THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Innovation and enterprise blog

7 posts from February 2018

27 February 2018

The 6 steps that took Business Woman of the Year, Fleur Sexton, to the top

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PET-Xi’s Managing Director Fleur Sexton, British Chambers of Commerce Business Woman of the Year 2018

Ahead of next week’s annual British Chambers of Commerce conference on International Women’s Day, Thursday 8 March, we welcome their newly-crowned Business Woman of the Year, Fleur Sexton, Managing Director of PET-Xi Training to share her six top tips for aspiring business owners and leaders.

1. Build your network

Networking is about building long-term relationships and a good reputation over time. It’s about meeting business leaders with whom you have some synergy, getting to know people who you can assist, and who can potentially help you in return.

Look up your old contacts and give them a call. If you are setting up a new business a personal referral from a former colleague or client to a new customer can do much to help fast track your business.

There is also truth in the phrase ‘it’s lonely at the top’ when tough business decisions need to be made, decisions which aren’t appropriate to discuss with staff.  Surround yourself with other business leaders who can provide you with the support and advice you require as a problem shared is a problem halved. Always be prepared to return the favour.

2. Don’t be surprised when things go wrong

Don’t be surprised when things go wrong, it is part of the journey. Be resilient. If you fall down, get up, find a solution rather than wallow in despair. Businesses are not sanitized and both good and bad things will happen.

3. Empower yourself

Be resilient and be prepared to re-invent yourself. What worked today won’t necessarily work tomorrow. Time moves on, trends, policies and issues change, make sure you have the solution to meet the current challenges facing your clients.

4. Champion women in business

Real queens fix each other’s crowns.  Don’t lock horns with your fellow business women; create alliances to help each other be stronger together.

Support your female staff and accommodate the needs of working mums. One size does not fit all so reinvent the rules if need be.  20% of our staff at PET-Xi Training are working mums. All of them have valuable skills to bring to the mix so we make a concerted effort to try and make their life easier by providing free childcare on a daily basis. This has done much to strengthen camaraderie and loyalty.

5. Make rules to fit the people

Make rules to fit the people rather than find people to fit the rules. If you make rules to fit your staff and ensure you have a good work life balance it will be significantly easier to create a happy and productive workforce. Stressed staff working long hours typically don’t deliver long term. According to a report from Warwick University happy staff are 12% more productive.

6. Invest in training

Most employees have some weaknesses in terms of their workplace skills. A well thought out training programme will enable them and you to develop and strengthen those skills helping employees to feel more valued, confident and happy.

And please remember the ‘return to work’ mums; those who have had a career break to look after their children. Everyone has something to give but some just need a little help to sharpen up their skills. Train them and you can create close allies – and remember happy employees make happy clients!

Established in 1995, PET-Xi Training is a nationally renowned education training provider, working with hundreds of businesses and schools across the UK.

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Fleur Sexton will be one of the panellists for the Diversity in Business discussion at next week’s conference for you to hear more advice from her and other business leaders. You could put top tip #1 into action straight away by building your network among all the advisors and attendees who’ll be there. The British Chambers of Commerce are offering a whopping £230 saving on tickets – contact Rose Averis: r.averis@britishchambers.org.uk to get signed up.

BCC_LOGO_MASTER_REDBACKGROUNDThe British Library’s Business & IP Centre has been a partner of the British Chambers of Commerce for over 12 years and we have long worked together to help small businesses access the support and advice they need. Giving women entrepreneurs the networks, role models, skills and confidence they need is equally important to us and our Women Mean Business in the evening of the 8 March with Hilary Devey, Dessi Bell of fitness fashion brand Zaggora, and Precious Online founder Foluke Akinlose, will be webcast for free online so you catch it after the conference!

22 February 2018

Top 3 business resolutions for 2018

We asked three successful Innovating for Growth* businesses to share their top business priorities for 2018. From focusing on ethical production practices to planning achievable services that offer clear value to customers, here is how the owners of Asquith activewear, The Cocktail Lovers and Revival Retro Boutique plan to drive success and business growth.

 

A more customer-centric approach for Asquith

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Alice Asquith, Founder and Creative Director:

For Asquith this year it’s about really focusing on what our customer wants, not what we think she wants. We carried out a customer survey in 2017 and it’s really helped us focus on their needs. 

We are working with more influencers than before who will offer health tips, healthy recipes, free yoga classes - giving more added value to our Customer. 

We also want to raise more awareness around being an ethical clothing brand by filming our factory in Turkey to give our Customer a clearer insight into our Ethical production practices.

 

A focus on strategy and planning for The Cocktail Lovers

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Gary Sharpen and Sandrae Lawrence, Founders and Owners:

The timing of the British Library Innovating for Growth programme couldn't have been better for us. It clarified our thinking for the coming year, helping us to really focus. We are being very clear with our ambitions – specific timings, measurable goals and assessing required resource.

We will focus on actually leading our business – delegating more of its ongoing requirements through freelancers and project partners.

Finally yet equally importantly, we are identifying exactly how to grow the business – planning specific, achievable products, services and events that offer clear value to our customers and partners.

 

An emphasis on content for Revival Retro Boutique

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Rowena Howie, Founder and Owner:

It’s all about content not keywords for the website in 2018! We well be reviewing our messaging to make sure viewers better understand the what, where and why.

For marketing we are going to use our best assets (our staff and our products) to convince new audiences they should visit the boutique: we will be popping up in selected spots all around Greater London.

Last but not least, we will develop our own range of clothing further. Greater control of our product range, delivery dates and pricing without competing with other online retailers of the same goods gives us an advantage especially if we continue to listen to feedback of what our customers expect.

 

* Are you an ambitious business owner looking to scale up? Innovating for Growth is a free three-month programme to help you turn your growth idea into a reality. Find out more here.

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This programme is fully-funded by the European Regional Development Fund and the British Library.

21 February 2018

The top 10 tips for starting up an online business from the experts

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We gathered a panel of experts who have all made a success of running a business online, to find out what helped or hindered them.

 

The panel consisted of Tom Adeyoola, Founder and CEO of Metail, Rikke Rosenlund, Founder of BorrowMyDoggy, Karen Hanton MBE, Founder of Toptable.com and Sara Murray OBE, Founder of confused.com but more recently Buddi and Non-Executive Director of Bohoo.com. Each of them had plenty of advice for the audience of budding entrepreneurs.

 

1.       A background in tech is not essential

Although it would help, you don’t have to be a whizz at coding or know all there is to know about websites to be successful. Tom said “I’ve always been a strategy guy—but I knew enough about tech to be dangerous. You need to understand enough to know who you would need with you to solve the problem.” And Karen insisted “don’t be intimidated by tech!” Finding the right people to fill in the gaps in your own knowledge is a sensible move and you will learn who you need to help you do the parts you find more of a struggle.

2.      Find your people

For all our panel, finding the right people to work with was vital. “Don’t be scared to not know things—find people you can work with and conduct research,” says Karen. It’s a possible money saver for you, added Sara, “ask yourself how much tech knowledge do you need? Could you outsource to save costs?”

Tom agreed, saying: “Companies are moving towards Cambridge to get closer to AI research. Go back to where you studied to find your people. I co-funded a Phd student—he came to us instead of Google. He was interested in our problem and joining us to solve it, not how much he could earn.”

3.       Testing, testing

Rikke started out using the Lean Startup Methodology which essentially allows you to find a gap in the market where your business can solve a problem, provide a better service and (perhaps more importantly) allows you to find out if your business idea is even viable in the current market. She explained: “Most of you just starting out won’t have the benefit of unlimited pots of money, but the lean business model encourages you to use the resources that you do have in a controlled way, so you can be more efficient and plan for long-term.”

Having a safer way to test your business idea is a great way to start out and makes sure you’re in a better position financially if things don’t go to plan.

4.      Should you consider an app?

It could be tempting to launch an app as part of your business, but Tom explained that building web pages that are mobile responsive negate the need for an app. “They can be a hold up—apps take up space and people don’t want to download too many things onto their phone.” Perhaps further down the line you might have more time and funds to explore an app, but in the beginning the focus should be on the website.

5.      How high-tech is too high?

Much like not requiring a background in tech to get started, you don’t always have to use the most cutting-edge systems or tools to serve your customers. Karen used the example of her business of making travelling with your pet and suggested: “if you choose a life with a pet you are also possibly less inclined to spend time worrying about the latest technology, you’re too busy walking your dog!” By considering the demographic who will be using your services, leading tech may not always be the answer.

6.      Exit strategy

An important question raised was “should a business always have an exit strategy?” Karen answered “At the beginning I didn’t even know what one was—I learned terms like that along the way. Having one is not a bad idea, but my experience is that you should keep an eye on who might buy you out—but don’t focus on it. You might even partner with them instead.”

“It’s a modern term and I believe it’s detrimental to business,” added Sara. She paraphrased the great businessman Warren Buffet who said: “Build your business like you want to leave it to your grandchildren.” A business should be something you take care of and seek to grow rather than set out with a view to sell on as soon as you can.

7.       Money matters

“Don’t think about the money you’re going to make, think about the impact for the customer, make it about the difference you can make,” said Rikke. She gradually implemented fees for BorrowMyDoggy services, when initially it was free, but she offers more benefits to her customers (insurance for their beloved pet being one of them) that outweigh the costs, meaning they are more than happy to pay. Believing that you are charging a fair price and remaining confident in the face of a difficult sales pitch is no mean feat, but Rikke said that by building up slowly she kept prices fair and her customers trust her to provide a better product in return.

8.      Problem solving will help you find an audience

Tom explained “we live in a time now when it’s easier than ever to find consumers to test ideas cheaply. An exciting idea can be tested but think really hard about solving their problems first.” Once you know the problems or ‘pain points’ people have or experience when using a product or service, you can begin to understand the audience your business will be for.

BorrowMyDoggy started with Rikke noticing that dog owners wanted more options for dog care and that many people wanted to be able to enjoy a dog but didn’t have the ability to fully commit to owning one. Both these problems helped her to find a community of people her idea could help.

9.      Quit talking and start doing

“Beg, borrow, steal, everything” said Sara and “quit talking and start doing.” The panel had all discussed their ideas, but then they acted on them. Tom suggested asking yourself the first few questions: What makes your business unique? How are you going to get your product sold? Can you use tech to help? And go from there.

Make use of the Business & IP Centre” encouraged Rikke, “it’s a fantastic resource and can help you to take action and make your idea a reality.

10.   Stay passionate

The panel were unanimous on this one. Your business needs to be something you are passionate about – whatever it is. “This is a life choice,” said Karen. “A work life balance is great but it’s important to know that running your own business doesn’t give you much time off.”

Rikke agreed, adding “I’m a firm believer in passion – do something that helps you to enjoy the journey.” Building a business from scratch is daunting, but if it’s something you truly believe in, it will be so much easier.

20 February 2018

Why would I need a book for my business?

 Books mean business

You may not have included writing a book in your business or marketing strategy. Why should a café, an accountant, an accessories maker, a toy company or a software designer, to name but a few, have a book?

 

In 2016, as Writer in Residence at the British Library’s Business & IP Centre, I put on a series of workshops and the most popular by far was Books Mean Business, where I showed the many uses of a book in helping a business be more successful, how to get started and what was important to include. It completely sold out and we had to run it again a few months later just to accommodate those who hadn’t been able to attend the first session.

If you’re a business, writing a book can help you with:

  • Getting your brand better known
  • Engaging with your customers to turn them into your fans
  • Having something to share on social and traditional media
  • Bringing you a new source of income (as well as the obvious royalties!)
  • As a specialist in a particular field, consultant or professional mentor, having a book to your name will help you be seen as an expert and make more clients want to work with you

Writing a book may seem a daunting process but it can be easier than you think and with Print-on-Demand technology at your fingertips, your book can be professionally produced and selling on Amazon and other retailers a lot quicker than you think!

 

*Melissa Addey spent fifteen years developing new products at Sainsbury’s Head Office and then went on to mentor over 500 entrepreneurs as part of a government grants programme. Now a fulltime author, studying for a PhD in Creative Writing, she has written six books including fiction and non-fiction. www.melissaaddey.com

16 February 2018

Meet the entrepreneurs who made their mark online

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As part of the The British Library’s Business & IP Centre’s flagship Inspiring Entrepreneurs: Internet Icons event, a panel of entrepreneurs who made a success of online business gathered to share their knowledge.

 

Starting a business can be daunting enough. But what about starting up online? Do you need a lot of experience in tech, or can you outsource that to others? Will that cost you a fortune or is it cheaper to run your company in-house?

These and a whole host of other questions were answered by people who have been there, done it and (more importantly) made a success of starting up an online business. A panel of experts gathered at The Knowledge Centre on 6 February to talk about their experiences of making an idea work for them online, plus impart some important lessons they picked up along the way. The event was live-streamed online and at a record-breaking thirteen local libraries around the United Kingdom.

 

Taking the lead

Rikke Rosenlund talked the audience through how she set up her business BorrowMyDoggy,  a trusted online community for dog owners and dog lovers. Her idea was simple: to create a service that connected dog owners in need of help and people who wanted to experience having a dog, but perhaps couldn’t have one full time. Conscious of the very high failure rate of tech companies within the first couple of years, she decided to try something called a Lean Startup Model to see if her vision was viable. This is a methodology that allows you to test out your idea without investing too much so if it needs tweaking or rethinking, you will know before you’re too far down the line.

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Rikke’s idea turned out to be not only viable, but incredibly popular. She set up a landing page after testing the concept manually and within 3 days 85 people across the UK had signed up. “Doing it manually first, mapping out addresses and matching people and dog owners in person saved me both time and money in the long run,” she explained.

When it came to promotion, the BorrowMyDoggy community helped spread the word. “A friend with a big following on Twitter tweeted about it, the media picked up on it after an article appeared in Emerald Street and this was all while it was a little idea!”

Rikke finished with some sage advice. “Starting the business has been a fantastic journey but also incredibly hard. You cannot be perfect at it all—the Business & IP Centre can help. Find sources of guidance. Find people that will help you—and for free or cheaply!

 

Turning tables

Karen Hanton, founder of Toptable.com, comes from an HR background. Her time in recruitment was a great learning curve before working in digital—it was the late 90s and the internet was starting to be a thing. "I saw the rise of lastminute.com and then one night, at the kitchen table, my friends and I all started talking about our own ideas for an internet business.”

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Realising that more people not only had access to the internet but were confident booking holidays and buying products through it, Karen hit upon her own idea. “I wanted to give people the option of booking a service online, but holidays weren’t frequent enough. I thought about being able to book tables at popular restaurants and Toptable was born!”

Toptable went from strength to strength and had soon attracted attention from an American competitor, OpenTable. After selling Toptable to them in 2013, Karen wasn’t sure she would venture into online business again. But then she saw something interesting happening in the pet business...

She now runs PetsPyjamas which is in its fifth year, specialising in dog friendly travel. "Everything takes much longer than you think. Some budding entrepreneurs have expectations of 2-3 years for things to really get going and you should be delighted if it takes you any less, but building a brand or business is hard. It often doesn’t turn out how you planned.”

 

The perfect fit

Tom Adeyoola founded Metail  to solve the online shopping sizing problem. A holiday in Vietnam proved inspirational after his wife had some clothes tailor-made and Tom saw how much better the fit was when her measurements were taken into consideration: it inspired him to use AI and tech to make shopping easier.

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Metail uses computer vision technology developed from Cambridge University to create 3D virtual models of both shoppers and garments. You ‘try on’ any number of clothes in a virtual changing room, to see what it would look like in 360 degrees and find out whether it would fit.

Tom is an economist who likes to fix big problems. “I wanted to see if I could harness academic research and global scale, cutting-edge tech to make Metail work. Plus, I wanted it to be able to grow and compete with larger markets, say in the US". 

Because he’s using tech and AI to build his business, Tom is constantly protecting his new ideas. Metail currently owns 10 patents and has a further 20 pending. With Patents in mind, Tom recommended the Business & IP Centre for finding out as much as you can about Intellectual Property (IP). “Intellectual property is a game you have to play, and we actually had a strategic lawyer to help us out. Think about where you’re going with your business, the key territories you’d want your idea protected from key competitors. Use that information to help build your patent. It can be a long process, but building IP is important. ”

 

Constant innovation

Sara Murray is the founder of confused.com, but has since moved on. Her latest venture Buddi is her real passion now. “I’ve been working on Buddi since 2005, but people still want to know about confused.com, I guess because it is such a well-known name,” she explains. Using research to push boundaries has always been a huge part of her motivation. Although she went on to sell confused.com and could easily have retired in her early thirties, she knew she wanted to do it all again.

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“My daughter went missing in a supermarket when she was around four years old.” This prompted Sara to begin researching modern tech. "I couldn’t find anything out there to help avoid a situation like that in the future, at least not in the right size, so I decided to make it myself.”

Sara hired engineers to help her design GPS tracker small enough for a child to hold. “They were all too big!” Determined to get what she wanted, she had a clear objective: something imperative for a business plan. By 2008 the trackers were significantly smaller and better. “You have to make a product that people want to use – it might not fit a business model, but I knew people wanted it, so I set out to create it”.

To one of the most commented questions about how much money does it take to start up an online business, Sara has a simple answer: cash is king. “I’m very aware of turnover, but what matters is cash flow. The only thing that makes a business fail is running out of money. And it’s better to have less people funding your business than a lot—there’s less bureaucracy that way.”

 

 

* The British Library’s Business & IP Centre, supports small business owners, entrepreneurs and inventors like you. The team is on hand to offer advice, masterclasses and support for your business. You can visit us in the British Library at St Pancras, London six days a week, or one of the ten National Network Centres around the UK.

14 February 2018

Valentine's Day in numbers: a heart-stopping spending splurge in 2018

 

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Valentine's Day is upon us and our partners at Mintel have put together this handy report to reveal which retail event is closest to the hearts of UK shoppers.

Love is clearly all around us with Brits proving their romantic side by splashing out more money on Valentine’s Day gifts than Easter. Love struck Brits spent a heart stopping £620 million* on Valentine’s gifts in 2017, compared to the £575 million* they spent at Easter. And despite the challenging consumer outlook, Mintel forecasts that sales of Valentine’s Day gifts will increase to an impressive £650 million in 2018 - a rise of 5% compared to last year.

Valentine’s spending received a boost from a significant increase in average spend: consumers spent £60 on average on Valentine’s Day gifts in 2017, compared to £41 in 2016. By contrast, the average spend for Easter was just £41 last year and £35 in 2016.

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Older Millennials and men are driving the boost

Older Millennials (aged between 28 to 37) are the most active Valentine’s Day spenders, with 60% of them buying gifts in 2017 and spending £81 on average. Meanwhile, there is a big divergence between the sexes: over half of men (53%) bought Valentine’s Day gifts in 2017 and they spent an average of £72, compared to 39% of women who spent £44 on average.
 

Food and drink the way to the nation’s heart

Food and drink consumed at home tops the list of products Brits spent the most on for Valentine’s Day, reaching £128 million in 2017. They also liked splashing the cash on other romantic favourites, such as jewellery (£112 million), with flowers (£102 million) and clothing or footwear (£80 million) rounding up the top four purchased Valentine’s products. Spending on traditional Valentine’s staples, such as confectionery (£53 million) and greeting cards (£53 million), also generated significant amounts.

 

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Businesses such as Innovating for Growth graduates Lavolio Boutique Confectionery offer a Valentine's gift staple

Shoppers want more personalisation and experiences

Six out of ten (59%) Valentine’s Day shoppers think retailers should offer more options to personalise gifts, while over half (55%) think that experiences make better gifts than products. They would also like more inspirational gift ideas, with more than half (53%) saying they think retailers’ suggestions in the run-up to spring/summer seasonal events (including Valentine’s Day) are boring.

 

According to Samantha Dover, Retail Analyst at Mintel, Valentine’s Day is now the biggest spending retail event in the first half of the year, overtaking Easter by a significant amount. This year shoppers are expected to trade up as retailers continue to increase their Valentine’s Day ranges with both premium and personalised gift options, and tapping into consumer demand for quality gifts.  Shoppers are looking for creative ideas ahead of the 14th February, especially those that go beyond the traditional assortment of lingerie, flowers and jewellery, with experiential gifts one way to make gift suggestions more appealing. With more demand for personalised gifts, retailers also have the chance to encourage higher value purchases by offering services such as monogramming and engraving, which have become increasingly popular. 

 

 

Mintel is the world’s leading market intelligence agency. They cover 38,000 product launches a month and track consumer spending across 34 countries. Find out what they can do to transform your business by accessing their reports for free in the Business & IP Centre reading room.

*Estimated market size (including VAT), 2017

06 February 2018

5 questions with... Karen Hanton, a dotcom veteran and serial entrepreneur

From toptable.com, Europe's largest online restaurant booking website sold to Opentable.com in 2010 to one of the numerous start-ups she is currently involved in, Karen Hanton is an entrepreneur with experience spanning over two decades.

We caught up with her ahead of our Inspiring Entrepreneurs: Internet Icons event to find out more about her route to the top, how the digital landscape has changed since the early years of dot-com businesses and what are the projects she is currently involved in.

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What is the one most significant event that shaped your career?

Leaving the croft in Aberdeenshire aged 17 and coming to London... where everything is possible!

 

Toptable.com is one of the few businesses that didn’t just survive the dotcom crash, but thrived in its aftermath. What do you think was the key to its success?

Sheer hard work and belief as so many people were skeptical but we were in so deep we just had to carry on. And losing my house just wasn’t an option!

 

If someone were to ask you what does it take to make an online business succeed now and 15 years ago, (how) would your answer differ?

Oh yes it’s completely different today. Much more competition - if you have a good idea you will be copied within a terrifyingly short time. Corporations like Amazon have whole departments scanning the horizon for sectors to ‘invade’. Harder to hire and keep good people who have their pick of exciting start-ups with  bigger table football tables and beanbags than you!

 

Tell us a little more about projects and businesses you are currently involved in?

PetsPyjamas.com is one of them: the number one website and travel company for dog-friendly adventures. PositiveLuxury.com is another project I am involved in. Founded in 2011 with a mission to close the trust gap between people and brands, it identifies and celebrates luxury brands committed to sustainability. To earn the PositiveLuxury coveted trust mark, brands must pass a stringent annual assessment that examines sustainability from a holistic point of view encompassing governance, social and environmental frameworks, philanthropy and innovation.

 

What are your top tech trend predictions for 2018?

I think everybody knows that cryptocurrencies are here to stay. And only this week I have seen an example of AI first hand where we did a trial to produce a piece of content. With just a title searching Google, it was incredible how much relevant information and how well it was put together without any human intervention. Great and scary all at the same time!

 

Don't miss Karen's inspiring talk and hear more from our panel of tech trailblazers, join us for Inspiring Entrepreneurs: Internet Icons  on Tuesday, 6 February. See you there!