To celebrate a fresh new year of business, we held a Successful Northern Business Panel to give aspiring entrepreneurs some wise words of advice.
We are incredibly proud of our Yorkshire roots, so we chatted with a selection of successful business owners based in the north. It seemed fitting to not only make the panel a celebration of successful businesses across the UK, but to also nod to the success of accomplished businesses in the north.
Successful Northern Business Panel 2018 Guest Speakers
Matt Russell, Co-founder of Music Vine
Music Vine is a young, award-winning music licensing platform that brings some of the world’s most fresh and exciting music to filmmakers whilst offering a set of straightforward and highly-accessible license options.
Achille Traore, CEO of Top Screen Media
Top Screen Media is a technology business which specialises in self service touch screen solutions, sales activation, customer engagement and digital innovation. Works with high profile clients like Merlin Group, Ladbrokes, TFL and World Trade Centre NYC.
Jean Outhwaite, Director of Hopton Candles
Hopton Candles manufacture luxury home fragrances such as candles, diffusers and bespoke fragrances. All handcrafted from the heart of Yorkshire.
James Kinsella, Co-founder of instantprint
instantprint are one of the UK’s largest providers of business cards, flyers, posters and more. Founded in 2009 by James Kinsella (pictured) and Adam Carnell.
Business Panel Discussion:
To start the panel off, what where your very first steps in launching your business and why?
Matt: We did our research. I can’t emphasize just how important this is. You need to prepare yourself as much as possible because the next move you make will be pivotal. I mean, there’s no way you can know everything there is to know about your industry, but having a solid grasp on the market you’re entering, your USP and a stage by stage plan, means you can keep your vision in sight while having milestones to achieve.
James: Once you’ve done your research, the next focus should be on getting revenue coming in. People often get hung up on things only being 95% right and find reasons to delay, but at this stage we’d recommend cracking on and trying to get selling. After all, what you’re trying to get “right” is likely to evolve as you start getting feedback from customers.
Achille: For me, I think it’s important that you seriously ask yourself, are you solving a ''nice to have'' rather than a ''need to have''. Be the need to have.
We also noticed that a lot of small business owners panic about where to launch their business.
When it came to picking your office location, what locations did you consider and what tips would you give to other entrepreneurs seeking office space?
James: Picking a location is entirely dependant on what a businesses’ value proposition is and what factors are going to be key to help it compete in the market. For example, if you are starting a design agency, recruiting the best talent may be critical so location should be chosen for this reason – such as a city centre with a large talent pool.
On the other hand, if your value proposition is around low-cost products sold online, you would need low overheads and good transports links, therefore, out of town would be more appropriate.
Matt: For those desperate to find an office, consider if you really need an office. If it is absolutely vital to your business then yes go for it, if not then why not save that money and put it to better use. If you don’t have an environment that’s suitable to work in, then hot desking is a low-cost solution that offers great flexibility and can be a brilliant way to network.
Achille: I would say, start work where your network is strong. It can actually be really lonely to start and run a business, so it’s important to network and surround yourself with positive people and other business owners.
I’m keen to know, what inspired you all to take that leap of faith and take your ideas from paper to reality?
Matt: One evening I was sat at the pub with my business partner to be. We both then worked in sourcing music for productions, so we were having a good moan about how much time it took searching for tracks. Then, one of us suggested that we should create our own platform to solve this problem. That seed then became Music Vine.
Achille: I’ve always wanted to start my own business. I decided to take the plunge after gaining experience from working in an innovative business where I was responsible for launching a product to market. We took the product from 0 to £6m turnover in 18months which gave me the confidence to try and make my dream a reality.
Jean: For me, I bought a high street well-known brand candle that was really expensive, and I just felt ‘ripped off’. That’s where my journey began. I’m very much an ‘ideas’ person, so I decided what it was that I wanted to do then worked back as to how I can do it and make it a success. I had to get it all down on paper. It’s still a work in progress with innovative ideas, ranges and fragrances.
Inspiring, thank you for sharing.
What has been the biggest lesson that you’ve learnt in being a business owner and from this what’s the best advice that you can pass on?
Jean: Don’t get swept away by flattery. Always do what you feel is right for you and your business and go with your ‘gut feeling’.
The biggest lesson I learned was when a Private Equity company wanted to invest in my business. I thought this was so amazing but my ‘gut feeling’ just wasn’t right. At the time this was really emotionally draining, and I initially beat myself up over it, but on reflection, it was all part of my wonderful journey.
Achille: Always create an MVP (minimum viable product). This will save you time, cost and confirm whether you’re on to something or not. Also, don’t be scared to pivot. You may be on to a good idea but not managing to get traction. To pivot means to find an alternative route to deliver, your product, it may be the way you’re selling the product, the cost structure you’re using or maybe that you’re focusing on the wrong part of your service offering.
James: It’s the old cliché saying, often forgotten, that your team are your most important asset and you should treat them as such. You also need to make it your managers’ priority to look after and coach your team. Finally, you must empower your team to take action and make decisions. If they’re the right people, with the right attitude, who understand where the business is headed, they’ll be the ones driving your business forward.
Thank you, I’m sure that advice will be helpful to other entrepreneurs.
Another popular question is what would make a fantastic business plan and what would make a terrible one?
Matt: Don’t get caught in the detail. Set out everything you need from objectives, strategies and forecasts. A terrible business plan will be one with a lack of quality with figures plucked out of the air with no evidence to support the proposals. This will get torn apart and is a waste of everyone’s time.
Achille: A good business plan is a living document which you can refer back to and update when required. The vision shouldn’t be changed much but the milestones will. A terrible business plan is static and out of date within months of being produced.
Jean: But then again, do you know what a bad one looks like when you’re very first starting out? My opinion is that your first-year plan should be a working document that flexes with experiences and changes in learning. Adjustments need to be made when changes happen in the business day to day. With this learning, contingencies and day to day ups and downs allow for a more structured business plan to be made in year two.
James: We’ve always prioritised opening revenue streams as soon as possible and using feedback to improve our proposition. Many small businesses focus too much on building pre-revenue, neglect marketing and forget the income is critical to the future health of the business.
A lot of people comment on running a business to be ‘too risky’. What would you say back to those people?
James: Without doubt, starting and running a business involves an amount of risk. However, this can be managed in today’s informative world, so the risk is probably lower than say, thirty years ago. Starting a business certainly is not for everyone but through making informed and researched decisions with your business, you control more of the risk.
Matt: Of course, it’s risky, but without risk there’s no reward. Every great idea has to start somewhere and if you’re passionate and savvy enough, you can achieve what you want.
Do you have a business partner and if so, how did you know that you would work well together?
James: Yes, I’m in the very fortunate position in having started the business with one of my best friends, Adam Carnell, who I’ve known for nearly 20 years. Prior to this business, we’d worked together on other businesses so we both knew what we were getting into.
Achille: I’m the founder of all my businesses but I bring in key people in positions such as CTO and head of sales.
Final question, could you sum up in a few words or sentences, what your all-time best pieces of advice would be for aspiring entrepreneurs?
Jean: Ask yourself, is this your passion? If it is, you’re halfway there to be successful.
Matt: Do not lose sight of what makes YOU unique.
James: Make knowing your numbers a priority. Invest time in recruitment. Keep the business focused.
Achille: Plan. Realise that things will take much longer than anticipated. Can you survive if it takes twice as long as forecasted?
Know someone who is soon to launch their business? Share this article with them and let us know @instantprint.