This time last week I was preparing to attend a Business Spectacular at MK Dons Stadium. I’d attended one previously and if I am honest I had felt like a gasping fish well away from the water, with so many successful business owners present and seminars that left me wondering what I was doing wrong, or doing at all.
Fast forward three months and the lovely Ed and Davina persuaded me to give it another go. Their message to me was simple – EN is there for all business owners, not just those turning over millions or making a huge profit. It’s a membership organisation but they treated me like one of their own. I was invited to an afternoon on the foundations of business success the day before, then to join the members for a meal and drinks in the evening. I even had a hotel room overlooking the MK Dons football pitch at a preferential rate, and If I’d been up in time I could have enjoyed breakfast. All of which does make it sound like a sales pitch but far from it – no one at any time asked me to sign up or even pay for a drink. I quickly realised most of the other attendees were members and that of course was the beauty of the approach as I quickly heard about the value belonging to EN was adding to their business journey.
Aside from enjoying endless coffee and biscuits, a three course lunch, cake, wine and chocolate, what did I get from this Business Spectacular?
Some sound and solid business advice for starters. Make sure that there is a reasonable margin on all sales. And by reasonable that has to mean one that works for the business, not just one that appears reasonable to the customer. Overheads and hidden costs eat into profits, even after you take into account the direct cost of sales such as ingredients and salaries. This made me think more than anything else. Since we’ve been operating as a business we’ve worked hard to offer great quality products at reasonable prices. But when all things are considered those prices haven’t always covered the cost to the business.
Next up – is your business scale-able? Well yes, probably. But perhaps if I were thirty years younger, starting out on a business adventure and determined to be the next big name in cake and vintage tearooms. Franchise? Yes please but is there anyone out there with the time and money to help make that happen? (#seriousquestion)
Residual income then? Perhaps a product that sells well regardless of the day to day footfall? That’s definitely made us think so look out for some fabulous gift ideas in the run up to Christmas and into the New Year.
“But why?” many may be asking! And that of course is the rub. The challenging question. Why take time out to listen to these people? Why spend money on being part of an organisation when you’re already a well established business? It’s not that there isn’t an answer, but to what extent is it wise to share? Speaking to other business owners I rarely hear honest stories of just how tough it is to even take a decent wage, never mind turn a profit. Of course it’s good to be positive, to emphasise the plus points, to dream big and believe that “this time next year we’ll be millionaires”. To admit how hard it is, that you’re working a seventy hour week (whilst feeling a sense of achievement that it’s no longer 100 hours), that you pay yourself a fraction of the minimum wage and wake at 4am with palpitations doesn’t really project the image of the successful business owner. But why not? If it’s the truth then perhaps a few more people sharing honestly is what’s needed.
This has been a long post and the next instalment can probably wait. Fast forward to the end of my time in Milton Keynes however and what happened next…?
Well I joined Entrepreneurs Network. Not because of any hard sell, but because I felt genuinely welcome and believe they offer a range of services and support that will help me. (Oh – and the Christmas get together is at the Ice Bar – woo hoo!)
I came away with a couple of fabulous business ideas that I know will be irresistible to our customers and bring in a good amount of money that will help with our overheads. I also promised myself I’ll look again at our margins and approach things in a more businesslike fashion, without compromising the way in which we strive to be part of the community and accessible to everyone.
And finally. The MK Dons Stadium is part of a retail park that includes some well known stores and places to eat. so I also have a very flattering pair of skinny black jeans, two new T Shirts and a warm and comfortable cardigan. An example of the perfect business opportunity, product placement and marketing? Maybe! Well done Marks and Spencer.