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Notes from the Enterprise Nation conference

GCM & Enterprise Nation

You might remember, back in September, that some of the Glasgow Craft Mafia were interviewed for the Enterprise Nation Home Business Road Trip documentary. That’s still being edited but I was lucky enough to attend the recent Enterprise Nation conference in London on behalf of the Glasgow Craft Mafia. Here’s my report back.

20th November was the very first Home Enterprise Day with an aim of raising awareness about the huge number of home businesses in the UK. Home businesses are largely ignored by the government, despite their contribution to the economy.

These issues were raised in the 2009 Home Business Report published by Enterprise Nation, which includes the following key points:

  • 2.8 million home businesses contributing £284bn to the annual UK economy
  • Over 60% of small businesses started in the UK are started at home
  • 89% of home businesses expect to increase turnover in the next 12 months
  • The majority of businesses will grow by outsourcing and sub-contracting, as opposed to taking on staff
  • ‘Working 5 to 9’ is on the rise as people hold down a day job and build a business at nights and weekends
  • Home business is bringing families together and contributing to the local economy and environment

You can download the full report here, which includes a little interview with our own Miso Funky!

The report was launched at the Enterprise Nation conference. All the panels were really interesting and though-provoking but I’ve picked out some of the most relevant parts for crafters like us.

Doug Richard (former Dragon & CEO, School for Startups)

A great way to start the day as Doug was extremely entertaining and a natural speaker – he had no notes or slides and constantly interacted with the audience. As a web designer, I spend a lot of time trying to break down myths about Search Engine Optimisation, social networking etc. and was completely delighted to discover Doug talking 100% total sense about these subjects. I couldn’t have agreed with him more. Here are a few of his main points:

Get rid of costs to make more profit

So simple but so easy to forget. If you quit your day job you learn this very fast – if you can’t make money, then spending less money is almost as good. Do you need an office/studio? If you need extra staff, can they work at their own homes etc.

Don’t be shy

If there’s one thing about entrepreneurs and business owners, it’s that we love taking about our businesses. So talk about what you love on your blog, Twitter etc. and that enthusiasm will help promote you and your business, honestly. Customers love a peek into how the magic happens.

Target your potential customers

Figure out what the target group is for your products, find them on blogs, forums, Twitter etc, and talk to them. They may not buy now but they might remember you in future,

SEO

Use SEO to intercept your potential customers’ desires. Find out how your target audience or strangers would describe your products and build your SEO around that, not around what YOU think your products are. The majority of Google users click on the 1st-3rd organic result, not sponsored links or ads, so make sure you’re there when they decide they want a wool scarf or a bunny necklace (as opposed to a hand-knitted cowl or a rabbit pendant).

Use word of mouth

Word of mouth is the most trusted recommendation but don’t fake it. Try things like video testimonials from happy customers. Keep them honest and real for trust – don’t worry about being professional or hi-tech. The less professional it is, the most trustworthy it will seem.

Be shameless

Get the best deal any way you can. Doug actually suggested pretending your husband just died in order to get a cheaper stand at trade shows!

Know what you do

Make sure you’re able to describe what you do and what the benefits are in a single sentence and use that at all times, whether in person or online.

Doug’s SEO tips were fantastic but, as I say, they match mine exactly, so I’m going to write another post on SEO soon.

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Sites that changed the home business world

A panel discussion chaired by Dan Wagner (Venda.com) with eBay UK (Mark Lewis), MyEhive.com (Louise Campbell) and BT Tradespace (Ivan Croxford)

This would probably have been the most relevant panel for crafters, except that the speakers were very much talking from a business perspective. I couldn’t help wondering how much more interesting this could have been if someone from Folksy had been invited, to talk more about the community aspects.

Product photography

Both Louise and Mark picked good product photography as the most important thing to get right with online marketplaces. It’s a vital link to sales, features and opportunities. Second most important is product descriptions, which need to be well written but also include keywords for SEO.

Feedback builds trust

A lot of discussion was about the feedback system pioneered by sites like eBay and which is now such an important way for buyers to find trustworthy sellers. If you have your own shop, can you incorporate a feedback system or testimonials page? eBay are even planning to highlight and promote sellers by their feedback ratings and good service record rather than the number of sales.

Stand out through customer service

With thousands of other sellers on marketplace sites, you need to use customer service to get yourself noticed. Good service leads to good feedback and repeat buyers.

Use Video

Apparently video is the next big thing – can you use video to show how your products work, or to showcase happy customers?

Use your individuality

People buy from a person not a company. Use your unique voice and a personal service to set you apart and build trust and word of mouth recommendations.

Build your network

Recommend other small businesses outside your scope, especially on business networking sites. Are there products or services that compliment your own? Can you refer your customers or collaborate? Help build a sense of community outside of big business.

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Building a global business from my home

Christian Arno (Founder, lingo24.com) and Mike Hollands (Founder, Toniks)

A short discussion, as the previous panel ran over. Translation is something I’ve only recently given any thought to, having set up on DaWanda so I did find this very interesting.

Expansion through translation

Expand your customer base by translating your site into multiple languages, but be prepared for enquiries in those languages. Translated sites also do well on foreign search engines as there’s not as much competition.

Take advantage of free technology

Similar to Doug Richard’s point – Mike talked about how they use Skype for global language classes – since Skype is free, they remove costs and instead can market a value for money premium service.

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Make Me Famous!

A panel discussion on the media with Daryl Willcox (DW Publishing), Jenny Culshaw (Working Lunch) Lisa Sykes (Features Editor, Country Living) and Jimmy Leach (Head of Digital, Independent)

Another great panel for crafters – most of the advice here is common sense but so easy to get wrong. Also, the room was asked who did want to be famous and only 1 person raised their hand!

Stand out

Find a story about yourself and your business that makes you stand out. Your story should highlight your Unique Selling Point but, despite the name, you should also have more than one USP! Editors like jeopardy and life changes and want to know about the individual, not the company.

Target your promotion

Make sure you’re contacting the right person in the right way, otherwise don’t bother. Do your research to find the relevant person at a magazine or TV show that fits your target audience. Show you know what they do and why you’re a good fit.

Paper press releases are dead

Always use email – never send anything in the mail unless you have a unique idea or samples that will catch someone’s eye.

Why should someone open your email?

Journalists are busy and won’t read every email – you’ve got just the subject line to convince them it’s something worth opening.

Provide all the information they need

Once they’ve opened it, get it right. Give them all the information they need – don’t expect them to go to a website. On the other hand, don’t send attachments – send links to images and PDFs.

Make it personal

Include photos of yourself and where you work as well as your products. Quality is not that important – if they want to feature you, they’ll arrange to take their own photographs.

Are you ready?

Most importantly, are you ready for fame? Can you handle a sudden influx of orders, appearing on television or being recognised in the street? If not, approach the press at a level you’re comfortable with – try a local paper instead of an international magazine.

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Interview with Mark Dixon (CEO, Regus) by David Parsley, Parsley Media

I admit I had never heard of Regus before this interview and spent the first half wondering what on earth his businesses actually did. While being way above most of our ambitions, being someone who has established global companies, gone public and sold off businesses, Mark Dixon was extremely interesting and I could have listened to him for a few hours more.

Not a huge amount I can pass on from this – you might not think of yourself as an entrepreneur but a few things really stuck out.

Drive to do better

Despite multiple successful global companies, Mark mentioned that he is only ever satisfied for a few minutes then wants to go on and do better.

Stay excited

Mark advised to sell a company once you’re no longer excited about it, or have nothing more you personally want to try with it. On a smaller scale, this could apply to giving up a product, range or style if it no longer gets you excited. Don’t just make things because they sell, or because no-one else does.

Most of the interview was personal experiences but he also mentioned a couple of Regus services that intrigued me. Regus own flexible use buildings throughout the globe. Coming soon they will be offering swipe cards for pay as you go office space worldwide so if you’re visiting stockists or manufacturers you can have a short term office space anywhere in the world, 24/7. Also access cards for business hubs where home workers and freelancers can meet for networking and socialising.

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The future of business support

Panel discussion with Patrick Elliott (Business Link for London), Professor Colin Mason (Hunter Centre for Entrepreneurship, University of Strathclyde), Dawn Whiteley (National Federation of Enterprise Agencies) and Andy Hudson (BT Local Business)

This sadly got bogged down in broadband availability issues but Colin Mason in particular raised two excellent points.

  • The majority of businesses that close did not fail, nor were financial disasters
  • Risk takers aren’t more successful

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Mr Motivator aka Mike Finnigan

The final session was with ‘Mr Motivator’, though sadly not THE Mr Motivator. It was a little too cheesy for me but it was good to be reminded of a few motivational thoughts, e.g.

– Love what you do, so it’s never work
– Never be embarrassed about what you do – promote yourself at all times
– It takes a certain type of person to be an entrepreneur or start a business. Remember it’s you and your attitude who drives the business.

And a final word from, Scott Cain of Enterprise UK who had the sweetest point of the day, that however bad you might think you are doing, to some people, who’ve tried and failed at business, you’re a hero! Aww.

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If you’ve found this advice helpful then make sure you check out the Enterprise Nation blog, for lots more tips and interviews. We’ll keep you posted when the documentary is available.

(All photos by Enterprise Nation – see more on Flickr)

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