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

03 March 2017

Getting your business ready to compete in a digital age

Gori Yahaya is the founder of UpSkill Digital and is also a delivery partner at the Business & IP Centre. His company specialises in providing bespoke workshops that focus on improving the digital skills of small businesses, charities and young people across the UK.

For most businesses today the internet has become a vital tool in helping them to grow and prosper. However, there are many companies that lack the necessary digital skills to compete effectively in the modern business world.

We caught up with Gori to find out how UpSkill Digital is helping to buck this trend.

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UpSkill Digital focuses on improving the digital skills of small businesses, charities and young people. What made these three groups of particular interest to you?

I’ve had the pleasure of training a variety of audiences for Google over the years and these three groups stood out to me as having the largest need for digital skills in the UK. Small businesses truly drive the UK economy and almost half of them don't have websites or the necessary skills to succeed in the digital age. There is a similar statistic for charities across the UK and for many it’s down to a lack of confidence and ease of access to affordable training. As for young people, there is a common misconception that every young person has an innate understanding of all things digital. Many of them are proficient with digital products for personal use but often have no idea how to harness their digital savviness in a professional setting. This really drives us at UpSkill Digital, because we want to unlock the true potential of these digital natives and empower them with practical skills to help businesses grow.

What are the key areas of digital marketing that small businesses and entrepreneurs should be aware of?

With the digital age moving so fast, it’s often hard for businesses to keep up. One of the key areas that businesses are keen to learn more about is Google Analytics. The power of data to help businesses succeed and understand their customers is underestimated by many and the idea of deep diving into the data still seems very daunting to many small business owners. We launched our hands-on Google Analytics session to really help entrepreneurs get to grips with, and take action on, their data. The other area businesses often find it difficult to nail is Social Media for business. Most people are aware of how social media has changed the way we engage with our friends, family and even companies, but building a social media presence and content strategy to help you engage and sell, needs a little more guidance. Outside of these two, the big focus is mobile marketing as we’re truly living in a mobile world so you need to ensure your online presence is built to engage through smartphones.

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What did you do before UpSkill Digital and could you ever see yourself returning to it?

Before UpSkill Digital and, perhaps even before my time spent working and consulting in digital marketing, I used to run and manage experiential events for large brands, from product launches to PR stunts. I loved it, and I’m still keen to help out with a major event when it comes up. I’ve managed to combine this event management experience with my love of digital training by running our training roadshows across the UK, so I do feel like I’ve found a great balance.

Have you always wanted to become an entrepreneur or is it something that just happened?

I still find the definition of an entrepreneur can differ between people. I feel like I’ve always had an entrepreneurial approach as I find there’s nothing more rewarding than creating something out of nothing and solving a problem whilst doing so. Having worked for myself for well over a decade now, I’ve experienced many highs and low with different start-ups and had a few failures along the way. You truly start to appreciate your entrepreneurial nature once when you notice how you learn and bounce back from the difficult moments.

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What’s next for Upskill Digital?

At our core UpSkill Digital is a training agency that aims to make digital education fun, memorable and practical. We’ve been fortunate enough to work with great partners such as Google and the British Library to help train a large number of small business owners and entrepreneurs in digital skills and we’ve had lots of interest in expanding our training workshops to other vital areas of business, such as presentation and sales skills. We’ve also embarked on a good model with our roadshows to help plug the digital skills gap, and there are some interesting government initiatives in the pipeline that we’re hoping to support.

What advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs wanting to follow in your footsteps?

Being an entrepreneur can be a wild and rocky ride and you’ll need all the help you can get. Leverage your friends, family and any contacts you make along the way to help you. We’re often reluctant to ask for help but we’re happy to give it when asked, so don’t be afraid to ask. Improve your productivity with to-do lists; they have been a lifesaver for me. I like to carry a notebook around with me and will often take notes and prioritise things on a list to ensure I’m not procrastinating. Finally, keep learning. I’ve always been fascinated by our capacity to learn and, more importantly, how we use this information to further or better ourselves, our careers and our businesses.

As part of the 'DoItDigital' campaign, The British Library and its national network of Business & IP Centres has pledged to support 10,000 UK small businesses to learn new digital skills in 2017.

To book your place on an UpSkillDigital workshop or to find out more about the Business & IP Centre’s workshops, one-to-ones and business support, visit:  http://www.bl.uk/business-and-ip-centre

24 February 2017

Internet Icons: Creating big business online

On Tuesday 7 February 2017, we hosted a panel discussion - Inspiring Entrepreneurs: Internet Icons - which was moderated by journalist and TV broadcaster, Nadine Dereza. On the night we were joined by Ella Mills of Deliciously Ella, Rupert Hunt of Spare Room, Sarah Wood of Unruly and Aron Gelbard of Bloom & Wild. The event was also live screened to all 10 of the Business & IP Centre’s across the country, as well as a webcast to viewers across the world.

About the speakers

Deliciously Ella – Ella's business empire began with a blog and quickly developed into a popular brand. Her entrepreneurial rise has seen the opening of two London-based deli’s, four published books and the development of her own food range.

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SpareRoom – Rupert Hunt created the UK’s busiest flatshare site, SpareRoom.com which receives over two million hits a month. The company has now expanded its services to the United States and can be used all over America.

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Bloom & Wild – Aron Gelbard is the co-founder of Bloom & Wild. His company has redefined the online flower delivery service, delivering pristine flowers without the recipient needing to be at home. Bloom & Wild has been rated as the top online flower delivery service in the UK and developed the leading flower delivery app.

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Unruly – Sarah Wood is the co-founder and CEO of the video ad-tech company, Unruly. Assisting companies to create unique online video content since 2006 Unruly provides a platform that helps brands to reach an audience of 1.44 billion.

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A powerful tool for business growth

With the internet playing such a vital role in the modern business world, it is important for business owners to learn how four very different companies harnessed the power of the internet to scale up and grow successfully. When considering the statistics, it’s no surprise that more and more businesses are going online and as Isabel Oswell, Head of Business Audiences at the British Library, explained, “90% of people connected online in the UK, three-quarters of these have bought online and the online retail market continues to grow by 15-20% each year”. For most businesses today ignoring the internet is no longer an option, and with numbers like these, why would they?

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The Myth of the Big Idea

The audience was keen to quiz the online trailblazers who weren’t shy in offering wise words of advice for our budding entrepreneurs. Each of them drew from their own unique experiences to answer a variety of relevant questions, covering everything from surviving knock-backs to how social media can help businesses to grow.

Both Rupert Hunt and Sarah Wood were keen to stress that the myth of ‘the big idea’ was something that entrepreneurs had to be wary of when trying to start up. Rupert’s position was clear, “don’t get hung up on the big idea, get to the market and let the market guide you”. Indeed, the internet provides the perfect platform for many small businesses to gauge how their prospective customers feel about their products and services.  If they react well, you’ll quickly know that you’re on to something - and, even if the response is not what you expected, you’ll be able to learn how to improve what you do for your target audience. Sarah expanded on this point, explaining how Unruly started out as an online sharing board in 2006 but quickly noticed that the video content posted always had the most online engagement. Noticing this trend in audience behaviour, encouraged the company to create a ‘top 100 chart’ for online video content and, in turn, led to big brands wanting their videos featured. Today, Unruly is one of the biggest names in online advertising and works with 91% of the Ad 100 brands. It is also active in 20 locations worldwide and was acquired by News Corp in 2015.

The Power of Social Media

For most small businesses, developing a strong and loyal fan base of millions may seem unrealistic at best. However, we now have the online tools to reach people from far and wide with engaging and unique content. Ella drew on her own entrepreneurial journey advising the audience to, “never underestimate the power of social media when building your audience and business”. Having battled through a traumatic illness, Ella had changed her diet and lifestyle as a means of improving her health. After receiving encouragement to write a blog post for her friends and family, she quickly noticed that there were many people who were interested in what she had to say. The frequent engagement with her online followers quickly established a platform from which a successful business could be built. Deliciously Ella has now become a popular brand in its own right and has seen the development of a successful bricks and clicks business.

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A big boost for small business

The panel was keen to stress how the internet can also make it much easier for small businesses to enter already established markets. Both Bloom & Wild and SpareRoom transformed their respective markets by developing solutions to age-old problems. Rupert spoke of how the ‘crazy housing market’ in London had inspired his business idea to develop an online tool that would work much like a match-making site for renters. Having experienced the London rental market himself, he used his knowledge to focus on making a product that saved renters money and matched them with people they would get along with. The platform has proven to be so popular that SpareRoom currently has over 7 million registered users, and helps one person every three minutes to find a flatmate in the UK. Having conquered the UK, SpareRoom has set up shop in America and is already close to reaching a quarter of a million users in the United States.  

Learn as you earn

Similarly, Aron Gelbard of Bloom & Wild entered a market with large established companies but was able to successfully promote its unique selling point to a large online audience. For Aron, the success of Bloom & Wild only cemented his belief that simple day-to-day things can lead to successful business ideas, and although he had made a few mistakes along the way, he was keen to urge our audience to “carry on learning” as they embarked on their entrepreneurial journeys.

Want to hear from more entrepreneurs who’ve shaken the business world? Hear the co-founder of Lonely Planet, Tony Wheeler, speak on the trip of a lifetime which inspired this now global brand. With over 130 million travel guides in 14 different languages, Lonely Planet is the biggest travel publisher in the world. Its humble beginnings may surprise some, but it is a reminder to us all that today’s small businesses have the potential to be tomorrow’s big brands. Taking place on 27 February, this is a 'must attend' event – book your ticket here.  

17 February 2017

The serious business of saving lives

Innovating for Growth is designed to help businesses scale up and grow by offering £10,000 worth of bespoke business advice. We have supported over 250 businesses in the past four years, and have seen 70% of them either increase their turnover and/or take on extra staff after just one year of completing the programme.

Covering key areas such as ‘developing a growth strategy’ and ‘maximising your brand’, the focus is on taking established businesses to the next level. An example of this can be seen with the progress made by Emma Hammett and her award-winning company, First Aid for Life. The company focuses on first aid training and its trainers are highly experienced medical and emergency services professionals, offering a full range of practical and online training, tailored entirely to your needs.

 

First Aid for Life joined Innovating for Growth at a point where, although it was trading comfortably and making a profit, the potential to scale up and grow further was not being realised. The programme helped Emma to look at every element of her business model and assisted in developing a solid grounding for consistent growth. As a result, First Aid for Life was able to protect its intellectual property and apply for trademarks, fine-tune its branding and focus on its core market segments. Emma credits her mentor, Penny Daly, as being “particularly supportive and inspiring”, helping her to implement all the advice gleaned from Innovating for Growth’s business experts.

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Since completing the Innovating for Growth programme, First Aid for Life has grown at a rate of 30% year on year, creating a solid financial foundation from which to scale up. This security has brought the freedom to diversify, penetrate new markets and identify new opportunities for the business.

As Emma further explains, “there is considerable variation in the quality of first aid training providers, so we work tirelessly to differentiate ourselves by offering consistent excellence in all aspects of our business from first contact, to training delivery and aftercare. With a focus on flexible working practices that are family friendly, the company is constantly looking at more efficient ways of working both for staff and customers”. The development of onlinefirstaid.com which, is now the leading provider of online first aid training, has helped First Aid for Life to productise its service, enabling it to scale up and reach international markets; such advancements have also allowed First Aid for Life the chance to offer comprehensive stand-alone online training sessions that are regulated and fulfil both HSE and Ofsted requirements.

In addition to this, it has also been able to diversify by creating First Aid for Pets, giving them the chance to connect with a completely new market, many of whom have human and pet first aid needs. These innovations fully complement their core business, positioning them uniquely as First Aid Experts and engaging customers with flexible training solutions.

The work of Emma and First Aid for Life has definitely not gone unnoticed, and over the past few years, the company has won many awards, including, the Federation of Small Businesses ‘Overall Winner’ and the ‘Best’ Business for Service Excellence two years running.

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The publicity garnered from First Aid for Life has also opened up new opportunities for Emma which has seen her portfolio continue to grow.  Her second book, ‘Burns, falls and emergency calls’, endorsed and supported by the Child Accident Prevention Trust, Dr Amanda Gummer of the Good Toy and App Guide and Sue Atkins (The Parenting Expert), has been heralded as the ultimate guide to the prevention and treatment of childhood accidents. Her expertise has also lead to Emma becoming a well-respected voice on all things first aid-related and regular TV appearances have become the norm.

Such progress is impressive and clearly shows that First Aid for Life has been able to successfully scale-up and grow. As Emma concludes, “Innovating for Growth has been pivotal in our success in ensuring we have a solid base upon which to grow and a thorough understanding of business principles to enable us to plan and formulate sensible business decisions. Thank you to the British Library for all of your help”.

 

Are you an ambitious business owner looking to scale up, like First Aid for Life? 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

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

SNO – The ski travel company with big ambitions

Richard Sinclair is the founder of SNO and a recent Innovating for Growth graduate. His company specialises in helping customers find the perfect ski/snowboarding holiday packages online, suiting their specific needs, and at the best prices available. Having started the company in 2006 after accidentally noticing a gap in the market, SNO has gone on to become the fastest growing ski travel business in the UK.

In 2014, Richard saw that there was an opportunity to scale up and decided to apply for the Innovating for Growth programme. The three-month course proved to be the catalyst for SNO to grow, and Richard credits the programme for giving him the focus and the tools to execute his vision. With over £10,000 worth of bespoke business advice, Innovating for Growth is perfect for small to medium sized enterprises hoping to grow. To find out more about the Scale-ups programme click here.

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SNO is very much your second career, how did your twelve years at the BBC influence your entrepreneurial journey?

Deeply.  As a former BBC executive producer, making factual TV for prime time, I can pinpoint three key periods with “Auntie” which pointed me down this road.  I got my customer focus from early days at consumer champion ‘Watchdog’, indulged my love of science and technology at ‘Tomorrow’s World’ and slaked my thirst for travel while running the ‘Holiday’ programme.

These programmes, and the talented and passionate people I worked with, definitely fed into my desire to build an online travel business, but it was a documentary series where I spent a month filming a race to the North Pole, which taught me the real power of perseverance… and just how much further we can push ourselves, beyond the limits that we have imagined.  This experience uncovered the tenacity needed to build a business from scratch. Crucially, it taught me that the most fun and fulfilment is to be had by tackling the hardest challenges with the most talented and driven teams.

Having started as a “creative”, directing and producing telly, I later found (having climbed the greasy pole to become quite senior) that I really loved the business and finance side of running a large department in the BBC and particularly the building and leading of talented teams of people, as we all worked towards a common goal.

Having successfully completed the Innovating for Growth programme, would you say it has benefited your business, and would you recommend the programme to your peers?

Innovating for Growth was the lens which helped focus our plans.  When you’re starting out and focused on getting traction, the very specific coaching in discrete areas such as product development, branding and marketing helps to crystalise your often amorphous BHAGs (big-hairy-audacious-goals) into more practical and immediately actionable insights… which allow you to continually execute.

One of the key markers of success in an entrepreneur is to “execute” again and again, all day, all week, month in and month out.  Innovating for Growth gives you the tools to keep delivering on your vision.

I would recommend this programme to any entrepreneur, but especially those less experienced in leading and growing a business, as it gives you the know-how and tools in a short space of time, which are usually garnered through a lifetime of trial and error.

The travel industry seems a world away from the media.  What was the specific event that started SNO?

SNO came about accidentally, as a by-product of naively thinking I could “just build a website” to rent out my flat in Chamonix in the French Alps, when not using it.  We ended up creating the world’s first ski resort guide which worked on all phones “The whole ski resort in your pocket!” (back when mobile web was new and hard to do across all devices).

Cutting a long story short, we toured the alps (in a vintage Airstream) and quickly realised that the “business” was in selling holidays business-to-consumer, not selling advertising business-to-business to all the locals in the guide.  That was our big pivot and sno.mobi the mobile guide became sno.co.uk the online travel agent.

We also got to know many of the remarkable people who make your visits to the mountains so special and decided we wanted to support them and their communities.  To this day we advertise all local ski schools, rental, transfer drivers, bars, restaurants, etc. free of charge on SNO, so they can benefit from our huge web traffic too.  We’re also working on a Platform/Marketplace technology project which we believe can change the travel industry globally, and give all those literally millions of micropreneurs, in resorts and destinations around the world, access to the big travel distribution channels that they could never reach themselves – it’s a classic “tech disintermediation” idea whose time has come.

You started SNO selling ski holidays, so what made you want to move beyond that quite large travel niche?

It’s true that skiing and snowboarding is a passion for us at SNO, but it’s just one facet of the bigger love of all types of travel.  In addition, the biggest motivation to grown beyond ski holidays is the very seasonal nature of the industry.  Each autumn we hire new talent to work in reservations and every winter there are always some “keepers” who we love working with and want to bring into the family as SNO grows.  As you can imagine, it’s heartbreaking to have to “crew-down” each spring when there’s not enough work for a big team over the summer, so we set about fixing that.

Any great business is really about the people – even a technology business like ours – so we’re growing into beach holidays and then cruises, to keep creating jobs for the talent we’re lucky enough to work with.

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The UK is the world’s 5th biggest economy, but your sights are set higher.  What are your plans for global expansion?

We’re a UK technology and travel business, but we’ve been plotting ways to map our success here into other territories.  It makes sense to start in the same language, so we’re building SNO in America and a US-centric version of SNO.co.uk for that market.  We’re rebuilding our entire technology stack to accommodate multi-domain, multi-region delivery with multi-languages.  The content management system and even the product descriptions need a version for each country, as English-speaking Americans search for “ski vacations” rather than “ski holidays” and ski chalets tend to be called ski lodges over there. And, of course, we also need to re-engineer our systems to accommodate multi-currency and find novel ways to turn UK-departing packages into trips that depart from the USA instead.

The key to the successful globalisation of any business is “localisation”.  Not just language, domain, currency and marketing, but even the technology of being a big, fast and reliable website around the world.  It means we have to get our heads around technologies like CDN (content delivery networks) so that content for e.g. New York is not being served from thousands of miles away in York(shire).

As they say “if it was easy, everyone would be doing it”...

You mentioned a big technology project designed to disrupt the global travel industry.  I think you need to tell us more.

I can’t go into details, as we’re still working on the technology and are speaking to parties interested in funding this as a separate business.

The project has been dubbed “Etsy for Travel” and “Amazon for Travel” but it’s much bigger than that.

I’ve been to the North Pole, driven an F1 car and managed a few Ironman races but I can honestly say that, (apart from having two amazing children), this is the most exciting thing I’ve worked on in my life.

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You’ve bootstrapped SNO to$5m revenue as an online travel agent, so why are you considering investment in the Travel Marketplace?

We did bootstrap SNO, but it took 5 years just to get this far, and I’m determined to work on the Travel Marketplace project at a much faster pace.  It can scale enormously and very quickly with the right team – we already have a positive relationship with thousands of travel entrepreneurs in resorts worldwide, and the technology is not rocket science, so it’s all going to be in the execution.  We’ll use investment mainly to fill existing roles at SNO, so I can bring my core team into this project full time.

We’re working on the details of the project now and will raise £500k seed, so interested investors should drop me a line!

Are you an ambitious business owner looking to scale up, like SNO? Innovating for Growth is a free three-month programme to help you turn your growth idea into a reality.

 Apply now

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

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09 February 2017

Networking with confidence

The networking area of the Business & IP Centre is a bright and buzzing space. Here, entrepreneurs can meet, collaborate and network freely with their peers. Our staff will also help you to find what you are looking for including information on our workshops, industry guides, case study stories and much more. In addition to this, our latest corporate partner Vistaprint, has now provided us with an impressive self-service stand from which our visitors can ‘see, touch, feel’ the products with no obligation to buy.

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As Charlotte Waters of Vistaprint tells us, ‘It’s exciting to be able to offer free samples of key products including business cards and flyers, sample kits, product catalogues and information leaflets about our graphic design services and digital offerings. We hope that by having these samples and information available, you are able to browse the range and see, touch, feel the products' quality first hand, in turn giving you the confidence to purchase and market your business with pride’.

For those of you who’d like to refine your networking skills and overcome your fear of ‘working a room’, the Networking for Success workshop presented by Rasheed Ogunlaru will give you the tools to network effectively and confidently. In the meantime, Vistaprint have kindly provided some top tips to help you along the way:

  • Think big, start small

There are big benefits to networking, but you need to start somewhere. Begin with just one email, phone call or coffee date a day. Then keep it up!

  • Find shared interests

It’s easier to connect and stay in contact with businesses that operate on the same principles as you do, so don’t shy away from asking people what motivates them. Sometimes, discovering a common problem is the next best thing, as it allows you to quickly relate to the other person and even discuss solutions you haven’t tried yet.

  • Make a great first impression

Business networking can sometimes be rather dry or feel disingenuous, but not if you’re doing your best to be completely open. Having a business card handy is an easy way to initiate a conversation and show who you are in a fast, visual way. Take a look here for some inspiration.

Vistaprint is the leading provider of customisable printed and digital marketing materials, enabling millions of UK micro businesses of any kind and at any stage to market themselves professionally and affordably. Our world-class online design studio allows customers to easily customise their products including business cards, marketing materials, signage, promotional products, clothing, websites, and more.

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06 February 2017

Get your bid in now for the Momentum Music Fund

Momentumlogo288x257We see quite a lot of musicians in the Business & IP Centre for help with their business ventures.

And we have lots of information to help them available through our Music Industry Guide.

So it is good to hear that the Momentum Music Fund are offering grants of £5k-£15k for artists and bands to help them break through to the next level. The money comes via the PRS for Music Foundation using Arts Council England funds and in association with Spotify. The intention is to support talented artists to develop their recording, writing, performing and touring ambitions.

The next deadline is 21st February, so if you get a move on you can still apply here

Neil Infield  on behalf of Business & IP Centre

 

26 January 2017

Vicki Psarias on how blogging gave her the confidence to be a successful mum and entrepreneur.

Vicki Psarias is a screenwriter, director and the founder of the immensely popular blog, Honest Mum. Having already had a successful career as a screenwriter, Vicki began blogging after the birth of her first child in 2010. Her personal and honest writing resonated with mothers all over the globe, and she soon found that Honest Mum had an online following in the tens of thousands.

The Honest Mum blog had started as a means of talking about Vicki’s personal journey as a mother. However, it quickly became so popular that it created a visible and identifiable brand by itself. The passion that Vicki has for motherhood has meant that this has proven to be a win-win situation, providing her with the opportunity to be both an ambitious entrepreneur and a loving mother. If you’d like to hear more about Vicki’s journey and the Honest Mum story, you can book your place for ‘Turn Your Passion into Pounds’ today. 

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Hi Vicki, you’re a screenwriter, director, blogger and mother. How do you do it?

When it comes to how do I do it all, I have to attribute being incredibly organised and strict with my time and energy to achieving 'the juggle' most days. Some days you’ll see me congratulating myself at achieving balance in work and family life, other days I feel like I'm failing at everything. I've accepted this is part of being a working mother.

 I have a super manager in Neil at Insanity who makes sure I don't get overwhelmed with projects and whose advice is invaluable to me. Schedule-wise, I design my life and work so I get the most time possible with my kids whilst running my company and personal brand.  My husband and I are equal in every way too as it should be so we share the load with our kids.

I don't see any limits now to my creative pursuits whereas pre-blogging, I used to limit myself somewhat. I felt I couldn't veer off from directing. Technology has shown me it doesn't have to be that way and I love that I have a portfolio career.

Your background is in screenwriting and film. What inspired you to start your blog, Honest Mum?

I felt lost and alone after a traumatic birth with my first child in November 2010, and it was a filmmaker friend of mine Amancay Tapia who actually encouraged me to start a blog at a time there were very few worldwide. I would recount stories of new motherhood and she nagged me until I bought a domain name to share these stories with the world. I owe her so much.

Within weeks I was approached by forward-thinking brands to collaborate with them and despite a stint directing commercials, by the time I was pregnant with my second son two years later, I was working as a blogger in an accidental career I adored.

My blog helped me to rediscover my voice and slowly my confidence. Along with social media, it also gave me a new tribe of women who understood what I was going through. Blogging is such a liberating way to connect with others. You write, publish and connect.

 Having achieved so much already, how do you continue to stay motivated?

Thank you, it's funny I rarely look back and reflect on past achievements as I endlessly push onwards towards the next goal. My kids motivate me. I want to prosper for them. I have to write to feel content and I love the long form of writing my first book. It's going to be utterly surreal to see it in the shops. It's a joy working with my editor Jillian at Piatkus/Little Brown who is publishing my book, and my literary agent Robyn at Diane Banks Associates.

More and more women are taking the plunge and becoming entrepreneurs. Why do you think this is happening?

We won't put up with the inequalities of the workforce and are fighting back. Technology allows us to make our careers work for our families. Many women are creating side jobs they nurture alongside their main careers, watching them grow before going full-time. I always say that new businesses benefit from a maternity leave, baby or not, a period of time where you can develop and grow your 'baby' giving your business the time and energy it needs to thrive. Working digitally offers a flexible, well paid, empowering way to do what you love. For me, it's offered the solution I was looking for when working in traditional media meant I wouldn't have much time with my child. My screenwriting and directing skills (as well as the fact I used to edit a film magazine) gave me the perfect foundation in which to launch my own blog and personal brand.

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What would be your key piece of advice for an aspiring entrepreneur?

Work on self-belief. Fake it until you make it. The brain is malleable so the more you tell yourself you can achieve the greater chance you have of taking risks, pushing yourself out of your comfort zone and reaching your goals. With every small milestone met comes greater confidence until it builds and builds and becomes second nature. Confidence becomes your default. When you believe in yourself, others will follow. Importantly, learn from your mistakes and never give up. Talent plus tenacity equals success.

 Are there skills that you have gained as a mother that have helped you as an entrepreneur?

Yes, definitely. Prioritising, for one, as having kids has helped me focus on what matters in life and in business. Also, taking calculated risks where possible, motherhood has made me more fearless, for sure. Surviving sleep deprivation and a traumatic birth, once I'd recovered, strengthened me. Kids have definitely made me more ambitious- they drive me to succeed. Vitally, I now have a perspective I didn't have pre-kids. I don't sweat the small stuff.

What has been your greatest achievement so far?

Firstly, the relationship I have with my family, and then my creative career. Touchingly, co-founder of BritMums, Susanna Scott recently said this about me, 'Vicki is a ground-breaking blogger and vlogger, always pushing boundaries - and glass ceilings - through her voice and great work. She's the closest the UK has to Dooce and I can't wait to see what she does next!’ Receiving praise from those I respect like Susanna, and above everything, emails from others informing me that my work has inspired them to start blogs and businesses are the most rewarding part of my job. It reminds me I'm on the right track.

Vicki will be joined by the Public Relations guru, Jessica Huie and a panel of outstanding business women including, Jo Morell, Natasha Courtenay-Smith and Alison Jones. Don’t miss your chance to hear how these women made it to the top of their respective industries at our ‘Turn You Passion into Pounds’ event.

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.