Today I thought I’d write a little about TidyMedia’s "other" interest - start-ups and small/local business.
At the time of writing, it’s been six months since I was made redundant and decided to set out on my own. In that time, I’ve tried to do the best job I can by getting as much help and support as possible. And trust me, there’s lots out there. Some, admittedly, is only available to me because I was made redundant, but there’s a lot that’s available to every budding entrepreneur with a viable business idea.
Today’s post will have a predominantly Welsh slant, as I’m writing from my own personal experience, and that’s where I’m based. I’d like to hope that wherever you are there will be similar support available.
Recently I attended a workshop with Business Wales. The level of help and support they’ve offered has been phenomenal. They’re able to assist with practical advice from the earliest stages of your new idea right through to helping you grow your business after you’ve started trading. They also have a mentoring scheme which I’ve signed up to, but sadly there is a shortage of mentors to meet the massive demand, so I’m on a waiting list.
I have, however, had two 1-2-1s with business advisors, and the last one was nothing short of fantastic. They draw their talent from those who have already been successful in business, and sometimes getting their impartial thoughts and opinions is very refreshing. Yusuf shared all sorts of information with me that I hadn't even considered... some that seemed like it should've been obvious to me, and some that was genuinely innovative. I thrive in environments where I can collaborate and bounce ideas off people, so sessions like this are great for me! Their free workshops are also brilliant, not just to learn about the topic in hand, but also to mingle and share best practice with other entrepreneurs.
Another invaluable resource for me has been ReAct funding. Because I was made redundant, the Welsh government allowed me access to funding so that I could gain some professional qualifications. Although I was (reasonably) confident in my own knowledge and ability, sometimes potential clients need a bit more reassurance of your credibility.
In retrospect, I wish I'd chosen a classroom-based course rather than a computer-based one, but that's just my personal preference. If you find yourself in a similar situation, check out your options!
New Enterprise Allowance
Another life-saver has been the New Enterprise Allowance scheme. It's like Job Seekers Allowance or Universal Credit for people starting their own business. This was only available to me because I was entitled to JSA in the first place, but the difference is that I don't have to be looking for jobs elsewhere, just evidencing that I'm working on my business (which is fairly easy when you are indeed working on your business!) It lasts for a total of 6 months, with a reduction at 3 months, but the idea should be that you're stepping up your business in that time. As any start-up will testify, an extra income-stream while you build your customer base is never a bad thing.
Almost as good as the financial assistance is the mentoring that comes with it. Like Business Wales, they use successful business-people, so you know you're getting the nitty-gritty detail of experts who have been through the grind, rather than theory from well-meaning desk-based non-practitioners.
Business Networking Events
In setting up TidyMedia, I naively thought I could find all my clients online. It was quite sobering to find out that it doesn't work that way. Sure, the enquiries come and some of those people turn into clients, but nothing can replace the relationship-building that happens when people meet face-to-face and get to know each other.
That was a sad realisation for me, as I'd always found the idea of organised networking events (and even the use of network as a verb) a bit cringey, almost like singles night in a run-down nightclub. Although I'm strangely comfortable talking in front of groups of people, I'm quite shy when it comes to initiating conversations with individuals. I'm the guy that pales at the thought of ice-breaker sessions and such-like. However, through desperation, I've signed up for a few of these organised business events, and generated more leads from one session than a month of google ads. I'm more than happy to admit that I was wrong! At my first one, there was that awkward mingling time at the start, the bit that made me feel uncomfortable... but it was made so much easier by the organiser being on hand to make introductions so that what followed felt a bit more like a chat. Later on we all introduced ourselves (and our businesses) to the entire room in a 30-second pitch. I'm well aware that this terrifies many people, but it was the bit I felt I could cope with best, and I now see that the combination of both approaches worked well for most.
What I found in that group was a bunch of friendly people at various stages of business, who all wanted to get on and help others to do so. It was quite enlightening, and definitely something to add to my regular routine!
Resources & Acknowledgements
If you're currently claiming, or entitled to JSA/Universal Credit or similar, and you're interested in setting up your own business, check out https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/new-enterprise-allowance-campaign
I haven't mentioned it in the main post, but there are also services like the NatWest Business Accelerator scheme that offer fully-funded structured advice and mentorship. It's something I'm interested in exploring, but because I haven't used their services yet, I didn't feel I could comment on them. They do often host talks and events though, and I've attended a few of those. They're fantastic. If there's a hub near you, definitely check out one of their free tours to see if it's for you!
And finally, don't rule out organised business networking events. I got my warm welcome at https://zokit.co.uk but there are lots out there! Do a quick search on Eventbrite, and you'll see lots and lots. Some charge, some don't. Quite often it depends if they're hiring meeting rooms or putting on food etc. but just pick one that fits your budget and you like the look of! Remember not just to focus on groups that do the same kind of thing as you... look for groups that attract your ideal customer!
What else works for you? Don't forget to let me know in the comments, or through any of the TidyMedia social accounts.