In through the outfield blog

13 posts from July 2010

30 July 2010

Judging the 2010 PRECIOUS Awards

precious-awards-2010I am greatly honoured to have been asked to be a judge for the 2010 PRECIOUS Awards, which celebrate the achievements of inspirational entrepreneurial women of colour who are running businesses in the UK.

The Awards evening will take place on  Monday 8 November here at The British Library with Rasheed Ogunlaru presenting.

It only costs £1.00 to enter for one of the awards below, using either the Main Entry Form or the Leadership Form:

Start-Up Business of the Year:
Are you a business woman who has just started out? Do you want the business world to know how well you are doing? Then this category is for you! Nominees in this category can be from any business sector and must have been in business at least six months*.

Social Enterprise Business of the Year:
Sponsored by The Social Enterprise Coalition
Do you run a business that’s based on sound ethical principles? Are you a community interest or social enterprise company that gives back to the community? This is your chance to shine. Nominees must have been trading for at least 12 months*.

Service Business of the Year:
Is your business in the service sector. Do you run a shop or mobile business? Nominees in this category can be from any business sector. They must have been in business for more than 12 months*.

Creative Business of the Year:
Do you run a cultural and/or creative business? Is it based in an industry such as PR, design, fashion, music, advertising, marketing, or film? If you have been trading for at least 12 months then enter now*.

Online Business of the Year:
Are you committed to the online business model? Have you built an online brand you want to shout about? Is 55% of your turnover gained from online transactions? Yes? Then you could become the PRECIOUS Online business of 2010.   you must have been in business for more than 12 months*.

Inspiring Leader within the Workplace:
Are you, or do you know someone working within a business or organisation who has taken on an entrepreneurial role within the company? Do their commitment and actions influence those within and extend beyond their workplace? Get recognition and nominate now.

Young Entrepreneur of The Year:
We’re looking for a PRECIOUS star of the future! If you are running a business and aged under 26 then this award is for you. It’s a special category designed to help find the best young business woman who is just starting out on her entrepreneurial journey. To enter this category you need to have been trading for at least six months *.

The Precious Entrepreneur of the Year:
This award awarded by the judges, recognises the most passionate and dedicated woman business owner who the judges feel has overcome significant challenges to achieve outstanding business success.

28 July 2010

The secret ingredient: the recipe for success as a food and drink entrepreneur

Once again Matthew Rock from Real Business ably chaired our panel of food entrepreneurs in front of a full conference centre audience.

eric-lanlardFirst up was Eric Lanlard, otherwise known as Cake Boy, and famous for having baked Madonna’s wedding cake.

Having given him a lightning tour of the Business & IP Centre a few minutes earlier, I can safely say that he is a charming man.

As is often the way with successful entrepreneurs (and in fact many other success stories), his passion for baking had started early. In his case from the age of six. With encouragement from his mother he began to sell his produce from outside their house. And was beginning to do well… until his mother started charging him for the ingredients.

The next stage was to take up an apprenticeship at the age of 18, after having identified the best place for him to learn his craft. From day one he knew that this was what he would want to do for the rest of his life. Subsequently he was taken on the by famous Roux Brothers who revolutionised British Cuisine in the UK, and eventually became a ‘Roux Boy’.

He finally broke away and set up in business on his own, managing to bag Fortnum & Mason as an early client.

Here are some of his business tips:
•    You have to work bloody hard to make a success in business.
•    Always refuse to take the cheaper option when pressured. Stay with quality.
•    Tight finance is important.
•    Look after your suppliers too.
•    Without your staff you are nothing. Invest in them as much as you can afford.

‘Five am tomorrow morning (like every day) you will find me in my kitchen.’

jennifer-irvineNext came Jennifer Irvine who is the founder of  The Pure Package, the gourmet food service offering carefully tailored, freshly prepared and healthily balanced meals and snacks delivered daily to customers.

I had also given her a whistle-stop tour of the Centre earlier on in the evening, and was pleasantly surprised to discover that she had been using our information at the beginning of her business eight years ago. She was very complimentary about the library enquiry staff who helped her at that time.

She said she started her business because she enjoyed food, and was upset that so many of us now associate eating with weight gain and poor health.

From the beginning she was averse to taking on loans or even outside investors, and literally started her business from her kitchen.

Her toilet became research her study, as it was the only quiet place away from her young children.

She contacted journalists who wrote about healthy eating. This resulted in a story in the Evening Standard which led to a big increase in demand for her products.

She needed finance to grow to meet this upsurge in customers, but was still against going to the bank. Instead she offered her customers the opportunity to get a discount in exchange for paying in advance. This generated enough cash to buy the new equipment she needed.

In the early days she had to do everything in the business including the classic of answering her phone as receptionist and then passing it on to herself as manager. Her response to curious customers was that ‘we all sound the same here’.
She also drove the delivery runs for the food between 12 midnight and six in the morning.

Having such a deep understanding of the business means she can still help her staff, even when away from work for a while.


Last, but by no means least came Richard Reed, a co-founder of Innocent, the No.1 smoothie brand in Europe. The business was started in 1999 with and two college friends and has grown to a turnover of over £100m today.

Richard also started in business at a young age, when he began washing windows for his neighbours at the age of eight. However, a summer job picking up dog biscuits in a pet food factory soon reminded him of the joys of working for himself, and led him to set up a summer gardening business called Two Men Went to Mow, employing his school friends.

He met the co-founders of Innocent at college. After discussing the idea of starting their own business on many occasions, they finally gave themselves one weekend to agree an idea. The objective was to make life a little bit easier and a little bit better.

They came up with the concept of ‘The Amazing Electric Bath’. However, there was a slight problem relating to combining water and electricity in one product. There was a real danger they would end up making their customers lives quite a bit shorter, instead of little bit easier and a little bit better!

When looking to develop a new product or service he said you should make sure you know your target audience well. They looked to themselves for inspiration. Their need was for healthy fast food and snacks, to replace their unhealthy pizza and beer habits. The best test is to ask if you would spend your own money on the product or service. They brought £500 of fruit and hired a stall at a music festival. Next to the stall was a Yes bin and No bin. They promised themselves that if the Yes bin was full at the end of the day, they would give up their day jobs and concentrate on the business. In the end there were only a few empty bottles in the No bin, which their parents later admitted they had put there to put them off. Even that wasn’t enough, so they spun a coin which came up tails three times in a row to convince them.

Consequently the last 12 years have been much more difficult than expected. But also the most rewarding time of his life.

Here are few of Richard’s business truisms:
•    The product is king, and has to be better than anyone else’s on the market.
•    You have to decide when to move from making yourself to outsourcing the product. Started themselves, but found a supplier eventually. Running a factory is a very demanding activity in its own right, and might not give you enough time for developing your brand.
•    Make sure you understand your numbers, in particular your gross margin and where it will be spent.
•    You have to get lucky, but you also have to be tenacious.
•    If your team share the same values (but have complementary skills), you will help each other through the tough times that will inevitably come along.

After the panel sessions Matthew managed a lengthy question and answer session due to the sheer level of demand from the audience.

How did Innocent get funding?
Richard revealed that after months of trying to get funding for Innocent they reached a last chance saloon, which resulted in a desperate email titled ‘Does anyone know anyone rich?’
There were working on the theory Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon would apply.
The email generated two responses in total, one didn’t go anywhere , and one which ended up giving them the money to get the business started.

How did Innocent get into supermarkets?
Supermarkets are generally interested in new products on their shelves.
Innocent started with a ten store listing in Waitrose. But it took seven years to reach blanket supermarket coverage by organic growth.

Can you talk about supplier relationships?
Don’t rely on one supplier. Have a plan B ready and warmed up. The Innocent bottle supplier switched to Coke at short notice which caused much grief.

Two instrumental business books recommended by Richard Reed:
Eating the Big Fish
: How Challenger Brands Can Compete Against Brand Leaders
by Adam Morgan.
Good to Great
: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t
by Jim Collins

How did you communicate your brand?
Eric Lanlard started with Laboratoire 2000, but due to pronunciation problems (including abattoir)  it ended up as Lab 2000.
His new joint venture with Patrick Cox will be called Cox, Cookies and Cakes, partly  because it will be based in an old sex shop in London’s Soho district.

The Innocent name was designed to communicate natural, pure and unadulterated.
Simplification and exaggeration are key to branding.

Richard defended the sale of share to Coca Cola. Although they now own the majority of the shares, the Innocent founders have maintained control of the business. Selling their products through McDonald’s stores caused ten times more bad press.

26 July 2010

EnterQuest’s entrepreneurial habits

enterquest_logoThe excellent weekly email bulletin from Enterprise Quest has got a great list of what they describe as the elusive entrepreneurial habits that you aren’t likely to come across in business textbooks. This certainly matches my experience in talking to aspiring and successful entrepreneurs.

Here is our quick guide to a few more of the habits common to successful business owners:

1. Successful business owners look for and find the right path, not just the destination. What this means is that it’s important to focus on how you will get there, rather than just on where you want to end up. After all, your journey, your enterprise quest, will change many times, that’s for sure.

2. They focus their efforts and energy only into what they are good at, or extremely good at. And if they aren’t good at something, they find someone else who is and get them to do it.

3. They learn from others. They network with people like themselves, and track down and find out how to do things from the very best that there is.

4. They know who their customers are and exactly what they want, and pay close attention to what they see or hear from them. Ideally they are able to see their business and products through their customers’ eyes.

5. They thoroughly plan and prepare everything that they do. Remember what we’ve told you in this newsletter many times before – failing to plan is planning to fail.

6. They seek feedback all the time from their customers, suppliers, advisers, employees and business partners. Although they tend to follow their gut and act upon it…they are armed with the right facts and information to back it up.

7. They overflow with enthusiasm and passion for what they are doing. They want to try and change the world. Their own world and their customers’ world. Even a very small change can make a big difference or impact to a customer…and to your business.

8. They have plenty of self-discipline. Note our earlier comment. Success doesn’t happen at random – it needs structure as well as flair in the right combination.

Twitter eBook from Smarta

twitter-ebookIn the last few days several friends and relatives have been asking me about Twitter. Some are just curious, others are more hostile, and want me to justify this latest Internet intrusion into their consciousness.

Thank goodness those wonderful people at Smarta have come up with a solution in the form of their free Twitter eBook.

I am hoping they won’t mind me summarising some of the book’s key points here, although I would thoroughly recommend you download the pdf and keep a copy close to hand.

It comes down to T.A.T. – Time, Attention and Trust. These three things dominate the landscape of our personal and business lives. Someone has shifted the world up a gear and stuck their foot hard on the accelerator. We’re all doing more with less, we need to take in and absorb so much information, to keep up. As a result, traditional marketing is finding it harder to cut through: prospects are distracted, busy in their own world, occupied by their own challenges of how they blend work and home.

But before you get into Twitter, there are some things you should know. It won’t happen overnight. In social media terms, return on investment (ROI) translates into return on engagement (ROE), starting today doesn’t mean profits tomorrow. Think of engagement more like a courtship, a series of interactions, that will lead to you developing a relationship with someone over time, ultimately which may lead to a sales marriage. It’s a long term investment for most, not a quick killing.
Phil Jones – UK Sales and Marketing director of Brother – @PhilJones40

The real-time effect of Twitter opens up a whole new world of business opportunities for us all and we need to prepare ourselves to be ready for them. When I recently needed a party company to supply (at short notice) a children’s Easter egg hunt, I didn’t search Google, I tweeted. Three companies replied to me with links to their websites, swiftly followed up by some of their followers’ testimonials. Google’s great, but personal recommendation rules.
Shaa Wasmund – Founder of Smarta -

“Twitter is a chance to be yourself and give a human voice to your business. It creates intimacy and friendliness more than anything, and that’s what so many businesses struggle with online. Talk to your followers – invest a bit of time in reading their tweets and commenting on what they’re doing. Next time, they’ll remember you rather than going to a competitor.”

Twitter is not the right channel for direct sales, but it will help grow your customer base and build your brand – which means it’s good for indirect sales in the longterm. Used effectively, Twitter can help you:
•    Develop a more personal, engaged and sustained relationship with customers
•    Grow your customer base
•    Get the attention of people interested in your industry or your work
•    Publicise your business
•    Build your brand
•    Track what other people think about your business, products and industry
•    Grow your personal network of contacts and develop business relationships
•    Cold-contact and market to people without annoying them
•    Drive more traffic to your website or blog
•    Position yourself as an expert in your field by sharing news and information relevant to your business and by answering questions
•    Provide amazing customer service in a really easy way
•    Keep ahead of the latest industry news and events
•    Position your business as up-to-date and in-touch, for being on Twitter
•    Provide customers with details of special offers, new products and other news you have
•    Develop and test products and services your customers want
•    Pinpoint customer locations to within a 20-mile radius

Here are some basic ground rules for success:
•    Only tweet 120 characters or less, so others can RT you.
•    It’s OK to tweet occasionally if you’re having a cup of coffee, but if you’re a plumber focus on tweeting links to useful websites offering tips on how to stop a leaky tap.
•    Provide information, insight and opinion.
•    Be helpful. Answer questions where you can.
•    Tweets with links in them are more popular than those without.

As something of a late adopter of Social Media Marketing activities myself I can relate to the negative comments I often come across. My current response is that even if you don’t like it, the simple truth is that it works, and will generate business for you. The Smarta eBook has a page on Dolan Bikes, showing how they grew their Twitter following from seven to more than 500, and have sold 12 bikes worth between £1,000 and £3,500 on the back of their Twitter activity. As they say, in business – money talks.

21 July 2010

Appeal for empty niche brand water bottles

As part of my presentation, during our Practical Market Research workshop, I have a slide showing three very different types of bottled water.

The images nearly always trigger an insightful discussion about branding and niches within markets, and how entrepreneurs need to think very carefully and strategically about their product and service. Are they going to target the top of the market populated with ‘high net worth individuals’, the growing green consumers, or perhaps the ethical demographic?

As you can see from my screen shot, I cover all of the above sectors with my examples.

The first is called bling h20 and costs $40 for the limited edition Paris Pink bottle. They justify its price tag by putting Swarovski crystals on the bottle and making Paris Hilton its patron saint.

The second brand is Tasmanian Rain and claims: This uniquely pure rainwater is captured on the pristine island of Tasmania, Australia where the air is scientifically proven to be the purest in the world. The air currents travel over Antarctica and 10,000 miles of open ocean eventually reaching the western most part of Tasmania, “the edge of the world”. Here, TASMANIAN RAIN is collected before ever touching the ground, therefore never absorbing impurities, and resulting in a water that is ten times more pure than other premium and artesian waters.

Finally, Belu is an ethical brand and claim to produce the UK’s most eco-friendly bottled water.
It is 100% carbon neutral with the UK’s first plastic bottle made from corn not oil. We deliver one month of clean water per bottle we sell and donate all our profits to clean water projects.

All of this is a rather long winded way of getting  to my appeal for empty bottles of these (or any other niche filling bottled water brands) as example for me to hand round in my workshop.

If you happen to be passing by The British Library and could drop them off at the front desk for me, I would be very grateful.

20 July 2010

Londoners pedaling into a greener future

Thanks to yet another failed journey into work, courtesy of my First Capital Connect Thameslink ‘service’, I ended up walking from Holborn to The British Library this morning (Severe delays on First Capital Connect’s Thameslink route).

This the first time I have walked this route (along the delightful Lamb’s Conduit Street) for a year or so. Immediately I was struck by the number of bicycles parked along the pavement attached to a variety of secure street furniture, including of course Anthony Lau’s Cyclehoops. Even more impressive was the number and variety of bikes on the road. As well as the range of cyclists. I saw young men on speedy racing bikes and retired folk on the amazing Brompton folding bikes.

And all this before the rather delayed‎ introduction of the Barclays Cycle Hire Scheme for London. I wonder if Londoners will take to the idea with the same enthusiasm as the Parisians who love their Vélib’ scheme.

19 July 2010

Food, family business and fun: In conversation with Oliver Peyton

oliver_peytonAs part of our Cooking Up Success month in the Business & IP Centre on Tuesday evening 13 July Oliver Peyton, founder and CEO of Peyton and Byrne, came to the Library to give a talk to aspiring restaurateurs.

I am grateful to my colleague Maria Lampert for writing this report on the evening:

In a session moderated by Matt Thomas from Oliver spoke of his arrival in the UK from the west coast of Ireland and of working his way up in the business world. He spoke briefly about his experiences running nightclubs in the early 80’s and how having made a great success of those he turned his hand to restaurants. He had, he told us, made and lost a fortune and then made it all back again.

Oliver is passionate about London (a big plus as far as I am concerned), about Britain and about using only British Produce. ‘British meat’, he said, ‘is the best in the World’ (being Vegan I can’t comment one way or the other on that statement!)

He had some great tips for would be restaurateurs, café or deli owners:

First and foremost he said be aware of the value of your intellectual property, Oliver referred to ‘your trademark’ and ‘your brand’ and said he was very firm in clamping down on anyone who copied any of his products. He has, Oliver told us, no problem with people being influenced by Peyton and Byrne products, but he would not tolerate anyone copying them without permission.

When choosing premises he advised that you check out the landlord and well as the premises and no matter how attractive the premises may be if the landlord appeared in any way untrustworthy or dodgy consider walking away. Also read any tenancy agreement very carefully, some contracts can apparently include for example a clause which allows the landlord to raise the rent at an exorbitant rate very quickly or other such clauses that end up costing you more than you actually make.

Once you have found your premises, Oliver said, don’t be tempted to spend lots of money on expensive décor or furniture, the clients won’t notice it and, in truth, if the food is rubbish the fancy décor will not matter (I must be honest I don’t think I have ever read a review by food critic Jay Rayner where he said a restaurant was worth visiting because of the décor alone!) Better to have decent décor and furniture and great food. Oliver mentioned that when he first opened one of his restaurants he commissioned well known artists of the time to produce works of art for the walls of his restaurant, it cost him thousands of pounds and the diners didn’t even notice.

He realised he could just as easily have had a trendy poster on the wall for all the difference it made. The other point Oliver made relating to décor etc. is that you might spend a lot of money on your restaurant to draw diners in, but if you are successful you will find that competitors will come into the area, set up a cheaper version with the same offering, charge lower prices and lure away your diners.

Choosing staff and dealing with seasonal changes in demand was another subject he touched on. When he employs someone Oliver doesn’t just look at the position they will be filling he considers the whole team he will be slotting them into.

The other tip he gave us regarding staff was to be aware of which parts of your business might be affected by the changes in season. As an example, Oliver said, take the Peyton and Byrne restaurant in St James Park, very busy in the summer, very quiet in the winter. Rather than take on part- time staff he moves staff around so in the winter some of the staff from St James Park would be moved to indoor venues which are busiest during the winter months and visa versa.

To my surprise he said that deli’s are never profitable unless they are attached to something! This is apparently because of the very short shelf life of their product. At the end of each day a lot of the pre-prepared fillings etc have to be thrown away, hence a lot of money is wasted. Deli’s attached to department stores or eateries tend to have a bigger turnover due to greater numbers of people passing through or by.

All in all it was a very enlightening evening with plenty of good advice for all the would be restaurateurs who attended from someone who had been there, done that.

14 July 2010

Disposing of chewing gum on pavements

Most people hate the way dropped chewing gum forms yucky stains on pavements. Now a British company has come up with a way to stop it.

Traditionally, innovation has concentrated on cleaning methods, such as blasting the gum with steam. A short list of inventions along those lines can be seen here

Revolymer, a company based in Holywell, north-east Wales, has a different solution. They modify chewing gum itself by adding an amphiphilic graft copolymer. "Amphiphilic" means  molecules involving a polar, water-soluble group attached to a nonpolar, water-insoluble hydrocarbon chain. It means that water disperses the gum from pavements, and washing up liquid removes it from carpets or clothes.

The new polymer is called Rev7®. Gum is hydrophobic (water hating) and the addition makes it hydrophilic, water loving. More details can be seen on the company website as well as in their initial patent application, Polymeric materials having reduced tack. I like the mention of "tack", and apparently gum stains are called "cud" in the industry. The chemical structure for the polymer is given below.

Revolymer polymer
The company is a spin-off from the University of Bristol. They estimate that councils spend £150 million in Britain alone to remove the unsightly mess. £10 million was spent in four years of development, with backing from venture capital and private equity money.

The American authorities have approved its use, and approval is going through its final stages in Europe. The company's options are to licence the product to a major manufacturer, or to sell their own brand. Revolymer hopes to be selling the product in 2011 in Europe.