3 ideas to help your business grow

We’re committed to helping British businesses grow so we’ve asked one of our great business owners for her ideas on how to run one successfully. We visited Michelle Partington, of Lakeland Picnic in the Lake District and captured her thoughts in this video.

Michelle setup Lakeland Picnic in 2007 as she wanted to make and sell delicious hot food at events and shows in the North West. The team manufactures burgers and sausages at Holme Mills farm in the Lake District and sells them at street stalls across the country.

Her 3 tips are:

Tip 1: Support your team in their strengths and encourage learning.

Tip 2: Have a network of people who you can rely on for advice.

Tip 3: Don’t just plan it. Go fot it!

Watch the video for more detail on each tip.

Lakeland Picnic borrowed £17,500 in September from 221 people through Funding Circle to update their street stalls. If you’re looking for business finance, find out how your business loan could be funded by people across the UK in a matter of days.

Government participation in loans reducing to 10%

In March, the Government started lending to businesses through Funding Circle and until now, they have funded 20% of every loan that has appeared on the marketplace. From Friday 1st November, this figure will decrease to 10% of every loan.

Since they started lending through Funding Circle, they have lent more than £15 million to 1,100 businesses and played a big role in helping us to raise awareness and understanding of what we do.

We are hopeful that the Government will consider continuing to lend to businesses once they have lent out their £20 million allocation and we will keep you updated with any progress on this.

Our aim is to facilitate hundreds of millions of pounds of loans to British businesses every month in the next few years, and to do this we will require more sources of money from a variety of organisations. In November we are likely to see some of these new sources of finance start lending following the reduction in the percentage of Government funds. We will provide further information on this as timings become clearer.

People lending directly to businesses through Funding Circle have always been the core of what we are about and we will ensure this continues as we keep growing.

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8 simple tips to make your restaurant more mobile friendly

mobilefood

The restaurant industry is one of the most competitive industries in the world and it’s worth over £40 billion in the UK alone. We have restaurants ranging from top-end fine dining to ‘take away’ outlets and with new places to eat opening every week across the country, it’s never been as important to get your restaurant visible on the web and more specifically, the mobile web, to aid potential customers on the move find your establishment.

Being visible on mobile is important for most businesses today but it may be even more true for restaurants and other local businesses. The reason is simple: more searches are being made on mobile than ever before for local businesses. Smart phones are able to correlate key searches such as ‘pizza’ with local data based on the location reported on the users’ smartphone. That means people are in your neighbourhood searching for a restaurant like yours, ready to spend money. All you have to make sure of is that they can find you. Here are some ideas to help you with this:

1. Your location matters! So add your restaurant to Google+ local

A massive 43% of all Google searches are local or location based, which increases to 50% for people searching on their mobiles. Makes sense doesn’t it? If you’re on the move and want a bite to eat, you’ll probably use your phone to search for a restaurant. Google will link a customer’s search to their location, making your local Google+ page priceless. The key thing to remember here is to always keep your information up to date: fill out your hours, contact information and the category that applies to your business (eg restaurant). So when searching for Harrys Bar Pizzeria in the example below, I can see exactly where it is, I can go to the website and I can call them. Easy.

photo (1)

2. Make sure your menu is easy to find

A report by Gourmet Marketing suggests that the menu is the most important factor for people when making their dining decision, so you should ensure you’ve placed your menu in an easy-to-see place on your website. Even though the website in the example below is not mobile optimized, their menu tab is easy to find and easy to click on.

menu2

3. Why is your menu on a PDF?

Mobile users are impatient and usually have unreliable connectivity so it is up to you to make your information as easily available to them as possible. So why do you put your menu on a PDF? Mobile users don’t have time to download a PDF, they want to see the menu right now! This also goes for putting your address details in an image. People want to be able to copy / paste your address into Google Maps so they can find you! The cartoonist, The Oatmeal sums this up beautifully.

4. Your menu passes the test so now you need some reviews

Review sites: you either love them or hate them but it’s impossible to hide from them. You’d be missing a trick if you didn’t take the front foot and sign up to at least one. When searching for restaurants in a local area, you’ll more often than not find review sites coming top of the results.

photo (3)

Take TripAdvisor for example, it has over 2 million restaurants worldwide on their books and has over 2 million visitors per month. They released a report with Strategy One suggesting that 93% of people were influenced by reviews before they make a booking. The Search Engine Journal has some good tips on how to make the most of your TripAdvisor listing.

5. Clickable phone numbers so customers can book easily

You’ve grabbed the attention of your customer, they like the look of your menu and your reviews are pretty good too, so now they need to call you to make a booking. Make it easy for them!

Nothing is more annoying than finding a restaurant on the web and having to grab a pen to scribble down the number. As with everything these days, user experience is very important. Web designers Powederkeg have written a blog post on how to make your phone number clickable. It shouldn’t be too hard to implement and won’t cost you much either.

6. Encourage customers to use photography to share their experience

Food photography is becoming part of modern restaurant culture so why not encourage people to use their mobiles to take photos when they’re in your restaurant and share them on social networks, such as Instagram and Pinterest, to build up your brand. Make sure you create an account on these networks too, so people can follow you and accredit their picture to your establishment. The Huffington Post has compiled a list of their top 10 Instagram restaurant pictures which should give you some inspiration!

food

7. Streamline your payment process and move to mobile

Accepting all major credit cards is something that customers expect, but there are more ways for customers to pay and from next year they’ll be able to pay for their meal using their mobile phone. Keep your eyes out for the Zapp, who have entered into a partnership with payments firm Worldpay.

8. Service, service, service

It used to be that when people didn’t like your service, they told 5 friends. Now they tell 500 followers on Twitter. In today’s connected world, you cannot afford to provide a bad customer experience at your restaurant so once you’ve got people through the door, delight them so that they will tell people about it online and on review sites which will help bring more people through the door. Good luck!

Funding Circle in the US & a record week for lending opportunities. Weekly Lending Review: week 43

Week 43: 21 – 27 October 2013

Last week was a very busy one for the Funding Circle community: we announced the launch of our operations in the US and we also listed a record 77 businesses for you to lend to. New lending opportunities included a competitive swimwear retailer and a 5 star B&B near Keswick.

New loans

There were 77 new business loans listed last week and there are currently 56 auctions on the marketplace.

The total value of the new listed loans was £4,418,520; that’s an average of £57,383 per loan. The largest loan value was £200,000 and the smallest loan value was £14,000.

Business loans still available for bidding on for the next 3 days or more:

Weekly marketplace trends

These graphs show the most recent activity on the marketplace. The average gross yield graph is reported weekly and shows a rolling two week average. Number of loans, value of loans and secondary market are reported weekly. The dates on the graph should be read as ‘week beginning’, for example: 21-Oct represents the week of 21st – 27th October.

Weekly average gross yield (2 weeks rolling)

yield

 

Number of listed loans per week

number

Listed loan value per week

value

News you should know

We announced the completion of a $37 million equity round, which will be used to further our UK business and launch operations in the US to help many more millions of businesses with access to finance.

We visited one of our great businesses in the run-up to Halloween to see what goodies they had on offer. You can watch our short video which tells the story of how business owner Oliver grew Sensible Supplies from his garage to a 10,000 square foot warehouse in Nottinghamshire.

Community Discussions

This week we’re talking about Government’s funding proportion dropping from 20% of each business loan to 10%. You can join the discussion on our community forum.

Loans defaulted last week

No loans were defaulted.

Enjoy lending, The Funding Circle Team

Weekly Lending Review: week 42

Picture story: peer-to-peer lending helped this traditional British fashion brand to expand

389 people helped a leather accessories manufacturer move premises

Peer-to-peer lending helped a quintessentially British fashion brand move premises to cope with increased demand for their products.

Owen Barry designs and manufactures clothing and accessories from the finest ethically sourced sheepskins and leathers from Britain and Europe. They were looking to raise finance so they could move to a larger premises to cope with increasing demand from overseas retailers.

In May 2012, they took out a business loan through Funding Circle which was entirely funded by 389 people across the UK.

We visited the team down in Street, Somerset and spoke to Cindi Barnstable whose family has been running Owen Barry since it started in 1948. Here’s the story of her business and her experience of Funding Circle in Cindi’s own words:

Owen Barry Slideshow - 1 Owen Barry Slideshow - 2

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Owen Barry Slideshow - 4

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Owen Barry Slideshow - 6

Owen Barry Slideshow - 7

Owen Barry Slideshow - 8

Owen Barry Slideshow - 9

 

You can view our other case studies here.

Funding Circle raises $37m in equity funding to expand UK operations and launch in the US

Today we’re excited to announce that we have completed a $37 million series C investment, led by Facebook backers Accel Partners.

This is one of the largest investment rounds made in Europe this year, showing how far Funding Circle has come in the past 3 years. In the last 12 months alone more than 1,800 businesses have accessed a total of £110 million from over 20,000 investors. The funds will be used to expand in the UK and launch in the US.

In the UK, the funds will be used to improve our service and introduce a range of new borrowing products for businesses, such as commercial property and asset finance. These will significantly increase the number of lending opportunities for investors.

Our vision is to give businesses a better way to borrow and investors a better way to earn a return. Since our launch in the UK, we have developed technology to allow businesses to borrow in a faster and more efficient way whilst allowing investors to make a better return on their money. We’re now excited to be taking this technology to the US.

We are joining forces with Endurance Lending Network to help millions of businesses across the US access finance. Endurance will now operate under the Funding Circle brand and their team will be based in San Francisco. Together as one business we combine their local knowledge and talent with our experience and innovative technology. The US business will operate separately from Funding Circle in the UK, so there will be no change to your lending experiences.

Today’s news is the beginning of an exciting 12 months at Funding Circle. You will soon see improvements and new functions appearing across the site and we’ll also be launching our mobile bidding app very soon.

We are talking about today’s news on our forum, so please do join the conversation.

The Funding Circle team

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Costumes, sweets, decorations and more: our sneak peek into a Funding Circle business

Last month, Sensible Supplies borrowed £50k from 542 people across the UK and with the party season about to kick off, we thought we’d take a look around their warehouse to see what they have on offer for Halloween. We weren’t disappointed as they stock over 700 different Halloween costumes for you to choose from, for all of the family!

If you’re thinking of having any type of party this season, it’s more than likely that Sensible Supplies will have everything you need to help you host the perfect evening for your friends and family. The warehouse, based just outside of Nottingham, really is an Aladdin’s cave full of goodies including balloons, sweets, decorations, candles, toys and packaging.

Their Funding Circle loan details

Sensible Supplies was established in 2008 by Oliver Charles-Richards. In September he borrowed £50k from 542 people through Funding Circle to buy stock for a venture with Groupon, a website offering deals and discounts. The business has experienced huge growth over the past 3 years; Oliver started selling products from his garage and now operates out of a 10,000 square foot warehouse in Hucknall, Nottinghamshire. The business needed a loan to purchase a large order of sweets to complete a deal with Groupon; so we all know where to go to buy sweets for Trick-or-Treaters this year!

In this video you’ll hear how Oliver started his business and made it into what it is today, as well as sharing his experience of Funding Circle.

You can take a look at our other case study videos on our blog.

Funding Circle helping more businesses than ever. Weekly Lending Review: week 42

Week 42: 14 – 20 October 2013

Last week, the majority of businesses who were looking for funding were either in the retail or manufacturing sector and most businesses were located in the South-East. Of the 48 new loans, 19 were allocated to the C risk band.

New loans

There were 48 new business loans listed last week and there are currently 28 auctions on the marketplace.

The total value of the new listed loans was £2,605,500 that’s an average of £54,281 per loan. The largest loan value was £150,000 and the smallest loan value was £10,000.

Business loans still available for bidding on for the next 3 days or more:

Weekly marketplace trends

These graphs show the most recent activity on the marketplace. The average gross yield graph is reported weekly and shows a rolling two week average. Number of loans, value of loans and secondary market are reported weekly. The dates on the graph should be read as ‘week beginning’, for example: 14-Oct represents the week of 14th – 20th October.

Weekly average gross yield (2 weeks rolling)

yield

Number of listed loans per week

number

Listed loan value per week

value

News you should know

Figures released by the Bank of England last week showed net lending to businesses of all sizes dropped in the last quarter by £2.3 billion. In the same period, Funding Circle investors have helped 530 businesses; an increase of 30%.

Community Discussions

This week we’re providing suggestions for the summary page. You can join the discussion on our community forum.

Loans defaulted last week

No loans were defaulted.

Enjoy lending, The Funding Circle Team

 Weekly Lending Review: week 41

Bank lending to small businesses down again, but our figures show 30% growth for last quarter

Bank lending to small and medium businesses fell in the three months to August, according to figures published by the Bank of England today.  The Trends in Lending report showed that net lending to businesses of all sizes fell by £2.3bn.

Despite this drop  – that few will be surprised of – lending through Funding Circle has continued to accelerate. Lending increased by 30% in the last quarter with more than 570 businesses borrowing from Funding Circle investors. Compared to 12 months ago this figure is an increase of 170%.

As the economy continues to show positive signs, we’re looking forward to helping even more businesses access finance throughout this year and into 2014.

 

Update to minimum bid rates and a record-breaking week. Weekly Lending Review: week 41

Week 41: 7 – 13 October 2013

Last week was a record-breaking week for both the number and value of business loans listed on the marketplace, available for you to lend to. Of the 68 new loans worth £4.6 million, the majority were in the manufacturing industry and working capital was the most common reason for needing finance.

New loans

There were 68 new business loans listed last week and there are currently 44 auctions on the marketplace.

The total value of the new listed loans was £4,593,500; that’s an average of £67,551 per loan. The largest loan value was £150,000 and the smallest loan value was £15,000.

Business loans still available for bidding on for the next 3 days or more:

Weekly marketplace trends

These graphs show the most recent activity on the marketplace. The average gross yield graph is reported weekly and shows a rolling two week average. Number of loans, value of loans and secondary market are reported weekly. The dates on the graph should be read as ‘week beginning’, for example: 30-Sep represents the week of 7th – 13th October.

Weekly average gross yield (2 weeks rolling)

yield

Number of listed loans per week

number

Listed loan value per week

value

Update to minimum bid rates

We review the minimum bid rates in the middle of every month to decide whether they should be changed or kept the same. This month, the decision has been made to increase rates by 0.2% on the A, B and C risk bands. The new rates will come into effect for loan requests listed after 9am on Friday 1st November. The new rates are as follows:

A+: 6% (no change)

A: 7.5% (+0.2%)

B: 8.5% (+ 0.2%)

C: 9.5% (+ 0.2%)

C-: 11.5% (no change)

News you should know

A family-run gin manufacturer from Bristol took out a loan earlier this year so they could buy a new gin still. They manufacture gin and fruit liqueurs and you can read about how their gin makes it to the shelves of Waitrose in this picture story.

Community Discussions

This week we’re talking about peer-to-peer regulation and you can join the discussion on our community forum.

Loans defaulted last week

No loans were defaulted.

Enjoy lending, The Funding Circle Team

Weekly lending Review: Week 40

The Complete Guide to Growing Your Business Internationally. Part 3: Staffing Your Overseas Business

Part 3 of Growing Your Business Internationally: Staffing Your Overseas Business

Welcome to part three of our guide to growing your business internationally. In this edition, we’ll discuss the options you’ll face when staffing your overseas venture.

Once you’ve decided to grow your business internationally, but before you get too set on the distribution channel strategy you’ve selected, it’s time to consider your staffing requirements.

The Hiring and Distribution Connection

The distribution channel you choose is going to have an impact on the kind of hiring decisions you have to make. You should consider the employment implications when you are choosing your distribution channel strategy.

If you are responsible for locating, vetting, and hiring new employees then there are a variety of costs; recruitment and interviewing, legal obligations, wages, taxes, benefits – and the layers of assistance you may need to navigate these systems.

In fact, the costs involved may start to impact the economic viability of your chosen distribution strategy. (Sigh, just when you thought the hard decisions were done with!)

However, if you elect to use agents it’s not as simple as just partnering with existing people on the ground. Dependent on the terms of your Agent partnership or Joint Venture you may still need to be involved with the hiring of employees – certainly you will need to identify what skills are required to do the job.

One way to cover all your bases is to consider providing training for any intermediaries you are using; agencies, distributors, retailers and wholesalers may all benefit from any training or support you can give frontline staff closing sales and/or managing customer service.

Skilled vs. Unskilled

skilledvsunskilled

One of the biggest challenges when it comes to staffing your overseas venture is the skill requirement.  This may be problematic because the definition of skilled vs. unskilled may vary from one country to the next.

The skills you expect unskilled labourers to have in Britain – often to high-school level and even high school diploma – are different than the skills you should expect from less developed nations. And unfortunately research shows that while the need for highly skilled labour is increasing globally, there is simply an increasing gap between the necessary jobs skills and the skills workers actually have.

For example the gap between jobs requiring workers with digital skills, and the available workers with digital skills, is widening. The digital skills gap is going to be even wider in a region where education levels and access to technology is lower.

You should never mistake figuring low-cost local labour into your business plans without understanding that sometimes this comes at a higher cost overall.

The best way to get to grips with this is:

–          Work directly with the current UK employees who hold the positions you wish to fill in other countries: What is their skill level? Can their role be broken down into a checklist and anyone trained in that role? Even if they are not literate enough to read detailed process manuals? If not, what parts of the job could be automated or will require a specific skill set?

–          Plan to provide detailed training for all new employees: This avoids the mistake of ‘presuming knowledge’ that new hires should have in an unfamiliar market.

–          Hire skilled workers as consultants instead of regular employees: If you do require skilled workers consider this solution as a cost-effective bridge between hiring skilled workers full-time. It can also assist in raising the overall skill level of your local team.

–          Consider short or long term staff transfers: One of the best ways to get your new staff up and running might be to provide someone from your UK operation locally. Many mid-level staff members, particularly those without family commitments, may be keen to develop their career in a new office and see it as an adventure to live and work overseas while maintaining the same job. Although expensive and time-consuming to get local work visas and pay relocation cost this could avoid a more costly staffing problem in the long term.

Complications in Labour Relations

Encountering cultural confusion with your customers isn’t your only worry when it comes to working overseas. You will also encounter cultural, legal, and etiquette differences in each of the different countries. As always, these differences have can a financial impact on your cost of doing business.

Even among countries where you don’t foresee differences – such as within Europe or in overseas countries where English is also spoken as a first language – some of the differences in the ways that people work can be subtle but impactful.

For example, in France most people say that it is against the law to eat lunch at your desk. Whether this is true or anecdotal [we couldn’t find anything official on this – does anyone know for sure?] staff certainly have an expectation at lunch that they will be allowed to leave for at least an hour (in some cases up to two hours) and the company should provide a place to eat lunch if they want to bring food from home or a takeaway.

A simple solution, if hiring staff, is to always work with a local agency to help you navigate cultural and legal pitfalls (remember even individual country laws on what sort of questions you can ask in interviews will vary).

Working hours, leave, and even lunch times are all dictated by law and can be navigated. But there is one cultural difference that may not exist officially but could make or break your business; corruption.

bribery

In some cultures ‘bribes’ are considered a normal cost of doing business. Even if you are working through third-parties, you are you are potentially liable for the corrupt actions they take on behalf of your business. (Under the Bribery Act, for example, you may be held legally liable for bribes paid by or through a third party).

So, you need to keep a careful watch in all your overseas business, but especially in cultures where bribes are considered a normal cost of doing business.

Overall, this emphasizes the importance of due diligence on your part, regardless of how you obtain workers for your venture. Remember, your business reputation is on the line even if you never meet your employees or your consultants, so take care to ensure the workers you hire to staff your overseas venture are people you can trust with your reputation.

You can read part two here.

Support an award-winning interior designer. Weekly Lending Review: week 40

Week 40: 30 September – 6 October 2013

Last week, the majority of businesses looking for loans were located in London and the South-East and the most common loan purpose was working capital. New businesses include a Lancashire book retailer and an award-winning London-based interior designer.

New loans

There were 49 new business loans listed last week and there are currently 25 auctions on the marketplace.

The total value of the new listed loans was £3,118,540; that’s an average of £63,644 per loan. The largest loan value was £250,000 and the smallest loan value was £10,000.

Business loans still available for bidding on for the next 3 days or more:

Weekly marketplace trends

These graphs show the most recent activity on the marketplace. The average gross yield graph is reported weekly and shows a rolling two week average. Number of loans, value of loans and secondary market are reported weekly. The dates on the graph should be read as ‘week beginning’, for example: 30-Sep represents the week of 30th September – 6th October.

Weekly average gross yield (2 weeks rolling)

yield

Number of listed loans per week

number

Listed loan value per week

value

News you should know

In August, we invited you to ask Ed Wray, one of the UK’s leading entrepreneurs, any business related questions had. We’ve compiled a list of the best questions & answers from Ed which you can have a read of on our blog.

A small proportion of businesses who borrow through the marketplace will have difficulties paying back their loans so it’s important to understand what this means for both the investors and the business involved. With that in mind, we’ve written a summary of key terms and processes involved in the recoveries process.

Have you seen the new Funding Circle blog?  Be sure to subscribe to it with your email address to get regular updates: https://www.fundingcircle.com/blog/.

Loans defaulted last week

No loans were defaulted.

Enjoy lending, The Funding Circle Team

 

Getting to grips with insolvency: a brief summary

A small proportion of businesses who borrow through the marketplace will have difficulties paying back their loans and we recognise that it is important to know what this means for the business and the people who have lent to them. With that in mind, we’ve written a summary of key terms and processes involved in the recoveries process. Below is a summary version, for the full details of recoveries terms and processes, visit our new FAQ section which we have added to the Help Centre.

A company in financial distress must be managed very carefully. The directors may incur personal liability if they continue to trade whilst the company is insolvent. A company (or an LLP) is technically insolvent when it is unable to pay its debts as they fall due.

Usually, the directors will first try to come to an informal arrangement with the company’s creditors (being those to whom the company owes money) to delay or reduce payments in the short term. If such an arrangement is not possible, the directors may seek advice from a financial advisor who is also an insolvency practitioner. The insolvency practitioner may suggest that the directors propose a company voluntary arrangement to creditors, or otherwise that the company goes into administration or insolvent liquidation.

Even when a company is clearly in distress, the directors may not appear to be acting in the best interests of the company’s creditors. In these circumstances, the creditors may take steps to appoint a liquidator, administrator or a receiver who will take control of (and sell) the assets of the company for the benefit of the creditors as a whole.

A secured creditor may have all assets security which enables it to rank ahead of unsecured creditors when the assets of the company are shared out. Some creditors may also have the benefit of personal guarantees from directors and/or shareholders, which can go a long way to offset any shortfall from the company.

If a guarantor is unable to pay his or her debts as they fall due, an insolvency practitioner may suggest that the guarantor proposes an individual voluntary arrangement, or otherwise that the individual goes into bankruptcy. Bankruptcy lasts for 12 months, unless there is a good reason why it should be extended, such as the bankrupt failing to disclose all his or her assets.

Once a liquidator or administrator has sold all the assets of a company, and distributed the funds to creditors, the company will be dissolved.

Q&A session with Ed Wray, Angel investor and co-founder of Betfair

In August, we invited you to ask Ed Wray, one of the UK’s leading entrepreneurs any business related questions you had. We selected our favourites from a large response of questions and sent them over to Ed. Here are Ed’s answers in his own words.

edw

Questions about Betfair

David, from Basingstoke asks:

What would you say was the one main element that convinced you it was the right time to develop and launch Betfair? Did you have any idea it would grow to the size it is today?

The internet was still relatively new but its potential impact was becoming obvious. The idea (which wasn’t mine!) appealed immediately: using “P2P” (an acronym that didn’t really exist then) to offer a far superior service to customers. Crucially, it is a business model that only became possible with the advent of a new technology. Despite knowing it was a brilliant idea we had no idea how big it would become.

Susan, from Staffordshire asks:

When you launched, did you have a goal in mind as to what success would look like? Did you have a certain size, valuation etc. that you hoped to achieve?

No, we didn’t really think about it. We focused on building the best business we could and I always said (and still do) that if you build and run a great business everything else takes care of itself.  If I had to focus on a measure of success it would be building a product that our customers loved and wanted to recommend to others.

Fabiano, from Cambridge asks:

How would you compare Betfair with Funding Circle given they are both “crowd” led businesses?

There are a lot of similarities. They are both “network” businesses: the bigger they are, the better they are, and the better they become the bigger they become….and so on.  They both need modern technology to work and, as a result, are able to improve upon inefficient old-style business models that were designed without that technology input (i.e. banking and bookmaking).

Steve, from Reading asks:

If you were setting up Betfair again today, what would you do differently and why?

Whenever you setup a business you must make it relevant to the current day so if I were setting up Betfair again today I would build it around current technology – for example social media, the cloud etc. Most notably it would be a “mobile-first” business.

Business advice

Belinda, from London asks:

My company was founded in May 2012, and up until now I have been freelancing to help fund the business. Would you recommend getting an accountant at this stage? Is it worth paying for a professional, or trying to do it yourself in the first year?

It is important to get the early things right (e.g. making sure you qualify for the right reliefs, grants etc.), so I would caution against trying to do this yourself unless you are qualified to do this. Equally I doubt you need a full time accountant at this stage. There are a number of excellent businesses offering the necessary services from as little as a couple of days a year.

Tony, from Surrey asks:

Our company has launched a new e-learning product that helps to manage training and development for construction companies. To promote this we have undertaken research and a significant amount of marketing, but it doesn’t seem to be working! We really believe that the industry will embrace this technology because it saves so much money – but getting the right people to change their mind-sets is proving difficult. What else could we do?

Focus on getting a few pilots up and running. You could target the organizations that took part in the research because you know what it is they say they want. If necessary, offer the pilots at a deeply discounted rate – the feedback from these pilots will be crucial and will enable you to adapt the product as necessary before you spend a lot of money rolling it out. As it is an e-learning product, track everyone’s progress through the product, for example from clicking through on adverts (and try different adverts to see which ones maximize click-through), to sign up, to starting the training, to finishing the training etc.) in order to work out where the product is not performing as well as it should be.  And don’t stop doing this – as you develop the business bottlenecks will appear that weren’t there before. Be prepared to iterate the product quickly to react to the data you are seeing.

Richard, from Swindon asks:

We are an online fire door company looking to grow our sales. What is the most important thing we should be considering? We turn over about £1.2 million and this has been constant for the last 3 years.

What is the primary reason that people buy from you today? Focus on that message in your marketing. Make sure you know what your competitors are doing – how does your product compare? Where is it better and where is it worse? Buy from your competitors and understand how their process compares to yours. Does your customer base have a specific profile? Make sure that you are targeting your marketing effort at people who fit this profile rather than a broader audience. Use positive recommendations from happy customers as part of your marketing and take onboard (and act on) what unhappy customers say. If someone engages with your company but then doesn’t buy, find out why – you often learn a lot more from these “negative” experiences than you do from when you have a “positive” sale.

General business environment

Anita, from London asks:

What emerging UK industries excite you the most at the moment?

Definitely the consumer technology area – there are amazing businesses appearing on a regular basis. I also think that some of the research going on within our Universities continues to be a source of world-leading innovation.

Tim, from Bristol asks:

What can the UK business community learn from other countries?

Encourage people to “give it a go” – don’t criticize them if they fail, and celebrate, rather than begrudge them, when they succeed.

Finally, if you could give one piece of advice to George Osborne what would it be?

When thinking about introducing schemes to encourage enterprise be guided by the 99% of people who will use the scheme as it is intended rather than the 1% of people who may try to benefit unfairly from it.

Apologies to those who haven’t had their question answered in this round, there will be more opportunities in the future to ask other top British entrepreneurs for their business advice.

Which great business mind would you like to pick in the next edition?