Going for growth - Business Works

Going for growth

Frances Brindle, Director Strategic Marketing & Communications

F rances Brindle, Director of Strategic Marketing and Communications at the British Library, highlights the wealth of information and help that the BL can offer new and developing businesses.

In the last five years almost 2 million businesses have been set up in the UK. Having worked tirelessly to establish themselves and survived the recession, many now face the challenging yet exciting prospect of growth. Employing roughly 47% of the working population, and estimated to be responsible for 40% of turnover, small and medium businesses (SMEs) represent a hugely important sector of the nation’s economy. Supporting these businesses is therefore essential to overall recovery.

Yet, tied up with the day to day challenges of running a business, it can be difficult for entrepreneurs to find the time to ask the right questions and plan effectively for the next stage. How can I achieve growth? How fast do I want to grow? Is it the right time to push forward with my growth strategy? Do I actually want to grow my business? What support is out there to help me if I decide to grow?

Determined to get Britain’s finances under control and the economy back on track, Mark Prisk MP, the new Minister for Enterprise, has made commitments to support UK SMEs as they look to grow. In a recent session with some of the country’s leading entrepreneurs he outlined the Government’s intentions firstly to “improve opportunities through tax reform to promote investment, productivity and growth”, as well as highlighting a number of Government funding opportunities that were announced in the emergency budget designed to provide direct support for SMEs with “particularly strong growth prospects”.

Secondly, Mr Prisk made it clear that, although the Government aims to “step out of the way of business” and is looking to reduce regulation, he conceded that “SMEs need help finding good quality advice and support at critical stages in their early development” and that the Government needs to ensure individuals and businesses have the skills, tools and networks available to understand their options.

British Library

Over the last five years the British Library’s Business & IP Centre has become an important resource for the UK’s aspiring entrepreneurs, and since its launch in 2006 has helped over 200,000 individuals explore how to turn that spark of inspiration into a reality. Having initially focused primarily on start-ups, the Library recognises that a large number of our users are now facing the challenge of how to grow and we are developing our services to support them.

Through the Business & IP Centre I regularly meet inspiring individuals with great ideas for products and services. Whether driven by a desire to make money, fill a gap in the market, or simply the result of a life-long aspiration to work for themselves, the one thing that unites all of them is their passion to succeed. But passion alone is not enough.

Take former architect and keen cyclist Anthony Lau. A growing success story for the Library’s Business & IP Centre, Anthony’s passion for cycling was a key driving force behind his innovative Cyclehoop, a product designed to help promote cycling by providing cheap, secure and easy to install cycle parking in urban areas.

Starting with a pilot programme in London, working in partnership with Islington and Southwark councils, Anthony now has over 40 clients in the UK and has started to both explore new overseas markets and diversify his product ranges. Now employing three full-time and one part-time member of staff, Cyclehoop is growing at a phenomenal rate, almost quadrupling its turnover in less than three years.

Anthony’s story highlights five qualities that our experience at the Library suggests are key to launching and growing a successful business.

1. Spotting a gap in a market

Anthony Lau and the cycle hoop
Initially inspired by his own experience of having his bike stolen whilst locked to a sign post, Anthony spotted a competition in a magazine to develop a solution for making cycle parking more secure and decided to put his design skills to the test.

“At the beginning, like many inventors, I had loads of ideas, but after discussing with a few friends and seeing what was already out there I settled on a very simple and relatively cheap design comprising of just two strong metal hoops that can easily be fitted around existing street furniture, such as sign posts, to provide safe places to lock up your bike.”

2. Sizing the market in the gap

After undertaking extensive market research using the databases and information available in the Business & IP Centre, Anthony realised he was really on to something with the product and decided to continue developing the idea alongside his studies.

“Cycling has been on the rise all across the UK for a few years now and from the research I carried out in the British Library it was clear there was a real market out there, particularly amongst local authorities looking to offer schemes to promote the environmental and health benefits of cycling.”

Having very little real experience in business, but now confident that there would be a sizeable demand for his product, Cyclehoop Ltd officially started trading in 2008.

3. Protecting your idea

Having spotted a potentially lucrative opportunity, Anthony knew he had to move quickly if he was to capitalise on his idea and be first to market. Looking for tips on how to get his product produced on a larger scale and for advice on how to protect his idea, Anthony applied for a one-to-one advice session with the Library’s inventor in residence, Mark Sheahan.

“After discussing my idea with Mark, it was clear that a Patent was going to be incredibly expensive and unlikely to offer my particular product much in the way of protection. Mark advised me to push on, build my brand and investigate registering the design rights to prevent competitors from stealing my idea.”

4. A good grasp of business finance

Like many of the entrepreneurs who use the Centre, inspired by his meeting with Mark, over the next 12 months Anthony attended a whole range of workshops to help him further his market research and develop his business plan. In particular, Anthony praises the sessions run by the Library’s finance expert Johnny Martin on managing cash flow.

“Cash flow really is the life blood of any business and learning early on how to manage mine effectively not just helped me establish my business, but more importantly this advice prevented me from trying to grow the business too fast and risk everything.”

Over-expansion is one of the leading causes of business failure in the UK. Whether you decide to grow your business organically through natural expansion, or to pursue an aggressive strategy taking over competitors and expanding into new markets, it is vital you know where you stand financially. Even though it takes time, planning for growth requires careful review, research and analysis to identify your options and to ensure both the capital and the capacity are in place to meet the demands of growth.

5. A strategic vision for the future

After a whirlwind 18 months, Anthony was invited for a follow-up session with one of the Centre’s business experts, former BBC Dragon and leading entrepreneur, Doug Richard, as part of the Library’s efforts to support users of the Centre looking to grow their businesses.

“Meeting with Doug gave me a real boost of much needed confidence. He was really impressed with the concept and the progress of the business and gave me some really useful tips on revamping the website and improving my online marketing and sales strategy to achieve natural growth.”

“Regarding expanding the business, Doug suggested I stick to the Cyclehoop and look to improve sales and reach out to new markets, rather than expanding into new product ranges."

“A typical entrepreneur, I didn’t exactly follow all his advice, but although I have introduced new products, the session with Doug certainly helped me to remain focused on providing cycle storage solutions rather than looking to explore entirely new avenues.”

talk with an expert

In many ways developing new products is not dissimilar from setting up an entirely new business, requiring the same level of research to establish the market potential and assess the feasibility. The same is true for expanding in to new markets. With its £5 million worth of market research material, numerous business databases and the UK patent collection, the British Library provides entrepreneurs with all the facilities to assess the market potential of any new initiative.

Through a combination of growing sales and new product launches, Anthony has achieved impressive growth with Cyclehoop over the last three years and dedicates much of this success to the time he has spent in the Library, researching and developing his ideas.

Starting a business isn’t easy. It takes determination, passion, a little bit of luck and boundless energy. But keeping it running can be an even bumpier ride. The road to growth is often bumpy and focus is all too easily lost, with strategic vision often blocked by the day to day challenges of running the business. Yet with the Government keen to support growth, services such as the British Library’s Business & IP Centre are here to provide the networks and tools to enable the business leaders of the future to give the UK economy a much needed shot in the arm.

For more details about how the Library can help you develop your business visit the Business & IP Centre website:
w: www.bl.uk/bipc

If you would like to find out more about the Cyclehoop visit:
w: www.cyclehoop.com

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