Small business chat – Simon Middleton

14 Sep

mugs Welcome to Saturday Small Business Chat! Today it’s another new interviewee, Simon Middleton, Managing Director of The Great British Banjo Company & Banjos Direct, and it’s rather a special one, as I’ve put my money where my mouth is (sort of) with this one. I heard about their Kickstarter project* from an editing friend and thought it was a jolly good idea – a lovely British instrument being made in Britain and offering an opportunity for people to learn something new.

I was intrigued by the whole thing – where did this start? and thought it was quirky enough to fit right in with my wide assortment of interviewees, so I got in touch to see if they’d like to submit and interview and … here’s Simon’s story. Not what you expected? Me neither!

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

The business was originally set up in May 2010 as Left Hand Bear Ltd, specialising in left-handed instruments. Demand grew for banjos so we put LHB on the back burner and launched the banjo specialist Banjos Direct (for everyone, not just left-handers) in October 2011. Just three months ago we grew again, launching our own manufacturing business, The Great British Banjo Company, which makes banjos in Britain. We also have a trade arm, so the business really has four facets altogether.

What made you decide to set up your own business?

Well, the musical instrument business is not my first. I ran a small marketing agency in the early 90s then joined a larger one and became creative director and a board member and shareholder. In 2005, I left to create my own branding consultancy Brand Strategy Guru, which is still going. The motivation is simple: the freedom to make one’s own mistakes and to enjoy one’s own triumphs. Freedom to make my own destiny.

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

The music business was really an accident. I had written a book on brand building for small business (called Build A Brand In 30 Days) and I was giving a seminar on my approach to a group of MBA students. A couple of students asked if I could set up a business from scratch in a new field and make a success of it using the principles of my book. So I did.

And I’ve written two more commercially published books since then, one about marketing and one about personal development.

Had you run your own business before?

Yes, see above.

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 walked out of a very good job and gave myself three months to establish myself or quit. That’s the third time I’ve done that.

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

That high street banks are not there to help you.

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

Get more rest. Don’t worry so much. Fail faster. Be bolder.

What do you wish you’d done differently?

Spent more time getting larger scale finance in place and less time on the hands-on stuff.

What are you glad you did?

Experimented, followed my instincts.

What’s your top business tip?

Understand the difference between turnover and profit before you begin. No profit, no business. Only go into business if you can cope with a fairly constant low-level anxiety state, punctuated by short bursts of extreme fear. Be prepared to change your plans constantly.

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

We have grown, diversified, changed course … But we have survived and built three (soon four) strong brands which spread risk and give us more than one income stream.

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

Business bigger, stronger, more profitable. Me better supported, more relaxed, exploring new ideas.

* What’s all this Kickstarter business, then? Kickstarter is a platform whereby ordinary people up to big corporations can fund creative projects, like new computer games, films, products, operas, musicals … The idea is that you pledge an amount, after a given amount of time, if enough pledges have been received to make the total the company/person is looking for, your money gets debited from your card, and you usually end up with a little something (in this case I get a Tshirt and my name and url on their website) depending on what level of finance you’ve offered. It’s a fun way to help out creative projects and small businesses, although it’s not a loan that you can take back out, like Kiva.

Well – fancy starting a banjo manufacturing business by accident! We haven’t had many serial entrepreneurs in this series, but look, although he’s obviously experienced, confident and bold, Simon has still learned things from this endeavour, has something spot-on to say about anxiety and fear, and is still looking for that combination of stronger business / more relaxed business owner. This is a very interesting case, and I can’t wait to find out what happens next. And if a pic of me in a Tshirt with a banjo on it appears on this page, that means that they got the funding! Where was he in a year’s time? (I did get the Tshirt …)

Simon’s businesses can be found at, and and you can email him of course. And that Kickstarter campaign? That’s here.

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. If you’re considering setting up a new business or have recently done so, why not take a look at my new book, Going It Alone At 40: How I Survived my First Year of Full-Time Self-Employment.


Posted by on September 14, 2013 in Business, Small Business Chat


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6 responses to “Small business chat – Simon Middleton

  1. Sophie Playle

    September 14, 2013 at 9:08 am

    How unique! Good luck, Simon! I can relate to the stuff about fear… I’m going to check out your books.


    • Liz at Libro

      September 14, 2013 at 9:10 am

      Yes, indeed – I loved that comment! There’s always something to be anxious about …


  2. Rozelle

    September 15, 2013 at 7:15 pm

    “Only go into business if you can cope with a fairly constant low-level anxiety state, punctuated by short bursts of extreme fear. Be prepared to change your plans constantly.” Yes yes yes!



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