29 July 2015
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; it’s online and upwards to the clouds. Online accounting has arrived.
It may sound a touch over the top but it’s 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 ‘out of a box’ 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?
It’s easy to say the future is online but what are the actual advantages?
- Firstly, you can access it anytime, anywhere and aren’t bound to the PC in your office and you don’t 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 what’s happening with the numbers in your business, so it’s vital you can see what’s going on clearly. It’s 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)
- Company snapshots
- 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:
“Most online software offer 30 days trial period. That’s 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. That’s your opportunity to play with the software”.
Migration to your online platform
Once you’ve 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:
“Migrating data from an existing system can be complicated. It’s 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.”
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.
If, like most business owners, you sometimes feel confused about your finances in the business, the Business & IP Centre has help available: from how-to guides on running your business, to workshops including “Get Cashflow Confident” with our ‘numbers coach’, Johnny Martin.
Jeremy O’Hare is a Relationship Manager for the British Library’s Innovating for Growth programme, which provides £10,000 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.
28 July 2015
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.
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 ‘obvious’ forms of marketing. Today’s 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 public’s 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 – 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 customers’ activity. Create a 12-month plan including dates such as Christmas, Valentine’s Day and Halloween and think about how your brand and commercial activities can ‘latch on’ to these events, increasing your chances of securing media interest. The importance of forward planning cannot be overstated – be aware of media lead times so you don’t 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 it’s 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 customer’s 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 customer’s mind and, most importantly, it will stay there.
20 July 2015
Intellectual Property (IP) law can be a minefield, particularly for start-ups and SMEs that either don’t 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 £60, for trademarks fees start at £170 and for patents £230. 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 isn’t all that expensive. For example, the cost to get a UK patent granted could be anywhere in the region of £1500 to £4000 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, it’s worth knowing that IP law is actually quite generous in that it gives you free IP rights that you don’t 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 ‘passing off’ 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 ‘patent office’ or a ‘register’. 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 ‘it’s selling really well’.
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 can’t 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.
It’s 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 ‘overall impression’.
Often we see clients obsess about protecting ‘their’ 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 isn’t going to infringe.
If it does infringe and you can’t 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 doesn’t work like that unless the ‘builder’ 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
16 June 2015
Maria Grachvogel is a luxury women’s 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 Library’s 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.
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 by 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 touchpoint 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.
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.
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.
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 the 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.
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. It’s 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 customer’s 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.
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
26 May 2015
Here at the British Library Business & IP Centre we are excited to announce Paul Lindley, Founder of Ella’s Kitchen, as our new Ambassador. Our Ambassadors come from a diverse range of business sectors and bring a variety of specialisms to their roles in helping to raise the profile of the Business & IP Centre services on a national and local basis. We are excited to have Paul speak at our next event, 'Inspiring Entrepreneurs: Going Global' in Liverpool on 22 June.
Prior to being a big business owner Paul started as Ella’s 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 Ella’s Kitchen formed and started Paul on his journey from dad to entrepreneur to successful business owner.
Today Ella’s 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. Paul’s vision driving Ella’s Kitchen is to improve children’s 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.
As a dedicated dad and business man Paul is now focusing on a new start-up, Paddy’s Bathroom, a range of fun natural and organic toiletries for toddlers named after his son. Similar to the idea behind Ella’s Kitchen, Paul’s 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 Ella’s 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 – just like Paul.
Paul had this to say about his new role: “I’m honoured to become an ambassador for such a game changing organisation. The British Library’s Business & IP Centre has the credibility, assets and potential to fundamentally improve the likelihood for any British entrepreneur to succeed. It’s open, assessable and of such quality to aspiring entrepreneurs that I’ll be humbled if acting as an ambassador can help spread awareness and its use.”
Roly Keating, CEO of the British Library, is pleased to welcome Paul as an Ambassador; “We are proud and delighted to welcome Paul Lindley as a Business & IP Centre Ambassador. He’s a great advocate of entrepreneurship as a force for good. Paul’s 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."
15 May 2015
ChattyFeet is a quirky brand that makes people laugh with funny sock characters such as Kate Middle-Toe, Prof. Brian Sox, The Sockfather and others, and are currently participants on the British Library’s Innovating for Growth programme. Here are their top tips for working with illustrators based on their own experience with commissioning work for ChattyFeet sock characters.
1. Find references
We look online to find inspiration and discover creative work on sites like Behance and Dribbble, or just do a Google image search on a specific topic or theme. You can also search the British Library’s images online which gives you instant access to thousands of the greatest images from the British Library's collections. It is important to define what you are searching for. Are you looking for a realistic illustration, cartoon, 3D or vector graphic? Putting the style in your search query will help you to get more relevant results. Pinterest can also be useful for collecting references. Finding a reference is important for communicating with the illustrator and explaining what you are after. We had some help from the singer Louise Ashcroft to find the best references for opera singing. This helped the illustrator Dimitra Laskou to come up with the right style for La Diva sock character.
2. Review portfolios and styles
The simplest way to get a design you like is to find an illustrator that has already created work in the style you need. However if this is not possible make sure the illustrator you end up working with can diversify their work. If they only draw in one style it can be more difficult for them to adapt the illustration for your needs. When looking for illustrators we have found it useful to go to conferences and exhibitions to meet them in person and talk about your ideas. We met Captain Kris, a street artist, at an exhibition and as a result he created the characters Commander Awesome and Venus for our collection.
We discovered another talented illustrator, Muxxi, whose beautiful designs are featured on online portfolio platform Behance and we worked with her to produce a collection of four different colorful and fun socks.
3. Write a brief
A brief will introduce yourself, explain why you need an illustration and how it will be used. Be clear about when you need it to be delivered, the format, size and budget. Is the illustration going to be printed, published online or in our case knitted on socks? Do you need it to be created in specific software so you can apply changes yourself? Be explicit about constraints to avoid future frustrations.
4. Develop a contract
Writing a contract is important for making sure everyone is on the same page. While the brief explains in detail what is required in terms of the work, the contract defines the terms of the project. For example, when will the client pay? We recommend an initial stage where the artist produces a sketch rather than producing everything in one go. This will allow you to review that it’s going in the right direction. You should also agree on the amount of iterations or drafts of the work that will be included in the budget. Asking for changes is common but there should be a clear limit to the scope of work covered.
5. Give clear feedback
Sometimes your intuition knows if something is right or wrong, but when working with illustrators you will have to communicate this very clearly otherwise you won’t get the result you want. If you are struggling to write feedback, a phone or a skype call might work better. Try to refer to the brief and to what has been communicated before. If you give new directions that can be very frustrating for the illustrator and you might be asked to pay more for extra work.
We hope that these tips will be useful for you when commissioning new work. You can see the work of illustrators who created funny sock characters for ChattyFeet here. ChattyFeet are on the British Library’s current Innovating for Growth Programme which provides up to £10,000 worth of support for small companies with big ambitions – just like ChattyFeet. If you want to follow in ChattyFeet's footsteps apply for Innovating for Growth by the deadline: 9.00am on Monday 15 June 2015.
Apply for Innovating for Growth here
Innovating for Growth is part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund
06 May 2015
What does innovation look like? It’s a key question for SMEs looking to grow, but one that can be hard to make the time to address when busy keeping on top of day-to-day business needs.
Last week I attended our ‘Growth club’ at the Business & IP Centre – an event for businesses who have participated in our Innovating for Growth programme, which provides free support for small companies with big ambitions. The theme of the evening was ‘Unlocking the Growth Mindset’, and the event started with a talk by Michelle Keaney and Mike Straw of Inventing Futures, a business consultancy that works with entrepreneurs to deliver personal, organisational and societal level transformations (and successful alumni of Innovating for Growth).
Michelle began by highlighting the level of start-up enthusiasm in the country: over 580,000 new businesses were created in 2014, an increase on previous years and the equivalent of one new start-up per minute. However, not all of these new businesses survive – so how can SMEs innovate to make sure they continue to meet the needs of the market and remain ahead of the competition?
Mike spoke about the concept of questioning assumptions as a key strategy - treatingthe concept of innovation not simply as ‘new ideas’, but as a liberation from conventional thinking. SMEs should make time to stop and ask questions:
- Are we doing things in our business just because ‘we’ve always done them’?
- Are we reviewing the assumptions we’ve made about market, customer, and product?
- Are these assumptions still true?
Being aware of that ‘little voice’ in your head and what it tells you about your business can be an important skill.
The talk also covered creating the environment in which innovation can thrive. Leadership power was a key point, defined as ‘the speed from which you can take your ideas to reality’, and requiring the freedom and confidence to act on your ideas – Mike emphasised the value of creating openings for innovation to happen, of not dismissing possibilities, and of ‘planning in action’ – doing, as well as thinking.
After the talk, we were given the chance to chat in the Business & IP Centre. As well as business advice and support, the Innovating for Growth programme provides a great opportunity for participants to network with each other, and I witnessed a fair few business cards being swapped! Speaking to other attendees, they had found the talk useful in helping them think outside of their everyday work to focus on innovation and growth strategy, and were eager to share their thoughts.
Apply to now to receive £10,000 worth of business support.
Innovating for Growth is part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund
Sally Jennings on behalf of the Business & IP Centre
29 April 2015
My working day at the Business & IP Centre starts as I wake up from a daydream on the tube at King’s Cross, to the announcement “Exit here for the British Library”, which is just a few minutes’ walk away from my office.
I am on ‘desk-duty’ today, so head straight out to the reading room where all our information resources are located (and freely available with a Reader Pass). The day officially starts from 9:30am Monday to Saturday (except for Mondays at 10am), when the Centre literally opens for business. We take it in turns to cover the enquiry desk, where we answer questions from customers, assist with our impressive set of business databases and give information advice. Today kicks off with an elderly customer who wants a list of contact companies who make butchers’ cutting boards. It is his first visit to the Library, but he has impaired vision and also isn’t confident using computers, so I help him use the Kompass database. It takes us about 15 minutes, but together we are able to generate a list of businesses he can contact.
Today, just like every day in the Centre, half of our customers are brand new. During my two hours’ of desk duty I help 15 people with their research enquiries and download the information they require. These include showing our business databases, our hard copy market research publications, our trade and business directories and our small collection of business start-up books. I often refer people to our set of Industry Guides created by the team to help navigate our content by topic. In my experience most of our customers come in with a business idea but are unsure of what resources are available to help them get started.
Some people require help with ordering from our collection of 17 million hard copy publications using Explore the British Library, and to find publications sitting on our shelves in the reading room. Questions vary from a quick request for a login or download from a database, to a more complex enquiry that will take much longer. This is where we directly get to interact with our customers and make use of what we call the Reference Interview.
It is at this point that I meet Tg Tea Founder Sophia Nadur. She is researching a green tea RTD (Ready to Drink) product which she was planning to launch. TG Tea is an organic green tea drink that is also low in calories, so Sophia is looking for scientific and market research. I find it exciting to see the results of this kind of research in the Centre – and I have been promised some samples from Sophia so I can see what the finished product looks and tastes like.
Although the majority of our customers are business start-ups, we still have visits from plenty of patent researchers looking for current and historical inventions. We also provide help and advice relating to the other intellectual property strands of trademarks, copyright and registered designs. And our customers range from sixth form pupils, undergraduates, MBA students, academics, inventors, start-ups and growing small businesses.
I always feel proud to be a part of the Centre when I see our busy networking area open for ad-hoc working, small business meetings and of course networking. There is definitely a buzz in there today as I walk through on my way back to the office.
After my reading room duty I return to the ‘hidden’ part of the Business & IP Centre. There we work on telephone, email and Questionpoint enquiries. Today I answer questions on a variety of topics, and sometimes have to refer for help to other subject specialists within the British Library, partners and even externally. One example of a query received by telephone was an older lady asking for evidence of the ‘Iron Cows’ she remembered in her childhood. They were milk dispensers available from high-street shops, out of opening hours. Generally though, the queries are business or intellectual property related.
I check my emails throughout the day for queries received by the Business & IP Centre’s Research Team, who offer a priced research service mainly for patent searches (prior art), business information and Public Availability Dates (PADs) for use in legal cases. The client base for this service is international, ranging from start-ups and IP specialists to legal firms. Today I respond to a request from a regular client from a pharmaceutical firm in Italy for some patent-related information.
Lunchtime has arrived, so I stop for something to eat and head to the British Library’s staff restaurant. It is a good time to catch up with colleagues from across the Library. Today I end my break with a visit to the British Library Shop to see what merchandise they have in store to buy a present for a friend.
I head back to the office. Throughout the day there are various tasks or projects going on behind the scenes. I spend quite a bit of time sharing information I hope will be useful to the rest of the team. I share information, knowledge and best practice with other colleagues, departments and partners who deliver our services and projects. Each member of the team also run workshops in the Centre and are sometimes invited to run them at external events. We offer workshops such as ‘Beginner’s Guide to Business Information’ and ‘Beginner’s Guide to Intellectual Property’ to help customers understand and access information. We also host webinars which can be accessed by a national and global audience.
I respond to a customer who would like to book a Business & IP Clinic, and so pass this request to a team member who coordinates the clinics. These clinics can be really helpful to early stage start-ups, as a place to talk through their ideas in private with an impartial listener. Together we can get a clearer picture of what they want to do and the next steps they need to take.
It’s about 3pm in the afternoon and as I work with information, part of my day is used to keep abreast of the news, current affairs, business subjects and online content on social media. Social media platforms are one of the drivers of Open Innovation and collaboration that our team has championed in our Open Innovation international project. I frequently collaborate and connect with others to share information on hot topics, events and useful contacts. Social media tools are great for inspiration and marketing, and they allow us to share knowledge, insights and stories from both inside and outside the Centre. Today I share a story on ‘How to Run a Chocolate Business’ relating it to one of our Innovating for Growth programme clients Amelia Rope, who coincidently has a chocolate-making business and is featured in one of our success stories videos.
Occasionally my day ends late when we have evening networking events and talks. The Business & IP Centre Inspiring Entrepreneurs events have been running for a number of years and they take months of organisation. Usually it is all hands on deck to pull off these events and tasks are delegated to us to organise, host, attend, usher, register, network, market, tweet, blog and answer any queries that delegates may have. We have had a back catalogue of archived past Inspiring Entrepreneurs videos available to view on You Tube, along with screenings in our Business & IP Centre’s around the country and anyone can join in via our live webcast.
So now I have told you about my typical day in the Centre which makes me reflect on the perks of the job. Working at the British Library, I also get to see our exhibitions and our current one is celebrating the 800 year anniversary of the ‘Magna Carta’ and occasionally I have a wander around the Sir John Ritblat Gallery of Treasures (did I mention that this gallery is free for everyone?). I also enjoy attending an interesting evening (or weekend) talk on any topic under the sun, but mostly I love the sense of satisfaction I get when meeting fabulous interesting people, including the seasoned and budding entrepreneurs that come into the building.
This is just an overview of my day in the life at the Business & IP Centre and only scratches the surface of what we do. I hope to see you around the Business & IP Centre London in the near future and please do say ‘Hello’!
Seema Rampersad on behalf of the Business & IP Centre
27 March 2015
Self-service photography was introduced to the British Library at the beginning of January this year, and since Monday 16 March it has been extended into the Business & IP Centre here in St Pancras.
You are now able to use your own smartphones, tablets and compact cameras to make copies of collection items in the Centre. This arrangement only covers printed items and does not include taking photos of any of the databases on our computer screens.
You should be fully aware of Copyright and Privacy Laws:
• If an item is still in copyright you can only copy a certain amount. We recommend you only copy a book chapter, an article, or no more than 5% of an in copyright work for your own private study or non-commercial research purposes.
• You may copy more if you have permission from the copyright holder, but you will need to bring in proof.
• You may also copy more than 5% if copyright has expired.
• The Data Protection Act of 1998 and other privacy laws may apply to the use of any information obtained from our collections.
• You are responsible for any copies made which infringe copyright, data protection, privacy, or other laws.
This is a substantial change to existing practice in the Business & IP Centre, so please bear with us as we get to grips with the practicalities of the new arrangements. Please also show consideration for your fellow visitors by making sure your device is switched to silent mode before you start snapping away!
If you have any queries about the new service or, or comments about how it is being rolled out you can tweet @BL_Ref_Services or speak to staff in the Centre.
20 March 2015
Every business has intellectual property (IP) of some sort. However, when working out how to manage and protect it, it can be hard to know where to start! Below are some of our tips for businesses who want to begin understanding and managing their IP.
1. Understand the different types of intellectual property
There are many different types of intellectual property protection, covering areas from art to inventions. The main ones are copyright, trademarks, patents, and designs, but know-how and trade secrets are also forms of IP commonly found within businesses. Your business may have more than one of these types, so understanding how they work, how they’re protected and the differences between the different types is essential.
2. IP audit
Conduct a basic IP audit of your business. What IP do you have, is it protected, and how long does that protection last? Do you licence any of your IP to other people? Is there any associated costs/income? Putting this information together in one document will help you to plan your IP strategy, and keep track of your assets.
3. Check your agreements and licences
IP use is often governed by contracts and licences. If you are commissioning work, is IP covered in your agreements with the contractor? If you licence other people’s IP, do you keep records of the licences? Employment contracts often also include an IP clause, and you may have non-disclosure agreements to cover trade secrets. An overview of your paperwork will help ensure that you haven’t missed anything.
4. Embed IP within your business strategy
IP doesn’t exist in isolation from the rest of your business. Whilst IP can be a business asset, applying for protection often has associated costs, so it’s good practice to assess your IP strategy as part of your overall business plan, rather than separately.
5. Seek help!
There are plenty of resources for businesses looking to find out more about intellectual property. Here at the Business & IP Centre we run a number of workshops and webinars covering IP topics. Our next webinar ‘Intellectual Property for Business’, funded by the Intellectual Property Office, is coming up on the 27 March 2015, and will give you a good understanding of the basics.
For legal advice, the Chartered Institute of Patent Attorneys and Institute of Trademark Attorneys are good places to start. We strongly advise you to ask a patent or trade mark attorney before proceeding with using or applying for rights.
Sally Jennings on behalf of the Business & IP Centre
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