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

22 February 2018

Top 3 business resolutions for 2018

We asked three successful Innovating for Growth* businesses to share their top business priorities for 2018. From focusing on ethical production practices to planning achievable services that offer clear value to customers, here is how the owners of Asquith activewear, The Cocktail Lovers and Revival Retro Boutique plan to drive success and business growth.

 

A more customer-centric approach for Asquith

Asquith

Alice Asquith, Founder and Creative Director:

For Asquith this year it’s about really focusing on what our customer wants, not what we think she wants. We carried out a customer survey in 2017 and it’s really helped us focus on their needs. 

We are working with more influencers than before who will offer health tips, healthy recipes, free yoga classes - giving more added value to our Customer. 

We also want to raise more awareness around being an ethical clothing brand by filming our factory in Turkey to give our Customer a clearer insight into our Ethical production practices.

 

A focus on strategy and planning for The Cocktail Lovers

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Gary Sharpen and Sandrae Lawrence, Founders and Owners:

The timing of the British Library Innovating for Growth programme couldn't have been better for us. It clarified our thinking for the coming year, helping us to really focus. We are being very clear with our ambitions – specific timings, measurable goals and assessing required resource.

We will focus on actually leading our business – delegating more of its ongoing requirements through freelancers and project partners.

Finally yet equally importantly, we are identifying exactly how to grow the business – planning specific, achievable products, services and events that offer clear value to our customers and partners.

 

An emphasis on content for Revival Retro Boutique

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Rowena Howie, Founder and Owner:

It’s all about content not keywords for the website in 2018! We well be reviewing our messaging to make sure viewers better understand the what, where and why.

For marketing we are going to use our best assets (our staff and our products) to convince new audiences they should visit the boutique: we will be popping up in selected spots all around Greater London.

Last but not least, we will develop our own range of clothing further. Greater control of our product range, delivery dates and pricing without competing with other online retailers of the same goods gives us an advantage especially if we continue to listen to feedback of what our customers expect.

 

* Are you an ambitious business owner looking to scale up? Innovating for Growth is a free three-month programme to help you turn your growth idea into a reality. Find out more here.

ERDF

This programme is fully-funded by the European Regional Development Fund and the British Library.

21 February 2018

The top 10 tips for starting up an online business from the experts

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We gathered a panel of experts who have all made a success of running a business online, to find out what helped or hindered them.

 

The panel consisted of Tom Adeyoola, Founder and CEO of Metail, Rikke Rosenlund, Founder of BorrowMyDoggy, Karen Hanton MBE, Founder of Toptable.com and Sara Murray OBE, Founder of confused.com but more recently Buddi and Non-Executive Director of Bohoo.com. Each of them had plenty of advice for the audience of budding entrepreneurs.

 

1.       A background in tech is not essential

Although it would help, you don’t have to be a whizz at coding or know all there is to know about websites to be successful. Tom said “I’ve always been a strategy guy—but I knew enough about tech to be dangerous. You need to understand enough to know who you would need with you to solve the problem.” And Karen insisted “don’t be intimidated by tech!” Finding the right people to fill in the gaps in your own knowledge is a sensible move and you will learn who you need to help you do the parts you find more of a struggle.

2.      Find your people

For all our panel, finding the right people to work with was vital. “Don’t be scared to not know things—find people you can work with and conduct research,” says Karen. It’s a possible money saver for you, added Sara, “ask yourself how much tech knowledge do you need? Could you outsource to save costs?”

Tom agreed, saying: “Companies are moving towards Cambridge to get closer to AI research. Go back to where you studied to find your people. I co-funded a Phd student—he came to us instead of Google. He was interested in our problem and joining us to solve it, not how much he could earn.”

3.       Testing, testing

Rikke started out using the Lean Startup Methodology which essentially allows you to find a gap in the market where your business can solve a problem, provide a better service and (perhaps more importantly) allows you to find out if your business idea is even viable in the current market. She explained: “Most of you just starting out won’t have the benefit of unlimited pots of money, but the lean business model encourages you to use the resources that you do have in a controlled way, so you can be more efficient and plan for long-term.”

Having a safer way to test your business idea is a great way to start out and makes sure you’re in a better position financially if things don’t go to plan.

4.      Should you consider an app?

It could be tempting to launch an app as part of your business, but Tom explained that building web pages that are mobile responsive negate the need for an app. “They can be a hold up—apps take up space and people don’t want to download too many things onto their phone.” Perhaps further down the line you might have more time and funds to explore an app, but in the beginning the focus should be on the website.

5.      How high-tech is too high?

Much like not requiring a background in tech to get started, you don’t always have to use the most cutting-edge systems or tools to serve your customers. Karen used the example of her business of making travelling with your pet and suggested: “if you choose a life with a pet you are also possibly less inclined to spend time worrying about the latest technology, you’re too busy walking your dog!” By considering the demographic who will be using your services, leading tech may not always be the answer.

6.      Exit strategy

An important question raised was “should a business always have an exit strategy?” Karen answered “At the beginning I didn’t even know what one was—I learned terms like that along the way. Having one is not a bad idea, but my experience is that you should keep an eye on who might buy you out—but don’t focus on it. You might even partner with them instead.”

“It’s a modern term and I believe it’s detrimental to business,” added Sara. She paraphrased the great businessman Warren Buffet who said: “Build your business like you want to leave it to your grandchildren.” A business should be something you take care of and seek to grow rather than set out with a view to sell on as soon as you can.

7.       Money matters

“Don’t think about the money you’re going to make, think about the impact for the customer, make it about the difference you can make,” said Rikke. She gradually implemented fees for BorrowMyDoggy services, when initially it was free, but she offers more benefits to her customers (insurance for their beloved pet being one of them) that outweigh the costs, meaning they are more than happy to pay. Believing that you are charging a fair price and remaining confident in the face of a difficult sales pitch is no mean feat, but Rikke said that by building up slowly she kept prices fair and her customers trust her to provide a better product in return.

8.      Problem solving will help you find an audience

Tom explained “we live in a time now when it’s easier than ever to find consumers to test ideas cheaply. An exciting idea can be tested but think really hard about solving their problems first.” Once you know the problems or ‘pain points’ people have or experience when using a product or service, you can begin to understand the audience your business will be for.

BorrowMyDoggy started with Rikke noticing that dog owners wanted more options for dog care and that many people wanted to be able to enjoy a dog but didn’t have the ability to fully commit to owning one. Both these problems helped her to find a community of people her idea could help.

9.      Quit talking and start doing

“Beg, borrow, steal, everything” said Sara and “quit talking and start doing.” The panel had all discussed their ideas, but then they acted on them. Tom suggested asking yourself the first few questions: What makes your business unique? How are you going to get your product sold? Can you use tech to help? And go from there.

Make use of the Business & IP Centre” encouraged Rikke, “it’s a fantastic resource and can help you to take action and make your idea a reality.

10.   Stay passionate

The panel were unanimous on this one. Your business needs to be something you are passionate about – whatever it is. “This is a life choice,” said Karen. “A work life balance is great but it’s important to know that running your own business doesn’t give you much time off.”

Rikke agreed, adding “I’m a firm believer in passion – do something that helps you to enjoy the journey.” Building a business from scratch is daunting, but if it’s something you truly believe in, it will be so much easier.

20 February 2018

Why would I need a book for my business?

 Books mean business

You may not have included writing a book in your business or marketing strategy. Why should a café, an accountant, an accessories maker, a toy company or a software designer, to name but a few, have a book?

 

In 2016, as Writer in Residence at the British Library’s Business & IP Centre, I put on a series of workshops and the most popular by far was Books Mean Business, where I showed the many uses of a book in helping a business be more successful, how to get started and what was important to include. It completely sold out and we had to run it again a few months later just to accommodate those who hadn’t been able to attend the first session.

If you’re a business, writing a book can help you with:

  • Getting your brand better known
  • Engaging with your customers to turn them into your fans
  • Having something to share on social and traditional media
  • Bringing you a new source of income (as well as the obvious royalties!)
  • As a specialist in a particular field, consultant or professional mentor, having a book to your name will help you be seen as an expert and make more clients want to work with you

Writing a book may seem a daunting process but it can be easier than you think and with Print-on-Demand technology at your fingertips, your book can be professionally produced and selling on Amazon and other retailers a lot quicker than you think!

In March this year I am running the workshop again. We’ll go through why writing a book makes good business sense, cover the main elements to include in a successful book and get you started on your own book. We have examples from lots of industries to get your brain racing. We will ensure you focus on what makes a book look and feel professional as well as being appropriate to your individual target audience and marketing needs.

You’ll take away an action plan, lots of useful ideas and contacts (such as book cover designers) to help your book be a success. You’ll also get a free eBook sent to you afterwards, The Storytelling Entrepreneur, which I wrote during my residency at the British Library and which focuses on how you can tell your business story to engage with your stakeholders.  

 

 

Don't miss Melissa's inspiring workshop, join us for Books mean business on Tuesday, 20 March. See you there!

*Melissa Addey spent fifteen years developing new products at Sainsbury’s Head Office and then went on to mentor over 500 entrepreneurs as part of a government grants programme. Now a fulltime author, studying for a PhD in Creative Writing, she has written six books including fiction and non-fiction. www.melissaaddey.com