We’re always interested here at the Learning People in how people can use their project management skills to start up their own business.
This week we were lucky enough to speak to Paul Lancaster - @lordlancaster - author of Small Business Marketing for Dummies.
Paul shared with us his tips for obtaining investment, and using social media when project managing a new business.
What key points would you want anyone reading your book to take away?
“When it comes to marketing your business there are so many different things you could do that it can be hard to know where to start.
“Like all For Dummies books, mine sets out to clearly explain every type of marketing that a micro or small business in the UK might want to do, with lots of useful and practical tips and advice.
“None of the techniques are particularly difficult to do, and much of it can be done at little or no cost, especially social media.
“The main cost is simply time and effort.
“It’s unlikely that a small business owner will be able to do all the things outlined in the book, but I hope that after reading it they will have a much better understanding of what’s relevant to their business, what they can do themselves and what they might need to outsource to a professional marketer.”
If someone with a new business idea was nervous about sharing it, how would you advise them?
“Most people are too busy living their lives and working on their own projects to steal your business ideas.
“Although it’s true that you should be careful how much information to share with people you don’t know very well, at some point you will have to share your business idea with someone in order to get it started.
“This could be in a business plan that you show to a bank manager or investor if you’re trying to get funding, to find a business partner, or just to get support from your friends and family.
“Once you start trading or building a presence online then your ‘secret’ is out and you become open to competition, but that’s where marketing comes in as you try to explain why you are different and why people should work with you or buy your products and services.
“If you’re too scared to invest in your own business idea - in time or money - you can’t really expect anyone else to.
“It’s highly likely that a bank manager, lender, angel investor or venture capitalist would want you to have some ‘skin in the game’ to demonstrate your commitment.
“This could just be investing your time, but is commonly cash.
“Having said that, ‘fear’ is a very real barrier that stops potentially great business owners from taking the plunge.
“The trick is therefore to build up your confidence by doing lots of market research to make sure there’s a demand for your products or services, and to do some test trading in your spare time before quitting the day job.
“Seek professional business advice as soon as possible.”
Do you think the current financial climate makes this a good time to start up your own business?
“Some of the world’s greatest businesses have been started during a recession - there are opportunities everywhere if you know where to look.
“I think a common mistake some people make is to start a business without doing any market research, and only after launching do they find that no one wants their products or services.
“This is why market research and test trading is so important.
“You will have a much higher chance of survival if you build a business around a market rather than try to change the market to fit your business.”
How would you advise approaching key factors such as budget, timescales and team management?
“At a local enterprise agency I used to work at they used to get potential business owners to define a Personal Survival Budget – clearly setting out the minimum amount of money you need to pay your bills and have a reasonable quality of life.
“This is important because it will help you see exactly how much money you need to make from your business in order to do it fulltime.
“For your business, you can do some basic accounting in Excel or Google Sheets but I recommend using a simple online accounting solution like Sage One Cashbook, which will help you get into good habits, help you with your cashflow forecasts and includes free 24hr telephone and email support if you’re unsure of anything.”
In your opinion, how should project managers be using social media?
“Social media is really easy to use, but it’s hard to do right.
“Trial and error is the best way to figure out what will work for you and your business but in a nutshell, honest, genuine, helpful, interesting and funny Tweets and Facebook posts written by real humans are always better than ones that look like they’re been written by a robot.
“You should also have some basic measurement tools in place to help you see what is and isn’t working.
“At a basic level, Google Analytics will show you how many Social Media Referrals you are getting, whether it’s increasing or not and which tools are working best for you.
“In my experience, Twitter is by far the best tool for raising awareness and acquiring new/potential customers, but Facebook is great for deepening engagement with people who are already using your products and services.
“So measure things and set goals to help you define success but be careful not to overdo it.
“Stats are only useful if you actually take time to learn from them and make changes accordingly.
“Social media is becoming increasingly visual too so great looking photos and short videos are a good way to build engagement and promote your business.”
How do you perceive business using social media in the coming years?
“Social media is moving so fast it’s impossible to predict what things will look like in the coming years.
“New tools will come on the market whilst other ones will die off and lose favour, but I think the big ones like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube will continue to dominate.
“As broadband speeds increase and become available to more people, video will continue to grow in importance, especially for mobile users.”
Who inspires you?
“I’m inspired every day by the people who are brave enough to start their own business and try to change the world, even if it’s just their little part of it.
“My wife and kids inspire me to want to make a difference and do things that they would be proud of.
“I’m an avid reader and always have several books on the go, mostly business and personal development ones related to the workplace, marketing and social media.
“If there’s one person who I would encourage everyone to read, it’s bestselling author and marketing guru Seth Godin.”
Has this interview got you thinking? Why not visit Paul's site?