09 September 2020
Meet Patricia Gurman, founder of Sweet Paper Creations and Start-ups in London Libraries participant
We’ve all been speaking a lot more about our mental health recently. So we love to hear about businesses that are tackling mental health issues in innovative and creative ways. Enter Sweet Paper Creations: a not-for-profit business that is here to support those with poor mental health through crafting and creation. We spoke more to Patty to find out how the business came into being and how Start-ups in London Libraries has helped her to expand her vision...
'At Sweet Paper Creations, we make and sell piñatas, made from recycled materials, for any occasion in our online shop, where customers can also commission their own bespoke character.
The profits from our shop help us to deliver our “Make It and Break It” workshops, where we provide a creative outlet for those suffering from mental health issues, stress, bereavement or those helping support someone going through such issues.
As a Guatemalan who settled in Walthamstow 27 years ago, I have always made piñatas for my children for their birthdays as a way of sharing my Guatemalan cultural heritage with them, and making and breaking them together has become a family tradition.
In recent years, as my eldest child (Ali) had been suffering from depression and social anxiety, we found that making piñatas together was an ideal form of therapy and an opportunity to support her through her journey. Towards the end of last year, with Ali feeling stronger, it struck us that we had stumbled upon a potential support for the growing numbers in our local community who are suffering from poor mental health, as well as their carers and families who feel as I did: inadequate, frustrated and alone.
Our “Make it and Break it” workshops give others the opportunity to engage with a creative outlet, where they can work alongside us, learn a skill in a fun environment and talk about their circumstances should they choose to do so.
We joined SiLL to help develop this idea and since then our business has come alive; we have developed our online shop, sold more piñatas, and delivered three pilot workshops.
From the time I met Sarah at the Walthamstow Library, I felt reassured and confident to be able to develop my ideas into reality. She listened to my ideas, helped me to organise my priorities and to develop an action plan which includes looking at ways to fund-raise in order to deliver our pilot workshops.
Attending the library events and workshops also provided me with the opportunity to learn about legal requirements and to identify new opportunities to continue my business development. As a new business with limited experience, we believe that Sarah’s support and encouragement has helped us to be where we are now.
In starting my business, I learnt a lot, like how to organise my ideas, identify what ideas can work, and how to figure out how to implement them. I also learnt the importance of recognising what I am able to do and to achieve by identifying my limitations and then seeing these as the opportunities to develop in the future.
It is important to understand that everything takes time and does not happen automatically. I learnt to give myself time to learn and develop but also to make mistakes and to learn from them.
And so, if I were to give anyone who was thinking about starting a business advice it would be: attend as many workshops as you can. There is so much that we do not know at the beginning and, even if you are already trading, there is still so much to learn.
If, at the end, you decide to wait to develop your project, or if it is not for you, you will not have wasted your time as you get to meet so many amazing people and develop new friendships, which in itself is a win-win result.
Do not be afraid. Write all your ideas on a piece of paper and mark the ones that make you feel excited and motivated. Share your vision and passion with people like Sarah, who are able to guide you through your adventure.
And to anyone thinking of joining the SiLL programme, don’t think twice! It is the best thing you can do before you start your business adventure. Talking to them really opens your eyes and helps you to avoid mistakes, even though making mistakes is part of the learning.'
To see Patty and Ali's collection of piñatas, visit sweetpapercreations.com.
For more on the Start-ups in London Libraries programme and to book a spot on one of our workshops, visit our webpage.
10 August 2020
Meet Sol Ramos, co-founder of London Basketball Nation and Start-ups in London Libraries participant
There were a strange couple of months in 2020 where team sports were essentially non-existent. As they are slowly creeping back to normality, we wanted to celebrate one of the sports businesses who took part in our Start-ups in London Libraries programme. Here we speak to Sol, co-founder of London Basketball Nation to find out more about her business, how it came into being and her advice for anyone else thinking about starting their own business.
‘We are London Basketball Nation Ltd. We organise basketball tournaments and events related to the sport.
The business came into being after years of unsuccessful attempts to find where to play amateur basketball in London. We started in 2018 with the experience of being unsatisfied customers who could face a challenge. The CEO of the company (and my husband) is the coach of an amateur basketball team. I spent some of my weekends at basketball courts watching games but also listening to almost everyone involved in the activity complaining about the poor quality of the service they were getting. They were paying to do something they loved during the scarce free time they had, and they were having a terrible time! This concern was shared not just by players but by staff working for existing organisations.
What first started as a chat about how bad things were, ended up in more serious talks about how much better things could be, and we took the matter in our own hands. Having experience in the amateur sports sector and a multidisciplinary team on board was really helpful. We got the support of two experienced officials that have been giving valuable insight from day one.
I have a background in Management and I get easily bored. I was motivated by the challenge but also by the potential results. Seeing people doing what they love and making that possible is very satisfying. As someone who has several hobbies herself, I can also identify with our customers.
There was little to no information available online about related services so we conducted some research, talking to other teams and players about what they wanted. They were all looking for the same: good venues, but above all, sensible people behind the activity. We thought of offering an “all-inclusive” format (fixture, staff, venue, etc) – from the players’ perspective, they then just had to be there and do what they do best.
We set up a company (just in case “it worked”) in March 2019 and organised a short tournament in June that year to test the waters. Teams decided to give us a chance and we ended up organising a 7-month tournament for adult men (18+) afterwards. We are looking forward to expanding our reach and have not only more teams but also a Women’s division. We celebrated our first year as a company in March 2019.
I found out about the SiLL project thanks to a British Library newsletter around September 2019 and registered for the ‘Get ready for business’ workshop that was taking place in December. My SME Champion, Loretta, got in touch with me to know a bit more about the business and I shyly accepted a meeting. She talked me through the Business & IP Centre services for new businesses. I was amazed by the number of resources and support given to entrepreneurs.
SiLL helped us see the organisation as a business rather than something to do on weekends. It provided us with key insights and added value to our service. This is my first experience as an entrepreneur and I had to learn a lot about legal and financial aspects of a business in the UK, as well as networking; social media… you name it! There is a lot of information out there, so much that it can be not just overwhelming, but also misleading. The SiLL project served as a guide.
I would have loved to have known about the project from day one as I think it would have saved me tonnes of time and work.
Coronavirus has, of course, been a huge challenge. With people not being able to gather in groups and the basketball courts being closed, we have been forced to stop our operations during this period. It really is just me and my husband running the business alongside other jobs right now, and so we have had a real split focus over the past months.
However, it has given us some space to focus on our brand and the digital aspect of the business. My husband is a web developer and he was able to dedicate time to work on the website and to bring more functionalities on board. We are also currently working on LBN Courts, a portal to find and rate outdoor basketball courts. We think this will help players to get back in shape - both physically and mentally - whilst encouraging people to make the of their local facilities (and that way, diminishing the use of public transport). The portal will not only show the location of courts, but it will allow players to rate their features, and to organise training groups - always according to the latest government advice of course.
I consider myself extremely lucky to be part of the Greenwich business community. Loretta’s insights and support are invaluable. She is a connector, she puts together ideas to create new things, and people to make them come to life. She is always happy to have a one-to-one to talk about the progress of the business, and she makes sure I keep up to date by sending training and promotion opportunities. Not to mention she has such good energy! I am deeply thankful for her support.
I have learnt so much from starting up my own business – the main one being that everything takes at least double the time and the money than you expected/calculated, especially admin work! Reaching people is not as easy as it sounds, especially when you’re new in the game.
However, it has also given me lots of advice that I would p[ass onto anyone else thinking about starting their own business:
- Do your research: know the market, the customers and the competence.
- Someone has already done it: maybe not exactly what you are thinking about doing, but someone has already walked the steps to set up a business. Someone has already made the mistakes and reached success. Use it and share it.
- Be organised and have a plan: Having a plan, even a vague one, and keeping records of things you want and what you are doing to get them is really helpful. It’ll keep you focused, and with time it’ll give you information to analyse and understand what happened and why, and identify what can be improved.
- Be responsive: reply to everything (emails, calls, social media messages, etc) as soon as possible.
- Do not assume anything. It is better to talk about things rather than thinking they are a certain way. Ask for confirmation, repeat things, write down dates and meeting notes.
- You can’t make everyone like you or what you do, and there’s no point in trying to do it. Focus on providing a good service and listen to feedback, let your actions speak louder than words.
- You can’t control everything. Deal with it.
- You can do much more than you think.
- Just start!’
If you’re interested in joining the online Start-ups in London Libraries webinars and workshops, you can find all of the information at bl.uk/SiLL.
10 June 2020
Last year, Salma Attan decided it was time to turn her hobby into her livelihood and started her beekeeping business Bushwood Bees. She maintains hives on the roof of the East London Mosque, making honey and other bee-based products from her local source. On top of this, Salma offers paid beekeeping courses to beginners and provides guidance to experienced beekeepers. Here she discusses what convinced her to make that transition to business-owner, where the Start-ups in London Libraries' workshops fit into her journey and how she is dealing with the impact of COVID-19 on her business.
Both myself and my husband had been hobbysist beekeepers for 10 years. It got to where our hobby had expanded to the point that it felt like so much more than that. I had been appointed Essex Bee Health Officer, I had been teaching and mentoring new beekeepers as well as raising healthy local colonies of bees through our local Epping Forest Beekeepers Association.
Now that my children were older, the idea of starting up a business seemed more realistic. I also seemed to have more and more friends, family and neighbours knocking on my door wanting a few jars of honey and asking why I don’t sell online or have a shop! So there was certainly the demand, but was this enough to risk a start-up business? I didn’t think so. Honey was not going to pay the bills! However, the question naturally came up: why not use my skills for myself? And get a wage out of it? I have always been an advocate of beekeepers sourcing locally reared bees rather than importing, so it just made sense that I should supply this growing demand for buying local. This was far more of a motivation than anything else.
In the early stages of asking myself “Is this really such a good idea?”, I took part in the Start-ups in London Libraries workshops which made me realise that, actually, it was. The plan was sound, I had the beekeeping skills to execute the practical aspects of my idea and with the SiLL workshops I could focus on the practicalities of starting up a business.
The one area I seemed to have zero skills was technology! This is where Sarah [the Waltham Forest Business Champion] was a great help. She was happy to meet and give me plenty of ideas on how to get started. Sarah also let me know about where to get further free help to improve my use of social media in terms of business promotion – this is something I’m still learning but less anxious about. Sarah also gave me really good ideas for improving my business plan. It was helpful to have someone with fresh eyes looking at my ideas. She was willing to help put a pitch together, gave really practical advice and was able to give me fresh perspective on parts of my plan that I would not have had otherwise. After talking to Sarah, I settled on the name Bushwood Bees and registered my business under this name, an exciting first step after all the ooing and umming!
I set up my 'Beekeeping Experience Days' on both Eventbrite and Airbnb. I also agreed dates with the East London Mosque about hosting my Beginner Beekeeping Courses and listed them on Eventbrite. The website with the online shop was also set up and although it did take considerable time, eventually all my courses/experiences and website went live.
I also decided to give some free beekeeping talks in order to promote Bushwood Bees and all that was on offer. We worked with the council to arrange a schedule of workshops and talks, including family/child friendly workshops every day of the May half term at a different Waltham Forest Library.
Then came along COVID-19 and everything had to be cancelled. All the talks and workshops, the courses and experience days suddenly came to a halt. I did wonder if this was possibly the worst year to start a business! But this was clearly something I had no control over so no point complaining. It was a case of concentrating on what we could do in the business. Fortunately, as bees are livestock, the lockdown rules meant I was obliged, and indeed encouraged, to continue beekeeping. This meant I was able to take orders for rearing and selling colonies of locally produced honeybees. This has not been to the same capacity as it would have - had the courses been running, obviously the bulk of new customers would have come from those we would have been teaching this year - but I can't complain.
The other silver lining of the lockdown rules is the number of new honey customers I have gained. With regular grocery shopping becoming so difficult, it seems many people were looking online and locally for buying produce. After a few mentions on Facebook our lovely local community realised there was local quality honey on their doorstep. As the Ucraft have an Ekwid shop attached, customers could order and pay online and then collect from my doorstep during their daily walk or grocery shop. I was able to provide a completely contactless service and many of these customers helped to spread the word about Bushwood Bees.
Some of the talks we had planned have moved online, including one that was meant to be in Leytonstone Library. This seemed to work well and raised awareness of the business. We've also put up videos of myself and my husband beekeeping and sharing little tips and tricks for the beekeeping community. As my husband is also a beekeeper we are in the very fortunate position to be able to film each other beekeeping without breaking lockdown rules. This has also allowed us to continue offering support through our local beekeeping association and we have had further sales through this voluntary role.
In terms of my advice for anyone thinking of starting a business, make sure you have the support of your family! I could not have taken the first steps without the support of my husband. Think through your idea carefully and realistically. Then go for it.
I've also learnt that things do not always run smoothly! I expected things to go wrong (and they did sometimes) but told myself it’s all part of the journey and an opportunity to improve.
And hasn't 2020 been an example of that?! It has been an unprecedented year and a completely different turn of events in terms of my business plan. Planning is one thing, reality is something else altogether! But we have a lot of hope for 2021.
01 June 2020
Expert Impact curate the popular Profit With Purpose events, which regularly feature founders of businesses trading for an environmental or social purpose explaining how they launched and scaled.
The quarterly series of evening panel discussion events aims to provide business insight for new social and ethical enterprises and encourage existing businesses to seize opportunities to become more socially and environmentally conscious.
Profit With Purpose events are for those interested in how business can be good for both people and planet. Usually half of the event time is given over to the audience to ask questions.
Discussions usually take in the following topics;
- Motivation and experience required to run a social enterprise
- Startup finance and support available
- Market research and networking
- The challenge of making social enterprises sustainable
- How to measure the social impact of the work
Some of the social enterprises who have participated since 2018 include Rubies in the Rubble, which uses discarded food to make condiments as a way of reducing food waste; Change Please, a coffee company that trains and employs homeless people as baristas (both former Innovating for Growth participants as well), and Ovo, a green energy supplier.
Expert Impact created the Human Lending Library® which is now an in-house programme at the Business & IP Centre where leaders of social enterprises and charities looking for business advice can ‘borrow’ a business Expert, for free, to help them solve their challenges and scale fast. Hundreds of social impact leaders have benefitted from this service to date.
There are many reasons why social entrepreneurs seek advice but common enquiries include business development, governance, strategy, raising investment and marketing and public relations.
Most of the Experts have started and scaled businesses that have gone on to become very successful. Some of the Experts are serial entrepreneurs, having started and then sold several companies.
There are more than 50 Experts available, including the founders of Pret-a-Manger, The White Company, Carphone Warehouse and Mumsnet.
The Experts represent a full spectrum of business experience across different sectors including tech, retail, marketing, public relations, publishing and more.
For more information on the Profit With Purpose series, the Human Lending Library or Expert Impact, please contact Lee Mannion, Head of Communications, Expert Impact.
19 May 2020
Earlier this month, Start-ups in London Libraries - our programme designed to take business support out to high streets across London - turned one year old. We originally launched the project on 2 May 2019 at City Hall with an event chaired by our BIPC ambassador Dr Anne-Marie Imafidon and with a keynote speech from Deputy Mayor for Business, Rajesh Agrawal. Our ambassador, Tim Campbell MBE, who joined our panel discussion on the launch day, summed up the aim of the project: "everyone should have access to this business information and support. Libraries are not only books. They are about connecting people, social mobility, making a real change and impact on people's lives."
Since that day last year, over 1200 aspiring and early-stage entrepreneurs have received support from our team in local libraries across 10 boroughs and have begun to change the face of entrepreneurship across the capital.
Of course, given the current circumstances, we will have to delay our official celebrations for our first birthday, but we couldn't pass up on this opportunity to celebrate some of the incredible early-stage entrepreneurs who have taken part in the programme and become part of the fabric of SiLL. Read on for just some of their stories...
Salma turned her hobby of 10 years - beekeeping - into a successful business. Her company, Bushwood Bees, sells honey, bee-based products and hosts beekeeping experiences at one of her hives on the roof of the East London Mosque. During this period of lockdown, they have been running digital tutorials and demonstrations of beekeeping on social media and continuing to sell their products online.
It was the strong ethos behind her own beekeeping hobby that spurred her to take the leap: "I have always been an advocate of beekeepers sourcing locally reared bees rather then importing so it just made sense that I should supply this growing demand for buying local. This was far more a motivation then anything else."
She used the Start-ups in London Libraries programme to ground her business idea and get it up and running, particularly in terms of technology. About her one-to-ones with our Waltham Forest Business Champion Salma says "Sarah also gave me really good ideas for improving my business plan. It was helpful to have someone with fresh eyes looking at my ideas. She was willing to help put a pitch together, gave really practical advice and was able to give me fresh perspective on parts of my plan that I would not have had otherwise."
"The workshops are immensely helpful when it comes to developing your business ides. The Start-up Champions are great, they have real knowledge and can steer you in the right direction. And if they don’t know, they will they to find out!"
Ahmad's educational app company, Baracat Bros is going from strength to strength and his product, Foodology has recently been featured on ProductHunt, the go-to platform for launching new products. Designed with the aim of fostering learning through their interactive and engaging nature, Ahmad now has two products - Foodology, which focuses on educating children about nutritional value in foods and Bubblo World, designed for preschool-aged children.
He said about his experience with Start-ups in London Libraries: "I came out of the workshops with actionable advice like how to access funding, how to create a business model canvas and where to find resources to continue learning... Loretta [our Start-ups in London Libraries Greenwich Business Champion] is building a business community for people who want to pursue their own businesses and need the practical knowledge and the support network to do so successfully. I really believe that such communities are invaluable for anyone building their own business."
While studying speech therapy, Warda noticed how much of it didn't take into account culture and family background. Aiming to change the one-size-fits-all that she was witnessing, she started Language Waves, providing a fully-accessible and culturally diverse speech therapy service. Since registering her business (after taking part in the Start-ups in London Libraries workshops) she has been able to trademark her training manual, been awarded several funding grants to help further her business and received multiple top notch testimonials for her work.
Her local SiLL Business Champion, Loretta, helped her through the start-up stage: "I see her when I’m at different stages of the business. Her feedback helps me plan, focus and set realistic expectations for myself. Also her belief in my business has motivated me as she has brought out the best in me. I meet lots of people who want to start their own business and I always refer them to the SILL programme and Loretta. This is because it’s so accessible, well set up, and you know that you are getting advice and support from people who know what they are doing."
Charlie Boyd’s business, Firm Feet, focuses on various sessions to achieve movement and connection with your own body: "I recognised that movement was something I required for healing and liberating myself. I love dance and the type where I could feel as free as possible and let go. So I designed a session drawing on my qualifications and experiences that I knew worked for me so would surely help others." Her focus is on improving mental and physical health through movement and she has recently pivoted to develop audio sessions for people to use during this time of heightened anxiety (also designed with the aim of lessening people's screen time!)
Discussing her one-to-one advice sessions with the Waltham Forest Champion, Sarah, she says "Sarah has been instrumental in helping me gain clarity on moving forward and valuing myself. She always goes above and beyond supplying me with important documentation and hints and tips. I would say to anyone to not hesitate going to speak to your latest representative, there are only things to gain by doing so."
Sol and her husband are big fans of amateur basketball and her husband even coaches a team. Trying to rectify the poor experience of amateur basketball tournaments they were experiencing, they started London Basketball Nation. After setting up their company "just in case it worked", Sol organised a short tournament in June that year to test the waters. Teams decided to give them a chance and a 7-month tournament followed. They celebrated their first full year as a company in March. Sol says "we are looking forward to expanding our reach and have not only more teams but also a Women’s division."
"Start-ups in London Libraries' helped us see the organisation as a business rather than something to do on weekends. This is my first experience as an entrepreneur and I had to learn a lot about legal and financial aspects of a business in the UK; networking; social media… you name it! There is a lot of information out there, so much that can be not just overwhelming but also misleading so the SiLL project served as a guide. I would have loved knowing about the project from day one."
Haven Coffee is a socially-conscious coffee company. Each cup of Haven Coffee bought supports refugee communities across the UK, providing barista training for refugees building new lives for themselves in the UK. The Haven team also organise events to promote refugee artists and creatives. Usman, the founder of Haven, has recently introduced a virtual coffee scheme allowing customers to purchase a coffee in advance. And many of their events, including their art exhibition have moved online.
Usman took part in our first round of workshops and has received support from our Waltham Forest Champion, as well as from TERN (The Entrepreneurial Refugee Network).
Oz is the proud owner of The Scissors of Oz, a creative hair and healing Hub in Peckham. Her ethos goes beyond hair, providing a space for other womxn to test business ideas in collaboration with her and her space, exchanging skills and running workshops. A fundamental part of the business's ethos is 'breaking stigmas of conventional pursuits of “beauty”.
Oz is preparing for re-opening when she is able to and explains "my next step for our relaunch is to introduce more sustainable ways of hairdressing , use of products and services. I'm aiming to look into new ways of reusing items for environmental benefits and sustainability, as well as running workshops to empower people through hair."
She used Start-ups in London Libraries in Southwark saying "the SiLL project has given me the confidence and support every new business owner needs especially if you are going at it alone. My mentor Dean is very understanding and experienced and he is there to guide me with every step I take. It’s nice to have someone by your side who really cares about getting you to where you want to be."
As a 21 year old with English as a second language, accessibility was a key consideration for Channing Cloirec when taking part in any sort of business support programme: "I'm not well-placed to start any business without experience in the UK. SiLL is the best way to find exactly what you need with reactivity. Without SiLL I wouldn't have been able to realize the formalities of the company."
Channing's car export business, Channing's Shining Cars, is continuing to grow and develop. Since registering in July 2019 he has built a healthy profit margin, and displayed impressive growth of his business, including recently selling his 15th car! His new venture is called Pops n Bangs, a car lottery.
After being made redundant, Aleksandra was looking for ways of using her practical skills and passion for yoga into something that could provide a salary. Focusing on our ever-increasing older population, her idea was to create a specialised yoga and meditation programme to improve the quality of life for this demographic. She wanted to create a different environment for older yoga lovers, making it less intimidating, more welcoming and focusing on exercises that would help specifically with mobility. She has recently adapted her business, Happy Stance Yoga, to offer Zoom sessions for older isolated people to help with fall prevention and ensure they are getting their daily exercise.
And just a few weeks ago, Aleksandra ran a stretching and meditation session for our SiLL team to help us during this high-pressure time, so we can testify to her ability as a guide!
She says: "I attended all the SiLL workshops and it was breath-taking how in no time I learned about all the practicalities so I could move on and test my business idea. So many people have ideas, but they do not know there is a treasure box in the reach of their fingertips. It is free and highly professional, effective and tailored-made for each individual, each business idea."
Moses launched his Greater BRiTs campaign at the Start-ups in London Libraries Greenwich Christmas start-up market, which took place at Woolwich Library last year, after taking part in the core SiLL workshops. "These two workshops gave me invaluable information on the support available to business start-ups, most of it free of charge. As a result of information I received from the workshops, I was able to successfully trademark and protect my BRiT logo."
Moses explains: "the Greater BRiTs campaign came about as a positive response to heal a divided Britain from the feeling of general anxiety about the future of the UK post the Brexit referendum. The British people have the creativity, inventiveness, energy, perseverance and resilience to see Britain thrive." Moses developed Greater BRiTs with the mission of "celebrating Britain's Unity, Inclusivity and Diversity". Moses has designed a BRiT t-shirt with over 300 customised messages to reflect the diversity of the British lifestyles, personalities, professions and communities.
We may not be currently in your local library but the Start-ups in London Libraries workshops are now all online. Visit the Startup in London Libraries website for all the information and to register for the next round of free webinars.
This programme is run in collaboration with ten London boroughs: Bexley, Croydon, Greenwich, Haringey, Lambeth, Lewisham, Newham, Southwark, Tower Hamlets and Waltham Forest.
28 January 2020
We have been speaking to some of our BIPC businesses as part of our brand new #HighStreetHeroes feature on Instagram. Every Monday you will find insight into their business journey, their best pieces of business advice and you will also have the opportunity to ask them any burning questions you may have. Make sure to follow us to find out more about our buzzing community of entrepreneurs. In the meantime, as January is all about self-reflection, evaluation and setting aims, read on to hear more about some of our High Street Heroes' New Year's Resolutions, and how they are hoping that these targets can help their business:
Amanda, I Can Make Shoes
'My 2020 resolution’s to plan my workdays in 1-hour increments the night before. This increases my productivity massively. I’m also going to meditate in the mornings. This helps me keep a light-hearted happy attitude throughout the day.'
Lauren, Lady Dinah's Cat Emporium
'This year, I've set myself the New Year's Resolution of improving our sustainability practices, particularly when it comes to waste management, the chemicals we use in the cafe and reducing packaging use where we can for merchandise. Maintaining a stable and responsible business is always the goal for us: the hospitality sector and High Street in general are quite volatile and our goal is to continue to do what we are doing to maintain our current strength.'
Chloe and Abigail, Buttercrumble
'We tend not to set New Year's Resolutions. However, we do follow a mantra: refocus, refresh and restart. The quietness of January always offers an opportunity for personal and business development.'
Joe, Krio Kanteen
'My New Year's Resolution for 2020 is to not be so possessive over my business. I've realised that sharing responsibilities can be really beneficial for business growth. The trading of ideas and expertise also keeps things fresh and allows your business to remain innovative.'
Mickela, HR Sports Academy
'This year, I'm setting myself 2 New Year's Resolutions:
1. Stop being a control freak and trying to do everything myself
This year I will become better at delegating tasks to other members of staff and up-skilling people within the organisation to help ensure that I do not get overwhelmed with workload and I stay focused on developing the business
2. Take more time out for self care
Doing simple things like getting my nails done, having facial and massages, mediating and working out to enable me to relax, recharge and refocus. Physical and mental well-being is so important for everyone, and with the demands of running a business it’s easy to forget to do the little things which will prevent you from burning out.'
Natalie, Acacia Facilities
'This year, I'm going to step out of my comfort zone to develop new beginnings within my personal and business life, exploring new abilities to create a better life balance.'
20 November 2019
After giving up his day job as a Chartered Quantity Surveyor, Rupert Holloway, decided to set out on a new career path which he was passionate about, after some good, bad and ugly ideas, Conker Spirit was born.
What is the day in the life of an ‘entrepreneur’? for want of a better word – and I wish there was. Well, I can tell you he's restless, feverously ambitious and has a sense of entitlement to anything he puts his mind to. It begs the question, then, as to how this is balanced with life outside the business, namely (in my case) a happy wife and kids…
Despite this sometimes overbearing drive for achievement, I’ve somehow managed to shun the stereotype of working every waking hour of the day – being the part-time father, the absent husband…I hope this opinion is shared by my wife! I do have my weekends and the majority of my evenings are spent chilling with my wife, Emily, on the sofa.
I’ve mused over how I’ve managed to pull off this magic trick, and I think I can put it down to two main factors: by building a great team at Conker so that the fundamental functions of the business don’t solely rely on me; and by building my life and work around each other – they are not at odds, and most of the time not at war.
This work-life balance stuff really fascinates me. After all, it was one of the main drivers for ditching my day job to build my own business. Back then, six years ago, I wanted to even-up the stakes.
Today there is a less brutal split between my two worlds of ‘work’ and ‘life’, and also in the person I am in the office and at home. I’m no longer ‘bipolar’ in my persona. When I was a Quantity Surveyor, I remember the feeling of literally switching to 'Surveyor' Rupert as the lift doors opened on the sixth floor of that Southampton office building. Now, because I do what I genuinely love and nothing is forced, work and life seem less at odds with each other.
What’s more, my work life and home life feel like one and the same. Emily works part-time in the busiess and has quickly become integral to every decision and problem we solve. As a result, Conker is our (4th) baby. It really is a wonderful thing and I feel very lucky. I know that having ‘the wife’ in the office would fill some with wide-eyed dread, but for me, I miss her the days she's not there.
While my work-life balance is perhaps more even-keeled than the archetypal entrepreneur life might suggest, the real battle comes with being ‘present’ in the now. My mind is often full of the next Conker conundrum I’ve got to solve, rather than living what is going on in the room. It’s a challenge sometimes to remain 'present' and focused on the moment with the family, rather than deliberating the next major decision to be made.
Having made some drastic decisions six years ago to follow my heart in my career, I’ve realised that life is as complicated as you make it. There are days that can be very complicated indeed – more complicated, I think, than we are biologically and mentally designed to cope with.
A couple of years ago we bought a house a one-minute walk from the Distillery and the local school, further aligning and synchronising my work-life dance. With three kids to distribute Monday to Friday, our mornings are completely car-free. The school run I had always feared is now a complete doddle.
But the real gem is that picking the kids up from school is just a 20-minute chunk out of my day. I know that many people don’t have the same luxury, and I try and take it whenever I can.
While this makes me feel pretty lucky, I don’t actually believe in ‘luck’, or rather that’s not what I’d call it. I believe ‘lucky’ people are simply more ‘available’ to take up new opportunities and exploit them. It’s not a divine intervention, rather a flexibility built into your life and mindset that allows you to make the most of the best option that presents itself to you.
We hang an awful lot of meaning, guilt and obligation to what has been, honouring past decisions and investments, rather than seeing each new opportunity or challenge objectively. Shunning these shackles of the past is the real skill of the entrepreneur, and of anyone choosing their next subject at school or changing their career path. The key is being free to adapt and evolve to a new situation, and not making life so complicated that you are not ‘available’ to grasp it.
You can hear more from Rupert from the Inspiring Entrepreneurs: Leaders in Luxe event recording on our YouTube channel, along with the founders and co-founders of Jennifer Chamandi, House of Hackney, The Jackal and ME+EM.
23 September 2019
Keri Jamieson is the founder of KeriKit, a women's accessories brand that develop bags which cater for all sides of the modern woman and alumni of the Innovating for Growth: Scale-ups programme. The designs organise belongings, so for example, for mums there are insulated bottle holders, and D-rings to loop your bag onto your pram, but when you need to switch to work mode, you can easily add your diary, business cards and laptop. The designs are supported by the brand 'Kit' including all the essentials that you need for your day, such as travel wallets, purses, business card holders, PRAM clips, cashmere wraps, muslins and more. Here, Keri tells us what she gets up to in a typically busy week managing and developing her KeriKit brand...
Monday - Day at the Home Office
I get up about 7.40 and then wake up the kids for school which involves breakfast, uniforms, hair brushing, teeth brushing -the usual!- and a quick turnaround to get my three children over to our local primary school. Jasper is seven and my twins have just turned five. I then head back home to my home office via the KeriKit warehouse and collect any orders for the day, or if I’m lucky I can go to yoga for an hour before my workday starts. I’m all about work-life balance since I had a recent hip replacement which unfortunately didn’t go as planned, so I need to do exercise most days to keep myself moving! Balancing all this with the kids is crucial - I’m very grateful not to miss the important things in their lives whilst I balance my work and their schedule.
After yoga or the school drop-off, I check my emails and write a list of the things that need to be done - usually this involves creating a newsletter in MailChimp, updating or adding product descriptions, doing a video or flat-lay photoshoot, discussing PR opportunities with my PR company and looking at which influencers we would like to target, and then looking if they have posted the pic yet! I also have daily conversations with my marketing director regarding new ways to get KeriKit out into the wider world. I make sure I have answered all the questions and queries on social media too.
I now put time aside each week to schedule my social media with Buffer - before Buffer, I used to find myself working until eight or nine at night whilst I was supposed to be relaxing, but relatively small changes like this allow me to organise my time more efficiently, and have made a huge difference overall. Knowing that posts will go out automatically and to all platforms when I need, is great, especially as I have less energy at night to craft posts after a long day, and with the kids around. I find the morning best for working as the kids are at school, so I can really focus.
With the boring office things out of the way, I then get the enjoyment of creating new designs and looking at trends and colours that are coming through to see how they will fit Kerikit's USP of making life easier and more stylish, for busy women on the go.
I tend to work through lunch so I juice quite regularly, which means my lunch is ready to go and I don’t need to stop for long. Usually I take the kids to after-school activities at 15.30 and then if I’m lucky my day ends at 17.30, so I can prepare dinner for the children and sit down for a family meal with them. After bath time is done, I tend to pop back upstairs and process any orders for the next day so they are left out ready to be packed and processed by my darling mother, who helps me everyday with order fulfilment and accounts - she is 71, bless her!
Bed by 23.00!
Tuesday - Photoshoot in Manchester
It's an early start today, waking up at 6.00. Today is all about creating new photo content as I drive from Chester to Manchester to meet our Manchester-based fashion photographer, Rosie. We recce (scope out) the locations we have pre-planned to check they are as we need them to be with lighting etc, and then get the outfits ready with the bags that we are shooting with. Today I am modelling again (although I much prefer using professionals, and staying behind the scenes!) as we need a few more shots of me with the new bag styles we are launching.
I am always trying to create beautiful things that make women's life easier and I hope to expand my range in the future to include luggage accessories and other Kit items that support you through your day. The business has just gone through a full rebrand and we are focusing our efforts on an edited collection of perfect items that work seamlessly together, with limited seasonal drops. The rebrand involved a new website, new logo, new fonts, new colours, new imagery - pretty much everything - but retaining the KeriKit feel, which I'm really proud of.
At 12.30 we break for lunch, and Rosie and my good friend and stylist Helen are pretty exhausted as I can be quite a task master when there is a to-do list to work through! Despite my dodgy hip, my energy is high, and we finish the rest of the shot list with a lot of laughter and smiles.
I'm home by 20.00, to have dinner with the hubby and kiss the kids goodnight, before falling into bed at 22.00!
Wednesday - Meeting in Warrington
This morning I am heading to a meeting with my marketing director and our web developers to review the latest site updates and discuss future plans. I arrive for the meeting at 10.00 and we are hammering out the details right across lunch, having some tasty sandwiches and salads as we go. I leave the meeting at 15.00, and head home to carry on working from there. I respond to urgent emails and note that my to-do list is pretty light for the rest of the day.
If I ever get to the bottom of my to-do list (which I admit is rare!) I try to look at more strategic things within my business such as targets for next year, ways to be more streamlined, any new systems or applications that will enable me to get the job done more quickly, or improve my website. As I mentioned previously, Buffer is one of the new additions which saves time by allowing me to create all my social media in one go, and I also use Trello which is great for creating lists and making sure I get the job done. Otherwise I use freelancers from various online platforms to help with graphics and PPC. As the business grows, we are looking at other markets and although we have some great success in America, I hope to branch out into Europe and the Far East next. But we do intend to prioritise our own online business now as the margins are far better, and customers are perfectly used to buying online nowadays. We’ve taken the decision not to sell wholesale to retail stores as we have struggled to make the finances work - we would rather pass any savings on to the customer.
I finish the day at 17.30 and make the kids dinner before taking a long luxurious bath, and getting dinner ready for hubby and me. I hit the hay at around 23.30.
Thursday - Film Crew Arrive
Today we have a film crew visiting to capture a 'day in the life' at KeriKit for a UK media company, and get the lowdown on all things KeriKit. It's a busy start to the morning getting the house ready around the kids breakfasts and school prep, but by 8.30 the house is quiet and almost ready for it's close-up. I spend time strategically placing KeriKit items around the house so that whatever shots are taken, we can be sure some product always sneaks into view! The crew arrive at 9.00 and once we have found the perfect place to capture me and our hero KeriKit styles, we get straight into filming. It's so lovely that the women in the crew start cooing over each product as I show them some of our bestsellers, and gorgeous new arrivals. Its so nice when I receive genuine feedback, and it always amazes me how surprised industry-types are by the exceptional quality and craftsmanship - exceeding expectations has become pretty commonplace for KeriKit, and fortunately a few sales are made before the video is even released!
We finish up the filming at 16.30 and I take some time to curl up with a good book on the sofa, before the kids get back from their after-school activities. I relish the time to unwind and 'come down' from my filming high, and feel much more relaxed as I get dinner on and tell the kids about my day, and hear about theirs. After dinner I catch-up with Instagram comments and requests, and get to bed at about 22.30.
Friday - Day at the home office
After a very busy week, it's nice to get back in the office and deal with more admin-y type stuff, and tie up some loose ends that have been niggling at me all week. I really like to feel organised and in control, but when you're juggling a growing business and family life, it's not easy to maintain. I have found that if I let it get to me each day, I would probably go mad! So when I can take the time to get myself back on track and clear out anything that can be dealt with, I really love to do that. (Must be the Virgo in me!). I finish the day with what is fast-becoming a must-do on a Friday night for our community of Kitgirls - Facebook Live Friday. This involves me speaking to camera and sharing our latest samples or new stock with our Kitgirls, to get their advice on how they would use the items, and preferences on which colours and styles we should buy for the coming seasons. I love having the ability to read their comments on the feed in realtime, and respond on camera. As a small business with limited buying budgets for all the amazing things we'd like to, unfortunately we must always compromise, but having our Kitgirls support to make those decisions definitely helps me sleep better at night! We cant keep everyone happy all of the time, but our amazing community really understand our constraints and try to advise me within those, which is phenomenal. I finish the recording with a nice glass of wine and some easy-watching TV with my lovely husband.
The weekend is family-focused (with only a few little emails being sent!) and I feel really blessed to have so much love and support in my life, always helping me to be ready to do it all again next week!
If you are interested in seeing a day in the life of KeriKit, head to our YouTube channel (@KerikitEngland) where you can get more insight into my routine and the business I run around my family.
06 September 2019
Follow JRPass' Director through the Innovating for Growth programme: Maximising your intellectual property
Each quarter, we pick 18 high-growth businesses to take part in our Innovating for Growth: Scale-ups programme, where businesses receive £10,000 worth of tailored and bespoke business support and advice. Not only do businesses gain three months of guidance, they also receive automatic membership to our Growth Club and their own Relationship Manager.
This quarter, we’re following Haroun, Director of JRPass, a train travel company for those exploring Japan by rail. Haroun will talk us through each session as he progresses through the programme to get the successes and challenges of what it’s like to run a growing businesses. You can see Haroun's previous posts about financial management, product innovation, marketing strategy, branding and research and developing a growth strategy on our blog. In his latest diary entry, Haroun discusses what he learnt in his one-on-one session on intellectual property and how it’s important to every business...
Again this session was really packed and I had a lot of questions for our advisor from Briffa who are Intellectual Property legal specialists. We covered the following main areas:
Copyright – Since the founding of the company we have used a lot of designers for our website. Many get caught by this, but the default position for designs is that copyright remains with the designer unless signed over. We discussed having everything in place contractually for our external contributors to sign over rights as necessary.
Trademarks – We discussed our current situation with regards to current trademarks and opportunities going forward both in the UK and US now that our website is well established. This is really important when you have spent a lot of time and money in creating a brand. You need to protect that goodwill and mind-space effectively.
Commercial Contracts – We reviewed our external contracts with third parties e.g. developers to ensure that our IP is fully protected and cannot be exploited by others.
Data Protection – I’m sure we have all been grappling with GDPR ad nauseam and Data Privacy! Once again we reviewed and ensured that we had proper policies in place that are tailored for your specific company, and reflected this in our terms and conditions and on our website. For us, as a company who depends on online payments, this also feeds into PSD2 and SCA changes which are coming in September (you can read more about the changes here: https://www.visa.co.uk/dam/VCOM/regional/ve/unitedkingdom/PDF/visa-preparing-for-psd2-sca-publication-version-1-1-05-12-18-002-final.pdf).
HR – We agreed to review and incorporate IP and Data Protection in our employee contracts. This is something that did not occur to me previously so was good to catch this one.
As you can see there was a ton covered here and a lot of i’s to dot and t’s to cross that can affect your daily working practices. I think we have been ok with these areas previously, but as any company expands rapidly it is easy to lose sight of these basic legal protections and responsibilities to the point that it could easily prove to be a banana skin down the road. It’s the type of thing that many companies just kick down the road or ignore until it’s too late as we all would prefer to concentrate on the fundamental nuts and bolts of our companies. However it is really important to make sure this is all organised competently and safely, and this session really brought that home.
04 September 2019
Each quarter, we pick 18 high-growth businesses to take part in our Innovating for Growth: Scale-ups programme, where businesses receive £10,000 worth of tailored and bespoke business support and advice. Not only do businesses gain three months of guidance, they also receive automatic membership to our Growth Club and their own Relationship Manager.
This quarter, we’re following Haroun, Director of JRPass, a train travel company for those exploring Japan by rail. Haroun will talk us through each session as he progresses through the programme to get the successes and challenges of what it’s like to run a growing businesses. You can see Haroun's previous posts about product innovation, marketing strategy, branding and research and developing a growth strategy on our blog. In his latest diary entry, Haroun discusses what he learnt in his one-on-one session on financial management, a new module on the programme...
This week I had my financial management session with an adviser from MetaValue, a well-established business consulting firm. The adviser was very helpful and ever so patient as I peppered her with questions to the point that we overran our allotted session time. We covered a lot, including areas such as price sensitivity analysis and company structure. But the three main takeaways I had from our session were:
New Opportunity Margins
As I’m sure you can understand, I can’t go into detail about this element of our discussion, but there is a good opportunity for an ambitious expansion for JRPass into a new area. In my one-on-one we looked at modelling the potential income, factoring in our suppositions and working out potential profit. This was useful in guiding us on how we test and tweak the model to help us achieve profitability. We have previously done some price sensitivity testing with services such as our meet and greet service.
I actually laughed when this was mentioned as we have grown organically and haven’t spent a lot of time on developing an actual plan for growth, however given that the business is now entering a new area we agreed that we should put together a strategy around the investment and costs required e.g. covering new hires and forecasts for pricing and volumes. I was provided with some example spreadsheets with pre-built formulae to do this as well as for the financial modelling that I previously mentioned. You can see one of these below.
Our priority has always been to grow and scale-up the business, but it is also useful to hear about our options if we ever wish to exit. For founders of businesses, it is understandable that over a period of time, their ambitions can change, based on life events, market events, offers from other companies etc., so we need our governance to support this. We talked through a few scenarios and the advisor mentioned we should consider an independent valuation just for our internal use going forward. VC or Private Equity investment was mentioned and I agreed this wouldn’t be right for JRPass as we enjoy working under our own direction, but potentially a trade sale could work. It is worth considering early on who potential minority shareholders/investors or future acquirers could be and, based on that, effectively growing the business so that it is attractive to them.
From this one-on-one, some conversations were a broad stroke and some in detail, but as with all of my sessions so far, I am finding it very useful to keep this all in mind as we scale-up.
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