Recently, Cemanthe Harries, founder of New Media Angels, came to Pimlico Library to present a seminar on Social Media.
Pimlico library is one of four Westminster libraries with a specialist Business Information Point (BIP). In addition to providing a wide range of hard copy and online business resources, BIPs host regular seminars, presentations and workshops with special guest presenters.
After the seminar we got a chance to speak to Cemanthe about how she approaches her business. This is the first in an occasional series hearing from presenters who have had practical experience in creating, running or advising small and medium sized businesses, with the aim of giving would-be entrepreneurs an insight into starting and running a business.
What’s your professional background?
I have had a very varied portfolio career, basically just about any job where you don’t need a degree! This enables me to understand a multitude of industries and their target market. Most of my jobs in some way or another have been managing a community of some sort – whether internal with employees or external with customers/clients, and I’ve also always been very involved with customer service (which translates very well now to what we do as a company).
What made you decide to start a business?
It was less starting a business, and more knowing that I could no longer work for someone else. I’ve been entrepreneurial my whole life, and the freedom and flexibility of running your own business was very appealing, and seemed a natural choice for my skills. I would say that it is probably easier to do a job for someone else and know where your next paycheck is coming from, but I wouldn’t swap back to that for anything! When you run your own business – your ideas, skills and passion are valued, and there is no limit to your earnings.
What is your business model?
My team and myself help businesses manage their community of current customers/prospective customers using social media platforms. I also train people how to use the Big 5 (Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, Blogging and YouTube) for promoting their business and connecting with their market. We specialise in the relationship building side of social media, which is good as that’s what it’s all about and where you attain the most success!
Before you started your business did you have a business plan?
No, for various reasons. With the type of business I set up, I learnt as I go, which you can do in Social Media as it changes so much. It was more important to me that I retain the flexibility of not planning in advance what I was going to do so that I could change with the market. Now that I know what it is I want to do and we are more stable as a business, I’m sitting down to do a business plan. We do business plans for clients in my new company, so I do see the value it brings to them and I would recommend it.
Where did you get the capital to start? Was it easy to get funding?
I started my business with next to no money. It started with doing websites on an ad-hoc/word of mouth basis for people I knew through my last job. I soon began to do about 3 or 4 a month, which provided enough income to sustain me. The capital I had for my business was gained through my own hard work. At the time I considered potentially applying for funding or a loan, but now looking back I’m glad I didn’t, as my business is mine and the challenges have made me stronger and able to help other start-ups to do the same.
How long have you been in business and what are the key challenges you have faced? I’ve been in business for 2.5 years now. The key challenges were many! Most notably I had a situation where I allowed someone not to sign a contract before I did work for her, resulting in her owing me £7000 for the work done and refusing to pay – so I had to write it off! I also lost my previous business (which I had as a sole trader) when someone registered the business name as a limited company and had a similar website/domain name and services! My top 2 tips for any business owner would be: ALWAYS get a contract signed before you do work and protect your company name as best you can.
What’s the most important part about running a business?
Definitely persistence and belief in yourself, tenacity, persevering past the point of giving up, learning as much as you can from other people who have done it before, being clear on what you want to achieve, managing your finances, looking after your clients and taking time out every now and then for a duvet day too!
What’s your approach to cash flow?
One of my weaknesses was understanding the numbers and cashflow of a business, so at the start I was living hand to payment and client to client, however, now I’m more focused so my approach is different. I understand that cash is king, so I try to make sure that I have enough of it for unexpected emergencies, I pay staff first, use my credit card for the big things, try to focus my spending on what I absolutely need (although I have a weakness for stationery!), manage income and outgoings, and I make sure that I now save 10% of everything I earn every month, without fail.
What advice would you give someone thinking of starting his or her own business?
Things I wish I’d known before starting and learning the hard way: understanding the numbers in a business, marketing ideas and making sure the proper paperwork, like contracts, are in place! My advice would also be to work towards delegation of the things in your business that take up more time than you have time to do them, use social media to raise your profile and connect with your target market, attend as much free training as you can get initially, and always follow up with people!