more possible than ever. One young photographer is specialising in photoshoots with new born babies aged 5 to 10 days. The beauty of catching ’em so young is the scope for repeat business with milestone photos.

Is the idea simple to grasp? Business start-up ideas tend to be over-complicated. This is partly a reflection on the muddled thinking of the would-be entrepreneur – buzzing with too many ideas and thinking they have to be firing on all cylinders from day one. But if the product and/or service is not clearly communicated, the business tends to suffer because it expects too much of potential customers to understand the offer – they lose interest and look elsewhere.

It’s almost as if young people think a simple idea makes them sound, er, simple. But in a room full of business ideas of varying complexity, the best idea (on a particular day I’m recalling) was described quite simply in three words – cleaning people’s houses. A great business idea – easily explained, low start-up costs, repeat business practically guaranteed for an affordable quality service, and potential customers almost literally on the doorstep. The same goes for the would-be gardener, dog-walker and ‘man with van’ who knows what s/he is doing.

Does it meet a real need? The clichéd definition of marketing ‘selling things that people don’t need at prices they can’t afford’ is, happily, less common now than when the phrase was first coined. If there’s a genuine need for a product or service – rather than one which is somewhat contrived (for examples, look in one of those problem-solving household gadget catalogues that drop through the letterbox) – so much the better. I also like business ideas that try to meet more than one need (without getting over-complicated). One young entrepreneur came up with an interesting idea to provide pamper sessions for young mums at playgroup locations – so both generations could benefit from some play at the same time.

Sad to report that business hasn’t taken off… yet. Business success is never guaranteed and even the best ideas in competent hands can fail for very good reasons. ‘Back to the drawing board’ is not just for would-be architects.

Further reading:

Business ideas to launch in weeks https://startups.co.uk/10-great-start-up-business-ideas-to-launch-in-weeks/

How to turn an idea into your dream job  https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2017/aug/14/how-to-turn-an-idea-into-a-dream-job-by-people-who-have-done-it   

Business ideas for 2018 https://startups.co.uk/business-ideas-2018

Lights, camera, action

Profiling a Prince’s Trust supported entrepreneur

The logic behind young mum’s setting up their own businesses is clear – the flexibility around childcare and working from home, the excitement of turning a hobby into an income source, and the stimulation of growing a business alongside a family. Sadly, for many women in this situation the demands of juggling self-employment and parenting can be too much, even with support through The Prince’s Trust Enterprise Programme .

This is not the case for Emily Mashiter who runs her photography business from her home in Milton Keynes while combining caring for a three-year-old son with shift work at a local hotel. And all this despite her admitting “I’m one of the most disorganised people – it’s really bad.”

Photographer Emily specialises in taking pictures of babies aged between five and ten days old. The tranquil and angelic image of a young person at peace with their world (the newborn, not the photographer) belies the effort that goes into creating it. “Newborn shoots usually take about four hours; most of that time is spent putting them into a deep sleep so you can then do pretty much anything with them, while keeping them safe at all times. I love cuddling them and they always fall asleep – I haven’t yet had one that didn’t like me.”

It sounds as though Emily could have a second career as a baby-whisperer if her current photographic venture doesn’t develop (pun intended).

Emily’s love of shooting babies (which would sound terrible in any other context) started with her own son’s newborn photos, after which, in Emily’s own words, “I fell in love with little ones and it was babies, babies, babies!”  

The route to a career in photography started in childhood “copying my Dad with a point-and-shoot camera on holiday in Wales.” That initial interest was followed by A levels and a college course to learn photographic technique. A lifelong love of art, combined with her innate eye for a good shot and important editing skills, captures moments that, as evidenced by repeat commissions, delight her clients as much as the photographer herself.

Having a baby soon after leaving college thwarted plans for further study – in Wales and New York – in fashion photography. For someone who became a mum at 19 years, Emily is happy with career decisions that have brought her to her current situation where she hopes the new business is, with support from the Prince’s Trust, about to take off. “I think I made the right choice with the camera I bought originally, but I should have invested in other equipment such as lighting, and buying props to make my early work look more professional.”

In what she thinks is a wise move, Emily works with parent and babies she doesn’t already know – avoiding a potential difficult mix of professional and personal relationships. “People you know tend to want more for less. I’ve never had a problem asking strangers for money and they’ve always been happy to pay.”

The cool, calm, capable baby-whisperer that is Emily Mashiter is at odds with the disorganisation she confessed to. How does she manage to juggle clients, hotel work and motherhood? “I have a set rota for my job so I remember that. Every other weekend is free for photoshoots and I make do without ever having enough sleep. I have a very good childminder and can do business admin in the evenings when my little boy is sleeping.”

Emily’s business is called Faegrian Photography – Faegrian is the old English work for ‘beautiful’. No one who has seen her work could deny its beauty; Emily’s love of her art shines through every image.

www.facebook.com/faegrianphotography

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

For further profiles on Prince’s Trust supported entrepreneurs, click here  https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/category/experts-by-experience

 

Business support – what matters?

On the same day this week that I learnt, with surprise and delight, that I’d been listed as a Top 50 Adviser 2018 by Enterprise Nation, I was reminded by my employer how badly I’d missed my target for business starts. Working with a charity supporting young people with complicated lives I appreciate that, for the funders, entrepreneurial success is best measured in tangibles – loans made (and repaid!) businesses started, jobs created etc.

This is understandable – ‘soft outcomes’ like increased self-confidence and improved mental health, better relations with money and family, are harder to quantify. But it risks giving the impression, to which I’ve referred in past blogs, that only what can be easily counted counts.

A work colleague recently asked me how I would define success in my job. I explained the hard versus soft outcomes debate and then described the progress of a young woman I’ve worked with who will probably never set up her own business but has made massive strides in her personal development. I’ve only played a small part in that young woman’s achievements, but I know she’s not the only one who has benefited from my start-up guidance.

When I was first encouraged to throw my hat in the ring with the Enterprise Nation Top 50 Adviser competition, I decided I’d only do so if I got ten endorsements from the young people with whom I’ve worked over the past 20 months. With only 24 hours to the entry deadline, I had three independent nominations and ten endorsements with some truly heart-warming comments from the young entrepreneurs. See above.

Which is how I come to be in the national Top 50 listing with the possibility of being voted top in the ‘Branding and Design’ category https://enterprisenation.com/top50 If you’re considering voting and you want to get an insight into my work with young people, click here https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/category/learning-about-earning

As you can imagine, I value that expression of support from those thirteen young people far more than any pay packet at the end of the month, but I do understand that I’m employed to keep other customers happy as well.

So, I must dash – there are businesses to be launched.

Voyages of discovery

Profiling a Prince’s Trust supported entrepreneur

Sri Lanka born entrepreneur Robert Rajeswaran is passionate about solving what he describes as the ‘digital skills crisis’ by training young people to code in after-school and holiday clubs. Taking young people on a voyage of discovery – into the world of web development – reflects his own journey from an early age as a refugee, through countries and schools across the world. This may also explain why he comes across as a man in a hurry.

Within 15 months of starting his own business – Robert is founder of the GoCode Academy based at NatWest’s Entrepreneurial Spark facility in Milton Keynes – he has reached 3,000 children aged 6 – 18 and now has four fulltime staff.

A thirst for control and change

The roots of his success can be traced back to Robert’s dissatisfaction with a career start in investment banking in London where his work-life balance was compromised by long hours and where low expectations meant that progress was slow. A frustrating two years of being a small cog in a massive machine was followed by a fast-moving, fast-learning period with a financial technology start-up company. This experience inspired Robert to start his own business – to have more direct control and to make a real impact.

Robert credits NatWest’s Entrepreneurial Spark programme with giving him the space to explore – to find out what works well, to develop an openness to change. He warns would-be business owners about what he calls the “ugly baby syndrome”. Giving birth to a precious new business can blind the entrepreneur to the shortcomings of the new arrival. “Take constructive feedback” advises Roberts who credits a mentor with giving him guidance on how to ‘unfail your start-up’.

Building the team

Looking ahead, Robert is keen to grow his business – to generate the cash to increase capacity, to employ more people, and get his own space. But scaling up is not without its problems, as Robert acknowledges “Letting go is still difficult. When the business is part of you and you breathe it all the time – you recruit people who think like you and are as dedicated as you are. I’ve always tried to hire people who are passionate and share my vision.”

This may involve recruiting people who work in different ways. This can be beneficial – bringing in fresh ideas – but when it doesn’t work? “Hire fast and let them go early” is Robert’s short, sharp reply. He also warns against hiring family and friends. “Keep them outside the business – to keep those relationships strong. You can ask them for help and advice but they probably won’t challenge you. A good thing about hiring strangers is that you have to really sell your ideas – to get your views across convincingly to get them onboard.”

Robert’s man-in-a-hurry persona shines through again when he reflects on his experiences of the Prince’s Trust Enterprise Programme which he signed up to in London before joining Entrepreneurial Spark. Describing the 4-day ‘Explore Enterprise’ course politely as ‘well-paced’, he is less complimentary about the pace of change that followed. “I like to move fast and it took 18 months to develop a business plan. You can spend too much time planning.”

This ‘fail fast, fail cheap’ mentality extends to Robert’s top tips for other young entrepreneurs thinking of starting a business. “Get out to your customers as soon as possible. Before you’ve developed your product talk to them – get further faster with early testing. Spend less time on details – like business name and logo – time and money are in short supply when you start a business.”

Further information:

About the business – http://gocode.academy

About the entrepreneur – http://tamilculture.com/child-refugee-tech-entrepreneur/#

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

For further profiles on Prince’s Trust supported entrepreneurs, click here https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/category/experts-by-experience

 

Turning houses into homes  

Profiling a Prince’s Trust supported entrepreneur

Ask Sam Ryan to describe his business and his answer is clear and matter of fact. “I design and make wooden furniture and household items – to my own design for selling from stock, and on commission to the client’s specification. I’m also commissioned to repair, restore, and re-finish antique and modern furniture.”

Sam’s words belie the care and attention he puts into his work and the craftsmanship that oozes out of each item he creates. He has acquired those skills through three years’ study in furniture making and restoration and a further three years starting and running his own business – Sam Ryan Furniture.

His reputation is spreading and Sam was recently commissioned by a client in north Hertfordshire to re-size a large antique oval dining table made of solid oak. The client, Susanne Gallagher, was delighted with the craftsmanship. “I think Sam has done a great job with the table – it’s a complex piece and it’s now perfect for our dining room.  It must be quite a responsibility working on someone else’s treasured piece of furniture.” Sam was equally pleased with the commission. “The table is a really lovely piece, oak is a dense wood that’s easy and enjoyable to work with.”

Sam proudly describes himself a perfectionist, but he appreciates that attention to detail and high quality work take time. The master craftsmen status to which Sam aspires can only make for a viable business if there are enough people willing to pay for his handmade pieces.

. “It’s the perfectionism that people appreciate” says Sam “but it’s also a matter of getting a balance between quality and price.”    

Balancing perfectionism and productivity is just one of a number of issues confronting this young entrepreneur. On his professional journey since leaving college Sam has had to contend with periodic ill health following a major operation in 2007.  He bears that reality positively and has made the most of the support offered by The Prince’s Trust.

Sam’s involvement with the Trust started with a four-day Explore Enterprise business skills course in London in June 2016 after which he developed a business plan, with the support of a staff member from the Prince’s Trust London Office.

After a transfer between the Trust’s London and Stevenage offices, Sam successfully presented to a Business Launch Group in May 2017 and now enjoys further one-to-one support from a business mentor in Hertfordshire. Whatever the level of support from family and friends, starting a business can be a lonely affair and a business mentor for the first couple of years can serve as a valuable sounding board and ‘critical friend’.

This is confirmed by Sam himself. “The course was fantastic but the business mentoring has topped it off. It’s completely changed me from being a furniture maker and restorer to also being a businessman. I’m now more confident about running a business thanks to my business mentor.”

For Sam – the passionate perfectionist, ever keen to learn and taking pride in his work – a growing circle of satisfied customers is proof that all the effort has been worthwhile.

See Sam’s craftwork at www.samryanfurniture.co.uk

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

For further profiles on Prince’s Trust supported entrepreneurs, click here https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/category/experts-by-experience