MLS Self-Employment Expert Round Up

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Published 7th March 2016 | View or add comments
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Over the past six weeks I've interviewed six entrepreneurs who have taken the leap into self-employment, asked a number of questions on roadblocks for small businesses and gathered opinions on acquiring funding when starting out. A summary of the views of the interviewees are represented by the images below.

Full individual responses are shown below, thanks to everyone who contributed.

Matt Fox

1. Brief introduction about yourself, who you are and your business (when you started etc). Be as detailed or concise as you like.

My name is Matt Fox and I am the founder and CEO of Snaptrip. Snaptrip is a marketplace for exclusive discounts on last minute UK holiday rentals. I founded the business at the beginning of 2014 as I spotted an opportunity to build a national brand for distressed inventory in the self-catering sector. There are many options for holidaymakers to find those last-minute, discounted breaks in the hotel sector, but for years there hadn’t been a company serving the market for holiday cottages.

When I exited my previous business, which was also involved with holiday rentals, I knew that there was still huge potential to improve the efficiency in this sector. Owners are so happy to discount to fill vacant dates in their calendar, and people love to get away and explore the UK a bit more, but only if the price is right. That’s why I decided to build the marketplace to connect the two. 

2. What was the biggest issue you faced when you first started your business? In the first 0-6 months?

We spent a lot of time in the early stages of Snaptrip validating the idea that there was the demand out there for these kind of spontaneous last minute breaks. There is a lot you can do online with keyword search volumes and that kind of thing, but it was only when we got an MVP website live and started to really speak with customers did we realise that we were truly on to something.

3. When starting did you utilise funding or investors? If so, how and what is your opinion on funding start-ups in general?

Snaptrip was originally funded by the venture capital firm Forward Partners. They are a very early stage investor, and I was the first of a series of investments that they made in businesses at the idea stage. When I approached Forward, they liked that I had a lot of sector experience, and a previous exit, and that gave them the confidence in me to invest in the business.  Once I had built a small team and validated the idea, it was about hitting metrics for growth, month on month, until we had the traction behind us to reach Series A, which we have just closed.

I think there is a lot of money out there for seed funding right now, the challenge is validation of the idea, proving the market size and getting to your growth (funding) round. Then obviously the real hard work starts. The government has given investors a big incentive through the EIS and SEIS to back young companies. What happens though is that a lot of companies that raise money through angel investment then go on to struggle to get the big institutions on board. You have to be really disciplined and know your business metrics inside out in order to prove to a venture capital firm that you are the right person for them to invest in.

4. To date, what is the biggest roadblock you’ve faced to your business and if you could do something differently what would it be?

Any entrepreneur trying to build a business is going to make mistakes, that is just a fact. The most valuable commodity in a start-up, however, is time, and that is just one thing that you just cannot afford to waste. With a company that has so much potential, there are always 100s of new features that you could build, or niche marketing channels that you might spend your money on, but you have to stay incredibly disciplined. We have learned to bring everything we do back to our core business metrics: Is this going to boost conversion? Will this bring down our cost per acquisition? How will this impact our relationship with our suppliers? If you stay focused, then you learn not to waste any time.

 

Hernan Vazquez

1. Brief introduction about yourself, who you are and your business (when you started etc). Be as detailed or concise as you like.

I am Hernan Vazquez, an Internet Marketer, Entrepreneur and SEO with over nine years of experience. I’ve been working online since I was around 15 years old, with many ventures in many markets. From client web design to affiliate SEO, I’ve been involved in several successful projects that were valued at the six figure mark. Right now I’m working on developing my own brand of products consisting of high level internet marketing and conversions training based on my experience from my past; my failures and my successes.

2. What was the biggest issue you faced when you first started your business? In the first 0-6 months?

When starting out there is always uncertainty and lack of focus. One of the biggest pivot points for one of my companies, Semantic Mastery, which is also the biggest one as of today, was when we started to focus on offering one or two things. Before that we were all over the place, trying to reach out to SEO clients, making live events and offering coaching. When we decided to take a step back and develop a consistent product that would solve ONE specific need, everything changed and our company skyrocketed.

3. When starting did you utilise funding or investors? If so, how and what is your opinion on funding start-ups in general?

I haven’t used any funding or investors in any of my previous ventures. I think that’s a great way to go about it if you need capital and if you want to leverage on that money to grow your company. However, that needs to be carefully planned out. I, as an entrepreneur, don’t like being told what to do, and that’s pretty much the position you put yourself into when entering a round of funding. In any case, I think it’s a clever move if you want to go into a high barrier market (like software or complex web development) where the money needed to start a project is much more than other niches.

4. To date, what is the biggest roadblock you’ve faced to your business and if you could do something differently what would it be?

I think that one of my biggest weaknesses is the inability to say NO more often. As an entrepreneur I usually see opportunity around every corner, however those projects are not always fruitful. That’s fine, but little projects will make you divert from your main course and eat up that mental RAM that’s so precious to every entrepreneur. So if I could say NO more often (mostly to myself) and focus on one or two winners, I think that’d be something that I’d do differently.

 

Adam Stewart

1. Brief introduction about yourself, who you are and your business (when you started etc). Be as detailed or concise as you like.

Adam Stewart. 19 years old. A second year student at Lancaster University. I am currently involved in two start-up businesses.

I joined Checkit proofreading in September 2015. The company itself was started the previous year. I am now starting a social media business called Start Social.

 

2. What was the biggest issue you faced when you first started your business? In the first 0-6 months?

For Checkit as a whole, its main issue was approval by the university to operate due to plagiarism regulations. This was overcome through training for the proofreaders, provided by the University. Within the first year, a substantial amount of funding was provided by the University.

Now its main issue is marketing to the right audience, due to the nature of the target market, many traditional methods do not work.

For Start Social, the main issue credibility. “Why can a couple of teenagers teach us something?” We will need to build a reputation before making large sales.

3. When starting did you utilise funding or investors? If so, how and what is your opinion on funding start-ups in general?

Checkit was funded by the University and Start Social will aim to do the same in the near future.

Funding was also provided for Checkit through bootstrapping. Personally I don’t like this, as it can discourage some people to start businesses due to not wanting to lose money.

4. To date, what is the biggest roadblock you’ve faced to your business and if you could do something differently what would it be?

For Checkit, it is reaching the right audience. Lots of marketing efforts have gone to waste, costing time and money. There is nothing we could have done differently, it is just a case of trial and error at times.

For Start Social, our biggest roadblock will be our reputation. We will need to be really careful in the first few months if we want our customers to respect us.

 

Owain Hopkins

1. Brief introduction about yourself, who you are and your business (when you started etc). Be as detailed or concise as you like.

My name Is Owain Hopkins and I am the Creative Director over at Tree Top Films.

I started up as a sole trader four years ago but became a limited company in November 2014.

We are a South Wales based production company and we mainly make promotional and corporate videos/animations.

2. What was the biggest issue you faced when you first started your business? In the first 0-6 months?

The biggest issue really was finding the time. I was working full-time as a graphic designer so I had to ask for a day off here and there to make a video. Once I had established myself a bit more, I took the chance to start the company full-time.

3. When starting did you utilise funding or investors? If so, how and what is your opinion on funding start-ups in general?

I was helped at the start by Rhonnda Cynon Taff Council who gave me a grant which paid 45% off the cost of my first professional camera and computer. I found the help and support great at the time.

4. To date, what is the biggest roadblock you’ve faced to your business and if you could do something differently what would it be?

The biggest roadblock for me was the cost of keeping up with the technology in this industry. It all moves so fast and you can find yourself and your content out-of-date very quickly.

The thing I would do differently is research more. At the beginning, I bought equipment and software for the company but found out soon after that it wasn't up to scratch. It's usually down to cost. Today I realise it's best to save for a bit longer and to purchase the higher quality kit.

 

Steve Morgan

1. Brief introduction about yourself, who you are and your business (when you started etc). Be as detailed or concise as you like.

I'm Steve Morgan and I'm a freelance SEO consultant based in Cardiff, UK (Morgan Online Marketing).

I've been working in SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) full-time since early 2009, mostly working at agencies but also a little bit in-house, but in mid-2013 - inspired by my parents, who are entrepreneurs themselves - I decided to take the plunge and go it alone as a solo consultant. Two and a half years later I'm still at it and loving life more than ever.

2. What was the biggest issue you faced when you first started your business? In the first 0-6 months?

I made some quite foolish mistakes in the early days, looking back on it now...!

I took the plunge when I did because about a dozen businesses I knew through various networking circles said to me: "if you ever go self-employed, I'll become a client." I knew all dozen wouldn't come on-board and estimated that maybe two or three would, but in the end only one did - and it was only a small project. So I guess the first lesson is never to accept anything as a 'done deal' until the prospective client has signed on the dotted line.

I also left my full-time job on the Friday and then 'went to work' (starting the business, meeting with prospective clients, etc.) the following Monday, with no prep time previously. In my defence, my last job was very demanding, so I had little chance in evenings and weekends to get a head start on anything, but nonetheless my advice to would-be freelancers now is to make sure that you have a couple of clients on board before you take the plunge, so that the transition isn't too extreme and so that you have a bit of income coming in straight away.

And lastly... Make sure that you have savings in the bank. I had enough savings to last 3-6 months in case of little-to-no client work, which is a good thing because it took about 2-3 months for things to really pick up. If I didn't have those cash reserves initially, I would've really struggled.

3. When starting did you utilise funding or investors? If so, how and what is your opinion on funding start-ups in general?

Haha... I had a really bad experience trying to get funding for my business. I tried a few avenues local to me, some of which dragged on for months and all of which were unsuccessful. I unfortunately took the view of it being 'free money' - e.g. "other businesses are getting a piece of the action, so why can't I?" - even though I didn't really need it.

In one instance I was trying to get a small sum to help cover IT equipment (a PC and a laptop). The amount of time it took - ultimately to end up being declined - was frankly ridiculous. If I had instead spent the time trying to win more client work then I easily could've paid for it that way instead. I also couldn't buy proper equipment until after I'd secured funding, so I held off and continued to use my beaten-up personal laptop, which wasn't exactly professional.

So whenever I hear about someone considering funding, I ask them to weigh up the 'funding amount vs. time' argument. Unless it's a large sum (e.g. thousands or more) or it's a necessity then I wouldn't bother personally.

4. To date, what is the biggest roadblock you’ve faced to your business and if you could do something differently what would it be?

Sometimes I find it difficult to gauge the seriousness of enquiries. I get a lot of interest from people, and in my line of work everything wants SEO or thinks they need it, so I end up having a lot of meetings - and potentially putting in a lot of time and effort into upfront research - only to find out that they weren't interested, e.g. they just wanted to pick my brains or ask questions.

A good tip I picked up recently is to send prospective clients an initial questionnaire asking them lots of overall business questions (such as their future plans, what they've done in the past, their goals, their expectations for SEO, etc.) and I've found that if someone is really serious, they'll go to the effort to answer them, whereas someone who only wanted to have a chat about it mightn't bother. So it's a good way to see who's serious and determined about getting their SEO sorted vs. those who aren't bothered so much. I think that the former group really appreciate that I want to get to know them and their business too - I had some great feedback from someone recently regarding the questionnaire that I sent them.

 

Dan Hodges

1. Brief introduction about yourself, who you are and your business (when you started etc). Be as detailed or concise as you like.

Hi, I’m Dan, the owner of garage-shelving.co.uk.

The business started as I found a gap which I believed I could fill with a company specialising in Garage Shelving, with a 100% online presence to reduce the costs vs the likes of B&Q and Homebase. As soon as I found there was no company which was called or even specifically targeted this huge search volume keyword I decided to register the domain and get started, that was almost 13 months ago now.

2. What was the biggest issue you faced when you first started your business? In the first 0-6 months?

The biggest challenge we faced in the first six months was gaining exposure without blowing all the money within the business. It’s important to gain exposure to potentially make sales without putting the business in the red.

3. When starting did you utilise funding or investors? If so, how and what is your opinion on funding start-ups in general?

When I started the business I did so with my own funds and I have been dedicated to keeping it that way. Unless I have no choice I will do everything I can not to borrow any money, I believe it better this way. It may be slower to get going but in the long run I’m sure it will pay off.

4. To date, what is the biggest roadblock you’ve faced to your business and if you could do something differently what would it be?

My biggest roadblock so far is getting our Search Engine Optimisation going in the correct direction. It is a complete maze to find a dedicated and reliable company to trust with this important marketing strategy.


Tom Buckland
SEO Consultant
Ghost Marketing | ghostmarketing.co.uk
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