Innovation and enterprise blog

The British Library Business & IP Centre can help you start, run and grow your business

3 posts from December 2015

18 December 2015

Top tips for boosting your business’s web presence

Having an online presence plays an increasingly important role in business success today. Thankfully, smaller companies without a dedicated IT team or the resources to outsource, can now take advantage of user-friendly, affordable website creator tools to produce their own sophisticated sites. The process starts with choosing the right web hosting partner, and that can be a difficult decision for non-technical owners and managers.

The right web host will depend on a business’s unique needs and must support not only the requirements today, but also in the future. It’s important not to take this decision lightly and select the right provider from the outset, as switching web hosting companies can be time consuming and costly.

WorkYellow_003 (3)
Photo credit: Sam Lane Photography

Our partner UK2 has highlighted a few key areas small business owners or managers should pay attention to:

1. Start with a full list of your needs and choose a provider which offers easy-to-use tools

It’s important to choose a provider which fits your ultimate business objective and gives you the tools and services you need to make your online presence a success. Make a list of all of your requirements across technical and skills-based areas. For example, does your site need to offer PayPal checkout? How often – and how – do you plan to update the content? How tech-savvy are you? How much tweaking do you plan to do yourself?

You should also think through how you plan to build and market your site. For example, great swathes of the web are built on WordPress because it’s easy to use and customise, so choosing a partner with specialist WordPress skills and product suites will make the task more straightforward. Good providers also offer other value-add tools like SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) keyword tools and reports. These will be really useful in helping you to understand how your site it performing in terms of search awareness and the better services will also give you guidance on tweaks you can make to build online awareness.

2. Service Level Agreement and Support

The service level agreement (SLA) defines what you can expect to receive from your provider in terms of hardware, network and infrastructure uptime, and compensation for any downtime. SLAs vary in their scope and protection for your business, and you should choose one that is affordable but meets the minimum performance needs of your website. Take time to assess your minimum requirements, particularly in respect of technical support and guaranteed uptime.

The SLA should also cover factors such as variations in demand – if your business experiences an unplanned spike in traffic, does your SLA allow upscaling of resources to cope? Some web hosting firms charge for this extra traffic if it is not covered in the SLA so you’ll need to factor this in to the overall cost comparison of different providers.

Support is a key component of the SLA. Receiving notification that your website is down outside of business hours is highly frustrating and potentially serious. Initially 24/7 support will likely be crucial, but as your business grows you may want to have more control over your site and its performance, so support may not play as vital a role.

WorkGreen_012 (2)
Photo credit: Sam Lane Photography

3. How your data is stored

There are three commonly used types of hosting:

  • Shared hosting is where one server stores data from many different users. It’s a cheap and reliable way to host a web page, as it is likely to be fully managed by the provider’s technical support team. Shared hosting is the best option for hosting small business pages and for those who are new to the world of web hosting.
  • Dedicated hosting involves one server dedicated to a single user. Dedicated hosting packages allow users to have complete control over how the server is configured. As all of the resources on the server belong to one user, the user benefits from improved data transfer speeds (bandwidth) and increased storage space. It is helpful to have some technical knowledge before hosting a dedicated server, but not essential.
  • Cloud hosting is made up of multiple servers working together to provide more power and limit downtime, which means that if there is a problem with an individual server’s hardware another server can pick up the load and the service will not skip a beat. Do however, choose a reputable company as every site goes down once in a while and you will want to make sure your hosting provider has robust security measures in place.

4. Bandwidth

Bandwidth is the volume of data uploaded or downloaded by your site over a period of time, usually measured as bits of data transmitted per second. Poor bandwidth can make or break your website as it determines the amount of data transferred by visitors to the site. A site of mostly static pages, with no digital media content, will have a much lower bandwidth requirement than a site with dynamic content such as video. As a result, there has been a sharp rise in the number of ‘all you can eat’ deals in the market, as more websites adopt the bandwidth-intensive content that keeps visitors engaged on the site. These deals offer a level of protection from the uncertainty of business, ensuring that any unplanned spikes in visitor numbers do not cause your site to crash under the load.

This is not an exhaustive list of considerations and there will be some other factors, such as security and data centre location, that will play a part in your final decision of which web host to choose. It can be a daunting experience, but taking time to think about the areas covered here in advance of discussions will pay off. And a final piece of advice is to choose a company which has a reputation for good customer service. It’s important to know you can count on your web hosting partner when you need them most. 

To view all upcoming UK2 workshops and webinars coming up at Business & IP Centre, visit our website.

16 December 2015

Top tips for running a photography business

Turning a hobby into a business or turning a passion into a profession is a big decision and not the easy option to for those who want to ‘get out of the rat race’, or fancy ‘giving it a go’ because they are straight out of college with an A* in the subject...

Being a professional photographer means one of two things: you work for someone (although there are not many full-time photography jobs out there); or you go it alone, ‘freelance’ as self-employed or as the owner of a Limited company.

Whichever route you choose, going ‘pro’ fundamentally means getting paid to take photographs; and in an age where everyone has a camera in their pocket, it’s a tough business in which to be successful. Plus it takes time to build your portfolio, your client base and your commercial experience.

But there is the opportunity if you go into it with more than just a whim and a talent for taking photos. So, if you think you have what it takes, here are a few tips that might guide you:

Sam Lane Photography, Wedding photography shoot on the streets of London
Photo credit Sam Lane Photography

1. Be a great business all-rounder

It’s not just about taking good photographs, in fact about 95% of the time it’s about running a business. For sure you are the photographer (possibly the easiest bit?), but also the editor, the salesperson, the marketer, the planner, the accountant and credit controller, the business developer and the customer service exec. Having or getting a range of experience in some or all of these disciplines is the best tip of all. Working in a restaurant, answering phones or volunteering will all give you useful business/life skills you can apply to your business.

People buy from people and they are buying a service from you… it’s a lot more than just taking a few photos.

2. Decide on your direction

You don’t have to commit to one genre or have a special focus, such as being a ‘luxury wedding photographer’, but you should have a plan and this should include your overall mission, key objectives and strategy and, importantly, your financial goals. Work out what you want to do, what you need to do it, how long you think it will take and what money it will bring in. Pricing your work correctly is an art, not a science; you need to work out how hard you want to work to get the money in. Working for yourself means you have 100% control over how you spend your time and it is easy to work hard rather than smart – ever heard the expression ‘busy fool’?

Sam Lane Photography, Photography equipment example (Canon SLR Camera, Lens's, SD Cards, External Hard Drive and a Laptop)
Photo credit Sam Lane Photography

3. Market yourself

Make it easy for people to contact you. Simple business cards with your name, telephone and email details are vital and incredibly important for making and building contacts.

These days a photographer without a website is not a great comfort to a potential client who might want to check out your work - and there is no excuse when there are free websites and low-cost templates and tools out there. Get these basic marketing tools sorted before you go too crazy. Of course, social sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram can be helpful, but they can be distracting and time-consuming. Ask yourself ‘Is your ideal client likely to be on Facebook?’ If not, then perhaps this should not be something you spend too much time focusing on. Beware of throwing too much money on marketing such as advertising, wedding fairs, competitions and the like unless you are really sure it is going to reach your potential customer base and drive your business forward.

 4. All the gear and no idea?

Avoid the shiny toys. You don’t need lots of kit to be a good photographer or run a successful business. By all means, have a plan and invest when you know you have a project or client that will justify the investment in specialist lenses, studio lighting, additional cameras, etc. But do spend money where it is needed – on your core kit, additional batteries, memory cards, card readers and editing software licenses. Also, you will need to have Public Liability and Professional Indemnity Insurance too if you want to be taken seriously.

5. Never stop learning

Every photo you take should be better than the last – it’s easy to take hundreds and let the camera make the majority of the decisions. You can always be better at taking photos: composition, controlling the light and capturing the moment. And consider asking other photographers for expertise and advice. Most of us are willing to share words of wisdom and I personally believe there is enough work out there for all of us. Getting friendly with local photographers you admire and respect could mean they will consider recommending you if they are booked up.

There will always be a need for a photo so whether pro or no, always give it a go!

Sam Lane, Sam Lane Photography, photographing a subject
Photo credit: Sam Lane Photography

About Sam Lane

Samlane Limited is a photography services company providing a full range of commercial and social photography. Owner and Director, Sam Lane, brings over 20 years of marketing communications experience to the business and enjoys the challenge of working with clients to develop briefs and deliver images that showcase their brand, products or services in the best possible light. Sam has worked with the British Library on several projects and has attended events and workshops in the Business & IP Centre to continue to develop her skills as a business owner.

08 December 2015

How to focus your entrepreneurial skills

iPads, laptops and smart phones are now part of almost every entrepreneur's business arsenal, and with the tendency to do things on the go, it is essential to be organised and avoid easy distractions. You can learn to do almost anything if you focus, but entrepreneurs often have so much going on it’s a hard thing to do.

Here Dr. Stephen Fear, businessman and Ambassador for the British Library Business & IP Centre, outlines some key skills you should hone in order to be an entrepreneurial success:    

Acrostic, highlighting the word Focus

Learn to speed read

Speed reading is a skill I rely on heavily which improves my productivity, knowledge and education and in turn helps my business succeed. However, it is only possible if you are 100% focused on the task in hand. My analogy regarding speed reading:  if you were driving a car at 200mph, you would pass road signs – which although you are glimpsing them quickly, you would read and understand – as you have to in order to remain in one piece.  Therefore, if you scan a document whilst speed reading, you will understand the document and take in the information – as long as you are focused 100% on the task in hand.

Do one thing at a time

Dealing with more than one thing at a time is impossible regardless of what people may say. Of course you are able to run things through your mind which can appear as if you are thinking of lots of things at the same time. But in reality you are not, you are thinking chronologically at great speed, not simultaneously, which means that your mind is flitting from one thing to another, increasing your stress levels as it does so. Don’t fall into this trap: concentrate on one thing at a time, until there is nothing more you can do on that particular thing and then pick up the next.

Employ a clean desk policy

I have two desks in my office set apart by an old swivel chair which I have owned for a very long time. One desk is surrounded by files and paperwork. My in-tray sits on this first desk usually looking overloaded, and my laptop sits alongside. My other desk is empty.

Over the years I have found it very distracting to have too many things in my line of sight. I get agitated and feel overloaded to the extent it will affect my productivity. By swivelling my chair around and away from the pile of work behind me I am able to clear my mind and focus on the one file or item in hand.

Business & IP Centre Workshop.
Photo credit: Sam Lane

Do the thing you dislike first

Another technique that I have developed over the years is doing the thing I dislike the most first. Never ever leave it untill last. Attack it, get it done and watch the stress drop off leaving you to relax into the more pleasurable tasks ahead. So if you are putting off that phone call to the bank, don’t put it off any longer- just do it! You’re going to have to ring eventually, so do it now and save yourself the stress of all the things that ‘might’ result running through your mind all day.

Streamline your meetings

You also need to ensure that people around you are organised, this will in turn improve your own ability to focus and ultimately deliver. Always prepare an agenda ahead of a meeting and, where possible, share this 24 hours in advance of the meeting; list all the items in the order you would like them discussed.

Make sure that people are allocated individual actions post-meeting and ensure they take ownership of that particular task during that section of the agenda before moving on. Note the date by which the action will be completed and make a diary note for yourself.

Stay on the main highway! This is important because meetings have a habit of drifting if you allow them to. Don’t waste time by allowing personal discussions to develop during the meeting. There is plenty of time after for people to reminisce about their holidays!

Business & IP Centre, Speed Mentoring event
Photo credit: Sam Lane

Don’t be afraid to ask for help

As an entrepreneur you can often feel isolated and don’t know who to turn to. Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for help in order to help you focus.  Staff in the British Library Business & IP Centre provide hour-long advice sessions, to talk through your ideas in confidence and help you to identify the information and organisations which will help you develop your business ideas and a business plan.

Dr. Stephen Fear, businessman and Ambassador for the British Library Business & IP Centre