Inspiring Entrepreneurs – Surviving and thriving: controlling costs to boost your business

Another inspiring Inspiring Entrepreneurs event this evening with the title of Surviving and Thriving: Controlling costs to boost your business. You can catch the webcast of the event once it is posted up on our website.

Doug Richards the former BBC Dragon and founder of the School for Startups started by saying he wouldn’t be able to keep to his script. He had some great stories and a few gems such as, ‘if you are small, you will die if one customer doesn’t pay your bills’.

In other words the micro immediate level is the key, not what is happening to the economy at the macro level.

Forget convential wisdom, sales are marketing are the key – not cash flow. With sales – take the order, whatever it is! Don’t start a business with Kent Richards…(Doug’s brother, who he started his first business with).

Marketing – don’t spend money – Doug has an eight hour training day covering marketing techniques that don’t cost any money.

Nick WheelerNick Wheeler the founder of Charles Tyrwhitt shirts gave a very entertaining talk. He founded the business at University in 1986, and it took four years to double workforce from one to two. After another fours in they went bust.

‘This is the story of how a complete and utter idiot can build up a business.’

‘It’s all about having a belief in what you are trying to do. Every day you remind yourself of what you are setting out to do.’

84% of Charles Tyrwhitt staff say they have fun working for the company.

Critical Factors for Success:
The idea – Vision – Focus – Passion – Hard work – Patience

Compound growth is the key to long term success.

Heather Gorringe the founder of Wiggly Wigglers started with quote from Winston Churchill, ‘Success is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm’.

If you are running a small business you need to be both proactive and reactive. The key thing she is doing to survive the economic downturn is to ‘keep working harder’.

Johnny Martin is a business finance expert who runs a regular course in the Business & IP Centre on financial management.

Imagine you are in the Dragon’s Den – how would you answer their questions about your business finances?

He feels you can’t start too young, and gets his children to use duplicate invoice books in order to receive their pocket money via their PayPal account.

The second most common reason for businesses failing is poor financial management.

Documentation can be the undoing of a business. Please check if you have any undocumented agreements.

You need to know where you are financially.

Be able to look ahead (at least six to nine months). Don’t go for financial support at the last minute, you won’t get it. Use forecasting techniques.

Be able to understand the difference between variable costs and fixed costs, and how to calculate your gross profit and gross margin. To survive in these difficult times you need to protect your gross margin (the value you are adding).

Turnover is vanity, what is important is profit.

The presentations were followed by a varied set of questions:

What happens when a business fails?
The main cause is lack of focus. Manager think they can do anything and fail when they diversify beyond their competencies.

How should businesses use the web to market the products:
Google Adwords are the place to start. Find the right company to help you navigate your way for very little money. Big companies are getting ripped off. Doug Richards – Search Engine Optimisation is not rocket science. You can spend a boring weekend learning enough to know what you are doing.

Heather Gorringe – the web is a bit like your local pub – whether you are there or not people may be talking about you – online is the same – you need to be there to listen and respond to your customers.


How good is your Escalator Pitch?

I often ask my business advice clients if they have an elevator pitch. Quite a few have not heard this expression before which surprises me.

The basic idea is that in the fortunate event you find yourself in a lift with a potential backer for your business (think Richard Branson), could you convey the essentials of your idea or invention before he got out on the 20th floor?

In practice this means between 30 seconds and two minutes to express all the salient (selling) points without any waffle, which for some of my clients is a challenge to say the least.

To see examples of this in an even more demanding environment head over to to watch one of their many escalator pitches. Just be aware that practicing this on the London Underground might get you arrested.

DEMOgodAnother inspiring place to visit for when you get a little bit longer to get your idea across (in this case 6 minutes), is In particular have a look at some of the Demo Gods in action to see how it should be done by the best of the best.

About DEMO
The feel you get when you enter the ballroom at DEMO is unlike any other conference. Each company is given just six minutes on the DEMO stage to truly demonstrate how their product will change the world. No PowerPoint or flashy corporate presentations allowed. Just the founders and the technologies many are staking their careers on… it doesn’t get any more straightforward and fast paced than that.

PitchTV – your chance to make your pitch to Richard Branson not surprisingly in these YouTube obsessed times, there has been something of a rash of video-pitching websites. A friendly version of Dragon’s Den? and See my pitch are just two that I have covered previously.

However, when Richard Branson of Virgin fame gets involved you just know there will be a lot of interest.

PitchTV gives you the “chance to pitch your business idea directly to people who could make your ambition a reality.”

Once a month we’ll pick out a selection of the best video pitches and then let everyone vote for their favourite. Each month the five most popular video pitches will make it on to the PitchTV show which will premiere on Virgin Atlantic’s in-flight entertainment – to be seen by top business professionals from around the world.

So if you think you have the media friendly features to make it through to the final round, then why not give it a go.

Sources of funding for small businesses

The biggest cause of concern for entrepreneurs I meet is finding a source of finding now that banks are so reluctant to lend.

Here in the Business & IP Centre we have access to the subscription part of GRANTnet (6,000 grants, loans, awards and other assistance). GRANTfinder gives access to detailed information required to make an application.

GRANTnet logo

However have also created a Grant Watch service which acts a  guide to small business funding. Definitely worth checking out.

Looking for new business finance? There’s lots of free money out there! A range of small business grant schemes, awards and other initiatives are available to entrepreneurs. Read our latest guide to what’s on offer.

  • time4change is offering Train 2 Gain funding for leadership and management training to business owners based in London, with a workforce of between 9 and 250 employees, volunteers or associates. Train 2 Gain will provide funding where the first £500 is 100% reclaimable. Thereafter, you can spend up to another £1,000 and reclaim £500. More details.
  • Innovative London-based small businesses are being offered R&D grants of up to £10,000 as part of the London Development Agency’s Knowledge Connect scheme. The initiative aims to put SMEs in touch with universities, further education colleges and private sector specialists to develop new business opportunities. More details.
  • To stay up-to-date with the latest from Grant Watch, follow us on Twitter.
  • Striding Out is offering entrepreneurs aged between 18 and 30 who are at the pre-start or early stages of running a company £500 and training from business experts in its Big Leap competition. 10 finalists will take part in an Apprentice-style business boot camp in April and compete for the overall prize. Deadline: 06/03/2009. More details.
  • Barclays is offering cash prizes totalling £17,500 to the UK’s most enterprising family businessses in its Family Affair competition. Eight regional winners will win £1,500 and the chance to compete for the overall prize of £5,500. Deadline: 31/03/2009. More details.
  • The Crisis Changing Lives Awards is offering grants of up to £2500 for single homeless people or for those who have experienced homelessness in the past five years to find a work-related course or fund tools or equipment to carry out a job or become self-employed. Deadline: 13/03/2009. More details.
  • Make Your Mark in the Markets is giving entrepreneurs the opportunity to turn their buisness ideas into reality and start trading at a local market for free. The winner of the competition will receive prizes including £1,500, six months free market trading and free business mentoring, marketing and advertising. Deadline: 20/03/2009. More details.
  • Lancaster City Council is offering local businesses grants towards the cost of renting premises. Finance to cover 50% of the first year’s basic rent can be claimed. The maximum grant is normally £2,500 but this may increase to £5,000 if rapid expansion and significant jobs growth is projected, requiring larger scale premises. Deadline: 31/03/2009. More details.
  • The Welsh Assemby has created a new £4.5m fund to help sub post offices in Wales to improve and diversify during the economic crisis. The money can be used for areas including business and marketing advice, advertising, training, improved security and upgrading computer equipment. Applications can be up to £20,000 capital funding and £15,000 in revenue costs. Deadline: 30/04/2009. More details.
  • Dell is seeking entries for its 2009 Small Business Excellence Award. Entrants have the chance to win £25,000 in Dell solutions and a meeting with company founder Michael Dell. The UK winner will receive £15,000 in Dell products and services; a day of best-practice sharing with Dell executives, including Michael Dell, and a 10 year membership to an Accredited Chamber of Commerce. Deadline: 03/04/2009. More details.
  • Winweb is offering £10,000 to new and existing entrepreneurs in its Business ’09 competition. Deadline: 01/10/2009. More details.