Acacia Facilities specialises in interior and exterior landscaping from design to finish, including garden, pot and replica plants, living walls (very Instagram-worthy), fresh cut flowers and seasonal decorations alongside maintenance services.
After growing up in a family of avid gardeners, Natalie had inherited the green fingered genes (her grandmother‚Äôs maiden name was fittingly, Green) and was destined to work with nature. After becoming inspired by the benefits of having indoor and outdoor plants, both in personal and business spaces, and spotting a gap in the market, Natalie set up her business in 1996 to improve wellbeing and transform spaces with plants and maintenance services.
Finding the gap in the market can be a difficult task, but for Natalie the best piece of advice she received was to ‚Äúbreak from the norm. Look at your interests and problems in your sector of business and ask yourself the questions: Are they things people, other than you, are interested in? Do people spend money on these activities? Are there problems present that people need solving? Are these things that make people happy? If any, all or some of your answers are a ‚Äėyes‚Äô, then you have a niche which could be profitable.‚ÄĚ
Natalie is also proud of how Acacia differentiates themselves from their competition, ‚Äúwe pride ourselves in offering a personalised service to our customers. We will provide bespoke services to customers‚Äô needs. We are always ready to assist at all times during our business agreement. Our customers are not just a number we know each customer by name.‚ÄĚ
Word of mouth has been extremely important to Acacia, with 80% of business originating from recommendations, which highlights the importance of the personal touches. Not to rest on her laurels however, Natalie applied and was successful in getting on to the Business & IP Centre‚Äôs Innovating for Growth: Scale-ups programme to help take the business to the next level, using the specialist tailored business support in area such as marketing, branding, intellectual property and more.
One of the most memorable jobs in her career, as Natalie explains was for the Shrek premi√®re, ‚Äúwe were asked to create a swamp style effect with plants and flowers at Somerset House. The outside grounds of such an historical building was huge and took a lot of planning, but the finished product looked amazing and exceeded the customer‚Äôs expectations and ours!‚ÄĚ
If you are already running a business and are looking to take it to the next level like Natalie, our three-month Innovating for Growth programme can help turn your growth idea into a reality. Find out more here and register your interest!
Posted by Innovation and Enterprise Team at 10:35 AM
September 2018 saw our biggest Start-up Day yet, a day of free talks, workshops, tailored advice, speed mentoring and more, not just in London but throughout our National Network. Our flagship event is designed to help the thousands of people around the country who have a business idea, but aren‚Äôt sure how to turn the idea into a reality.
The day is about encouraging and empowering people from all walks of life to start and grow businesses. Six months on, we‚Äôve caught up with some of the people who attended or who were involved with the talks and events, about what the day meant for them‚Ä¶
Madeleine Barnes won the Start-up Day prize draw competition and since then has attended workshops including Networking for success and Online marketing masterclass. Madeleine attended the event as she wanted to find out more about marketing as she is in the process of further developing The Craniosacral Practice in Highbury, Richmond and soon in Barnes, which offers Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy (CST), a gentle way of working with a light touch that interacts with deeply subtle rhythms and impulses in the body to assist with self-repair.
Madeleine came to the Business & IP Centre because she ‚Äúwas looking for some practical and alternative ideas for direction and strategy. I also love talking to people about CST and hearing their discoveries along their journeys, so any opportunity to meet people suits me. I came to the Business & IP Centreto explore strategy, ways to educate and to be amongst other people starting businesses, as other friends have for theirs.‚ÄĚ
Julie Boadilla, Reference Specialist at the Business & IP Centre since 2007 took part in the speed mentoring on the day, an opportunity for people to talk to specialists in particular businesses or areas, to help them answer some of their business queries. It‚Äôs also an opportunity to hear from the experts‚Äô experiences and learn from them.
Julie explains, ‚ÄúIt‚Äôs a great opportunity for people who are interested in starting a business. There is a specialist per table, made up of experts from within the Business & IP Centre reference team and our delivery partners, who can talk about their industry, or more general business topics, such as IP.‚ÄĚ
Madeleine had CST in her twenties for RSI and persistent headaches but it was a treatment with her six-month-old son that drew her in entirely. She'd had an interest in nutrition, Ayurveda and Homeopathy, for many years so it was an easy choice to develop her intrigue in CST and to embark on the three-year training course, achieving accreditation and becoming a practicing therapist, "the biggest present I've ever given myself!".
However, Madeleine continues to learn through the challenges of growing a business, ‚ÄúLife as a CST practitioner is unpredictable, but word spread. Some people come for five or six sessions to address an acute condition and others come for weekly constitutional sessions. Volunteering at a charity, helping people suffering from addiction, was an invaluable experience in the early days. I set up in Richmond at Neal's Yard which has grown and grown. I also occasionally do home visits which aren‚Äôt as easy for the practitioner but are enormously beneficial for people who are homebound. Having had hyperemesis gravidarum (the extreme sickness that also hospitalised HRH Duchess of Cambridge during pregnancy), I have known the loneliness of confinement. I am passionate to spread the word as I know how much CST can help!‚ÄĚ
Challenges haven't stopped Madeleine from being able to grow her business, ‚ÄúThere‚Äôs always more to do and further to go!‚ÄĚ which involves CPD, keeping in close touch with fellow CSTers (particularly helpful for referrals), seeing her own CSTer plus consulting with her supervisor on a regular basis, allowing her to grow her depth of understanding. It‚Äôs also involved finding her niche in a field where every client is different and has a different experience, and each practitioner brings their own unique touch, supporting clients past anxiety, low energy or chronic pain to live their lives to the full.
Anis Qizilbash, who delivered the talk on How to charge your worth, echoes the importance of the impact on your customer. ‚ÄúOne tip for people to charge their worth is, instead of looking at your expenses, costs, overheads and then coming up with a price, ask yourself, ‚Äėhow is your client‚Äôs life transformed after buying your product/service?‚Äô, or ‚Äėwhat difference does your product/service make in their life?‚Äô Continuing down this line of questioning gives you the confidence and certainty to charge more.‚ÄĚ
Anis is a delivery partner for the Business & IP Centre and runs monthly workshops on selling and mindfulness and started her business, Mindful Sales Training, after listening to start-ups and freelancers about their fear of selling and was inspired to help them. Her talk at Start-up Day aimed to give confidence to those who didn‚Äôt think they were the ‚Äėright type‚Äô of salesperson, but more generally, Anis highlighted the benefits of attending Start-up Day. ‚ÄúIt‚Äôs a rare opportunity to get inspiration, build a network, and receive actionable insight for you to take the leap to start that idea.‚ÄĚ
The day was packed with tips to take away with you, Anis‚Äô advice for entrepreneurs who are demotivated or lacking in confidence would be, ‚Äúavoid looking at social media because it usually makes you feel worse when you‚Äôre feeling so vulnerable. Instead, look back to how far you‚Äôve come; look forward to the lives you‚Äôll touch with your business; look within, remind yourself why you started your business or want to start a business.‚ÄĚ For Anis, the most rewarding part of her career is hearing the feedback and success stories from the people she‚Äôs helped. Stories like, ‚Äúafter hearing your talk I increased my rates by ¬£100‚ÄĚ or ‚ÄúI made my first sale!‚ÄĚ or ‚Äúthanks to you I realised it was in me all along, not something I expected from a sales coach‚ÄĚ. ‚ÄúThese comments fuel me and makes me want to do more for more people.‚ÄĚ
Start-up Day will be back in 2019 - we'll announce when booking goes live later in the year.
Posted by Innovation and Enterprise Team at 9:17 AM
Having a mentor at a crucial time in your business can make all the difference. You‚Äôve started your business, you‚Äôre working at least part-time on it, your website is up and running, you‚Äôre generating revenue ‚Ä¶ then what? You might feel you need someone to help with professional and personal development, give advice and encouragement, explore new ways of thinking, help expand your professional network. You might want to consider becoming a mentee and pair with an experienced and successful entrepreneur. Our mentoring programme, for those based in London, matches mentees with a mentor from our Innovating for Growth programme.
One mentee, Tina Bernstein, founder of Mapology Guides wanted a mentor as they can ‚Äúpotentially help you move mountains. They don‚Äôt do the work for you. They believe in you and lend a much needed guiding hand, which is priceless when you run a small business.‚ÄĚ
Sarah Orecchia, fellow mentee and founder of Unbeelievable Health agrees, ‚ÄúIt was a bit daunting starting my business in wellness, an industry which was new to me, and I asked my father, an entrepreneur himself, for guidance. He suggested getting in touch with people doing similar things or those with market knowledge to ask for advice which I thought was a bit mad, 'contact strangers?! No way‚Ä¶'. He said at least one or two out of 10 people asked would be flattered and would probably be chuffed to help. One of my mentors (a father of a child in my daughter's school who I approached), had built and sold a very popular supplements brand and was immensely helpful, he shared all sorts of tips and contacts and gave me the confidence I needed to crack on and was there, quietly in the background for years, offering up help and advice when needed.‚ÄĚ
Mentors will guide you through the challenging and rewarding process of running a high-growth business. One of our mentors, Amelia Rope, founder of Amelia Rope Chocolates encourages those who are thinking about having a mentor, ‚ÄúMentors don't necessarily have the answers but they can help you find your own answers. For myself, I value someone who is non-judgmental, open, trustworthy, honest, has a solid track record and top of the list... a very good active listener. Some of the time, as a mentee, you need to talk, to air undigested ideas/thoughts... be listened to. Oh and a sense of humour is pretty vital too! Always appreciate the time your mentor gives to you. They are doing it out of kindness, free of charge and as an altruist.‚ÄĚ
Tina also sees the benefits as a recent mentee, ‚ÄúAsk yourself: have you had bad experiences with people advising or guiding you in the past? Are you fearful of something? If so, what? What do you imagine would happen? Now turn it around and dream up of what could happen. Where do you see yourself in three years and how will you get there? These are all things that a mentor can help you with. They gently guide you, they hold you accountable, they are on your side, they want you to be successful. The most successful business people have had mentoring. The wise amongst us know that having a mentor is a crucial part in the journey of a business. I‚Äôd go as far as to say it‚Äôs critical!‚ÄĚ
Amelia Rope has seen both sides of the journey and has benefited from mentors during her business lifecycle, ‚ÄúI have had mentors along my way. I have found that the right person tends to appear at the right time and then leaves when they have shared what I was in need of learning. I see it as a 360¬į experience, people move into your world when you need them (even if you are not aware at the time) and then they move on when you have absorbed what you needed to absorb.‚ÄĚ
If you are interested in finding out more about our mentoring programme, click here. You can also find our FAQ blog with some additional information.
Posted by Innovation and Enterprise Team at 9:12 AM
Royal Mail published a report on delivery for online shopping, Delivery Matters. In this guest blog post, they explain how businesses can make their customers happy by making their online shopping, and returns, experience as convenient as possible...
As online shoppers become increasingly savvy, they look for reasons to shop with a particular brand. The perfect example of this is the growing trend of being able to ‚Äėtry before you buy‚Äô ‚Äď already offered by numerous retailers. This is a convenient and flexible way of shopping online and is proving increasingly popular with online shoppers. In fact, 76% of consumers said they would ‚Äėdefinitely‚Äô or ‚Äėmaybe‚Äô purchase more items if they were offered a ‚Äėtry before you buy‚Äô option, with shoppers saying they would order an average of three extra items each month.
With 17% of global retailers already adopting this kind of model, it‚Äôs important to consider putting ‚Äėtry before you buy‚Äô at the heart of your returns offering ‚Äď and staying one step ahead of your competitors when it comes to customer satisfaction. By giving people what they want (and expect), it is more likely they will continue to shop with you in the future.
One in three (34%) of those that return items have used ‚Äėtry before you buy‚Äô services. 18 ‚Äď 34-year-old shoppers (49%) are more likely to use a service like this if it was available. Clothing (52%) and footwear (39%) are the categories people are most likely to use this service for, followed by electrical goods (39%). Two in five shoppers (40%) believe they would purchase more items if a retailer offered a ‚Äėtry before you buy service‚Äô.
Reasons for returns
The average online shopper in the UK sends back an online purchase every month*. Over half (53%) of those that return clothing or footwear said the most common reason to return is because the item didn‚Äôt fit or was the wrong size.
The study, part of Royal Mail‚Äôs annual Delivery Matters report, reveals women are more likely to return something because the item is not what they expected. Men are more likely to return a non-clothing item because it‚Äôs incompatible or not useful for its intended purpose.
Clothing (75%), electrical goods (42%) and computer software/hardware (33%) are the most commonly returned items. Over half of clothing is returned because it didn‚Äôt fit or was the wrong size. For electrical goods, the most common reason for returns is because the item was faulty or arrived damaged.
What online shoppers want
According to the study, six in ten (60%) online shoppers will not use a retailer again if they have a difficult returns experience so it‚Äôs important to get it right. To keep customers returning to purchase time and again, retailers should make sure their returns experience is a simple and affordable one.
There is a recurring theme when it comes to what online shoppers want when they return items: ease and convenience. People want the option of local, easy access, as well as knowing they won‚Äôt have to wait indoors all day for someone to come and pick their parcel up. They also want to use a returns provider they can trust. Royal Mail continues to lead the way on that score, with over three times as many online shoppers trusting them to return their item over their closest competition. Shoppers need to be able to trust that their items will get back to who they bought them from safely to get their refund. With branches up and down the UK, people prefer returning items at the Post Office¬ģ more than anywhere else.
Speed of refund after an item has been sent back is also important, with 93% of shoppers believing it‚Äôs crucial to receive a notification of a refund after they have returned something. Almost three quarters (73%) of respondents think it‚Äôs important for retailers to provide clear returns information on their site and at the point of purchase, as well as wanting marketplace sellers to make returns information easy to find (68%).
Peace of mind and reassurance are key when returning items so it‚Äôs important to provide tracking. Not only does tracking allow someone to keep up-to-date on where an item is at any given time, it also provides the much-needed proof of posting and delivery which are vital when someone is expecting a refund.
‚ÄėTry before you buy‚Äô is a huge trend that appears set to stay. Smart sellers can satisfy savvy shoppers by offering them this convenient, flexible returns option. What‚Äôs also clear is that the returns process needs to be as easy as possible with many online buyers not prepared to shop with a retailer again if they have a difficult returns experience.
Factors such as speed of refund remain important, as does clarity of information about a company‚Äôs returns policy at the point of purchase. Shoppers now expect more from sellers and increasingly want to be able to return an item how they want, where they want and when they want. If retailers keep up with change and meet customers‚Äô expectations then shoppers will continue to buy from them again and again.
*Taken as an average from the research that revealed online shoppers, on average, returned three packages within a three month period.
The research was independently conducted by Trinity McQueen and based on a sample group of 1,503 UK online shoppers that make returns.
Posted by Innovation and Enterprise Team at 9:05 AM
To celebrate the British Library's Food Season, this month's Week in the life of... follows Frankie Fox, the co-founder and Head of Innovation for The Foraging Fox, a multi award winning producer of all natural condiments sold across the UK, Germany, The Netherlands and North America. Frankie is an alumni of our Innovating for Growth: Scale-ups programme.
Monday Starts with feeding the chickens and then the school run, dropping off the kids before racing into London to an office in Shoreditch for a feasibility exercise with an external consultant on some particular NPD (new product development) we have been looking at. This involves looking at the whole of market in our major territories for a class of products where we have gathered data ourselves and from our major importers. We look at the products themselves, whether they can be made within our brand values, potential manufacturers for these products, price point, competition, distribution and most importantly the size of the market, potential market share we could gain. It certainly feels a far cry from where it all began with our Original Beetroot Ketchup which started as a kitchen project with the children to teach them to cook with a surplus of beetroot and apples. We spent three years in the family kitchen developing this product, testing it out on family and friends. During which time I took pictures of all the condiments shelves in all my favourite stores looking for a market opportunity for our all natural flavoured ketchup. Once I was convinced there was an opportunity we worked on branding the branding and finally by booking a small producers stand at a trade show with a box of handmade samples to get proof of concept that there was actually a market before launching the company in earnest.
There are always emails to catch up on. My co-founder and a member of team are exhibiting at a trade show in New York and so it‚Äôs nice to hear how it‚Äôs going and I need to catch up with the manufacturers and suppliers on upcoming production runs for our existing product ranges, and calls with the rest of the team on various different ongoing day to day business. However, I need to dash back as it‚Äôs parents evening for my youngest and I make it to her school just in time to meet my husband before sitting down with her teacher.
Tuesday I start the day by dropping the kids at school, early doors as usual and go for a quick run through Hatfield Forest on my way back. It‚Äôs hard to fit exercise in around work and family commitments, so I like to make it part of my daily routine as much as possible. Running is time efficient and I like to be outdoors as much as I can as it really helps to clear my mind for the day. On a purely spiritual level, starting your day in an ancient forest puts everything into perspective!
I am working in the kitchen today on NPD (new product development) on adding products to an existing range and ideas for a new range altogether. This means a lot of time spent on research and time spent in the kitchen developing recipes by trial and error. I put music on whilst I work in the kitchen, and get all the ingredients and utensils out and plan what I am going to do. It pays to be really organised at this stage, and I fastidiously note down and to keep track of any changes I make with each version of any recipe. This is the favourite part of my job. At the moment I‚Äôm learning about a new type of preservation process, which is absolutely fascinating and I have spent hours on YouTube and looking at and trialing various recipes and ideas. I always feel a huge sense of excitement whenever I initiate a new range idea. The process from product inception to the shelf of a supermarket can be a long drawn out and painstaking process which is very involved and you need to invest a lot of time throughout the process so you need a lot of energy and passion for the product to take it through to market. When I am happy with a kitchen recipe for a product and have done the basic costings and understood price points by doing a feasibility exercise I will source and take the recipe to a manufacturer where we will work on manufacturing costings and their kitchen recipe to replicate my kitchen recipe. We have a confidentiality agreement in place with anyone we work with (read more about Trade Secrets in this Irn Bru case study). This next stage can go on for months, one product had so many countless kitchen version from the factory that weren‚Äôt quite right I started to feel so despondent that this product would never reach the shelf. It did, and I am really glad that we were so thorough and patient with this stage of development. When you are happy with their kitchen trial, then it can go on to the factory trial stage, which is a smaller scale version of full scale production the factory itself. This is when you may find you will need to tweak the recipe and method again to suit the machines, cooking and the factory processes. It‚Äôs always trial and error at each and every stage with larger volumes at stake but we are always learning.
I clear the kitchen, fill the fridge and shelves with my samples, file my notes, shower and get into my evening wear as I am attending an awards ceremony tonight. However, my daughter is competing in her first swimming gala after school today so I need to be there for that first as it‚Äôs on my way. I look rather overdressed standing at the poolside cheering my daughter and her school on in a bright red cocktail dress and heels - but she was amazing and so were her whole team so I am bursting with pride and have no time to be self-conscious as I have a train to catch! The event is the Chef‚Äôs Choice Awards at The Shard in London, it‚Äôs a Food Service Catering Awards event to celebrate the best products in the catering industry. We have created a new food service format for our range of All Natural Beetroot Ketchups to reach a new audience of customers - to date our offerings have only been available in a retail glass format. We decided to enter the awards to support the launch in this market, raise awareness for the products and the brand with wholesalers and food service customers and ultimately boost sales! Our OOH (Out of Home) salesperson is also attending the event with me to ensure we make the most of the event, speak to all the right people and get and convert these leads into sales. It‚Äôs a fun evening and we strike up conversations with other suppliers and wholesalers. To our absolute joy we win the Condiment Category and amazement we win the overall Product of the Year! I‚Äôm grinning ear to ear on the train home, everyone is asleep when I get home and so I leave the award out on the kitchen table for my husband the kids to see in the morning and we can celebrate over cereal.
Wednesday Drop kids into school, a quick run and then catch up with my emails and calls the team about the awards ceremony and decide who we need to follow up with and how. We put together a press release with quotes from the judges to send to relevant media contacts and potential leads. Interview with The Grocer magazine for their piece on the win.
Thursday Drop kids early and dash into London to meet the team in White City, the day is spent in and out of internal meetings. My co-founder and I tend to start the day with a management meeting, then we have a whole team meeting which gives us an update on what everyone is working on. Then we have a specific sales and production planning meeting afterwards to discuss sales figures and stock levels in all territories to manage stock and plan productions.
Friday Back in the Shoreditch office to do an in-depth taste testing session and follow up on the Monday NPD (new product development) meeting. Our monthly Board call to discuss work in progress and priorities. No day is the same and as a founder of a start-up business I have done every role at some point from bookkeeping, packing boxes, trade shows to in-store sampling sessions, so you care passionately about every single detail of the business even if you now have team members doing these functions. I always want to be there to support them in any way I can. It may be Friday but you never really clock off but it‚Äôs nice to look forward to spending the weekend in the garden, digging over the vegetable beds with the chickens pecking for worms - chitting potatoes and planting strawberries plants in the polytunnel with the kids and planting new raspberry canes in the fruit cage. Back to where it all started in the garden with the kids. Spring is my favourite time of the year, full of potential and endless possibilities.
Posted by Innovation and Enterprise Team at 3:36 PM