Stephen Armitage of Myfotowall on starting a business in a new market

As an ex-miner with experience in the print industry, Stephen Armitage, managing director of digital photo wall-scape company Myfotowall, is both practical and creative.

Starting a fast-growing business in a new market, however, proved to be a steep learning curve.

Seeking business advice

We identified an opportunity in the market to produce large-scale images of varying shapes and sizes to use as pictorial wall coverings. We wanted to grow the business quickly and could see from the positive response at trade shows that it was on the cards.

Companies were approaching us asking if the product was available abroad too, so we knew it had potential to expand internationally. Unfortunately, as a fledgling company we just couldn’t access this potential market quickly enough.

I decided to seek some professional advice and soon realised that a lot of these advisers speak to you as if you’re the first company ever to go into business. Ours was a pretty new idea, but even with something seemingly innovative there are always precedents. It seemed to me that some of them wanted to make it sound more complicated than it was so they could take credit for ideas that were really quite straightforward.

There are plenty of other sources of information available, you just need to do your research and find them. Regional development agencies such as Yorkshire Forward, for example, are a great help – they were able to provide knowledge of the market, the risks involved and a network of companies that might be able to assist us. It’s easy to feel isolated and extremely vulnerable when you’re growing a new business, but this needn’t be the case.

Get the official seal of approval

Support can come from a variety of sources and it’s worth making the most of it. From the outset we knew that we wanted to grow as fast as possible, so we decided to commission one of the top accountancy firms to comment on the financials in our business plan. They passed the plan through various models, making improvements, and the endorsement they gave it following the process really gave it extra weight and impact.

The plan was already well written, but their accountants were able to point to aspects that we hadn’t even considered. The amount of backing we found after that was tremendous, and we were even able to take an accountant along to meet the bank manager. It helped to show that we were serious, financially committed and intended to raise the bar, which is what banks are looking for.

The power of piggy-backing

Once we had financial support, we needed to start thinking about our route to market, so we approached high-profile customers from the outset. It was a bold move that inevitably made our initial sales much slower. You don’t approach the likes of Bentley or IKEA and get an answer that day, but we felt the ‘PR by association’ would generate better clients in the long run, and that decision seems to have paid off.

We also discovered that negotiating mutually beneficial deals is a great way to gain exposure for a product and the bigger the company you work with the better. We knew we didn’t want to take on a lot of staff to drive the market, so decided that it would be better to let other companies do it and reap the related benefits.

For instance, the name Crown is synonymous with paint, and we were able to identify a crossover in the market between their products and our own. Crown had just released a new range of paints, so we designed a selection of wall-scapes to complement them and then approached the company. We agreed a deal that allowed Crown to re-sell our wall coverings alongside their new range. It meant we got the outlets and the staff to sell the product, but not the payroll, thank God!

Now I know that the trick is not to try to re-invent the wheel, but to attach yourself to companies that can offer a route to market in the most cost-effective way possible.

See also: 5 ways starting and running a business is a marathon, not a sprint

Marc Barber

Marc Barber

Marc was editor of GrowthBusiness from 2006 to 2010. He specialised in writing about entrepreneurs, private equity and venture capital, mid-market M&A, small caps and high-growth businesses.

Related Topics

Starting a business