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

21 August 2015

Spotlight on … The Decorators

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The Decorators is an exciting young business made up of four friends who met at uni. They turned their passion for working with space into an experiential design business. Here founding partner Carolina Caicedo shares advice for starting and growing a successful company after completing the Business & IP Centre’s Innovating for Growth programme. 

0. The Decorators
Portrait of The Decorators, photo credit: Dosfotos

How did you come up with the concept or idea for your business?

The four partners met doing an MA in Narrative Environments at Central Saint Martins College of Art & Design. The course was all about multidisciplinary teams working collaboratively on projects. An opportunity to do an interactive installation at the trade show 100% Design in London came up just at the end of our final year in 2010 and we decided to take it on together. The project was a success and showed us that we worked well together and that we could produce more interesting things by working together rather than individually.

You started your own business at a young age – what advice would you give to other young people hoping to do the same?

I would say look to learn about how to run a sustainable business as soon as you start. Train yourself in all the different hats you’ll have to put on. We set ourselves up as a collective to begin with, we were much more interested in the delivery of creative ideas, than in understanding what it takes to run a business. We learnt the hard way that simply focusing on producing a good service or offer is not enough to sustain a business. I would also recommend finding a business mentor, be it someone with his or her own business or a business coach. All four of us set up The Decorators straight after finishing our MA, with little time spent in industry at times we felt we were reinventing the wheel unnecessarily. Others have done this before you so learn from them.

1.Ridley's at night
Ridley’s at night, photo credit: Dosfotos
2.Daytime at Ridley's
Daytime at Ridley’s, photo credit: The Decorators

How did you finance your business at the early stages?

We financed the early stages of the business by taking out a small start-up loan through the University of the Arts London. It helped us take on a studio.

What main obstacle have you had to overcome?

Our main obstacle has been mindset. We have had to shift our mind-set to see ourselves as business owners rather than just designers or creators. With that shift we have experienced a loss of resistance towards the less sexy and fun aspects of running a business.

11. The Decorators' Radio at V&A Museum
The Decorators’ Radio at the V&A Museum, photo credit: The Decorators

 

10. Italian Mobile Garden at Alexandra Palace
Italian Mobile Garden at Alexandra Palace, photo credit: Dosfotos

What do you like the most about running your own business?

For me it is how empowering it feels to be running your own business. It is empowering to be shaping and creating the kind of work you want to do, who you do it with and the culture in which you do it. The self development required to take a business forward is also empowering.  It sets you in good stead for whatever may come next.

Which entrepreneurs inspire you?

We are inspired by the recent surge in start-ups that are putting wellbeing and social values at the heart of their business. I have found the watching the rise of Headspace very interesting and it is particularly inspiring when you know how hard it is to get a business going. I am also much more interested in hearing the behind the scenes stories. I listen to the podcast Start-Up, which follows the journey of businesses that are starting up. We usually only get the final success story but it is much more valuable for me to hear about the journey and the struggle to get something to work.

6. Screening at Adult Architecure Cinema
Screening at Adult Architecture Cinema, photo credit: Dosfotos

 

9. Chrisp Street on Air - Boxing at the Market
Chrisp Street on Air - Boxing at the Market, photo credit: Dosfotos

If you had one piece of advice to someone just starting out, what would it be?

Self development is the most important thing in starting up your own business. Developing a can-do and positive mindset is what will get you through the inevitable hard times.

 

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17 August 2015

3 common mistakes made by small business founders and how to avoid them

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On the Business & IP Centre Innovating for Growth programme, we have met more than two hundred and fifty business founders in London. We have worked with them to help their businesses grow. I'm responsible for helping them to make a great offer for their customers and deliver amazing products and services.

It's hard to start a business and these business founders never fail to inspire me. But I've noticed some common themes that can hold them back while they are trying to grow from a start-up to an established company. Here are three mistakes that business founders often make, and what you can do to avoid them.

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1. Thinking like a craftsperson, not an entrepreneur

This is all about priorities. When you start a business, it’s often in order to sell a particular product or service you are passionate about: something you just couldn’t find anywhere else. You want to focus all your time and energy on crafting that idea. That’s great, but the priority of a business founder – or entrepreneur – is to create firm foundations for the business itself. In that sense, the business is the product: it’s the thing you are making.

As an entrepreneur, prioritise your time toward checking your riskiest assumptions and making sure your business can thrive. Is this the best market for me to sell in? Who are my first ten customers going to be? Can I establish the partnerships I need with suppliers or retailers? Can I compete on price as well as quality? Crafting your passion-product shouldn’t be the first thing you do. That should come when you’re ready, with all the other elements in place.

2. Not talking to customers about what they need and why it matters

So many business founders avoid talking directly to their customers or, if they do, they only pitch the things they want to sell. I'm not sure if this is because people are shy or over-confident, or perhaps a bit of both. But the gap between what your customers actually need and what you think they need is often huge. Non-delivery, under-delivery and over-delivery all cost you money and slow down growth.

This trick never fails: make ten appointments to meet ten customers and talk to them for an hour each about their desires, anxieties and unmet needs. Buy them a coffee near to where they work. You're not allowed to talk about yourself or your ideas, only about them and theirs. After just ten interviews, you'll have a level of insight you've never experienced before.

3. Valuing goodwill over cash

I often hear “It didn't make any money but we learned a lot, and the customers loved it”. Or, “We nearly broke even but at least the client is keen for us to do more”. I bet they are. But you should value cash over goodwill, not in the sense of trying to rip people off, but because profit is the measure of your business's success.

While you are testing your ideas and building your customer base, find ways to discover which customers will pay you what you are worth, and which ideas they are willing to pay for. If you discount or give away your product or service to early customers, you'll lose the chance to learn the only important lesson: is there a market for this? For a business founder, money is information.

About Christopher Pett

Christopher runs Makersco, a business growth agency working with small and medium sized business owners. Makersco helps clients to find deep customer insights, run fast product development projects and build useful management information systems. He also advises business owners on the Innovating for Growth programme at the British Library Business & IP Centre.

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11 August 2015

6 Tips for Pitching to Investors

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Listening to the “Dragons” on the BBC2 TV show Dragons’ Den is a good insight into the way your investors may be thinking when you present your ideas, plans and proposals to them. As all good scouts know, you must Be Prepared, i.e. be fully prepared for some intense questioning before investors will entrust you with their money. Here are our 6 tips for getting your pitch right.

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1.      Know every aspect of your finances – and your research data

Numbers must add up but, more than that, every figure that you use must be validated. You can’t simply base your first year growth rate on a competitor’s established business or make assumptions based on ‘gut-feel’.  That is a certain way to get rejected at the very first stage.

How much money do you need and how will every penny of it be invested? What are your start-up/capital expenditure and initial running costs? Are these based on firm quotations from relevant suppliers? Know the best and worst case scenarios for your projected costs.

Who are your customers, what is the size of your potential market and how long is a typical purchase decision process? Why would your product be selected? What steps have you taken or are you planning to maximise the reach of your marketing and sales campaigns?

Importantly, when will investors begin to see a return and how much? What exit options have you considered? You will need to substantiate your claims with independent data.

 2.      Rehearse your pitch – and practice thinking on your feet

Enthusiasm and confidence are by-products of knowing that you are thoroughly prepared for any question – even if it’s one you hadn’t previously considered.

“He who hesitates is lost” has never been so true therefore you need to keep a clear head and be able to deliver a well-rehearsed pitch that briefly covers all important points. Practicing your delivery with a mentor or business associate, rather than in a mirror or with a close family member, may be helpful in a number of ways. Get them to ask questions, too.  The tougher the questions the better prepared you will be.

 3.      Understand your investors and be open with them

Before you set the level of your pitch, find out about your investors, particularly what business areas they have interests in. If they offer advice, you need to listen because they are the ones with huge amounts of money and, presumably, some proven business acumen. As with all advice, you should take it on board, mull it over and act on it as appropriate.

Don’t try to hide pertinent facts and if you are not sure of the facts, don’t make them up!

 4.      Be honest with yourself about the value of your business

Excluding assets, the value of your business is calculated on its worth and profit potential to someone else and nothing to do with the amount of time and money you have invested getting to the current point. An entrepreneur will have devoted considerable resources to bring the venture to this point, and that is often considered as personal sweat equity.  Investors appreciate this, but they will take it for granted and tend to focus instead on future cash-flow requirements rather than legacy costs.

 5.      Keep calm and be yourself.

It is easy to put yourself under pressure when big opportunities arise but keeping calm and not panicking will enable your mind to work clearly and your mouth to deliver a clear response!

Knowing that you are well prepared is a major calming factor but, if you are prone to nervousness, practice some calming techniques that will help you through the pitch – perhaps deep breathing or subtle rhythmic tapping of your thumb against your finger.

Let investors see the real you – the person who is driving the business. Believe in yourself and just be you. Investors are real business people, and they want to work with ambitious, driven and practical entrepreneurs.

 6.      Don’t forget to close!

When you’re finished presenting make sure that ask for the investment – that’s the real purpose of the meeting isn’t it? At this stage the investor may have some additional questions for you. Some may be business-related, others more personal in nature. They’re essentially trying to get a feel if they can work with you as a business partner. So don’t take this approach personally and answer their questions to the best of your ability. And then ask for the investment again.

 

The London Business Support Service is a valued Partner of the British Library in London. We conduct 1-2-1 confidential business clinics on the first Wednesday of every month at the Business & IP Centre at the British Library. Our business clinics are suitable for any type of business in any type of situation, and our experienced business advisors are here to provide you with cost effective business support services that result in tangible and measurable benefits to your business.