Live Q&A: how to grow your business

This week we are proud to be supporting Small Business Saturday, which takes place on the 7th December. Small Business Saturday is an independently-run initiative, created to drive awareness of small businesses and highlight their positive impact on the economy. This is a cause that is obviously close to our hearts and something we do as a business every day.

As part of our campaign to support Small Business Saturday, we hosted a Q&A with two small business experts: our very own Jenny Hyde, Senior Engagement and Learning Manager for our sellers, and Emma Jones, founder of Enterprise Nation and co-founders or StartUp Britain. They answered questions (see comments below) and gave advice on a range of subjects, from ecommerce

Meet our experts

Jenny Hyde

Jenny Hyde

As Senior Engagement and Learning Manager at notonthehighstreet.com, Jenny offers support and guidance for our small business sellers on a huge variety of topics, from pricing for profit to increasing capacity; from writing product descriptions to sales forecasting. Jenny is a product presentation and branding expert, and particularly loves giving guidance on product photography and telling the story of your products and your business.

Emma Jones MBE

Emma launched her first business, Techlocate, in 2000 and successfully sold it 15 months later. The experience of starting, growing and selling a business from home gave Emma the idea for Enterprise Nation which launched in 2006 as a home business website. The company has since expanded to a community of over 75,000 people. In March 2011 she was one of 8 co-founders to launch StartUp Britain, the national campaign to encourage more people to start a business and support existing business growth. Emma has just returned from China where she was part of the Prime Minister’s trade mission.

Emma Jones

  1. I have a small business that’s doing OK for a small range of niche products. How would you go about growing the business – expand the range or try and expand the market?

    How would you identify what ranges / markets to go for?

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    • Hi Ed
      Thanks for your question. I’m a big believer in the power of having a niche business so I’d advise you to keep the range of niche products and expand the market to whom you’re selling. Ways in which you could do this:

      1. have you considered international expansion
      2. rewarding existing customers to tell their friends & family about you and to buy from you
      3. larger orders, selling to corporates or to likes of hotels / restaurants / shops
      4. selling via other partners who have access to your market

      ie keep your niche and range and expand the customer base. Blog, tweet and pin your products so you build up a following of people who not only buy from you but also follow you and gain an interest in the business.

      In terms of markets to go for .. what is the make-up of customer to whom you are currently selling? Male/ female, a certain age or demographic? You want to be selling in the spaces and places in which your customers gather. Guest post on blogs they visit, have your product profiled in the magazines they read, and make it available in the places where they already shop!

      Hope that helps
      Emma

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  2. I have just started a website selling LED Lighting online, I run a family business which is an electrical plumbing wholesalers as well. I have been having it optimised for the last 6 months but haven’t started covering my costs yet. What sort of time frame would you allow before abandoning a project? I spend approx £500 a month on advertising with different online home improvement magazines, do you think i should be spending more or go in a different direction with the advertising

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    • Hi Emma, thanks for joining us today! This is a big question, and I’m sure lots of small business owners will relate: how do you decide whether to push on or give up? My first question would be to identify anything you can do (for free or very little) that would change your game. If you’ve been spending money on marketing that isn’t paying for itself, it’s time to reconsider how you’re investing. Look at different channels and routes to market. Do you have a sense of your target market? Are they personal shoppers, businesses, luxury, high street etc? The 6 month mark is a great time to reassess, and I’d ask you to remember this saying: If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got. A notonthehighstreet.com mantra!

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      • I do have some plans to update the homepage in the New Year, include customer reviews and put a product slider on it to make it more obvious what we do. Our target market are people updating their home looking to save costs on electrical bills and people renovating their homes with a range of high end to the more budget conscious. I think I will start doing press releases to try and get us featured in home improvement magazines, I think that’s free. Thanks for your help,

        Emma

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  3. Hi, I have only recently started a new photobooth business. I want to be able to pay people to help me but I am not sure where to start with tax and setting up to be able to do it.

    Thanks!

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    • Hi Sophie

      Re paying people to help you, rather than hiring people full time, why not consider outsourcing the work to freelancers where you pay for work carried out, the freelancer is responsible for their own tax, so to you this is purely a business expense.

      One thing I would say about accounting is this is something you should outsource as soon as possible to a professional! A big piece of advice I give to people is ‘Focus on what you do best and outsource the rest’ .. and unless you’re an accountant, give this job to someone who knows all the rules!

      As a first step, access a free consultation with an accountant which you can do via ICAEW’s Business Advice Service here http://find.icaew.com/pages/bas

      Hope that helps. Come back (before 4!) with any other questions.

      Emma

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  4. Hello, I have just registered as a business. I make handmade children’s room décor; buntings, wall hangings and personalised fabric pictures with dates of birth, Christening dates etc. I also make little girls dresses. I make for my own little girl and also for family and friends and my question would be can you advise on how I would get the knowledge on how to operate within the law as to labelling, if there are any other particular regulations I have to adhere to and how to do that. I love making dresses and they are very popular but I’m afraid to expand on this any further at the moment as I’m going round in circles trying to find this information. Thanks in advance. Laura.

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    • Hi Laura

      Thanks for the question – love the sound of your business. Can I direct you to the excellent Alison Lewy who runs Fashion Angel http://www.fashion-angel.co.uk and can help with specifics of labelling for fashion items.

      There are specific laws for labelling of Fair Trade or eco products and you can find that here http://www.ethicalfashionforum.com/the-issues/standards-labelling – a good company to look at in this area is Rapanui who are lobbying Europe on fashion labelling http://www.rapanuiclothing.com

      Of the activities you outline, do you feel you might focus on one of them over time? For example, a focus on the decor? I love Paperboy Interiors which has a niche of wallpaper for boy’s rooms http://www.paperboywallpaper.co.uk – because they have such a sharp focus on selling wallpaper for boys, this is helping them in their promotion and customer targeting.

      Hope this helps!
      Emma

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      • Hi Emma, thanks so much for the links, I will look into them later. I take your point on specialising and I totally understand why this would help me. I suppose it’s because I’m just starting out that I’m afraid to pin myself down to one thing. I love love LOVE making little dresses but there are so many other people doing it that I know I will have to work really hard on it to make myself stand out. I’m only running 6 months so I’m going to give the dresses a go over the next year say and see how things are then. As long as I can get to the bottom of the legalities of making childrens clothing!! Thanks again.

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  5. Hi, I have just started out with my own e-commerce site. I feel like a very small fish in a very big pond.. Any tips for maximising exposure? How long should it take for people to notice my site, and what else can I do apart from Social Media to get the word out?.. Thanks

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    • Hi Amy, great to hear from you this afternoon and congratulations on launching your site!
      What kind of product/service are you offering? This will make a difference the most effective areas you can work on. It also makes a difference to how easily you can be found.
      SEO (search engine optimisation) is key so that you’re being found for relevant searches online, as is PR.
      Let me know the area you’re looking at, and hopefully I can add more!
      Jenny

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  6. Hi Emma

    I design and make cushions and currently sell them online. However, I really want to build my customer base and get a bit more feedback on my products – currently I only have my sales stats to work from.

    I can’t afford to open my own bricks and mortar shop – so that isn’t an option (though it’s something I’d love to do one day!).

    Any suggestions?

    Thank you!

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    • Katy Lily

      Yes! I have a suggestion for you … please try a PopUp!

      I’ve been part of a project called PopUp Britain http://www.popupbritain.com where we open shops and offer small and online businesses an opportunity to trade. Over the past 16 months, we’ve opened 12 shops and helped hundreds of businesses. Tenants love it as it’s a low cost and low risk route to making sales, testing the market and meeting customers.

      We’re currently trading at 213 Piccadilly so, if you’re in the area and get a chance, please pop in and speak to the tenants so they can outline the benefits first-hand.

      Emma

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  7. My business partner and I have just started an events company and ran our first creative workshop yesterday which went very well. Next year we plan to have a series of workshops running in the build up to organising bigger events such as weddings, corporate launches etc. We have a facebook page and twitter account and use social media, friends, family and our event contacts as best we can to help promote our business. How important is it to invest in website and other marketing/advertising tools at this stage. What would be the best next steps in order to grow the business as quickly as possible? Many thanks

    reply >
    • Hi Jo

      Not sure if you’ve read some of my other answers here, but I’m a big believer in the niche business so might you be happy for me to offer a little advice? You mention creative workshops, weddings and corporate launches. How would you feel about focusing on just one of those?

      Say you focused ‘just’ on the creative workshops. You would very quickly become experts in this area and so get known in the press (they would come to you as the experts) and by word of mouth.

      Being niche means you keep your marketing costs low – as you know exactly where your customers are/what they reading/ who their influencers are etc and it keeps customer loyalty high as people can only get what they’re after from you.

      Going back to you being the specialists in offering creative workshops, this gives you opportunity to:

      * keep developing creative content
      * reaching out to Universities / Colleges and suggesting partnerships with their creative courses
      * starting a blog on ‘The Art of the Creative Workshop’ that documents what’s happening in your workshops, pictures of happy attendees, upcoming dates and case studies of people who have attended and gone on to do great things etc
      * you could then self-publish an eBook or print book and make this available at the workshop
      * Put the workshops online and let people download course content for a small fee ie online learning
      * Carry out research that you use as a press hook on how creativity helps people get ahead .. so come to our workshop
      etc, etc, etc

      what I’m trying to say is: if you focus on just delivering one quality product, you will quickly become an expert in that area and build a following of loyal customers, without having to spend much at all on marketing.

      Hope that helps
      Emma

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  8. Hi Emma,

    I launched my artisan cake / cookie business a year ago and have had some success online with NOTHS/Etsy stores, selling direct to brides, customers direct and at events. I have been approached by retailers with a view to being stocked in their stores and getting more and more corporate enquiries.

    Do you have any suggestions where I might find a suitable mentor with food related experience to help guide me through the next phase of my growth..?

    Also really interested in Pop Up Picadilly – do you have food producers involved..?

    Nila x

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  9. Hello I am a textiles degree student and I am thinking about starting my own business after I graduate. I am thinking about creating a range of knitted and printed products for the home including mugs, cushions, teatowels etc. What would you say are the keys to success when running/ starting a business? also id love to be able to get on Not On The Highstreet! what sort of things do you particularly look for?

    Thank you

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  10. Hi Emma,

    Me and my sister created an ecommerce business selling gifts 7 years back and this year’s turnover over 1.6m. We are thinking to sell it as my sister is moving abroad and I want to start another business selling my bespoke designs. I’m only 24 and have great ideas. How do I value and sell it? We do not hold stock and employ 4 staff.

    Jenny

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  11. Hi,

    I moved from the UK to South Africa earlier this year and have opened a décor, gift and homeware shop. It has grown and expanded extremely quickly. Although I use a lot of locally made products, I am struggling to stock the shop quick enough, we always sell out and cannot get more from our suppliers. How do I go about importing my own ranges from the UK? China? India?

    We also have customers longing for us to launch an online store… I don’t know where to start with this… any advice would be gratefully received,

    Many Thanks,

    Hannah
    The Ruby Orchard Howick

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