We know that there’s never an easy way or a good time to start up a new business, and then building that business has its challenges, too. But this year has been particularly tough.
The global reach of the coronavirus pandemic has brought economic uncertainty to many. It’s far from being a nurturing environment for a startup business, and yet the number of company formations is climbing. We think that’s something to celebrate.
I am the founder of InZone Consumer Insights, a B2B market research/brand consultancy agency that specialises in ‘youth culture’, and helps brands reach their potential with authentic consumer insights.
We work with brands such as Nike, Jordan, and Foot Locker, identifying their consumer’s needs and wants in order to build brand strategies which are culturally relevant.
Our services include recruiting consumers for research work, hosting focus groups, full research projects, and strategic consultancy. Each brief brings a different dynamic, though generally our insights projects cover strategic planning, marketing campaigns, product development or retail elevation.
Working at major global corporations I learnt how valuable the voice of the consumer is. In my case the consumer was inner-city youth, yet there was so little representation of that consumer within the boardrooms.
“For me, growing up as a young black kid from London, I never knew the impact my voice could have on these major brands.”
I felt the need to set up a diverse business that elevates the voice of the youth. To show them the value they hold, while elevating their amazing talents and opening up opportunities for them.
I was fortunate enough to know exactly what my business model would be, and what clients I would work with first. The difficultly for me was all the logistical side to setting up a business.
This is my first business so things such as registering on Companies House, choosing an accountant, setting up a website etc. were all brand new to me.
They were all challenges but nothing a good Google or YouTube search couldn’t fix.
“As you can imagine, all the clients I work with have felt the effects of COVID.”
They’re going through their own restructuring which has led to major budget cuts and job uncertainty for them. Despite the service we offer being paramount to the future success of our clients, the reality is that if there’s no budget, there’s no budget, and there’s not much you can do to fix that.
To add to that, when companies are going through re-organisation, work naturally tends to slow down with fewer new projects being picked up. All of this, of course, affects us as a business.
The key to great client partnerships is really all about knowing their needs and being there as a constant solution to their problems.
“In these times business needs have changed, so we made it our priority to fully understand what those needs are, and to find new ways to make our clients jobs easier.”
We have a 10-year growth plan, and over the next few years we will be expanding our client base and experience across different sectors within youth culture. After that, we’ll look to expand our service offering.
We also expect to open offices across key European cities within the next few years. This will all be achieved through lots of prayer, working hard, but more importantly, working smart while staying true to our core values.
Green Tiger Events does exactly what it says on the tin: we organise a variety of business and corporate events, in all shapes and sizes. I am the founder and CEO of the company.
I was made redundant from my job as an Exhibition Director when the company was taken over by new owners. I had two fantastic job offers early on, but they meant long hours away from home and a fair bit of travel (back when we were able to travel!).
“As a single parent, letting go of the security of a regular income is terrifying.”
My heart wasn’t in employment anymore, and I was excited about the prospect of creating my own vision. In the end I sat down with my two teenage sons, and we decided together that less money to start with, but more time together, far outweighed the alternative.
After over a decade in events, it was exactly the push I needed to dip my foot into the ‘boss world’. It turns out that I like it, people like working with me, and lo and behold, Green Tiger Events was born!
“Understanding the legal requirements and best practise in setting up accounts properly was a headache.”
Starting out is scary. It’s overwhelming, exciting, it’s a million emotions at once. Friends put me in touch with The Accountancy Partnership, and I have never looked back. Having a professional, caring contact at the other end of the phone or email made all the difference early on – and still does to this day!
But 2020 – you couldn’t make it up! In January I was looking ahead to an amazing year.
We had won 5 new major clients, and I had taken on 2 contractors to help with the workload. We were getting stuck into finding perfect venues, great entertainment and outstanding speakers.
“Then COVID hit – the world, the events industry and me personally.”
I contracted the virus in early spring and was so ill that I spent most of April and May in bed unable to move. I still suffer occasional flare ups now (but it does mean I get to be a medical guinea pig, so it’s quite exciting, too).
But events and pandemics obviously don’t mix very well, and one by one we lost the clients we had had lined up for 2020.
As a fairly new business (we started trading in May 2019) there was no financial support available at all, and sadly I had to let my contractors go.
This presented a different problem, as I was left with 2 clients, was very unwell, and had a lot of work to do. But – I managed!
There’s been a lot of long days (and nights – I like to work when the kids are asleep).
“But, I am proud to say that despite the unparalleled challenges we have encountered this year, I have managed to stage successful medical exhibitions in Berlin, Paris and Cologne (physical events!).”
I also ran my biggest virtual conference to date, for a national association in London. Despite having run successful events since 2000, this year has been my first foray into the virtual world.
Like so many event companies, I have learned to ‘pivot’ better than Ross in Friends, and I’m now quite the master of anything virtual!
I didn’t like it at first – I am a passionate event organiser; I like the personal contact! But, needs must, beggars can’t be choosers, and it turns out that virtual is a whole new world of different fun.
Also, I’ll let you into a secret. I really rather love a challenge, and sorting out last minute problems is my favourite part of running events. (Sad, but true!)
“I have been thinking of ways to change the business model somewhat, so that I can take on new clients and my contractors again.”
With physical events unlikely to stage a comeback anytime soon, I am putting together attractive virtual packages for potential new clients.
I think we are all a bit ‘zoomed out’, but I have been working with some amazing suppliers who give a virtual experience without that ‘screen feel’.
I have also learned a lot about what content works to make an event stand out, and I know that there are many businesses that need help with that (give me a call!).
I am also working on an exciting new project with my business partner, that will see us launch a new series of Green Tiger Events.
We may not be able to do the job we love at the moment, but there are few sectors that can produce a viable plan b (c, d, …) as well as the events industry. Watch this space!
AquaSwitch is a business utility comparison platform, solely focusing on water tariffs for businesses.
We were driven to startup by the high cost of water that you pay as a business. It’s still relatively unknown that you can switch business water suppliers in England. The business water market was deregulated in 2017, but a lot of businesses have been with the same water supplier since inception.
The initial challenge for us was to build a minimum viable product that showed there was enough interest in the market.
The main obstacle was the fact that a lot of businesses were unaware of the deregulation of water in the business sector in England. Lots of them had legacy contracts with their local suppliers which were overpriced, and lacked the customer support they needed.
“There have been challenges over lockdown, though many of the obstacles we faced are the same faced by most businesses. We hurdled these by constantly adapting our strategy, mainly in the way we advertised.”
Looking at ways to become more efficient in our paid advertising, as well as improving our organic search rankings, helps us compete with the larger companies in the market.
We focused on writing excellent content and providing informative advice, free of charge, to help businesses save money on their water usage.
We’re looking to provide more guides to help businesses save money by becoming water-efficient. We’ll also continue providing a range of cost-effective quotes, to save businesses thousands on their annual water tariffs.
Startup Streams design and build premium pre-built businesses for sale. We are proud to be a Shopify Partner, a featured Flippa Super Seller (top 1% on the platform), a Fiverr Pro, and maintain 100% positive feedback rating on all platforms!
I started my first online business aged 12, selling homemade skateboarding stickers – winning a Business and Enterprise competition in the process. From that moment on, I was hooked on online entrepreneurship and have been starting and selling businesses in the 17 years since.
“In 2019 I was in training for the British Army, and held a full time job in a warehouse which kept me fit for basic infantry training. Unfortunately the warehouse burnt down (luckily no one was hurt), we were made redundant, any my Army application was rejected for a food allergy. No epipens are allowed in the British Armed Forces!”
I thought this was as good a time as any to go travelling, so set my sights on Bali. Three days into my 30-day trip, I met a girl. I knew I wanted to stay in Bali as much as possible, but three months later I started to run out of savings.
This led to the classic case of grabbing a pen and notepad and thinking of business ideas that allowed me to sell to the UK and US, but remain in Bali.
I sold one of my own business for $500 on a non-exclusive basis and managed to sell it three further times that month. I was in business!
“Fast forward to today, 14 months later, and I have 7 full time members of staff. We currently have 70+ non-exclusive websites for sale in the most popular niches.”
All Startup Streams stores are built with the inexperienced digital marketer in mind, meaning that all of our stores are new-user friendly. They’re designed to allow you to be as inclusive as you want to be – you can spend as much, or as little time on it, as you wish.
The next challenge was deciding which country to register the company in. Both the UK and Indonesia have their advantages and disadvantages, but as a ‘bule’ (Indonesian for ‘foreigner’), it costs a few thousand pounds to register a business here.
I set up in the UK, but it was difficult to find an online bank account where it is easy to send international payments. You’d think this would be easy in 2020!
“We registered in February 2020 – the same month I was admitted to an Indonesian government hospital with COVID-19 symptoms and placed in isolation.”
I was quarantined in an Indonesian government hospital, and at the time I was the only one working for my company.
The hospital only installed Wi-Fi in the isolation ward on day 3 of my 4-day stint in the hospital, which made it difficult to manage the business as everything is online.
And isolation means just that – I (rightly) wasn’t allowed to leave the room, but I am grateful to have a support network.
My girlfriend and friends were able to assist with business matters, and provided support by helping me speak to the local doctors. I did make use of the free time though and learned some Bahasa Indonesia.
“I experienced a large dip in sales at that time, as there was so much uncertainty around the world.”
However, sales quickly bounced back, and I have seen month on month growth since. We haven’t had to change anything in particular as we are an online based business.
I am thankful I was able to employ 6 brilliantly talented designers and staff who lost their jobs having been made redundant due to COVID-19.
After questioning hundreds of my customers, the main issue seems to be marketing the businesses I sell. This, as we have already established, is not my strength.
I intend to hire marketing experts on a full-time basis to provide 1-to-1 marketing support and training to customers, to help ensure their best possible chance of success.
With the launch of Startup Streams 2.0 in 2021, I intend to provide private marketing training, marketing blogs, forums, live Q&A webinars and even an entrepreneurs book club.
Vensa Coaching is a public speaking coaching company. We help individuals and teams overcome their nerves and ace their presentations, Zoom calls and speeches.
Our clients range from professionals keen to make an impact in meetings, through to wedding speakers and business leaders who want to inspire their teams.
I started the business and still do a lot of the coaching and training work myself. I worked as a freelance coach and absolutely loved taking a client from being a bit unsure of their speaking abilities, to having them hold an audience in the palm of their hand.
“But I didn’t get to do that nearly enough in one-day corporate workshops – they were just too generic.”
So at Vensa Coaching we sit down with the client and work out exactly what they need. If we are working with an individual, we tailor the coaching sessions to help them overcome their own public speaking challenges (e.g. dealing with nerves, honing their content, finessing their delivery) to help them reach their goals.
If we are working with a team, we build a workshop around the challenges they face (e.g. Zoom calls, webinars), and train them in the speaking skills they require day-to-day. We love the work and have received some amazing feedback.
“I don’t think I realised how many ‘jobs’ I was taking on.”
When you start out, you’re Head of Comms, Head of Marketing, Head of HR, Head of making sure there’s enough coffee to get you through the day.
It’s a lot to get your head around and the work/life balance can slide if you’re not careful, but you learn to adjust.
“When the first lockdown came into force it was pretty daunting.”
Most of our coaching sessions and workshops had been in-person and suddenly these were all impossible. The furlough scheme announced shortly after was not a huge help.
I am a Director and pay myself via dividends, and I have freelancers rather than employees. Like so many others reading this, if I had lost business due to the pandemic, I would have fallen through the cracks.
“I realised quite quickly we needed to pivot.”
We started to offer Zoom coaching and workshops. Almost overnight, we changed all our copy and advertising to reflect this.
We also expanded our offering geographically. Up until this point, we had primarily focused on helping people in London. We decided that with video calls, there was no reason to limit ourselves.
The business has fared very well. I feel very fortunate. People from all over the world have decided to use this time to up-skill and the coaching format (Zoom) reflects the meetings/presentations they are faced with.
We’ve had some great feedback from clients in this period, which has been really nice.
My accountant Emily Burns is a star. She’s great with my accounts and is always on hand to answer my questions – no matter how peculiar and particular they are, she makes sure I get an answer.
That personal touch is really appreciated. As a small business owner, it’s great to know that I’m with an accountancy that have got my back.
We are growing, so expect to take more freelancers on to help with the demand for coaching and workshops. But I’m not going anywhere soon!