Small Business Freedom

Having a family and trying to run a small business can seem like an insurmountable challenge to many, but plenty of people find that doing both is surprisingly achievable. However, the key to making things work effectively is to have a plan of strategy and being able to decide on where to run your venture.

While working from home has long been seen as the ideal way of being able to juggle a hectic family life with business activities, there is now another option that is also proving to be very appealing, especially to people who are looking to expand their venture.

What to look for?

Keeping overheads to a minimum is top of the list for many people who are starting out in the world of business, and having small children also means that you have to factor in childcare costs if you’re trying to spend at east part of the day concentrating solely on your business.

Thanks to the internet and these recessionary times, however, there is now a quick and easy way of finding desk/office space in shared and serviced offices, at hugely competitive prices. These days, you can hunt out rental space in much the same way as you’d look for a broadband or mobile phone deal, and compare what’s on offer in one place.

Keep an eye out

So, use the web to carry out an office space search using one of the new comparison websites and this will soon reveal that your office or desk space possibilities are actually a very realistic proposition. The great benefit with renting even just one desk in a shared office is that you can have a base for your business that is away from the topsy-turvy home life than many parents have to try and work around.

Better still, you’ll find that desk space rental schemes are well priced and the contracts are very flexible too, meaning that you’ll probably be able to get some desk space on a rolling-basis in terms of contracts and move in and out at fairly shot notice. Going for this sort of arrangement in an already running office area will also mean you get basic utilities along with an essential such as broadband internet.

Move on up

For those with small families but who have designs on building a business further then it’s also worth using the comparison option to find shared office space. This is a step up from desk space rental in the fact that you’ll get the chance to have a greater area to rent. Added to that, the shared office will often come complete with receptionists, post and IT support.

However, this sort of arrangement still comes with the benefit that you can enjoy a flexible contract and again, it can be relatively short–term, especially when compared alongside the hassle of buying a property. Most of the office space rental schemes operate either in city centre locations and/or prime business parks too.

One of the best things about going down this route is that you instantly give your business venture an added seal of credibility. You may even find that these state of the art buildings may well come with childcare facilities in the vicinity too.

After all, with this kind of business arrangement proving increasingly popular, it’s clear that many parents need the added flexibility of having decent facilities close at hand.

About the author: Rob Clymo writes on behalf of Office Genie, the UK’s first proper online marketplace for desk space and shared office space.

How to start an online shop

online shop

Note: This post was updated in May 2014 to include recent changes to SEO and social media.

You can start an online shop on a really tiny budget. Seriously.

OK, let’s get on with the steps! Here’s how I’d start my own online shop…

1. Work out what to sell

I’d have a think about things I might like to sell and then look for niches. (Why is a niche so important? Check out my post Why you need a niche.) So let’s say I fancy selling t-shirts. A basic t-shirt shop is pretty boring and I doubt I’d be able to compete with the big stores out there anyway, so I need to find a specific type of t-shirt. When I type ‘t shirt’ the Google Adwords Keyword Tool I can see what different types of t-shirts people are searching for. This gives me niches like ‘retro t shirt’, ‘designer t shirt’, ‘star wars t shirt’. I’d aim for a niche/keywords that has quite a few people searching for it, but that doesn’t have high competition.

Let’s say I go for ‘goth t shirts’. I’d still do this if I’d already been selling on eBay and was planning to move over to my own shop.I’d even do it if I was planning to make my own craft items because I might be able to tweak what I make to match what people are searching for. I’d make a note of the words people use when looking for goth t-shirts. Do people search for ‘goth t-shirts’ or ‘gothic tshirts’? How about ‘gothic clothing’? Then I’d look at my competitors to see how I could do things differently. If most goth t-shirts are poor quality, I’d look at selling some really top quality ones, for example. Cost = £0 Continue reading “How to start an online shop”

Join The Revolution and Help People to Change Their World

Every year The Co-operative supports thousands of initiatives both in the UK and the developing world, helping people to change the world around them. The Co-operative now aims to inspire even more people to get involved and make a difference to their world.

The Co-operative proves that you don’t have to be small to be an ethical business. It’s different from other major retailers in the UK because it’s earned not by a small group of shareholders, but by more than five million consumers. Today it has 5,000 outlets across its family of businesses including food, financial services, travel, pharmacy and funerals, serving more than 20 million customers per week.

Ethical business is not a new idea. The Cooperative was started in 1844 by the Rochdale Pioneers who founded a new kind of business – one that would be based on democratic principles, owned by the customers and would reinvest in the community it served. And it’s still going strong 167 years later.

The Co-operative has helped communities and individuals both here in the UK and around the world to make a difference. It has invested in projects from protecting inner-city bee populations to starting a film academy for young people, to helping Kenyan tea farmers form co-operatives. This is done by members agreeing to donate from their share of the profits.

My interest is in developing young people, though, so I was really pleased to hear the difference that the Co-operative had made to a community play group in North Wales. Play Montgomeryshire provides families with free or low cost activities that give children greater opportunity to learn through play.

One of their services, the Machynlleth Toy Library, came under threat of closure when its existing funding was cancelled. The library is a well-loved part of the local community, and the Play Montgomeryshire team were determined to save it. The group approached The Co-operative and secured a donation of £2,000 and they are now confident that the library will continue to serve local children.

Have you heard of the Co-operative’s Green Schools initiative? It’s the most wide-ranging sustainability programme in UK schools. From helping to organize walking buses, to providing visits to green energy sites, and to farms to see how food is grown, the Co-Operative engages pupils with a broader spectrum of projects than any other UK business.

The Co-operative helps individuals too, including offering mentor training to young people. It provides sporting activities in communities where they may not have been available previously, and lets the volunteers explore new possibilities and gain new qualifications.

One such volunteer was Jamie, a teenager from Northumberland, who has used her love of dancing to map out her future career path. After becoming a StreetGames Volunteer, Jamie now teaches urban dance 5 times a week to younger children at her local dance academy – Factory Dance Academy.

Jamie’s expectations have been transformed. Instead of leaving school at 16 as she first intended, Jamie is about to start a BTEC in Dance, Health and Social Care and Business, with the aim of pursuing a career in community dance.

I’m always on the look out for parent-run businesses that give something back to their communities here at Business Plus Baby. So it’s great to know that an ethical business can grow to be so big and last for so many years. That’s really something to aspire to!

The Co-Operative now want you to Get involved and Join the revolution! They are looking out for the best revolutions up and down the UK. Submit your initiative on the Join the revolution page with a brief description of what it’s all about, and the most popular revolution from each region will receive a £5,000.

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Why Branding Is So Important For Mumpreneurs

Let me tell you a story…

Julie makes blankets for babies. Not just any old blankets, but beautiful, soft, hand-knitted ones. Each one is unique and carefully knitted to order. The reason Julie started her business is because her friends loved the blankets Julie knitted for her baby so much they wanted to buy one for their own babies.

So Julie set up shop on Ebay and Folksy. She priced her blankets at a little bit more than you would pay for mass-produced, factory made ones. Julie reckoned that people would pay that bit extra for one that is hand made. The problem was that once she took into account the cost of wool, postage and packing, Julie was only earning a couple of pounds an hour. She could earn at least double that much stacking shelves in her local supermarket.

There had to be a better way.

So here’s what Julie did. She folded each baby blanket carefully and wrapped it coloured tissue paper, then placed it in a white gift box. In the box she placed a card saying “Congratulations on your new baby from…” or “A gift for you from…” depending on what her customer had asked for. (The cards had been professionally printed with her new logo on top quality card). She then tied the box carefully with a matching ribbon and label.

She took photos of  the blankets and gift boxes so visitors to her Folksy page could see the love Julie put into each. She’d worked with a graphic designer (…this hadn’t cost anything like as much as she first thought because her designer was also a mum working from home…) to create her logo and colour scheme for the cards and labels.

Julie used her new logo and colour scheme to customise her Folksy page. Then her Facebook page. She dropped eBay because she no longer needed to compete on price.

Now Julie had a brand. A brand that reflected the care and attention that she put into each blanket. A brand that told the world that her blankets were in a different class to the ones you could buy in any baby superstore.

A brand that meant she could could charge double what she did before.

You need a brand. Even if you’re running the smallest of kitchen-table businesses.

OK, so what is a brand?

It’s the message your business communicates to the rest of the world.

And here’s why it’s tricky to get branding right if you’re a one-person business…

Much of the advice out there is about big company branding. And big company branding is completely different from what you need as a one-woman business.

The big guys are faceless corporations that need to go out and find a personality. As a little gal, you already have a personality – your challenge is to draw it out. And if you’re too modest you might need to give that personality a boost too.

Why is this so hard? Well, we’re all to close to our businesses to see them objectively. It’s tough to ‘big up’ your business’s strengths if you can’t tell where you end and your business begins.

Here’s how you could be getting your branding wrong…

  • Like Julie, if you don’t have a strong brand, you don’t stand out from all the other businesses out there. You’re unremarkable, perhaps even forgettable.
  • If the brand doesn’t fit what you do the world doesn’t quite get where you’re coming from (or maybe it just doesn’t believe you?) Perhaps you’re trying to be like a big company and have nailed a brand onto your business instead of teasing it out from within? Maybe you’re trying to be the same as your competitors when you need to focus on being yourself?
  • If you think you’ve got your branding sorted because you’ve got a fab logo, think again. Branding includes your logo, colour scheme, fonts, photo, business card, tagline, website, customer service, marketing materials, conversations you have a networking meetings, all your updates on Facebook and Twitter. Every interaction your business has with the outside world, in fact.   It can be tough to get all that working together as a seamless whole if you’re just one person with a million other things to do.

In my next post, I review a product – designed specifically for mumpreneurs – that will help you build your brand.

This post contains affiliate links.

Creative Commons License photo credit: [nohide]kmroselle[/nohide]

What You Need to Know Before Buying a Franchise

Thinking of buying a franchise? Today we have Pippa Highfield’s second post on franchising. (If you missed her first post, here it is: Five reasons to buy a franchise)

Having searched ‘flexible, part-time jobs in north Bucks and Beds’ for the millionth time and still come up with nothing I realised I needed to be a bit more creative.  I didn’t set out to become a business owner, less to launch the Bedford edition of Raring2go! – a guide  aimed at local families – but here I am four years on operating  a profitable franchise business that can be run during school hours.

Being a fairly cautious and risk adverse person I did a lot research before I signed the agreement to take on the franchise and here are some of the key questions I asked:

Do you believe in the product/service? Being passionate about the product or service you are offering is a key business success factor and the same is true in franchising. Can you see yourself being enthusiastic about your business and feeling proud of what you do?

Is the business idea viable? If the business has been in existence for sometime and you have a verified set of accounts this can really help you analyse the opportunity. If the business is relatively new it is important to ascertain how the franchisor has come up with their financial projections.

You should also be mindful of how the product will be received in your local area. What is the level of competition for similar products in your location and is your territory big enough to sustain another competitor? Does your area have a similar demographic to other successful territories already in operation?

What are your obligations as a franchisee? Not only is it important that you take legal advice before signing a contract, but you need to be clear about your day to day, month to month and year to year obligations to the franchisor. It is important to read your contract and make sure you understand what is required of you and build any requirements into your working plan.

Can I work with the franchisor and other franchisees? Like any other job it is important that you are comfortable with the ethos of the company and your ‘colleagues’. Make sure you meet your franchisor and their support team plus get in contact with as many franchisees as possible to get a real ‘feel’ for how the network is run.

What value am I getting for my franchise fee? There should be lots of tangible benefits of being part of a franchise such as training, technology support, marketing support, business advice and possibly a centrally managed website. The franchisor should also be marketing the brand centrally and expanding the network of franchisees, both of which will positively benefit your business.

This is by no means a definitive list of questions you need to ask when considering buying a franchise but will, I hope, give a flavour of some of the issues you will need to investigate before making a commitment. There is lots of good information available from organisations such as Business Link and the British Franchise Association which will help you analyse and asses a franchise opportunity for yourself.

After four successful years Pippa is now planning to move on to new projects. So if you think franchising could tick your boxes and would like an informal chat about taking on the Raring2go! Bedford franchise please contact Pippa on 01908 583232 or bedford@raring2go.co.uk