Thursday, March 25, 2010

Fiona Wins with Audio Transcription

In 2006 Fiona Liddlow wanted a job that gave her the flexibility to be at home when she needed to be.

She decided to take the bold step of setting up her own business. Having spent 17 years as a legal secretary she was an accomplished typist, meaning that a move into audio transcription was logical - so she created Liddlow Typing Services. This is an ideal job for a home-worker because it involves typing up recorded interviews and presentations and can be done at times that suit Fiona, as long as she meets her deadlines.

Establishing your own business is never easy, as the many people interviewed by BizOh have told us. Finding customers is always one of the first problems to overcome and Fiona followed a path familiar to many start-ups, in that her first customer was her ex-employer, a legal firm.

While having your first customer can boost your confidence, a business needs more than one. For Fiona this meant cold-calling, sending her details to lots of law firms and making the most of networking. She found that word-of-mouth was a great way to spread the message about what she did.

Another challenge for a start-up is having the right equipment to do a good job. Audio transcription requires a computer and dictation equipment. She had to invest around NZ$4,000 in getting the business off the ground and was rewarded with a turnover of NZ$25,000 in her first year of operation.

Fiona has successfully marketed her service and built a strong client base, with around 30% of her work coming from outside of New Zealand. The internet allows her to have clients based anywhere in the world - they email audio files and she returns completed transcripts. She's hopeful that 2010 might allow her to take on an employee, if business continues to grow.

When asked what she wished she'd known before establishing her own business Fiona replies: "How much harder I would have to work than when I was in a full time job". She adds: "But it's more satisfying and makes you appreciate time a lot more!"

If you'd like to know more about the services that Fiona's business offers, why not pay a visit to the Liddlow Typing Services website?

Have you set up a business in the last few years? Have you got a story to share? Drop us a line via email.

Read more business start up stories like this one.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Brolly Success for Chris and Rebecca

This is the story of a business with its roots deep in the past, which evolved into the twenty-first century and has survived the recent recession.

Husband and wife team Chris and Rebecca Brayshaw run Umbrellaworld, a business based in Bolton, in the north of England. In just over three years it's grown to become one of the biggest online speciality umbrella stores and can name celebrities among its customers.

Gift retailing has been in the family for over 75 years. A decade ago Chris took over and modernised the family gift shops but by 2006 the stores had been lost to compulsory purchases. He decided to make the bold change to selling online.

In late 2008 the business was doing well enough to support Rebecca as an employee and she willingly gave up her career in recruitment to work alongside Chris. She was more than just another pair of hands - she had considerable experience in marketing and decided to open up a new sales channel in corporate and promotional umbrellas. This was launched in late 2009. (Rebecca was also a new mum at the time, which brought even more challenges to her life).

These are exciting times for Umbrellaworld. While it's based on an established business it also has the feel of a new enterprise, venturing into the uncertain economic landscape of post-recession Britain as a newly formed limited company. Chris and Rebecca are fortunate to have no debt in their business but that doesn't mean it's easy. They've invested all they have into it, they still have bills to pay and a mortgage to maintain, and they live with the continual pressure of not knowing whether the company will deliver the income that they need.

They're optimistic of perhaps 20-30% growth in turnover this year. They'll continue to make sacrifices in order to grow the business, but they believe it's worth it. As Rebecca puts it: "The flexibility to work around your family is amazing and has massively motivated me to put the time in when it is most important".

Is there one piece of advice they'd give to others considering starting their own business? "When you start on your own there is no fall back or guarantee of money to pay the mortgage. You have to have sound financial plans, extremely good market research and a lot of faith!"

If you'd like to know more about the umrellas provided by Chris and Rebecca, why not pay a visit to the Umbrellaworld website?

Have you set up a business in the last few years? Have you got a story to share? Drop us a line via email.

Read more business start up stories like this one.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Free Business Advice and Business Tools Online

This post is simply a list of the best free business resources that we've discovered on the internet.

All of the free advice and tools found here are aimed an people relatively new to business, or at small business owners who need to master a wide range of subjects in order to be successful.

If you know of a resource that's free and that's not included on this list, please leave a comment.

Business Link - UK government sponsored business support. Business Link also offer free seminars and events in specific areas of Britain.

Small Business Administration - The USA's leading resource for small businesses.

Smarta - a new resource for business owners and entrepreneurs that's got plenty of content and is endorsed by members of the Dragons' Den team.

YooDoo - a free multimedia service that's aimed squarely at those setting up their first business. It's packed with advice and support that's delivered in a highly accessible format. YooDoo is made in Britain but it's useful for entrepreneurs across the world.

This list is being continually updated as we discover new resources that we consider worthy of being included.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Learn How to Start a Business From YooDoo

Are you starting your own business? Or would you like to?

One challenge of starting out by yourself is the need to master many different subjects at the same time. You need to sharpen your sales skills, battle with bookkeeping, gain mastery over marketing and tackle the mysteries of tax. And that's just the beginning!

Wouldn't it be great if you had a panel of experts at hand to provide advice and encouragement across a broad range of subjects?

Well, now you can, with an online resource called YooDoo.

YooDoo is aimed squarely at those starting their first business or those thinking about it. But it's also a great tool for anyone involved in running a small or medium-sized enterprise, because even business veterans benefit from being reminded of the basics from time to time.

The really good news is that YooDoo is completely free. Which is amazing when you realise that it's not a collection of useful articles to read but a library of innovative, interactive and multimedia resources and also a networking tool.

It's designed for the busy businessperson who knows they need to find ways of building their knowledge but doesn't have much time to spare for learning. Information is delivered in small, coffee-break sized chunks of video presentation and text and it's presented by over 80 experienced entrepreneurs and business experts using an interview format.

The YooDoo approach is neither patronising nor prescriptive. Its creators understand that no two businesses are the same, so their approach is to provide food for thought, suggestions and examples of ideas that have worked. You're not told how to run your business, you're prompted to consider how the suggestions and stories might work for you.

I've been involved in two start up situations and I wish I'd had YooDoo to support me because it would have prevented some mistakes from being made and encouraged me to think about a broader range of issues and ideas.

YooDoo is made in the UK and is aimed at British entrepreneurs, but much of its content will be relevant across the world. It was launched in February 2010 and is still in beta mode, which means the rough edges are still being knocked off it.

It's a fantastic resource and should be compulsory viewing for anyone setting out in business for the first time. I have to admit to a degree of self-interest because I played a very small part in the YooDoo project. So instead of taking my word for its being great, why not take at look at it for yourself?

Article by Andrew Knowles, freelance copywriter.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Craig's Developing His Own Future

Craig Marsden of Bradford is taking advantage of the new market in mobile computing that's been opened up by the iPhone and the soon-to-be-released iPad.

His new business, Style Loft, began in January this year and already has 30 applications sitting on the virtual shelves of Apple's runaway success, the App Store.

Craig's background isn't, as you might expect, in software development. He's spent ten years in sales and marketing for the automotive industry and has also been a football coach with Bradford City FC.

All of that makes him very competitive and when the iPhone arrived he spent several months working out what it offered to business and to him. Having got his head around the potential benefits the next challenge was selling concepts to potential clients.

The iPhone, launched in Europe in late 2007, created a whole new mobile internet experience. It offered individuals and organizations online access in a way they'd never known before and the iPad promises to do same thing when it's released in April.

Businesses like Style Loft are embracing these new technologies and opportunities. They're also having to show business what's possible and how mobile solutions can add value in a variety of ways. Craig has successfully persuaded a number of organizations to buy into the concepts and he and his team have developed applications for them.

He has over 10 people working for him, most of whom are developers, so they need to keep the business coming in. He's also formed valuable relationships with universities, including De Montford in Leicestershire.

Despite pouring hours into attempts to get grants and funding for the new company Craig has only been able to get secure £350 for exhibition banners. His advice to other entrepreneurs is not to rely on external funding, but to research their chosen sector and to be prepared to work very long hours.

He also says: "Believe in yourself, set realistic goals, take advice and as much help from people you know and get support from your loved ones."

"It's not easy," he adds, "But it's the best feeling in the world being in control of your future and destiny."

If you'd like to know more about the services and software Craig's business offers, why not pay a visit to the Style Loft website?

Have you set up a business in the last few years? Have you got a story to share? Drop us a line via email.

Read more business start up stories like this one.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Free Websites for 'Invisible' UK Businesses

Do you want a free domain name and website hosting for your business?

These are being offered to Britain's small businesses in a bid to get more plumbers, window cleaners and greengrocers online.

Up to 1.5 million of the UK's sole traders and micro-business owners don't have a web presence at the moment. The government wants to do something about this and they've teamed up with Google and BT to solve what they perceive to be a problem.

The result is an initiative called Getting British Business Online (GBBO) which has the bold ambition of getting 100,000 commercial websites running by the end of 2010.

The core of the program is the GBBO 'wizard' that makes it really easy for a business owner to create a site in about 15 minutes. There are plans for PayPal to add an ecommerce platform in the next couple of months.

Subscribers to this free service get their own choice of a domain name and two years of free hosting. The pages are built with Google Sites and BT offers free telephone support, allowing users to "create an effective online presence".

In addition a new qualification has been launched, called the ITQ for Doing Business Online, which is aimed at helping businesses get the most from their websites, allowing them to become more competitive.

According to the UK Secretary of State for Business Lord Mandelson: "Encouraging more businesses to seize the opportunities the internet offers is particularly important now that the economy is growing again."

It remains to be seen whether Britain's army of offline entrepreneurs are tempted by the offer of a free website and will start promoting their wares on the internet.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Business Networking isn't Scary

Why do we find it difficult to talk to strangers?

I've been to a couple of networking events in the last week - the Business South trade show and a Business Link meeting in my home town.

At both I heard a clear message being presented - people are reluctant to engage. Business Link's speaker, ex-BBC man Roy Sheppard, was blunt about it. "Most of you want to run away at this point," he said, when we were asked to talk to someone we didn't know.

He was making a joke but the fact that over forty business people turned out to hear him explain how to network effectively was proof that it's not a skill many of us are comfortable with. And our town was only one stop on a road show of multiple venues in the south.

At Business South I watched the usual dance between exhibitors and visitors - the former lying in wait at their stalls, trying to catch the eye of passers-by and inject a quick "hello" to open a conversation; the latter scurrying past with their eyes firmly fixed on something in the distance.

I'm sure that part of the mystery and worry about networking is because we don't have a clear understanding of why we do it. There's an expectation, often self-imposed, that networking is a very thin veneer for selling. And most of us don't enjoy selling.

My approach to networking is not to proactively promote what I do. I want to hear what people have to say to me, which may include their sales pitch. I listen politely and ask questions about what they do and why. I demonstrate interest but make no promises. If I think I can share their information with someone who'd genuinely find it useful, I tell them so. I don't offer them a business card but I'll give one if they ask, which is quite often.

Inevitably when someone is talking to me they'll ask what I do, so I tell them and I explain the benefits of copywriting to businesses. I believe they listen more attentively because they've invited me to speak and they usually ask more questions and, at some point, request a card.

For me networking is about building a web of contacts. I can't predict what value they'll be to me in the future, nor I to them.

But one thing I do know: if I never make the effort to speak to them I'll never become a part of their network, nor they of mine. So ideally I want to talk to everyone, and I suggest that you do too.

Article by Andrew Knowles, freelance copywriter.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Adam and Amber Launch a Green Clean Business

This the first in our new series of stories about student entrepreneurs.

Adam Mayhead and Amber Horton were both students, aged 20, when they decided to start their own environmentally friendly cleaning company last year.

Having had several cleaning jobs Adam was frustrated with the low pay, poor management and the risks associated with handling toxic chemicals.

He'd heard from other entrepreneurs that finding a solution to a problem could bring success, so he decided that the best way forward was to create his own business. He and Amber formed Green Clean Solution, one of the only companies offering an eco-friendly domestic and commercial cleaning service in Surrey.

Over the first two months they invested £1,000 in the business and it is now generating enough to cover its own costs. Although the first year of trading has not finished they anticipate turnover will be around £30k by June 2010.

In the early days of Green Clean Solution Adam and Amber received substantial support from their families, who would often turn out at 9pm to help clean offices. This allowed them to tackle bigger jobs without needing to hire permanent staff.

Their main success so far has been winning a contract to clean a large commercial building. At first they thought it might be too big a task for their new business, but the customer had faith in them. They were given a small area to start with which will increase over time as they prove capable of doing the job well.

This is Adam and Amber’s first business venture. One of their main difficulties has been finding reliable staff who understand and accept the company’s high standards. They want to employ people who can be trusted to do a good job because they know how poor performance by even one person could severely damage their reputation.

They now employ three part-time workers and expect the business to grow by over 100% in the next year. They’re optimistic that their unique selling point, of using only non-toxic environmentally friendly products, will win them more customers.

Adam offers some very simple and practical advice to others looking to start their own business: "Never get behind on paperwork."

Why not visit the Green Clean Solution website to find out more about their products or even get a quote. You’ll also see the positive customer feedback which reflects Adam and Amber’s commitment to upholding a high level of service.

Are you a student with your own business? Have you got a story to share? Drop us a line via email.

Read more business start up stories like this one.

Article written by Danielle George (Student) and Andrew Knowles (Freelance Writer).

Saturday, March 6, 2010

How to Maximise Impact at a Trade Show

Are you planning to have a stand at a trade show or promotional exhibition?

If you are, you want to ensure that you get the best value from your investment of time and money. Setting up and running a stand is relatively easy - successfully promoting your brand and generating valuable leads can be much more difficult.

Here are ten tips for getting the best from a trade show or business exhibition, based on experience as both an exhibitor and attendee.

1. Visit an event as part of your planning. Go to a trade show as a visitor to critically assess how the exhibitors are running their stands. See what appears to work and what doesn't, what you like and what you don't like. Ideally go with someone else to get a broader range of views.

2. Set clear and measurable objectives. You need to find ways to measure the benefit of exhibiting, with the most obvious being the number of leads generated. Other measures to support this could be the number of people spoken to or even the number of business cards collected. Set targets, both daily and for the entire event.

3. Make it look good. Your stand's appearance, even if it's a tiny booth, is part of your marketing message. If it looks cheap, what does that say about your business? Professionally produced graphics and a consistent appearance will make a huge difference. By saving a few pounds on your marketing material you could be losing a lot more in missed opportunities.

4. Have a clear and immediate benefit statement. Make it obvious what problem your product solves and how it can help customers. Most trade show stands are headlined with company names and a summary of what they do, and if you speak to someone on the stand they repeat the same information. A great way to start is by asking a question, such as: would you like to save money on [whatever problem your product solves]? The answer's always going to be 'yes', allowing you to take the conversation further.

5. Proactively greet people as they pass. If lots of visitors seek you out and keep you busy, that's great. But if not, you need to find a way of keeping your stand busy and engaging with visitors who'd otherwise walk past. A friendly 'hello' is often all it takes to catch someone's attention and make them stop, and it's better to engage with people than waiting hopefully for someone to stop for you.

6. Make giveaways available to anyone. One objective of exhibiting is to build your brand and you never know whether today's casual visitor could become tomorrow's potential customer. Everyone you engage with should leave feeling good about your business and if that means offering them a branded pen or the chance to enter your prize draw, then do it.

7. Engage with competitors. A business exhibition is a great way to find out what the competition's up to and to share experiences. You can probably learn from them, but expect them to reciprocate!

8. Don't eat smelly food at your stand. It might seem obvious, but when you're busy it's tempting to take that hot snack back to the exhibition hall. How will the next visitor to the stand feel when you offer a greasy handshake and brush the pastry crumbs from your lapel?

9. Make every visitor feel important. You're at the show to look for leads and build your brand but these require different skills. Looking for leads means focusing on people who may want your product while strengthening the brand means leaving everyone feeling positive about who you are. Don't qualify out people as you talk to them and starting looking over their shoulder for the next prospect. Your body language tells them you're not interested in them and that will devalue your brand.

10. Have a formal debrief and record how it went. Once you're back in the office it's easy to put the trade show behind you and focus on following up the leads. Take time to sit down with colleagues and record what worked and what didn't and any other lessons you learned from the show. This will be an invaluable resource next time around.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Your Publicity Photos - Holiday Snaps or Credible Professional?

Would you invest in professional publicity photos for your business?

If you don't, will it have a negative impact on your capability to win new customers?

By publicity photos I mean portrait shots of yourself, the business owner. They're pictures that you would use on a wide variety of networking sites, such as Linkedin, along with the 'About Us' section of your own website. They also come in useful for press releases and other publications.

When you look at the photos being used by other people it's clear that they are often not taken by a professional. Many are casual snaps, captured in a variety of locations. The background is often a giveaway of the timing - sea or beach scenes suggestion it's a holiday picture while coloured lights evoke a Christmas theme. Many pictures carry the curious distortion that's a trademark of webcams or phonecams, resulting in an unnatural look.

The quality and style of your photograph says something about you and your business. It's part of your image and it sends a message to current and potential customers. It's a message that you have control over, because you choose the picture.

What do you want a picture to say about you? If you're an accountant it should be an image that talks of attention to detail, consistency and depth of knowledge. A graphic designer needs a picture that tells of inspirational creativity. You might want the picture to make a reference to what you do; it could include articles of clothing associated with your profession, such as a hard hat for an engineer or a laptop for someone who's highly mobile.

It's important that your photograph presents you as credible and reliable. Which is why a snap that was taken on holiday or with a webcam doesn't really work, because it suggests you're unwilling to make the investment in anything better. A professional photograph says you're serious about your business and about your success.

Will a professional publicity photo win you more business? On its own, no it won't. But it will form part of the 'bigger picture' that a potential customer puts together as they consider using your services. Along with your website, your experience and any testimonials or word of mouth information, it will become a part of their decision-making process.

So next time you upload a photograph of yourself, try to see it from a potential customer's point of view. Does it project a professional image? Or does it say that you're reluctant to invest either the time or a few pounds in getting a picture that looks the way you want it to?

For another perspective on the difference a photograph can make, read what SurreyLets director Sally Asling has to say about her change in online image.

There are plenty of professional photographers who'd be happy to give you a quote for their services. One I can recommend is Sam Jones Photography, near Guildford in Surrey, who provides an excellent publicity shoot for only £200.