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

27 February 2015

In Conversation with Kell Ryan: The Ryanair Story

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Kell Ryan

Last November as part of Global Entrepreneurship Week, the British Library Business & IP Centre had the unique opportunity to hear from the co-founder of Ryanair, about how he and his brother revolutionised air travel in Europe.

Long-standing Business & IP Centre partner, business-life coach and author of ‘Soul Trader’ Rasheed Ogunlaru talked to Kell about the inspiration behind Ryanair, the early years of the company and how it grew to become the leading low fares airline in Europe.

Kell, born and bred in Ireland, says times were tough at home; his father died when he was ten and all they were thinking about was survival. His older brother, Tony, got a job with Irelands national airline Aer Lingus and became the family breadwinner at 21 years of age. Tony went to New York with Aer Lingus and Kell believes it was there that the seeds were sown in Tony’s mind about filling a gap in the aviation business. 

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Rasheed Ogunlaru with Kell

Tony loved New York and said ‘You should live in New York but have your weekends in Ireland’. He believed the world was a big place and that there are lots of opportunities out there if you could travel easily. So he embarked upon his entrepreneurial journey by forming a leasing company and thus started his involvement in the aviation industry on a much larger scale.

Kell describes how in the early 1980s, before cheap air fares, if you moved to England you didn’t get back to Ireland unless it was to be buried! Tony believed that travel was expensive and restrictive, but it would be possible to travel for low fares if airlines operated differently, and this was the foundation of Ryanair. He understood that tourism only works if there are low fares and access to travel for everyone. In the 1980s tens of thousands of people had left Ireland and he wanted to increase tourism and create jobs in Ireland to bring people back. 

 

Kell at the time was working with Aer Lingus and Tony asked him if he wanted to be involved in Ryanair. The early days of the business were tough. They started with one leased airplane, a Bandeirante aircraft that had eight seats with a height restriction, meaning cabin crew had to be no more than 5’2’’. They eventually got a bigger aircraft and then started doing the London – Dublin route for a lower fare. To fly from London to Dublin cost £500 with other airlines, but only £100 with Ryanair. People saw this and loved it, and so the company grew. 

 

The competition thought they couldn’t sustain this model, but Ryanair stood the test of time because nobody could match them on the low fares they offered. However, Kell admits that Ryanair couldn’t match other airlines in terms of speed and comfort. In the early days the business lost a lot of money, accumulating losses in the range of £20 million and Tony’s leasing company was running into difficulties. It was then Michael O’Leary got involved to try to rectify some of the problems. His solution? Shut it down, it will never make money. Tony, however, had a different view – he never took no for an answer.

Tony met Herb Kelleher, CEO of Southwest Airlines, the first successful low-cost airlines based in the US – they brought the Southwest model back to Ireland and there were real changes in Ryanair. They stuck to one type of aircraft, didn’t employ cleaners, charged for meals and drinks, and removed lemons from your G&T!

Finally, Ryanair became a serious competitor to Aer Lingus and other airlines. With the introduction of deregulation they started expanding into other European countries and it grew from there. They carried 10,000 passengers in first year of operation and now they carry 100,000 a day. The model worked and they continued to grow with more aircrafts and increased profit. 

 

A small island of 3 million people became a big player on the larger scene thanks to Tony’s vision and drive. Despite the tough times and the criticism Ryanair has faced, they have succeeded with their model and grown into the largest business of their kind in Europe. 

 

Diane Kelly on behalf of the Business & IP Centre 

12 February 2015

Spotlight on... Caroline Brealey, Matchmaker

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Caroline Brealey, Matchmaker


Valentine’s Day is a busy time for some businesses, particularly if you’re a chocolatier, a card designer or indeed a matchmaker like Caroline Brealey. Caroline is an award winning dating expert. She heads up London based matchmaking company, Mutual Attraction, and she was selected to participate in our Innovating for Growth programme. The programme works with small business owners who already have a clear idea of how to expand, but need some help with the next steps.

When you meet Caroline you realise she is not only the brains behind a successful business but the heart and soul of it too. This is the reason why so many people look to Caroline to help them meet their true love. Having had such success with a business idea, Caroline is now ready to take the next steps to expand. In the run up to Valentine’s Day, we asked her some questions about her achievements and her hopes for the future. 

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Hi Caroline, tell us a little bit about your background before starting your own business.

I often joke that there’s no university degree that qualifies you to become a matchmaker and it’s not something that is on most people’s radar. I didn’t dream of playing cupid, in fact, I always thought I would forge a career in children’s services. After graduating from University, I took up a post working for a charity coordinating services for children with complex needs before moving on to managing Children’s Centres for local authorities. It was here that I decided I needed a change, the problem was that I had no idea what that change looked like.

What inspired you to start Mutual Attraction?

I always had a keen interest in relationships, and dating and a throw away comment by a friend made a light bulb switch on. Yes it was one of ‘those’ moments! My friend experienced a really bad service with a matchmaker so I decided to do a bit of research. After realising a gap in the market existed I decided to go for it and have never looked back.  

What makes Mutual Attraction so unique?

Mutual Attraction is the only UK matchmaking service to win the two top awards in the industry. I believe this is because we deliver our matchmaking service in just three months, compared to typical dating agencies whose membership lasts one year. Clients want to meet someone special now, not in one year’s time and the intensity of the service means we really get to know our client and they get in the dating ‘zone’.

Our clients treat us as really good friends who just so happen to have a network of fantastic single people and this leads to building a solid really solid relationship between those looking for love and their matchmaker. 

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What hurdles have you had to overcome in your journey so far?

In my previous job roles I had worked as part of a team; suddenly I was working on my own and I found it difficult. You don’t have anyone to bounce ideas off, to keep you motivated when you’re having an ‘off day’, or even just someone to have a chat to over a coffee before cracking on. In the early days I found it incredibly difficult, if I made a decision I wanted someone to tell me it was the right decision and to back me up. I have now learnt that I make the final decision, it’s not always easy but you really just have to go for it and trust what you think is right at the time.

How did you first hear about the Innovating for Growth Programme?

I met members of the business team from the British Library at the Great British Entrepreneur Awards who told me about the Innovating for Growth programme. It couldn’t have come at a better time – just as I felt I was hitting a brick wall at how to take my business to the next level. A few days later I was filling out my application form!

How are you hoping your business will benefit from participating in the programme?

The chance to sit down and have a one-to-one conversation about my business with someone objective is a completely new situation for me, and one I’m really looking forward to. I’m also preparing for the fact that I have got used to a set way of working, and that the outcome of my sessions may mean making changes, including some big ones! I’m trying to go into the programme with an open mind, and be open to all new ideas. I know I will benefit from the intellectual property session and I am really looking forward to the PR session.

After years of running my business I feel like a need a bit of a refresh. I’m so head down in the day to day business that I can’t always strategically plan where we are going next. I’m hoping the programme will inspire me, and help me develop new ideas, as well as provide me with the opportunity to network and meet other entrepreneurs and business owners.

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Caroline in the Business & IP Centre

 What are your hopes for your business in the next year? 

It’s a really exciting time for Mutual Attraction as we are bringing on board a new full time employee who has lots of drive, ambition and passion. This year we will continue to keep matchmaking at the core and heart of what we do but we hope to be able to expand the age group of clients we work with so we can help more people find love.

What tips would you give someone thinking about applying for the Innovating for Growth programme?

  • Really embrace the experience
  • Don’t just turn up to the session and then forget about it - schedule time in your calendar to reflect on what you discussed and what you have learnt, and be open to new suggestions and ideas
  • When your business is like your baby it can be difficult to take on board advice and constructive feedback because you feel like you know best, but the advisers are really here to help you and your business so take full advantage.
  • Go for it!

Finally, as Valentine’s Day is approaching, can you give us some tips on organising a romantic Valentines date?

First off, if she says she doesn’t want anything for Valentine's day, don’t believe her! Take the risk and you may not live to see February 15th! You don’t have to spend a lot to make a Valentine’s Day date special; when it comes to love it really is the thought that counts. Why not recreate your first date, or surprise your partner with an evening of pampering – dinner, bath and bubbles. What more could you want?

 

Find out more about Caroline Brealey, her business Mutual Attraction and how to apply to the Innovation for Growth programme. 

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Diane Kelly on behalf of the Business & IP Centre 

10 February 2015

10 tips to help you start a successful business blog

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Emily Hill is the CEO of Write My Site, a digital copywriting agency based in Ealing, London. Her next workshop, ‘Blogging for Business’ takes place at the British Library Business & IP Centre on Thursday 12 February at 6pm. We asked her what advice she would give to small businesses wanting to start or develop their blog. 

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Emily Hill, CEO of Write my Site

Blogging for Business

Ahead of my workshop about business blogging as part of this year’s Web in Feb, I thought it would be useful to outline a few tips for small business owners who are considering starting a blog – or indeed, those who have set up blogs on their websites but aren’t too sure what to do with them.

At my copywriting agency, we write content for all manner of business blogs, from start-up tech companies through to big fashion retailers, and while there’s a vast difference in the type of content that performs best for each client, there are some general principles that apply to everyone. Below is my shortlist of 10 considerations which I hope will help in deciding how to approach blogging for 

1)      Blogging is proven to increase traffic to your website

Let’s start with the question at the top of every small business owner’s mind: does blogging actually bring more traffic to your website? The answer, happily, is yes. Adding between 21 and 51 blog posts to your site boosts traffic by up to 30%, and when you’ve added at least 52 blog posts, your traffic increases by 77%.

A study of 2,000 businesses by HubSpot also revealed that blogging more than 15 times each month increases traffic by 55% and inbound links by 97%.

2)      Blogging generates leads

Blogging sceptics think it’s not worth spending time or money on lots of content that doesn’t generate immediate sales. These people are missing the point. For small businesses, a blog is the most valuable digital asset they can curate. Blogging does generate leads – according to a Think Creative survey, small businesses that blog get 126% more lead growth than small businesses that do not blog. However, it’s important to take a long-term approach.

At Write My Site, we regularly sign new clients who have been following our blog and social channels for months – in some cases years. Blogging is about building your reputation as an expert in your field, and you can’t do that overnight. The payoff, however, is that the clients who’ve been following your blog are the best kind of clients: they’ve already learned something from you, they already trust your brand, and they are brilliant at generating repeat orders and referrals.

3)      Small businesses get the most out of blogging

Small businesses with 1-10 employees receive the biggest benefit of frequent blogging: they can double their sales leads by increasing their number of blog posts from 3-5 to 6-8 per month (HubSpot).

That said, measuring the impact of a business blog purely by the amount of traffic or leads it generates is a limited approach because it excludes the value of developing a social media fan base, and obtaining PR opportunities (e.g. invitations to speak at industry conferences) – both of which are invaluable by-products of blogging for small businesses who must constantly find ways to compete with more well-known competitors.

4)      Writing the company blog needs to be someone’s main job

Here’s the drawback to blogging: it’s labour-intensive. This means someone has to spend their time researching and creating the sort of high-quality, original content that will stand out from the thousands of generic articles that already exist on any given topic. Most business blogs are abandoned after fewer than 5 posts and my guess would be it’s because nobody has the time to keep it up to date.

Writing the company blog needs to be someone’s main job or clearly-defined part-time role. It doesn’t matter if that someone is an employee, a contractor or an agency copywriter – what’s important is that they don’t have conflicting demands on their time.

5)      Every business has something interesting to say

Many businesses fear they are too “boring” to be able to populate a blog with regular content that people will want to read, but there is a clear reason why this isn’t so: if your business has a customer base, then it is sitting on information and advice that will be of interest to those customers.

Take net curtains, for instance. This is not a topic that automatically gets my pulse racing, but I became a customer of a small textiles company that had taken the trouble to publish articles about how to measure, select and hang net curtains. Why did I buy from them? Quite simply, because they had taken the trouble to provide genuinely helpful information that was an exact match for my needs. This made me far more positively inclined towards them than towards the other companies that simply tried to sell me their products.

6)      Longer articles are generally better than shorter ones

In recent years there’s been a shift from short and snappy blog pieces to longer, more detailed articles. This is partly because of Google’s increasingly strict quality guidelines (see point 8, below) and partly because responsive design has made it possible for long-form text to be easily read on mobile phones and tablets. Although there is no convincing evidence that the length of a blog piece has a noticeable impact on traffic, it does seem to affect links and social shares. If a blog post is greater than 1,500 words, on average it receives 68.1% more tweets and 22.6% more Facebook likes (Quick Sprout).

My view is that most blogs benefit from a mix of article lengths. I tend to write a combination of 1,000 words plus pieces (such as this one!) and shorter pieces of no more than 500 words as these can be more easily absorbed by the busy reader.

7)      WordPress is awesome

I suggest to my clients that they get set up to an easy to use and SEO-friendly blogging platform such as WordPress. What I really like about WordPress (other than it being completely free) is the extent to which it can be customised – both on the front and back end. You can make it look and behave in just about any way you like.

8)      Keywords have grown up

More precisely, Google has grown up. Blogging used to be so easy: all you needed to do was keep repeating a certain word or phrase as often as you could and wait for Google to put you on Page One of the search results for that term. Following a deluge of poorly constructed ‘spam’ articles from companies wanting a quick win, however, Google has raised its game and is becoming better at recognising keyword spam and other cheap tricks designed to manipulate its algorithm.

Following the Hummingbird update in 2013, Google’s key interest is figuring out what people mean rather than just what they say when they run a search. The semantics of search is a huge topic in and of itself, so for the purposes of this section I’ll skip straight to the conclusion: write articles targeted at the reader and don’t crowbar your keywords into them. If you’re using WordPress (see point 7!) you can install a plugin called Yoast which will help you tweak your articles for keywords in a natural way.   

9)      Your blog needs a voice

Generic content is the kiss of death in business blogging, especially for small companies that don’t already have an established readership. There is absolutely no reason for anyone to read your ‘me too’ version of an article that has already been widely circulated. You must develop a distinctive voice, and a distinctive view on whatever topic you are writing about.

10)   Your analytics will tell you what’s working (and what’s not)

The only way you can tell whether or not your blog is doing well is by measuring it. As the saying goes “if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it”. Fortunately, this doesn’t need to cost you a penny. Make sure you install Google Analytics so that you can track visitors and page bounces (the number of people who leave your blog without interacting) for every article. Over time you should be able to spot patterns that tell you what kind of articles are most popular with your readers. 

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Blogging for your business can reap huge rewards, so I hope these tips have gone some way towards helping you develop and refine your strategy. Good luck!