Category Archives: Entrepreneur of the fortnight

Entrepreneur Of The Fortnight: Childrenswear With A Twist

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Ever dreamt of jacking in your 9-5 job if you only had a viable alternative to run to? Have you ever wondered how it’s even possible to make money from something you love without compromising certain income and a safe future? Or maybe you’ve pondered how much experience you actually need in a field before jumping ship and creating a business from scratch?

As with most things entrepreneurial, Natalia and Tamara, founders of the beautiful childrenswear brand, Little Knickerbockers, challenge the norms we’re accustomed to believing. Giving down to earth insight about their path to entrepreneurial success, if you’ve ever wondered about starting your own business, this will give you a kick in the right direction. These are sisters with creativity, passion and business savvy to boot….

Over to you, ladies…

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Can You Tell Me A Bit About What You Do?

We started Little Knickerbockers in 2011 and have carefully sourced items far and wide as part of our classic collection of clothing and accessories for 0-5yr olds. Affordable, with a dose of good old fashioned charm and a modern twist, these clothes are gorgeously timeless and original at the same time. You can check out out our online shop here.

What Inspired You To Start Your Business?

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As you can see from our collections, we just adore traditionally inspired clothes such as Peter Pan collars, bloomers, cords, smock dresses and rompers. When we started to have children we noticed it was difficult to find wonderful classic clothes that didn’t leave a hole in your pocket, so it all started from there.

How Did You Manage To Build Your Business?

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We have been doing it through word of mouth over the last few years and found a good customer base online and at seasonal fairs. 

What’s Been The Biggest Highlight?

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When people genuinely like and respond to the clothes

What’s Been The Biggest Challenge?

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Juggling the business and looking after our children.  

How Do You Build Your Client Base?

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We use social media (Instagram, Facebook, Twitter) but also use flyers and we include our own range of postcards with every purchase.

What Advice Would You Give To Budding Entrepreneurs?

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When you’ve done your research and planning, don’t put it off – just go for it!

What’s Next For You?

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We are thinking of doing some pop up shops over the year, and then who knows…hopefully even create a small line of our own!

How Can We Contact You?

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info@littleknickerbockers.com

Tell Us Something We Didn’t Know About You…

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I was born with a tooth!!!

Entrepreneur Of The Fortnight: Gemma Tanswell: Dancer Extraordinaire

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What shade of blue are your Sunday Blues and where do they take you? Turquoise oceans and stripey sun beds in the Caribbean with cocktails in hand? Or maybe you’re day dreaming of sunset skies across the River Thames as you stare out of your (make-believe) office window from home? Or are your escapist fantasies a darker shade of blue that see you wishing you could leave your daily grind more than anything in the world?

If any of these are you, this truly candid interview with Gemma Tanswell has your name on it. Creator of  Stage Plus School of Performing Arts, Gemma ignored the doubtors and stood firm to her dreams, creating an inspiring company that fufils her day in, day out.

So if you’ve ever wondered about jumping ship and creating your own business – your style – your way – read on. This is a lady with brains, beauty and business savvy in bucket loads…

Over to you, Gemma…

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Can You Tell Me A Bit About What You Do? 

I am the Owner and Principal of Stage Plus School of Performing Arts based in Princes Risborough, England. I’m a trained ISTD and RAD teacher and have also trained in Zumba and the Trinity Arts Award. When I’m not teaching, organising competitions, exams and shows, I’m trying to keep my school in the forefront through advertising, social media and all the general admin!

I’m also part of the creative team at Risborough Youth Theatre, work part time in a preschool (where I’ve taken my Levels 2 & 3 in CYPW) and have just started to write a family blog.

Aside from that, I’m a wife of 4 years and mummy to a gorgeous 2 year old boy!

What Was Your Previous Experience Before Starting Your Business?

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I started dance classes when I was 3 years old where I was a member of our local dance school, Sabatini School of Dance and Performance. I never took any exams – I just performed for fun and it certainly was that!

At 18 years old, I went onto North London Dance Studio where I spent 2 years training and graduated with a Diploma in Performing Arts, Intermediate and Advanced exams in Ballet, Tap, Modern and National. I then completed my teaching qualifications and updated others at the Linda Sweetzer Teacher Training College, taking advanced 2 Modern over the years, too!

In terms of work, I performed around the UK and worked in Tenerife as the dance captain on a new venture. I stayed out there for 2 years, where I performed as a singer and dancer as well as team leader and choreographer for a new version of the show. I returned home due to a death in the family in 2005 and shortly after the show closed down. On my return I taught for various schools in my local area while I decided what was next – which turned out to be meeting my husband!

What Inspired You To Start Your Business?

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A dream! When I returned from working abroad, I was freelancing at a few schools and covering maternity leave at Stage Plus when I was asked if I’d like to buy the school (the lady who had started it in 1983 was moving abroad). Although it was well established, there were definitely some obstacles – I would be losing the premises they were working in, for one. I paid a lot more money than I should have for the business but I was only 24 years old and it had been a dream of mine to own my own school. At that stage I didn’t think such an amazing opportunity would come up again.

I can’t believe I will have owned the school for 8 years in June!

How Did You Manage To Build Your Business?

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A few years after I took over the School I rebranded it with a new logo, new website and new branded wear. I also did a lot of research into what my students and their parents wanted (I think it’s important to do this regularly).

Then the recession hit and caused a major set-back on our student numbers so things had to change again.

That said, I think change in general – and keeping with the times – is really important. In that vein, we participate actively on social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube and try to keep people updated online as much as possible.

In terms of internal management, workshops help us to access different dance styles and teachers and shows and festivals showcase our choreography and fabulous students (as well as showing the younger children and parents what they can aspire to do).

I also believe in the good old power of word of mouth. I have some amazing students and I’m lucky their parents recommend us all the time. It’s such a lovely feeling and it makes you feel very supported!

What’s Been The Biggest Highlight?

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Seeing students go off to Professional Dance Colleges and pursue careers in the Performing Arts. I currently have students working on cruise ships, heading to the Royal Ballet to train, working in Disneyland, Paris and others who are performing in the West End. It’s lovely to have received so many goodbye cards and text messages full of gratitude for the part I’ve played in their achievements. One of the best moments was receiving a text message at 2am from an ex-student saying: “Sorry it’s so late but if it wasn’t for you I wouldn’t be having a drink and a chat with Matthew Bourne as we speak”.

We always say that once you’re part of the Stage Plus family, you never really leave.

What’s Been The Biggest Challenge?

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Money. I love the school and everyone involved but there have been some tough times. When the recession hit, I had just taken on a new studio full time which was a massive outgoing. Although I was determined that this would build the school further, as money faltered, numbers dropped. However, we made it through and although I have had to make some serious changes, we are still standing and have new students starting all the time. I’m certainly in this job for the love!

What’s Your Favourite Event / Product / Service? 

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I love to go to Move It at Olympia for the performances more than anything. It’s so lovely to see college students (some of whom are ex-students of mine) showing the world what they’ve got. It’s also a great opportunity to see what’s new in the dance world so I can take Stage Plus up a notch each year.

How Do You Build Your Client Base?

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A lot of it is word of mouth. I’ve done lots of different advertising over the years but my website and reputation are the best sellers. We also perform at local fetes and have been involved in a lot of charity shows which means more people hear about us.

What’s The Best Compliment You’ve Received?

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It was an insult and a compliment in one – which propelled my career 100%!!

My Principal at Dance College told me I’d never be a performer but I’d make a fantastic teacher.

Of course, this only strengthened my resolve to perform and sure enough, I was one of the only ones from my year who went on to perform and here I am now with a dance school of my own!

What Advice Would You Give To Budding Entrepreneurs?

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Take on board others’ advice but the best way to learn is by following your dreams. I’ve had many setbacks and many people telling me that I’m doing the wrong thing (including my parents and my husband) who, despite having really supported me, didn’t want to see me struggle at times.

Unfortunately, most of the time they ended up being right but the only way I learnt this was by doing it myself! I just knew I’d regret it if I didn’t try!

Although I definitely have an impulsive streak, nowadays I try to be more cautious by planning as much as possible!

What’s Next For You?

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Wow, now there’s a question! There are so many things going around in my head at the moment……

In terms of the school, I’d like to offer a wider range of classes, build our student numbers and get a fab show under our belt for 2016.

I’d also like to train as a nutritionist and to learn more about the anatomical and physiological side of dance (I was inspired by a course i went on a few weeks ago).

On a personal level we’d love to expand our family.

I think 2015 and 2016 are going to be busy!

How Can We Contact You?

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Website: www.stageplus.com

Email: stageplus@hotmail.com

Telephone: 07931 180 807

Social Media: Facebook and Twitter

Also: YouTube

What’s Your Favourite Quote?

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Tell Us Something We Didn’t Know About You….

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I’m pretty good at face painting (completely self taught!) and have been put in charge of this at many show runs (imagine the animals in The Lion the Witch and The Wardrobe…) Safe to say the comic relief events, fetes and birthday parties I’ve been roped into have turned out to be pretty hands on!!

Entrepreneur Of The Fortnight: Eco-Pet Pioneer: George Bramble

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Hey there, wee Gazer! Happy Monday to you! If you’re feeling a little sluggish let’s kick off your week with a huge dose of entrepreneurial inspiration from George Bramble, co-founder of the award-winning, ‘green’ pet product and accessories company, Beco Pets.

Stocking an impressive range of eco-friendly products for dogs, cats and other pets, Beco exports products to 43 countries worldwide and are the UK’s leading poop bag specialists, selling more than 10 million bags worldwide.

And while poop bags may seem the stuff of giggles, with 8.5 million dogs in the UK alone, not to mention how much the Americans spend on their furry friends, George and his business partner, Toby, are a seriously enterprising pair.

So if you’re ever dreamt of changing direction career-wise but have no idea where to start, read on to see why you really should keep an open-mind about the direction you take. George’s innovation and motivation (which has seen Beco Pets featuring in The Times for selling chopsticks back to China in the form of dog bowls), is seriously rousing stuff…

Over to you, George

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Can You Tell Me A Bit About What You Do?

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I am the Co-Founder of Beco Pets, the UK’s leading manufacturer of eco-friendly pet products. I look after the sales and marketing side of the business and we sell to pet specialty stores in the UK and in 43 markets abroad.

What Was Your Previous Experience Before Starting Your Business?

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Having left the University of Birmingham in 2005 with a degree in geography and environmental sciences, I started on a graduate scheme at a global drinks manufacturer Bacardi Martini, where I gained invaluable experience in lots of different areas of business, from finance to marketing and sales. But after four years I decided the company wasn’t for me and I decided to start my own business.

What Inspired You To Start Your Business?

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My inspiration was my brother Richard Bramble, who already ran his own successful business. I saw that hard work and dedication can lead to success and that the great thing about running your own business is that you are in control of your own destiny, which really appealed to me.

The other reason for starting my own business was having studied geography and environmental sciences at university. I have always had an interest in conservation and the environment so I decided that if I was going to make money out of a business, I wanted it to have an environmental and eco aspect to it – which is what inspired me to start Beco.

How Did You Manage To Build Your Business?

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I was introduced to my now business partner, Toby Massey, through a mutual friend. I was sourcing eco-friendly products and Toby had vast experience in eco-friendly design and also, more importantly, manufacturing. We hit it off straightaway. He designed the products and sourced them through our network of factories in the Far East and I went about putting products on the shop shelves and the selling and marketing of the brand.

We have gone from strength to strength. From starting working out of Toby’s father’s garage in 2009, we now distribute to 43 markets worldwide and spend most of the year travelling round the world attending trade shows and seeing customers.

What’s Been The Biggest Highlight?

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The UK pet product market is worth £4bn. The biggest highlight for us was conquering the American market. Last year we linked up with a US distributor and due to the size of the pet market there and Americans spending a huge amount on their pets and their eco purchasing decisions, we have grown tremendously. In fact, we have doubled our turnover in the last year.

What’s Been The Biggest Challenge?

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Any start-up business faces various challenges, obstacles and really hard work. I remember sitting on Toby’s brother’s office roof putting stickers on pet bowls for 48 hours straight, downing energy drinks to stay awake – all because we were on a deadline to fulfil an order for our first big distributor.

As for anyone running their own business, each day presents itself with hurdles to overcome but the biggest challenge for us came at the beginning when Beco wasn’t generating enough to pay our wages and we were very much living hand to mouth. But after a few months of hard work and tight budgets, we turned the corner and we haven’t looked back since.

What’s Your Favourite Product?

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If someone had told me when I left university that I would be making my living by selling eco-friendly dog poop bags I would have said they were nuts. But one of the biggest parts of our business is selling degradable poop bags, so there is money in s**t after all.

How Do You Build Your Client Base?

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We use good old-fashioned sales. It started with a phone directory and we began ringing up and selling our products on the phone, within the UK but also worldwide. When you are selling to New Zealand, it meant there were some 4am starts. And when you are selling to the US, you have to stay up late into the night. Now we have distributors in markets all over the world and a full sales team in the UK with reps on the road.

What’s The Best Compliment You’ve Received?

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We get compliments every day but the biggest compliment for me is when members of the public review out products online and say how much they – and importantly, their pets – love them and that they are so pleased that a company like Beco Pets is trying to make a difference to our planet.

What Advice Would You Give To Budding Entrepreneurs?

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I’ll offer three pieces of advice.

1. Innovation And Hard Work

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I was always told it’s not the dog in the fight, it’s the fight in the dog. Meaning that you have to give everything 150 per cent and always be thinking of clever ways to compete with your big rivals in the market place.

2. Cash Is King

In other words, keep on top of your cash flow. You might be selling millions of pounds’ worth of product but if you run out of cash your business is no more.

3. Listen To Your Customers

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You might think you have the greatest product or service, but if your customers don’t, you haven’t got a business.

What’s Next For You?

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We have enjoyed record growth and success in the last year and our next objective is to grow our international profile even more. We currently export our products to 43 countries around the world and it is my ambition to meet as many of our customers in the US and around the world as possible. Beco Pets has a fantastic profile in the UK and our eco-friendly approach to business is something we share with colleagues around the world.

How Can We Contact You?

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Visit our website at www.becopets.com or write to me on hello@becopets.com.

What’s Your Favourite Quote?

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Tell Us Something We Didn’t Know About You….

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One of the secrets of my success, I believe, is starting every day with a cold water lido swim as it gets my endorphins going. I always swim for up to 45 minutes. One day I’d like to swim the English Channel.

 

 

 

Entrepreneur Of The Fortnight: Alex Fagan of Beauchamps Of London

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Hey there, wee Gazer! Happy Tuesday to you!

Let’s kick off your evening the right way with some seriously nourishing nuggets of inspiration from London’s, Alex Fagan, who gives us a snapshot into her path to entrepreneurial success as CEO of the stunning luxury leather brandBeauchamps of London.

If you’ve ever dreamt of jacking in your 9-5 job if you only knew what else you would do, where you would start and how you could channel your passions into a soul-alighting, money-making reality, this is for you. 

Or maybe you’ve wondered how much experience you need in a new field before hopscotching your way into a fresh new venture - or perhaps you’ve questioned when you should make the first jump – or if you should jump at all. How do you do know if it’s reckless or just – plain – heroic?

And then there’s that golden question – how do you know if your new venture will succeed or flop? How fine is the line between glory and disappointment?

Alex answers all these questions and more, giving you super dooper inside scoop and practical tips about her path to entrepreneurial success.

Over to you, Alex…

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Can You Tell Me A Bit About What You Do?

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Beauchamps of London is a luxury accessories brand focusing on beautiful eye-catching British made pieces.

Beauchamps Corporate is the business to business side of the brand and offers luxury goods, more often bespoke products for company gifts, but we do run a line of standard lower price point pieces. We work with closely with clients to make a truly unique gifts and design the full package including, packaging, bespoke wrapping, leather gift, unique hardware.

We recently set up an import and export arm for the business. This arm is based between the UK & China which allows us to make and source all packaging and product needs from the Far East. It’s quite a complicated business but having built up many strong relationships with suppliers out there it seemed a great idea to help others to import, which otherwise may be quite tricky, especially for smaller brands. It’s a problem Beauchamps faced in the early stages of set up! Importing packaging is becoming a big part service!

What Was Your Previous Experience Before Starting Your Business?

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Before starting the business I worked in commercial property!! Beauchamps started totally by accident!

What Inspired You To Start Your Business?

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I always loved accessories and could never really find anything I loved in the market. After some thinking and many sketches later I set about working out what it was I liked and started making it (myself). Some of the pieces were spotted by Liberty of London at their ‘Open Call’ and the business began from there. The corporate arm was set up about 2 years after the fashion side was established.

How Did You Manage To Build Your Business?

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Totally organically! I was lucky and had grown relationships with some amazing suppliers who gave me some key advise during the early stages. It’s taken a long time but its been worth the slow wait. The time ensured we really found what it was that defines the brand.

What’s Been The Biggest Highlight?

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Being stocked by Liberty of London and seeing Cressida Bonas and Pippa Middleton wearing my bags! The latter two were amazing moments.

What’s Been The Biggest Challenge?

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Setting up supply chain in China for the corporate side and getting the fashion products noticed! They have both been hugely tricky.

What’s Your Favourite Product / Service? 

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I love the corporate service. It’s amazing working with companies and creating something truly unique for them. You can read more about that here.

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I also adore the fashion but it’s a very different business model. My favourite product is the Hutchinson clutch.

How Do You Build Your Client Base?

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Mainly word of mouth but magazine articles have also helped.

What’s The Best Compliment You’ve Received?

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I think the biggest compliment has been people saying how beautifully made all the products are (both corporate and fashion) and the personal level of service we offer. It takes a lot of man power to give such a personal service but it’s key to making clients feel special and understanding their specific requirements.

What Advice Would You Give To Budding Entrepreneurs?

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Take time, definitely don’t rush things and form a good business plan!

What’s Next For You?

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Building the corporate gifting department and growing the import / export / packaging departments. It’s a key part of the business and it has a lot of scope to grow.

And finding time to take a holiday!

How Can We Contact You?

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Best is by email on shop@beauchampsoflondon.com

What’s Your Favourite Quote?

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It’s not about the winning, it’s about the taking part.

Tell Us Something We Didn’t Know About You….

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I love climbing and have a dream to walk to the North Pole!

I also have a huge love for penguins!

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The Work Revolution: Luke Johnson’s Top Tips On What It Takes To Go It Alone

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You’re here! You’ve made it! You’re where you always wanted to be!

You have a job that you’ve worked your nuts off for. You have a business title which impresses the socks off people and stirs dinner party conversations with even the most boring of people. You spark respect from your parents’ most successful friends and your peers admire you as the girl or guy who has it all sorted.

But there’s something missing. Part of you wants more. You’re not entirely sure what, but you’re sure there’s more to life than this. You’re certain you could feel more alive – and more excited going into work everyday. If you only knew what it took. When to start. How to achieve the dream?

If this is you, check out the super-inspiring, soul-set-alighting read from Luke Johnson below, the British serial entrepreneur best known for his involvement with Pizza Express. Former chairman of the Royal Society of Arts and Channel 4, a weekly columnist for The Sunday Times and author of two seriously informative books for budding entrepreneurs (including “Start It Up: Why Running Your Own Business Is Easier Than You Think”), this short, snappy article will open your mind WIDE and better still, stir your SOUL, throwing your limiting beliefs far far away.

With an estimated personal fortune of £120 million and vast experience under his belt, Johnson’s advice on what it takes to make it as an entrepreneur is a MUST-READ for any Gazers amongst you wondering if you’ve got what it takes to go it alone – to launch a business, to make it grow and to make it work – longterm.

Rave over! Relax – enjoy – and prepare to be inspired, excited and everything in between. And the best bit of all – this mentor comes free!

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#beinspired

#soulstuff

#schoolforsuccess

Entrepreneur Of The Fortnight: Cleaning Up A Storm

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Hey there, wee Gazer! Happy weekend to you :) Let’s kick it off with some seriously inspiring pearls of wisdom from London’s, Ed Jonkler, who shares incredibly useful insights about his path to success as CEO of Remora Cleaning.

If you’re ever dreamt of upping sticks from your 9-5 job if you only knew how to channel your skills into a fulfilling, money-making reality, this is for you. Or maybe you’ve wondered how much experience you need in a field before jumping ship and when you should make that jump. And then there’s that golden question – how do you ensure that you’re the leader of a company which makes £100k a year not £10k?

Ed answers all these questions and more with humour and heart, giving incredibly practical tips about his path to entrepreneurial success. And if you’re someone who isn’t sure about your passions and what area you could launch into, you can breathe a sigh of relief. Here’s a man who is making his living from running a highly successful cleaning business with first class flair and panache. A money-making Cinderella in male form, cleaning has never sounded so attractive…

Over to you, Ed…

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Can You Tell Us A Bit About What You Do?

I run a company called Remora Cleaning, which has teams doing deep cleaning during the day (end of tenancy, post works type stuff), cleaning offices at night (it’s open for 21.5 hours a day!) and housekeepers and domestic cleaners working independently, too.

I also do some consulting for other people who are starting businesses, usually in slightly more glamorous fields than mine!

What Was Your Previous Experience Before Starting Your Business?

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When I was 16, I set up my first company from home, Dialaslave (it’s still on companies house, embarrassingly)! I was renting my friends out to do odd jobs for local people and charging a percentage of the cost for arranging everything. I had a huge desk in one corner of my bedroom, with a leather blotter and my own landline that I mainly used to prank call the neighbours – I felt like a proper mini-CEO.

Later on, I started working in the financial world and helped some experienced guys open their own investment fund in London. I did a bit of everything from plugging in monitors, negotiating contracts with banks, trading and making a lot of tea!

I basically had to wing it at first and was very lucky not to make any serious mistakes but the ability to tackle constantly varying tasks is one of the key attributes for going into business. You have to wear many a hat – part lawyer – part accountant – part salesman and part HR manager!

What Inspired You To Start Your Business?

I was a useless employee! That and working 15 hours a day at a computer seemed to lose its shine after a couple of years.

A different sort of pressure comes with running your own business, though – but the upshot is having the freedom to shape things how you choose and to carve a life exactly how you want to. For me, that’s unbeatable.

The only problem is that now I’m so used to the benefits of no longer being an employee, I couldn’t go back to a regular job!

As for my other motivations to start my own business, I come from an entrepreneurial family so I guess it’s a blue-print I’ve grown up with. My grandpa was patenting all sorts of things and my dad went into business at quite a young age so I guess part of that has rubbed off on me!

How Did You Manage To Build Your Business?

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Early on, massive personal involvement with clients is a must. I started by hand writing hundreds of letters and sticking them through people’s doors for 12 hours a day. It can be demoralising but you have to keep going and keep morale up. Eventually being the face of the company isn’t sustainable as things grow but your passion for your business can be passed on to others.

What Has Been The Biggest Highlight?

The improvement of profit

Definitely when the business started covering it’s costs after a long slog to get things off the ground and a lot of stress, anxiety and hard work. It felt so exhilarating – something out of nothing!

What’s Been The Biggest Challenge?

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That is an easy one – managing people. As everything has expanded and headcount has grown, I have had to learn how to manage employees. Not just day to day, but keeping people motivated and happy in the workplace and identifying people that should be offered greater opportunities. It has taken a couple of years and is still very much a work in progress but I’m getting there.

The pressure that comes with more people, more fixed costs and increased growth really changes the nature of things – from a fun project that makes a bit of money to managing a larger entity where you are dealing with staff problems, paying suppliers, managing cash-flow, client relationships, stock levels and maintaining a fleet of vehicles constantly, round the clock. It can still be just as rewarding but you certainly feel a heavy burden of responsibility.

What’s Your Favourite Product / Service?

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Technology has been really essential in helping me manage everything. I use an accounting/invoicing program called Freeagent that connects to my bank account, chases overdue invoices, and shows me where we are financially – without that I would be done for!

How Do You Build Your Client Base?

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Entertaining and networking is great early on. You can have a great website, spend a fortune on Search Engine Optimisation and have a ‘sexy’ app, too. But ultimately, just being quick to respond, efficient and doing a better job than your rivals is the secret to long-term sustainable growth. If you get that right, you really don’t need to do much else – there’s no substitute for first class service.

What’s The Best Compliment You’ve Ever Received?

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We get a lot of good feedback but one client sent an obscenely big bottle of champagne to our offices after we worked on his house in Knightsbridge post-refurbishment. That definitely went down very well..

What Advice Would You Give To Budding Entrepreneurs?

1. Take The First Step

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Plan carefully, but also remember that there is a point where nothing will be gained from further research. You have to push ahead and just start trading. So many really smart people I know haven’t taken the first step, probably because they are too smart!

2. Learn To Delegate

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I mentioned this one earlier but it’s worth a repeat. To expand and scale things, you need to be able to give other people responsibility and control, freeing you up to take things forward. This is completely terrifying sometimes! Mastering the balance between divesting control and staying in touch with what’s happening is the main difference between a company with a turnover of £100,000, and £100,000,000. It’s going to be my main challenge from here on out.

3. Know Your Numbers

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Lastly, know where your business is financially, at all times. It’s not exciting, but finances will make or break you, especially early on. More companies go bust in the UK for having too much work, than a lack of work – it’s cash-flow squeezes that usually finish off companies in their infancy. Understand what you can risk, use debt carefully and know what your break-even is at all times.

What’s Next For You?

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I’m expanding the business, increasing management as a precursor to increasing head-count aggressively through the summer. We have been lucky to double turnover every year, for the last three years, but it’s getting harder and needs some innovative thinking to continue.

We are talking to a small rival about buying and assimilating them, so that will also be a new challenge for the company if that goes ahead.

And lastly, we are building an app/booking system that will be ready in the winter, enabling people to book cleans in real time in the same way you can book a hotel or a restaurant. I know there are some apps that do this already but we want to do it with our own dedicated employees rather than subcontracting the jobs out to freelancers (who I don’t think are as accountable in the work they do).

How Can We Contact You?

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Give me a call in the office anytime on 02078218852 or drop me a line via the website.

What’s Your Favourite Quote?

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And if in doubt, wee Gazer, remember..

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Entrepreneur Of The Fortnight: Abi Elphinstone, Children’s Author

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Ever dreamt of leaving your 9-5 job if you only knew how to channel your passions into a money-making reality? Ever marvelled at creatives like Danielle Steele and JK Rowling who have made millions writing best-sellers published in languages the wide world over? Ever wondered how the heck you turn these kinds of dreams into a reality? How good a writer do you have to be to indulge your literary fantasies and hop across to a career in writing? How do you know if you’re wasting your time or if you’re investing in the life you’ve always wanted? And how much experience do you need in a field before jumping ship and pursuing a competitive venture from scratch?

As with most things entrepreneurial, Abi Elphinstone challenges the norms we’re accustomed to believing, giving incredibly helpful insight and advice about her path to literary success.

So if you’ve ever found yourself sitting at your desk wondering how to make your passions your reality, read on and be inspired…. This is a lady who is beautiful inside and out – with brains, honesty and imagination in bucket loads…

Over to you, Abi…

Abi Elphinstone

Can You Tell Me A Bit About What You Do?

I’m a children’s author and my debut for 8-12 years, The Dreamsnatcher, was published by Simon & Schuster in February this year. Really excitingly, it has been named a Top 10 Children’s Book Not To Miss in 2015 by The Bookseller and was reviewed as ‘thrilling for 9+ readers’ in The Sunday Times.

The sequel, Soul Splinter, will follow in 2016 and I’m currently mapping out the third book in the trilogy and a brand new series set in the Arctic.

I also host creative writing workshops for children, volunteer at Kidsco which provides practical, emotional and educational support to vulnerable children, young people and families and blog about children’s books at www.moontrug.com.

What Was Your Previous Experience Before Becoming A Published Author?

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In 2006, I left Bristol University with an English degree. After two unfulfilling years in PR, I booked a one-way ticket to Africa. There I taught English and half way up a baobab tree, I wrote my first children’s book. 

After four months I came back to the UK and went into secondary school teaching, first in Berkshire and then in London. I submitted my children’s book to thirty literary agents – and it was rejected by every single one.

So I continued to teach English and in the evenings and holidays, I wrote another book. I sent it to thirty literary agents – and it was rejected by them all. Again. A few agents said they saw ‘glimpses of brilliance’ and ‘raw talent’ in my work but they also said that my plots were unoriginal and my writing style was amateur.

So I wrote a third book. You can guess where this is going… it was rejected by every agent I sent it to. By this point I had racked up 96 rejections from agents. But something inside me refused to give up.

I kept every positive comment any of the agents gave in their rejection letters and took every bit of advice they offered. I went to literary festivals, I read more children’s books, I attended writing courses, I started blogging and I re-worked my writing until it was the very best it could be. Perhaps most importantly, I stopped putting my focus on getting a book deal and starting thinking about writing a story that really mattered to me. I wrote The Dreamsnatcher over the course of a year and I literally threw everything at it because it was finally a story I wanted to tell. I watched wildcats prowl in the New Forest, carved wooden flowers with a Romany gypsy and spent every spare second writing until it felt like there were no words left inside me. Then I sent off the book to one agent. She signed me and within two months I had a two book deal with a major UK publishing house! 

What Inspired You To Write The Dreamsnatcher?

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The Dreamsnatcher is, in many ways, like an extension of my childhood (minus the witchdoctors and the tree ghouls). I grew up in the wilds of Scotland where weekends were spent scrambling over the moors, building dens in the woods and jumping into icy rivers. I didn’t have to create Moll’s outdoor world; it grew out of my own. And before long it was filled with a cast of invented characters – a headstrong gypsy girl, a wildcat, a fortune-teller, a witchdoctor, tree ghouls and vapours. Once I’d written the words of the ancient Bone Murmur, Moll’s adventure had begun…

How Did You Manage To Build Towards Your Dream?

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Before I got my book deal, I was already immersed in the children’s book world. I was on Twitter (@Moontrug) where I met an abundance of fabulous booksellers, bloggers, librarians and teachers. I was reviewing children’s books on www.moontrug.com and I was running writing workshops at my house and in schools so there was a network of pupils and teachers interested in my book when it launched.

What’s Been The Biggest Highlight?

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Holding my book for the first time was an extraordinary feeling. Here was a story with my name on – and it was going into the best bookshops across the country. Being surrounded by my family and friends at my launch party was also incredible and meeting readers in schools and at signings and festivals is such fun.

What’s Been The Biggest Challenge?

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Being rejected for six years was tough. Some days I wished I’d never even told anyone I was writing a book because it was so embarrassing to have to tell them about all the rejections.

I went through stages – initially I felt cross that so many agents were rejecting my work (even though deep down I knew why), then I got critical of all the authors who had already made it (even though deep down I knew their work was totally brilliant), then I just felt really upset because of all the rejections. Then, and only then, I was left with the smallest amount of hope, or maybe it was just grit, and I knew that I’d do everything I possibly could to make my book happen, regardless of what other people might be thinking.

What’s The Best Compliment You’ve Received?

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One of my favourite children’s authors, Katherine Rundell, wrote this about my book and my publishers were so pleased they put it on the back cover: ‘An outstanding debut, packed with suspense, adventure and heart’. That was a very nice thing to hear before the book went out ‘into the wild.’

What Advice Would You Give To Budding Entrepreneurs?

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The above quote by Leonardo da Vinci is one of my favourites. 

There are a million excuses you can come up with to put off your plans but ultimately, if you want to start a business, or in my case write, then you’ve got to get on and start – regardless of what’s happening around you. There’s never a good time – start before you’re ready.

And I’d tell entrepreneurs that they’ve got to be humble enough to take criticism but determined enough to bounce back from it – as my Mum said to me through alongside my 96 rejections, ‘If you don’t fail, you’re just not trying hard enough.’ 

What’s Next For You?

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I’ve finished writing the sequel, Soul Splinter (the gypsies are outlawed to caves by the sea where they encounter sinister mer creatures and smugglers) and I hope there will be a third book in the Dreamsnatcher series as I’ve mapped that out too. Think abandoned castles, remote lochs, goblins and GIANTS.

I’ve also just started world-building for an Arctic series. Yesterday I wrote an snow spell and today I drew out the kingdom of Erkenwald… So there are lots more stories to come! 

How Can We Contact You?

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Through the ‘Contact Abi’ tab on my website. You can also check me out on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

What’s Your Favourite Quote?

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It’s a conversation between Frodo and Sam in Lord of the Rings that my little brother sent me while he was travelling the world. He couldn’t be there for the launch of The Dreamsnatcher so instead, he wrote me a letter with the following conversation in it, telling me to be brave no matter how scary it might feel to have my first book tiptoe out into the world. It was the loveliest letter I have ever been sent and reminded me of Sam and Frodo’s powerful and moving friendship:

Frodo: I can’t do this, Sam.

Sam: I know. It’s all wrong. By rights we shouldn’t even be here. But we are. It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger, they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going. Because they were holding on to something.

Frodo: What are we holding onto, Sam?

Sam: That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo… and it’s worth fighting for.

Tell us something we didn’t know about you….

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I once arm-wrestled best-selling children’s author, Piers Torday – and won.

And Finally…

Check out the trailer for The Dreamsnatcher below, a magical tale replete with cobs, wildcats and witchdoctors which will grip you from start to end.

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And one last thing…

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Vertical K: Hike & Fly Challenge: Chamonix!

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If you’re an adventure chasing, mountain lover thirsting for a flying challenge, check out this video from Alex Ledger of Sky School

Whether you’re a trail-runner, paraglider or a wannabe superhero, watch the sky man on the loose in Chamonix’s wildest plains, running 1000 metres up the Vertical K and acro-paragliding back down! Combining running and flying in stunning surrounds, this is sweaty but seriously exhilarating stuff!

And if that’s not enough for you, read my interview with Alex, recent Entrepreneur Of The Fortnight, giving top tips to budding entrepreneurs about how to set up their dream business. Anything but your average way to earn a living, this is cracking inspiration fodder!

If you’re Chamonix based and you think you’re up for the challenge or fancy some para-fun in England in May, Sky School is where it’s at!

Vertical ‘K’ Hike & Fly Challenge from Alex Ledger on Vimeo.

Got A Business Idea Minus The Cash? Pitch To Rich!

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“I didn’t know the difference between ‘gross’ and ‘net’ until I was 50″

Richard Branson – who has a net worth $4.9billion

If you’re interested in setting up your own business and could benefit from seeing short videos of a whole host of people pitching their business ideas to a market leader, check out “Pitch To Rich” - a platform set up by Richard Branson through which entrepreneurs pitch their ideas to him in an attempt to win up to £1million worth of financial support. What’s not to like?

#InspiringStuff

Entrepreneur Of The Fortnight: Emma Storey

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Ever dreamt of upping sticks from your 9-5 job if you only knew how to channel your passions into commercial reality? How the heck can professions like teaching be adapted to more entrepreneurial ventures spanning from London to Hong Kong and beyond? How much experience do you need in a field before jumping ship and creating a business from scratch? How do you motivate yourself when you’re your own boss?

As with most things entrepreneurial, Emma Storey challenges the norms we’re accustomed to believing, giving incredibly helpful insight and advice about her path to entrepreneurial success. So if you’ve ever wondered about any of the above, read on. This is a lady with brains, beauty and business savvy in bucket loads…

Emma’s company, Bespoke Tuition, is a seriously special tutoring outfit. Offering customised tuition for discerning families both in London and internationally, this is an organisation with quality at its heart. Comprising a 200 strong team of hand-picked tutors who are carefully matched to suit a family’s unique requirements, Bespoke Tuition is just that – bespoke.

So if you’ve ever found yourself sitting at your desk wondering how to go about setting up a business or how to combine your interests and your job, read on and be inspired…

Over to you, Emma…

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Can You Tell Me A Bit About What You Do?

I source inspiring private tutors to motivate young people in their academics in the comfort of their home. Bespoke Tuition is based in London but also specialises in placing tutors with families overseas from Asia to the Middle East, Europe and the Americas. 

What Was Your Previous Experience Before Starting Your Business?

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After 3 (enjoyable but not overly memorable) years in legal recruitment with Michael Page International, I resigned to discover something more personally stimulating. Given we spend more time with our work colleagues than we do our loved ones, life’s way too short to stick in a job that doesn’t motivate us.

Whilst exploring various career paths – personal training, interior design, researching whale sharks (!) – I took on some part time work as a private tutor in London. 2 hours a week swiftly became 30 hours a week. A year in, I got excited by the international scope of the role and became a ‘live-in tutor’ assigned to private family homes in Hong Kong, Australia, France and Switzerland. 

What Inspired You To Start Your Business?

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It struck me that I wasn’t put on this earth to be a recruitment consultant! I always wanted to create something of my own and building a tuition agency was a natural progression from my own personal work as a tutor. Sitting behind a desk from 8.30am-7pm every day didn’t suit my lifestyle either; I find it hard enough sitting through a film at the cinema! 

I had also witnessed the pros and cons of different education systems and methods across the world, which fascinated me. The key driver, though, was my belief that I could improve on the service currently offered by tutoring agencies in London. Having personally witnessed the importance of a good fit between tutor and student, I felt that the process of matching a tutor with a student was under-estimated by many and that I would relish the opportunity of providing this personal focus.

Many people wrongly assimilate being an entrepreneur with being an inventor – the reality is that most successful businesses begin by recognising how you could deliver a service or product better than someone already doing it! 

How Did You Manage To Build Your Business?

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By never losing sight of my values behind and vision for the business. My tutors are ultimately my business product so a crucial part of building the business was picking the right representatives of my brand and never compromising on quality. By deliberately remaining small and bespoke, the business has remained efficient and sustainable. It also means that we have been able to grow organically as our tutors willingly recommend other tutors and clients recommend their friends.

Getting regular feedback from clients has also been a crucial part of our business development. Whilst it may go against human nature to actively seek criticism, collecting regular feedback and making subtle adjustments can make the difference between a mediocre business and a highly successful one. 

What’s Been The Biggest Highlight?

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It’s hard to single one out as every day is exciting when you are building something of your own. I’d have to say developing my brand in Hong Kong was a hugely exciting phase. Seeing the results of my team’s efforts is also a massive highlight – testimonials sent in from delighted parents and students so full of gratitude for our support makes it all so worthwhile! 

What’s Been The Biggest Challenge?

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Probably starting out working from home, which was pretty isolating having previously worked in a buzzy office environment. Whilst office space in London remains expensive for startups, fortunately there are an increasing number of co-working clubs and spaces in London which provide an affordable alternative and can also offer good networking opportunities eg Workpad Group, Google Campus, London Executive Offices, The Clubhouse and The Soho Collective. You can opt to use these spaces by the hour, by the day or commit to a monthly/annual membership so there is plenty of flexibility. 

What’s Your Favourite Product / Service? 

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This month it has to be Barry’s Bootcamp as introduced to me by a girlfriend. It has a legendary following including A-list celebs, models—even Olympic athletes, its signature being hour-long workouts including 25-30 minutes of interval cardiovascular treadmill routines and 25-30 minutes of strength training utilising free weights, resistance bands, medicine balls and other equipment.

Trainers, muscle groups and even workout segments vary throughout the week so that no one class is ever the same. Their innovative technique works to “shock” the body in the most efficient and effective way to improve your cardiovascular system, lose weight and build muscle. Regardless of skill level, you can burn 1,000 calories in just one hour. It’s one hell of a work-out!

How Do You Build Your Client Base?

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By never dropping standards and paying detailed and personalised attention to each and every client enquiry. Beyond a basic website, I rely on good old word of mouth to reach out to customers. If I was a parent, I would far rather use an agency recommended by a trusted friend than the one I saw on a billboard. 

What’s The Best Compliment You’ve Received?

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I spent 1.5 years living with an American family in Hong Kong tutoring their 13/14 year old son. I received a card from the boy on my departure which read, “I don’t think there has ever been a student in history who has actually wanted his tutor to stay.” 

What Advice Would You Give To Budding Entrepreneurs?

1. Just Do It

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Stop talking about it and start mapping out the steps to achieve your goals today. If you believe in yourself and your idea, you are half way there but you must take bold action to turn it into a reality. Don’t be a drifter!

2. Be Clear On Your Goals And Never Lose Sight Of Them

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From the outset, ask yourself why are you doing this? What are you trying to achieve? How will you be distinctive? If you stop caring, you will lose all momentum and the business will suffer so never lose touch with these goals and drivers. Goals will re-energise you through the tough times.

3. Take Charge Of Initiating Change

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Take charge of your career and don’t wait for things to happen. I don’t make any New Year’s resolutions as I try to make them all the time – never cease to better yourself both in your personal life and your working life – there is ALWAYS room for improvement!

4. Avoid Being Reactive; Be More Proactive

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Many of us are guilty of drifting through our jobs, trawling through emails from top to bottom and simply reacting to new email alerts. Your productivity levels will soar if you are disciplined enough to prioritise your tasks each day (even each hour)! In particular, set time aside for emailing and turn off the alerts when you are working on other areas; that way you won’t be distracted by any new messages popping up. Maximise your time as efficiently as possible and always leave room for business development so that you have things in the pipeline. 

5. Look After Your Employees 

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Ensuring your employees feel valued and building their respect is a crucial means of developing a positive, enduring brand. Look after your employees, value their feedback and they will reward you by going the extra mile. Build a progressive and sincere ethos from within.

6. Stay True To Yourself And Your Values

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This applies in respect of your business planning and development. The most passionate and often most successful business owners I have seen have been those who have a little piece of them in their business. Absorb advice but trust your instincts and go your own way.

7. Don’t Be Afraid Of Making Mistakes 

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It may sound cliché but some of the best business lessons are learned by a bit of trial and error. Turn negatives into positives and never stop learning. Learning to accept when you are wrong is just as important in business as it is in your relationships! 

8. Embrace Change

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Your ideas will naturally evolve – let them, don’t limit them, you never know where they might lead. It is good to be channelled and focused with clear direction when starting a business but adaptability, self-reflection and foresight are also huge business strengths. 

9. Constantly Re-Assess And Re-Strategise 

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Write down five adjectives of how you would like your business to be described then work on delivering this each day and make a point of checking weekly or monthly that you aren’t letting any of them slip. 

10. Learn To Delegate

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Or you limit your business growth. It’s as simple as that. 

11. Go The Extra Mile

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Be innovative, think outside the box, never tire of considering how you can add more value to your product or service and watch your competitors trail along in the dust! 

12. Enjoy Life!

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Boundless energy and passion for your business idea is great but channel it and keep your priorities in check. There is little more important in life than the health, happiness, family and friends.

What’s Next For You?

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A fortnight in Sri Lanka with family – being your own boss definitely has its advantages! 

How Can We Contact You?

Email: emma@bespoketuition.com

Website: Here

Telephone: 07732 371880

What’s Your Favourite Quote?

So many to choose from but if I had to pick a winner…

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Tell Us Something We Didn’t Know About You….

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According to the diary I recently discovered tucked away in a cupboard, my top five dream jobs were to become a marine biologist, a beach volleyball world champion, professional waterskiier, wildlife photographer or safari park ranger. Never say never!

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