Archives for October 2013

Starting a Business? Never Be Afraid To Ask For Help

Starting a Business? Prepare For the Endurance Test

Full of Surprises – What is the key to good communication?

Jon_Torrens

This is guest post from Communication Coach, Jon Torrens

What is the key to good communication? 

Is it clarity? Brevity? Sincerity? Well, certainly those are all important (and people who have mastered them will give great presentations and network more smoothly than Bradley Cooper in an Armani dressing gown). However, I believe those elements can be trumped by something else:

Originality.

Being able to surprise people is vital in communication if you’re to keep people engaged. If slick, well-dressed, professional speaker/presenter/networker #1 is saying conventional things with the same old perspective as everyone else, then shabby, shambolic speaker/presenter/networker #2 will outshine them by simply saying (pleasant) things that people don’t expect, with an unusual angle. If they also toss in some humour, then boom! #1 is forgotten, gone, a relic.

(And don’t think for a moment you can’t be original or creative. We all have creativity inside us, and under the right circumstances, it will flow naturally. What you have to do is find the way to let it do just that. It might be by putting yourself under pressure, it might be by removing all pressure; whatever it is, find it.)

Some people have watched hundreds of presentations and been to hundreds of networking events. They’ve got used to the expected phrases, patterns and styles, and as soon as they experience them again, their souls start to wither. Be original, and you’ll add a little spark to the proceedings.

Win the crowd. Give them something they have never seen before.

Jon Torrens will be hosting a workshop: Killer Presenting – Achieve a Comedian’s Confidence on 15th July. To book your place, CLICK HERE

Don’t Want To Attend a Networking Event?… Host One Instead

Business Mentor, Ann Hawkins, once enlightened me that every one of us knows roughly 250 people. This means that we are just two handshakes away from over 60,000 people, which is why ‘word of mouth’ is the most powerful form of marketing.

Cambridge NetworkingOne of the best ways to get in front of a large group of people is at a networking event, but the problem is that many people don’t enjoy going into a large room full of strangers or to a meeting at 06:30. Of course, everything that we learn and experience has a huge impact in kick starting and growing our business, but it’s the people we know and the relationships that we build, that will determine our ultimate success.

Therefore, it doesn’t matter how much we may not enjoy it, you can’t shy away from the importance, for any new or existing business, to continually build their network.

However, there is an alternative to a room of strangers or an early breakfast meeting….host your own event!

I accept that this suggestion may sound a little ridiculous, especially as there there are already over 50 regular networking events in Cambridge, and thousands all over the UK, but my suggestion doesn’t mean starting a regular event, but a one off. At least to start with, anyway! Here are my tips…

1. Who Should You Invite?
This event is to build your network and the best place to start are your customers and people who you’d like to be customers. When inviting your customers, focus on those who you have a good relationship with and that you’d say thank you to, as well as customers who have fallen off the radar. If you have space for more guests, once you’ve received your RSVPs, suggest that your closer customers bring a plus one, or ask them for names of people who they think you should add to your exclusive event.

2. What Type of Event Should You Host?
As I said, this is to build and grow closer to your network, but this is also not a sales pitch. You may like to celebrate an anniversary or time of year, or you may even like to create a theme. Invite a guest speaker to talk about a topic that you know will add value to your guests. If the speaker themselves will benefit from a captive audience of 20, 30 or 40 people, they may not even charge you much, if anything at all.

Earlier this year, I was delighted to be invited to an evening of Chocolate and Wine Tasting by a Financial Management company, aimed at bringing their customers and other connections together for networking opportunities. For me, it was a real opportunity to meet new people in an informal and enjoyable setting. I also told a lot of people I was going and who invited me, and had a chance to find out more about the hosts, which was good for me and certainly good for them.

3. Where Should You Hold It?
If you work from an office, with the space to hold an event, then the answer to this question will be easy. However, if you work from home, you may need to find somewhere. To keep the cost down, consider a joint event with a company who can provide the setting. Not only will this keep the cost down, but you could also benefit from some of their customers turning up, with whom you haven’t yet met.

4. How Much Should You Spend?
This is probably the most important part of the event. Before you start inviting customers or booking the entertainment, work out your spending limits and, just as importantly, what your return on investment will be and how you will need to measure it.

5. What Should You Do After The Event?
After the last person has left, and the glasses have all been cleared away, the real work begins. When you’re back in the office, contact each attendee to tell them how great it was to see them. It’s also a good idea to reference the conversation that you had, which could also include a news item or article that is relevant to that conversation. Also contact those who couldn’t attend, to arrange another time to get together.

If the event is a success on all counts, then consider doing it again. It is hard work but it can also be very rewarding. If 30 people attend your event and talk about you to just 10% of the people they know, that’s already 750 people. And if you water those seeds which have just been planted, who knows where those conversations may lead and what successes they may bring.

I’d love to hear about your event, what worked and what challenges you had. Please share your story at info@cambridgebusinesslounge.com, @CamBizLounge or @edagoodman.

 

 

 

Ways of Funding Your New Business

Funding picBefore you seek the funding you believe you need to kick start your business, take a good in-depth look at what you’re starting. Would you invest in it? Then put yourself in the shoes of one of the investors on Dragon’s Den. What questions would they ask that we see trip up entrepreneur after entrepreneur each week? I’m not saying you don’t need the funding, or that you’ve got a bad idea, but anyone who you ask to invest in your business – your family, bank or angel investor – will want to know that they are sure to get their money back at some point.

My first suggestion before looking for external finance is to strip back your business plan and ensure that you’re asking for money only because you have to. It will work in your favour after all, because if the exercise shows that you don’t need to borrow money, then you have less to lose if it fails and less you have to share if it’s a roaring success.

If it transpires that you need a cash injection after all, then these are your primary options:

• Angel Investors
The UK Business Angels Association describes Angel Investors as someone who “uses their personal disposable finance and business or professional experience to invest in the growth of a small business, generally in start-up or early stage.” They will want a percentage of the business and success. However, their business knowledge and experience can add more value than the money alone.

• Borrowing from friends and family
This can often be the best way, because their interest rates are lower than anyone else’s and they won’t want an equity stake. Be open though and be prepared that they will want to know the ins and outs of the business, and rightly so. Also, borrowing from friends and family can put strains on relationships when times are hard.

Useful Links
Institute for Family Business

• Business Overdrafts / Credit Cards
These are short term options only. If you need to buy a laptop or low value item, and aim to pay it back before the end of the month, then this may be your best option. For any high value items or long term lending requirements, look elsewhere

• CrowdFunding
Emily Mackay, who launched Crowdsurfer, a search engine for crowdfunding and collaborative finance, explains what crowdfunding is and who it’s for:

Crowdfunding is the term for groups of people coming together online to contribute money to support something specific. It bypasses traditional intermediaries by linking funders and recipients directly. Crowdfunding takes many forms, including investment in equity (shares) in a company, charitable donations, donations in return for a tangible reward, personal and business loans (usually referred to as peer-to-peer loans), investment into a revenue-sharing or royalties arrangement, and many other types.

• Grants for start-ups
There are a host of grant options out there for very different businesses. Alex Smeets, CEO of Cambridge Funding Solutions, specialises in this area:

Grants to start a business are quite rare and tend to be small (£500 or so). If you’re starting a new business, check with your local authority if they happen to have any available. Alternatively you can apply for an Enterprise nation “Fund 101” grant, but the completion is steep. Almost all public sector grants funding for commercial businesses is for technology Proof of Market or technology R&D projects or for projects undertaken by social enterprises!

• Personal funds
What have you got to put in yourself? If you ask a bank or investor to lend you money to start-up your business, because you didn’t want to touch the money that you’re saving for a family holiday, you will get a big, fat rejection. Practice what you preach by investing what you have, which will actually support any application you make. WARNING: Do not re-mortgage your house, no matter how much you believe in what you’re doing! Only invest what you can afford to lose.

• Bank Loans
Contrary to media coverage, banks are lending. In fact, they’re very active in lending money to businesses that show evidence of putting their own money into the venture and can back up their application with security such as assets. Banks are still the first port of call for many start-ups because repayments are straightforward and can be planned and budgeted for in a forecast, and no-one has to relinquish any control over the business. Sadly, for many start-ups, banks can be reluctant to lend money to new business owners with no track record.

Useful Links
To compare the latest bank rates: British Bankers’ Association
Loans at preferential rates to young entrepreneurs (18-30 years old): Prince’s Trust

Cambridge City Council also have a list of funding options on their website at https://www.cambridge.gov.uk/funding-sources-businesses

Remember, however much you decide your business needs to borrow, you need to be confident that you can repay it all, including any possible interest, at a rate and timescale that allows your business to continue to operate and progress.