How to grow your business – fast!

10 take away tips from the panel of female entrepreneurs at last year's Marie Claire @Work Live event...

Thinking of taking the entrepreneurial leap and starting your very own business, or looking to grow your start-up into a certified super-brand? These nine tips from last year’s Marie Claire’s @Work Panel will help…

Our panel is made up of:
Very Exclusive’s Sarah Curran
Founder of Halpern PR, Jenny Halpern Prince
Propercorn founder,Cassandra Stavrou
Co-founder of Balance Me,Clare Hopkins

Pursuing Your Best Idea
Clare: ‘Make a proper, realistic plan. With any idea, no matter how passionate you are about it – if you don’t know how it’s going to make money, then it’s a hobby, not a business.’
Jenny: ‘I think people look at a lot of entrepreneurs and think they had that one great idea and stuck with it, but that’s usually not the case. They’ve pursued their strongest, not their first. You don’t have to be an academic or a super strategist to be an entrepreneur, you just need drive.’
Sarah: ‘It’s definitely a combination of passion and the idea that makes a business get off the ground – you have to have the passion to drive the idea forward.’

Finding The Cash
Clare: ‘My sister and I started BalanceMe by investing money ourselves. If you’re not prepared to save up and invest in an idea yourself, then why would anyone else want to? Approaching a bank for more money when it’s time to grow is a good idea, because to approach a bank, you need to make a workable, realistic business plan, which is such a good discipline. Another option is angel investors and venture capitalists, but I think if you pursue that route then it’s not your business anymore. As much as they say ‘we’re here to support you’, you will be under pressure to file reports and prove things and maybe alter your strategy for them.’

Search For Schemes
Sarah: ‘Selling my house to start My-Wardrobe was a great motivator. Friends at the time thought I was crazy. When I opened my first boutique, Powder, I went to the bank and found that the government had a scheme where if a new business wanted to borrow up to 250k the bank would lend 75% and the government 25%. There are schemes out there, but they aren’t always well advertised so you need to do your research. Never let it be a problem if you don’t have a circle of family or friends to help fund you – there’s funding out there if your idea is good enough.’

Choose Your Investors Wisely
Cassandra: ‘I moved back home for a few years and worked in a pub at weekends to save the 10k I used to start Propercorn, but when we wanted to inject some momentum after 6 months we brought in some investors. The key is trust, if you’re selling equity, be smart. The investor needs to do something more than just inject cash – can they bring contacts or expertise that will help you grow? It’s not that difficult to find money if you have a good idea, but it’s finding someone who can add that value.’

Define Your Company Culture
Jenny: ‘You don’t want a fear factor, you want people to feel that they can tell you if something’s gone wrong. In a small business, you set the tone, when there’s an atmosphere in your office you need to sense it and break it, say we’re going to finish at 5:00 today and get everyone out for a drink. You need to find people who are as passionate about your business as you are and you need to set up a business culture that will keep things that way.’

A Note On Negotiations
Cassandra: ’Always get your number down on the table first. It’s easier to keep someone at your number than to drag them far away from their number. And know your break points!’

Know When To Grow
Jenny: ‘I sold half my business to grow my business. Because I did that, we now have an office in New York. You need to be always driving, always growing and feeling more ambitious all the time. Something all of us in this discussion share is a common goal to be on this trajectory.’

Don’t Be Afraid To Make Mistakes
Cassandra: ‘When we first started, I overlooked the concept of sell by dates – we ordered £50,000 of stock of popcorn and had a week to sell it all… it actually fuelled the fire though and with a lot of work, we sold it all!’
Sarah: ‘Be disruptive, it makes you interesting. It’s good to be naive because you look at things differently to all the businesses before you.’

Never Let The Fear Win
Sarah: ‘I think fear is the one thing that stops people from starting the business they want to start. You have to control the fear. An amazing part of being an entrepreneur is the journey that you’re on as every day you’re fighting, growing and developing. I loved that, and in the few years where I was on a break between businesses and I didn’t have that reason to get up and fight, I was watching Jeremy Kyle and eating my way through the fridge, miserable. Set a personal goal as well as goals for the business – like in five years time I want to be mortgage free – and go for it.’

This year’s Marie Claire @Work Live event is fast approaching, taking place on 23 April 2016. Book your tickets.

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