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Female Entrepreneur Focus: Wendy Tan White

Wednesday, May 23rd, 2012

In the late nineties, Wendy Tan White helped develop the UK’s first online-only bank, Egg.  She says, “We looked at the idea of people personalising for themselves online.  The whole idea behind Egg was [that] people wanted to customise and control their finances.  We saw this was a moving trend.”

Building upon this trend, Ms Tan White decided to start a business funded by advertising revenues, which helps people create their own website, and then assumes the responsibility of hosting and managing the site.

The business (named Moonfruit) was funded by investment from Richard Duvall (her mentor at Egg), LVMH, as well as from friends and family; and venture capital was provided by Macromedia.

Following a popular advertising campaign, Moonfruit achieved success very quickly, and the company was able to move into plus Soho offices.  Within six months of its launch in January 2000, the business had built up 40,000 users – and was even ranked among the top 12 visited sites in the UK.  When the dot com crash occurred, however, Moonfruit’s main investor pulled their funding, and the revenue gathered from selling advertising space was not enough to pay the overheads.

Moonfruit went through a dark period during which the staff roster was cut from 60 people to two, and the business had to relocate from Soho to the attic where it first started.  Ms Tan White could very easily have given up when the business became insolvent – but she tenaciously kept going, substituting the former free service to a subscription-based service – and by 2001, Moonfruit was profitable once more.

The new tiered subscription package has proved highly successful; and combined with clever marketing campaigns, by 2009 the turnover had increased to $1.9m dollars.  In 2011 its turnover rose to $3.9m; and by the end of 2012 it is likely to have risen substantially due to its proposed expansion into America.

Over 3.5 million websites have been built using Moonfruit’s point-and-click interface and drag-and-drop templates, and the company is currently the Number One ranked hosted web builder in the UK.

There is a lesson to be learnt from this story: The true entrepreneur does not give up in the face of adversity, but will find a way to succeed through well-judged adaptation and by taking risks with innovative strategies.

The Recession can be Good for You!

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2012

Founded by husband and wife Juliette and Russel Joffe in 1998, the restaurant chain Giraffe has not only thrived throughout recent economic crises; rather, Mr Joffe insists the recession “has been positive for us”.  He states, “It has enabled us to review our strategy.  This is an opportune time to review your business – and aspects that you might forget in good times.”

The Joffes’ advice for not only surviving but possibly benefiting from times of austerity, are as follows:

Get best supply prices:

“We have gone back to some of our original mission statements; reviewing our staffing, talking to suppliers to get the best prices”

Run a tight ship, but don’t let this compromise the quality of your products or services:

“We don’t cut corners or cut costs.  Everyone has to run a tighter business today.  The ones that cut corners and costs are the ones that will suffer long-term because standards of service will decline.  You need to keep the investment and innovation going. It is important that people see you moving forward rather than stagnating.”

Give customers a good deal:

We have also been offering vouchers and deals. It’s the norm today. When people go out to eat, they think: ‘Where is there a voucher?’ We have been focusing on our service and offering customers the best value for money that we can”

We are producing a better bottom-line profit by running a better business. We haven’t let go of any staff as such, just increased sales and not overheads.”

Is British Entrepreneurship suffering?

Monday, May 7th, 2012

USA and Australia topped the recent Global Entrepreneurial and Development Index, whereas the UK only came only 14th.  The Financial Times’ Jonathan Moules commented with surprise that the UK had even come below Austria and Belgium!

On a positive note, the UK was among the best in the world for the number of start-ups it creates (– particularly technology companies); the quality of the founding teams; and the capacity to launch new products without any peers.

However the UK has arguably been more significantly affected by the financial crisis than other nations, and as a result British businesses lack early-stage investment.  In the ranking for the number of individuals who have invested informally in other people’s start-ups in the past three years, the UK falls into the bottom quarter of OECD nations.

In addition, research suggests that in cultural terms, the British do not perceive entrepreneurship as a good career choice.  Erkko Autio (Professor in Technology Transfer and Entrepreneurship at Imperial College) said the UK could significantly improve its position if measures introduced to encourage early-stage investment resulted in more investors committing capital.  “The one thing we are pretty sure about is that it is not [a problem of] over-regulation,” he added.  “It is more about the [need to change] cultural and social norms.”

Female Entrepreneur Focus: Karren Brady

Wednesday, May 2nd, 2012

You probably recognise Karren Brady from the BBC’s popular series The Apprentice.

Starting her career in advertising at the tender age of 18, she first worked at Saatchi & Saatchi and then Sport Newspapers Ltd where she became Director within a year.  In 1993, aged 23 she bought and became the Managing Director of Birmingham City Football Club, launching the Club on the Stock market in 1997 – becoming in the process the youngest Managing Director of a PLC in the UK.  Despite undergoing an operation for a brain aneurysm in 2006, Brady went from strength to strength in the business world; and when she sold her business in 2009, it was valued at over £82million.

From then on, her list of credentials is so numerous, it almost becomes tedious!  In January 2010 she was appointed Vice Chairman of West Ham United FC, generating a trading profit for the first time in several years.  In addition she has been on the Boards of various companies and enterprises such as Mothercare PLC, Channel 4 Television and Arcadia.

She has been the subject of a BBC 1 Inside Story documentary; participated in the aforementioned The Apprentice; featured on Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs; presented shows on ITV; written four books; worked as a columnist at The Sun newspaper and Women & Home magazine; launched her own magazine Today’s Business Woman; and won numerous awards.  She also works as Ambassador for various charities.

Karren Brady is now estimated to be worth £82 million ($131 million).  In her latest book, Strong Woman: Ambition, Grit and a Great Pair of Heels, she admits she only took three days off after the birth of her first child, and that it was wrong of her to prioritise her career over her family.  She stresses that women should not succumb to pressures of “having it all” as she has done in the past.  Off To See My Lawyer quite agree, but at the same time we cannot help but admire what she has achieved!

Mayoral Election Campaign Lowdown for Small Businesses…

Tuesday, May 1st, 2012

Who should London entrepreneurs vote for?

Is it possible that the Mayor of London could help the cause of small businesses and entrepreneurs?  Some of the mayoral candidates hoping to be elected on 3rd May seem to think so, based upon the pledges they make in their manifestos.  So, how do their various manifesto promises compare?

Boris Johnson (of the Conservative Party) lists “Growing the London Economy” as one of his pledges.  He insists that London has already succeeded in its relative resilience against the economic downturn.  He suggests that his priority is to boost the economic well-being of the city – by stating his intent to continue his current endeavours to direct funds and tax money according to Londoners’ wishes; to secure record funding from No. 10; and not to waste money on bureaucracy at City Hall.  Johnson appears to suggest that his aim is to boost the general economic well-being of the city rather than directly helping businesses within it.

Ken Livingstone (of the Labour Party) makes no direct promises in relation to the economy, nor to assisting small businesses.  Rather, his emphasis is on increasing funds for education, in order to increase young people’s prospects of employment.  He pledges a commitment to “restoring a London-wide Educational Maintenance Allowance of up to £30 per week in term by bringing together existing funds in colleges, universities, and local authorities.”

Brian Paddick (of the London Liberal Democrats) states, “We will establish a London Small Business Fund. We will work with socially responsible banks, so all viable small enterprises get the finance they need with mentoring support and advice too.”  This promise comes under the heading of his ambitiously entitled “Jobs and Opportunities for All” pledge, which is mainly focused on improving employment prospects for youths.  He promises a “London Youth Contract” to assist Londoners up to the age of 25 to attain work experience leading to a job; a new “Adult Skills” initiative; a fund to facilitate youth opportunities in needy areas gained via a voluntary £1 a night luxury hotel bedroom levy; the creation of “Youth Hubs” to provide advice, support and socialising opportunities for young people; and an enhanced careers advice service in schools.

Jenny Jones (of the Green Party) is the only candidate who explicitly pledges to help the plight of small businesses as “an absolute priority for City Hall”, as set out in her 10-point “Small Business Manifesto”.  She pledges to:

  1. Support a renaissance of micro, small and medium-sized businesses
  2. Use the Greater London Authority budget to support small businesses
  3. Protect and re-develop the traditional “high street”
  4. Prevent chain stores taking over independent shops
  5. Encourage Londoners to “buy local”
  6. Ensure public sector contracts go to small businesses
  7. Maintain the CompeteFor system
  8. Ensure small and local businesses aren’t disadvantaged by congestion and parking
  9. Only work with banks that lend to small business
  10. Increase small business representation in the community

Carlos Cortiglia (of the British National Party) does not appear to have a website stating his manifesto for London Mayor.  A Uraguayan national who has been living in the UK since 1989, he says he is “astonished” by the “hostility shown by many of the migrants towards the British and their way of life”, and emphasises, “I want to help preserve the freedoms, values and traditions that help make this a great country to live in.”  He appears to make no promises in relation to boosting London’s economy or helping small businesses.

Lawrence James Webb (of Fresh Choice of London) is affiliated with the UK Independence Party.  Of his various manifesto pledges, those of relevance to small businesses include:  cutting rates for “local businesses employing local people”; “saying ‘No’ to open-door immigration” in order to “create more jobs for Londoners”; and fighting any “EU red tape strangling London businesses”.

Siobhan Benita talks at length of her intentions to “create jobs and boost economic growth” in her Manifesto.  With regards London’s budget she promises to establish an “Independent Office for Budget Responsibility”.  For jobseekers she proposes free travel, and reduced fares for low earners.  For youths she pledges her commitment to working “with councils and businesses to ensure apprenticeships effectively deliver real employment and career prospects”, and working “with businesses, schools and colleges to improve pre-apprenticeship training”.  Of greater interest to Off To See My Lawyer clients, she states that she “will work with landlords to make better use of empty commercial property, including temporary use for community projects and for entrepreneurs to trial their ideas, negotiating Business Rate discounts and exemptions for innovative new businesses… My initial priorities will be the support of the creative industries and the life sciences sector.”

Sarah Cressall: The Creation Station

Wednesday, April 25th, 2012

On 29 March of this year, Sarah Cressall was announced as “Woman Franchisor of the Year” at the 2011 Encouraging Women Into Franchising Awards.

Sarah Cresswell is a true inspiration for female entrepreneurs for so many different reasons.  In 2002 she came up with the idea of setting up The Creation Station, aimed at nurturing children’s creativity through fun arts and crafts activities with their parents/carers, and in such a way that minimises any stress or burden for the parents/carers.  Since 2002 Ms Cresswell has successfully overcome various obstacles (such as suppliers going bust) in order to develop her business into what it is today.  In an interview last year she stated, “You can either look at things as challenges or opportunities”.

While we commend Ms Cresswell for successfully setting up and running her own business, Off To See My Lawyer is especially impressed by the nature of her work.  She explains, “We run different types of workshops…   We also run art and craft birthday parties, events for organisations like the brownies, events and fetes for charities.”

While offering valuable services for parents bringing up their children, The Creation Station is now a franchise which offers parents the opportunity to become franchisees of the business and generate their own income.  Ms Cresswell says, “It’s designed specifically for mothers.  It’s flexible. There are some mothers with six-month-olds who do two mornings and others whose children have started school and may want to work four or five mornings.  The business allows time for family life. As they grow and get more confident, franchisees can employ people to run the business.”  Franchisees are given assistance and training to help them run their business, and are supplied with arts and crafts materials, session plans (based on government educational guidelines), a uniform, an admin pack, a web page and materials such as bags and stationery.

If you have an existing business which you wish to develop and expand into a franchise, please consult Jo Tall at jo@offtoseemylawyer.comOff To See My Lawyer does not only deal with start-ups!  Similarly if you are thinking of becoming a franchisee and need legal advice, Jo will be only too happy to assist.

Female Entrepreneur Focus: Rita Sharma

Wednesday, April 11th, 2012

Rita Sharma set up travel agency Worldwide Journeys in 1986 selling transatlantic business flights from a windowless London office “the size of a broom cupboard”, which merely consisted of “two desks and some phones”.  In addition to its humble beginnings, the business did not necessarily have an easy journey to success, either [excuse the pun!]  When the stock market crashed in the late 1980s, “people were no longer spending ridiculous amounts of money travelling First or Club class”.  Clearly a natural entrepreneur, however Ms Sharma responded to the situation by adapting her business to one that sold bespoke holiday packages instead.  In 1992 her husband Rahul abandoned his accountancy career in order to take charge of the finances of Worldwide Journeys.

British “by definition” but “Asian too, by DNA”, Ms Sharma partly attributes her tenacity and ultimate success to her principled upbringing: “a very strong foundation of right and wrong and a real sense of personal responsibility”.

Today the business is worth an estimated £44m, and Rita Sharma is known as the UK’s richest Asian female entrepreneur.  She proudly states, “We are not in the business of selling a bit of this, a bit of that, flights and hotels.  We sell the entire dream, a bespoke tailor-made holiday, from the flights to the hotel to the transfers and the tour – the whole thing.  And we sell very high-end, luxury travel.”

Female Entrepreneur Focus: Judith Brown

Wednesday, April 4th, 2012

One member of the Off To See My Lawyer team recently visited the Contemporary Textiles Fair at Teddington’s Landmark Art Centre, and was especially attracted by the unique work of Judith Brown.  The design of Judith’s jewellery is based upon her own unique stitching with wire, and her affinity with textiles and vintage haberdashery.  In addition to making and selling her jewellery on-line and at trade fairs, she runs jewellery workshops.

Those of you who are at the early stages of starting a business selling home-made products may be interested to hear about Judith’s initial experiences.  She says, “Once I started experimenting with wire I was hooked and started looking for places to sell my work.  I began with a few local galleries and events…  The initial reaction to my work was great, with people commenting on how unusual it was and buying it as well.  It took me a while to hone my designs and understand what sells and what the customer and galleries want.”  Furthermore you may wish to follow Judith’s blog: www.judithbrownjewellery.blogspot.co.uk or simply visit her website: www.judithbrownjewellery.co.uk

If, like Judith, you are interested in setting up a jewellery-selling business (whether you have designed the pieces or not), we recommend you use the British Library’s detailed information sheets on what aspiring jewellers need to consider.  Off To See My Lawyer’s “oven ready” document shop provides templates for selling products on-line, and more specifically we have recently developed a version especially tailored for the sale of jewellery.  The Terms of Sale of jewellery on-line are essentially the same as those for the Terms of Sale for other products – in that customers have a general right to return items purchased online within seven days.  We have, however, incorporated into the template contract a few other considerations relevant to the sale of jewellery.  Similarly, Off To See My Lawyer can assist you to set up a business which runs workshops and courses.  Please contact Jo Tall at jo@offtoseemylawyer.com for further details.

Silver Lining of Cloud Computing for Entrepreneurs

Tuesday, March 20th, 2012

Have you heard of “cloud computing”?  Whereas in the past the electronic operations of businesses have run from office servers, they can now be run on-line.  Businesses are therefore spared the costs of computer hardware and employing IT programmers to design and set up their computer systems.  Web entrepreneur Darren Fell (and founder of website freelanceadvisor.co.uk) developed his fully automated online accounting service Crunch at a fraction of what it would have cost a decade ago.  “It’s the difference between an investment of £1 million today, compared with £3 million or £5 million the old way,” he says. “We would have had to spend thousands on software, servers and the air conditioning to cool them. Now that everything is in the cloud, the business is totally scalable. We are charged on a monthly, pay-per-seat basis, which means not having to pay money up front. It has really lowered the barriers to entry.”

Through cloud computing, businesses can theoretically be run at any location where there is internet access – which is convenient in terms of flexibility, and it also means that the cost of overheads can be lowered dramatically.  Myles Hantler (co-founder of icomplete) states, “We’re finding businesses working seamlessly on projects online, but working across different locations, or even just working from a number of homes without an office. It can save businesses a lot of time and energy.”

On-line services providers such as icomplete and collaborative working site Huddle also help alleviate the time and effort needed to start up and run a business (including facilitating tasks such as tax returns, networking and project work).  As a result entrepreneurs and small business ventures are increasingly taking on long-established giants.

Small businesses may be struggling to thrive in the current economic and political climate, but their chances of success are being vastly improved by new developments in technology.  It seems that the dark cloud over our heads is silver-lined by “cloud computing”!


Female Entrepreneur Focus: Lara Morgan

Wednesday, March 14th, 2012

Lara Morgan initially founded a toiletries supplying business Pacific Direct in 1991, later selling it for £20 million in 2008.  She has since started Company Shortcuts, which focuses on helping other entrepreneurs with their business ventures.

In a recent magazine interview she narrowed her “top business tips” down to 5 fundamental mantras:

  1. “Sales are all you need”
  2. “Do admin outside business hours”
  3. “Hold on to equity”
  4. “Don’t stick to one mentor”
  5. “Don’t employ lightly”.

The first four tips speak for themselves.  With regards the fifth, Morgan emphasises the fact that becoming an employer means taking on a lot of additional responsibility.

Off To See My Lawyer are of course here to help you assess the pros and cons of taking on employees, considering UK and EU legal requirements, procedures and statutory duties of care; and taxation issues. (First appeared in Stylist Magazine http://www.stylist.co.uk/stylist-network/lara-morgans-top-business-tips)