Finding your niche in any market can be tough; who is your customer? What do they want? What are your competition doing? Amanda Overs, graduate of the Business & IP Centreâs Innovating for Growth: Scale-up programme and founder of I Can Make Shoes, set up a shoemaking school after being unable to find a course to make shoes, without the need for heavy machinery.
I Can Make Shoes workshop
âI was sick of being told âyou canât do it like thatââ (by traditional shoemakers). With the demand for slow fashion and a resurgence of sewing and crafting, Amanda decided to put a positive spin on the negative backlash and eight years later has gone from running classes in her living room by herself to employing five part-time members of staff and running workshops almost every day of the year in both London and New York.
Research was crucial in finding out exactly who I Can Make Shoesâ customers were. Amanda says, âThere has been a lot of trial and error over the years, but what I have found is the fastest, most efficient way of doing research is to actually ask your customer what they think. I regularly do surveys when I have a new idea to see what my audience think of it and recently started a Facebook community so that I can see for myself what it is that my students and customers really want and need.â
I Can Make Shoes now run workshops in both London and New York
Amanda is always looking at ways to improve I Can Make Shoesâ offering and the business is always changing and improving. Something Amanda says is âkey to staying ahead of the competitionâ. Not only do they run workshops for members of the public, they also have online shoemaking instructions, sell components, and train designers from major high street brands such as ASOS, River Island and Adidas.
The Innovating for Growth programme has helped Amanda take I Can Make Shoes to the next level, âItâs helped me to step back and reassess the business as a whole and identify the key areas of potential growth. I started in a bit of a whirlwind and have been treading water ever since, so to have fresh (very experienced) eyes and non-biased opinions on my plans for the future has been absolutely pricelessâ.
"Fail fast, learn faster and move on to the next thing.â
What tips does Amanda have for finding your niche? âTrust your gut. Don't over think every detail. Fail fast, learn faster and move on to the next thing.â Amanda lives by her rules, due to popular demand she will be offering a new sneaker course launching soon...
If you are already running a business and are looking to take it to the next level like Amanda, our three-month Innovating for Growth programme can help turn your growth idea into a reality. Applications are now open, so find out more here and apply now!
This programme is fully-funded by the European Regional Development Fund and the British Library.
Posted by Innovation and Enterprise Team at 1:52 PM
Here at the British Library's Business & IP Centre we meet many inventors who are starting out on their journey through to patenting their inventions. The majority understand that their first action should be to search to see if their proposed invention is truly ânew and innovativeâ as it must be in order to obtain patent protection. What inventors will be searching for is known as âPrior artâ which is basically anything that shows the proposed invention is already known and is therefore not new. Prior art doesnât have to be a patent, it could be a newspaper advertisement, a magazine or journal article or even a product on sale in another country.
Most inventors will have heard of, and some may even have used, the Espacenet database. Espacenet is a patent search database containing data on over 100 million patent documents worldwide. Searching the database is fairly intuitive, but if needed there is a very informative Help section to aid the novice searcher. Espacenet is a great starting point for any would be inventor and is freely available via https://worldwide.espacenet.com.
What is generally less known by inventors is that here at the Business & IP Centre we subscribe to another search database that our registered readers can use for free. This database is the Derwent Innovations Index or DII as it is also known.
DII is a search database that provides access to more than 30 million inventions as detailed in 65+ million patent documents. Once a search has been run, clicking through from the results list, users are able to view details of the relevant patent including any patents and/or articles cited as âPrior artâ against it. For most patents there are also links through to Espacenet to view the full published specification.
Espacenet also does this, so what are the advantages of visiting the Business & IP Centre and using DII?
Well, it should be remembered that patents are technical documents which are written in such a way as to meet all the relevant criteria for obtaining a patent but, by providing only the most important information, give nothing away.
With Espacenet you are searching the patents as published; the title or abstract, bibliographic data, description and claims all exactly as written in the original documents. This can make keyword searching problematic, not everyone will necessarily use the same keywords to describe the same subject, and often searchers will need to resort to classification searching to ensure they are searching in the correct technical area. Add to this the fact that patent titles can be slightly ambiguous and patent searching can become slightly more difficult.
With the Derwent Innovations Index (DII) what happens is that when a patent is published a member of the DII team who is experienced in the particular technical area covered by the patent takes the patent specification and does the following:
Writes a more concise title that describes the invention and its claimed novelty
Then writes an abstract giving a 250â500 word description in English of the claimed novelty of the invention
Finally, DII also add their own âClass codesâ and âManual codesâ to the records: Derwent Class Codes allow the searcher to quickly retrieve a particular category of inventions whilst Derwent Manual Codes indicate the novel technical aspects of the invention.
To give you a quick example of this, the title of patent WO2018064763 on Espacenet is âCompactable bicycleâ as shown below:
Espacenet Patent search
Whereas on DII the title is written as:
Derwent Innovations Index
The Espacenet bibliography and abstract looks like this:
Whilst the DII bibliography and abstract looks like this:
Note: DII highlights, Novelty, Use and Advantage within the abstract.
Another advantage DII has is that using the Advanced search option searchers have the ability to âbuildâ a search by searching keywords, classifications, inventor/applicant details etc. and then adding search sets together as desired.
DII advanced search
Searchers then click on the live link in the Results box to view the results list from where they can select relevant patent records to save to a Marked list. Searchers can then email the results from the Marked list to themselves to view later if they wish.
With the Espacenet database searchers can download and print out copies of the front pages of relevant specifications (known as covers) or they can select titles from their search results list to export to either CVS or XLS. Copies of full patent specification can also be downloaded and printed out if desired.
Both Espacenet and DII are extremely useful for searchers. Each database has their own strengths and weaknesses, but if you visit the Business & IP Centre we will be happy to discuss your needs and show you how to get the best from both databases.
Maria Lampert, Intellectual Property Expert at the Business & IP Centre London
Maria has worked in the field of intellectual property since she joined the British Library in January 1993. She is currently the British Library Business & IP Centreâs Intellectual Property Expert, where she delivers 1-2-1 business and IP advice clinics, as well as intellectual property workshops and webinars on regular basis.
Posted by Innovation and Enterprise Team at 2:06 PM
The Decoratorsis an exciting young business made up of four friends who met at uni. They turned their passion for working with space into an experiential design business. Here founding partner Carolina Caicedo shares advice for starting and growing a successful company after completing theBusiness & IP Centreâs Innovating for Growth programme.
Portrait of The Decorators, photo credit: Dosfotos
How did you come up with the concept or idea for your business?
The four partners met doing an MA in Narrative Environments at Central Saint Martins College of Art & Design. The course was all about multidisciplinary teams working collaboratively on projects. An opportunity to do an interactive installation at the trade show 100% Design in London came up just at the end of our final year in 2010 and we decided to take it on together. The project was a success and showed us that we worked well together and that we could produce more interesting things by working together rather than individually.
You started your own business at a young age â what advice would you give to other young people hoping to do the same?
I would say look to learn about how to run a sustainable business as soon as you start. Train yourself in all the different hats youâll have to put on. We set ourselves up as a collective to begin with, we were much more interested in the delivery of creative ideas, than in understanding what it takes to run a business. We learnt the hard way that simply focusing on producing a good service or offer is not enough to sustain a business. I would also recommend finding a business mentor, be it someone with his or her own business or a business coach. All four of us set up The Decorators straight after finishing our MA, with little time spent in industry at times we felt we were reinventing the wheel unnecessarily. Others have done this before you so learn from them.
Ridleyâs at night, photo credit: Dosfotos
Daytime at Ridleyâs, photo credit: The Decorators
How did you finance your business at the early stages?
We financed the early stages of the business by taking out a small start-up loan through the University of the Arts London. It helped us take on a studio.
What main obstacle have you had to overcome?
Our main obstacle has been mindset. We have had to shift our mind-set to see ourselves as business owners rather than just designers or creators. With that shift we have experienced a loss of resistance towards the less sexy and fun aspects of running a business.
The Decoratorsâ Radio at the V&A Museum, photo credit: The Decorators
Italian Mobile Garden at Alexandra Palace, photo credit: Dosfotos
What do you like the most about running your own business?
For me it is how empowering it feels to be running your own business. It is empowering to be shaping and creating the kind of work you want to do, who you do it with and the culture in which you do it. The self development required to take a business forward is also empowering. It sets you in good stead for whatever may come next.
Which entrepreneurs inspire you?
We are inspired by the recent surge in start-ups that are putting wellbeing and social values at the heart of their business. I have found the watching the rise of Headspace very interesting and it is particularly inspiring when you know how hard it is to get a business going. I am also much more interested in hearing the behind the scenes stories. I listen to the podcast Start-Up, which follows the journey of businesses that are starting up. We usually only get the final success story but it is much more valuable for me to hear about the journey and the struggle to get something to work.
Screening at Adult Architecture Cinema, photo credit: Dosfotos
Chrisp Street on Air - Boxing at the Market, photo credit: Dosfotos
If you had one piece of advice to someone just starting out, what would it be?
Self development is the most important thing in starting up your own business. Developing a can-do and positive mindset is what will get you through the inevitable hard times.
We are now taking applications for the next Innovating for Growth programme find out how you can apply today.
Posted by Innovation and Enterprise Team at 12:15 PM
Listening to the âDragonsâ on the BBC2 TV show Dragonsâ Den is a good insight into the way your investors may be thinking when you present your ideas, plans and proposals to them. As all good scouts know, you must Be Prepared, i.e. be fully prepared for some intense questioning before investors will entrust you with their money. Here are our 6 tips for getting your pitch right.
1. Know every aspect of your finances â and your research data
Numbers must add up but, more than that, every figure that you use must be validated. You canât simply base your first year growth rate on a competitorâs established business or make assumptions based on âgut-feelâ. That is a certain way to get rejected at the very first stage.
How much money do you need and how will every penny of it be invested? What are your start-up/capital expenditure and initial running costs? Are these based on firm quotations from relevant suppliers? Know the best and worst case scenarios for your projected costs.
Who are your customers, what is the size of your potential market and how long is a typical purchase decision process? Why would your product be selected? What steps have you taken or are you planning to maximise the reach of your marketing and sales campaigns?
Importantly, when will investors begin to see a return and how much? What exit options have you considered? You will need to substantiate your claims with independent data.
2. Rehearse your pitch â and practice thinking on your feet
Enthusiasm and confidence are by-products of knowing that you are thoroughly prepared for any question â even if itâs one you hadnât previously considered.
âHe who hesitates is lostâ has never been so true therefore you need to keep a clear head and be able to deliver a well-rehearsed pitch that briefly covers all important points. Practicing your delivery with a mentor or business associate, rather than in a mirror or with a close family member, may be helpful in a number of ways. Get them to ask questions, too. The tougher the questions the better prepared you will be.
3. Understand your investors and be open with them
Before you set the level of your pitch, find out about your investors, particularly what business areas they have interests in. If they offer advice, you need to listen because they are the ones with huge amounts of money and, presumably, some proven business acumen. As with all advice, you should take it on board, mull it over and act on it as appropriate.
Donât try to hide pertinent facts and if you are not sure of the facts, donât make them up!
4. Be honest with yourself about the value of your business
Excluding assets, the value of your business is calculated on its worth and profit potential to someone else and nothing to do with the amount of time and money you have invested getting to the current point. An entrepreneur will have devoted considerable resources to bring the venture to this point, and that is often considered as personal sweat equity. Investors appreciate this, but they will take it for granted and tend to focus instead on future cash-flow requirements rather than legacy costs.
5. Keep calm and be yourself.
It is easy to put yourself under pressure when big opportunities arise but keeping calm and not panicking will enable your mind to work clearly and your mouth to deliver a clear response!
Knowing that you are well prepared is a major calming factor but, if you are prone to nervousness, practice some calming techniques that will help you through the pitch â perhaps deep breathing or subtle rhythmic tapping of your thumb against your finger.
Let investors see the real you â the person who is driving the business. Believe in yourself and just be you. Investors are real business people, and they want to work with ambitious, driven and practical entrepreneurs.
6. Donât forget to close!
When youâre finished presenting make sure that ask for the investment â thatâs the real purpose of the meeting isnât it? At this stage the investor may have some additional questions for you. Some may be business-related, others more personal in nature. Theyâre essentially trying to get a feel if they can work with you as a business partner. So donât take this approach personally and answer their questions to the best of your ability. And then ask for the investment again.
The London Business Support Service is a valued Partner of the British Library in London. We conduct 1-2-1 confidential business clinics on the first Wednesday of every month at the Business & IP Centre at the British Library. Our business clinics are suitable for any type of business in any type of situation, and our experienced business advisors are here to provide you with cost effective business support services that result in tangible and measurable benefits to your business.
Posted by Innovation and Enterprise Team at 10:57 AM
In the Business & IP Centre we often get enquiries about how to research a particular geographical area. With an increasing interest in âkeeping trade localâ and in the provenance of products, many start-ups are choosing to establish and market themselves as âlocalâ businesses - for instance working with the community, or sourcing suppliers from the nearby area. Others are simply interested in finding out more about their area in terms of customers, competitors and marketing opportunities.
Luckily there is a wealth of information available on specific localities and entrepreneurs can use this information to pinpoint their target market and tailor their promotional activity. For instance, a retailer of high-end luxury goods might want to focus their business in an affluent area, in order to attract high-earning local customers. A new restaurant might think twice about opening on a street with lots of established competition â but it may benefit them to know about nearby markets and food-sellers who could act as suppliers. A fashion designer could research local events and networks where thereâs potential to sell or promote their products. Below are a few of the resources you can use to research your area.
Local Data Online gives data and insights for locations, business types and companies. Its searchable map tool lets you select a specific area and examine the overall retail make-up, identify local businesses, or check the geographical spread of an industry or company. It also gives addresses and contact details for individual shops, lists available vacant units, and gives a demographic profile of the area.
You can search for a specific location, company and/or retail category, and information is displayed on easy-to-read maps and diagrams. Extra information for locations includes vacancy rates, the mix of independent shops vs. chains, crime statistics, average earnings and house prices.
COBRA (access via terminals in the Business & IP Centre)
COBRA is an encyclopaedia of practical information for starting, running and managing a small business. Included in the database are a number of âLocal Area profilesâ, covering towns and regions throughout the country. A Local Area Profile will typically include information on sources of business support and advice, financial support, workspaces, business networks, business directories, libraries, local authority trading licences, business rates and HM Revenue & Customs.
Company databases: FAME, MarketIQ, Kompass, ORBIS, OneSource (access via terminals in the Business & IP Centre)
Our company databases are searchable by location, meaning that you can create lists of companies operating in a specific geographical area.
Grantfinder (access via terminals in the Business & IP Centre)
Gives details of 4,000 grants, loans and awards, searchable by geographical area.
Business & IP Centre National Network
The Business & IP Centre National Network provides entrepreneurs and SMEs across the country with free access to a wealth of databases, market research, journals, directories and reports. There is a programme of free and low-cost one-to-one advice and workshops delivered by trained staff and business experts on a range of topics including starting up, business planning, marketing and intellectual property. Find a Centre near you.
Your local library
Many libraries will hold local information, newspapers, directories and data.
Social media can be a powerful research tool. Lots of local groups, associations and businesses will have a presence on social media websites such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter - or try searching Twitter for name of the area youâre interested in to get rolling updates of whatâs going on in the area.
Your local council can provide helpful information about doing business in your area. Some councils also run business support programmes.
ONS Neighbourhood Statistics
ONS Neighbourhood Statistics allows you to find detailed statistics or a summary report for specific geographic areas. Covers areas such as crime, economics, education, health, housing, income, lifestyle, population, migration, physical environment.
Official Labour Market Statistics (NOMIS)
NOMIS allows you to find detailed labour market (population, employment, economic activity, qualifications, jobseekerâs allowance claimants) statistics for specific geographic areas.
Data for Neighbourhoods and Regeneration
Data for Neighbourhoods and Regeneration identifies and signposts datasets available for neighbourhoods on areas like population, deprivation and income, employment, economy and enterprise, education and skills, health and disability, housing and households, crime and community, environment, access and transport.
As highlighted in an earlier blog, the website Netmums has comprehensive listings of small businesses in a local area, from garden services to website design.
Google Street View
Google Street View is invaluable for seeing what a neighbourhood actually looks like, street by street.
London Datastore: Greater London Authority (GLA) one-stop shop for statistics and reports on London, spanning topics from culture to crime. The Community page provides visualisations based on the data.
Books are migrating to e-readers, music is being streamed and accounting is now happening in the cloud. This is the quiet revolution that accountants whisper but dare not speak aloud. Accounting software is dead; itâs online and upwards to the clouds. Online accounting has arrived.
It may sound a touch over the top but itâs true. As a business, how you manage your books pretty much manages everything else. Your accounting is an important engine in your business. A well-oiled efficient system will reap rewards; a slow burner with too many miles will underperform and slow you down.
This is where online accounting in the cloud is so significant. Consigned to software history is the accounting package sold âout of a boxâ installed onto your desktop, run on a local drive and perhaps backed up onto a different drive. It was fun while it lasted but now SMEs have multiple choices when it comes to doing their books.
And here lies the problem. Business owners are generally uncertain about how to choose an online accounting package that works for them. But help is at hand, outlined below are some helpful tips to help you decide on how to choose the best package.
Why choose online accounting?
Itâs easy to say the future is online but what are the actual advantages?
Firstly, you can access it anytime, anywhere and arenât bound to the PC in your office and you donât need to keep installing updates
Being on the cloud means information can be easier to share as well
It can save considerable time and keeps your records up to date
The question then is which online accounting package to choose? There are numerous packages you can subscribe to out there. Xero and Quickbooks are making inroads but there are lots of others too. There are well over thirty providers of online accounting, so choosing the right one for you can feel overwhelming. The best thing to do is to narrow your focus by asking yourself a few of the following questions:
How long has the software been around? In other words, is it market tested?
Is the software UK compatible? Can it deal with VAT? You will need a system that works effectively for VAT returns.
Can it work with multi-currencies (if you need to trade overseas)?
Can it integrate with other software easily (known as API) such as CRM or invoicing programmes?
Will it securely connect into your bank account? This can be very helpful when it comes to bank reconciliation and looking at a live picture of the financial state of your business.
What is the level of customer support? Are you able to call or use chat while online?
Having confidence in the provider you choose is important as they will be presenting all the data and running all the reports for you. Reports are your window into whatâs happening with the numbers in your business, so itâs vital you can see whatâs going on clearly. Itâs best to see if your accounting software can run any of these types of reports clearly and effectively:
Profit and Loss reports
Balance Sheets (divided monthly)
Debtors and Creditors
Product and Inventory reports (if needed)
Employee and payroll
Test, test, test
Most of the major online accounting platforms will give you a free trial. Riz Wasti from 2E Accountants and participant on the Innovating for Growth programme recommends you test the software first to see how it works for you. He suggests doing the following:
âMost online software offer 30 days trial period. Thatâs your opportunity to test the software before relying on it. Use your real transactions, bank payments & receipts, sales invoices, bills and expenses, etc. Softwares will also have a Demo Company setup with data already entered. Thatâs your opportunity to play with the softwareâ.
Migration to your online platform
Once youâve selected the best online accounting package for you, do allow for time and some cost to migrate across from an existing platform. As ever, the devil is in the detail (and the numbers). Riz advises that:
âMigrating data from an existing system can be complicated. Itâs best to do it in stages, for example starting with sales invoices and bills in batches of months and reconcile bank statements for each month entered. The payment allocation process can be time consuming. Bank data can be uploaded in one go separately to sales and bills, but then bank payments need to match or be allocated.â
All the more reason to do all the research you can on finding the right online accounting package for you. The effort is sure to be well worthwhile in the medium to long term for your business.
Jeremy OâHare is a Relationship Manager for the British Libraryâs Innovating for Growth programme, which provides ÂŁ10,000 of fully-funded and tailored advice for businesses looking to grow. Since joining the British Library in 2005 he has worked with countless businesses, facilitating advice and research as well as providing workshops and information advice for start-ups and established businesses.
Posted by Innovation and Enterprise Team at 1:31 PM
Jessica Huie MBE, an entrepreneur with 15 years media experience, founder of JH Public Relations and Color blind cards and partner to the Business & IP Centre, gives her advice on how start-ups and SMEs can generate PR for their business without spending a fortune.
Jessica Huie Public Relations
However brilliant or progressive your product or service, if nobody knows about it then your business will struggle to make sales, and a business without sales is doomed to fail. This is where PR can have a massive impact. Not so much a luxury as imperative for any business owner who wants to make their idea get off the ground, PR helps businesses to connect with their target audience, to mould a brand, establish differentiation from competitors, attract buyers and investors and can position business owners as experts in their field. If you truly mean business with your start-up venture, then you need to think seriously about public relations.
PR, which is in part marketing through third-party endorsement, is an extremely successful way to generate business and it complements the other, more âobviousâ forms of marketing. Todayâs consumer is savvy. They see through blatant (and expensive) advertising campaigns. PR subtly increases awareness of a company and its products and services by positioning them in the publicâs consciousness, not by waving it in front of their faces.
Believe in your brand
In order for your start-up business to get valuable press coverage, you first need to make sure you are confident about your brand and its ethos. The public is never going to fully comprehend your business if you, yourself, are not clear as to what your business brand is, its values and what it has to give. Your brand needs to be a clear and definite concept. Therefore, when introducing your brand, whether in a press release or when pitching to a journalist, lead with any vital information and impressive assets, this positions your business instantly.
Once you are confident in your business values, it is crucial to communicate that personally â nothing is more powerful than authenticity in PR and if you are sincere and passionate about your brand, both the media and the public will be receptive to this. Humans are social creatures; they buy into people not products. Having a visible figurehead rather than relying on nameless branding helps customers to understand the ethos and culture behind your business. Ask yourself what the motivation behind your company was, and your business vision for the future. Give your customers an understanding of the entrepreneur behind the brand and make sure your personal and business principles align; audiences can see through branding messages that do not correspond to behaviour. PR, through mediums such as case studies, media coverage, advice columns and blogs, is your tool for demonstrating your commitment to your brand values.
Position yourself as a thought leader
So, how do you behave like a figurehead? A simple way is through positioning yourself as thought leader and by marketing your expertise. You, as an individual, can share your valuable perspective, insight and experience. This is not just advantageous in terms of commercial success, but also in terms of investment. By building a strong visible profile, you make you and your brand unique, differentiating your business from other commercially viable investment opportunities. Profit and turnover speak for themselves, but business commitment and vision do not. A business with a strong figurehead and management team who represent the fundamental business values are powerful assets and are most effectively communicated through a PR campaign.
Absorb the media
To secure media coverage, it is also of upmost importance that you immerse yourself in the media. This means both being aware of the media sectors your business fits into and staying on top of current affairs and their relevance to your business.Every story reported in the media represents a PR opportunity depending on your business. Staying abreast of current news means you can be reactive, relevant and forward thinking in your PR strategy, creating press releases that participate in debates or that offer opposing opinions or solutions to contemporary problems.
Plan your PR strategy
Yet, at the same time, PR should be a calculated strategy, taking into account any important dates that may impact customersâ activity. Create a 12-month plan including dates such as Christmas, Valentineâs Day and Halloween and think about how your brand and commercial activities can âlatch onâ to these events, increasing your chances of securing media interest. The importance of forward planning cannot be overstated â be aware of media lead times so you donât let a PR opportunity pass you by.
Look for possible partnerships
Collaborating with like-minded brands, which share your business values and target market, is another way reach a broader audience and create interesting PR angles. The first step in brand partnerships is to truly understand your customer. Spend some time researching your customer in depth: where do they live, how old are they, what are their hobbies, their occupations and incomes? Once you have a clear image, you can then seek out ideal partners for cross-promotion. Partnerships are crucial when it comes to business growth and, for small businesses, this involves collaborating with larger or more established brands for common benefit. The story of the Big Friendly Giant is a popular one and does not fail to attract media attention.
Perfect your press release
Yet indisputably the most successful tool at your disposal to get press coverage and media interest in your business is a well-written press release, one that grabs attention and leaves a lasting impression. Ensure it is professional, includes all the essential (but relevant) information and use the first paragraph to sum up your news angle and tell the journalist why itâs worth the page space. Statistics that support your angle, any awards or accolades your business has won, celebrity fans or endorsers should all be in those first few lines. Demonstrate your confidence in your brand and your story and substantiate the fact that you are great!
If you are committed to raising your personal or business profile, then you should commit to PR. However, it is an investment and in most cases there is no instant, tangible return on your investment. Persevere and view it as part of your strategic business journey. You have to foster this relationship as you would any other; getting your business in the media of your target audience is just the start. A customerâs buying journey begins with awareness, followed by familiarity, then to purchase consideration and finally loyalty. If you are consistent in your PR efforts, awareness of your start-up business will increase with each new media platform that endorses you. Your business will become visible, it will enter your customerâs mind and, most importantly, it will stay there.
Intellectual Property (IP) law can be a minefield, particularly for start-ups and SMEs that either donât have the necessary experience or resources. As a partner to the Business & IP Centre and at our firm of patent and trademark attorneys, London IP, we work with small businesses to sort out IP problems that could have been avoided if the right steps had been taken at the right time. So, to help you avoid any problems with IP we have put together a list of our top five IP mistakes (and how to avoid them).
1. Being scared of IP and ignoring it
There is a myth that IP is an expensive business, and no doubt it can be. However, really you can spend as much as you want to. The UK official fees for registered designs are ÂŁ60, for trademarks fees start at ÂŁ170 and for patents ÂŁ230. Indeed, the official fees to obtain a registered design that covers the whole of the EU are only EUR350!
If you use a patent or trademark attorney to help you then you will need to pay their fees as well, but compared to the cost of many other business expenses such as rents and business rates IP isnât all that expensive. For example, the cost to get a UK patent granted could be anywhere in the region of ÂŁ1500 to ÂŁ4000 spread over five years or so. For a potential twenty year monopoly, and a halving of corporation tax (through the patent box tax scheme), that may be a very worthwhile investment.
Also, itâs worth knowing that IP law is actually quite generous in that it gives you free IP rights that you donât have to do anything to obtain other than create something that is worthy of being deemed to be protected. The most well-known of these rights is copyright, but there are others.
For example, any designs you create may be automatically protected for three years by EU unregistered design right, and for up to 15 years by UK unregistered design right.
That said, unregistered design rights are not as strong as registered rights as unregistered rights (other than the âpassing offâ right for unregistered trademarks) are only infringed by copying, whereas registered rights provide an exclusive right meaning that they can be infringed even if the original work has not been copied.
Thus, it must be recommended that you register your IP rights if possible.
2. Being fooled by scam invoices
The publishing of applicant and inventor names and addresses is essential to the transparency of the IP system as the public needs to know who owns a particular IP right.
Unfortunately, all this information can also be used by criminals, so if you do choose to register any IP rights then it is almost certain that you will receive one or more very official-looking letters from rogue companies that try to scam applicants for patents, trademarks and registered designs.
These scams can simply be an invoice that appears to be from a âpatent officeâ or a âregisterâ. The amounts of money requested vary, but are sometimes quite significant.
The UK Government seems to be generally powerless to stop most these scams as they are often run from overseas
3. Not registering IP at the right time
There is nothing more disheartening than a client describing what sounds to be a marvellous invention with a view to protecting it with a patent and the client commenting âitâs selling really wellâ.
To obtain valid patent protection in most of the world a patent application must be filed before any non-confidential disclosure of an invention.
So before you file a patent application for your invention you canât sell it, put on a crowd-funding website, use it in public, etc., etc.
You can of course talk to third parties in confidence without jeopardizing your chances of obtaining valid patent protection. You may wish to use confidentiality agreements with third parties just so it is clear that everyone understood that the discussions were confidential.
As an aside it is worth noting that all correspondence with patent attorneys is inherently confidential both under common law and their code of professional conduct, so using confidentiality agreements with patent attorneys is quite unnecessary.
Itâs not just patents though; many countries of the world require registered design applications to be filed before any non-confidential disclosure of a design in order to grant valid protection.
Furthermore the trademark system in many ways operates on a first-to-file basis so trademark applications should be filed as early as possible to safeguard future use of the mark and to minimize the chances of expensive and protracted disputes with owners of later-filed conflicting trademarks.
Many trademark disputes would never have occurred if a relevant trademark had been registered when use of the mark started.
In summary, IP should be considered at the very outset of any new venture to try to make sure that patent, trademark and design applications are filed at the appropriate time.
4. Ignoring infringement issues
It should be appreciated that IP is double-edged sword and along with protecting your own IP rights you need to careful not to infringe existing IP.
As mentioned above, registered IP rights provide the owner with the exclusive right to use the IP in the territories covered. This means that you may believe that what you are doing is original but you could be infringing an existing right.
This is the case even if what you are doing is in fact original as registered IP rights can be broader in scope than the thing that they were created to protect.
For example trademark registrations give the owner the right to stop use of identical and similar marks, and registered designs protect against designs with the same âoverall impressionâ.
Often we see clients obsess about protecting âtheirâ idea with a patent, and ignoring the fact that someone else might have thought of it before (perish the thought!).
So before spending money on branding, prototyping and tooling, try to make sure that whatever it is that you are developing isnât going to infringe.
If it does infringe and you canât obtain a license, then unless the IP can somehow be worked around you may need to completely reconsider your project.
5. Not understanding IP ownership issues with commissioned works
If you pay someone to build you a house then you own the house once the work is complete.
IP doesnât work like that unless the âbuilderâ is legally an employee, so problems regularly arise with commissioned works, where the person doing the work is paid money for a project, but is not an employee.
For example, if you commission someone to design a logo or a product, or to write something for your website then (unless there is an agreement in place to the contrary) the person that does the work will own all of the IP rights when the work is done.
Because this is so counterintuitive a lot of disputes about the ownership of intellectual property arise. Indeed, if the law on this were to be changed a lot of IP lawyers would be out of a job!
It is therefore very important to have a clear agreement at the outset of any commissioning process about who will own all the IP once the work is completed and to ensure that, if desired, any IP rights created are legally transferred to the commissioning party.
David Warrilow, Patent & Trademark Attorney London IP, on behalf of the Business & IP Centre
Posted by Innovation and Enterprise Team at 11:16 AM
Maria Grachvogel is a luxury womenâs fashion brand with a unique point of view of empowering women through effortless, intelligent fashion. Founder and designer Maria is a current participant on the Libraryâs Innovating for Growth programme where she is working with brand strategists, among others, to take her business to the next level.
Maria opened her first flagship store in September 2001 to fulfil a growing demand for her designs. In 2011 she moved the shop to a three storey Victorian townhouse which also incorporates the Atelier which brings the whole team closer to the women who wear the clothes. Maria quickly saw the value of a retail store to reflect and reinforce the brand as well as provide valuable feedback directly from the customer. Here she gives her six top tips for successfully running a flagship store.
Source: Maria Grachvogel
1. Retail is detail
When a client buys into a brand they are buying not only the product, but also the story behind the brand. It is therefore important that the environment of your flagship store tells your story- says something about who you are and the personality of the brand.
Our brand is effortless, empowering glamour. Women always comment on how amazing they feel in our collections and how many compliments they receive. This is because we focus on how something feels and functions as well as how it looks; therefore it was important to me that my store has a sense of intimacy where a woman can feel totally comfortable. The limestone floor and simple, open space work well with the inherent allure of my collection.
We have specially angled mirrors in the changing rooms, which our clients love as they show how you look from the back as well as the front and this demonstrates the thoughtfulness that goes into every aspect of the experience. I have used my signature artwork print technique to paint furniture, curtains and wall panels and use original Art Deco furniture to display accessories - all of which reflect the intimacy of our brand. It is important that your team are also equally passionate and informed about the brand story and the unique selling point of the brand as well as each product within the store.
During the Innovating for Growth programme I attended a branding workshop which helped me to see how the brand behaviours should be part of the detail in the store. One way of doing this is incorporating brand awareness into training with your team. I have now started, to not only train on the values of the brand, but I ask the team to consider how the client might perceive our interaction at every touch point and look at ways we can improve from the way we contact clients, how the team present themselves, how we are with a client in store, to the way we package the clothes.
Source: Maria Grachvogel
2. Customer service is everything
Your customers are the most important asset of any business. For most luxury retail businesses 80% of your sales are from the top 20% of your customers. Many of our clients have shopped with us for 20 years and each year the client list grows, mainly by recommendation from within our client base. Therefore nurturing those relationships, listening to customer feedback, learning about their needs and timely follow up are all essential to customer satisfaction.
I train my team to listen and then ask questions to find out more and we record customer comments on our daily report. These, along with any comments/ feedback from emails or other client interaction are discussed and distilled within our team meetings.
Source: Maria Grachvogel
3. Marketing is key
In any retail business, marketing is very important to attract new customers. We have regular events both for our existing clients, but also in collaboration with like-minded brands to build brand awareness and attract new customers too.
We are a luxury brand so we tend to use personal phone calls and emails to invite people to our events or let our top clients know about products they would like. We also send regular marketing emails which often highlight key pieces from the season or inform about new collections and we use social media to let our clients know what is happening in the store on a regular basis. In addition to this, we look for opportunities to increase our sales outside of the UK with London Fashion Week playing an important part in our marketing mix as it builds brand awareness globally.
Source: Maria Grachvogel
4. Manage your inventory
Fashion is seasonal, so excellent stock management is very important. This involves checking sell-through data, analysing the products that are selling well, buying these back into store if necessary and using sell-through data to inform future buys. Most Point of Sale (POS) systems have sell-through analysis within the system, but you can also easily create a spreadsheet for sell-through which is simply updated daily/ weekly. This should be checked back to actual stock to ensure the data is accurate and we look at ours constantly for reorder opportunities and monthly for analysing how we are doing relative to previous years and checking we are on target and have sufficient stock.
Source: Maria Grachvogel
5. Monitor and manage your data
We analyse footfall, conversion rates, sell-through and we also examine the reason the client came in and purchased. Was it because of customer follow up, because they loved the window display, they were recommended by an existing client or because of a marketing initiative? We have some simple spreadsheets I set up for doing this, where the team simply enter the data and the analysis is done. We discuss the reports weekly in our team meetings and in much more detail monthly, where we properly analyse all the data.
Analysing this kind of information is very helpful to know what is working and what is not and allows you to build on marketing initiatives that are driving sales and monitor client satisfaction (rate of recommendations and sales from follow up) for example.
6. Wow with your window display
Store windows are a very important marketing tool as they can entice people into the store. We always start with a seasonally relevant theme which will create interest from passers by and draws them in. Itâs important to consider the composition of the whole window, as well as using colour and silhouette, to create something impactful. We change ours weekly and try and choose a new theme each week and we always go outside and stand back as it allows us to see it from a customerâs perspective.
Retail is a constantly changing environment, so you have to be always evolving, learning and changing to stay ahead. I have found over the years that I have learned so much from speaking with other retailers, both local retailers to understand trends in local clients and footfall and general retailers to exchange ideas and experience. I have found most retailers are very happy to share information, so go and chat with your neighbour, the shop across the way and ensure your network has some great retail mentors.
Source: Maria Grachvogel
We are now taking applications for the next Innovating for Growth programme find out how you can apply today.
Innovating for Growth is part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund
Posted by Innovation and Enterprise Team at 5:06 PM
Prior to being a big business owner Paul started as Ellaâs dad and like many parents had trouble getting his daughter to eat. To encourage Ella he used games at dinner time to make food fun and he also got to work in the kitchen creating food that was not only healthy but tasty too. And thus the idea for Ellaâs Kitchen formed and started Paul on his journey from dad to entrepreneur to successful business owner.
Today Ellaâs Kitchen is the biggest baby food business in the UK, turning over circa $100m last year, with products sold in over 30 countries around the world. Paulâs vision driving Ellaâs Kitchen is to improve childrenâs lives by giving them a healthier relationship with food. Children are at the heart of everything they do - rather than aiming their products at parents, they make them appeal to the children themselves. Everything from the packaging and recipes to the names of products are directly influenced by children.
Photo source: Ellaâs Kitchen
As a dedicated dad and business man Paul is now focusing on a new start-up, Paddyâs Bathroom, a range of fun natural and organic toiletries for toddlers named after his son. Similar to the idea behind Ellaâs Kitchen, Paulâs new venture also has a social message at the core of the business model - for each drop of water a child uses to wash him/herself a village in Rwanda gets a drop of clean water too.
Here at the Business & IP Centre we were keen to connect Paul to other socially driven entrepreneurs. In February of this year we invited him to speak to over 350 small business owners at our Inspiring Entrepreneurs event. Paul gave invaluable tips and advice to other entrepreneurs looking to scale up.
In fact, Paul had used the Library himself at the early stages of researching Ellaâs Kitchen. Since then the Library has expanded its business and intellectual property resources and service to include a wide range of practical workshops, webinars, 1:1 advice sessions and networking events, delivered by Library staff and business experts. To date, over 400,000 people have used the Centre, with research showing that over a third of them are driven by making a social and environmental impact â just like Paul.
Paul had this to say about his new role: âIâm honoured to become an ambassador for such a game changing organisation. The British Libraryâs Business & IP Centre has the credibility, assets and potential to fundamentally improve the likelihood for any British entrepreneur to succeed. Itâs open, assessable and of such quality to aspiring entrepreneurs that Iâll be humbled if acting as an ambassador can help spread awareness and its use.â
Roly Keating, CEO of the British Library, is pleased to welcome Paul as an Ambassador; âWe are proud and delighted to welcome Paul Lindley as a Business & IP Centre Ambassador. Heâs a great advocate of entrepreneurship as a force for good. Paulâs expertise and experience will help us to continue to champion entrepreneurs and small business owners from all walks of life, helping them to launch and develop their businesses."
Join us in Liverpool, on 22 June 2016, to hear Paul tell his story of starting and growing a successful global business. Book tickets here.
Posted by Innovation and Enterprise Team at 3:02 PM