THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Innovation and enterprise blog

3 posts from May 2017

31 May 2017

A snappy rebrand for business growth

Barrie Gordon is the founder of Blend and is a man who loves what he does. His company specialises in high-quality commercial photography and he has worked with the likes of Dune, Ted Baker and House of Fraser. Based in North London, Blend has built a reputation for highly professional photography that is both cost-effective and uncompromising on quality.  

Having entered the photography industry soon after leaving school, Barrie was already well-equipped with years of expertise and knowledge when he decided to embark on his own entrepreneurial journey. The initial success of Blend only whetted his appetite for more and the opportunity to join the Innovating for Growth programme at the British Library was one he jumped at. We caught up with Barrie to see how things have developed since completing the programme and to find out a little bit more about how he’s grown a successful company.    

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What made you believe that you could turn your passion into a business?

You used the words, belief and passion in your question. In my view, these two attributes are paramount to starting your own business. 

I’ve always been passionate about photography, but becoming an entrepreneur and having my own company is what dreams are made of. Throughout my career, I’ve had the privilege of working for a variety of photographic companies and this gave me with the perfect opportunity to learn and also to see things I could change and improve. The managerial experience that I garnered over this period also meant I had the necessary skill set to do something I always wanted to do. To make that jump from employee to running your own business takes confidence and belief in your own ability.  It's easy to start a business but to make a success of it is a much tougher ask, so believing in yourself is a really important quality for any entrepreneur.

Innovating for Growth helped Blend to scale-up and grow. What initially made this programme attractive to you and your company?

As a small business, I was very interested in any guidance that would help me build a successful company. I felt the programme offered advice in lots of areas which would help to develop my skills as a business owner. Furthermore, as a start-up, with limited funds, to be offered free advice from experts in their respective fields, naturally appealed to me too. I had been trading for a couple of years when I applied for the Innovating for Growth programme and was delighted to find out my application had been successful. The assistance I had in key areas such as brand development, marketing and strategy are things that helped Blend to grow and I’m very pleased I made the decision I did.

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You’ve recently rebranded. Why did you feel this was necessary and have you started to see the benefits of this decision?

We were previously known as Packshot and Stills but the rebranding of our company has made a huge difference. To some degree, the old name and branding held us back. The term packshot relates to a particular type of photography. In essence, it's a basic product shot ordinarily shot on a white background. We didn't want to be pigeon-holed and known for just doing this type of photography and I felt that "Packshot and Stills" was doing just that. Our services extend way beyond that of packshots; we are capable of offering professional photography from fashion and video content to complex creative shoots. The old branding just didn't relay that message.

Additionally, profit margins in packshot photography have been driven down. Competition is fierce and as such, prices have fallen to a level which makes that area of photography tough to sustain.  Consumers don't really put the same value on packshot photography as they do for creative still-lifes or fashion photography. It just made sense to distance ourselves from that term in relation to our branding. Having said that, we still do packshots here at Blend but wanted to get the message out there that we are experts in a range of other areas of photography, hence the name Blend.

The company is relatively young and brand awareness hadn't truly been established. If we were going to rebrand, now was the time to do so. Moreover, the website also needed to be redeveloped, so it seemed a perfect time to do it.

Since the rebrand in mid-January, I've had very positive feedback regarding the visual aesthetics. We've also started to see the commercial benefits and certainly had more interest in our fashion work. I'm hoping this trend will continue and we will see similar progress with our creative product photography.

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Innovating for Growth focuses on key areas to help businesses scale-up and grow. When considering the support and advice you received, what would you say has helped Blend the most?

There were plenty of aspects of the programme that helped me to grow Blend. Due to the size of my business, the advice that I received was split between things that were actionable straight away and guidance I could implement at a later stage. 

Initially, I had a meeting to look at an overview of my business. It was evident that for me to grow the business, I had to look at my time management. I also needed to delegate some of my day-to-day duties to free up time and to enable me to concentrate on building and expanding the business. It may seem obvious, but without someone telling me that it's okay to do so, I probably wouldn't have adapted.

Along with advice on rebranding, I also had some very hands-on advice from ASB Law. They looked over aspects of Blend from a legal perspective and helped us enormously to amend our legal documents.

What’s next for Blend?

We're looking to further expand, not only in physical size, premises and personnel but also broadening our offerings.

We'll always be looking to adapt in order to deliver the level of service that our clients expect.  For us to remain competitive, we constantly need to be refining and reviewing our internal processes to maximise the quality and efficiency of our output.

Externally, we'll be increasing investment in our marketing. We have a brand that we can be proud of and, as such, we want to get our message out there.

Are you an ambitious business owner looking to scale up, like Barrie? 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.

18 May 2017

Seven tips for standing out at a trade show

In the week of The London Business Show, our corporate partner Vistaprint have put together this list of tips for you to put into practice whenever you attend or exhibit at trade shows to make sure your attendance generates a healthy return on investment.

If you don’t have the advantage of an exhibition stand to draw the crowds, attending a trade show can still be a cost-effective way to build your brand and uncover new business opportunities. Just remember the following advice:

 

  1. Order plenty of business cards


Getting your business cards in the hands of as many people as possible should be a major objective of your trade show visit. Your business cards should catch the eye, use bold colours, and reinforce your brand identity and key value proposition.

There’s an almost unlimited choice of combinations of size, shape, colour, material and finish to choose from when it comes to designing business cards and each choice can be used to send subtle clues about your brand to potential customers. For example, if your business sells eco-friendly products then an organic business card with rustic appearance will help reinforce your environmental credentials.

You can also make your business card useful by incorporating valuable information into the design. For example, an email marketing company could use the back of their business card to show the best times for sending email newsletters. Just make sure your contact information remains clear and legible. Vistaprint has lots of tips for designing business cards that not only stand out, but increase the chances that your prospective customers will hang on to them.

  1. Promote the event

You might feel like the exhibition organisers have the promotion of the event well-covered, but why leave anything to chance? Not only will a well-attended trade show increase your chances of finding customers, but if you manage to prompt a few of your potential customers to attend via your blog and social media posts, they’ll be a lot more likely to hunt you down at the exhibition. Most trade shows will use a hashtag for promotion in the run up to, and during, the event. Use it to let attendees know you’ll be there and invite them to meet up.

  1. Dress to impress

It might sound obvious, but your attire should inspire confidence and trust in your target audience. This doesn’t necessarily mean dressing up in your finest business suit. If your customers are more interested in your technical skills, then a branded polo shirt might be a better look (and another opportunity to reinforce brand identity). Purveyors of health and beauty products might do better with clean, crisp whites, which are associated with hygiene and medical expertise.

When you’re exhibiting

Exhibiting at a trade show can be a costly undertaking.  Pitched alongside lots of other businesses vying for the attention of attendees, it takes creativity and planning to make sure you stand out from the crowd and walk away with as many new sales leads as possible. Follow these tips to maximise your impact and generate a healthy batch of new business opportunities.

  1. Catch the eye

At a large trade show, there will be hundreds of exhibitors trying to attract potential customers to their stands, so it’s essential that your little patch of real estate is easy to spot and looks enticing. Use bold colours on posters and banners and make sure the text is large enough to be read from across the exhibition hall (this will also keep your marketing messages short and succinct). If there’s an opportunity to show your promotional videos, advertisements or product demonstrations on a video screen, take it – moving images are great for capturing people’s attention.

Whatever tactic you use to catch the eye make sure it’s appropriate to your products and services. Everything at your stand should reinforce your branding and your key value proposition for customers.

  1. Use lead magnets

Lead magnets are high-value giveaways, like branded sweatshirts, printed books, or free trials of your product or service that can be offered in exchange for sitting through a sales pitch. The real challenge at a trade show is converting passers-by who are vaguely interested in your wares into paying customers, or sales-ready leads. Lead magnets buy you the time you need to accomplish this feat. Just remember to collect the contact details of your new leads.

  1. Take your best salespeople

There’s very little point bringing people to your stand if you don’t have the ability to persuade them to make a purchase or leave their details. Take only your most successful sellers and keep them motivated to stay approachable and friendly all day long. Make sure you have enough people to keep the stand manned all day and provide regular breaks so that energy levels don’t flag towards the end.

Whether you’re exhibiting or attending don’t forget the golden rule of dealing with new business opportunities:

  1. Follow up new leads quickly!

Getting the most out of your trade show appearance doesn’t just mean generating as many leads as possible but also converting as many of those leads as possible into actual sales. The best outcome would be to close sales or make appointments at the show itself, but it’s more likely that you’ll walk away with lots of contact details of potential customers who you couldn’t convert. The sooner you follow up with these prospects, preferably by phone, the more likely they are to remember you and give you another chance to convince them.

Vistaprint are a Corporate Partner of the British Library’s Business & IP Centre

15 May 2017

Lavolio: The sweet taste of success

For some small businesses, the start-up stage can see an exciting period of exponential growth. This initial high is a pleasant surprise for most entrepreneurs but can create unforeseen challenges. Being able to deal with these changes can determine whether your business is a 'flash in the pan' or here for the long haul. A business that definitely fits the latter description is the boutique confectionery company, Lavolio. Founded by Lavinia Davolio, Lavolio has quickly become a serious player in the game of luxury treats and Lavinia credits her experience on the Innovating for Growth programme as one of the main reasons for its success. We caught up with her to find out a bit more.

Lavinia Davolio Profile with Lavolio. Photo credit_ Geoff Pugh

You gave up a high-flying career in banking to start your company, Lavolio. What would you say inspired this brave decision?

Three years ago I was busy climbing the corporate ladder on the trading floor of a large investment bank when the banking crisis helped me to decide that it was time for a change. I started Lavolio Boutique Confectionery with the desire to create something new out of my passion for food.

Some people say that I have been brave to launch my own luxury sweet business but I simply turned my redundancy into something positive. I believe it came at the right time in my life and if I look back at that time, it felt like an easy decision because I was following my heart and my passion.

It was while cooking at home that I came up with the idea for my company. I was experimenting with sweet recipes when I thought of using a thin sugar shell as a natural preservative. Inside these small shells, I could place pieces of fruit, whole nuts, jellies, coffee beans and different types of chocolate. I was then able to create lots of flavours, using spices and fruit zests and textures, from crunchy to crumbly, and that’s when I thought I was onto something really special.

Did you always believe that Lavolio would appeal to so many people?

At the time of my product development, I had no idea whether there would be a market for it. I tried out my creations on my close friends and family; everyone got samples and I received enough positive feedback to try selling my sweets to the public, setting up stalls at a handful of London food markets. This was a crucial step for Lavolio when testing things early on. Food markets were the first time that I got a real indication of whether people were willing to buy what I was making. A much more analytical market research process then followed. Lavolio has a very clear and simple vision to always provide WOW to our clients, with a delightful flavour and surprising taste, beautifully presented. This is what has allowed Lavolio to become the number 1 Italian luxury confectionery brand in the UK. We are now planning to increase our distribution to new countries and to continue adding new beautiful products to our range.

You recently completed the Innovating for Growth programme. How would you say Lavolio has benefited from this experience?

When I first entered the programme I did not know what to expect. My three-year-old confectionery business had enjoyed a very fast growth period; I was selling to Fortnum & Mason, Ocado, on Amazon Launchpad and in more than 200 premium independent stockists across England, Scotland and Wales. With hindsight, I can now see that joining the programme could not have come at a better time. With our business foundations built, and our products receiving some incredible early feedback, the next question was ‘how do we scale up?' As a founder, I faced many challenging decisions on our operations, marketing, branding and product innovation, and I felt that every aspect was covered in the programme, thus helping me to make more informed decisions in order to move the company in the right direction. Each workshop and activity has been hugely beneficial and has helped our company fast-forward to the next level. We have learned how to keep doing what we do really well and to maintain our values and strengthen our business model to ensure we are ready for such steep growth. In turn, we have seen a tangible effect on our strategy and on the way that we now prioritise different activities. I was really impressed by the quality of the advice, ideas and encouragement we received. All of this has made the programme into a very positive experience for Lavolio and one that we will carry on into our business journey.

Copy of Lavolio Fondant Lovelies Lifestyle _ high res

Lavolio’s sweets are handmade and it is clear a lot of love and attention goes into creating them. How important is this care to quality and detail for the brand?

The dream of Lavolio is to make better quality confectionery with proper ingredients and to create a beautiful taste experience for those who explore our creations. This is at the centre of everything we do. We aim to wow with our unusual flavours and luxury presentation. As soon as you open the tin you can see that each single piece is unique and handmade. Each collection comprises a variety of six different types of sweets. There are 40 – 50 unique sweets in each tin, nestling in the glassine paper inside the box. Lavolios make the perfect gift because they have been designed to provide a feast for the senses. This includes the carefully designed packaging, which delights the eye, the delicious aroma that you can smell when the box is first opened; the touch of the individual candy coatings, and the crunch of the coatings which release the explosion of flavours in the mouth. We hear from our clients every day how delighted they have been with both gifting and receiving our products and this is the single most important thing that we do - provide an outstanding customer experience.

As a successful entrepreneur, do you have any wise words of advice for those who would like to follow in your footsteps?

If you’re passionate about everything sweet, are full of energy and love talking to people, then starting a confectionery business could be perfect for you. My advice would be to put your customers at the heart of everything that you do and ensure your product tastes fantastic! Try to make sure that the wow factor is well communicated on your packaging, don't be afraid to reach out to people and always carry a box of your product with you.

Are you an ambitious business owner looking to scale up, like Lavinia? 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.