THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Innovation and enterprise blog

The British Library Business & IP Centre can help you start, run and grow your business

Introduction

This blog is written by members of the Business & IP Centre team and some of our expert partners and discusses business, innovation and enterprise. Read more

17 January 2017

Local Data Company shows coffee shops on a high


Freshly-ground-coffee-from-coffee-grinder-picjumbo-comPubs are down while coffee shops are up according to a fascinating article on the BBC website today, Coffee shops on the march as pubs decline, town centre data shows.

They have analysed information from the Local Data Company to show the number of town centre bars, pubs and night clubs fell by about 2,000  between 2011-16, while cafes, fast food outlets and restaurants increased by 6,000.

We have access to this data and much more in Business & IP Centre in London through our subscription to Local Data Online.

You can use Local Data Online to give you data and insights for locations, business types and companies across the country. It has a searchable map tool which lets you select a specific area and examine the overall retail make-up.

You can identify local businesses and check the geographical spread of an industry or company. You can also find addresses and contact details for individual shops, lists of available vacant units, and a demographic profile of the area.

You can search for a specific location, company and/or retail category, and information is displayed on easy-to-read maps and diagrams. Extra information for locations includes vacancy rates, the mix of independent shops vs. chains, crime statistics, average earnings and house prices.

  Local Data map

So, if you want to find out where your new local coffee shops are, or which pubs have recently closed their doors. Just come along to the Centre and we can show you how use it.

Written by Neil Infield @ninfield

12 January 2017

Deliciously Ella: How to create a business empire with a blog

Ella Woodward is the founder of Deliciously Ella and one of our panel members for upcoming event Inspiring Entrepreneurs: Internet Icons. Her recent rise has been astronomical and, through the power of social media, she has created a powerful online brand. Ella's ascent is made even more extraordinary by the fact that she was diagnosed with a serious illness in 2011 and also suffered from depression. During this difficult period, Ella decided that she would adopt a healthier lifestyle and began to blog about her journey. She could not have imagined how a blog that was meant for friends and family, would change her life and create a business empire. You can find out more about her amazing story and ask the questions you want to be answered at Inspiring Entrepreneurs: Internet Icons but before then we asked her some of our burning questions.  

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Hi Ella! What was the inspiration behind Deliciously Ella?

I got very ill back in 2011 with a condition that affected my autonomic nervous system and left me mostly bed bound struggling with a whole host of physical symptoms, as well as depression and a real feeling of isolation. I became interested in the power of diet and lifestyle and began exploring that area, learning to cook and documenting my journey on a blog. The blog grew organically and I decided to try and turn it into a business. I started with an app, then a book, then three more books, two delis and a line of products. It’s been a crazy few years – challenging but incredible. I wanted to show that eating well should be fun and enjoyable. We all know we should eat our five a day, and I want to give people a way of doing this that they love and that they’re excited to share with their friends and family. Too often, when we want to be healthy, it leads to us feeling deprived and feeling we can’t socialize. I want to show it should be the total opposite.

The internet has really helped your business to grow. Did you ever think you’d have such a huge online following?

Not at all. The blog was only ever meant to be for me, my mum and my friends! Social media has been a huge help to me and I think it’s definitely an interesting angle for any business. It allows you to grow a huge audience with absolutely no budget, which is ideal when you’re getting started and want to test out ideas with instant feedback. It’s a completely 24/ 7 platform, it never takes a break, and I find I always need to be aware of what’s happening there so that I can react to current thoughts and trends.

Eating clean is a popular concept at the moment. What does this mean to you?

I don’t like the term ‘clean’ because it implies that you’re dividing food into two categories: ‘good’ and ‘bad’/‘clean’ and ‘dirty’, which I think is incredibly negative, and only works to further fuel the idea that food is something that should inflict feelings of guilt, which I fundamentally disagree with. In contrast, I feel one of the most pressing issues, especially for women, is to remove the long-standing feeling of guilt associated with meal times and instead find a sustainable, enjoyable way to live. I want to celebrate eating natural food, showing people how to get their 5-a-day in an interesting way. According to recent studies, only 1 in 4 of us reach that 5 a day aim, and with everything we’re doing, I hope to contribute to changing this statistic. 

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How did you deal with your blog becoming so successful, so quickly?

It was all very surreal. It really happened so quickly and very unexpectedly. I’m just incredibly grateful every day to have the opportunities that I have, to share what I’m passionate about and get people excited about eating more broccoli! To begin with, I felt there was a lot of pressure and responsibility and I wasn’t completely prepared for that. It felt like a huge learning curve, and I spent a lot of time just trying to keep on top of everything as I was pretty much working by myself without any support at all. I’ve learnt a huge amount over the last few years though and I’ve been able to scale up my team. We’re now a team of nearly 60, and I couldn’t appreciate them more – they’re the heartbeat of the business and we’d never be where we are without them.

Finally, what would be your key piece of advice for a budding entrepreneur?

My three pieces of advice would be to lose your ego, be an eternal optimist and focus on building the best team you can.

I think you have to be an eternal optimist to be a successful entrepreneur; you just have to have blind faith that you can make it work, even when it seems impossible – and no matter how successful things may look, everyone has numerous impossible moments. Running your own business means new challenges every day and you have to be able to see these challenges as hurdles, rather than insurmountable walls. You have to know that you can overcome them and most importantly, you have to seek out the solution instantly, rather than focusing on the problem itself. As soon as you can see each of these hurdles as chances to get better and to learn, rather than as mistakes, you’ll grow so much quicker.

You also have to lose your ego – we all have one, but I really think you have to find a way to put it to one side if you want to run your own company. You have to be open to constructive criticism, you need to listen to everyone, especially your customers, and adjust what you do accordingly. It’s easy to think that your way is the right way, especially when it’s your own company, but there are always ways to make what you’re doing better, and taking everyone’s views into account is essential if you want to do that. Never stop asking questions, trying to get better and grow as much as you can – you and your company can always be better than you are at any moment.

Hire the best people that you can, make sure they have experience and knowledge in the areas that you have the biggest gaps in. Trust them from the get go and give them as much autonomy as you can to really go and build the business with you. You’re only as good as the people around you, so invest in them.

As Ella's story teaches us there is no one way to become an entrepreneur. If we look back at the stories of most successful brands it is clear to see that many different paths have been taken. The story of Deliciously Ella is as unique as it is inspiring and her enthusiasm for a healthier lifestyle is contagious. Don't miss your chance to find out more at Inspiring Entrepreneurs: Internet Icons. Book your place now.

 

11 January 2017

SpareRoom: The flat-share company receiving over two million hits a month

Rupert Hunt is the founder of the UK’s busiest flatshare site, SpareRoom. As part of our Inspiring Entrepreneurs: Internet Icons panel Rupert will be spilling the beans on his unique journey to the top and will answer your questions. Having flat-shared in both, London and New York, Rupert realised that there was huge, untapped market just waiting to be exploited. In what he describes as a spider-ridden shed in his parents back garden – and with his trusty credit card handy, the foundations for Spare Room were set in 2004. Today, Spare Room’s website receives over 2 million hits a month and is the UK’s busiest flat-share website. For your chance to quiz Rupert and find out more, book your ticket for Inspiring Entrepreneurs: Internet Icons here.

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Hi Rupert! Tell us about what you did before starting SpareRoom?

In my early 20s I moved down to London with the band I was in, in the evenings we gigged around the usual venues and in the day I worked for a web development agency (where I learned a lot of the skills I later applied to creating SpareRoom). The band did OK, we had a record released and got a bit of airplay from people like John Peel, but we never got any further.  Living in London made me realise how crazy the housing market was and how difficult it could be to find somewhere to live. That’s where the idea for the website that eventually became SpareRoom came from.

What challenges did you have to overcome to get your business off the ground?

Finding the time to focus on it was the first challenge. London wasn’t as expensive back then as it is now but it was still a struggle to make ends meet. In the end, I decided to move back to my parents’ house and give myself six months to really push SpareRoom and see what I could do with it. I set up office in a little spider-infested shed on my dad’s farm and set to work. The next challenge was how to market the site with virtually no capital behind me – in the end, I believe this was one of the reasons for my success as it forced me to be creative and resourceful. If I’d had investment, I’m sure it would have been too easy to naively waste lots of someone else’s money. By the end of those six months, the site was turning a small profit and I was able to move out again.

How did you really crank up your business growth?

Growth has been strong and fairly steady (in the 20 to 40% range) every year since we started, and I wouldn’t say there was any single game changing thing that we did but rather lots of things.

In the early days, SEO was a massive thing for us and something I’d got very good at during my previous job. I also leveraged the old school methods of finding rooms by reselling SpareRoom branded room adverts in the Loot classified ads newspaper (so that it was nearly free for us), and putting posters up in key newsagent windows where there were lots of postcards in the window advertising rooms (costing next to nothing per week). Our Speed Flatmating events were great for PR and word of mouth. For several years listing our inventory on property portals was an effective way of attracting new users on a revenue share basis. We also did a few co-branded white label flatshare sites for brands like thelondonpaper (one of the free London newspapers that appeared for a few years), which helped grow the user base as well as spread brand awareness and trust by aligning ourselves with a more known brand. As well as this I invested in keyword domains like flatshare.com and houseshare.com and created our own in-house white labels to dominate the SERPS. Cracking Google’s PPC so that it started to make a profit was also a fairly pivotal moment for us. 

You recently became your own customer by placing an ad for a housemate on SpareRoom yourself, what did you learn from this?

It definitely started out as the ultimate market research but I learned so much about the business, and about myself, in the process.  I think the single thing I took away from it was that communication is at the heart of what we do. It’s all about bringing people together to find their perfect flatmates. So things like improving the messaging system, or adding video profiles to the site, became really clear after I’d been my own customer. I also learned that living with the right people beats living on your own any day and I’ve shared ever since. I’m currently living in New York and sharing with two roommates I found through SpareRoom – they’re both entrepreneurs too and we’re learning from each other every day. It’s great!

If you had one piece of advice for yourself if you were to start again, what would it be?

That’s a tough one because sometimes I think a bit of naivety is a good thing. If you knew all the challenges that lay ahead before you set off on a journey you possibly wouldn’t do it! Just throwing yourself into it and dealing with things as they come up is what it’s all about.

That being said, maintaining focus is key. I’ve always got very excited about ideas but realised over the years that ideas are ten a penny – it’s execution that matters. When SpareRoom started to grow I would often get side tracked with some new exciting idea and attempt to run it as a side business. Each time, the new project would fail because I didn’t devote enough time and focus to it, whilst losing precious time that could’ve been spent on growing SpareRoom. As entrepreneurs, we tend to be full of ideas, and it’s important to accept that you’ll never have enough time to do most of them so learn to let them go and focus on that one thing.

As with many great ideas, the story of SpareRoom is one that was created because of a personal experience. As customers, we often notice how services can be made more efficient and products improved. Rupert is the perfect example of an entrepreneur who acted on his observations to create a successful solution to a common problem. Don’t miss your chance to quiz him, asking the questions you want to be answered at Inspiring Entrepreneurs: Internet Icons. Book your place here.