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.

 

Implementing Document Management Systems (DMS)

The following is a guest blog from Sue Hunt, Head of Marketing at Cognidox…

While co-working facilities offer advantages to business start-ups in social and financial terms, “anywhere working” makes it more difficult for business owners to keep track of their corporate documentation.

If important files such as client proposals, technical notes or legal NDAs, created by remote workers on different devices are not backed up, companies could end up losing precious data if these devices are lost, stolen, or tampered with. Document management systems remove this worry. Not only will staff have access to relevant information at the click of a mouse, they spend less time looking for documents they know thedocument-managementy’ve received but can’t remember where they’ve stored them (if they’ve stored them).

The thought of implementing a document management system can be daunting or perceived as a waste of time but rest assured it is neither. If you follow some basic guidelines, your DMS will make your staff more productive, your file management processes more streamlined, resulting in improved efficiency overall. If you don’t, it could end up being an expensive “white elephant.”

Consider these points:

• Don’t be fooled by the term “Free”– once you’ve read the small print you’ll soon realise there are a number of hidden costs– usually relating to licensing or storage – that can soon mount up.

• Does your chosen solution include data encryption, user authentication, or digital watermarking for security or tracking purposes?

• Consider the types of documents you are dealing with – financial or legal documents, for example, must be managed in accordance with industry legislation and/or standards

• Does it include search facilities? – if not your chosen system will be no more efficient than email

• What about file management and version control? – important for managing software updates or technical documentation

• Document management systems are not file sharing systems, make sure that you understand the differences

Cognidox is a software company that specialises in helping its customers achieve quality certification through better document control processes and improved knowledge transfer procedures for their end users via secure web portals. For more information visit www.cognidox.com

 

Improve Customer Service, Increase Sales

Sage improve sales through customer service infographic
This infographic was produced by sage.co.uk

The Emotional Endurance of Starting a Business

It doesn’t matter how passionate, knowledgeable and prepared you are about the product or service you’re about to launch, you will reach an unexpected road block at some point that will test your professional will and determination to the limit. 

endurance picIt’s not a unique road block either. In fact, speak to every business owner out there and they will have had sleepless nights at some point during their venture, as well as having asked themselves the question “Have I really done the right thing by going it alone?”, as Caroline Sandler, Director of Sandler Training in Cambridge, confirms “I was pretty realistic about the challenges of starting a business as I’ve worked alongside friends and family as they built theirs, but it is different when it’s your business. Inevitably there are times late at night when you question what you have done and whether you can make it work.”

Often, you’re fully aware of the endurance needed, before you hand your notice in or write your business, to start your journey into self-employment. Vhari Russell, Director of The Food Marketing Expert, experienced the same concerns of so many others “I started The Food Marketing Expert as I wanted to help more business grow and develop. Having worked for a number of businesses I had grown frustrated with the lack of belief that they could grow and wanted to help other business with the knowledge I had about marketing and sales within the food industry. Like many new start-ups one of my main worries was earning enough money and losing the security of a job.”

Those days and months before you start are not the only times you need to be prepared to call on strong mental resources as Caroline explains “You need a certain amount of emotional toughness and determination to work through the up’s and down’s. At the beginning it can be one step forward, two steps back and, although the nature of the challenges change and it may become three steps forward, one step back, you still need to find a way to deal with those issues without working all hours and letting it affect other areas of your life.”

The common theme from Caroline, Vhari and others that I’ve spoken to (and experienced myself) is that your network of friends and family are vital when the going becomes emotionally tough. Especially friends who you can really open up to; safe in the knowledge that they will have your back and their feedback will be honest and constructive. An important resource Caroline never underestimated “Many of them have built their own companies and faced the same challenges so I used them regularly for advice, venting and frank feedback.” Vhari’s experiences were very similar “When I started I had the support of my family and friends and that was invaluable. My husband and I had many a night chatting through ideas and thoughts until the early hours”

If you feel your immediate connections wouldn’t get how you’re feeling, remember that every business owner, without exception, has questioned their own decisions too. Talk to the ones you’re closest with for ideas and thoughts that may help. When I’ve asked questions of myself, when my professional, self-employed confidence has been at its absolute lowest, it is these people and their experiences, which have lifted me the most.

To further help you increase your levels of endurance, I will leave the last words to Caroline and Vhari:

Caroline
I’m a firm believer in ‘it’s not what happens to you that counts, It is how you deal with it’. So, I’ve used different things to help me deal with the up’s and down’s, including being very clear why I was doing this and being 100% committed to it. This meant that I had to keep doing the activities that I knew were necessary for success, even when I found them difficult.

Vhari
I have learnt to trust my gut instinct more and be proud of what you do and do it well. You don’t need to have all the fruit on the tree, but the fruit you pick needs to be good. So work with clients you get on with and who share your values.

The Start-Up A-Z: Dangers of Disappearing Data

The process of starting a business means that you’re going to collect a considerable amount of data.

D - DataInformation that will include your business plan, contact information, forecasts, reports, designs, images and more. In fact, you’re likely to create more data during the set up stage of your business, than at any other time during the first 12 months. And while some of this will be automatically stored in the cloud, how much of your personal and private information that you have right now…isn’t?

Now, here’s a story courtesy of Neil Hamilton-Meikle, Business Development Manager at Safebox

Sunburn in Cyprus – lost forever.

So you’re a new business, you’re eager, bursting with ideas and enthusiasm, you have clients on board, suppliers, you’ve done the marketing and even the bank manager thinks you’re onto a winner; its all looking very positive.

Right, off you go then, oh watch for that printer cable on the floor……

As you break your fall whilst failing to remain composed, you see your laptop, which until just a few moments ago was tucked safely under your arm, spinning away into the distance, its date with the floor at speed confirmed. You scamper over to it and cradle it in your arms as if it were an injured child, but as laptops and gravity don’t mix to well, sadly the last few moments of life slip away. The hard drive stops beating, death has taken its grip.

Your thoughts suddenly leap to the loss of that rather amusing wallpaper picture you had of you on the beach in Cyprus with the amusing sunburn. But don’t worry, you had everything backed up, I mean who is this day and age would be daft enough to have their entire business on only one device with no back up. I mean really?

Oh!

This story isn’t as far fetched as it may appear. Only last year when I was working from home, I walked up the stairs with an open laptop and a cup of coffee. Well, you can imagine what happened when I tripped up the last step. It’s not just accidents that are a risk either. A few years ago when I was working for a major High St bank, a customer told me of her painful experience:

We had a break in and all 7 desktops were stolen. I had no choice but to shut down and start again as I just didn’t think it would happen to us

KTS Computers even states on their website that “Statistically, a hard drive crashes every 15 seconds and 60% of businesses who lose their data go bankrupt within 6 months”

The common responses when suggesting data back up are:

“I’m too busy to back up”
“I do it at the end of each month”
“It won’t happen to me”
“I don’t know how”

My answers to those are: Read Neil’s story, That’s not often enough, and It might and that’s a good enough reason”

On the last point, the ways to back up are on CD, USB Drive, External Hard Drive and the easiest and most cost effective of them all, online. The system I use it I-Sure which is just £2.75 per month and backs up everything for me daily without me having to do anything.

Now you’ve read this article, act on it before it’s too late and as Neil says “Treat your business data as you do your family photos, which are probably on CD, data stick, laptop, phone, etc. Just as your business data should be.”

How do you back up and what would you recommend? If you’re not, what’s stopping you? What support do you need? Email your comments and thoughts to info@cambridgebusinesslounge.com.

The Art of Small Business Collaboration

c image

Collaboration comes from the Latin “colaborare” meaning “to labour together.” In business, it is the action of working with a group or an individual, to produce something and achieve a common goal, which would never have been achieved without that  co-operation. It’s the process of pooling knowledge, resources and relationships for the sake of pursuing shared aims, where everyone shares the reward or loss of the venture.

Bringing people and businesses together and then igniting and nurturing a collaborative effort, is something we proactively support at Cambridge Business Lounge. The opportunity for a start-up to create something fantastically new with the support of others, can speed up the process of any start-up to find their feet. As well as perfectly compliment their existing services or products.

Here are a few examples of to demonstrate how it worked for others…

Victoria Arnold, Desk Union:

We were keen to collaborate with another start-up, Desk Unions booking software, rather than buy an off the shelf package or have something developed from scratch. We identified a fellow Scottish start-up called Appointedd who had just launched an online booking software for salons and spas. Together, we co-developed Desk Union’s booking software over 3 months. The end result means an awesome affordable software for us, an opportunity for Appointedd to try white-labelling, and two happy startups. It’s a win-win! We always try to collaborate rather than reinvent the wheel.

Ann Hawkins, Business Advisor, Consultant and Mentor:

Locally, Patients Know Best is about five years old. Patients are put in control of their medical records; collaboration happens between patients, clinicians, researchers, charities, the NHS and pharma companies.

Local Motors is about six years old. They bring together global communities of designers, engineers, fabricators and automotive enthusiasts to solve local problems, locally.

Lego was failing badly in 2008 when it started collaborating with Japanese company Cuusoo to create a completely new business model.

Ann Hawkins and I are also good example of this. We’re both business mentors and although we target a different audience, there is some cross-over. So, do we steer clear of each other? Split Cambridgeshire in half? No, we decided to jointly host networking events and write a book to be published in January 2015, entitled “New Business: Next Steps. The All-in-one Guide to Managing, Marketing and Growing your Small Business”

What about you?

What skill, knowledge or resource could you add to another business, or a business bring to you, to produce a whole new offering? For example, instead of author commissioning an artist to illustrate their book, how about an artist and a writer coming together to create a graphic novel?

Can you see any collaborative opportunities that you’d like to seek out? Don’t worry if the answer is no, as many ideas are born out of ‘water cooler moments’ and just simply meeting businesses in the same situation as you can sow the seeds of new opportunities.

Collaboration is a powerful way to accomplish what no single organisation can on its own. It can also be a complex beast. Once you have found the right idea and partner, formulate what both parties bring to the project, what the shares and spoils are, and put it in writing. You’ll be glad you did if something did go amiss.

Now you need to find those potential partners. Try seeking these businesses and people out at your local coworking space, networking group or even good old social media. And once you have embarked on the exciting new journey of collaborative working, email your story to info@cambridgebusinesslounge.com or @CamBizLounge