Sunday, 2 December 2012

#4. Branding Your Business

Ah, branding. One of the biggest headaches for any business start up. But what does it refer to exactly?

Contrary to what most people believe, a brand is not a logo, an image or a name. These are tools or icons you can use to help materialise the brand into something more tangible and help people recognise it and associate it with what you do. It can be very helpful, but it’s not what makes a brand.

A brand is a set of values, promises, anecdotes and expectation that you adhere to and respond to. It’s what you tell people when they ask you what values you represent, what you promise you will do for them and the consistency you show when doing it. It’s what will make a customer choose your product or service over a similar one, and what will make them recommend it to others when they see that you’re being honest and their expectations are met.

If someone decides to buy from you because you’re cheaper, or closer, or just happened to be there, your brand had nothing to do with it. But if they do it because they can relate to what you claim is the basis for your business, or you’ve exceeded their expectations in the past, or you’ve been recommended by someone they trust, that’s when you can see your brand’s value and the effect it has on your customers.

I don’t know what it’s like where you live, but here in Manchester estate agents have such a bad reputation and deliver such bad service that more than once I’ve found myself pondering about the possibility of living in a cardboard box just so I didn’t have to deal with them. Yet they get hundreds and hundreds of customers every year. The reason? People will always need a place to live in. And since they are all equally appalling, the competition has come to a kind of stand still, in which customers find a house they like first and then look at which estate agent deals with it, instead of picking one they trust and asking them to show them some flats.

There is no brand there. Even though I can recognise the logos of a fair amount of them, there’s nothing that would make me pick one over another. But if tomorrow a new state agent opened that promised honesty, transparency and the guarantee that I will be listened to and my problems dealt with, and most importantly, delivered in all those areas, I’d become estate agency monogamous and would never look at another estate agent again, even if it didn’t have a logo. And that’s where the brand value is.

David vs Goliath

You could probably look at hundreds of logos or listen to hundreds of jingles and be able to associate them with a certain company. You probably also realise that these company’s customers are happy to pay a premium because of what their values or stories mean to them. The reason the “big guys” are so successful with their branding is that they have resources that micro business owners can’t even dream about. Things like:

· Bucket loads of money – Funds that allow them to hire great graphic artists to design their logo, great marketers to create the set of values they will sell and great creatives that will come up with an emotive story behind those values.

· Exposure – With big money comes the ability to sell their stuff through channels that are not available to small business owners, which means that people will be slapped with their name, image or logo over and over and learn to recognise it.

· Huge brand equity – People buy Nike clothes because of the perceived commercial value the name instils in them, not because the products are so much better than those from other brands. A small business will always have a harder time to build theirs.

· Trust – If only because they’ve been around forever, they are big and the perception that if so many people buy from them they must be doing something right.

It seems like we’re doomed, right?

No. Not unless you try and compete with them in their own terms. If you’re trying to pay for your logo to get a lot of exposure and be recognised, or create a set of values and promises that sound awesome without planning to stick to them and live by them in everything you do, or assume you only need to print some business cards and your name will be enough to get people through the door, you are trying to compete with the same weapons they use, and you will always lose.

So what do you do?

You hit them where it hurts, and you do so by using the resources that you as a small business have and they don’t. Let’s look at some of them:

· You’re quicker than them – Big companies have a lot of employees and a lot of layers of bureaucracy that anyone with an idea has to go through before anything changes. They also tend to be slower when it comes to changing with the market. They are like elephants. Small businesses on the other hand, can take decisions quickly and implement new ideas without waiting around for someone else’s approval.

· You have freedom – A big company will always have people they have to respond to, like boards of directors or stakeholders. Small companies don’t, which means they don’t have to launch a new product or service ahead of time just because someone wants to see an increase in profits, or distribute through a channel that is not the right match for their values.

· You can guarantee your business sticks to its values – The other day I read about a woman who had booked a holiday with Thomson and complained because she was grossly disappointed with it. A month later, she started getting emails from a Thomson employee who told her to shut the f*** up, insulted her and told her to book with Thomas Cook next time. Do you think Thomson’s CEO would have reacted in the same way, when their values promise great value holidays made just for you, and risk hurting their brand? Unfortunately, it would have been hard for him to hear about the complaint. This doesn’t happen with small businesses, as the owner tends to have a lot more control about how situations that challenge the company’s values are dealt with.

· You need a lot less to be happy – A small business owner does not need to pay employees, stakeholders or distributors, nor buy a lot of expensive equipment or resources, so it won’t need to earn as much money as a big company does. This means that their actions are less profit driven, they don’t need to expand continuously and they have a bigger margin of manoeuvre to make their customers happy.

· You can show your human side – People are tired of having to deal with faceless conglomerates. You only need to say “O2 customer service” in front of someone and see the expression of utter horror on their face to realise that. They want to know that if they have a problem they will be able to talk to a person who is invested enough in the business to care about it, they want to feel like they are helping someone they can identify with to create something great, they want to connect. This is a lot harder to achieve for a big company.

Those are your weapons. If you use them, you will be playing in a different field and you won’t have to concern yourself with beating them at their own game. Plus, working on your branding doesn’t have to cost the earth, and it definitely doesn’t mean you need to hire experts to do it for you. Like Dan Germain from Innocent Drinks (yes, it started as a small business too) says: “If you pay someone to do the fun stuff and come up with ideas -- well, that's crazy! It's got to feel right and natural, not bolted on, which is why I think you've got to do it yourself. The brand has got to run true inside the company and out.”

A Little Anecdote

I buy quite a few books and albums online - some of them fairly main stream, a lot of them more independent and obscure. For a while, I made most of my purchases on, purely because it has low prices, it delivers fairly fast and it has a good selection.

This is what I get from Amazon when I buy something:

Thanks for your order, June Gil Fernandez
Want to manage your order online?
If you need to check the status of your order or make changes, please visit our home page at and click on Your Account at the top of any page.

And this is what I get one it is dispatched:


We thought you'd like to know that we've dispatched your item(s). Your order is on the way, and can no longer be changed. If you need to return an item or manage other orders, please visit Your Orders on”

But one day, I was looking for an album by Greg Holden, a British singer/songwriter I like. Since he wasn’t signed through a major record label (he got known by posting his videos on Youtube), his album was available via CDBaby – an online platform founded by Derek Davis in his bedroom, which allows independent musicians to distribute their work outside of the usual established channels.

CDBaby came to life as a way to support independent musicians and help them share their work. The reason it worked so well was that Derek, the creator, made a huge effort to cater for these independent artists and make things as easy and pain-free as possible for them, while it provided music lovers all over the place with the chance to support less know artists they liked in a very direct way (as most of the money goes to them).

The site’s values obviously included supporting a fairer, more humane system for artists to live off their work, and I wondered how well this would translate in their marketing efforts when it came to how they communicated with the customers. So I had a look at the site in search of the album and it turned out the first batch of CDs had sold out, but there was an option to tick a box and they would let you know when it was re-stocked, which I did. Soon after that, I got this message from them:

”Hi June -

You asked me to tell you when this CD arrived, and it's here!

GREG HOLDEN: A Word In Edgeways


It's back in stock now. You're the first to know. It just got here an hour ago. We can send it to you in tomorrow morning's mail. Just click this link:


Awesome. I bought the album. And then I got this:


Thanks for your order with CD Baby!

(1) Greg Holden: A Word In Edgeways

Your CD has been gently taken from our CD Baby shelves with sterilized contamination-free gloves and placed onto a satin pillow.

A team of 50 employees inspected your CD and polished it to make sure it was in the best possible condition before mailing.

Our packing specialist from
Japan lit a candle and a hush fell over the crowd as he put your CD into the finest gold-lined box that money can buy.

We all had a wonderful celebration afterwards and the whole party marched down the street to the post office where the entire town of
Portland waved "Bon Voyage!" to your package, on its way to you, in our private CD Baby jet on this day, July 30, 2009.

We hope you had a wonderful time shopping at CD Baby. In commemoration, we have placed your picture on our wall as "Customer of the Year." We're all exhausted but can't wait for you to come back to CDBABY.COM!!

Thank you, thank you, thank you!


We miss you already. We'll be right here at, patiently awaiting your return.”

How great is that? And how different from Amazon’s generic message? CDBaby knows that it can’t compete with the huge variety, budget and low prices you get at Amazon, so it doesn’t. It also knows that one of the reasons customers buy from them is that they want to feel like they’re doing something important by supporting independent artists. So they use their confirmation e-mails to reinforce this message, by making sure they use the customers name rather than something like “Dear customer” and by making her or him feel like their order was important enough to let them know the product they wanted was in within an hour of it arriving (although that probably wasn’t the case) and their purchase was big enough to make the whole city of Portland march down to the post office to say “Bon Voyage!” (although they probably didn’t). In a nutshell, the experience is almost like calling a good friend and asking them to buy you this album you like and send it over to you, but even better because they probably wouldn’t have access to a packaging specialist from Japan or a private jet.

Not only is this a great way to convey how important your business is for them and make you feel unique, it also create huge opportunities for word of mouth – and word of mouth is one of the best things that can happen to a small business. I can’t count the number of people I’ve recommended the site to by telling them to keep an eye for what they get when they order.

So when you’re thinking of what your story is and what your business stands for, keep in mind your weapons. Think of how your story is meaningful to your audience and make every effort to back it up with everything you do and with everyone you work with. Make sure your brand is consistent when you talk to your customers, when you sell something, when you solve a problem, when you go into partnerships or when you let your audience in on what’s happening behind doors. And most importantly, don’t forget your audience wants to connect with you in a way they can’t with a big company -  be humane.

Next week…

I will likely be in a constant state of drunken stupor as I only have 2 weeks left at my job and I want to go to all the Christmas parties my company and suppliers are throwing – that’s 3 this week. On Tuesday Google is taking us to Narnia (I’ll let you know what this means when I know), on Thursday we have a Mad Men themed company party and on Friday my department is going out for drinks.

Still, I will do my best to write my next post in the brief moments of lucidity I’ll have in between. Next week’s will be about pricing and budgeting, which is something I know a lot of people have a huge problem with.

Thanks for reading, you wonderful people.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

#3. Target Audience - Who Are Your People And Where Do They Hang Out?

Some businesses have a very obvious target market. If you sell onesies for babies, it’s obvious you have to market to parents; if you make bridal accessories, brides to be and their friends is what you’re after. However, there are some businesses out there that are too generic or unfocused and don’t seem to be able to pinpoint a specific group. I have seen business owners that make knitwear, or prints, or jewellery, who think their target market is anyone who uses those things, or at the best they limit it to very broad categories like men/women, or young people/older people.

This is business suicide.

One of the most important things a budding entrepreneur can learn early on is that their audience is not everyone. You’ve probably heard this before. You might even agree with it in an abstract way, but thinking of something in an abstract way doesn’t really help you stick with it. So, why is this so important?

Anyone who cares out there?

The reason a lot of people want to stick with the broadest market they can is that they feel like they would be limiting themselves and losing potential customers if they focus on a smaller group. So they look at their product or service, decide that any woman or any man could potentially use it, and go with that.

I don’t know how to break this gently to you, so here it goes: a lot of people don’t give a damn about what you’re selling. They really, really don’t care. To assume that everyone who sometimes wears jumpers or has a print hanged on their wall or wear rings would be interested in what you sell is like saying that everyone who has ever gone to the cinema loves every movie genre.

I love horror movies. When a new horror movie comes out, I don’t need a lot of convincing to go see it. I need even less convincing when it’s a psychological horror type movie like Session 9 or when it comes backed by a director whose previous movies I like. If it’s a slasher/gore/teenagers in the woods kind of film though, I’d probably need a bit of hustling in order to spend my money on it. And if it’s a comedy with fart jokes, no amount of pleading would make me go watch it.

Moviemakers know this, and I bet they spend little money and effort on me when the movie they are promoting is a fart joke comedy, purely because they know their marketing efforts will most likely go to waste on me and they’re better off going after people that like that kind of movie.

This is pretty obvious, right? It’s also obvious for a lot of business owners who have a specific person in mind when they market their product or service, but if you’re not among them though, you might want to take another look at what you sell. If your product or service could be used by pretty much everyone at some point, it’s quite likely that they don’t care whether they buy from one person or another. What this scenario brings is competition – truckloads of it. And when you suddenly become just another one in an endless sea of businesses and your product is easily replaceable, one of two things happen:

· Your audience will look for convenience – if you’re not the closest or the one with parking or the one that offers express delivery or free returns, you’re doomed.

· Your audience will look for the cheapest price – and when you’re competing on the price, not only are you cutting your profits, but you’re subjected to the whim of your competitors (if they lower their prices, you’ll have to do the same to stay competitive).

If you’re competing on convenience or price, you’re in a bad place. And to keep up with the string of bad news, let’s bring the rule of thirds into the equation.

The Rule of Thirds

I go shopping with friends sometimes. I remember one particular time when I went to look at dresses with a friend of mine back home that had been invited to a wedding. We were rummaging around the shop, and then she picked up this dress, turned around with stars on her eyes and yelled “this is goooorgeous!”.

I looked at it. Jesus Christ. That was the most unspeakably atrocious thing I had seen for a long time. I’m not even going to attempt to describe it because you had to be there to soak it in all its glory, and to be honest, I think my brain has blocked the memory. But she loved it, she really did. So I looked around, wondering if other people in the shop felt the same way I did, or if I was in fact wrong and they were all flocking in towards the dress rail elbowing each other. You know what they were doing? They were ignoring it. They were walking past it without even noticing it.

That’s the rule of thirds. The rule of thirds states that, for any given product or service, a third of the population with access to it or interest in it will love it, a third will hate it, and the remaining third will feel neutral about it. Even though everyone that was in the shop was interested in dresses, this specific dress was loved, hated and ignored depending on who looked at it.

The same can be applied to your business. What’s the point of inviting a thousand people to have a look at your product or service when, quite frankly, 30% of them can’t wait to get home and tell their friends about the aberration of nature they just witnessed and another 30% are thinking of what they’re going to have for lunch tomorrow while you go on about its benefits? Wouldn’t you be better off inviting three hundred people that actually like the kind of thing you sell so you can devote all your time to them and make them feel like you cater especially for them?

What I’m trying to stress here is that by stopping chasing everybody, all you’re doing is stop worrying about a gigantic mass of people that were probably not going to buy from you anyway. They might have if you showed them a great offer or if they happened to be in the neighbourhood, but the effort you have to make to get them to pay attention is not worth the payback. When you focus on a niche instead, you are speaking to a group of people that might be smaller but are genuinely interested in you and what you’re selling. You’re speaking to people that care about it in a language they get and makes them feel especial because their needs are the centre what you’re giving them. You’re helping them solve a problem, or find exactly what they were looking for and not something that’s just good enough. You’re creating an army of loyal people that will look for you when they need something similar or will recommend you when someone they know does. Personally, I know what group I’d rather focus on.

Defining Your Audience

I think one of the problems that business owners face when trying to figure out who is most likely to buy their product or service is that they are used to a system that has been in place since the 60s. This system tells us to look at categories like age, gender, location, income, family status, etc. and create a proto-person based on that. If you’re the person that sells onesies and baby clothes we mentioned before, and have decided that you want to stick to the UK and want them to be personalised and made from high quality materials so you can charge more, you might do something like this.

Gender: Female
Age: 25-40
Location: UK
Income level: High, probably an ABC1
Marital status: Married with kids or expecting a child.

And then you might end up creating Henrietta, who is a 30 year old stay at home mum, lives in a suburb in Kent with her lawyer husband and two year old daughter and is expecting her second child. Don’t get me wrong, this is great (especially if you add other layers like interests, lifestyle, etc.) and a lot of businesses would benefit from doing something like this, but it’s also limiting.

What if your business happens to focus on something that can’t be so easily categorised based on the audience’s age, gender or location? What if you sell printing services in your local area, business consulting services nationwide, or jewellery worldwide? These services and products could potentially appeal to people from very different backgrounds, age range or family status. And that’s when you get stuck.

What do you do when it’s hard to determine who your target market is using these variables? You base your product or service on a common need or desire shared by different people from different backgrounds – and the best way to do this is by applying what we’ve learnt in the previous posts and looking for the gap in the market or the un-met need. You need to understand that the reason you might find it hard to define your audience is that you’ve created something first and then thought of who would want to buy it, rather than look for people that have an unsolved problem or a need that is not being met and design something that does just that.

For example, the local printer may notice there are a lot of people in the area that don’t have the time to wait in a queue for 2 hours during busy times and create a service so they can send their files by email, pay online and go pick it up when it’s convenient for them. The nationwide business consultant may have a look around and realise there are a lot of small businesses that need help to outline a strategy that is tailored to their business but can’t afford the prices of her competition and don’t really need all the services they offer, and decide to create express workshops where she can give them basic business help that will set them up to continue working on it on their own for a price they can pay. In these cases, the categories are based on something more abstract that has nothing to do with gender, age or lifestyle choice. By basing their service on people who need to print something but have little time, or people that need help with their business but don’t have a lot of money and don’t need all the “extras”, not only they are able to define a target audience, but they’re creating your own niche and standing out from the competition.

Let’s say that you make jewellery for women instead. Jewellery is a very broad category, and anyone who wears it has a huge range of options to choose from. Obviously there are different styles, but even in those sub-categories, the offer is massive. If you stick with the “I make jewellery for women” line, I’m sure you’ll agree that you have little hope of making regular sales. However, you could decide to make bridal jewellery. Now we have a smaller market and it should be easier to sell your wares, right? Wrong. Do you know how many people sell bridal jewellery online? Not only that, but if a bride to be is looking for generic jewellery for her wedding, it is quite likely she’ll prefer to go to a well known manufacturer in her local area, someone she can trust and whose wares she can try on and discuss.

Now, what if we take it further? What if you decide to start selling vintage bridal jewellery, offer a pretty big selection and team that with great content about the different styles used in each decade, tips like what kind of dress it would look great with and reviews of wedding packages that have a vintage feel to them? You just claimed your spot as an expert in vintage weddings. Not only you’ve become one of the most appealing businesses for a bride looking for a vintage style wedding, but you’ve opened your business to other opportunities related to vintage weddings – things like offering affiliate links to vintage bridal wear shops or vintage wedding packages should be easy to do if you wanted to go that way. Not only that, but by becoming the person to go to when someone is looking for a vintage theme for their wedding, you’re not longer competing on price.

Where Does Your Audience Live?

Not literally of course, because that would be creepy, but now that you hopefully have a better idea of who you are selling to, it’s time to move onto the next set of questions:

· Where do these people hang out? and

· Which approach are we going to use to reach them?

Let’s start by thinking of how to reach them online and offline. Working on connecting online tends to be more time effective, but you shouldn’t underestimate the power of building relationships face to face. Let’s also think of how we’re going to go about this. Are we going to go out looking for them, or create an interesting space to make them come?

Reaching Out For Your Audience

Some business owners tend to look for websites, blogs or forums that offer business advice and where people promote their stuff indiscriminately. While these can be good for getting support, ideas and talking to fellow business owners about your problems, it’s not going to do a lot for your sales, simply because that’s not their audience at all.

One of the things I suggest my clients is to make a list of sites that are targeted to the same market they are interested in. If you sell bridal accessories, go to Google and type in things like “bridal blogs”, “wedding blogs”, “wedding forums”, etc. See what comes up, have a look at the first few results and decide which ones have significant traffic and use a tone that you identify with. Don’t try and be part of every site you find because you’ll end up spreading yourself too thin and interacting on each one once a month. A list of the top 5 places or a number your comfortable with is a good start.

Once you’ve found a few places your target market uses to hang out and you like the vie off, have a look at the content. What do they talk about? What do you know about that? Are you able to contribute to the conversation without pestering people to by your stuff? This is important, because if you’re planning to spam people and pester them to by from you, they’ll hate you so much that you’re actually better off not even getting in touch with them.

The idea is to introduce yourself and slowly start generating useful content, posting links, answering questions and generally being helpful. You can let people know you have a business that caters to them by linking to it from your signature or letting them know you offer something like that if someone mentions they’re looking for something that you sell, but if that’s all you have to offer, you really haven’t understood a lot of what I’m telling you. Be generous with your time, resources and skills, and work on positioning yourself as the person to go to for whatever they need on that area. If you show expertise and build trust, the step that any of them will have to take to buy from you will be a lot smaller when compared to your competitors. But don’t fake it or post irrelevant information just so you seem active. This should be done in an honest way, and if you are not really that bothered with connecting with them in a meaningful way, you are better off forgetting about this and looking for a different way to reach them. In a nutshell, if you care about them, they will care about you.

If you want to pursue your audience offline, the interaction works in a similar way – it’s just a different setting. Have a look online for trade shows, fairs, networking events or anything that’s happening around you were your target market is likely to make an appearance. Decide which ones will have good attendance and the biggest chunk of your people, and prepare something striking or original so they remember you. Anything from quirky business cards or a especial offer for the attendees to a booklet they can download with a specific code and will be of help to them would be great. In other words, don’t go if all you’re going to do is show up and mill about trying to talk to random people to see if they might want to buy your stuff. You should have some kind of strategy so that you don’t waste your time – and I promise it will also be a lot more fun this way.

The down side of the “going after them” approach is that it can be time consuming and it often takes a long time to see results. It’s a good idea to block half an hour every day to work on this approach rather than trying to post links or answer questions continuously, or stick to a few events that you think make the most sense for you rather than trying to be everywhere. This way, you can work on your connections and still have time to work on your product or service (we’ll look at time management issues more in depth in one of the next posts).
The Gravitational Approach

We have just looked at how we can look for our audience in order to connect with them, but what if I told you that there is a way you could make your target market wave their hand and tell you “Hey! I’m interested in what you offer, tell me more about it!”? Sounds too good to be true right? Yet it’s done every day by a lot of businesses.

Imagine that you’re thinking of redecorating your living room. This is an important and expensive decision, and you don’t want to go with someone dodgy and end up with a horrible living room, or getting ripped off, or both. So you shop around, dodging all the companies that are trying to sell you their services, and suddenly you find one that is offering you a free report with the most popular colour schemes, what the colours do for your mood and how to choose a design that can be easily integrated with the rest of your house. All you have to do is sign up to the site (which will also allow you to look at all the services they offer) and you’ll get it completely free. Great, you think, and sign up and download the report.

What you have just done is raise your hand and tell that company that you are interested in what they offer. You have done so willingly because you were getting something helpful with no effort on your part, but they have gained something invaluable: the email address of someone that has given them permission to advertise to them. Now they can send you a great offer, discount or information on a service without seeming pushy and knowing that you’re quite likely to accept it. The best part? They only had to put in the effort of creating this report once, but it will attract people over and over.

There is a term popularised by Seth Godin that describes this process – Permission Marketing. Other people have used variation like Gravitational Marketing to refer to a similar process, which in a nutshell, refers to the act of offering something helpful for your audience and requires a low commitment in order to get it – usually your name or e-mail address). When you accept what they offer, you identify yourself as a prospect and make the sales process a lot easier. This is the approach followed by supermarket loyalty programs or air mile programs, and it works great.

How can you apply this to your business in order to attract your audience? By creating a space that is filled with great content, links, ideas and tips that are not necessarily geared towards selling to them immediately, but rather focus on helping them, giving them interesting information and showing them how much you know about the area your product or service falls in. This can be done through a blog, a website, a Facebook Fan page or any other platform that allows you to create a sort of “living room” where people can hang out, learn, get help and get to interact with you. The great thing about offering this content is that you don’t need to advertise it heavily to people who may or may not be interested in it. The ones that are looking for something like what you sell will bump into it while searching around, and when they realise you’re not trying to ram it down their throats, they’re quite likely to stay. They’ll be basically telling you “I’m interested in stuff like this. Tell me more”. It’s a great way of reverting the process and letting your audience find you rather than chasing after them, isn’t it?

We will look at how we can build something like this a bit further ahead, but it won’t hurt to keep it in mind when you think of ways to reach your audience. And don’t think you need to choose one approach or the other – they work great when combined. You can create a space that allows your audience to find you and still go out and find other places where they hang out in order to tell them about the great place you’ve built.

Next week…

We’ll be talking about branding – how to build your brand, decide on your mission, be consistent, make it fun and be memorable. If you have any questions or want to share any stories, please do so in the comments, I love hearing what you have to say!

Monday, 19 November 2012

#2. Let's Get Started.

Last week, we saw how identifying the life you want, what you’re good at and love doing and finding a problem to solve or a gap in the market helps a lot when starting a new business. Since I am confident you did the homework I gave you last week (because I have limitless faith in you), you should already have a pretty good idea of what kind of life you want for yourself.

So, what does your ideal life look like?

If you want to work from home to be with your family, crafts, clothes-making, map printing or any other manufacturing business would be good for you. You can sell these online at various market places, at Social Media sites or from your own website, you can sell at craft fairs and you can also commission pieces to shops. However, bear in mind that if you want to do craft shows you will need to spend some time on the road, so think about whether you want to include them in your business model. This kind of business has some overhead costs in the form of materials, fees and transport (if you do fairs), but they are not nearly as bad as they used to be when you had to rent a shop to sell your wares.

If you want to get out of the house and have some recognisable structure but still want to work for yourself, a business focused on the needs of local people would work great. Things like sewing services and workshops, craft supplies, baked goods, childcare and pet care, plumbing, IT skills training, retail or travel & transport agencies could thrive in any given community if there is a need for them. If you don’t want the significant overhead that comes with renting a space, you can focus on a service that can be delivered online or uses your client’s home or office as a meeting place.

If you couldn’t care less where you wake up every morning and want to carry as less baggage as possible, digital information is definitely for you. Anything related to writing, teaching, coaching, consulting, designing, etc. can be included here. The benefit of a business like this is that it’s got minimal overhead costs and is less location-centric than others, but if your talent lies in making pottery or baking cupcakes, please don’t try to ram your way into something like this just because it sounds great. You can incorporate parts of it (we’ll see how later), but if you base your whole business on it when your talent is obviously somewhere else, you’ll hate it and you’ll get frustrated because you can’t work on what you love.

What can you do and love doing?

I’m also going to believe that you have made a little list of your skills, what you love doing and what you could charge for, based on my previous post. You’ve probably made the list on a napkin that you’ve lost already, but hopefully you remember some broad categories from it. These will be the basis for your business, and it’s time to go deeper and pinpoint what kind of activity would fit your skills and what you love doing – which should be easy. If you already have a business going, you can still use the list to figure out if there are other areas, products or services you can tie in with what you currently do.

For example, let’s say you love baking and are great at it. Opening a cake business seems the obvious choice, but what if you realised that you are also very good at communicating ideas? It might be an opportunity to offer baking classes to people as a way to rediscover homemade, slow food. Or perhaps you have an over active imagination and hate sticking to recipes – this might lead to you opening a blog where you offer weekly recipes made with whatever you find in your fridge, or take up challenges where people list random ingredients and you make something (edible!) with them. Alternatively, you might find out that you love baking but don’t like interacting with people, and decide you’d be better off by offering to sell your goods through other shops. Can you see how knowing which skills you have and how they can tie in with your passion help direct which form the business can take?

That Elusive Gap

The last idea we discussed last week was the impact that solving a problem or filling a gap in the market through your product/service can have on making your business work. I hope you have been looking around you for problems and missing things, but if you need a bit of inspiration, let’s see how other people have done it.

Problem #1 – Some people would like to rent out their house but they don’t know how to find lodgers and whether they can trust them. Other people would love to stay somewhere more personable than a hotel and enjoy the feeling of being at home out of home, but they don’t want to get scammed and they also don’t want to get murdered in their sleep. offers a platform in which home owners can put their houses for rent and people can enjoy the advantages of staying in a house wherever they go and pay less than they would for a hotel. It also tackles the trust issue by encouraging references.

Problem #2 – People with great ideas often can not get funding to develop them. They miss out on opportunities and we miss out on some amazing products and services.

Solution – Crowdfunding via sites like Kickstarter offers a platform where you can post your idea and people can pledge in order to fund it. Not only that, but the backers get something in return, according to the amount they pledge. How cool is that?

Problem #3 – You like the “jeans tucked in boots” look but they always bunch around your knees making you look like a hen.

Solution – The Küza Strap clips to the hem creating a sort of stirrup, keeping your jeans tucked in the way they should.

Problem #4 – If you want to travel somewhere, your options are booking through a travel agent (expensive, but they do all the work for you) or building the trip yourself (cheap but time consuming). What do you do if you want some direction on what to see/where to go for little money but you don’t have a lot of time to shift through hundreds of websites?

Solution - Way Away offers travel itineraries in different countries for under £5. You can still book it yourself and save money, but you save a lot of time on research.

Problem #5 – Every year for Thanksgiving, thousands of Americans follow this tradition where two people hold the “wishbone” – a Y shaped bone in the turkey - and make a wish. The person that ends up with the longest part when it breaks will see their wish granted. The problem is that there are too many people and not enough wishbones.

Solution – Ken Ahroni from Lucky Break Wishbone started selling plastic wishbones after noticing the problem – they became so popular that giants like Wall Mart soon started selling them too. Luckily, he had the foresight to copyright them so he was able to stop them. 

What can we learn from the way these people solved a problem or filled a gap?

· They can immediately identify their target audience - independent travellers, entrepreneurs, American families – and find out where they hang out and what they respond to.

· Their audience already wants what they offer, so they have to do very little (compared to other businesses) to get them onboard.

· They have a very clear vision and message – save research time while you still book trips independently, post your project and get it funded, no American without a wishbone – and can devote their marketing efforts to sell you hard on it.

This makes running the business a lot easier than if you just sell something that anyone would perhaps buy and a lot of other people are selling. I know it can take a while to come up with something of this calibre, but the more used you are to thinking up solutions to problems or spotting gaps in the market, the more chances you’ll have of coming up with something that works for you.

In the meantime, you should also know that solving a problem or filling a gap helps a lot but it’s not the only way you can make your business kick ass. One of the reasons the above businesses work is that they did something nobody else was doing, or they did it better than the others. Toolea offers a platform where people that work online can keep all their stuff. There are plenty of online calendars, email services, cloud type storage sites for your documents or chat services where you can create groups and talk. However, Toolea offers everything in one place, whether through their own software or by making it really easy to sync your cloud storage account or Google Calendar with them. Nobody else offers something like this, and if they keep the service up to date they will be able to trump any copycat that might appear along the way.

Shaping Your Business Idea

Now that you hopefully got some ideas and are getting excited, let’s think of how we can flesh them out. One of the first steps is creating a basic business plan, which will give you your business structure. There a lot of ways to structure a business, and you don’t need to stick to one of them - you can mix and match, selling a product, a service or both (for example, by offering an end product and teaching something related to it), working online and offline, using different price structures or a single flat rate or going after different markets with different products/services. You can have a look at 10 business models that rocked in 2010 here. They are a bit biased as they are mainly based on services, but you’ll get an idea of what a business plan looks like.

Creating a business plan might sound like a headache, but since I’m a big fan of Thoreau’s quote “Simplify, simplify” and this is a micro business we’re talking about, a one page business plan should suffice. What do we need to include?

· Offer – What product/service are you offering?

· Infrastructure – What do you need in order to offer it? A physical shop, a warehouse, an internet connection, machinery…

· Market – Who will you be selling to and through what channels (online shop, street market, physical shop)?

· Finance – What are your costs, what is you price & how are you going to get paid?

Done. Let’s move on.

Another thing I’d advise you to have is some kind of vision. This is not just what you tell people when they asked you what you do – this tends to be descriptive and, in some cases, boring. The thing about your vision is that it should show some passion, it should help people feel why they should come to you and not someone else. This is where solving a problem, filling a gap or doing things differently comes in handy.

Imagine that you have a toy making business. If someone asked you what you do for a living, you could say “I make toys for kids”, which would probably get you an answer like “oh, cool”. Now, let’s say that you’ve focused on using non plastic, long lasting materials, or on making the toys interesting for both kids and parents, or on making the toys educational in some way. Someone asks you the same question and you say something like:

“I provide children everywhere with toys that are both fun, safe for them to play with and last a lifetime, so they don’t become slaves of disposable products”

“I help parents rediscover the pleasure of playing with their kids, as I know those memories will stay with them forever”

“I encourage kids to learn different skills while they play, because that’s how kids learn best”

Can you see the difference? Not only you are tapping on the emotional aspect with your customers, but whoever asked you the question is bound to want to know more about how you do what you just told them to do. It sounds interesting, it shows why you’re passionate about it and it’s easy to see the benefit of buying from you. What’s not to love? So go on, find your “thing” and think of how you can put it in words that make people think “that’s just what I need”.

That’s really cool, but I’m still scared

What we’ve just covered should have helped you feel like you have more of a handle in how starting or running a business works. Still, most business owners I’ve talked to share similar worries and fears that levitate over them like a black cloud and hold them back. This is normal, but after indulging in hearing your own repeated claims that this is never going to work or breathing in a paper bag for a little while, it’s always a good idea to put them in perspective and ask yourself “is it really that bad?”.

Most things are easier than you think, so let’s deconstruct some of them, shall we?

· Setback #1 – I don’t have any money to invest!

Neither did Derek Sivers or John Paul DeJoria, but they founded CDbaby and John Paul Mitchell respectively. What you need to realise is that a lot of businesses can be started with very little money and grown organically. In other words, you can design and make a few products, or design a service and put in online for sale and use the money from those first sales to buy more stock, materials or advertising.

· Setback #2 – I’m not sure I have the skills to do this thing!

But I bet you can learn them fairly fast. Okay, perhaps not if you want to be a lawyer or a violin virtuoso, but you can learn how to sew, or the characteristics of the different kinds of coffees or teas or wines, or how to print maps in a reasonable time.

If you think you need to know everything about something before you launch it, you’ll never do anything. It’s scary to feel like you don’t have everything together, but this is part of the process. When you get a new washing machine, do you look at all the buttons and think “okay, that looks like the control panel of the Serenity spaceship. I think I’m going to wash my clothes in the sink”, or do you grab the instructions manual, fail to understand it and then call your mother crying so she tells you how that thing works?

Starting a business is the same. You start with what you can do and when you bump into a problem you can’t solve with your current skill set, you read about it and learn how to fix it, or you find someone who can do it and ask them for help. After some time, you’ll realise you don’t struggle with that problem anymore and you can move onto learning other things.

· Setback #3 – I don’t know how this whole “registering your business” thing works! And what about taxes?

If you’re the sole proprietor of your business – which means it’s just you working on it – a call to Revenue & Customs (or a non UK equivalent if you don’t live here) to register as a sole trader or as a limited company should be enough. Don’t worry, they’re nice people, really.

I assume most of you would fall under the sole trader category. As a sole trader, you’ll be paying income tax on your profits, plus national insurance. You will have a personal allowance of £8,105 (year 2012/13) which will be tax free and anything on top of that will be taxed at 20%. For National Insurance, you should be on Class 2, which means you’ll be paying around £2.65 per week towards it.

Say you’ve made £11,000 working as a freelance photographer this year:

£11,000 minus £8,105 (tax free allowance) = taxable income of £2,895.

£2,895 x 20% (basic rate of tax) = £579

£2.65 NI per week x 52 weeks = £137.8

£579 + £137.8 = £716.8 (total tax you’ll pay)

These figures might change, but they should give you an idea of what to expect. As long as you keep receipts of the money coming in and money coming out, you’re groovy. See? It’s not that scary.

· Setback #4 – But what if my idea doesn’t work out?

I’m hoping that my constant rambling about thinking like an entrepreneur has made you realise that you are not stuck with one idea. Your skills can be used for so many related things, that if it turns out that using them to do one thing doesn’t quite work out you should be able to try a different approach.

The beauty of a micro business is that you can try a lot of different things without necessarily having to spend a lot of money on them. Think of it as “testing & discarding”. Why is this product or service not working? Can I fix the problem? If not, can I use the knowledge of the problem to go on a tangent and do something that works? Can you add something to it to make it more appealing? There are endless possibilities, and you don’t need to bang your head against a brick wall with something that doesn’t work.

· Setback #5 – I don’t want to run out of money and end up living in a ditch by the river.

Is this something that realistically could happen? If this is a “make or break” kind of deal I can understand why you’re anxious, but in most cases you can start your business without giving up another source of income. A lot of people hold onto their day job until they can see that their idea is viable. Others have savings that will keep them going until things start picking up, or they can rely on a partner or family member to pay the bills, so it really is quite difficult that you’ll end up sitting on a cardboard box on the street. And if things start getting tight, I’m sure you could always get another job to stop that from happening. Think of it as a safety net that stops you from going overboard and tells you when you’re about to cross a line that will make your life difficult, so you can back up a little and make some money to invest in your business.

Don’t be afraid to fail. You can try countless of things until you find the one that works for you, and if you need to keep working until that happens or you have to get another job for a while, don’t see it as failure – all you are doing is funding yourself. And every time something doesn’t go as planned, think that you are merely learning how not to do something so you can try something else next time.

So fail. Fail with pride. Fail big (but not so big that you end up living in a cardboard box). Leave what doesn’t work behind, take what you’ve learnt and build something great next time.

Next week…

We’ll be looking at markets and audiences – how to find yours, where do they hang out, how to talk to them and how to attract them. Also, feel free to leave any feedback you might like to share in the comments!

Sunday, 18 November 2012

My Trip To Edinburgh...

...has ended up being longer than I though it would be, and unfortunately, my next post in the business series is not quite finished yet. I hope you guys can forgive me, and I promise it will be up tomorrow.


P.S. Edinburgh is lovely and full of colourful charaters. I'd definitely move there if I was designed for cold climates - which I'm not.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

I Quit My Job Today.

Today I'm not goint to talk about crafts or business. Today I'm going to talk about something else.

I quit my job today. After a lot of consideration, I decided I no longer want to work for a company where I can't help the people I want to help. I've learnt a lot and I'm grateful for that, but it just wasn't cutting it anymore.

So I sat down with my boss and told him I was leaving the company and running away with the circus. I don't think he registered my attempt at clearing the air because he looked at me blankly for about 10 seconds, until I told him that no, I wasn't really running away with the circus. I just wanted to work for myself and help small business owners kick ass.

Thankfully, he understood (or maybe he was just relieved I wasn't going to spend my days hanging from a trapeze, that I'll never know) and he was okay with it. I've got a month left to work there, and after that I'll finally have time to focus on something that really excites me. Here's my pledge:

· I pledge that I will share with you my knowledge and ideas on how to run a small business so that it's easy, fun and rewarding.

· I pledge that I will do so in a simple way. I will let jargon like "know-how", "cash-flow", "core competency", "leverage" or "take it to the next level" crawl to a corner, die and smell bad, in that order. Because I know you don't want to read stuff like that.

· I pledge I won't talk about things you can't apply to your business.

That's all for today. Thanks for reading, I really, really appreciate it.


Sunday, 11 November 2012

#1. Getting In The Right Frame Of Mind - Think Like An Entrepreneur

I like to think of anyone who produces and sells something as fitting in one of these three categories:

· Hobbyists – these are people that enjoy making jewellery, fixing clothes or repairing computers, but it hasn’t really crossed their minds to make a business out of it. They are happy selling the odd thing every now and then and making a bit of money to cover their time or materials.

Tagline: It is very hard to make money from this, although it can be a fun way of making a bit of pocket money. You can't really charge for your labour, and the only people who make money are those who are offering something really unique and are lucky enough to get their name known.

· Sellers – these are people that one day started making something (or offering a service), managed to sell a few things and thought ‘I think I have a business!’. They want to make their business go further, but they tend to focus their time and energy on producing things rather than on managing the business or reaching out to the market.

Tagline: I’m glad my things are selling, although I’m really unsure about who my market is, how to get to them, what to charge for my product/service or how to build a brand. Still, it supplements my income, so I will keep doing what I’m doing now and hopefully it will get better sometime.

· Entrepreneurs – these are the people that have thought about what they want their life to look like and decided that the best way to get there is by working on projects by themselves or with a small number of people. They have identified what they’re good at doing, what people will pay them to do and what they are naturally hardwired to do, and found  the convergence point that will be the basis of any business they start.

Tagline: I value having the freedom to live life in my own terms, and not having to depend on someone else’s idea of what my life should look like to make a living. I also enjoy helping and inspiring others, and I want to use my skills to build a business that does exactly that, whilst it allows me to live the way I want to.

Hobbyists don’t really want to have a business. They do what they do primarily for their own enjoyment, and anything else than that would probably be detrimental for them as they don’t want to devote time and effort to doing things they really don’t want to do - they would end up hating their hobby. Sellers want to put in the time and effort, but many times they don’t know where to start – they resort to reading everything they can find about target markets, branding, marketing and sales, only to get more confused with all the contradictory, overly technical or not applicable information they find. This tends to make them seek refuge on creating things or working on their service, so they feel productive without having to deal with the rest.

Entrepreneurs though, are a different story.

What’s so powerful about thinking like an entrepreneur?

Have you ever thought about how your business came to life? Was it accidental, or did you plan to take the leap for a long time? Whichever way it happened, chances are you discovered you were good at something (be it making a product or offering a service), realised there were some people out there willing to pay for it and set up shop hoping it would lead somewhere.

Once of the things that strikes me the most about some people I’ve come into contact with is that they became business owners accidentally. In Clinton IL, Andi Burkholder from Squeaky Clean Soaps has built a little shop that sells functional and customised soaps. When asked how she started her business, she said “I had made my soaps initially as functional, personalized gifts for friends and relatives and when I received such a positive response and encouragement to sell them, I took the plunge. It’s a great creative outlet for me”.

Quite a few miles away in Birmingham UK, Liz from Beads Crazy sells her jewellery from her Facebook page. I spoke to her recently and she told me: “I started making jewellery a couple of years ago but then I had my son last year and the pregnancy was a nightmare so I stopped. As he got a bit older I decided to start doing it again, for my sanity, and after learning to make Shamballa bracelets I had loads of comments about how nice they were so I decided to set up a page and I'm getting loads of orders”.

I’m sure you can relate, or at least know of a few people that started the same way. Some of them are doing well, but most of the people I’ve talked to are either not doing as well as they’d like to, or are doing okay but think they could be doing better. When I asked Marco, owner of White Pelican Vintage, how he felt about his business, this is the answer I got: “Today? Good, but that could be because I've had 5 sales since yesterday (two of them repeat customers who love the shop). Now, if you asked me this 10 days ago, when I went 8 days without a sale... I might have a different answer for you”. So why does this happen? Why do people that felt motivated enough to take the plunge once, feel like things could be going better but they don’t really know how to make them better?

I’d say the problem lies in people getting stuck in the “seller” category and not being able to transition to an entrepreneurial way of thinking. When you start a project on a whim and not think of how you want to live your life, what problem you’re solving, why you’re doing what you’re doing and how it fits the bigger picture, you’re bound to get stuck eventually.

Now, how are we going to fix this?

The Life You Want

Think of the definition of an entrepreneur we looked at earlier – someone who decides on the kind of life they want to live and builds a project around that idea. Now, that is a pretty powerful motivation to make that project work, isn’t it? Certainly more than thinking “I knit scarves and sell them and it’d be nice to make a bit of money this way to pay the bills”.

The problem a lot of people face after they start their business accidentally is that they don’t think of themselves as entrepreneurs, partly because this is a word we tend to associate with people that have money to invest, very specific and marketable skills and a huge network of people ready to help them. Please, please, stop thinking like that. When you strip the word entrepreneur of every association with big names and the flashy aura, you’re left with an individual that uses their skills to solve problems and make money to live the life they want.

Sadie Knight from GlassRaven started her website design and development business after the birth of her second child, having worked at a local web firm up until then and knowing she wanted to have more time to be with her family. She started with little money, and after finding support in a couple of parenting website - home worker forums (where she also found her first clients) she has recently completed a website design for the NHS. In Pakistan, Syed Balkhi, started designing and developing websites at the age of 12. He now runs the successful Uzzz Productions website offering web services, and his blog for Wordpress beginners currently attracts 145,000 unique visitors a month, which gives him a freedom other university students don’t have.

If creating a great business in order to live a great life is the way to go, the natural question is - how would you like to live your life? Most of us have a very rough idea of what we want out lives to look like, but I’m sure you know whether you’d prefer working in a nice little office somewhere doing regular hours, or you’d rather work from home at times that suit you so you can spend more time with your family, or what you’d really like is to be constantly on the move, being able to do your job from whichever location you might be in as long as you have an internet connection. You probably also know whether you appreciate having time to do all the things you love doing more than having a lot of money, or you’re happy to give up the time and bring in more money by devoting more time to your business.

Let’s take it a bit further. I’d like you to try and (yes, I’m giving you homework) imagine waking up tomorrow in a life that makes you happy. Don’t worry, this is not one of those new age motivational visualisations that will make money magically appear by imagining it in your hand and sending positive vibrations. I hate those. I just want you to imagine waking up in a house and city that you love living in, with people or pets you love (or alone, if that’s what makes you happy), doing things you love during the day, meeting good friends, cooking or eating things that make you happy, going to places that make you feel good, going to sleep and still feeling great. You can do this for one day or a few days in a row if you take homework very seriously.

What does your day/week look like? Where do you live? What kind of work do you do? Who do you spend time with? Where do you go, what do you eat? Would you agree with the statement “I’m quite confident I would be happy if my life looked like this”? What this gives you is an idea of what kind of business model would fit this ideal life of yours, so you know that if you want to start a dressmaking business so you can stay at home with your family, you would be good to go by devoting a room in your house to it, but if you’d like to live somewhere different every 6 months and work on the go, having a lot of physical stuff linked to your work or having to physically be somewhere every Monday at 3 will make that kind of life very difficult and you’re better of starting a business based on a service or selling a non-physical product.

This is important because it means that when you are working on your business, you will also be happy with the life you have created for yourself. In other words, you will create a business that will support your life while you live it in your own terms, and not the other way around,

What can you offer?

Another reason people get stuck in the “seller” category is that they’ve jumped in the middle of it and thought about everything else afterwards. This is especially true when it comes to “accidental” entrepreneurs, as they started their business by offering whichever product or service they were offering at that particular moment due to some encouragement they happened to get. Again, it’s great to take the plunge, especially in a situation when you know you won’t lose a lot if it doesn’t quite work. But there’s a better way of doing these things.

A worth mentioning characteristic of entrepreneurs is that they have identified what skills they’ve got, what they enjoy doing, what people would be willing to pay them to do, and what they are naturally hardwired to do. Let's look at them more closely.

· What are your skills? What are you good at? It’s quite common to have one main skill pop into your head, such as sewing, programming, writing, making jewellery, cooking or hairdressing. Chances are though, if you’re good at one thing you’re probably good at a few other things too. Perhaps you’re great at talking to people, or organising yourself, or speaking in public. If you’re finding it hard to think of things you’re good at, ask someone that knows you. You could be surprised at what they say.

· What do you love doing? You can literally list anything here (we’ll weed through it later), from talking to people, writing, giving speeches, working with computer or creating things to spending time outdoors, taking care of animals, eating cake or travelling.

· What would people pay you to do? They probably won’t pay you for eating cake (if you find a market though, please let me know), but there is people that would be happy to pay you for writing, coding, speaking in public, fixing a dress, creating a ring or organising their work. Even things that initially might not seem worth charging for, like travelling, could be turned into a business by writing reviews or recommendations of places visited or creating a crash course of the most common phrases used in the language of the countries visited.

· What are you hardwired to do? In other words, what are you naturally good at? This is a tough one, because you normally start picking up the things that come naturally to you and the things that don’t over a long period of time. For example, I love strategizing, brainstorming and coming up with ideas. These things come naturally to me, and I find it easy to accomplish tasks based on that. I also find it easy to pick up general technical notions of how something works, but if I have to do anything that requires huge technical knowledge I realise I have to try a lot harder, and I often get frustrated or lose interest very quickly. For this reason, I’ll never start a business writing code for websites (it would fail very quickly and I’d cry a lot), but I’m always over excited about offering business advice to my clients.

The trick here is to come up with a converging point among those four areas. However, and since it’s hard to determine what you’re naturally talented at doing, we should focus on the first three. Think of three overlapping circles and the point in the middle where all of them join. If you can find something that you can do well, you love doing and people would pay you to do, you’re already ahead of a lot of small business owners, purely because you’ve got skills, passion and a market. It’s quite likely that you’re feeling stuck because you only have two of those at the moment.

Can you solve a problem?

People that have an entrepreneurial mindset are constantly looking for problems to solve. It’s inherent to them. They walk around looking at businesses, products and services and think of ways to improve them, build something on them or use them as the basis for a spin off in a unique way.

I’d like you to try and do just that next time you’re out, or milling about your house, or talking to someone, or at work. Did someone mention something that posed a problem to them? Did something annoy you? Was it because it wasn’t working properly, or it was so incredibly hard to use that there must surely be a better way of doing it? How can it be better? You don’t need to come up with a full business plan for your idea, just a basic notion of how it could be solved.

The reason I want you to do this for external things and not for your business is because it’s very difficult to think of ways to change something you’re so invested in. You sell scarves, or pottery, or website design services, and you can’t possibly see how doing this solves a problem that hasn’t been addressed yet. Sure, you make someone warm, or someone’s house pretty, or someone’s site look professional, but so do a lot of other people. So look for problems externally, or problems you might have that are not related to your business. Chances are, these problems are not unique and a lot of people in a similar situation would benefit from a solution.

What happens when you start looking at opportunities outside your immediate circle is that your brain gets used to thinking in terms of how doing something can help other people. Charlotte, the sister of a friend who lives nearby, had a lot of babysitting experience but was finding it hard to get bookings. After overhearing a couple outside of the Hilton hotel mention that they couldn’t go to certain event that night because they had the kids with them, she decided to approach the hotel with a babysitting service they could offer to their guests. While she waits for an answer from them, she’s working on designing the service so she can offer it to other hotels.

In Dorset UK, Joanne launched Charlie Moo's to offer handmade, eco-friendly party bags with child appropriate content after getting disheartened by the rubbish party bags his son received at parties. A similar approach was followed by Andi (who we met earlier) when she started using her soaps to fill party bags, coming up with designs as great as this. Marleena from Taitaya offers brooches that are beautiful and functional, as they serve as closures for clothes as well as for gathering things like curtains. started as a way to address the problem a lot of people face when they decide to help a charity – not knowing where their money will end up due to lack of transparency, and finding it difficult to find a cause they completely identify with – by offering individuals the chance to micro-finance a project of their choice by connecting lenders with people that need a small loan.

These are all great ideas that solve a problem and work as a business. If you start looking around you and start finding solutions to problems in your everyday life, you’ll soon find that new ideas constantly pop into your head, and chances are you’ll be able to relate some of them to your business. Why should you limit yourself by believing you are just a scarf seller? You might have started as one, but your real skill is that you can knit. Can you think of a way in which knitting can solve a specific problem? Perhaps creating a more functional design, or offering knitting lessons for busy people as a way to de-stress themselves? You might offer web design services now, but you might realise there’s a niche group that would benefit a lot from having a similar service tailored to them. The possibilities are endless, and the feeling that you are helping people gives you the extra push.

Okay! I’m thinking like an entrepreneur! Now, how does this help me?

What you need to realise is that part of why you might be feeling stuck is because not knowing how to move your business forward and resorting to doing the same things all the time has probably left you feeling very unmotivated. It’s very hard to get people excited about your business when you’re not excited yourself.

When you start seeing your business as a way to get the life you want, you rediscover the things that make you feel passionate and you love doing and you constantly think up new ideas to try and help other people, you become unstoppable. You have all the motivation in the world because you’re doing this for yourself, loving what you’re doing and helping people along the way.

This doesn’t guarantee that your business will be a success. You still need some kind of strategy/one page business plan and you’ll have to work your buns off, but it puts you in the best frame of mind to do it.

Next week…

Next week we’ll get more specific about what we’ve covered in this post, and we’ll be looking at what happens when you start your business, how to address common fears and setbacks and how remaining flexible and trying new ideas can help you.

Thank you so much for reading. I hope this helped, and do let me know your thoughts or ask me any questions in the comments below. And feel free to share it with anyone you think might benefit from it!