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Small business chat update – Simon Middleton

mugs Welcome to another Small Business Update. First of all, as I know many subscribers look forward to these posts on Saturdays, I just want to check that everybody saw my special mid-week edition with Andy Smith from Char Wallah. Right, that done, let’s say a warm hello to Simon Middleton from The Great British Banjo Company. We first met Simon back in September 2013, when I was helping to fund a KickStarter campaign he was running to produce a new British banjo (I ended up with a Tshirt, not a banjo!). When I asked him where he wanted to be by now, he replied “Business bigger, stronger, more profitable. Me better supported, more relaxed, exploring new ideas”. Well, the Kickstarter got funded and the banjo went into production, so how’s he doing now?

Hello again, Simon! So, are you where you thought you’d be when you looked forward a year (and a bit) ago?

A year ago I said that around now my business would be “bigger, stronger, more profitable” and that I would be “better supported, more relaxed, exploring new ideas”.

Well, we are bigger and stronger, that’s for sure. We’ve built, sold and shipped around 200 of our Shackleton banjos. We’ve moved into a wonderful medieval barn and converted it into Britain’s only banjo factory. We’ve launched Shackleton beers, which are doing really well, and Shackleton knitwear, which is also taking off. We have plans for a complete clothing range. Next year we’ll make electric guitars too!

We are seeking about £500,000 in new investment and we have people queuing up to support us.

I still work too hard, but I have brought my weekly hours down to sensible levels.

What has changed and what has stayed the same?

I have two full time instrument makers now, and we’ve opened our own shop at our factory. We’ve started to sell through the trade. We now have a total of eight shareholders, which gave us a big capital boost in April 2014.

We are closing down Banjos Direct to concentrate on the things we make here in Britain, rather than just being a retailer of imported goods.

What have you learned? What do you wish you’d known a year ago?

I’ve learned that a big vision is vital and that it needs to be driven forward by one person uncompromisingly. And I’ve also learned that a big vision alone isn’t enough: you also need the power to execute it. I’ve learned that it’s better to give up some of the company than to be chronically underfunded.

Any more hints and tips for people?

Focus 80% of your time on the big stuff. And get the little stuff done in the remaining 20% (but make sure it gets done).

And … where do you see yourself and your business in a(nother) year’s time?

A year from now we will be a fully fledged men’s leisure brand, exporting to several countries. We will have electric guitars as well as banjos being made here. We’ll have added food products and outdoor gear to our Shackleton range.

I’ll be (I promise) better supported, more relaxed, exploring new ideas.

And I will be close to finishing my book about the journey! And hopefully will have published my long-standing children’s novel.

Well, not so much a change in direction as a concentration of attention on a new direction which has then yielded lots of exciting offshoots! I think it’s marvellous that Simon’s managed to create a new British workshop and to produce his banjos in the UK, and the lifestyle items he’s moving into sound exciting, too (just for men, though? I’m sure they’ve done their market research, but I imagine some women surely like banjos, too?*) Anyway, I can’t wait to see how things go – the banjos are so beautiful and look incredibly well-made and satisfying to own and hopefully the banjos and the brand will continue to go from strength to strength.

*Yes, I was correct – they have indeed done their market research and the market is mainly a male one – see Simon’s interesting comment below!

You can find Simon and his Shackleton Banjos online at www.thegreatbritishbanjocompany.com and of course they have a contact page so you can get in touch by email, phone or chat.

If you’ve enjoyed this interview, please see more small business chat, the index to all the interviewees, and information on how you can have your business featured (I have a full roster of interviewees now so am only taking on a very few new ones). If you’re considering setting up a new business or have recently done so, why not take a look at my books, all available now, in print and e-book formats, from a variety of sources. 

 
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Posted by on December 13, 2014 in Business, Small Business Chat

 

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Small business chat update – Andrew Smith

mugs Today I’m doing a special midweek feature (you’ll have to wait a week for the promised article on why writing a blog post is (a bit) like writing a sermon) on a local business that I personally use, just in case any of my readers are looking for an extra Christmas present (or all of their Christmas presents!) and because I know that they’ll get good service in the shop or using the online order form, because I’ve done both! A shameless plug there, but I love being able to share news about great businesses that I’ve actually used, and I have many friends who are fans, too! So, we’re saying hello again to Andrew Smith from Char Wallah. We first met Andy in November 2013, and when I asked him where he wanted to be in a year’s time, he said, We would like to have another store and also explore the possibility of marketing through various trade shows around the country, taking the product to the people!” Let’s see how they’re getting on.

Hello again, Andy! So, are you where you thought you’d be when you looked forward a year ago?

Char Wallah as a brand has exceeded our expectations to date, and we have a large regular customer base with new customers being introduced on a weekly basis from all over the UK. We also have customers in Europe and Middle East.

We are disappointed with the growth of passing custom and blame this on the position of our store within the Pavilions which has very little footfall [for non-locals, the shop is based in the bottom of a shopping centre which doesn’t have many full units downstairs. It’s lovely to have a little secret place to visit that no one knows about … but that’s not great for passing trade for the shop, obviously!]. Our ambition to open a second store elsewhere has taken a back seat, whilst we find a suitable position to locate our main store. We are adamant that the main store should remain in the City of Birmingham.

Our options are moving to another position within the City Centre or moving to another floor within the Pavilions, and we are currently assessing both options. Unfortunately the City Centre move has been hampered by the cost of Business Rates which I guess prevents a lot of bespoke small business from trading within the City Centre.

What has changed and what has stayed the same?

We have explored marketing the business through trade shows, the biggest being the Malvern Spring. We had a lot of success with this, which justified all the hard work. We have now brought a vehicle and will have it fitted out for shows making it easier to attend lot more shows next year.

Our internet business is growing slowly. We have changed the address to charwallahtea.co.uk instead of charwallah.com, although both addresses work, (charwallah.co.uk was already taken when we formed the business)  and we’ve noticed that since the change to .co.uk the web traffic has improved.

Any more hints and tips for people?

If we have any tips for other UK businesses it would be “if you invest in a web site use .co.uk and not .com”

And … where do you see yourself and your business in a(nother) year’s time?

We are still looking to open a second shop sometime this year and will start to explore the idea of franchising the brand.

That’s an interesting point about the .co.uk versus .com and shows that you really have to think carefully about that issue. I managed to get both when I set up this site, but I get far more interest in the .com version, presumable because I have a very international client base. But with a niche business that in many ways is very British (what with it being centred around tea, wherever that tea is from), I think it does make sense to have that .co.uk URL. It’s also important to choose a shop location with as much footfall as you can manage, although this can obviously be difficult in major cities with expensive rates. Anyway, I’m glad that their online ordering base is growing and really hope they get the move to an area with better footfall sorted out early in the year. In the meantime …

You can visit Char Wallah online at www.charwallahtea.co.uk and find out more about the HUGE range of teas, or order some for yourself or a friend. You can phone the shop on 0121 633 3681 or email the team. Or, if you’re in the Midlands, visit them in person in Unit 14 on the lower ground floor of the Pavilions shopping centre. You can sit on a comfy sofa in the shop and order a pot of any tea from the selection if you’ve got a few minutes to take a breath – we did that with friends the other weekend and it was lovely!

If you’ve enjoyed this interview, please see more small business chat, the index to all the interviewees, and information on how you can have your business featured (I have a full roster of interviewees now so am only taking on a very few new ones). If you’re considering setting up a new business or have recently done so, why not take a look at my books, all available now, in print and e-book formats, from a variety of sources. 

 
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Posted by on December 10, 2014 in Business, Small Business Chat

 

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Small business chat – Sherry Blythe

mugsThis morning we’re saying hello to another new member of the interview group – Sherry Blythe, Virtual Associate. I “met” Sherry in the photo-a-day group that we’re both in on Facebook, which just goes to show that it’s always worth mentioning that you run your own business (while obviously not labouring the fact) in case there are opportunities for cross-promotion or otherwise working together – these things don’t just come about in specific business groups. Sherry is a virtual assistant (and a lot else) in America, and like so many of my interviewees, her primary reason for working for herself is to do with allowing herself to be flexible for her family. Flexibility and family are two major themes that have run and run through this series, aren’t they. Let’s meet Sherry and find out what she’s up to …

Hello, Sherry! What’s your business called? When did you set it up?

My business is Sherry Blythe, Virtual Associate and within that solopreneur business, I also run Shout It Out Studio for audio/video production. I set up in July of this year

What made you decide to set up your own business?

I needed an income while still being able to schedule my days around helping my elderly parents and playing taxi to my 8 year old son.

What made you decide to go into this particular business area?

I wanted to do something I could be proud of and love, so I naturally leaned toward work I was comfortable with and had plenty of experience to draw from. I have worked as a project manager and in many forms of administrative management over the years, so my strengths are in organization and implementation. Social media and audio/video media were a natural extension for someone who always has something to say! My husband has come in as my partner, bringing 14 years of broadcast media experience so that, in addition to social media management, I am able to offer video and audio production.

Had you run your own business before?

I have worked as a freelance office manager and book keeper, but I worked exclusively for two people, so never considered it my own business.

How did you do it? Did you launch full-time, start off with a part-time or full-time job to keep you going?

I was not working at all at the time due to the demands of family. When I decided to do this, I jumped in with both feet and have been working 7 days a week to get clients and grow my business.

What do you wish someone had told you before you started?

Believe in yourself and your abilities! Don’t wait until everything is perfect, just take those first few steps and before you know it things fall into place.

What would you go back and tell your newly entrepreneurial self?

Just keep plugging away, everything happens when it’s supposed to and hard work DOES pay off!

What do you wish you’d done differently?

I wish I had started sooner! And I wish I had opened a separate business banking account from the start. All the advice I read said to but I was trying to keep things simple as I started out. In reality a separate banking account would have been the more simple way to do things.

What are you glad you did?

I’m glad I just took a deep breath and jumped … there really is no better time than the present!

What’s your top business tip?

Use social media! And if you aren’t confident or don’t have enough time, hire someone to do it for you. Social media is no longer optional for businesses!

How has it gone since you started? Have you grown, diversified or stayed the same?

In the short time that I’ve been in business I have continued to gain clients and have already branched into offering audio and video productions to my services.

Where do you see yourself and your business in a year’s time?

I hope to continue to grow my client base to the point that I need to enlist the help of other virtual assistants so that I can give people just starting out that chance to get their feet in the door. I have had people help me and I would love to be able to pay it forward.

What a lovely sentiment to end on! That’s why I started this interview series, in fact, all those years ago – to help other businesses gain exposure and to help them learn from each other. I’m glad other people see things in the same way. I’m pretty sure that Sherry is going to make a success of things: she’s obviously offering services in which she has experience already, and that’s a massive advantage. Bringing in her husband’s complementary skills is also a very good move, again with that wealth of experience. Oh, and that point about a separate bank account: it’s vital.

You can find Sherry online at www.sherryblythe.com and of course you can email her or call her (in the US) on: 540 404-1476. Sherry’s Facebook page, where she recently ran a very useful Q&A session is a useful resource, too, and finally, she has two Twitter accounts, one for her virtual assistant work and one for Shout It Out Studio.

If you’ve enjoyed this interview, please see more small business chat, the index to all the interviewees, and information on how you can have your business featured (I have a full roster of interviewees now so am only taking on a very few new ones). If you’re considering setting up a new business or have recently done so, why not take a look at my books, all available now, in print and e-book formats, from a variety of sources. 

 
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Posted by on December 6, 2014 in Business, Small Business Chat

 

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Small business chat – Katherine Findlay

mugsThis morning we’ve got another brand new interviewee joining the series – so welcome to Katherine Findlay from Katherine Findlay Interpretation! I met Katherine on a Facebook group I set up to talk about Icelandic sagas (as you do; follow the link if you’re interested!). She was talking about  her job as a heritage interpreter there and I was fascinated – when I found out that she ran her own business doing it, I just had to invite her to take part in this series. Katherine’s only just set up as self-employed, so it’s early days, but it sounds like such an exciting area to be in, and I’m sure everyone’s going to enjoy learning a bit more about it … So, let’s meet Katherine …

Hello, Katherine! What’s your business called? When did you set it up?

My business is called Katherine Findlay Interpretation, and I set it up earlier this year.

What made you decide to set up your own business?

I work in heritage interpretation, which tends to be commissioned as part of a project. Only very large organisations have permanent members of staff working solely on interpretation. Moving from project to project means that the work is very varied – the last job I did was on a dinosaur exhibition, the one before that at a mining museum. I work on exhibitions, online resources, historic sites, trails – anywhere an organisation needs to speak to an audience. Working independently means that I am always getting into something new, which I find really exciting.

What made you decide to go into this particular business area?

I met two inspiring people in Snowdonia! Three years ago, I was working part time for an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty team as a communications officer. Through my job, I went on a writing course run by Susan Cross and James Carter, two of the UK’s most prominent interpretation specialists. It introduced me to the world of heritage interpretation, which I had no idea was a profession. That week in Wales fired my imagination and gave me a new passion for telling stories that matter. Having rather drifted about from job to job in my twenties, I suddenly found something that I knew I wanted to do properly.

Had you run your own business before?

No.

How did you do it? Did you launch full-time, start off with a part-time or full-time job to keep you going … ?

I had to start by getting some expertise! I spent the next two years studying interpretation, representation and heritage as a postgraduate distance learner at the University of Leicester. I only graduated this year, so I am just beginning to get established as a professional. I still work part-time at the AONB and I am a single mum, so I have to fit my freelance work around my other commitments.

What do you wish someone had told you before you started?

Nothing – if anyone had told me how much hard work was involved in getting qualified I don’t think I would have started!

What would you go back and tell your newly entrepreneurial self?

I haven’t been doing it for long enough to have gained that wisdom yet. I’m sure I’ll make lots of mistakes along the way and learn plenty of lessons.

What do you wish you’d done differently?

I don’t have any regrets so far.

What are you glad you did?

Even though it was sometimes a struggle, I’m glad that I went down the academic route and studied my subject thoroughly. You don’t have to be qualified to call yourself a heritage interpreter, but a solid grounding gives you invaluable confidence in your work.

What’s your top business tip?

I’m not nearly experienced enough to give any tips yet!

How has it gone since you started? Have you grown, diversified or stayed the same?

It’s gone really well so far, and I’ve had some very interesting work. My main constraint is that as the only breadwinner it would be very hard to take the step of giving up my regular job, so it’s not clear to me yet how the business will grow.

Where do you see yourself and your business in a year’s time?
I hope that I will continue to expand my portfolio and perhaps I will be in a position to think about working for myself full time.

Exciting stuff – I wonder what Katherine will get up to over the next year! I’m sure she’ll have plenty of hints and tips for us next time, and hopefully things will be a bit clearer about where the business is going. It took me a couple of years to venture from part-time to full-time self-employment, so it is something that takes time. I bet we’ve all learnt something about an interesting and different kind of job today, and I know we’ll all wish Katherine well in her new venture.

You can find Katherine Findlay Interpretation online at www.katherinefindlayinterpretation.co.uk.

If you’ve enjoyed this interview, please see more small business chat, the index to all the interviewees, and information on how you can have your business featured (I have a full roster of interviewees now so am only taking on a very few new ones). If you’re considering setting up a new business or have recently done so, why not take a look at my books, all available now, in print and e-book formats, from a variety of sources. 

 
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Posted by on November 29, 2014 in Business, Small Business Chat

 

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Small business chat update – Yvonne Donald

mugs Welcome to a new business chat update, this time with Yvonne Donald who makes, oddly enough, cakes and cupcakes under her Kakes and Cupkakery brand. We first met Yvonne back in September 2012, and caught up with her in October 2013, when she said, In a year’s time, I will be writing my update sipping on a coffee at a table at that cute little Bakery/cake shop called Kake and Cupkakery“. Is this what happened next? Well, regular readers will know that very often plans change, slip, slide sideways and do all sorts of things, so we never really know what the interviewees are going to answer to that first question. Yvonne’s used this opportunity to have a good think about things and plans, and shares loads of useful tips, as ever. So let’s find out how she’s doing!

Hello again, Yvonne! So, are you where you thought you’d be when you looked forward a year ago?

The answer to that is yes and no, Yes in that the business is still here and busy as ever, if not more so. and No as I am not in a shop front yet. Was I being overly optimistic? Maybe I was, maybe I wasn’t. What I do know is that getting a shop front isn’t easy, but I feel so strongly that is where I am destined to be. But boy, is it hard getting there.

I also know what my business is, and I know that must sound strange, but in the early stages you try lots of things so see what works and what doesn’t and what you want to offer, and in my last update I was still trying to decide what my shop front business would look like. Now I know, because when you run your business it will dictate to you what it is, and this is dependent on what people want/order most of, i.e. in my case, dessert cupcakes and celebration cakes.

What has changed and what has stayed the same?

I’m still in the full-time job, but have a little more flexibility with my days, as they vary with different start and finish times. It takes even more planning, but it’s working.

Also at the beginning of  this year, the business went in a slightly different  direction when I was approached via Twitter to supply a coffee shop (yes, social media does work). So I unexpectedly became a wholesaler. This was a for a local business that just happened to be in a location i had previously viewed, in fact it was the same row of shops, but the coffee shop was a bigger premises. So, my cakes would be in my dream location, just not with me.

I had actually supplied a  smaller business previously so i sort of knew what to expect. Well, dismiss that last statement: what you think you know what to expect in reality is so much more! A lot of work is required when you supply a business as well as running your own; a lot of organisation is required, baking, invoicing, delivery, food safety. There is loads to consider, but after some tweaking I got a system in place and it was going well. However, unfortunately the shop has now closed after 5 months due to lack of footfall, the death knell for any business.

As this wasn’t necessarily the direction I was looking at going in, this didn’t have too much of a detrimental effect, but did make me think about this being a possible opportunity, so much so that in the same week the coffee shop closed, I got approached to supply another. So there seems to be a need and indeed an opportunity, but its hard work on top of my main business and customers, so I will see how that pans out.

What have you learned?

I’ve learnt that i have to maintain a good work-life balance. I recognise that I have a tendency to just work,work, work, as I like to work first and play later, so I tend to sacrifice my own free time in the pursuit of my business. But as well as being a small business owner who wants to do everything really well, I don’t necessarily want  to be a rubbish friend or not give myself enough time and energy for life/ family etc. … so I have been trying to be better at that, and I think it’s working.

What do you wish you’d known a year ago?

Be selective, but not to the detriment of your business, don’t be too quick to say yes to everything, and don’t worry about saying no if it’s not right. Oh, and even though I bake and love making treats, I don’t try to do everything. i.e. products etc. … I officially dislike cake pops (that is all)

Any more hints and tips for people?

My tips are:

  • You are your business, the marketing never stops. More people know me as “the cake lady” than I think actually know my name, and I actually love that.
  • Look for any opportunity to market your business. I recently got national coverage in the Guardian newspaper online about how i use PR and marketing in my business; coverage that money couldn’t buy (or rather i couldn’t afford).
  • Enter competitions and industry-specific awards, which will also give you exposure, Once again I am in the finals of the National Cupcake Championships in November in Birmingham (fingers crossed).
  • Network and co-work: it can be so beneficial to get away from your distractions (especially if you work from home) and work on your business with a friend. Birmingham library is great for this
  • Schedule in free time and family time (Sunday is my non-negotiable family time).
  • For all the cakey people running a cake business reading this, don’t undercut another cake decorator for the sake of a cake and be true to what a cake actually costs. I’ve lost track of the amount of cake decorators who constantly undervalue their work and time because they perceive a customer wouldn’t want to pay. If you understand your market and offer quality, you will actually be quite surprised.
  • Do not worry if your mojo goes from time to time with your business, it’s natural. You’re probably working too hard. Take your foot off the accelerator a bit and distract yourself with something else until it comes back.
  • Overall, have fun: you’re working on your passion, what’s not to love?

And … where do you see yourself and your business in a(nother) year’s time?

Kake and Cupkakery, one website instead of two: I’m very excited about that. I want to focus on doing some online tutorials and face to face workshops for home bakers and those more experienced. I still want a shop front that will be a bakery and that is still a work in progress. Basically, I want to continue to take the business forward. It’s here to stay, and no going back.

Strong words there at the end, and I certainly think she’s here to stay! I do hope that this is the year where Yvonne will move into working for her business full time – it’s certainly better for the work-life balance when you do that (as I know only too well). I can’t wait to see what she does next (although I can see that there won’t be any cake pops in the mix!).

Yvonne’s current two websites are at www.letthemeatkake.co.uk for the celebration cakes and www.cupkakery.co.uk for the cupcakes. You can also find her on Twitter and Facebook.

If you’ve enjoyed this interview, please see more small business chat, the index to all the interviewees, and information on how you can have your business featured (I have a full roster of interviewees now so am only taking on a very few new ones). If you’re considering setting up a new business or have recently done so, why not take a look at my books, all available now, in print and e-book formats, from a variety of sources. 

 
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Posted by on November 22, 2014 in Business, Small Business Chat

 

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Small business chat – Amelia Wilson

mugsWelcome to another brand new small business chat, and this time we’re meeting Amelia Wilson, who runs an editing and localising business. I was excited to come across Amelia online, as I don’t meet many other localisers (if you need to know what it is we do, I wrote an article explaining it). Amelia also, like me, specialises in working with translators, as in editing text that hasn’t been written by someone whose first language is English. Now, you might think the overlap would worry me, but as I’m at a stage of my business where I’m usually fully booked in advance and can’t always fit in new enquiries, I’m always glad to meet people who I can recommend work on to – and so finding someone with a large overlap with my skillset is actually a Good Thing. Anyway, let’s find out how Amelia got started and what she’s learned along the way …

What’s your business called? When did you set it up?

My website is called Localisation Translation, but it isn’t strictly a business name. I wanted to find something that would explain my niche at a glance, as I specialise in editing translations and localising content for businesses. I launched in February this year.

What made you decide to set up your own business?

I wanted my efforts to go into building something for myself. It’s hard work but what I put in I get back, and it’s hugely motivating to know that I’m responsible for all the successes (or failures!) of the business. I also wanted more control over my time, and the option to be location independent

What made you decide to go into this particular business area?

Language is my passion and my background. I studied linguistics at university, and I knew I wanted to go into the publishing industry somewhere. It wasn’t until I worked in-house for a translation company that my eyes were opened to a whole new industry sector. I love the challenge that comes from working with non-native speakers and multiple different source languages, I’m constantly learning new things and it keeps it fascinating.

Had you run your own business before?

I’d freelanced a little bit after university, but not to the extent where I was full-time and “properly” up and running. My early experience set me up well, though, because it provided the perspective that setting up a solo business was always a viable career option.

How did you do it? Did you launch full-time, start off with a part-time or full-time job to keep you going… ?

I started freelancing in addition to my full time job, just to put the feelers out and see if it was something realistic. As soon as the time restraints of my full time job started getting in the way of my freelance work, I knew it was time to make a decision. I left to pursue more business opportunities and I haven’t looked back!

What do you wish someone had told you before you started?

That there will never be a right time to launch. It took me a long time to pluck up the courage to make the move, I was always waiting for something to get finished, or something else to fall into place. The perfect time will never come, so if you’re going to do something, you have to just make it happen

What would you go back and tell your newly entrepreneurial self?

Have confidence! When you’re so used to being validated by your boss and your superiors, appraisals and company feedback and all the typical corporate stuff, it’s really important to keep your confidence when it’s just you and your computer. Your clients will provide all the feedback you need, and if they keep coming back, you’re doing it just fine.

What do you wish you’d done differently?

There’s nothing really, it was a big step for me and I know that I did it in the best way that I could have, for me. I wish I’d had more confidence when I finally decided to start making life and career changes, but one way or another I got it done, nervously or otherwise!

What are you glad you did?

I put away some savings before taking the plunge, probably not as much I could/should have, but enough to cover the rent for a few months so that even if I ended up living on noodles, I’d still have a roof over my head! It was a comfort, to start with, not to have to worry about where the next rent cheque was coming from if things started to slow down work-wise.

What’s your top business tip?

So many! I’ve picked up so many words of wisdom since I started, from various entrepreneurs and business books and blogs. We’re so lucky to live in such an age of information. I try to remember that “everything is better than zero” – you start small, taking each opportunity as it comes, and you build and leverage on top of that over time.

I also think it’s really important to constantly evaluate – you must be willing to change the way you work in order to evolve and develop a business. I don’t want to become stuck in my ways to the extent that it becomes damaging. For every Borders there’s an Amazon, for every Blockbuster there’s a Netflix. It’s always necessary to keep moving and to remember that change is good!

How has it gone since you started? Have you grown, diversified or stayed the same?

I’ve grown gradually as I’ve taken on more clients, and I’ve diversified in terms of expanding the material that I work on, which is one of my favourite aspects because it keeps every day different and interesting.

Where do you see yourself and your business in a year’s time?

I’d like to have some products to offer besides the service-based side of the business, whether that be e-books or training courses, I have a few ideas floating around. I’d also like to network more, and build relationships with other professionals in my field working in similar ways. I’d like to outsource some of the less exciting tasks (I hate invoicing!), but overall I’m looking forward to taking a look at the data from being a year in business, seeing what goals were met and finding new ways to improve.

I do like the phrase “anything is better than zero”, and it’s such a feature of the early life of a freelancer / small business – I certainly did some jobs for zero “pay” but a recommendation early on, and it’s good to know that you can shed the lower-paying jobs (or raise the rates on them) as you progress and get a full roster of clients. Oh, and it IS nerve-wracking – I went full time with Libro in January 2012, and I remember having a massive wobble in December 2011, even though, as Amelia found, my day job was getting in the way of my freelancing, I had money saved up and it was time to do it. Oh, and then I got a letter telling me I had jury service the first two weeks of January! I got through that, and we all need to embrace the nerves, examine them to see how well-founded they are, and if there’s a good chance we can prove those nerve wrong, go for it! We wish Amelia all the best as she comes up to the end of her first year in business, and I look forward to working with her on her update this time next year!

You can find Amelia online at www.localisationtranslation.com and email her, of course. She’s also on Twitter

If you’ve enjoyed this interview, please see more small business chat, the index to all the interviewees, and information on how you can have your business featured (I have a full roster of interviewees now so am only taking on a very few new ones). If you’re considering setting up a new business or have recently done so, why not take a look at my books, all available now, in print and e-book formats, from a variety of sources. 

 
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Posted by on November 15, 2014 in Business, Small Business Chat

 

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Small business chat update – Dave Bradburn

mugs Welcome to another Small Business Update, and today we’re talking to Dave Bradburn from Opus Design. Dave’s one of my stalwart originals – we first met him in July 2011, then caught up with him in July 2012 and September 2013. I do find it fascinating to watch my interviewees’ businesses change and grow, and it’s amazing that we’re on the fourth interviews with some of them! When asked last year, this is where Dave wanted to be by now: “Steadily growing the business. The intention is to work fewer hours for greater income (a not uncommon aim!) and to gradually develop the core client base. The team will grow and evolve – most probably through outsourcing and collaboration.” So, how’s he doing?

Hi Dave! Are you where you thought you’d be when you looked forward a year ago?

Yes and no. To be honest, it’s been a very busy year and I’ve ended up mainly working ‘in’ rather than ‘on’ the business. I’ve found it difficult to find the right people for an expanded team in some areas, although part of the responsibility for that lies with me. The team has both evolved and strengthened, and the business has grown too. The hours most definitely haven’t reduced though!

What has changed and what has stayed the same?

New clients have come, I’ve refocussed what the business offers in certain areas (for example, I’m far more specific about the type of website projects that I’ll take on), I’m using some new suppliers alongside a number of longstanding ones and I’ve reevaluated where I get leads from. For example, I still do a reasonable amount of networking but, due to family commitments (school runs!), I had to make a decision on which to attend. Fortunately much of the networking of previous years still continues to bear fruit. Word of mouth referrals, repeat business with existing clients and networking are by far my largest sources of work.

I’m still in the same office with the structure of the business (excluding suppliers etc) unchanged and with many of the same clients that I’ve worked with for several years. The additional team member that I really need is a reliable and capable freelance designer – basically, the role I was doing 6 or 7 years ago. The irony is that at the point I need that person it is very difficult to take the time to find them and take the risk of ‘trying them out’. I’ll get there!

What have you learned? What do you wish you’d known a year ago?

I’m gradually getting better at saying ‘no’ to jobs that are not right for me. I know I can do an excellent job for my clients – I’ve proved that many times. But that is weakened if I take on too much or take on a job that isn’t one that I’m best suited to. The danger in those cases is not only that you do a poor job on that particular project, but that the time and effort that it absorbs is also taken away from those projects that are within your core offer and skills.

I tend to be very loyal to suppliers. 99% of the time that pays off. Once in a while though it can be detrimental – I need to be a little harder and more decisive in those situations.

Earlier this year I experienced my first real bad debt. I’d had a few clients that didn’t pay or took a very long time to do so in the past, but most were minimal amounts and/or eventually coughed up. In this case a client phoenixed – went into liquidation on the Friday before starting up as a new, debt-free business the following Monday. They owe me about £1.5k – I doubt I’ll ever see it. I have my feelings on whether it should be legally possible to do that, but whilst it is it is a lesson to minimise the risk that you expose yourself to with clients.

Any more hints and tips for people?

I think my tip this year would be to have a plan and to review it periodically (annually and quarterly perhaps). Take time out to do that. Be prepared to change the plan if need be, but try to avoid just drifting along without any direction.

And … where do you see yourself and your business in a(nother) year’s time?

Reading last year’s update I said “To treat your own business as a client. Schedule time to work on your own marketing and development. If you don’t it will always be at the bottom of the pile.” I need to take that advice myself! I’m long overdue a new website (it’s embarrassingly out of date now – don’t look!!!) but I have also decided that it’s time to go back and review the whole visual brand of the company – the logo, literature, stationery and everything else. I always advise that clients need to be proud of the way they are presenting their business but currently I’m not living up to that with my own visual branding. Time to schedule it in!

I think many of the aims for this year are the same as they were last. Increasingly managing a larger outsourced team rather than doing it all myself and, in doing so, reducing my working hours.

It is really hard to say no to people and to keep those business hours down. I’ve been quite successful at taking at least a full day off at the weekend and a half day during the week, although that last one was a by-product of my husband working from home during the summer, and I’m not sure that’s going to happen quite so nicely now he’s in an office-based job again (having said that, he gets home earlier than he used to at his old job, so I try to stop earlier, too). Dave’s hit that awful problem of a bad payer, and the way in which they did that seems very unfair indeed. Not sure what can be done about that, but it’s a warning to us all to take care and protect ourselves as much as possible. As always, I look forward to hearing how Dave is doing next year – and hope he can get that staff member and those reduced hours sorted out!

Call Dave on   of , visit www.opuscreative.co.uk or his LinkedIn page, and contact him on Twitter, too!

If you’ve enjoyed this interview, please see more small business chat, the index to all the interviewees, and information on how you can have your business featured (I have a full roster of interviewees now so am only taking on a very few new ones). If you’re considering setting up a new business or have recently done so, why not take a look at my books, all available now, in print and e-book formats, from a variety of sources. 

 
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Posted by on November 8, 2014 in Business, Small Business Chat

 

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