Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘entrepreneur’

Why I started the Donut

I’ve always found small businesses compelling – what makes them work and the challenge of going it alone are to me the most interesting questions in business. And after 19 years of running my company, BHP, I admire SMEs more than ever.

Running your own show is tremendous fun, especially if you know what you’re doing and can manage the 101 challenges that come your way every month. Which is where BHP content comes in.

We’ve been producing our expert how-to guides, sponsored by blue chips and government organisations, for nearly two decades. But, of course, as an entrepreneur, I wanted something new to do. In a (rare) idle moment online, I scouted about for a really good marketing website for small businesses. There wasn’t one.

So we decided to do it, launching on 20 April 2009. We built small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) their own site with everything they needed to make their marketing thrive. Founding partners Google and Royal Mail backed us all the way, as have our ever-growing list of sponsors such as Vodafone and Yell.  

What we’ve achieved in a year

As well as Marketing Donut, we launched two more Donut websites to cover starting up and law. We’ve just announced that the fourth site to launch will be IT Donut, scheduled for the week commencing 23 August.

We use 300 top people to provide the expert advice on the Donuts, but, for me, the real experts are also the users. Before we started work, we asked people running small businesses what they wanted from a site. They told us they needed fast, practical and accurate answers to their questions. The Donuts give SME managers that, free. Tools, templates, checklists, the lot: plus the news their business needs to know.

All the Donuts report live on major small-business happenings – we were the first business advice site to break news of the rise in minimum wage on Budget Day. MyDonut, the e-newsletter, now goes out to tens of thousands of people a month – next year numbers should top 100,000. (This is in addition to the 300,000 subscribers to the SME newsletters that we publish for our clients. Life at BHP is one big deadline.)

Since the launch a year ago, the Donut sites have fast become a key player in the UK small-business scene. Our Twitter accounts have over 40,000 followers and our Twitter team picked up two national awards last year.

Local versions of marketingdonut.co.uk, startupdonut.co.uk and lawdonut.co.uk are syndicated to our partners, both nationally and in the regions. Thirty-five organisations already have their own Donut websites and more are coming on stream every month.

The Donut is a strong business model, because it is a win-win for everyone involved. Crucially, BHP had already invested several years building up the strategic relationships and the content before launching the first website. As with most successful SMEs, we always knew that the Donut project would not be a sprint to success, it would be a marathon.

2010-2011: what’s in it for you?

As we expand the core “answers to your questions” pages of the Donuts, we will continue to cover news and key topical issues for you. For instance, this month the Law Donut explains how to cope with recruitment and redundancy as the economy remains fragile, as well as what to do when all your staff want time off for June’s World Cup.

We’re currently building the IT Donut, which will be a comprehensive resource for demystifying IT, troubleshooting and trading online. It will become the first place any small business turns to when they have a tech problem that needs sorting fast. We’re currently recruiting experts who will rid us all of pesky IT stress forever, I hope.

We’ll also be providing a local service for users, thanks to our partners. Law firms, chambers of commerce and enterprise agencies are all getting involved. This is really exciting, as it gives users the best of all worlds – a huge library of constantly updated advice from experts throughout the UK, combined with local content.

An SME owner’s work is never done, so I’m signing off to tackle the above. Before I go – thanks to you, our users, and all our partners and experts, for a great year.

startupdonutbannerbutton728x90

Bookmark and Share
Advertisements

Read Full Post »

Earlier this year, entrepreneur and founder of The School for Startups, Doug Richard, published his Entrepreneurs’ Manifesto – a “declaration of rights” for small businesses.

The manifesto sets out eight demands to a new government, each of which addresses a different key concern for businesses. In the build-up to the 6 May general election, Donut MD Rory MccGwire is offering his thoughts on the issues raised by Doug Richard.

In his manifesto, Doug Richard argues that business regulation should be streamlined so that people can start businesses more quickly and run them more easily. 

I agree. But in order to achieve this, I think the law must make an important distinction between small and large businesses. They have different regulatory requirements. What is fair and suitable for one is often neither fair nor suitable for the other. 

It’s also important to recognise the natural bias in our regulations, a bias that stems from the fact that regulations are always going to favour the people who make them. So our regulatory system is heavily skewed towards the preferences of the government, the public sector, big business and the trade unions. 

The seemingly simple task of taking a chunk of time off for a family holiday is a struggle for many people running a small business, so it’s hardly surprising that they do not have time to assist in the law-making process. 

Nor do the various small business membership organisations have the power to make much of a difference. Think back to when the government raised CGT by 80 per cent without realising until afterwards that for many small businesses the only “pension” available at retirement is the proceeds of the sale of the business. A £1m threshold was hastily added, but not before it became obvious that the small business lobby groups had not even been consulted on this legislation, let alone listened to. 

Yet it’s small businesses that end up paying the price for so much of the legislation. Take a law requiring organisations to offer wheelchair access to their premises. I’m sure everyone agrees that society wants to help make life less difficult for disabled people. But few people stop to consider who will be forced to pay for the door widening. We all pay for the doors to be widened in the public sector buildings and the corporate buildings, through our taxes, pensions and savings (some of which are invested in listed shares), which seems completely fair. 

But when it comes to all the properties owned by small businesses, it’s the business owner who pays. So if I earn a £20k salary working for the local council or for a big company, I am not affected at all, but if I would have earned £20k from owning a shop, I might be left with just £17k after the adjustments to my shop front. How can that be fair? It’s not. It is merely convenient, both for the lawmakers and for the Treasury. 

It’s the same with employee rights. Nobody questions the need for new parents to spend more time with their children. But who pays? There’s no compensation to any of the small business owners who pick up these costs. In a small business, every member of staff is a key person and losing them, even temporarily, is a considerable blow. Larger businesses have the resources to cushion the blow; small businesses don’t. 

Given that small businesses employ a very considerable proportion of the workforce, I suggest that society ought to compensate small businesses if we all want to have those benefits. If not, you end up with a situation where business owners are terrified of employing women of a certain age. It’s discriminatory, but it happens; the law has massive unintended consequences. 

Sensible regulation is essential to protect customers, employers and employees. But it must recognise the reality of running a small business. 

So much of our business regulation is designed for Hewlett Packard and Rolls Royce, not for “mom and pop” businesses. But, in my view, firms with fewer than five employees should have a completely different set of regulations. If you choose to work for them, perhaps you shouldn’t have quite the same rights as employees in larger companies, simply because these rights amount to robbing Peter (the employer, who is a person) to pay Paul (the employee). But then you would be discriminating against employees of small businesses, which is clearly wrong. 

So the only fair solution is for society (aka the taxpayer) to face up to, and pay for, the cost of implementing all these rights, instead of turning a blind eye while the costs fall onto the shoulders of small business owners. 

Doug Richard is right and all the political parties seem to agree. We need to do something to enable the moms and pops to run their businesses in a more flexible and efficient way. Now let’s see if anyone actually does anything. 

What do you think? 

Rory’s other Have your say! blogs

What do you think about the regulations affecting small businesses? Please leave your comment below.
startupdonutbannerbutton728x90

Bookmark and Share

Read Full Post »

The Start Up Donut’s week-long celebration of mums who run businesses – mumpreneurs, kitchen table tycoons, business mums, businesswomen, call them what you will – is over for another year. What did we learn?

People don’t necessarily like to be labelled, so do we need a term to define this group? Is it necessary for people to know you’re a mum or is the fact you have children irrelevant?

The discussion surrounding the term ‘mumpreneur’ on our forum threw up some interesting opinions.

On the one hand, business women such as Laura Rigney are proud of the ‘mumpreneur’ tag. She said: “It takes an awful lot of determination and dedication to start a business from scratch and then continue running it while doing the everyday things that come with being a mother”.

Emily Cagle disagreed, saying: “The main issue for me is the irrelevant categorisation of a business owner (who happens to be female and a parent). People tend to mean well by using the term to recognise the challenges mums often face, but I think it’s generally unhelpful.”

There will always be disagreements over such things, anyway, if Cara Sayer is right, the term ‘mumprenenur’ will undoubtedly go out of fashion”. Other terms, such as ‘kitchen table tycoon’, were also disliked, it must be said.

We also invited guest blog posts from business mums last week and it was interesting to see the common themes: the importance of being resourceful; effective time-management; the need for multi-tasking; the need to start up on a shoestring; remain flexible; and being adept at prioritisation of time and tasks.

The lessons learned when managing a family and various school runs, mealtimes, hobbies and bedtime routines can be very useful when running a business.

You can see from the case studies that we’ve featured on the site, such as April Browne who runs Crystal Jewels, that despite much competition for their time, many mums continue to be inspired to start a business, while for some, such as Claire Willis of SnugBaby, necessity is still the mother of invention and the basis for many new mum-owned enterprises.

At the end of the week, I asked an open question on Twitter aimed at all business mums: “What was your inspiration for starting your business?” These were just some of the replies:

  • Being able to work around my children and hopefully be able to provide them with a fulfilling, nurtured life! @LauraARigney
  • Flexibility of working hours, being able to do kids’ illnesses with no guilt and calling my own shots on what I take on. @essentialnm
  • Being my own boss and the ability to work from home while still looking after my children. Doing something I love helps too! @EmmaEwers
  • I wanted more flexibility! My long-hours PR job didn’t suit any more – I wanted control! @businessmum
  • Sick of making a lot of money for someone else and wanting to spend time with my bubs! @bingoreviewer
  • Flexibility to not miss out on my children growing & to keep my brain active doing something I enjoy (designing websites). @glassraven
  • An overwhelming demand for my products. Initially a hobby, so I really had some learning to do!  and the realisation that if I worked hard enough I might be able to stay at home with George @Preciousparcels
  • Because it’s something I’m passionate about. I think more people would choose #realnappies if they knew how fab they are! @RealChoiceNappy
  • My inspiration was not wanting someone else to have the pleasure of bringing up my children when I had struggled to have them. @mumstheboss
  • I’d always wanted to work for myself & having my son made me desire financial independence. These 2 goals still motivate me. @EmmaWimhurst
  • Redundancy, divorce and the need to see my children through university. @cathyrecruit
  • I saw how much my kids enjoyed facepainting & had a go, 3 yrs on & i have a party business w/ online party shop. @myfunkyparty
  • Being able to work around my children and having the luxury of not having to rush treatments as I plan my own diary. @OnlyHolistic

These were broadly representative, with the vast majority related to having enough flexibility to look after children while still providing for the family. Starting a business seems to be the perfect solution for women who want to continue working but who also want to spend time with their children while they’re small.

On a personal level, it’s been really nice to be in touch with such a lovely group of people who’ve been so helpful and really got stuck in with the discussions.

I’d like to say a special thank you to our blog contributors and to everyone who retweeted, commented, said hello and helped to spread the word. Although Mother’s Day has been and gone, our support for mums running their own businesses will continue throughout the year.

Anna Kirby, BHP Information Solutions

startupdonutbannerbutton728x90

Bookmark and Share

Read Full Post »

In last Monday’s blog post we introduced you to www.inafishbowl.com which follows the trials and tribulations of three startups. We’re featuring the story of Marcela of Rico Mexican Kitchen, who produces home-cooked Mexican food products. Follow her story each week as she deals with buyers and distributors at department stores and discusses the reality of running a home-based business.

Crystal ball, where are you?

We normally start doing something new because we think we have a chance to succeed. Well, at least, that’s what I keep on saying to myself: “Look, you’ve put in your all, people like Mexican food, and your Mexican food has soul, YOUR soul in it.” Well, yes, and? Surely, giving your all and having a good product should be enough to make your business work, shouldn’t it?

I gave up my job to dedicate my full energy to getting Rico Mexican Kitchen off to a good start. My idea was simple: to make fantastic authentic Mexican food so everyone in the UK could try something healthier, tastier and ethically sourced. But this game is sooooo difficult! Will I make it work? How? Any advice welcome!

Everyone told me that it was a brave thing to give up my job to start a business. But deep down I was thinking, “I really want to try my best to make it work- it’ll be simple- I’ll make these amazing, delicious and authentic and people will buy them.” At the moment, however, some shops think that it’s not the right time for Mexican food… what are they thinking? What do they think Mexican people do when it’s winter… not eat? What do you think?

Anyway, luckily Selfridges doesn’t think this and I am off to do a tasting session. I don’t know if I’m more excited or more nervous – I’m a bit of both, I suppose!

The week ahead of me looks like an incredible juggling act of cooking, training course, kids off school, delivering, entertaining 10 girls for my daughter’s birthday party. The added complexity is that we are having new labels designed especially for the Selfridges launch and the printers don’t want to say that the labels will definitely be ready- just keeping me on my toes! I am really really nervous about this- will the labels arrive on time?

You can find out more about Marcela on the new interactive business website www.inafishbowl.com

startupdonutbannerbutton728x90

Bookmark and Share

Read Full Post »

True net gains?

“Small firms should increase their website presence,” urges BBC entrepreneur expert Howard Graham in a new piece on the BBC website.

He cites the well-established business wisdom that growing your firm depends on creating a unique selling proposition (USP) and communicating it to your target market. “The web is simply the best way of doing that,” he argues.

In many cases, he’s right. For example, an independent bookshop selling rare first editions could make invaluable use of a website to make its unique publications known to a wider audience, and of course sell them via an online shop.

But I’m surprised that Graham should believe it’s “extraordinary” that fewer than half of all small businesses have a web presence. Is it really that astounding when, as the Federation of Small Businesses says, “the vast majority of small businesses serve their local markets”?

I spoke to my greengrocer this week. I suggested the very thing Graham is advocating, that he should consider investing in a website. I expected a negative reaction based on likely cost, but I was wrong. He simply replied: “I’m based in Bristol, why do I want someone in Leeds to know who I am? He won’t want to buy from me, and even if he does, by the time he gets to me, the carrots will have rotted!”

My local grocer was more concerned with making sure families down the street know he was open for business. Graham’s firm carried out a survey that backs this claim up: “A recent survey we carried out at Made Simple Group clearly showed that… specifically improving visibility to generate new business was a key concern for many.”

But is a website always the best way to achieve this? How vital is a web presence to a plumber, mobile hairdresser or local newsagent? Surely good old fashioned word-of-mouth, attention-grabbing signage and business cards do the job just as well – if not better – than an expensive website?

This is not to say small businesses should ignore other avenues of online marketing – social networks such as Twitter, Ecademy and Facebook, as well as blogging. All can provide excellent, low-cost exposure for your business. The Start Up Donut has some great videos that provide an introduction to online social networking.

But a purely web-based approach to publicising a small business can be ineffective if not suicidal. Small firms should increase their website presence – but only if there is true value in doing so.

Mark Hook, BHP Information Solutions

startupdonutbannerbutton728x90

Bookmark and Share

Read Full Post »

I lost count of the number of times my parents told me this rather irritating expression when I was small. However, recently I have met two women entrepreneurs who demonstrate just how true this old saying is. Both have used their skills in and love of cooking to create successful businesses.

Escaping from an unhappy marriage, Lely arrived here from the Far East with a tiny baby. How was she to earn a living? For the initial few years, she set up a stall in a market, baby in tow, selling culinary products from her native Thailand. Gradually the business flourished. She rented a small shop, and started producing Thai food. The combination of her excellent cuisine and her warm personality, no doubt seasoned with a hefty dose of determination, ensured a steady growth in clientele. First one restaurant, then another opened, and now Lely has a thriving chain, despite the recession, serving excellent oriental dishes.

Redundancy of her husband, who had been the main breadwinner, was the reason for Sue’s business start-up. She had been a nursery school teacher, but realising that the family needed more money than this would produce, she decided to combine her love of cooking with her teaching skills. Sue transformed her garage at home into a large kitchen, where she could accommodate a small class of students. Cleverly she marketed herself not to the bored housewife wanting to know the finer points of an asparagus souffle, but to those who might not have any cooking nous, or indeed any domestic skills at all. She now has a steady stream of students, such as kids leaving school or uni, or kitchen-incompetent guys, and provides practical, useful guidance at all levels. She also makes it fun. Now there’s a challenge!

startupdonutbannerbutton728x90

Bookmark and Share

Read Full Post »

Bristol Media, the superb network for Bristol’s creative community, recently asked me to put my Marketing Donut hat on, and take part in a panel discussion about how to get your creative business started. I was called in to talk specifically about social media marketing.

The discussion was ‘a game of two halves’. First up, creative people who’d recently started their business were quizzed about their experiences. Then, be-suited business experts commented on what they had heard. Yes, I was in the second group (how times change!)

The roll-call of creative businesses included Glow Creative, The White Balance, Spirit PR, Mobile Pie and Wonky Films and – wow – they were impressive.

Mike Bennett, who hosted the session, kept the discussion moving and covered a lot of ground, including:

  • Why did you decide to go into business for yourself?
  • What obstacles did you need to overcome?
  • Did you have a business plan?
  • What would you do differently if you had your time again?

It was thrilling to hear the enthusiasm and pride this talented group generated as they recalled their first steps in business.

For us ‘experts’ it was rather strange experience as we listened to the disembodied voices of the first live discussion. I sat in a small studio in the company of some very venerable business experts from an accountancy firm, a law firm, Business Link, and SETsquared (hi-tech incubation specialist). And it was great to meet Mark Mason, a highly successful local businessman who has ‘been there and done it’. All of us were caught up in the excitement and drive the new businesses were describing in the studio next door.

The creative start-ups universally felt uncomfortable with the word ‘entrepreneur’, stressing rather that the impetus to set up in business was down to a desire to control who they worked with and what projects they took on.

Yet each and every one had the spark and drive crucial to surviving the first year in business.

What struck me was how the start-ups recognised that networking – in all its forms – was fundamental to their initial marketing. This struck a chord with me as all my recent marketing work has led back, one way or another, to networking. So, I was able to chip in with examples of how Twitter, Ecademy, LinkedIn, and blogs can have business outcomes.

The podcast is 40 minutes in total, and well worth a listen if you are interested in starting a business, or if you support business start-ups.
startupdonutbannerbutton728x90

Bookmark and Share

Read Full Post »