Tag: Business Support

Profits up tenfold for Leeds creative agency

A creative and digital agency, with a green conscience, launched by two Leeds university students saw profits boom tenfold during lockdown.


madeby.studio was set up in 2019 by Matt Wheeler and Sam Taylor in their final year of a Graphic and Communication Design degree at the University of Leeds. By September 2020 the pair, who offer services from website design and search engine optimisation through to brand development and motion graphics, had moved into new offices at Dock Street in the city and taken on a paid intern.

Matt said: “The growth of the company has been phenomenal, but perhaps that is not surprising as a good online presence has become even more important for businesses during lockdown.”


The company, which has been given help by AD:VENTURE, a support programme for new businesses in North and West Yorkshire, saw turnover triple during lockdown, with profit increasing nearly ten times.

Matt and Sam literally hit the ground running. Before they had finished their degrees they came third in a pre-trading business competition and were offered a place at the university’s Nexus business hub, where they stayed for a year after graduation.

They have since moved into the new offices and have been listed in the Digital Enterprise Top 100; they are regional finalists in the Great British Entrepreneur Awards in the Creative Industries Entrepreneur of the Year category, they have been shortlisted in a Santander business entrepreneur award and the Leeds Digital Festival Thrive Awards.

Because of their concerns about climate change, the pair, have committed to the agency being carbon negative, with support for schemes that offset carbon for the office and for the team’s emissions outside work. Within a month they offset enough carbon to cover two long-haul flights.

“We’re very proud of our efforts to be a climate positive workforce. Climate change is no longer something we should be thinking about in years to come. We need to tackle this right now,” said Matt.


Their success has been helped by AD:VENTURE, which is part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and supports businesses that are pre-start or less than three years old.

The pair were given a business mentor, the chance to attend online workshops and a grant to help buy new iMacs. They were also accepted onto Accelerate, a six-month programme of support run for AD:VENTURE by Leeds Beckett University.

Matt said: “With AD:VENTURE it’s all the different aspects that help. The business mentor’s advice, the workshops, Accelerate and the funding all work together. Each one was a boost to us. It all really paid-off. I think there’s a correlation there with how much we grew the year after we got this support.”


Cllr Jonathan Pryor, deputy leader and executive member for economy, culture and education at Leeds City Council, said: “The growth of this agency has been amazing. It’s obviously down to their hard work, but it is also very pleasing to see that they acknowledge the support from AD:VENTURE has played a part.

“This is a great example of how the public sector can play a role in helping companies survive and thrive, and create much needed prosperity and jobs for the region.”


AD:VENTURE, which has helped thousands of businesses since its launch in 2017, has funding and delivery partners across the Leeds City region. As well as Leeds Beckett University, they include Leeds Trinity University, the Prince’s Trust and the nine local authorities.

York engineering consultancy makes a splash

A York structural engineering consultancy, which has worked with top hotels in London, has taken the plunge to move into new offices to cope with increased demand for its services.

JME Consultants has seen business boom, with profits up more than fourfold in just over a year. Set up by Jack Merrett in 2019, the consultancy has just moved into new offices at Westminster Place just inside the York ring road and has recently landed its 200th project.

Clients range from home-owners to large national construction firms, and include 5 Star hotels in London, with design for swimming pools. JME Consultants have also advised large house building firms over the structure of foundations; designed the remedial works for a footbridge at Northallerton School and Sixth Form College, and designed everything from steel frames for large industrial units to straw bale and eco-friendly homes.

Jack had worked in the industry for many years, before deciding to set up his own business, with help from his wife Anna Oultram in her spare time. The company currently has one full-time employee, structural engineer Steve Margrove, with plans to take on another within the next few months. JME Consultants also uses three sub-contractors who are experts in CAD design.

“The five-year plan is to get to around ten members of staff, with the longer-term aim of having 20 to 25 staff,” said Jack.

“There is a tendency within the industry to put profit before people. We wanted to establish a business which puts people first, is realistic about workloads and operates with openness and transparency.

“It’s all about keeping standards high and treating everybody well, both clients and staff. We want to create a real collaborative atmosphere, where the people who work here don’t want to leave.”

The company has been given support, including a grant, by AD:VENTURE, which helps ambitious new businesses trading for less than three years in York, North and West Yorkshire, and is part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF).

Jack said: “Neither me nor Anna had run a business before. It was going really well, but we needed someone with a more holistic view. We wanted someone independent to give us advice and a nudge in the right direction, and of course you are not going to turn down funding.”

They were given a grant of about £3,600 from AD:VENTURE, which they had to match-fund, which contributed towards a specialist printer and additional software licences. But Jack says it is not just the funding that has helped.

“It’s an independent voice. They are not doing it for their own needs they are doing it to help you. You never worry that there is an ulterior motive; it’s honest and independent advice which is incredibly valuable.”

AD:VENTURE has funding and delivery partners across the Leeds City Region, including City of York Council and the region’s other eight  local authorities; the Business Enterprise Fund; the Prince’s Trust; Leeds Beckett University; West and North Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce, and the Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership.

Councillor Andrew Waller, Executive Member for Economy and Strategic Planning at City of York Council, said: “It is encouraging to see how job creation in the city can be encouraged through public sector working with the private sector to bring benefits to the city, and the wider region in terms of sustaining employment and developing skills.

“And it’s great to see that a nudge in the right direction by AD:VENTURE can pay dividends in terms of job creation in areas including sustainable construction techniques and green jobs.”

Wakefield gin couple forging ahead

A husband and wife team who run a craft gin company in Wakefield are forging ahead after being given a growth grant.

Gary and Victoria Ford, who run Forged in Wakefield, have been given the £25,000 grant to help them move in to bigger premises to keep up with demand.

The pair have plans to relocate to Tileyard North, the new creative business centre being built at the former Rutland Mills next to the Hepworth. The move means they can fit in a new 300-litre still, offer distillery tours, run a gin school and a bar.

The company has been given the £25,000 growth grant by AD:VENTURE, which helps ambitious new businesses trading for less than three years in North and West Yorkshire.

Gary said: “Vicky and I had no idea what was involved in running a small business when we started. We have learnt along the way and made a lot of mistakes in the process. At the moment we distil the gin, act as the salesforce, maintain the website, develop new flavours and a million other things. Moving into the premises will mean we can employ staff and take the business to the next phase of its development.”

The company, which has also been given business advice by AD:VENTURE, which is part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), was launched in January 2019 by the pair who loved brewing beer and wine, and wanted to move into distilling spirits. But that meant a lot of red tape.

“It took in the region of six months to gain all the licences required to become a distillery. It was a massive learning curve and we nearly gave up at one point,” said Gary.

“But now we are forging ahead it is worth it. It’s our passion and dream and we always find a way to make it work. We are planning to take on at least five staff before the end of 2021 to help cope with demand and to work in the bar.”

The small batch gin, which is produced in eight flavours, including The Original, Yorkshire Strength, Passionfruit and Lemon Sherbet, is certified organic and vegan.

The current still can produce around 90 bottles of gin in eight hours, but the new premises will mean they can invest in a new still which can produce three times as much, and can make other products, such as vodka and rum. Victoria and Gary are also moving bottle production from France to Yorkshire to reduce their carbon footprint, and are having a custom-designed bottle developed.

The gin is sold to the public via the Forged in Wakefield website and to about 50 farm shops, bars, restaurants and clubs, and the couple are currently negotiating to export to Norway.

Gary said: “It is difficult to appreciate just what is involved in running a small business unless you have walked that path. Small business owners, including ourselves, often work 80 to 90 hour weeks; so our time is spread very thinly.

“Having the help and support from the team at AD:VENTURE  really makes a difference. The investment has been fantastic as it helps us to increase our capacity and produce our custom bottle, but the team at AD:VENTURE  went above and beyond this, spending lots of time coaching us and offering business support and guidance.

“Their advisers are happy to help in any way they can and are great at putting you in touch with people. They open doorways and open your eyes to other ways of doing things. There’s so much help available that our biggest regret is that there is only the two of us and we don’t have the time to take all the help that is out there,” said Gary.

AD:VENTURE has funding and delivery partners across the Leeds City Region, including Wakefield Council and the region’s other eight  local authorities; the Business Enterprise Fund; the Prince’s Trust; Leeds Beckett University; West and North Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce, and the Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership.

Cllr Darren Byford, cabinet member for economic growth, regeneration and property at Wakefield Council, said: “Forged in Wakefield is exactly what it says, a great company and product forged in our district which is full of amazing creative people doing amazing things.

“Giving support to early stage businesses through the AD:VENTURE programme really pays off in the long run as it helps these businesses to thrive and create jobs and greater economic prosperity for us all.”

For more information about AD:VENTURE go to https://ad-venture.org.uk/

For more information about Forged in Wakefield go to https://www.forgedinwakefield.com/

Pursuing your Purpose – Passion and PAY!

This bold move into business from the safety of employment may have felt too big an ask with so many roadblocks and glass ceilings previously facing many females, but these positive stories of success showcase enterprising women breaking through barriers to prosper… Here they reveal their secrets to not just launching but leaping sustainably beyond their salary!

Meet the women of AD:VENTURE who have been on a pursuit of their purpose and have prospered in the somewhat pain-staking pause …

“In my early career I battled with being a ‘woman in business’ and often felt unheard or that I needed to work a bit harder to make myself heard. In a room full of businessmen, it’s easy to hide away in the shadows. But now, having become a mum and a business owner, I am completely confident that as a woman in business – we have a power! We have an opportunity to be smart, witty and confident and that gives us an edge that some people may not expect. We can shine brighter than others in the room if we harness that power!”  



“We’ve become so much more confident about making mistakes and learning from them too. I don’t think either of us could have anticipated how many there would be!

Speak to other businesses as much as you can. We’ve met so many amazing people, come across great opportunities and learnt so much from chatting to others in the industry. Having a strong and supportive network that you can rely on has been really key for us.”



“Use your networks. Tap up your contacts, request to connect with likeminded business owners and network as much as you can. Observe others and hone your craft, adopt best practice and remember you’re never too old or too senior to learn new skills. Ask questions, seek out advice, get curious. Believe in yourself and learn from every situation – good and bad.” 



SPACE TO CREATE: Saving time from commuting gave one social media marketing mum space to create her own career 

Rebecca Hopwood, from Leeds, Director of Youbee Media Limited said: “I started Youbee Media in September 2020. During the pandemic when many of us were working from home. Without having to endure the daily commute I was able to have more time at home and with my family and it made me realise that I had a choice and an opportunity to do something that I had always dreamed of doing. My little boy would be starting school in September 2021 so if I wanted to make a positive change, I needed to do it now.

I have a degree in Media and Marketing and always worked closely with small businesses. In all of my previous roles, I tried to offer solutions to many of the challenges small businesses faced.

“While working as a social media account manager, I felt restricted by what solutions I could offer and found myself ‘signposting’ other areas of marketing for them to discover themselves.

“I realised that I could have a business idea here! I can speak to businesses on a consultancy level and bring together all aspects of marketing and communications to help their business see it through the pandemic.

“This helped me to get the balance I desired, help businesses as I hoped, and come through this pandemic stronger.”  


SUPPORT pre-start-up can elevate your growth (rather than stifle it) 

Rebecca, added: “I contacted AD:VENTURE as a pre-start-up and got on the programme as soon as possible. I knew that this was the best way to make sure that I did things right and harnessed every opportunity. I had meetings with my business mentor and attended online training sessions to pick up some new skills. Within 4 weeks of starting my business, I knew that I had secured enough client work to consider an office space and to recruit a member of staff. I found an office space in Morley, Leeds, and used a resilience grant from AD:VENTURE to purchase equipment, furniture, and marketing material. This allowed me to attract potential candidates and show that I was serious about the future of Youbee Media. Without this support and funding, my business wouldn’t be able to grow as quickly as it did.”



Gemma Dunn, Strategic Marketing Consultant & Founder, said that Lockdown was also the push out of her comfort zone she needed to launch her business after working in marketing for the education sector in Bradford.

“As a stereotypical introvert I have learnt how to behave as an extrovert and how to ‘act’ confident. Face to face networking makes my knees quiver but I throw myself into because I understand the importance and have realised I have so much to learn from other business owners. I also specialise in curiosity and love nothing more than a client deep-dive to get under the skin of a business and the business owner(s).

“I am pleased that I have not been pigeonholed into the education sector – it’s refreshing to discover that clients recognise my highly transferrable skills and decades of experience and I am loving the variety of projects.”

With the help of a trusty AD:VENTURE business advisor, she has even exceeded her previous salary within her first sixth months and is forecasting both profit and growth in Year 1.

Gemma of Elite Marketing & Communications, who is about to launch her new website with the help of AD:VENTURE, said: “Something I never expected to achieve so quickly. I really have to pinch myself to believe how much I have achieved so quickly.”


SPACE TO CURATE From the monotony of the rat race into rapid growth… 

Becca and Charlotte, aged 30 and 31, were also both in corporate jobs before Lockdown, and Maternity Leave gave them the space to make the leap from the rat race into traveling yurts!

They started North Sky Yurts in November 2020 before setting up a second business – Yurt and Bell Tent Hire across Yorkshire for Weddings, Parties, and Corporate Events!

Charlotte enthuses: “We live by Holly Tucker’s motto of ‘Do what you love and love what you do’”… 



They thank their support network and the fact they have been able to learn from others in businesses with the network and connections AD:VENTURE offers that they’ve not only successfully started one business… but two!

“Speak to other businesses as much as you can. We’ve met so many amazing people, come across great opportunities, and learned so much from chatting with others in the industry. Having a strong and supportive network that you can rely on has been really key for us.”

Follow them at @northskyyurts 


Community, charity and creative influences… 

I may have never had a ‘secure’ job like many of these incredible women…With my optimistic mindset, I have had the fortune of being nurtured by a diverse family with a spiritual art-loving creative practitioner of a mother alongside a wood carving walking enthusiastic step-dad in one home and an LGBTQ campaigner and sexual health specialist Dad alongside my other Step-Pops – a children’s author and strategy consultant… oh and a fashion designer for a sister, a band-playing brother and another brother with a beautiful Autistic brain who volunteers at a school and loves to spend his spare time running.

Having these creative clans around me meant that I too enjoyed expressing and communicating myself creatively… my go to skill has always been connecting and empathising with everyone and having the ability to write their story or create magazines, newsletters and anything that would help communicate and campaign for community issues.

Typical security feels insecure to me! … but that was initially my stumbling block in building a sustainable and purposeful yet profitable business… something AD:VENTURE supported my documentary making company with Evoke Media Group Ltd which has made films for Channel 4 News, ITV news and social media videos… I went from a freelance journalist to running my own all female production company.  Ongoing they have helped me evolve my other brands too with my own turning point pivot for my Sparkle Communications company which writes and creates content for ethical businesses to connect them in the media and we have recently launched our Sparkle Up North Business Magazine shining a spotlight on women such as these featured in business, again AD: VENTURE is not just a one-stop start-up shop but they continue to foster growth and faith in our multiple enterprises!

I have been reinvigorated and truly inspired by writing up these positive stories of women taking the punt from their safety net of PAYE checks and pensions, amidst the pain of the Pandemic and people pulling through together.


“Crisis doesn’t create community, it reveals it.” 

I too discovered in my own business journey that with the tailor-made support from AD:VENTURE that in order to really create the change and empower other women, is that we also need to prosper from profit as well as passion to build our business! And without realising it I too needed to be instilled with the confidence of such a community who cheerleads one another… and reminds us that we are worthy and more than talented enough (often as women we over-qualify ourselves!) to evolve into a growing business and have the honour to shine a light on our business sisterhood.


Read more from Sophie Mei Lan at https://sparkleupnorth.com  https://sparklecomms.co.uk

Get featured by following @SparkleUpNorth @SparkleComms

Leeds law student sees gap in market to launch successful marketing company

A Leeds law student has combined his studies with his love of all things digital to create a specialist marketing agency.

Joel Cortez was working as an intern at legal firms while at Leeds Beckett University, when he saw a gap in the market and set up Intellistart.

“The average marketing agency does not understand the needs of solicitors – or understand the regulations surrounding the profession,” said Joel, who first became interested in social and digital media in his teens.

Having started as a summer intern, Joel ended up working full-time in marketing and deferring his studies. He worked with several legal firms and others in professional services, looking at their branding, website, online paid advertising, email marketing and video marketing, before returning to finish his degree.

In September last year he decided to focus his energies on Intellistart and turned to AD:VENTURE, a business support programme which helps ambitious new businesses trading for less than three years in North and West Yorkshire.

“Many of the companies I approached initially said they had tried marketing and got no results. This often happens with generic marketing agencies who don’t understand the sector,” said Joel.

“But the way we approach it works and leads to brand awareness, because we understand the sector.”

Joel, who came to the UK from the Philippines when he was seven, runs Intellistart with his partner Ewelina Radziewicz, who came from Poland when she was 15.

The company is now working with about 15 legal firms in Leeds, Manchester, Birmingham and further south. One company that started paying for one online campaign was so impressed they are now paying several thousand pounds a month for 18 campaigns.

As a student Joel was put in touch with AD:VENTURE by the university’s business centre, and accepted onto Accelerate, a programme of support which brings together pre-recorded masterclasses, weekly live webinars and one-to-one support, along with advice on grants and funding.

Accelerate, which is run by Leeds Beckett University on behalf of AD:VENTURE, also features guided learning tasks and access to learning resources and wider support.

Joel said the support given to him by AD:VENTURE, which is part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), was pivotal in growing the business. As well as employing his partner, he has immediate plans to take on two new members of staff, and possibly one more by the end of 2021. He is also considering moving into an office.

“The Accelerate programme really highlighted some of the issues that were starting to show themselves and would be a problem later down the line. One of those was capacity. It got me thinking about taking on more people and building a team,” said Joel, who has also received a grant from the AD:VENTURE programme.

AD:VENTURE has funding and delivery partners across the Leeds City Region, including the region’s nine local authorities; the Business Enterprise Fund; the Prince’s Trust; Leeds Beckett University; West and North Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce, and the Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership.

Sarah Carling, AD:VENTURE programme manager, said : “Joel is a great example of the type of entrepreneur we want to encourage in the Leeds City Region; someone who has specialist knowledge, sees a gap in the market and goes for it.

“His success leads to the success of other businesses, which is fantastic, and in time will see him create much-needed jobs. We really do admire the work he has done and want to help more people like Joel succeed, so I would urge anyone starting up in business to get in touch and find out what help is available”

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 

York bee innovator causes a buzz around the world

A York company that lifts the lid on beehives is making a buzz around the world from Australia to the Caribbean.

AgriSound supplies sensor systems that can remotely monitor the state of beehives and alert owners when action needs to be taken. Their systems are designed for use by amateur beekeepers, by businesses  who provide pollinator bees and even to monitor wild bees.

Dr Casey Woodward, who set up the company in 2020, said they were already supplying equipment to St Lucia, Australia, New Zealand and the US, as well as the UK and western Europe.

The company, which has been given support by AD:VENTURE, a business support programme part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), has a team of five, with plans to increase to 20 within the next 18 months.

Casey, who has a degree from the University of York and a PhD from Hull, was working with companies looking at using sensors in livestock farming to optimise animal health and productivity. But he realised there was little technology being used to monitor bees, which are generally kept in remote areas.

And with more than 90 million beehives around the world and more people taking up beekeeping during lockdown, Casey saw a gap in the market.

“As well as making honey, bees play a vital role in pollinating food crops, particularly in developing countries, but also with high yield crops such as almonds, cashews and coffee, as well as beans and other legumes.

“Our technology means both new and experienced beekeepers can gain an understanding of what is going on inside the hive, and can protect against disease, predation and losses.

“For people using bees for pollination, early detection of changes can lead to quicker treatment. And quicker treatment leads to healthier pollinator numbers. And if you think that without pollinators, bees, butterflies, moths and other bugs, we’d lose more than 70 per cent of all food crops, you can see why their welfare is so important.”

The sensors that AgriSound supply will monitor factors like humidity, temperature and weight of hives, then analyse that information and send it via 3/4G to the client. The company is also developing systems that detect wild pollinators and so will help sustainable agricultural practices, in places like Africa.

“In the long term, we see ourselves as a pollinator brand, also working with wild bees, and not just a brand for beekeepers,” said Casey.

“If you can improve pollination and improve yields and have less need for herbicides and pesticides, you can actually go a long way towards alleviating poverty and hunger.”

AgriSound has been given business advice by AD:VENTURE, which helps ambitious new businesses trading for less than three years in North and West Yorkshire. AD:VENTURE has provided more than £1.7m in grant funding and helped more than 3,500 businesses and individuals in the Leeds City Region since its launch at the end of 2016.

Casey said: “We’ve had lots of support from AD:VENTURE and their help has been really valuable. Working with them has helped us open lots of new doors and make new contacts. And it is about supporting the whole company, you get support for the team, which has been amazing and led to some real growth.”

The company was also awarded a £3,000 grant by AD:VENTURE to pay for a 3D printer, and given a grant by Innovate UK through the Sustainable Innovation Fund.

AD:VENTURE has funding and delivery partners across the Leeds City Region, including City of York Council and the region’s other eight  local authorities; the Business Enterprise Fund; Leeds Beckett University; West and North Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce, and the Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership.

Councillor Andrew Waller, Executive Member for Economy and Strategic Planning at City of York Council said: “It’s really exciting to see a home-grown business working on ideas that could change lives around the world.

“It shows that giving support to early stage businesses can really make a difference, not just to the business, but the local economy and even further afield.”

For more information about AD:VENTURE go to https://ad-venture.org.uk/

For more information about AgriSound go to https://www.agrisound.io/

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.

AD:VENTURE Programme – New Tender Opportunity

West and North Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce

The delivery of a series of business growth workshop for pre -starts, start-ups and young business as part of the AD:VENTURE programme.

The West and North Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce are looking to engage a number of contractors to deliver a series of workshops across the Leeds City Region as part of the AD:VENTURE business support programme.

The AD:VENTURE programme provides ERDF funded growth support to pre-start, start-up and young business in their first three years of trading in the Leeds City Region. For further details please see: www.ad-venture.org.uk

The AD:VENTURE Programme is part funded by European Regional Development Funding.


 Contractors will be required to deliver;

  1. Virtual and physical workshops that cover the themes set out below. Physical workshops will be delivered at a specified venue, virtual workshops will be delivered via an online platform.
  2. Virtual Workshops are expected to last no longer than 1.5 hours, with approx. 1 hour of main content delivery, allowing 15 minutes for initial client registration and tech check, and around 15 minutes for client Q&A and workshop close down. Workshops delivered virtually may require two or more sessions to cover more in-depth content, where this is the case this will need to be delivered within a 7 day window.
  3. Physical Workshops are expected to be no longer than 3 hours, contractors will be expected to arrive at the specified venue at least 15 minutes prior to the workshop for set up purposes.
  4. Details of expected learning points and/or outcomes for participants. There should be a minimum of 3 learning points and /or outcomes. As a result of participating in a workshop an AD:VENTURE clients should have the additional skills, knowledge and tools to implement changes and improvement in their business. The contractor will need to provide appropriate resource such as; toolkits, checklists or action plan to enable and support client to achieve this aim.

Physical workshops will typically be delivered to a group of between 10-15 clients with a maximum of 20 participants (subject to room size), Virtual workshops will be delivered to a group of approximately 15- 20 clients with a maximum of 25 clients attending online, via the specified web conferencing software platform provided by AD:VENTURE. Physical workshops will be delivered in locations across the Leeds City Region. AD:VENTURE covers the following Local Authority Districts;

Harrogate, Selby, York, Leeds, Wakefield, Kirklees, Craven, Bradford, Calderdale.

Number and frequency of workshops required will be determined by the programme and subject to demand from and popularity with AD:VENTURE participants.

Workshops should be engaging and interactive, enabling clients to ask questions and apply practical learning.

Workshop Topics

We are looking for providers that are able to cover the themes identified below. We would welcome proposals that offer specific topics that address areas identified within each of the key themes.

Please consider the section below as a broad description of the kind of proposals we would like to receive, rather than a prescriptive list of workshop titles or content. We would like providers to use their own experiences of working with this particular client group to propose workshop titles and content that will appeal to and address the needs of AD:VENTURE participants.

Providers can submit proposals for any 1 or more of the themes, and outline any number of proposed workshops under each theme to address the topics identified.

AD:VENTURE participants will come to the programme with different levels of existing knowledge & experience of the business topics below. To address this, where appropriate we would welcome proposal that include workshops or workshop series designed for these different levels of knowledge.

  1. Marketing Your New Business
  2. Customer Management
  3. Making Sales& “Selling” your Business
  4. Funding & Finance for Business
  5. Staff & Developing your Team 
  6. Business Strategy 
  7. Website Creation and Optimisation

Tender Open Date

Tuesday 16th March 2021

Deadline Date

Your response is required by: 12noon Wednesday 7th April 2021

How to return your Proposal

You are instructed to return your documents by email to:


Emails must be clearly marked:

“Confidential – Ad: Venture workshop Provision Proposal”

 You MUST respond by the date and time indicated to be considered.

For full details please see the downloadable PDF document HERE 

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.