This week's blog post is all about my personal experience coming through the Business Accelerator Course run by Robert Gordon University. Now despite the clickbait title on this one, this post will probably read as an exhaustive plea to get your self on a course like this because of the immense value it brings! Not only will you usually receive cash, but you'll receive one to one mentorship and group workshop activities, which completely re-set your way of thinking for the better. However, if you've already tried to get on a course like this and are struggling, I've included some theories and concepts I learnt on the course, which you can read about in the next few minutes and apply to your business idea today!
One the first tools I was given on the course was 'The Mom Test' book by Rob Fitzpatrick. After reading through it, I can honestly say it's the most insightful, practical, helpful and realistic books I've ever read. Prior to reading this, I was feeling really disheartened with various business books, constantly preaching about 'best practices' and 'how to's' without any real advice on how to implement those ideas. However 'The Mom Test' book, actually provides specific examples, word for word dialogues and a clear order of what to ask, when, for entrepreneurs who are at the market research stage of their business. So if you've got an idea for a business but are still feeling a bit overwhelmed at the thought of pursuing it, that might be because you don't yet have the evidence you know you need, to back it up. And in that case you're being completely sensible to hold off. Do yourself a favour and don't let the advice of 'follow your dreams' and 'you only live once' encourage you to start investing your money into a business idea. Buy the book. Read it. And the rest will be obvious. One of my favourite examples from the book, talks about professional complaining and how not to confuse this with market demand. It discusses a scenario in which there is a line for the checkout and the individual in front, starts complaining about finding his loyalty card and the difficulty of looking through his large collection to find the one he needs. The book recognises that common sense might tell you, based on this, a product or service that keeps all your loyalty cards together would be an extremely successful business idea. However in actual fact you'd be completely wrong to go away and start investing into this idea - at least not without asking some vital questions beforehand! Take that opportunity in the shop, to tell the individual all about this brand new app you've heard of, that lets you keep all your loyalty cards in one place! If the individual doesn't then look to download the app, chances are they are what's called a professional complainer and not a prospective customer with a real problem they are actively looking to solve. The book goes on to talk about a number of other examples and how to approach each one, with a unbiased mindset. Unlike a textbook, it's a much more manageable size and reads more like a novel than an academic source material. I'm so grateful to the Business Accelerator Course for sharing it with me and I highly recommend to anyone else that hasn't read it, to pick up a copy!
Once you've read it through, and have identified your business idea as something that isn't just the product of professional complaining or any other scenarios it talks about, you can start to work out your value proposition, which works into your Business Model Canvas. In other words, what you do, for who, and how this is different to your competitors. It should read as a clear statement that you can relay in any professional setting where someone asks what your business does. I've learnt how vital this is when trying to map out the rest of your business, because it's so much more than just a mission statement to read out to people or put on your website. It becomes the DNA of the brand and everything else in the business needs to fit in around it and make sense. Two more books we were given were 'Value Proposition Design' and 'Business Model Generation'. If what I'm saying about your value proposition becoming the nucleus of your company, isn't making sense then read the books I just mentioned. They map out everything clearly, and much of what we explored on the course was based on these models so like I said, if you're thinking of starting a business but are unsure of what to do next, these resources are an excellent place to start!
NEVER ASSUME ANYTHING...
'The Mom Test' discusses how to research your idea during the market research stage of your business - aka before you launch it or spend any money. And once you've read it and implemented it and begin to venture into the following stages of your business you might be blissfully getting on with things, thinking that you can brain dump all of your new market research skills. Maybe not consciously, but you'll be caught up in your new business activities and if leads / sales are coming through, you'd have no reason to think your business isn't a success. However having been through this course, I've come to learn that the world of business is turbulent, and it's the businesses that make a strong point of consistently re-evaluating their position that are better equipped to deal with challenges and survive them (sometimes even grow from them).
It was my mentor on the course, who said that everyone on this planet looks at everything from their own 'hill'. The 'hill' being all your life experiences, your background, your childhood, your personality and everything you've ever gone through. And that these unique experiences, mean we all can't possibly look at an idea and think the same thoughts. This mindset really enables me to look at an idea I might have, and evaluate it through an unbiased, objective lens. Whenever I'm brainstorming new ideas, I'm always asking myself how someone else might view the idea. This among other techniques are extremely useful in ensuring your business is not acting out of an assumption. The only thing you should assume is that there's another business right behind you, about to revolutionise the industry and take all your customers in the process.
Of course, it's no easy task to have your finger on the pulse all the time. When I learnt this was another thing I had to worry about with my business, I was so overwhelmed. I just pictured myself having to stay up all hours of the night, making sure I hadn't missed a single article, anywhere about anything to do with fashion. And I just thought I can't live like that?? And if that's how you've been left feeling as well then hopefully what I'm about to say will help. Start by making a list of what magazines and online publishers are the most relevant to your industry. Cap the list at 5. Then just set aside time every morning to check what their latest posts were. When you check it everyday there's only so many new articles that could have been written and then catching up on them isn't a timely task and eventually you start to feel like you're on top of everything that's going on.
NETWORK, NETWORK, NETWORK...
Another way to keep your industry awareness up, is networking. It's the thing everyone always tells you to do, but you don't get it how important it is until you actually start doing it. I was defiantly someone who felt like my business was my baby and I wasn't going to let anyone else come in and suggest that we do things differently. When I was on the course, I was the only 'team' on the course who was a team of one. And this actually really slowed down my progress. Not to mention I was making the loneliness of 'entrepreneur life' that much more so. I could see other teams making leaps and bounds with their progress, meanwhile I was trying to sound board ideas in my own head, with myself. However it did eventually get to the point where I recognised it wasn't doing me any favours. What I have now are a list of contacts that I get in touch with from time to time whenever I have a problem. They don't have shares in the business or anything, but they're happy to share their knowledge with me, whenever I need some guidance. And I've come to learn through the course, that you're not going to be the expert on every aspect of your business and when someone takes a look at it with fresh eyes, you gain a whole new perspective on how to improve things. I've met most of these people through workshops and webinars and it's so uplifting to be surrounded by people that have all been through the process of starting their own companies or at least work in the same field. And getting onto an accelerator course, goes a huge way to growing your network because networking events are part and parcel of the course, with no extra fees to attend. Now, whenever I meet someone interesting I'm straight onto LinkedIn to connect and its really helped me grow my network.
Think of webinars and workshops as something you'll enjoy instead of something you should be doing. I remember attending my first event, thinking it would be something I'd endure for the sake of my business, all the while counting down the hours until I could go home. I went in feeling tired and came out full of energy though, because you absorb other people's excitement. Like I said before, entrepreneurialism can feel extremely isolating because in most cases your friends and family are not really going to fully understand the business nor does it make for the best light conversation. And you can be left feeling like you're completely on your own with it. And don't worry - if you're concerned about someone stealing your idea, don't! When you really think about it, who is going to decide that after hearing you talk about your business for five minutes, that it's so amazing that they are now also going to pursue it and race you to the finish line? Starting a business is a project that takes an enormous commitment of time, sacrifice and focus. It's just unrealistic that someone else would give up the time you are giving up right now, to take your idea and launch it. And even if they did try to, business is so complex there is absolutely no way one Earth it would come out the other end, with the exact same product, appealing to the exact same customers the exact same way. So let people know about your business! The more people that know what you're trying to do, the more people that can help you with it!
Coming through the Business Accelerator Course, I really learnt to trust my instincts. The one thing I would say about a course like this, is that you are bombarded with websites to follow, business models to analyse, talks to listen to, advice to take on board, books to read, people to contact, meetings to prepare for and the list goes on. And while I would obviously say these materials and resources are invaluable and you cannot get access to these things without a course like this, you have to know when to draw the line, before you get lost in it all. Your business will go through so may changes, and evolve to almost something completely different by the end of it. Every aspect of your idea is tested, from the name to the customer base, to your plans to reach them to even the product you want to sell. Now of course your business doesn't go through this process of evolution without the expectation your business will be stronger as a result. But it's almost impossible to keep up with all the changes and you can feel extremely overwhelmed by everything so make sure that going into a programme like this, that you have your ways of shutting off. There's a fine line between keeping up with the pace of it all and tipping over to the point where it's not fun anymore.
What I learnt from my time on the course, (baring in mind they recommend you apply with a group and not by yourself, which is what I did) is that know what's relevant and what isn't. Because there are multiple business on the course with you, the course will need to cater it's support to everyone. However, every business is at different stages and if you're still at idea stage, do not attend the talk on HR... You just don't absorb information until you are ready to apply it immediately. And the advice is always to soak up everything you can but from my experience I would advise against doing that. If you were to attend every talk on business you would never start a business because you'd be in lecture halls the entire time. Think strategically about what you're going to give your time to. Work on the most pressing issues of the business first, then just slowly keep moving forward. Mentors will be encouraged to push you to attend everything because objectively speaking, any other advice would sound strange. But this is your business. You know where the idea was born from and you just instinctively feel what the next right thing to think about is. If you start entertaining every single piece of information that comes your way, you'll drown. So breath deep and remember to re-centre your self!
Working my way through the course, I began to realise that my business was unique in its challenges because it was based in fashion. In fashion, you do not work on a single product, trail it, adapt it, test it again and launch it, later working out your best marketing techniques. You are launching multiple products and every 2 weeks they apparently become obsolete thanks to the popularity of fast fashion. It feels like trying to jump onto a merry go round that's going at a hundred miles per hour. Additionally, the process of clothing production goes against the principles of clever product research because fashion is emotional. There is no way to quantify the number of people that will be interested in a particular type of top, that has a specific sleeve type, in a 42% linen blend fabric. But when the customer sees the new collection sitting in the store front, perfectly merchandised to maximise its visual impact, there is an emotional response to that, and that's what people buy. But of course to investors this is extremely risky and not worth the gamble.
Proof of concept for fashion, is so tricky and it's still the number one problem I'm trying to overcome. How do you make someone understand that a 'feel' and 'emotion' or 'vibe' is missing from the industry and that your business is the one to fill that gap? At the moment I'm working with individuals from the fashion industry, specifically, in an attempt to understand more about how designers and fashion start-ups can demonstrate investable qualities. And hopefully I'll be able to use this to generate further funding and support for 'HERSIDE'.
All in all, you need an accelerator course. You can be successful without out one but I would just ask why you'd struggle alone when courses like this exist. It fast tracks you and stops you wasting your time and money, and gives you everything you need. So google search which ones are available to you and apply!
If you're interested in following 'HERSIDE's journey and watching us take our next steps, subscribe to the blog to have next week's post sent directly into your email inbox. We really appreciate all the support so far! Next week's post will talk about keeping motivated in business generally and also how to stay that way amongst in the corona virus pandemic.
Thank you so much for reading and have a gorgeous day!