Starting a business can be a tortuous process fraught with difficulties. Nasser Elaheebocus of Business Pulse has worked with hundreds of businesses in their early years and has outlined the three most common challenges start-ups face:
1. They do not assess their strengths and weaknesses correctly. Business owners must listen not only to themselves but to others.
2. The product or offering is not ready to go to market, or the market is not ready for the offering.
3. Inadequate finance to cover any shortfall in working capital. This is particularly important in the early days of the business.
With these three causes in mind, Nasser Elaheebocus sat down with Jeremy Taylor, who launched The Company Connector a little over 18 months ago, to discuss his approach to starting a business.
Nasser Elaheebocus: Tell me about yourself and what you do?
Jeremy Taylor: After 14 years as Chief Executive of Gatwick Diamond Business (gdb), a strategic leadership role in the nationally significant Gatwick Diamond region, I set up The Company Connector Ltd in August 2018.
We help businesses connect and work effectively to achieve their commercial aims by using my contacts at a local, regional, national and international level along with my knowledge of the Gatwick Diamond Economy and its relevance to the UK National Economy.
We are also building an international network to assist businesses in the region and beyond in exploring export markets and will support overseas businesses looking to land into the UK, through Gatwick.
NE: When you set up your business, how did you estimate your sales and how long it would take to achieve these? Overestimating is a common mistake and can have a huge impact on cash flow.
JT: Loosely speaking, I had an idea of what we needed to earn and an understanding of the scale of charges we could make. We then evaluated how many days we would need to work along with the types of projects we could deliver.
However, this wasn’t a complete leap into the unknown as I had secured some consulting work before I left my old job, so I knew that there would be an income from day one.
We also clearly stated payment terms so that clients knew what to expect and I am delighted to say, we have achieved an average of around 25 days invoice payment period. Cash- flow is good!
NE: When you set up your business, you said that you had a number of potential income streams so how did you know there was a market for each of these, and what research did you carry out?
JT: During my time with gdb I realised that there was a role for someone to provide engagement services for public sector or major infrastructure project providers. I’d also been aware of some of the regeneration projects that had taken place and seen the positive impact from those projects. I was convinced that there would be opportunities to support businesses with international trade services in a post-Brexit environment. And, finally, as an experienced public speaker and event host/facilitator, I was sure that I would find work in this space.
The research I carried out was in talking to prospective clients and other influencers to test my theories. The majority came back with positivity and in some cases, the offer of work.
NE: What changes have you seen in your market(s) and how have you adapted your offer?
JT: One of the key issues to affect the business was the speed of Brexit. I felt sure that Brexit could create opportunities and so we worked towards the original March 31st 2019 deadline – remember that one?
When there were delays to Brexit that caused uncertainty in the marketplace, a lot of our conversations with prospective clients were vague.
It’s interesting to note that, since the General Election at the end of 2019, the conversations have become a lot more definite and we are starting to see some real traction with international trading clients.
With respect to other work in the regeneration and stakeholder engagement space, we have yet to see any significant changes. However, we do keep an eye on Government Policy as that can have an impact on these types of projects.
NE: Many business owners start a business based on a solitary idea, product or service, but they often lack the other skills needed. What do you do to keep current and effective in marketing, finance, administration, etc?
JT: Having had total commercial responsibility for Gatwick Diamond Business, I believe that I have good overall understanding of the various business functions that we would need to undertake. Some of those functions are more interesting than others and it is sometimes difficult to knuckle down to the less glamorous tasks, but good discipline and time management help.
In terms of business skills, we regu- larly attend learning and networking events to add to the knowledge base, we read widely and have a great relationship with our accountants so we can keep on top of administrative functions such as Making Tax Digital.
NE: If you had to start again, what would you do differently, if anything?
JT: Two things.
1. On reflection (possibly like many businesses) we may have set our starting rates lower than we needed to. It can take a while to establish any new business with a commercial rate that is acceptable to clients. To compensate for this, discussions have been held with clients across the first 20 months and we have been able to increase the daily rate in line with the plan.
2. In order to generate more income from speaking and events, we could have taken some opportunities to host events for free, in return for capturing video footage of those presentations to build a ‘showreel’ to give to potential clients and booking agents. This is an action that will be taken forward in 2020 to ensure we have a clear offer for event clients.
NE: Any final thoughts or recommendations?
JT: I can happily say that the decision to set up The Company Connector Ltd was the right decision for us and came at just the right time. There is no question that we are still in uncertain times for the economy and the country, but we are ready and flexible enough to react positively and sustain the business.
Nasser: Business Pulse. www.businesspulse.org.uk
Tel: 07946 284256
Jeremy: The Company Connector. www.TheCompanyConnector.com
Tel: 07831 148064