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Unexpected tips for first time entrepreneurs

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1. Do PR early. No, earlier than that

Entrepreneurs is to start thinking as early as they can about what might be of interest to the media…even if they may not be planning PR activity for a couple of years.” So says Kirsty Jarvis, boss of Luminous PR. Specifically: “Start developing their case studies so that these can be used to support the PR outreach. Observe and harvest the data they are sitting on so that they can share insight. Monitor user or customer behaviour to spot emerging or disruptive trends that might be interesting to share. Start thinking about building their social media communities as Twitter is excellent for helping build upon the buzz that media coverage generates. If you do all this, your PR person or agency will thank you for this forethought as they will have more to work with to build regular strong angles, feature ideas and stories to help get the brand in to the media.”

2. Network. If you can bear it

Is it worth it? Hmm. We hear both sides of the story. Cherub PR founder Ceri-Jane Hackling is an ardent advocate. “It is a long term process, but we were recently approached by two separate companies  who I met three and five years ago respectively, who approached us to see if we could help with their public relations and communications.” How do to it? “Try the Chamber of Commerce local to you, the IoD also has presence across the country and the regional branches regularly hold local events. You also get access to their London facilities and networking meetings. Most local newspapers have some sort of business section, where they promote local networking events and you can also check out this website. I still network a lot, both in Buckinghamshire and London and have made some great connections, worked with some brilliant clients and made some good friends.”

Her words are backed up by Beatrice Bartlay, founder and managing director of 2B Interface. Bartlay swears by networking and raising her personal profile first and demonstrating her passion for her industry (recruitment), particularly in the first year of business. She says: “During the first year of business, it is critical that you build and raise a profile in order to gain and maintain customers. For the first year, you should totally engross yourself in industry events and be totally dedicated to networking. Attending every conference, awards ceremony, exhibition relevant to your industry may be time consuming and costly but the networking opportunities are rife and the people you meet will be invaluable contacts. These events will return investments. Not only will this help you to build the name among the relevant audiences, but it will also enable you to create a strong and positive image of the company through being passionate”

3. Turn down business

“Be brave enough to turn away business,” says Frances Dickens, CEO of Astus, a media barter company. “If you are not 100 per cent sure you can deliver then don’t commit. We had to turn deals down in the very early days of Astus, even though we didn’t have many clients and wanted the business. We had to be totally certain we could always deliver on our promises. Future business and client relationships will be cultivated from your initial honesty.”

4. Go Blue Ocean

For the uninitiated Blue Ocean Strategy is a detailed, analytic approach to entrepreneurship. Lenka Gourdie of handbag retailer BagServant.com is 100 per cent sold. She says it starts with this idea: “Launch a minimal viable product and go to the market and find out what customers want and add features.” To expand her firm she’s relying BOS methods (as best she can): “We have always planned it but never fully followed it. We have always slipped and taken extra steps. That’s why we can see the value in it. We would have saved ourselves lots of money and time.”

5. Forget the paperwork

“I shouldn’t say this, but don’t worry about all the red tape,” says Ed Reeves, co-founder of virtual PA service Moneypenny. “You could spend an eternity in time and fees with an accountant and a lawyer. At start-up stage, use that time better. Just get the ball rolling. Company formations and all that jazz, they’ll happen in time. Just get trading first.”

6. Slice your market. And then slice it again. And again.

“When you look at a market, usually it’s enormous,” says Moneypenny’s Reeves. “But that market size seldom represents the true opportunity. Measure your opportunity according to volume of the market you can engage with, and tailor your product accordingly. A new accountancy software – every business uses it, so it’ll be mighty hard to talk to them all, to stand out or even measure the opportunity. Accountancy software translated into foreign languages for immigrant business start-up – that’s a tangible opportunity.”

7. Spend what you need to spend

“When you first start, everyone will tell you to watch your costs, and you’ll hear expressions like ‘cash is king’ all the time,” argues Jenny Biggam, co-founder of the7stars, an independent media buying agency. “One industry friend though advised me that his biggest mistake was that he always planned for the worst case scenario – and he didn’t have a plan in place for the success he achieved. So if your business takes off faster than you are expecting, you need to be prepared – and that means having the resources, people, office capacity and all the other facets to deal with the upside of success. Or, as one famous entrepreneur told me, ‘Stop watching the costs. You can’t save yourself rich’.”

8. Hypnotise yourself

Odd advice? Not when Erica Clegg, founder of creative agency Spring, explains her idea in full: “To make the leap from employee to entrepreneur is a huge mental shift. Your priorities are completely changed: as is your risk and your freedom. Do whatever it takes – hypnosis, retreat, reading, mentoring – to change your view of yourself.
“I was quite extreme about it. Since I launched a business that would require a complete family move, I came up here three months before our official launch, on my own, and threw myself into the new world. I buttonholed every successful business owner or board director I could convince to have coffee with me and share their insights: I even got myself a face to face with Edward de Bono to seek his advice on launching.

I attended every event I could in my new guise as business owner, really to practise how my new brand would speak. And yes I did book a three-session course of hypnosis, which I have always found a very fast, practical way to shift perception or tackle challenges. Clearly there were a lot of the usual steps to set up a business as well, but there’s no doubt that the time investment I made in immersing myself has paid dividends ever since.”

9. Immerse yourself

We’ve heard of method acting, whereby Daniel Day Lewis dresses as Abe Lincoln for months on end, insisting the film crew call him Mr President for the duration. That’s the commitment you need to start a business, says Warren Johnson, founder and MD of W Communications. “Immerse yourself in the world of the business you are looking to launch. It’s not enough to identify a ‘gap in the market’. When I started working in PR in the late 90’s we were involved in the first dot com bubble and I remember thinking at the time that most of the businesses wouldn’t work because the entrepreneurs didn’t have any passion for what they were selling. There were people launching snowboarding e-commerce sites who’d never set foot on a slope. I just don’t think it’s possible to connect in a meaningful way with your audience as a start up like this. It seems there’s now a social media gold rush and we’re also seeing a lot of business come to us in the same state – fashion platforms from people not interested in clothes. Also don’t bother with expensive lawyers!”

10. Be under-funded

Seriously. Yes, seriously, says Stuart Miller, the chief executive of logistics and fields services company ByBox: “Categorically the biggest mistake that most would-be entrepreneurs make is to assume they need to raise money before they start. Ironically, being over-funded is the biggest barrier to success for a start-up. There are lots of subtle reasons for this, but the biggest one is that raising significant funds forces the entrepreneur to focus on executing their business plan, because that is what the investors are expecting. The problem is, the first version of the plan is never the right one, but the presence of significant funds allows the entrepreneur to carry on regardless – ignoring the absolutely critical messages from the market. Contrast this with what happens if you DON’T have any funds. The only choice you have then is to focus on solving a problem that somebody will actually pay your for! The only way that a business can be sustainable is by getting money from customers, not investors. This should be liberating for entrepreneurs – stop focusing on raising money and focus instead on solving a problem!”

11. Get space

Adam Ludwin and Dominic Joseph formed Captify in July 2011. It’s a remarkable product which has gone a lot of coverage: Captify has built technology that enables advertisers to display banners to users online based on their recent searches on major search engines such as Google, Yahoo and Bing. Having established a start-up the pair want to tell you: “Hire more office space than necessary – Instead of thinking small, always strive to do more and grow. You’ve got to think big: if you think about just surviving, you’ll be self-limiting your growth. To push for growth, get a much bigger office than the one you initially need, because it will force you to take risks and fill those desks as quickly as possible.”

12. Create a board

Ludwin and Joseph of Captify, again: “Create a Board – By constructing a Board, you will be working closely with people that have proven experience in growing businesses and can therefore help you to achieve your own objectives in the most efficient way possible, whether that be by expanding your team or driving up revenues. It’s also important to bring Board members to your business that can challenge your decisions so that you can be confident that any significant decision has been collectively very well thought out.”

13. Find time to read this book

“If you do nothing else, read The E-Myth Revisited by Michael E Gerber,” pleads Gary Seneviratne, business development director and co-founder of digital agency Adido. “You’ll often hear people say: are you ‘working in your business’ or ‘working on your business’? Read this book and you’ll understand. Almost all entrepreneurs are guilty of falling into the trap of not doing enough work developing the business. Too often we’re “too busy in it”. You should really understand this concept and make time for both.”

14. And this one!

Karen Meager, managing director, Monkey Puzzle Training & Consulting, points manically to How to Become a Key Person of Influence by Daniel Priestly. “ It’s easy to read and full of great ideas for entrepreneurs, particularly in the service sector,” she says. ““As a business that does many things – business training, leadership development, coaching, speaking, therapy and hypnosis downloads and CDs – and has different services, we learned to break the different elements out and market them separately to specific relevant audiences. The book helped us to seek out businesses to work with for mutually beneficial purposes not just simple transactional arrangements”.

15. Finally, two more books…

Frazer Gibney, CEO and founder of Inferno, an advertising and digital agency based in Covent Garden with 120 employees, says: “There are two books that have identified and got straight to unexpected points that matter. Apple’s former chief evangelist,Guy Kawasaki’s ‘Enchantment: The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds, and Actions’ is brilliant; wise words on how to influence and persuade through enchantment. Sir Terry Leahy, former CEO of Tesco, offers ten vital attributes that make successful managers in his ‘Management in 10 Words’, a thought provoking and memorable read.”

Charles Orton-Jones is a business journalist.

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