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After 11 years of working as a lecturer in further education, I was beginning to feel more and more like I needed a change, but just didn’t know what.

What I did know, was that I wanted to work for myself in some capacity. I’d run my own business before, but took the job at the college because I wanted the benefits of maternity and sick pay.

In February of 2007, I found out that I was pregnant. It came as a complete surprise and it certainly wasn’t planned. I already had two boys and had made my mind up that I didn’t want any more.

As soon as I began my maternity leave, I had an overwhelming feeling that now was the time to start my own business and I just knew that I wouldn’t be going back to the college.

But what would I do?

In October 2007, I gave birth to a gorgeous little boy and I became even more determined to work from home, running my own business.

Although my partner was working, he also had a small online business called www.BeingaMillionaire.com. It had been moderately successful but he’d begun to lose interest and because of this, some orders had been overlooked.

I decided to start sending the orders out while I was off work.

I should add that at the same time, we were having a very large extension built on the house and the place was crawling with builders. The only place I could sit quietly and work was our bedroom. So it was there that I would sit on the bed, laptop perched on one knee, baby bouncing on the other while I typed emails with one hand!

It didn’t take long for the business to take off. It was such a great idea, all it needed was a little TLC.

I chose not to use childcare so baby had to go wherever I went – to meetings, visiting suppliers, seeing the bank manager…everywhere, and he always got a great reaction.

When the time came for me to return to work, I took the plunge, called HR and told them I wouldn’t be back. I did have to pay back some of my maternity pay, but it was worth it.

Even though I was sad to leave as I had made some great friends, I’ve never looked back.

Two and a half years later and my little baby is now a toddler and I work during his playgroup sessions and nap times.

The business has just had it’s most profitable year yet and I’m currently in the process of expanding the product range.

I know not everyone will have such a great experience as me but I wouldn’t discourage anyone from taking that big step into their own business.

Andrea Daly, The Accidental Businessmum

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There are two ways of starting up a company. The first is to take an existing business idea, and do it better. Preferably you will concentrate on an area where the competition is limited or you have some existing connections.

The second is where you come up with an idea that’s completely new. People think that it’s the only way to make a real fortune, but that’s not true. It may come as a shock, but Bill Gates became the world’s richest man largely by improving on the work of others. He wasn’t the leader in new technologies, but he was close behind. And he did things very effectively.

Microsoft didn’t invent the Windows and mouse interface. It was invented by Xerox at its research labs. Microsoft didn’t even produce the first commercial Windows-based computer. That was Apple with the Lisa. But it did get its timing right, do a plausibly good job and market the product very well. The rest is history.

The problem with developing a totally new concept is that it’s totally new. You are not only selling the product, you have to sell the idea too and educate the market. Even if it would sell, it’s more than twice as much work. If you have all the capabilities you need, with limited resources it is hard to succeed. And it’s even harder to recover from a failure.

The world economy is driven in the long run by breakthrough products. But for your own success, it’s worth remembering that the odds are greatly improved by exploiting an area where a market already exists.

Chris Barling, Actinic

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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

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The software industry has long been monopolised by one provider. As Bob Young explains in this video, traditional software only gives you a certain amount of room to move whereas open source software is a completely different model.

There are two reasons this video may be relevant to your start up business. First, thinking about the software you need to make your business operate smoothly, is it worth considering the open source route for any of your key applications? Second, what can your start up business learn from the closed vs open source software model?
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It’s not easy starting up a business. From initially having the courage to realise your idea, to seeking advice and then facing the endless scrutiny that surrounds your new business – there is a certain amount of thick-skin needed to even make it to the starting line. In this video, Eden Project co-founder Tim Smit talks about the qualities needed to survive in the tough world of entrepreneurship.

Smit talks of process and creativity. As an entrepreneur, how did you manage to stay positive while dealing with the range of skills needed in starting up a business?

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If you have an idea for a business and want to progress it, you are probably thinking in earnest about your business plan. If you are looking for outside finance, you are no doubt keen that the business plan will be a great marketing tool for your idea to banks or other investors.

Years ago, when private equity was still called venture capital, I was involved in funding start-ups. I would look through countless business plans, trying to sort the ‘possible’ from the ‘dream-on’ varieties, with a view to investing in the best. Some plans were back-of-the-envelope affairs, with enthusiasm but no financial viability analysis; some described in depth inventive products, but showed no realism with regard to cost of production; others assumed world domination in a few months.

But what really put me off was the business plan that plainly had been written by someone other than the people who were going to make the idea happen. However slick the document, with every possible detail carefully analysed in beautiful spreadsheets, if the words do not reflect the essence of the entrepreneur – his enthusiasm, her conviction the idea will succeed, their commitment to the project – then the proposal will lack that essential ingredient that is the reason for making an investment. The basis of our decisions was mimicry of estate agents’ ‘location, location, location’ replacing the key word with ‘management’. Yes, of course we wanted to see that the projections made sense, and that the amount of investment required was adequate and would be wisely spent; that there was indeed a market for the product or service, and that it would be sold appropriately. But the key was always: is this the right person to make the proposed business succeed?

So if you do use professionals to help compile your business plan, make sure that the final result is imbued with your DNA, and that it convinces the reader why you are the one to turn the plan into the success you describe.

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