Top tips for would-be entrepreneurs

NatWest Business Builder: Customer Discovery

Five successful start-ups talk about the highs and lows of running their own business and offer their hard-earned insights.

All around Britain, thousands of people are starting their own businesses every week. In fact, entrepreneurs are setting up new companies at a record pace of 80 an hour, according to data collected this year by StartUp Britain, a government-backed national enterprise campaign. Its analysis of data from Companies House found that more than 608,000 new businesses were registered in 2015.

Many of these companies start small – from spare rooms or kitchen tables, inspired by a passion that someone wants to pursue. Five entrepreneurs share what they’ve learned from the process of setting up their own company.

Be prepared to spend time and money on your brand

Chantal Teal started her chocolate brownie-making business Love Brownies in 2009 in the kitchen of her Yorkshire home, before expanding into the garage, later into a converted barn, and then to a shop and bakery which now employs 10 people.

She came to baking after five years of studying catering and management and then working as a chef in Europe, Australia and the UK.

She and her husband Lee have now invested £25,000 in the business with the help of a bank loan in order to take it to the next level and provide their award-winning gluten-free brownies to supermarkets, and potentially to Selfridges and Fortnum & Mason.

“I underestimated how much it would cost to get the branding right,” she explains. “I had a clear idea about what I wanted the brand to represent, but to create the logo, brand, values and vision and make them coherent and appealing cost me £10,000. That’s the minimum you are likely to spend.”

Don’t expect immediate riches

Neely Reyes is the founder and director of Sapphires Model Management – a boutique model agency based in central London. She started the agency in 2005 with a £3,000 loan and has provided models for some of the biggest names in the industry. Her client list includes brands such as Vivienne Westwood, Victoria Beckham, Topshop, Chloé and ASOS.

“I was scouted as a model at the Clothes Show on a school trip when I was 16. Although I liked the idea of it then, my mum was not so keen on the idea while I was still at school. A couple of years later I did regional modelling. I didn’t really enjoy it but my sister did. She was doing more modelling than me and I was getting her castings and marketing her, so I decided that was where my strengths lay.”

“It’s really important to listen to what your customer wants and provide them with that. It’s how we’ve survived the hard times”
Mark Hide, MD, Tangram Training

Reyes says a successful entrepreneur needs to “be prepared to work hard, to be determined and ambitious. You also need staying power and a bit of luck.

“It is a great way to make a living if you are prepared to work long hours and face a fair amount of rejection. No one told me how poor I would be at first. Make sure you do your research and that you understand the industry you’re getting into.”

Know and understand your customer

Mark Hide started Tangram Training on a shoestring after he was made redundant and wanted to work for himself rather than go back to being an employee.

He built the Oxfordshire-based business by spotting a gap in the market for corporate and executive training. “Rather than provide an off-the-shelf solution, we focus on helping companies fix long-standing, intractable problems which hurt productivity and morale, but which they have been unable to solve,” he says.

This involved understanding how blockages and problems arose in teams, and being able to understand a company well enough to help staff open up and share difficult issues.

“Our customers know that they can come to us now with any problem, and we will find a way to sort it. Over the course of a few days we can uncover the real reason why a team is not working together – it sometimes comes as a surprise to those who are part of the team, and we’ve had participants in tears when their work colleagues suddenly understand and appreciate them for the first time in years.

“It’s really important to listen to what your customer wants and provide them with that. It’s how we’ve survived the hard times.”

Have a flexible business plan

Simon Jayham set up Gower Surfing School 16 years ago in the Gower, South Wales. He invested £40,000 of his own money and initially concentrated on providing surfing lessons and development.

As the business expanded he offered a Junior Surfing Academy and Stag and Hen parties. He now sells a lot of family-friendly surfing packages, and has seen his customer profile change.

He says: “Things are always changing in business and you have to be able to adapt. I started a surf school with coaching for youngsters who wanted to compete, but the business has evolved and now many of my customers are from outside the UK or are families coming for a week or two in the summertime, rather than just for the weekend.”

He says outside factors like the weather, the economy, the value of the pound and the increasing demands for ‘staycations’ have also affected turnover. “There’s no opportunity to stand still – you have to change and be flexible,” he explains.

Let your passion drive you

Hannah Corne is director of the Mini Mermaid Running Club UK, a national after-school club which aims to raise girls’ self-esteem, self-confidence and love of movement through a six-week training programme culminating in training for a 5km run. Thanks to a link-up with the ParkRun scheme, her young graduates can continue their love of running with weekly 5km events.

“What keeps me going is my strong sense of achievement when I see these girls grow and develop over the weeks of the course. Many of them wouldn’t necessarily join a running club at school but they learn how movement can help them in so many ways.”

She is so committed to the business succeeding that she doesn’t yet draw a wage. “Right now I’m what you’d call a social entrepreneur. My drive is to help these girls grow and learn and love to run. It’s not about race times, but about the joy of movement.”

Further Reading


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