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

15 October 2017

Innovating for Growth: London tours with a tasty twist

Jennifer Earle, with her enticingly named Chocolate Ecstasy Tours, founded her business back in 2005 by doing the things she loved best; learning, discovering London, meeting new people and tasting delicious food, especially chocolate! We caught up with Jennifer, a recent graduate of the Innovating for Growth programme, to find out how her business started and to learn about an exciting new development that is underway.

Jennifer-Earle-Taste-Tripper-Founder-London

What was your background before starting Chocolate Ecstasy Tours?

I ran the Chocolate Ecstasy tours business alongside full-time work, including a role as a Food Buyer at Marks & Spencer and a Food Developer at McDonald’s. I was already writing about food part-time and, from 2006 I started to get invited to speak on the radio and TV, as well as judge food awards and speak at events.

I finally began working fulltime on Chocolate Ecstasy Tours in 2013 and added more tours, more dates and more workshops and events – including teaching chocolate workshops in schools and running food innovation days for companies. The tours gradually became premium as the experience and knowledge of my guiding team increased and we reduced the maximum number of guests on a tour to eight.

This commitment to quality was always going to restrict how large I could grow the tours business. I really wanted to make something that could reach more people and promote more of the amazing food businesses we have in London, but in a way that still hit the core values of quality, discovery, effortlessness and fun. I’d been mulling over the options for years, but the idea for Taste Tripper didn’t all click into place until one evening in 2015. I shared the idea with my husband who was so enthusiastic about it he wanted to get involved.

What makes Taste Tripper unique?

Taste Tripper is the world’s first self-guided tasting tour business. Our Explorer Packs are a really effortless and flexible way to discover part of London’s amazing food scene. The partner locations in the Taste Tripper Explorer Packs all offer something delicious for you, just for turning up! And, like a VIP, you get a special deal on any extra purchases, too. 

What we hope will keep us unique is our commitment to quality. We will only ever send people to places that we believe are fabulous.

What challenges has the business faced along the way?

Being a new concept meant that we had to convince businesses to work with us. In principle this has been easy but, as we mostly work with small businesses that have a lot on their plate, it can take time to get them to send us the information we need and approve things.

We had some dire printing errors which were quite expensive. I don’t think we could have done anything differently to have avoided them.  We also had our trademark challenged by a big company which meant thousands on legal fees before we’d even made a hundred sales. There were tough decisions to make but we are proud that we stood our ground and won!

Through the British Library Innovating for Growth programme we had fantastic, honest feedback and we called our first customers for more of the same. It’s been so enlightening and inspiring and made us go back to the drawing board on quite a few significant things. It’s been quite frustrating that it has taken us some months to get the changes ready, but they are finally live!

Chocolate-brownie-notting-hill

What advice would you give to any small business owners thinking of developing a new product?

The most valuable thing for us was contacting customers and asking them to speak with us and give us feedback. The sooner you can do this, the better. Trying to sell as soon as possible will show you if there’s a market. But then you need to ask those people who parted with money if they are happy and how they could be happier.

We probably would have benefited from discussing our ideas with more people and listening harder for their suggestions. But people will tell you different things so try to focus only on the things that keep being mentioned. It’s important to have the courage of your convictions over the smaller stuff, especially if you think you know your market well. 

I would also advise anyone that good products don’t happen quickly.  Whatever time span you had planned for launch or growth: double it. And maybe double it again. 

You grew the business with the help of our Innovating for Growth programme. What specifically did the programme help you achieve?

The honest feedback from experienced people was invaluable. It forced us to really look at what was working, what wasn’t and what was important. We got clearer on what we wanted the business to stand for, how we could communicate that and what changes we needed to make.  The technical advice for ensuring we have a watertight business was also brilliant and so useful.

During the three months we decided to change the redemption from tear-off paper strips on the cards to online redemption, whilst still keeping the attractive giftable Explorer Pack (it all seems so obvious now!) and we also decided to add a map to the homepage so customers could create their own London Explorer Pack. We’ll eventually offer neighbourhood Explorer Packs, too.  It really feels like we have a much more solid business with real potential for growth. I’m so excited!

Are you an ambitious business owner looking to scale up, like Jennifer? If so, Innovating for Growth is a free three-month programme to help you turn your growth idea into a reality. Find out more and apply now.

13 October 2017

Business & IP Centre Norfolk opens its doors to the county’s SMEs

The British Library is thrilled to welcome the latest addition to its network of Business & IP Centres – located in the Norfolk and Norwich Millennium Library.

The Centre was officially launched yesterday on the 11th October 2017 and is now the eleventh city in this network across the UK – with free intellectual property and business information, training workshops and one-to-one advice available to local entrepreneurs; the launch of this new Business & IP Centre has been extremely well received.

At the launch event, start-ups from across Norwich heard from a special panel of the region’s successful food industry founders led by award-winning chef and founder of Charlie's Norfolk Food Heroes, Charlie Hodson. Questions were put to chef and restaurateur at Benedicts, Richard Bainbridge, Candi Robertson, founder of Candi’s Chutney, and Mike Deal, founder of Wildcraft Brewery, and were left inspired to develop their own enterprises.

BIPC Norfolk

Roly Keating, Chief Executive of the British Library said: “The success of the Business & IP Centre model is evidence of the strong connection between libraries and business, and I’m thrilled to see this link reinforced again with the opening of a new Centre for entrepreneurs and small businesses in Norwich.

“Our vision is to create 20 such Business & IP Centres by the end of the decade, and I look forward to working with our city library partners to achieve this goal and to spearhead business growth and innovation in cities across the UK.”

Each Business & IP Centre provides an inspirational space for entrepreneurs to come together to network, attend events and access a wealth of resources including business databases such as Mintel market research reports, plus consumer data, trendspotting for the UK and worldwide as well as information on patents, trademarks, designs and copyright.  

The Business & IP Centre at the British Library opened in London in 2006. Since then it has helped more than 700,000 entrepreneurs and helped create an average of 550 businesses and 1,200 jobs every year.

Find out more about the services on offer at www.norfolk.gov.uk/bipcnorfolk, or follow Business & IP Centre Norfolk on Twitter @BIPCNorfolk

09 October 2017

Growing your business without burning yourself out

Starting and growing a business can be exciting and very rewarding, and at the British Library’s Business & IP Centre we can help you to achieve all of your entrepreneurial goals. However, there are factors that aren’t often spoken about when we talk about the life of a business owner. Entrepreneurs typically dedicate long hours and lots of energy and effort to building their company and there is a risk that this can lead to burn-out unless care is taken. As today is World Mental Health Day, we would like to take the opportunity to challenge the assumptions about mental health and equip ourselves with the necessary tools to maintain balance.

Tom Costley, Operations Director for Mind in Camden, explains why he thinks entrepreneurs are sometimes at risk of developing poor mental health and suggests some practical tips and strategies that entrepreneurs can employ to protect their mental wellbeing and maintain a work-life balance.

Mind

Why might there be a risk of an entrepreneur experiencing issues with their mental health?

Entrepreneurs typically have a high sense of purpose, meaning and drive in their lives, and this is actually great for positive mental health.  However, there can be a downside to this if the drive to succeed comes at the detriment of other things which help keep us in balance.  For example, if building the business becomes the only focus of the entrepreneur’s world and they pour all their energies into it, then they risk neglecting some other important factors which help sustain their good mental health, such as our personal relationships or downtime for relaxation. Often entrepreneurs can feel so driven to succeed that they imagine they are immune to the consequences of neglecting their wellbeing and ignore tell-tale signs and symptoms.  Lack of sleep, for example, can lead us to feel irritable and frustrated and affect our decision making.  Business owners may feel we can ride through this and carry on working, but ultimately it will negatively impact on how effective they are in their business and on their chances of success.  For example, they might unintentionally be snappy with an important client, forget an important deadline or experience ‘brain fog’ and lack of clarity when making an important decision with long-term implications.

Entrepreneurs can also be emotionally high-risk takers, investing 100% of themselves in their business to the extent it becomes an extension of their personal identity and it is difficult to see where the business ends and the person begins.  We see this a lot currently as the trend for social media and video content creates an expectation for business owners to be more visible than ever before, which creates additional pressure.  This may not be a problem when the business is working well and experiencing success, but should the business then take a dip that entrepreneur can find that their self-esteem is so closely entwined with their work that they experience a disproportionate reaction and fall into a ‘slump’.  This is why preserving a sense of self which is separate from the business is vitally important in enabling us to ride through challenges and maintain perspective.

World-Mental-Health-Day-10th-October-2016

For an entrepreneur, having their identity very closely connected to their business can also compromise their emotional honesty.  This may be particularly true for people who are at the early stage of building a business when the appearance of success and confidence is everything and we are taught to ‘fake it until we make it’.  Of course, there is an element of this that may be necessary as part of a business strategy.  However, to safeguard against becoming disconnected from reality it is important to have someone who you can be more revealing with, and share what is really going on: your fears and anxiety as well as your hopes and ambitions.  This might be a great friend or partner, or perhaps even a mentor figure or a counsellor.  Whoever it is, make sure you allow time in your busy schedule to connect with them.

What are the warning signs of poor mental health that entrepreneurs should look out for?

It’s important to remember that mental health is personal: it’s about understanding ourselves. We all have different warning signs which may indicate to us that we are heading out of balance.  One useful way to approach this is to be aware of how we are when we are feeling ‘ok’ and then to consciously monitor ourselves if we feel some of these things are noticeably worse. Typical warning signs that things are tipping in the wrong direction might include:

  • Poor concentration
  • Altered sleep pattern or lack of sleep
  • Irritability
  • Feelings of confusion or compromised ability to make decisions
  • Levels of sociability
  • Sense of connection to those close to us
  • Ability to see the ‘bigger picture’ and maintain perspective

It’s important to take account of our individuality when monitoring our mental health; we need to compare ourselves to what is healthy and normal for us rather than for other people.  For example, whilst social contact is important for good mental health, we all thrive off different levels and types of social engagement depending on our personalities.

Do you have any tops hints and tips that you could recommend to help entrepreneurs/business owners look after their mental health more effectively?

Again this is personal, so knowing yourself is essential.  Identify what keeps you resourced away from your business and ensure you build in time to do this with full presence and commitment.  Preserving time to switch off and be with the important people in your life, or simply spending time doing something which gives you joy and helps you connect with life beyond work, really can make all the difference.  This could be a sport, gardening, walking, reading or just being with friends and family.  Because they don’t keep set working hours, business owners can have a tendency to feel tremendously guilty about taking time out for themselves. In order to commit to doing this, you may need to keep reminding yourself of the benefits:  switching off from your business every once in a while will increase your creativity, give you renewed energy and ensure you are keeping fully charged in order to make your business a success.