This book was written by the founders of multi-million pound business, Not on the high street, an online market place for independent sellers who create and sell their own products. Sophie and Holly tell the story of how they started from a kitchen table, but alongside teach some key business principles. This is a beautifully crafted book which just attracts you. It’s published to a very high quality and the language is very informal making it very easy to read. The book has 305 pages covering eight chapters and an Afterword section. It also has business jargon buster and directory sections.
Chapter one – The story of us
This is a biographical chapter where each of the authors tell us a bit about who are they are starting from their childhood, education, family, work life, how they met, how the idea came about and how they started the business.
Holly and Sophie start of the book in a biographical note in chapter one talking a lot about their individual backgrounds and how they met. They also write about starting the business and some of the challenges they faced such as raising money. Along the way they distill important advice. One of their statements that I found interesting was: if we had one piece of advice, it would be never to use your house as a guarantee for your business, no matter what the banks say.
Chapter two titled getting down and dirty – focuses on a really important aspect of starting a business: testing a business idea. They present four ways to test a business idea which are the originality, competitive, financial and expansion test. Holly and Sophie also cover researching the market and how to legally protect your idea. The area they focus on is how to actually start a business.
The sub-title for chapter three, how to get from zero to hero is quite inspiring. The first piece of advice Holly and Sophie give prospective entrepreneurs here is that though you may have a business idea, that isn’t enough, you’ve got to be hungry because drive is fundamental to success. They also ask a key question, what does success mean to you? This is about understanding what your business aims to achieve which will be important for making decisions. At this point in the book Sophie and Holly do something which I’ve not encountered in any of the other business books I’ve read, they start discussing branding. Branding is discussed across a number of chapters of which this is the first. Moving on in the chapter they write about getting a business name, identifying what you do best so you know what to concentrate on and get someone else to do, going into partnership, working with friends and family and identifying where the business will be located. There are also short sections on:
• How will you get to market?
• Business paperwork such as VAT
• Business planning (this is a longer section)
• When to quit the day job
• The customer
• Legal small print
• Reviewing your success
• Key performance indicators for business
Chapter four is called starting with a bang. The focus here is business image. Holly and Sophie believe that from the onset your business must look matured and presentable. They write that, from the very first day, we had a strategy to present the business as a mature and grown-up one. This chapter also contains a bit about branding, and one statement that encapsulates their advice on branding is – your business image matters – it should say everything without you saying anything. The chapter also deals with websites and has a very good section on different types of websites and web content. There is also information networking, public relations, setting up an office and even ones wardrobe.
Chapter 5 moves into marketing, what the authors call , from concept to conquest. They define the aim of marketing with a simple phrase: promoting your business. But as simple as that may sound even they admit that the process is anything but simple. You will learn a lot about Holly and Sophie’s approach to marketing and the usual suspects such as, email marketing, blogging, social media marketing. Pay-per-click advertising, search engine optimisation, affiliate marketing, and display advertising. The importance of measuring what you are doing is also emphasized. In other words don’t do anything you can’t measure, in this case marketing. Some good advice is also given on offline marketing strategies such as direct mail, radio advertising and press advertising. If you want a primer on marketing, this chapter is definitely worth reading.
Holly and Sophie start Chapter 6 with a very candid statement: we hope we have made it clear from the the start, running your own business is about making money. They also state that, if you’re not making money, then you’re doing no more than funding a hobby. The authors claim that in this chapter they demystify money. But how do they do that? First they tell their own story where money is concerned and then they discuss a bit about business finance. They emphasize the importance of using an accountant and settingtwo year plans ands understanding financial statements. A really useful aspect of this chapter is the step-by-step outline on how to get to grips with finance which discusses topics such as getting spreadsheet skills, establishing costs and establishing revenues and cashflow. There is also a section which describes different sources of funding covering, bank loans, government grants, money from friends and family, venture capital, angel investment and personal borrowing.
Chapter 7 is interesting and every prospective entrepreneur will want to pay attention to it. It’s titled: (The nonexistence of) work-life balance). Without saying too much, the summary of this chapter is that for those who dream of starting a substantial business, work-life balance is a myth. They do give some good advice around managing ones life in the midst of running a hectic business. They cover areas such as holidays, staying healthy, staying sane, relationships and the phone.
Chapter 8 is Sophie and Holly’s revelation about what it means to be working parents. They tell their own personal stories about how they manage it and you will learn about their experience of combining family life with business. There is an Afterword section which is mainly advice for women, and a challenge to women to go out and start a business. But it also highlights the challenges women face in business, a key one being childcare.
Overall this is a very good book. It achieves a great balance of blending the authors stories, foundational business principles and stories from other entrepreneurs to create a well rounded picture of business learning. Another great thing about this book is that, when it discusses certain areas such as various types of marketing strategies or funding sources, it covers how they work, their pros and cons. If you are interested in learning about the various aspects of starting a business, then this is a book to read, go get your copy.
Start something lessons
The one key idea I am taking away from this book is from chapter 2 and it’s the four tests necessary for testing this validity of a business idea which are:
1. Originality test
2. Competitive test
3. Financial test
4. Expansion test