Category: Advice Blog

Self care for Start Ups – Managing your mental health

Grafting hard, feeling responsible for leading a team at home and at work, caring for your clients and trying to grow as a business, all whilst trying to attempt to manage our own lives and personal development can take its toll on our mental health during this exciting yet isolating time. 

In her first article as an AD:VENTURE ambassador, marking Mental health Awareness Week, multi-award-winning entrepreneur and wellbeing influencer Sophie Mei Lan shares her own candid story as well as those of others who have not only built their business but their mental resilience too after learning the hard way as start-ups. 

With a much needed improved focus on boosting mental health in the workplace, after all ‘presenti-ism costs employers 10 times more than absenteeism’ (Presenteeism where employees turn up to work but aren’t fully productive).

We often neglect the mental wellbeing of those behind the start-ups and running businesses. From sole traders and content creators to those building virtual and in person teams, for those of us ‘in charge,’ all the responsibility inevitably falls on us.

And all too often us entrepreneurs leave our own mental wellbeing at the bottom of the priority list with little structure and support for our own health.

Did you know? 72% of entrepreneurs are directly or indirectly affected by mental health issues compared to just 48% of non-entrepreneurs. That’s according to a study by the National Institute of Mental Health. 49% of entrepreneurs deal with mental health issues directly while only 32% of others experienced them.

I am acutely aware of this juxtaposition between trying to boost morale of those who look up to you and advocating self-care, when at times during my own business journey, I have thoroughly neglected my own wellbeing.

I remember becoming so determined to get a self-care planner launched, that behind closed doors, I would be struggling to find time to move away from my desk to even open a window and literally working until I fell asleep at my glaring screen as I felt a huge responsibility to empower others to improve their own wellbeing.

So who do you reach out to when you need business and personal support?

What can you do to manage your own mental health as an entrepreneur? 

I know that as someone who has run a number of businesses since my teens, whilst experiencing mental health problems, just how important is it for us ‘leaders’ to have our own support network and self-care strategies.

Whilst handling some of the rejection that inevitably comes with growing your ‘passion project,’ making money from your skills and steering a new venture through uncertain times… just how can we stay well within our minds and bodies, because after all ‘health is wealth’ and on a commercial level optimal wellness boosts productivity, reduces cortisol levels and enables us to thrive in all aspects of work and life?  We need space to create by decluttering our minds and working environment.

Balancing business and home-life  

All of us have mental health and starting up a business can feel like a rollercoaster ride as we pivot between finding our purpose inside personal development books, to managing people, improving profits and trying to make sense of our creative entrepreneurial brains! That’s not to mention, the personal pressures of home, family and life where often people just don’t understand what we do and why we do it.

Steve Lewis, founder of Calderdale-based upholstery business By Lewis knows just how fortunate he is to have an entrepreneurial wife Katrina who has run her own marketing companies.

He said: “It’s rare that relatives understand your long working hours, the peaks and troths of starting up and the pressure of building a team, but with her support I have been able to grow my business even during this Pandemic, creating state-of-the-art cinema rooms and bespoke furniture for clients nationwide.”

How to juggle building a business, flexible working and parenting 

As a young mum, I gave up what I thought were just the pressures of working in the newsroom as a journalist, to care for my daughters, start my own documentary-making company, set up a new magazine, whilst recovering from a mental breakdown…

At first it seemed like the perfect relief to be my own boss, I no longer had to make excuses for attending health appointments or requesting flexible working to suit my childcare arrangements and the fact that I work better early in the morning.

But I quickly became my own worst boss. I absolutely loved running media and entertainment businesses, although the responsibility of juggling each aspect of a business, meant that my mind was consumed by the plethora of tasks that seemed to pile before me.

I would wear several hats in one day from CEO to single mum on the school run, from part-time student to full-time social entrepreneur, media consultant and writer.

And as I opted to run my businesses from home, the lines of all my worlds became increasingly blurred with less time investing in my values and an increasing fog of clarity in work and life.

As I write this during Maternal Mental Health Week with the theme of Recovery Journeys and as a champion for the flowing family of support from AD:VENTURE who supported me during my latest business venture… My own recovery became in carving a kinder schedule for myself factoring in my own mind and body fitness, not just for those who work for me.

As founder of Women in Business community Simply Ladies Inc Carron Cummings says:

“Making sure that I always schedule time off so that I can switch off and fully be present in the moment really is a fundamental factor to the balance that I need to protect my peace and mental health when being a single mother and the founder of my companies.”

“Home life and work life has to be equally balanced.”

This is true for all of us leaders with or without children, whether you’re banishing “mum guilt” as my co-Editor of Sparkle Up North Business Magazine Amy Downes talks passionately about or struggling with the blurred boundaries that a creative business mind can create!

Running an online business 

We know all too well how these boundaries may have slipped, even more so in the Pandemic with lack of routines and not to mention the constant ridicule and reviews the online world can bring!

It can feel even more isolating when we are trying to lead virtually or working from home without much human contact.

In my Sparkle Influencer Community of 500 Yorkshire-based entrepreneurs, I know just how many content creators have felt the impact in recent times more than ever.

As Erin of Yorkshire Tots blog says:

“I love running my blog and website, but sometimes I can find it hard to turn off when daily life and ‘work life’ have such a big overlap.

“When I am constantly thinking about and planning content, I am not only less happy, I am also less creative and find myself spinning my wheels rather than getting things done when I do sit down to work.

“This past year I have been doing classes with Ryecroft Yoga, both in person and online, as well as a weekly mediation session.  I really love the focus and calm these sessions bring.”

Ironically rather than ‘costing’ time and money, such meditations can even be a commercial investment, supporting us to prosper in business as it helps us to sharpen our focus to build a profitable and sustainable business.

Something that AD:VENTURE has supported me with in terms of holistic support in securing grants and top-level business training to boost my sales strategy.

The art of taking a break and self-care sabbaticals

I too have previously felt stifled by my own ‘successful’ online magazines and vlogs and yet broken on the inside.

But sometimes our most challenging times can be our defining moments and like Erin, I have started to take regular pauses in nature where possible. Something my Harrogate-based personal trainer and studio owner partner Mike Green has encouraged me to do so.

Mike, who trains entrepreneurs to transform their minds and bodies in minimal time, says: “Walking in nature is the best way to improve your total fitness, reducing stress and improving your growth mindset.”

I even plan to start a net-walking group and I sometimes coach my media consultancy clients whilst on a walk as this helps sharpen focus, reflection and gets some of the best results when it comes to creating new PR strategies.

Such time in nature can help improve our Circadian Rhythm, supercharging our minds and bodies, which is why Nature is the theme of Mental Health Awareness Week this month, not to mention it being National Walking Month with Welcome To Yorkshire running their #TourDeWalkshire campaign.

Whilst I myself don’t always get it right, nowadays I have made a conscious effort to build in brain breaks, mental health sabbaticals and spent time building a power routine that works for me, where my own self-care is how I start my working day.

It is this power routine, including daily habits such as mindfulness practice, movement and fresh air, that has served me and other entrepreneurs in the region well.

A 20-minute Mindful break can boost our brain cognition by 70 per cent, something my mindfulness and sleep consultant Natalie of Mind Tonic Therapy has encouraged me to build in. After all, Natalie has trained GB Athletes and as entrepreneurs we are athletes and it is establishing lifting the kettlebell of our minds. 

As a mental health campaigner, solicitor and owner of Leeds-based Thrive Law, Jodie Hill, says: “I love to surf! It resets my mind and being at one with the sea allows my brain to switch off from everything – even in the UK there’s loads of beautiful spots.

Get your Wetsuits at the ready!”

Whether you head for the shore to hit the waves or simply take a mindful pause during your day, such brain naps can help our creative minds to flow as craft company founder Emma from a Ribbon of Hearts, explains: “Taking time out to rest your mind from the daily chatter, makes such a difference.

“I started working from my kitchen table to an office on the top floor of the house.

“I love the view, looking out across the field to the other houses. It’s full of wildlife which helps me to take moments each day to sit, relax and watch.

“It’s important for me to be able to close the door and leave work behind at the end of the day because I suffer greatly with anxieties, especially at busy periods, worrying that it will all go out on time, as a perfectionist it’s so important to me that everything is just right.

I find daily meditations help me to refocus and control my anxiety. These bring moments of clarity and also create space for new ideas.”

Holistic skincare specialist and owner of Bradford-based Glam Aesthetic Abigayle André, agrees:

“As a business owner, you have to learn the art of rest for the sake of your mental health. “Burnout is not good for you or your business.

“Schedule time for self-care and other interests and see it as a different type of productivity.

“I enjoy taking time out for pampering, riding horses and time with my husband. After all, freedom and a better lifestyle is why we choose to work for ourselves, isn’t it?”

I actually met Abigayle through my accountability buddy and owner of Wake Bespoke, a dress making couture design house, which started in Leeds but now has a three-story shop in West Yorkshire thanks to exponential growth on social media.

Director Jordan Wake and I actually connected through an online business community and then forged our friendship at a Women in Business fashion show and Awards at the Royal Armouries in Leeds.

The power of positive networking 

Having a supportive community in business and a critical friend is paramount, something that AD:VENTURE has been to me with their expert guidance to help you grow but also the fact that it evolves around my needs as someone who is experienced yet knows that we all need help in our areas of weakness.

As a result, I began to blossom in my business and mindset journey and have also connected with other businesses of aligning values and exponential growth.

Something business adviser Sophie West recommends to help with our mental health. “Starting a business can be lonely, and often people in more traditional employment find it harder to understand the struggles you face as someone who is self-employed.

“Having others to talk to about unpaid invoices, audience reach and collaborations can be key to keeping creative and staying sane.”

As we know, this was initially difficult when the first Lockdown hit, which is why Ros Jones set up, The Business Wellbeing Club:

“At the start of Lockdown, I launched our networking group which has really strong values of collaboration, support and abundance with the premise that all businesses need other businesses to be at their optimal wellbeing.

“We also have a really fab book club for personal development to look after our mental wellbeing.”

Learning and Personal Development 

The power of learning and studying has not only helped me over the past year but it has helped me to clarify and pivot my business too after attending online workshops with AD:VENTURE on sales funnels, brand identity and customer journeys.

Not only were these in depth and practical but they were led by experts in the fields of their industry such as Nick Bramley at Impactus and Jonny Ross at Fleek Marketing.

We have since implemented the OGSM method which is an abbreviation for Objectives, Goals, Strategy and Measures is a great way to set your marketing or business plan up (I write about the workshop here: https://www.evokemediagroup.co.uk/blog/how-to-set-create-your-business-and-marketing-plan) and I regularly refine my Golden Circle of my Why, What and How to clarify my vision thanks to Nick’s interactive guidance.

We have even spoken in workshops about the Pillars of Wealth, which include a healthy mind and body.

Consuming the right nutrition, fitness and wellbeing strategy 

“A healthy body is the best vessel for a healthy mind, so staying active, hydrated and eating enough will keep you in a more positive mood.

“Opting for vitamin rich foods can give you an extra boost,” explains blogger Rebbie Reviews who helps out in my Squats and Sparkles Wellbeing community: https://bit.ly/squatsandsparkles. (https://rebbiereviews.wordpress.com/2021/01/15/5-foods-to-make-you-happier/)

Carron Cummings who we met at the start of our wellbeing journey which I hope this article has taken you through swears by drinking lots of water and taking your vitamins.

“For me it is Vitamin D3 and Omega 3 fish oils.”

I know that I now give my body a caffeine pause until at least 20 minutes after waking up and instead I take plant-based supplements and I do at least 10 minutes of exercise, often whilst the kettle boils.

Moving more in Nature 

“A massive help with mental health as a business owner or entrepreneur would be to step away from the laptop. Take some time out in nature and move!

“More is not better when it comes to working at your desk all day.  Taking time out to move outside helps with creativity, productivity and of course helps you physically as well as mentally,” explains Linda Meek, co-founder of Start Running – Stay Running.

As well as the profound impact moving outdoors can have on our mental health, something that is simple and free, there are certain mental exercises we can do to help ourselves too.

Simple acts we can do for self-help: 

If you experience fogginess in your creative entrepreneurial mind, clarity is so powerful as Founder of Next-Level Artwork, Anton Dybal, explains:

“Having clarity about what my priorities are, what I should be spending my time on, what I should avoid doing—this, probably more than anything, helps with having peace of mind as a business owner.”

If you’re just chaotically bouncing around all day, from random task to task, based upon whatever particular whims you have at the moment, or based upon whatever seems most pressing or urgent, your days are very likely to be hectic and full of needless stress.

“For me, an incredibly valuable thought exercise to regularly run yourself through, as a business owner, is to ask yourself completely ridiculous questions that force you to think outside of the box and interrupt your standard thinking patterns. This is an exercise I got from Tim Ferriss, and I can’t tell you how personally valuable it’s been for me in terms of time management and personal productivity.”

When I say ask yourself completely ridiculous questions, I mean questions such as the following:

“If I could only spend 20 minutes per day working on my business, what would I spend my time on?”

“If I could only spend 5 minutes per day working on my business, what would I spend my time on?”

“If I could only work on 3 things in my business, and I could do nothing else, what 3 things would I spend my time working on?”

Plus, I personally would recommend goal-setting or writing your to-do list the night before and then as you wake set your emotional and health intentions on how you are going to approach your day.

Also, many entrepreneurs speak of writing gratitude journals, or for me focusing on positive customer testimonials and deep relationships!

This impacts our self-talk too which is incredibly powerful as Entrepreneur Mark Sephton says:

“My top tip for mental health would be to watch your self-talk, the power of self-narration is so important. When we personalise things we can trigger our self-critic, it’s important to pause before you react because sometimes the projection is about what’s going on in that person and not what it may seem prevailing to you.”

A Business Plan which includes your own Wellbeing

Finally, Coach James Perryman summarises: “As a business owner, my mental health gets put on the line regularly through the anxieties and worries about winning and retaining clients, getting people onto courses, overcoming imposter syndrome and of course maintaining time to switch off to be present, be healthy and be alive. It never stops. The highs are HIGH, and the lows are LOW – but I’ll take it any day over a regular 9-5 job!

“So what helps my mental health? I look ahead and I plan. I plan for what I know needs to be done as well as building in some slack for when I have moments where I need to walk away and get some fresh air and a new perspective on something. I plan a bit of time for the unexpected – if the unexpected doesn’t happen, then great, I’ve got some spare time!

I exercise every day, first thing in the morning as that’s when I know my mind and body is best placed to do it. If I try to exercise at the end of the day I become too good at making up excuses not to do it. I make the bed every morning, that’s been especially important during lockdown and working from home.

And I talk to people. When I’m having one of ‘those’ days I connect to someone that I know will listen and offer advice and support.”

This is something AD: VENTURE has done for me. Not just simple business advice for those without experience, but transformational and tailor made guidance, support, development opportunities and grants. 

They are wholesome in their multi-pronged approach whilst using a multidisciplinary team of leading experts who genuinely want you to THINK BIG and prosper in all aspects of business and life. This inclusive and diverse support has helped me to elevate from the clouds of a cluttered creative start-up to gain direction, build revenue and a sustainable resilient business which supports my own life as well as those I work with. 

If you are feeling the pressure, and need some support to give you clarity and a calm mind, speak to AD:VENTURE, or if not in this area, find out what is available through your local growth hubs.

It pays to reach out and ask for help as we have learned from our businesses in this blog, you don’t have to do it alone.

Sophie Mei Lan supports ethical businesses to shine in the media and make a positive impact on the world through writing content, connecting them with the press she works for as a newspaper columnist and online with her magazines which have reached 2 billion+ globally, as well as her passion to help build inclusive brands that reach communities globally, nationally and locally. 

She is a published author, documentary maker and an AD:VENTURE ambassador.

Editor of Sparkle Up North and Founder of https://EvokeMediaGroup.co.uk 

@TheSparklecoach / @SparkleCommunications 

Read more of her wellbeing blogs at https://mamamei.co.uk and https://yorkshirefamilies.co.uk 

How To Run Meetings That Build A Winning Start-up Culture

Meetings. They often feel like the bane of your workday – black holes that suck up your productivity and focus, frustrating any chance you’ll get through your to-do list and growing stack of emails.

Getting around the conference table, real or virtual, is nevertheless a necessity for most companies, especially during the early years, when growth requires extensive communication.

When building a company poised for fast growth, it’s imperative that employees are motivated, productive, and working on tasks with a high degree of efficiency. The only way to keep things running smoothly is for team members to routinely communicate what’s working, what’s not, and what might be done instead. It’s in this capacity that meetings come into their own.

Regularly meeting provides a great opportunity to keep team members abreast of new developments, reinforce company culture, and provide a sounding board for employee ideas. So, how can you approach holding meetings so that they are time efficient and yield value?

Here are a few thoughts on how to take your start-up’s meetings from time-sucks to super productive:

How long?

When it comes to planning meetings, duration is the first thing that comes to mind. The average meeting length is, unsurprisingly, an hour. But though this is the standard, there’s no actual evidence to show that this is the right amount of time for a productive meeting.

But this is where Parkinson’s Law creeps in – if you give yourself an hour, then (psychologically speaking) the agenda will increase in complexity to fill that hour, whether you need to take that time or not.

What’s the optimal meeting time? Well, there’s no such thing – every meeting is different. But a good rule of thumb is to set the meeting timeslot to how much time you think it needs and then subtract 5 minutes. This places some pressure in time and forces you to stay on topic.

And if you really want to make an impact, try keeping sessions under 18 minutes. Research shows it’s the maximum amount of time for focused listening.

Who’s coming?

Have you ever been in a meeting and wondered ‘Why am I here?’.  With virtual meetings, online calendars, and scheduling tools, it’s easier than ever to invite people to join your meetings. So, how do you ensure the right people are at the right meeting and reduce wasted team time?

One approach is the tier meeting system. For example, you hold a full team meeting, which all colleagues join and report their status. However, in the second half of the meeting, only those with an ongoing issue stay on. The rest of the attendees can leave and go back to work. This introduces a level of adaptability and efficiency to an otherwise rigid meeting culture.

Make it count

Purpose and content are, of course, essential to meeting productivity. But while agendas are important, merely having an agenda is not enough. 50% of agendas are reused.

So, instead of focusing on the agenda, instead communicate and focus on the purpose of the meeting.

A ‘weekly staff meeting’ is not a purpose – it’s a meeting category.

A purpose is, for example, to decide which marketing channels to invest in the next quarter.

Try a ‘one purpose per meeting’ approach, inviting only those who have a connection to that purpose or work area. These super-focused meetings have a much better chance of a productive outcome.

Keep meetings on topic with a ‘No Rehash’ rule. If someone drifts back to a topic that has been discussed, another employee may signal a warning by raising a ‘No Rehash’ sign. It’s a visual reminder, but more importantly it empowers everyone in the company to call out counterproductive rehashing whenever they see it. No one needs to justify invoking the rule, and the meeting can proceed with earlier decisions intact, saving time and keeping things on track.

If these approaches feel like a poor fit for your team, keep meetings focused by emailing agendas in advance and following a standard meeting format each time.

It’s a whole team thing!

Resist the temptation for the meeting to start with the boss making announcements. Yes, that’s the convention and what we think a good leader should do.

Instead, use this time to build connections. When running your weekly staff meeting, encourage each of your teammates to share one positive and one negative story from the previous week. It doesn’t even have to be about work. The point is to let your team talk first and share. This creates a more inclusive meeting environment for everyone, and you’ll have a group of more engaged attendees.

Who’s leading?

Every meeting needs a pre-determined leader to keep things running along. But why not rotate departments? With this approach, each department has the opportunity to lead the meeting really delve into their unique goals, challenges, and how they fit into the business as a whole. It also allows the presenting department to gather insights from others that could improve the workflows of all areas of the company.

Eliminate the ‘Unhealthy Peace’

According to Priya Parker, the author of The Art of Gathering, “Unhealthy peace can be as threatening to (the) human connection as unhealthy conflict. And most of our gatherings suffer from unhealthy peace, not unhealthy conflict”.

In other words, at meetings, your team are more concerned with pleasing you and saying what they think you want to hear than solving problems.

Though most founders commendably try to have ‘open-door policies’, not every team member will take advantage of them. But savvy meeting organisers make sure to involve every attendee because they know the best ideas often come from unexpected places.

That’s why successful companies have a passionate meeting culture. You want people attending meetings to feel able to share their ideas and be critical. After all, the reason we hold meetings is because issues exist that single individuals can’t solve on their own. Collective effort and input is required to reach the solution.

So how do you break an unhealthy peace in your company’s meeting culture?

First, create a safe space. Then actively encourage each attendee to take sides on an issue. They now have to defend their stand and attack the other side. Beyond basic ideation, team members are pushed to defend their statements, strategies, and opinions.

This exercise can be done more than once on multiple topics and before long you’ll benefit from healthy conflicts within your start-up’s meeting culture.

A change of scene

If you’re holding meetings right now, you are your team are probably virtually linking from your respective living rooms/kitchens/spare rooms.

Before too long though, it’ll be the company conference room again. And let’s face it, these spaces can sap energy and creativity.

So, why not hold meeting in unexpected places? New environments can generate fresh ideas that your employees might not have otherwise had.

But if you’re not meeting in the conference room, where should you meet?

Parks and coffee shops are great options. But if you’re hesitant to leave the office, consider meeting in a less frequented room like the kitchen.

If you’re growing your start-up in a coworking space, you have a slight advantage, as coworking facilities generally have a variety of diversely styled rooms for the choosing.

No Tech!

Consider enforcing a ‘no technology’ policy during meetings. The benefits of this are twofold: Improved health and better cognition.

Chances are most of your team are locked to a screen for more than 95 percent of the workday already. By making your meetings a mandatory ‘power-off zone’, your team will come to see them as a relaxing reprieve that allows for free thought, without distraction.

End your meeting with meaning

Just as the start of a meeting is crucial, so is how it ends.

And while giving everyone a to-do list sounds like a good idea, it only serves the meeting host, not the team.

Instead, hold a ‘last-call’ before you end the meeting, giving everyone a chance to contribute before you adjourn. And instead of reading off a to-do list, remind each participant of the purpose of the meeting. State clearly the one thing you want them to remember. When your team understands the purpose and their impact, they figure out the details and the steps without a list.

Final thoughts

Now that you have a range of ideas to facilitate more productive start-up meetings, call everyone together for a quick meeting to tell them how you are going to improve your meetings (just kidding!).

While there’s no silver bullet for making all meetings successful, implementing any one of these suggestions will yield improvements.

So, don’t accept bad meetings as a cost of doing business. Use these ideas to turn all your meetings into opportunities to improve your bottom line and build a stronger winning culture.

Special thanks to Greenborough Management who created this blog for the Northern Max Accelerator, delivered for AD:VENTURE and Bradford Council.

How To Select A Target Market For Your Start-Up

 

Not everyone wants to buy what you’re selling. But while this sounds obvious, a worryingly high percentage of start-ups fail because they don’t find and connect with a market that actively wants what they offer.

Without a clear target audience, your marketing campaigns are going to cost you a fortune, you’ll have low conversion rates, and your customer acquisition costs will be through the roof.

Cash in the bank is, of course, important for every business, but for start-ups it’s your lifeline. If you’re marketing to everyone and anyone, your new business is going to bleed money.

It’s no surprise then that the top two reasons start-ups fail are:

  • 42% of start-up businesses fail because there’s no market need for their services or products.

Identifying your target market therefore needs to be one of your first steps when thinking about creating your business. If you discover there isn’t a market for what you have to offer, head back to the drawing board and try something else before you invest too much time and money.

  • 29% of start-ups fail because they run out of cash.

Spending your valuable start-up budget on the wrong target audience could be financially crippling. With limited cash in the bank, you may not be able to recover from this.

So, whether you’re B2B or B2C, this basic rule always applies: if you want to connect with your prospects and succeed at selling, start by identifying and gaining a deep understanding of your market segments and select those that give you the very best chance of generating customers and revenue.

As you set a goal to engage with a specific group, you’ll adjust your value proposition, marketing messages, and channels according to the market segment you target.

Through this customer-centric approach you’ll engage meaningfully with your chosen segment, which will kickstart your early momentum. Awareness and word of mouth builds faster across like-minded groups, and success stories resonate well across a segment of similar prospects.

But how do you select your target market?

A key element of your business’s positioning is “Who are we selling to?”. That’s an easy question to answer, right? Yet often for start-ups, poorly considered and underdeveloped market segmentation is the root of a lot of marketing – and ultimately sales – problems.

When we ask businesses “What’s your target market?” we often get an answer like, “SMEs”. But that’s just too big to be a practical target market for a start-up. You aren’t going to close business with every single SME, are you? Of course not.

You are, though, going to close business with a certain, magical kind of SME – the kind of SME that gets what you do, loves what you do, and will pay good money for it. And they’re also willing to ignore the fact that you’re new, small, resource poor and have never really done this before.

What makes those customers so strange and awesome? The answer to that question is the key to your segmentation.

So, how do you find your magic market? Here are some ideas to get you moving in the right direction:

Can you meet the needs of a target market?

You need to be fully aware of the needs of the target – their desire to find a solution. And more importantly, you should be in a position to offer features or a solution that is superior to the solutions commonly available.

What are your key differentiators?

Your prospects have a range of alternatives to choose from. What makes your offering uniquely different? What can you do that none of your competitors can?

What value does your differentiators bring to your target customers?

You have features that make you different — so what? What’s the benefit that users get from those features? How do you measure the value that you deliver? Why do people care about the things that make your offering unique?

Which prospective customers care about your differentiators the most?

Look across the broader market and ask yourself, ‘Who cares about our value more than the average prospect?” Some prospects will say “Yeah, your product is great”, but others will jump out of their chair and yell “It’s AMAZING! I need it now!”. You’re going for that second group. Put a different way — these are the people that are the easiest to sell to right now.

Which prospects have a high affinity for your offering?

Are they in a certain size of company, in a certain vertical market, in a certain geography? Maybe they’re consumers that already own certain products or have particular hobbies. This is where you need to get super specific.

If you are targeting SMEs, for example, start asking questions: What’s the smallest business that really loves what we offer? What’s the largest? Do product businesses love it more that services businesses? Are there locations (urban vs rural) that love it more? Is there a certain type of small business owner that loves it more? Why?

Your segmentation relies on you being able to identify the characteristics of ideal, easy to close prospects.

What market can you dominate?

Like all start-ups, you dream of making a splash and securing a healthy market share. The secret to this kind of impact is therefore not to launch into a very large market that’s dominated by others with similar products. Successful start-ups find and drop into niche markets that have either no or few solutions, with space and demand for better options.

Is the segment big enough – or small enough?

Keeping in mind that you aren’t going to close everyone in your target segment, can you realistically meet your sales goals with just this segment?

On the other hand, is the target so massive you’ll be lucky to get noticed?

The smaller and tighter you can get on your segmentation, the easier it is to get early traction. You can always go broader later.

Can the target prospects buy from you?

Can your target prospects afford what you are charging? Are you trying to sell Champagne to prospects who are on a beer budget? When you’re identifying your target markets, it’s crucial to choose markets who will have the means to pay you what you’re worth.

If the people you are attracting genuinely cannot afford to pay what you’re worth and what you need to charge in order to be profitable, you need to identify niche markets who can.

Or Is it time to re-evaluate your price point?

Many young businesses charge less than they should because they think that “saving their clients money” is going to be the thing that wins the game, and because the people they are calling on can’t afford to spend any more.

If you selling to other businesses, does your target persona have budget authority and if not, who do they have to go to for approval? Can they champion your solution inside their business and make a deal happen?

What are the factors that influence decision-making among customers?

Be aware of the factors that will front of mind for your target market when they’re arriving at purchase decision. If the target market is looking at the features of a product, then focus on creating superior products and make the right pitch. If your target market is only looking at the price point, be prepared for the cut and thrust of a highly competitive market.

To wrap up

By focusing your efforts on a specific market segment, you automatically counter the risk and costs of expanding across the entire market. More importantly, when you specifically cater to the needs of one market segment, your prospective customers are very likely to notice you.

Does a focused market segmentation approach mean that your business must change its strategy and direction? Not at all! This targeted approach based on market segmentation must always remain aligned with your business goals.

Your business can benefit from the better use of time and team efforts, besides an enhanced customer experience and an increase in profitability. And remember, the decision whether to focus on one market segment or another must always be based on data.

Businesses that focus their efforts in niche market segments can experience the following advantages:

  • They can dominate a market that is overlooked by other competitors.
  • They have better chances to become the go-to expert.
  • Niche markets are less sensitive to pricing.

The key? Identify the market segments that give you the very best chance of generating customers and revenue and focus your attention and efforts there. They may be a niches – but they’re niches you can own.

 

Special thanks to Greenborough Management who created this blog for the Northern Max Accelerator, delivered for AD:VENTURE and Bradford Council.

How To Save Money As A Start-Up

As a start-up business, you’ll face many challenges in the early stages of operations while you familiarise yourself with your business landscape and explore your new business venture. With so many different areas of business to focus on, budget can often be neglected. One of the most important things to consider though when growing your start-up is how to save money and reduce costs.

If you’re driven to save money early in your business, you’ll learn how to hustle and fight for the best resources as your business grows. Your investors will be impressed by your rigour and discipline and you’ll create a business culture that will fuel your growth moving forward.

We’ve compiled a list of questions that you need to be asking yourself if you want to build an efficient and profitable business that will not only keep current investors satisfied but also improve your chances of getting subsequent rounds of funding.

Do you need to use expensive software right now?

When you’re looking to save on initial purchases, known as the initial outlay, open source can help you get off the ground. You don’t need to buy that expensive office software and servers when you can switch to a cloud vendor at a fraction of the cost.

For most things you need to run your business – bookkeeping and accounting, word processing, design, or presentations – you can find an open source and/or cloud version of it that is free or much less expensive than similar commercial software.

Is there a tech solution?

Along similar lines to the open software, look for tech solutions to different business problems. Chances are that another start-up out there has a product that’s cheaper and better than the big brands on the market.

Do you have to buy new?

Buying new equipment can be a huge initial expense and paying for it over time may also put a strain on your future profits. So, where kit really doesn’t have to be new, buy functional but used.

Do you need it in the first place?

Do you really need that piece of equipment? Or do you need to replace or upgrade it? Think it through instead of just going for something larger or newer. Use what you have until you are certain you need something else.

Have you reviewed your operating expenses?

If you buy stationery for the office, is there a different supplier that will give your business a bulk or loyal customer discount? Day to day expenditures on simple things—coffee, maintenance, and supplies – all add up. Putting aside some time to go through your existing operating expenses to see where you could make savings could make a significant impact as your business progresses.

Get into the habit of comparing vendors and getting quotes at least once a year to make sure you’re getting the best rates. This includes your merchant card services – the more you grow and the more money you process, the more clout you’ll have to negotiate a more favourable contract.

Are you asking for discounts?

This is so simple, yet often very effective – and there’s no shame in trying to secure the best price for goods or services. If you don’t ask, you don’t get.

Whatever you’re purchasing, whether it’s software, furniture, or office space, always ask, “Is this the best price you can do?”. Ask if they have a promotional offer or rate and what that might entail. It won’t always work, but when it does, you’ll save.

Are you looking for discounts?

It’s usually cheaper to buy in bulk than individually. When you talk to your suppliers, see if they offer discounts for bulk buys. Generally, suppliers are willing to work with and negotiate terms with their customers. If your supplier isn’t willing to offer discounts, find one that does.

Don’t limit yourself to local suppliers. Yes, it’s good for the local economy if you do, but you may be able to find suppliers further afield that offer discounts on shipping and bulk purchase that cost less than local options.

Ready to barter?  

Bartering, especially with other businesses, might seem old-school but can still definitely be an effective way to reduce costs. You may have to wait until you have assets you can barter with, but before long you’ll be ready to swap services or unused equipment with a similar business in the area that needs it.

It’s important to approach these types of arrangements in a spirit of generosity. Make sure you know the value of what you have to offer, as well as what you’re asking from the other business to avoid insulting or embarrassing anyone.

Can you reduce your discretionary expenses?

Discretionary expenses are those you don’t necessarily have to pay at a particular moment. You may not even need the expenses at all. Work through your expenses list and determine the expenses you can reduce or remove altogether.

Can you outsource or contract some work?

For those moments when you have smaller tasks that don’t warrant a new hire but that you just can’t add to your packed task list, outsource or ‘micro-contract’. Use sites like Upwork to source support for those tasks that you just need to delegate.

It might also make for sense for your business to use independent contractors instead of regular full-time employees. This will give you much more flexibility in your hiring practices and save you serious cash on employment taxes and other costs associated with full-time workers.

Would you consider employing someone early in their career?

People at the start of their careers have little work experience but are looking for entry-level positions and salaries – and this can save you money. Yes, there may be times when a more experienced candidate makes business sense, but you’ll find that solid employees with little work experience are competent and eager to do well.

If you go down this route, good training is key. If you do bring in employees with less experience, set them up for success by training them well and addressing gaps in their knowledge and experience as you move forward.

Could you cut your employee hours?

Are there employees at your company who would transition to part-time if given the opportunity?

If you make it known that you’re open to shorter work weeks for those who might want or need them, this can save you from paying those full-time wages without having to lose a good team member completely.

Do you know the value of your best employees?

A high performing employee that enhances your company culture is a real asset. Not only that, it’s also a valuable relationship and support as you continue your journey.

The costs associated with hiring new staff can be significant, so if you have a solid team member, do what you can to keep them. Look after them, listen to them, understand what they’re looking for in terms of career trajectory and opportunities for growth. It’ll save you a lot of money and energy the long run.

Can you cut down on meetings?

The next time you’re in a meeting, do some rough calculations based on the number of people in the room, and the average hourly salary you’re paying them. Sometimes the results can be staggering.

Review both your own and your employee’s calendars—how many hours per week are spent in meetings? Evaluate the cost and benefits to the company. Most probably, you can cut back on meetings and free up time for getting actual work done.

Could you virtualise your office?

The current pandemic has forced companies to go virtual, but moving forward, do you need to be tethered to one location if your business allows for it? Start your business from your home and use technology to connect to your employees, target audience and customers. Once you have established your customer base and can spare the cash, you can move your business to an office if you need to.

Have you considered sharing an office or using a co-working option?

If you do absolutely need have a physical office for your business, why not share the costs on leasing a space with another business? This carries inherent risks, of course, but could be a viable option if you have a close business connection, especially if you don’t need lots of space.

Another way to approach this, if your team is small, is to look for co-working spaces in your area.

Could you do your own marketing and PR?

Hiring a marketing or PR agency can be very costly, but if you’re passionate and knowledgeable you could be your own spokesperson. So, learn everything you can about marketing and public relations for your industry, and make sure you’re putting your best foot forward when you promote and talk about your business.

It’s also a good idea to be as creative as you can with your PR – think outside the box, take a guerrilla approach, and cut through the noise. And if that doesn’t work, just ask. Call up media channels and simply ask them if they’d be interested in featuring your business. It’s often the case that journalists and producers are actively looking for a story – and you’ve just made their life a lot easier. Be subtle yet persistent and you’ll get that valuable media coverage.

Have you considered social media to promote your business?

Promoting your business through social media is much more affordable than investing in traditional media and print. Best of all, it provides two-way engagement between you and your market on a round-the-clock basis.

However, tackling social media on your own may help you to save money to start out with, but to do it effectively, especially over several platforms, you must devote a serious time and energy to it. So, eventually you’re going to need some assistance.

Have you tested your paid marketing?

This is a simple tip but one that will save you money in the long run. Too often, after you get a little funding, the urge to pour it into a Google or Facebook ad campaign can distract you from testing your marketing first. So, run a few small campaigns and ensure that your targeting and keywords look solid before increasing the spend.

Are you growing incrementally?

Incremental increases in your business growth give you an opportunity to measure the effectiveness of each step of the change before investing more money in the following steps. Smaller steps will also limit the losses should a change not go as planned.

So, start your business small and establish slowly increasing goals to grow your customer base. Once you’ve established your business and are operating well, you may find that you are able to spend a little more. This may be the time for you to address equipment upgrades or new hires. You may also want to explore changes like new products or services or expansion.

Are you tracking your cash flow?

Track your cash flow to avoid late payment fees or missing bill payments. Cash flow is critical and most small businesses that fail do so because they run out of cash.

Cash pays your expenses before you generate revenues. It also covers unforeseen expenses that crop up. Follow your cash through your statement of cash flows and use this statement both monthly and annually. All you need is your monthly financial data to determine where your business’ cash is and if you have enough.

Have you established a budget and sales forecast?

To really understand where you can reduce costs, establish an expense budget, then create a sales forecast.

Don’t stop there though. Make time each month to compare your actual spending and sales to your forecasts. This regular financial review will give you a better insight into where your cash is going, and where there are opportunities to increase your income.

Are you prepared for the unexpected?

Do you have a solid business insurance plan that is appropriate to your industry and all the related risks? If you invest in a bad policy you end up incurring heavy costs if something disastrous happens, such as theft, fire, or flood damage. Do the right thing and contact your local insurance agency to find out how to protect your business from potential risk.

Can you stick to your mission?

If you have a clear mission – and you stick to it – you’ll be better placed to keep a lean and savvy company structure and operation. Try to stay as focused as you can on your critical activities and assess every task that deviates from your ‘core’ in terms of whether it generates revenue or prevents losses.

Can you say ‘no’?

One of the hardest lessons to learn in a start-up is saying ‘no’ to tempting possibilities that are not in your short and mid-term scenarios and that will demand a lot of time and resources from you and your team. This is especially the case when the invitations come from business partners, but stay firm!

As a start-up, you cannot afford to spend money unnecessarily. These tips are small changes that reduce costs and go a long way toward saving money and improving profit.

 

 

Special thanks to Greenborough Management who created this blog for the Northern Max Accelerator, delivered for AD:VENTURE and Bradford Council.

12 Tips For Getting The Most Out Of A Start-Up Accelerator Programme

We’ve already completed week three of our Spring 2021 Northern Max Accelerator programme, where we’re providing 11 weeks of intensive mentoring, support and investment to 18 young digital and technology focused businesses.

With just seven weeks left until pitch day, here are 12 quick tips to help any start-up get the most out of an accelerator programme.

  1. Make the most of the accelerator’s network

A strong business network is key to the success of your company – and an accelerator program offers you an unrivalled opportunity to quickly grow this essential professional asset.

Accelerators bring together the best minds from across many different industries, so connect with as many of these key people as possible.

The network you grow will help accelerate your company after the program. It will support you with your current business and all your subsequent businesses. It’s your resource and your set of shortcuts around the business world.

So, don’t be shy, become a networking machine – and start as early in the programme as you can. Connect directly or ask for introductions. The other cohort members, mentors, investors and stakeholders – all of them should become nodes in your network.

But remember, good networking is driven by giving, not taking, so always think about how you can help those you connect with.

  1. Help your cohort and ask your cohort for help

The great thing about being on an accelerator programme is that your fellow cohort businesses are often very different and have their own challenges to solve. So, if you’ve experienced some of these challenges before, offer your insight.

Likewise, if you need help, ask. Someone in your cohort may be an expert in an area where you need advice or have been through a problem you’re facing.

  1. Be open to mentorship

Tune in to everything the experts and mentors running the programme say. Challenge them and ask as many questions as you can. Be open to their advice, even if this means pivoting your business or making significant changes to your model.

After all, these experts are investing their time and energy in you – and their goal is in line with yours. Plus, they’ve been through it all before and have the knowledge and experience to help your idea becomes a sustainable business

  1. Be engaged and stay engaged

Take full advantage of the meetings, events, and life at the accelerator. You might just meet a pivotal individual or discover an idea that transforms your business.

Try to participate fully in the accelerator’s program — even the activities that don’t seem relevant to your business. You’re there to try new approaches and push the envelope. If you’re not doing that, you’re not making the most of this opportunity.

  1. Be proactive and take full advantage of this experience

Your accelerator will fly by, and you’ll only have a brief period to make the most of the resources available to you. So, throw yourself into the entire experience and squeeze as much out of it as you can. Attend all the sessions and workshops and proactively engage with the mentors. And don’t wait for the programme’s team to chase you – you should be chasing them!

  1. Take it seriously

With accelerator programs, you’ll likely be working in an environment where the rules are relaxed. Remember though that the programme team are focused on results, and you should be too.

As with any mentorship, it’s important to dedicate yourself fully to the experience. If your program gives you assignments, do the work and do it well. Attend any meetings fully prepared to ask targeted questions. Take coaching calls seriously by having a goal set for each session. Don’t over-invest yourself in anything else while enrolled in the program. Make the time to make it work.

  1. Make it your own

Remember, there is no road map for entrepreneurship so aim to get from the accelerator what you need to progress and grow. The experts will respond well when you think outside the box and ask for things that aren’t part of the standard program.

  1. Be prepared to pivot

Don’t let your enthusiasm for your business idea overshadow the facts. Don’t be afraid to adjust your solution on the fly as the market’s real pain becomes apparent. Your accelerator is a supportive environment to do this.

  1. Test, test and test your idea

Don’t be afraid to experiment and ask big questions of your business. You’re surrounded by people who are actively supporting you and want your business to succeed.  Your mantra should be ‘test, test, test’ – and that applies to all aspects of your company.

  1. Give feedback

If you want things in your accelerator to work better, feedback your ideas or concerns to the programme team. It’s better to do this during the course of the program than simply complain at the end. It’s also a way for you to help the next batch of start-ups. Previous cohorts probably helped make your program better too.

  1. Check your ego

When participating in the programme, check your ego at the door and switch to a full growth mindset. You may be sceptical of what you will learn but you’ll soak up so much more if you’re fully open to what the programme has to offer. So actively listen, participate as often as possible, and take notes!

  1. Enjoy yourself!

Entrepreneurs go through plenty of ups and downs. That’s true of the accelerator period as well, but a good accelerator is there to help make the difficult days less terrible and the good days even better. Much like sixth form or university, you’ll look back at this period as one of your start-up’s golden ages. So, work hard, progress quickly, but enjoy it while it lasts.

 

Special thanks to Greenborough Management who created this blog for the Northern Max Accelerator, delivered for AD:VENTURE and Bradford Council.

Five Agency Trade Secrets for Building Brilliant Small Business Websites

Picture of the Other Things Agency

If you’re reading this then you’re probably thinking about building a website for your business. That’s a great start, because if you don’t have a website then you could be missing out on a ton of business that might not come your way otherwise.

Having a well-made website can help with the perception of your brand and help to build trust with your potential customers.

But where to begin? The team at my creative agency, Other Things, has built successful websites for some of the world’s biggest brands. We also work with start-ups that want a shortcut to website excellence.

When we did the brilliant AD:VENTURE Northern Max accelerator program last year, we met a lot of start-up founders who were looking for varying degrees of help with building their own websites. Should they make it themselves or get help from the professionals?

There’s no silver bullet to it, and every business is different, but there are a few bits of advice that apply to many if not most small business website builds.

I’m going to list some of them for you:

1) You CAN Build It Yourself

If you’ve got a social media profile and you know your way around the internet, you can build yourself a website. There are some well-established services out there (such as Wix, or Shopify if you’re looking for an online store) that will hold your hand through the process.

That said, it might be awful and do more harm than good for your brand. I mean, you could tailor yourself a cocktail dress if you really wanted to. Doesn’t mean it will be any good.

Still, if you stick to the pre-defined templates, have a decent eye for design and can string a meaningful sentence together then you should be able to create a simple website that meets your business’ needs.

2) You Don’t Have to Figure It All Out From Scratch

Take a look at your competitors and other businesses that you admire. What are they doing on their websites? What are they doing badly, and what are they doing well?

What ideas can you draw inspiration from that would work with your website and brand?

That’s not to say that you should create a carbon copy of a competitor’s website, or plagiarise their copy and messaging, but you will likely identify some things that you think they do well and then you can put your own spin on them.

3) .co.uk Might Not Be the Way

If the .com domain name that you want is not available, but the .co.uk one is, it still might not be the best option.

People searching for your brand will probably find you either way, but you will inevitably and inadvertently be sending traffic to the .com version of the website domain. Not great, especially if it’s a competitor or a brand that could be mistaken for yours.

It’s still worth buying the .co.uk domain if it’s going cheap, and if you only ever plan to trade in the UK, but better to rack your brains for that .com domain name. Common ways around this are to add ‘we are’ or ‘this is’ in front of a brand name e.g. weareyourbrandname.com

We experienced this at Other Things, and we opted to go for otherthingsagency.com (we also grabbed otherthings.xyz to be what’s known as a ‘vanity URL’, but that’s another story…)

4) Cut to the Chase

When people visit your website, what action do you want them to take or what opinion of your brand do you want them to leave with? Make the fulfilment of these things the filter for all of your website-related decisions.

But don’t beat around the bush. Keep your choice of words and messages short and to the point. Challenge yourself to say what you need to say in as few words as possible, right up front on the home page, so that visitors know exactly what your business offers straight away.

This is your website content, and visitors to your site will form an impression of your brand based upon it.

It’s an area where professional help might be worth investing in if you’ve no experience in writing or producing content for the web. But if you want to DIY then keep it simple. Avoid using crappy Word art or DIY sketches. Stock photography can be great, but some of it is very cheesy. If you don’t think you can tell the difference then rope in someone who can.

And make sure you proofread it ad nauseum. If you’re not confident in that area, have somebody who knows how to properly use an apostrophe take a look at it.

5) Don’t Try to Reinvent the Wheel

Usability is essentially how well people can use your product to achieve their goal, and websites more often than not are built to a format that is familiar to the average visitor so that they can find what they’re looking for quickly and easily.

At Other Things we love to see experimentation in this area, but if you’re looking to DIY build yourself a website for your business and you have little experience of doing such things then sticking to the ‘norms’ is your best bet. No need to reinvent the wheel. It will probably just confuse your visitors.

If you use a website building platform (such as Wix, Gator or Squarespace) there are templates and ‘themes’ that are put together with usability in mind. You won’t be winning awards for website innovation, but visitors to your site will have a better chance of navigating around your website nice and easily and developing a positive impression of your brand.

These platforms can also take care of some of the basic nuts and bolts stuff around hosting your website on the internet, and help you avoid pitfalls with potentially baffling things such as optimising it for mobile, SSL certificates, SEO and other acronyms.

So there you have it. The above is by no means comprehensive or universally true, but it might help set you on the right path if you’re considering how to build your small business website.

If you’re going DIY then keep things simple, utilise the templates and simplifying tools available to you and don’t go too left-field with your creative ideas. You’ll learn something and maybe even enjoy it.

And if it’s terrible, at least you tried. Give a good agency or freelancer a call and they’ll see you right.

Matt Hitchcock is the co-founder and Managing Director of Other Things, an alternative creative agency that specialises in producing disruptive advertising and marketing solutions for the gaming and entertainment industries.

www.otherthingsagency.com

Photo credit: Jodie Beardmore (www.jodiebeardmorephotography.co.uk)

Finance the Key to post-Covid Survival

By Alexis Bradbury, AD:VENTURE Survive & Thrive consultant and marketing agency owner

Recently released figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that 1 in 10 businesses feel they are at moderate risk of insolvency as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, whilst 4 out of 10 claim they have less than 6 months cash reserves.

These stark figures highlight just how important finance is to any business’s success, and that is why we have put this topic second only to planning on our list of our Survive & Thrive programme of events.

For many years, advisers have often talked about having 3 months cash in reserve, with any more than that being seen as unnecessarily cautious, and possibly even tying up valuable funds that could be used elsewhere – for purchasing stock, machinery, or investing in new people for instance.

However, the events of 2020 could well cause a rethink of this perceived wisdom, and at least makes us stop and consider what we would personally feel comfortable having as a buffer.

To some extent this could well come down to the type of business you run and the sectors you operate in. For low overhead businesses that can be agile and flexible with their business model and personnel, perhaps those who use sub-contractors or freelance support, and who are not tied to premises on long leases, 3 months might well be sufficient.

However, for organisations with longer leases, repayment plans on equipment, and large numbers of staff on the books, this simply might not give them the comfort blanket they need.

So, what about our own experience and view?

As a result of lessons learned over the 21 years we’ve been in business, which has seen us navigate a few recessions and setbacks, for our marketing and design agency we’ve tried to give ourselves a 12 month cushion, reasoning that this means we don’t have to worry about month to month shortfalls, and should mean that we can survive a typical downturn without having to do more than keep a sharp eye on expenditure and reduce costs where possible.

Obviously this does tie up quite a bit of money that could be used in other ways. We’re quite cautious though, and like to sleep soundly at night.

Perhaps it’s a view that might gain a bit more traction after recent events?

SOME HELPFUL RESOURCE

Alexis and the team will be providing regular blogs and helpful resources as part of Survive and Thrive delivery.

Here are some top tips that will help you with your finance management.

AdVenture Top Tips Finance_Single Sheet

AdVenture Top Tips Finance Booklet

5 Top Tips for Creating a Resilient Business

If the events of the past few months have taught us anything, it is that the world of business has shifted irrevocably.

Whole industries mothballed, household names brought to their knees, and entirely new business models forced on us with either days or even hours notice.

Whether we wanted to or not, we have all become practitioners in managing change, and it is some small comfort that we are very much all in this together.

However, some businesses will ride out the storm better than others and, more often than not, it will be because they have a more resilient business model. Granted, some of them will just be lucky, but there’s nothing wrong with making your own luck, so here’s our 5 top tips for creating a more resilient business.

No. 1 – Have a plan

It sounds obvious, but if you’re going to navigate your way through the numerous challenges we’re all facing right now, you need a plan. Not a 50 page essay that sits in a folder and never sees the light of day, but some clear direction of travel, a few top level metrics of how you can measure your progress, and some financial guidelines that let you know you’re doing the best job you can.

The best plans are re-visited regularly, updated and tweaked, but nevertheless they act as a sanity check on why you’re in business in the first place, and what you want out of it. Don’t be afraid to get a one-page version printed out and display it visibly in the workplace, because the best plans are the ones that the whole business signs up to, and where everyone knows what their role is.

No. 2 – It’s all about the money

Don’t let anyone kid you that money isn’t important because the tougher times get, the more important it becomes. Lenders love giving money to successful businesses, which is usually when you don’t need it, but you just try securing some funding when your numbers aren’t where they should be, as thousands of SMEs have found to their cost over the past few weeks.

From pre-arranged overdrafts to asset-based loans, there are several ways to inject cash into the business. By far the best approach though, is to be self-funding. This means being careful with any spare cash, making sure you build up a decent buffer to protect you from unforeseen circumstances, and if you own the business – don’t be too greedy.

No. 3 – Let your fingers do the walking

Those of a certain age will remember this slogan from a Yellow Pages ad (an old style, paper version of Google my Business!), but today it serves as a reminder to harness technology to save you any unnecessary legwork.

From cloud-based project management and accounting platforms, to automated inventory updates and e-commerce transactions, technology allows us to focus our efforts where they are most needed, and not on day to day admin. Plus, a leaner business is a more resilient one, thanks to lower overheads and a more agile business model.

No. 4 – Fail fast and succeed early

One of the key tenets of running an innovative, and therefore more resilient, business is to be open to trying new things, but also ring fencing those experiments so that they don’t bring the company down with them.

Don’t be scared to ask the market what it wants, and then trial your answer to see if you can make it work. Revise and re-iterate your products as you go, but above all else bear in mind that good enough is fine when you’re developing new products or services. And when the going gets tough remember – James Dyson built over 5000 prototypes before his first vacuum cleaner was a hit!

No. 5 – There’s no I in Team

It’s one of the oldest adages around when it comes to building a successful business – surround yourself with people who are better than you.  In these times of constant change and flux, you need to know that your team is on it, so recruit carefully and work hard to make them happy.

From instilling the right culture and values, to developing a world beating staff retention programme, it is your team who will help you pull through when it all goes wrong – your job is to help them to help you!

Free Support!

If you’d like a raft of free support in building a more resilient business to cope with our ever changing world, AD:VENTURE’s Survive & Thrive programme is now available to businesses in the Wakefield District.

If you’re an SME based within the Wakefield District area, predominantly working in the B2B arena or looking to grow that market and have been established less than 3 years, then we’d love to help you.

Find out more here, or watch our explainer video below!

Being Prepared: By Keith Evans

I’m writing this on the day that the UK economy officially went into a pandemic induced recession.

The deepest recession in modern times and unique in many, many ways.

Many major economies are following the UK by experiencing huge drops in GDP, common belief is that a ‘second wave’ of the pandemic is inevitable and our government has put together a support and stimulus package, which while necessary, creates a long term national debt of war time proportions. These are all fact we must now consider when starting and running our businesses.

So, I put it to you that we need embrace two key principles to turn things around, which we will inevitably do. The first is strengthening our business networks and contacts. Conversations create serendipity, which in turn create opportunity. The second, is that our businesses must be run even better than ever before.

Survive and Thrive will blend opportunities for business owners of all kinds to create moments of opportunity, while also sharing insights which can strengthen your business through technology adoption, more efficient working and marketing you to the right customers.

If Wakefield, the City Region and the UK as a whole is to put the COVID hangover behind us, creating and operating lean, responsive, strategic and professional businesses will be of paramount importance.

For me, ‘Being Prepared’ not only means getting our enterprises post COVID ready, but its also a mind-set, a commitment to be prepared to learn and implement change, which, is not easy.

 

By Keith Evans

Creative & Digital Industries Sector Development Manager

Wakefield Council

Northern Max 3 Hits the halfway point on virtual delivery and top marks on results!

The Northern Max 3 programme is now over half-way, having just delivered its 6th workshop, 3rd masterclass and 2nd ‘speed dating’ meeting.  The programme is taking the 15-strong cohort through a very intensive workshop schedule where there has been a lot of self-assessment and analysis resulting in some startling revelations about themselves!

The cohort have been working collectively throughout the programme and have already developed relationships that will continue post the 10-week programme.

Week 3 delivered by Sara Scott focused on route to markets and the core elements that make up, influence and affect a business’ brand.

Alison Bull, Founder of Tandem Agency delivered week 4’s workshop and built on the foundations of Sara’s session looking at profiling the customer.

Lisa Grogan, co-CEO of Overlap Associates addressed the cohort from Canada about user-centred design to develop strategies, plans and a way of solving problems and the principles of how she started and grew her business as well as juggling a family life.

Week 5 featured Paula Finch talking about people and resources, where she led the group through a shared understanding of the principles of neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) and how this is critical to building work teams.

Week 6 started with Sankar Sivarajah, Head of School of Management at Bradford University talking all things circular economy, partnerships and the importance of inclusive strategies.  Annabelle Beckwith followed the masterclass with her session on Partnerships and Collaborations and the importance of finding the right business partner – along with the horror stories!

Initial feedback from participants has all been positive, some highlights below:

“It helped me to think about what my audiences are looking for and how to speak to them in a way that will make them take action”

“the presentation skills really made me think about my own development and how I can look to improve how I interact with people”

Northern Max 3, is a specialist business support programme for digital and technology firms in the Leeds/Bradford area.  This fully funded business support programme, running across a period of ten weeks, started on 23 April.  Northern Max 3 is being delivered virtually by Greenborough Business Management’s 10×10 accelerator programme in partnership with Bradford Council and AD:VENTURE, a business support programme for new businesses in North and West Yorkshire funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF). It forms part of AD:VENTURE’s pledge to continue to support businesses using online tools despite the pandemic.

For more details on the Northern Max 3 programme, visit https://ad-venture.org.uk/northernmax3