Spotlight: The secret recipe to successful Northern business

From how to pick the right office location to creating a successful business plan, these four Northern business owners share their top tips, along with their own personal anecdotes from how they launched their companies and key lessons they’ve learnt along the way.

January is reportedly the most popular time of year for aspiring entrepreneurs to launch a business, after spending the holidays mulling over their business plan. For Northern business owners, life outside the London bubble may offer interesting new growth opportunities, according to four successful business owners, who spoke at a panel hosted by Yorkshire-based online printer instantprint.

“No matter the time of year, there will always be an amount of risk when launching a business. However, this can be managed in today’s information world, so the risk is probably lower than say, thirty years ago,” says James Kinsella, instaprint co-founder. “Starting a business certainly is not for everyone but by making informed and researched decisions with your business, you can control more of the risk.”

In addition to instantprint’s Kinsella, the panel discussion featured Music Vine’s Matt Russell, Top Screen Media’s Achille Traore, and Hopton Candles’ Jean Outhwaite, who shared their business journey and guidance on launching a business in 2018.

From how to pick the right office location to creating a successful business plan, these four Northern business owners shared their top tips, along with their own personal anecdotes from how they launched their companies and key lessons they’ve learnt along the way.

The panel

Matt Russell, Co-founder of Music Vine

Music Vine is a young, award winning music licensing platform that brings some of the world’s most fresh and exciting music to filmmakers while offering a set of straightforward and highly-accessible license options.

Achille Traore, CEO of Top Screen Media

Top Screen Media is a technology business which specialises in self service touch screen solutions, sales activation, customer engagement and digital innovation. Works with high profile clients like Merlin Group, Ladbrokes, TFL and World Trade Centre NYC.  

Jean Outhwaite, Director of Hopton Candles

Hopton Candles manufacture luxury home fragrances such as candles, diffusers and bespoke fragrances. All handcrafted from the heart of Yorkshire.

James Kinsella, Co-founder of instantprint

instantprint are one of the UK’s largest providers of business cards, flyers, posters and more. Founded in 2009 by James Kinsella and Adam Carnell.

What where your very first steps in launching your business and why?

Matt Russell: We did our research. I can’t emphasise just how important this is. You need to prepare yourself as much as possible because the next move you make will be pivotal. I mean, there’s no way you can know everything there is to know about your industry, but having a solid grasp on the market you’re entering, your USP and a stage by stage plan, will hold you onto your vision whilst also having milestones to achieve.

James Kinsella: Once you’ve done your research, the next focus should be on getting revenue coming in. People often get hung up on things only being 95% right and find reasons to delay, but at this stage we’d recommend cracking on and trying to get selling. After all, what you’re trying to get “right” is likely to evolve as you start getting feedback from customers.

Achille Traore: For me, I think it’s important that you seriously ask yourself, are you solving a problem? The worst position when starting a business is to be considered as a niche rather than a need to have. Be THAT need to have.

When it came to picking your office location, what did you consider?

Kinsella: Picking a location is entirely dependant on what a businesses’ value proposition is and what factors are going to be key to help it compete in the market. For example, if you are starting a design agency, recruiting the best talent may be critical so location should be chosen for this reason – such as a city centre with a large talent pool.

On the other hand, if your value proposition is around low-cost products sold online, you would need low overheads and good transports links, therefore, out of town would be more appropriate.

Russell: For those desperate to find an office, consider if you really need an office. If it is absolutely vital to your business then yes go for it, if not then why not save that money and put it to better use. If you don’t have an environment that’s suitable to work in, then hot-desking is a low-cost solution that offers great flexibility and can be a brilliant way to network.

Traore: I would say, start work where your network is strong. It can actually be really lonely to start and run a business, so it’s important to network and surround yourself with positive people and other business owners.

What inspired you all to take that leap of faith and take your ideas from paper to reality?

Russell: One evening I was sat at the pub with my business partner to be. We both then worked in sourcing music for productions, so we were having a good moan about how much time it took searching for tracks. Then, one of us suggested that we should create our own platform to solve this problem. That seed then became Music Vine.

Traore: I’ve always wanted to start my own business. I decided to take the plunge after gaining experience from working in an innovative business where I was responsible for launching a product to market. We took the product from 0 to £6m turnover in 18months which gave me the confidence to try and make my dream a reality.

Jean Outhwaite: For me, I bought a high street well-known brand candle that was really expensive, and I just felt ‘ripped off’. That’s where my journey began. I’m very much an ‘ideas’ person, so I decided what it was that I wanted to do then worked back as to how I can do it and make it a success. I had to get it all down on paper. It’s still a work in progress with innovative ideas, ranges and fragrances.

What has been the biggest lesson you’ve learned? 

Outhwaite: Don’t get swept away by flattery. Always do what you feel is right for you and your business and go with your ‘gut feeling’.

The biggest lesson I learned was when a Private Equity company wanted to invest in my business. I thought this was so amazing but my ‘gut feeling’ just wasn’t right. At the time this was really emotionally draining, and I initially beat myself up over it, but on reflection it was all part of my wonderful journey.

Traore: Always create an MVP (minimum viable product). This will save you time, cost and confirm whether you’re on to something or not. Also, don’t be scared to pivot. You may be onto a good idea but not managing to get traction. To pivot means to find an alternative route to deliver, your product, it may be the way you’re selling the product, the cost structure you’re using or maybe that you’re focusing on the wrong part of your service offering.

Kinsella: It’s the old cliché saying, often forgotten, that your team are your most important asset and you should treat them as such. You also need to make it your managers’ priority to look after and coach your team. Finally, you must empower your team to take action and make decisions. If they’re the right people, with the right attitude, who understand where the business is headed, they’ll be the ones driving your business forward.

What would make a fantastic business plan and what would make a terrible one?

Matt: Don’t get caught in the detail. Set out everything you need from objectives, strategies and forecasts. A terrible business plan will be one with a lack of quality with figures plucked out of the air with no evidence to support the proposals. This will get torn apart and is a waste of everyone’s time.

Traore: A good business plan is a living document which you can refer back to and update when required. The vision shouldn’t be changed much but the milestones will. A terrible business plan is static and out of date within months of being produced.

Outhwaite: But then again, do you know what a bad one looks like when you’re very first starting out? My opinion is that your first-year plan should be a working document that flexes with experiences and changes in learning. Adjustments need to be made when changes happen in the business day to day. With this learning, contingencies and day to day ups and downs allow for a more structured business plan to be made in year two.

Kinsella: We’ve always prioritised opening revenue streams as soon as possible and using feedback to improve our proposition. Many small businesses focus too much on building pre-revenue, neglect marketing and forget the income is critical to the future health of the business.

A lot of people comment on running a business to be ‘too risky’. What would you say back to those people?

Kinsella: Without doubt, starting and running a business involves an amount of risk. However, this can be managed in today’s informative world, so the risk is probably lower than say, thirty years ago. Starting a business certainly is not for everyone but through making informed and researched decisions with your business, you control more of the risk.

Russell: Of course, it’s risky, but without risk there’s no reward. Every great idea has to start somewhere and if you’re passionate and savvy enough, you can achieve what you want.

Do you have a business partner and if so, how did you know that you would work well together?

Kinsella: Yes, I’m in the very fortunate position in having started the business with one of my best friends, Adam Carnell, who I’ve known for nearly 20 years. Prior to this business, we’d worked together on other businesses so we both knew what we were getting into.

Traore: I’m the founder of all my businesses but I bring in key people in positions such as CTO and head of sales.

What is your all-time best piece of advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?

Outhwaite: Ask yourself, is this your passion? If it is, you’re halfway there to be successful.

Russell: Do not lose sight of what makes YOU unique.

Kinsella: Make knowing your numbers a priority. Invest time in recruitment. Keep the business focused.

Traore: Plan. Realise that things will take much longer than anticipated. Can you survive if it takes twice as long as forecasted?

TL;DR: 10 tips on launching a business

  1. Trust your instincts
  2. Build a brand
  3. Be meticulous over every aspect of your business
  4. Do not underestimate the investment your business will require in time and money
  5. Follow the money – be a need to have
  6. Don’t try to do it all by yourself
  7. People – surround yourself with the right people to make your business a success
  8. Prioritise and qualify prospects and make sure they are actually serious and interested in buying otherwise you will be wasting a lot of time
  9. Plan ahead
  10. Don’t lose sight of what makes you unique

Praseeda Nair

Praseeda Nair

Praseeda was Editor for from 2016 to 2018.