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Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Everyone Needs Somebody - the Life Coach

Over the last few weeks I have been meeting with various professional trainers in and around Gibraltar. These guys make their living in helping people to understand their professional life in a better way. In return, the companies get a more motivated member of staff who has been made to feel wanted and appreciated by their bosses.

Lonely at the Top?

What happens when you become your own boss? Who is there is put an arm around you and give you that advice you need and become a sound board for your ideas?

Jessica Bruder wrote an article some months ago about the psychological pressure of running your own business. She highlighted the story of Bradley Smith, a multimillionaire CEO of a financial services company in California. He struggled, sold his pension, was as close to the sun as he could manage but managed to hold it together.

Others have not been so lucky. Jody Sherman, owner of Ecomom commited suicide. Shock and disbelief followed from the community. Except the CEOs who have started their own businesses didn't really seem so shocked. The truth of the matter is, unless you have looked into the abyss you cannot understand the stress, anxiety and sleepless nights of running your own business. The real shock is that more business owners haven't gone the way of Jody.

There is no right or wrong way to cope with the pressure of your own business. Some people simply ignore the stress, others have an extreme sports addiction whilst some work through it. As a human being you have your own stress mechanisms for dealing with life events, each to their own as they say.

What we need to do now is appreciate that the world is completely different in 2013 compared to 1973. Life is much, much faster, information has increased tenfold and we are working differently. We have radically changed our diets (for better or worse) and now understand what we can do to eat healthily.

If we can understand our physical selves in a more educated way, why is the psychological side lagging behind?

 

The Life Coach - the future?

Recently I sat down with Pete Yeoman who I have known for several years. He has always struck me as an ideal mentor for young start-ups. He has the aura of experience, softly spoken and someone you immediately feel comfortable in the presence of. He has recently qualified as a personal counsellor which gives him the full arsenal of skills needed to sit with a professional and discuss every part of their life, from personal relationships to unruly staff.

Where does he and others like him fit into business? Do they have a place? I think so. The holistic approach of a Life Coach gives them a better insight into your personal and business life. For example, a messy divorce can seriously impact on your performance at work and vice versa, tough times in the office can lead to family problems.

The role of the Life Coach is to find your centre, your balance in life. This may sound like some American nonsense but life IS about trade-offs. Working 14 hours a day may make you rich in ten years time but it may also mean you are single and lonely. Finding this balance and harmony in life is what the Life Coach is about.

Life IS like a Box of Chocolates...

Running your own business comes with plenty of positives and a far handful of negatives. Enjoy the perks and deal with the stresses and trials as best you can. If you struggle along the way, get yourself in front of a Life Coach and find your inner balance.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

The Gibraltar Concept

In December 2012 my business partner Graham, Office Manager Andrea, lead designer Zane and myself stood in the middle of our new office and looked at each other. We had exactly the same thought, we are never going to fill this space with our own staff. True, we knew what we were buying. Prime location, easy access and completely refurbished. It was too good an opportunity to let go. At the time, we had two choices, turn the entire office into a Google style location with pool table, TV, PlayStation and table tennis or, a more sensible idea was to sub-let to another company.

During the winter I was also in discussion with Chris Bruno from Just Consulting about just how lonely it was in Gibraltar as a tech related business. Sure, the gaming companies are based here and employ a massive proportion of tech people. However, they are very insular and tend to huddle in groups with "Atari" or "iMaciavellian" t-shirts on. Between us however, we sort of knew a few people trying to do something different but everything was very fragmented.

Fast forward a few months and the concept of Easy.Office was born. We had the office space and meeting room setup, branding finished and the online presence created. We had created Gibraltar's first collaborative workspace.

The Gibraltar Concept

As important as the space was, the concept was greater than the bricks and mortar. Having seen the way gaming companies had become an insulated entity we knew we had to keep the community away from falling into the same trap.

Open to all

For the community to work we have to ensure everyone is included, no matter what they bring to the table.

Open Minded

Community members need to keep an open mind when going through their ideas, concepts and plans with other members.

Providers and Start-ups

A community solely created out of entrepreneurs is going to fail. We need both start-ups and service providers such as marketing, legal and professional experts.

Community Led

A start-up community cannot be created by a government agency. It is not a "fad" nor is it a big tick on a political agenda. Communities take years to develop and need to be bred, not bought.

Meet-ups

Meeting other local entrepreneurs and networking is probably the biggest aspect of developing the community. Arranging regular, attended meet-ups can truly connect people.


Progress so far

I would say we are about 6 months away from being able to start really putting the meat on the bones of the community. We still have an awful lot to do to get this done. It has taken 11 months to get to meet the government about the community but we are planning our first meet-up at Christmas with 60 local entrepreneurs on the invite list.

We can but try. The potential is there, we just need to start the ball rolling.



Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Stand out from the Crowd (Funding)

You may or may not have heard of Crowdfunding. As the name suggests, it is the concept of a larger than normal group of people investing  in your product/service. It is not a new concept but it has gathered significant momentum over the last 2-3 years because of the impact of social media and the vast number of online digital properties looking for funding.


Star Citizen - Star Investment
I doubt many of you have even heard of Star Citizen. An upcoming MMO (massive multiplayer online) which currently holds the record for the largest ever funding. $17m. Yes, $17m. Check out their initial listing on Kick Starter:

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/cig/star-citizen

34,397 people invested over $2m in 30 days back in 2012. This figure has now risen to over $17.3m over the last 12 months. That is a serious investment.

Size Doesn't Matter
Star Citizen may have had made all the headlines but the size of the business and funding doesn't need to be on this scale. Imagine you have an idea for a Sushi Bar in Gibraltar. Easy source of materials and labour, large local and tourism trade and reasonable locations for the business. You need £300,000 to get the project off the ground. Attracting one investor may be bad for both parties. High potential risk for the investor, big gamble for you having a sole partner.

Through Crowd Funding you may be able to generate funds from 500-1000 people thus reducing their financial risk but also reducing your accountability to a sole party.

There are other advantages to Crowdfunding:

Visibility: your product/service is brought to market and viewed by hundreds of potential customers.

Engagement: you are able to engage with potential investors and customers across a broad range of subjects

Feedback: mostly importantly you get feedback on your product before you launch.

Be Careful of Strangers Bearing Gifts
As will all good businesses and ideas they eventually get copied or have the idea stolen. The key to crowdfunding is your visibility but this can also lead to potential competitors moving into your market before you are ready to launch. Unfortunately you will always have to deal with this if your idea is good.

Are you ready?
The question you should be asking is whether crowdfunding is appropriate for your business and whether you feel you have a product ready to be scrutinised at whatever stage you are at.



Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned - Gibraltar

Positive Mental Attitude (PMA) impacts on every part of your life, not just your embryonic start-up. How you see the world and how you interact with the world reflects how the world will in turn see you. One of the nicest ways to sum up PMA (not to be confused with PMT which is not positive in anyway shape or form)  was said by Mahatma Gandhi:

Be the Change You Wish to See in the World

Become the person you want to be, not the person others want you to be. Be the change, that is after all why you started your own business. To start your own change, you must become change itself.

Today we digress slightly from the norm as it is Gibraltar National Day on September 10th. As many of you know, 2013 has seen tensions between Gibraltar and Spain on a political level rise to its highest level for many a year. I am not going to comment on this but I am going to show why Gibraltar has PMA in abundance.

Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned

Strange title for a blog post about PMA? Last week we discussed "Learning to Fail" and how accepting failure can be of benefit to you and your start-up.  This week the emphasis is on being the underdog.

Gibraltar has a small landmass and a population to match. It is the proverbial underdog in every sense. By all accounts it should be suffering from the same economic crisis as the rest of Europe. How come it has 2% unemployment, low tax rates, no VAT, budget surplus and a thriving business community?

It plays to its strengths. By its very size it can offer very few manufacturing services so instead it has focussed on service based industries which although require manpower do not require vast areas of land. Insurance, Banking, Legal Services and Gambling all thrive in Gibraltar.

The government plays its part too. It can react much faster than larger countries as it is closer to the grass roots. The layers and layers of bureaucracy are simply not there. I am not saying the government is perfect but it is a leaner fighting machine than most.

This however only tells part of the story. The "PMA" revolves around the three Ps. Passion. Pride and Purpose.

Passion

Maybe it is the sunshine, maybe it is the gene pool bubbling with so many Mediterranean influences that makes them passionate. Ask a Gibraltarian a question on their favourite subject and sit back and watch the show. Everything is a story filled with passion. It is hard for it not to rub off on you.

Pride

The local Gibraltarians swell with pride, especially on National Day. They are proud to be Gibraltarian (how many English can claim to be proud to be English?) and are proud of their history. They have come through so many scuffles with their "sabre rattling" neighbours that it is has only made them stronger and prouder.

Purpose

There is a real sense of purpose, a real sense of community in Gibraltar. As I said before, the layers of authority are not there which makes decision making much easier and faster. Business within Gibraltar can get things done.

Gibraltar IS the ideal Start-up

Gibraltar acts like a small business. It has pride, passion and purpose. It may well be outnumbered but it is NEVER outgunned. It has PMA, it is the ideal start-up.

Happy National Day Gibraltar.




Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Failure Guaranteed - Getting it wrong is the way forward

I doubt many people in the world see failure as a success but start-ups and new business leaders need to change their mind-set to accept this. Some of the biggest and most successful business people in the world have made some fantastic mistakes. Who remembers Virgin Brides or Virgin Cola? Sir RB certainly made howlers along the way but he is championed as one of the gurus of our time.

This week we look at assessing risk, failure and reward in a melting pot of business decision making.

Be afraid of the dark

Imagine starting a business without carrying out any market research, assessing the competition or even calculating the costs of your product. Sounds crazy? You would be surprised. Would you walk into a pitch black room and expect to make it to the door opposite without any idea of what pitfalls are in the room? You could get lucky but I doubt it.

Failing is acceptable IF the failure was unavoidable. Do not be scared of failing but make sure you take all proper precautions to reduce the risk.

Learn to Fail

I doubt there has ever been a successful entrepreneur who hasn't failed. There are plenty of failed entrepreneurs however. Learning to fail is one of the key mind-sets you have to accept as part and parcel of working for yourself. Thomas Edison once said "I haven't failed, I have tried hundreds of ways which didn't work". Be resilient, stay focussed and above all accept failure no matter how big or small as part of your learning curve.

One door closes, another one opens

This motto should be on the wall of every start-up. Every failure is an opportunity to move forward. Without being too philosophical, you can use failure to your advantage. It shows other businesses and contacts at the very least that you are brave and not afraid to take chances. You can earn respect from your peers by simply failing. Use this as an opportunity to re-evaluate and work out where is went wrong.

Your Comfort Zone is Your Worst Enemy

People who work for companies on the whole stay in their comfort zone. They do not have the desire or motivation to progress, take risks or generally make waves. They know at the end of each month they get paid. If they work at 99%, you need to work at 101%.

There is a fine line between the Comfort Zone and the Danger Zone. Be brave but do not be foolish. Can you do the job? Is it stretching your finances too far? Always assess the risk v reward aspect but remember to be Mr/Mrs 101%, it is your business after all.

What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Stronger

I hear so many people throw this saying around in life that it seems to have lost its meaning. Failure is failure but it is not the end of the world or your entrepreneurial career.

Stay positive, if your business has failed, brush yourself off and find the next product/service. It is incredible how much easier your second business will feel to setup and get started. You already have your contacts (accountants/service providers/clients) so 90% of the hard work has been completed through "failure".


It isn't how hard or how high you fall, it is the manner with which you get back up that makes you different.

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

It's Official: Money Doesn't Grow on Trees

Whenever I see a young, fresh faced entrepreneur walk into the office with their £1400 laptop, £500 iPad and £500 iPhone I smile on the inside. Starting a business with your own (or someone else's)money is not about going out and spending two thousand pounds on new toys to play with.

This week I am going to be looking at ways to save you money and explain why new shiny toys are not the answer in your formative months as a go getting entrepreneur.

Work as Hard Saving Money as Making It

Just think how hard you work making money. Sometimes you feel as if nobody wants you or your services. Now, on the other side of the coin you are happy to drink iced frappicappichinos at £4.50 a pop whilst using your £40 a month phone to check Facebook and LinkedIn.

All the hard work of getting the contract and completing the project has just been spent on cold coffee and looking at cat videos.

Write down your expenses in a spread sheet, monthly contracts, travel expenses and analyse your outgoings. Can you lower your phone tariff? Is there a weekly bus ticket? Try and see where you can make savings and do this at least every 3 months to keep on top of it.

Shop til you Drop

The internet is a wondrous place. Whether you work from a bedroom in inner city New York or a remote hut in Scotland you all have access to the same online stores.

Hardware, software, promotional material etc. can all be bought online and delivered in a relatively short space of time.

If you are getting ready to kit out your new office or just looking for a new laptop use the power of Google and eBay. You will be amazed at the cost savings. Here are some of the keywords I use when searching for cheaper alternatives:

  • discount software/ hardware
  • reconditioned
  • stock clearance
  • previous model search (e.g. iPhone 2/3/4)
  • eBay item "name"
  • Google store "name"
Even with the cost of delivery I would expect a good 25%-30% saving.

Don't Spend Money, Spend Time

You have skills, knowledge and a business based around these. Can you find companies you need products and services from who would be interested in a trade of services?

It can be something really simple, maybe in return for a frappicappichino you will write a review on Foursquare of their amazing coffee house. To you, it is a 5 or 10 minute review but to the coffee house it is a glowing endorsement of their establishment for a cost of about £2.

Trades are a great way to exchange desirable skills, you want X, they want Y. Try and think of other companies who you have offered services to but turned you down, can you offer a trade instead?

Every penny saved is a penny earned

Keep in mind that money is a resource. If you can reduce your costs and increase your income through trades and revenue your company has a far better chance of becoming a success.

Wednesday, 31 July 2013

How Not to Pitch Your Idea - Part 2

Last week we talked about timescales and numbers. Today we talk about presentation, positivity and poise. It's not what you do, its the way that you do it.

Presentation - You are the Master of Your Universe.

There is a very fine line between being cocky and having the self confidence to say "I am going to do this". That fine line is all about how you present your idea.

What an investor wants to see and hear is the hard work you have put in and how you have managed to get your product/service ready for market. Be short and to the point. Waffling about the ups and downs of your laptop breaking or spilling coffee on your business plan is pretty irrelevant. Take the investor on a journey from A to B with all the salient points included.
  • formation of the idea
  • market research
  • targeting your market
  • developing the product/service
  • ready for market
As will all journeys, there is a start, middle and end. Do not waste your time on any single point, move from one stage to the next in a logical, clear and above all efficient manner.

Positivity - Ying and Yang

You are going to be presented with objections and asked probing questions, after all you do want their money. How you deal with these questions could be the difference between investment and a handshake.

Objections can based on the price point, competitors, quality or even doubting your ability to carry the idea to market. Investors want to see your reaction to these questions and expect you to overcome anything thrown at you. Here are some examples:

"The service is too cheap"
- We want to grow a loyal user base and are offering a price point to reflect their early starter take up of our solution. Moving forward we will re-evaluate the value for money to customers.

"The competition is better"
- Our unique selling point differentiates us from competition and our marketing will stress this to our market segment.

"Your projections do not include X, Y and Z"
- The projections are flexible, we have contingencies in place to overcome any unforeseen costs.

Every negative has a positive response, its Ying and Yang.

Poise - Hold Your Head High

If you look defeated, downtrodden and exhausted do not bother showing up. There are so many tell tale non verbal signs to avoid:
  • staring into space
  • sighing
  • sweating
  • yawning
  • umming and aahing
  • looking to the sky for inspiration
  • covering your mouth
  • folding your arms
The list is endless.

Hold yourself with confidence. Keep eye contact (avoid staring of course) and talk to the audience you are with. If you have no confidence in your product then do not expect your potential investor to do so.


Know Your Stuff

You are your product. Your are your company and you are responsible for making it happen. Facts and figures are vital to an investor as is the confidence you show.

Be brave but informed when pitching and good luck.




Thursday, 25 July 2013

How Not to Pitch Your Idea - Part 1

Since the doors of Easy.Office Towers opened in January, we have seen the full spectrum of businesses and start-ups. From the girl with an idea through to a twelve strong company with funding they have all graced us with the presence.

However, no matter the size of the start-up, they all have the same common problems when it comes to pitching their concept.

With this in mind, I have made a list of the most common pitching mistakes we have seen.

I have no idea about numbers
Listen. No matter how amazing, how fantastic or revolutionary your product is, if you cannot demonstrate hard, realistic numbers then forget the idea of investment. Here are the questions you need to answer:
  • what is the price point
  • what is the profit margin
  • how many units can you sell
  • what are your projected costs
  • what have you sold so far
but if I did they would be big, round numbers
"We want £500k for 5% investment, we think this is a fair number". Is it really?

When you are pitching your concept you need to convince the investor that they are going to be buying into a massive return. If you have a turnover of £10,000 per year do not expect to pitch on a valuation of £10m and not be laughed at. Be realistic and be honest.

your money is for me, and only me
Your software is your investment, not the investors. They are handing over thousands of pounds in the sincere hope you are going to turn their tens of thousands into hundreds of thousands. They are entrusting you to grow the business, not put the money into your pocket.

this money you are going to invest? I need it tomorrow
Timescales which include "ASAP", "this quarter" or "now" show a clear indication that you have simply not prepared the business for funding. Create a roadmap of how the funding will be spent, where it will spent and show real costings.

That's the end of Part 1. Check out Part 2 next week!

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Setting up a Business in Gibraltar

Starting a new enterprise or moving an existing business to Gibraltar can be daunting and very, very expensive. We know because we went through the process of moving from the UK to Gibraltar back in 2003. The advantages of operating in Gibraltar far exceeded the additional cost of moving the business and the decision has proved to be the right one. 

Where do I start?

As with creating any business, you will need to get the necessary information together. Most commonly you will need:
  • Copies of your passport, certified by an accountant or bank
  • Proof of address for the last three months (bills/ mortgage statement/ lease)
  • A letter of reference from an accountant or bank
Do not be afraid to make 5/6 certified copies as you will need them for other useful items such as your ID card.

What Fees Should I Pay?

Fees can be broken down into those payable for the setting up of the business (legal fees/ time etc.) and Government Fees paid for the actual company formation:
  • Incorporation Fee – paid to the Government to start the business
  • Annual Filing Fee – paid to the Government on an annual basis
  • Annual Report – must be filed every year to the Registrar to keep the business open
The second set of fees is paid to business services for helping you to open your business. However, there really are only two real services you should pay for:
  • Setup – paid for setting up your business
  • Accounts – preparing your annual accounts
We then come to the fees which you should really either do yourself, or use Easy.Office for:
  • Bank Account – can be opened by you once you have the business incorporated
  • Postal Address – use the Easy.Office address
  • Office space – can be provided by Easy.Office

How Long Does All This Take?

The real answer this question is how long 'should' it take as the unforeseen has a habit of raising its head from time to time. Ideally, you should aim for:
  • Opening an Easy.Office account: 1-3 days
  • Completing the Company Registration: 5-10 days
  • Bank account: 2-6 weeks
All in all, start with the simple matter of completing the forms and submitting them. Once you have your certificate of incorporation and personal details it should be a formality to open your bank account.

Who Should I Use?

At Easy.Office we have created a preferred list of suppliers whom we have met in person, used for various services and know personally. The local network of business people in Gibraltar may be small, but you still need to know who to use. The preferred suppliers list is constantly growing, please visit: http://easy.office.gi/preferred.asp.

Disclaimer

I am not a legally registered lawyer or solicitor so all the information I have listed is based on personal experience. However, I think it is only right that someone who has been through the same experiences as you are about to, should share their thoughts on the matter. Good luck with your new venture and remember, Easy.Office is only an email away.

Monday, 15 July 2013

Gibraltar Start-up Community - "Something" is beginning

Welcome to the start of "something". What this "something" is will depend on the individuals and businesses we meet and bring on board over the next twelve months. Gibraltar, advertised very publicly on TV over the last few weeks with Channel 5's "Gibraltar: Britain in the Sun" is ripe for a start-up community.

Why? Gibraltar has a massive tech base. Companies (primarily gaming), individuals (web designers/ graphic designers), money and, most importantly. Ideas. People in and around Gibraltar who have worked for the gaming companies are bored. Their creative juices are running dry and they are looking for an out.

People have tried in the past and failed. This time it is different. We have the location, we have the contacts, the experience and we have the ideas.

In the words of a wise man, a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. This is the first step.