Able IT: Grant Joiner

Inspired by his work with disabled people, Grant Joiner achieved a lifelong ambition by starting up Able IT in February

Inspired by working with disabled people who weren’t able to use technology, Grant Joiner set up Able IT to help make IT accessible to all. Here he talks to Startups.co.uk about how he did it.

Name: Grant Joiner Age: 22 Business: Able IT Type of business: Making technology inclusive to all Start date: February 2004

When did you first decide you wanting start your own business?

It’s been a dream of mine for ages now. Since I was knee high I have had an image in my head of driving along the road and seeing an office with my company name on, silly but truthful.

Tell us about your businessAble IT is an access academy that provides  technological solutions to make the internet and its relevant technologies inclusive to all. We do this by offering accessible website design and development and website accessibility and usability auditing.

Was it your first business idea and where did it come from? My first idea was conceived back in 2000, it was 14219.co.uk. An internet portal targeted at the teenage market. It covers news, gossip, communications, topical issues and much more. After a rapid growth I sold the business in 2001. After that I decided I needed some stability in my life and went back into full-time employment. Then came along my vision of Able IT.

Was your decision to start a business inspired by any other companies or individuals? It was inspired by people around me that have difficulties trying to access, navigate and interact with websites.

What makes you think there’s a market for your business? There are over 8.5 million people in the UK with some form of disability and a vast majority of those cannot access, navigate and interact with websites in the way you or I do.

Also the Disabilities Discrimination Act 1995 stated that any business or individual providing a service or product to the general public needs to take reasonable steps to ensure their mediums are accessible. This obviously extends to websites and email communications

Once you’d decided to start a business, what did you do first? Stupid really, but I decided on a company name and registered it via Companies House. The next logical steps was to create a business plan.

What research did you do?I used Adept Disability Equality a lot in the market research as they have had many years experience in inclusive communications, training and access auditing.

Does the government need to provide more help to people trying to start a business? Certainly. I did try to contact Business Link Hertfordshire several times, contacting them via the online form but after four attempts and two phone calls l doubt much will happen.

Talk us through the process of writing your business plan. Before l wrote the business plan the concept seemed rather daunting. However when l applied for a business account application form through HSBC they also sent me a Business Plan builder which was invaluable.

How useful has your business plan been and do you think you’ll stick to it as your business begins to grow? My business has developed at a rate l never expected so the business plan is some what out of date but l am trying to update is a regularly as possible. It does help to keep your mind focused at times and when times get hard just refer back to your business plan and all your dreams come flooding back !

How much did it cost to start the business? Well apart from thousands of personal man hours l would say £4,500 initially but at least £600 a month to keep advertising, sponsorships, etc

How did you fund this? This was mainly personal funds but l also got a credit card to help me through some of the harder times.

Similarly, how are you funding your running costs until the business takes off? I am extremely lucky that after the first 6 weeks of business l was earning enough to cover my personal expenses plus the businesses so this really isn’t too much of an issue.

Are you working from home or from premises? Able IT is currently a home-based business but l do occasionally rent a serviced office when l need some external consultant to help with the business or l need some ‘business only time’

How many hours are you working at the moment?I work from 6am to 6pm then 11pm till 2am every week day plus some weekend hours so 15 hours a day.

How are you managing your day and what steps have you taking to ensure you’re able to get everything done without working around the clock? Initially l was sharing our spare room with a wardrobe and single bed but l decided l needed an environment where is was just work, work work. So l cleared the room and made it into a two person office, this was an unbelievable help.

What about staff, is it just you? Able IT employs a network of disabled and impaired people to independently user-experience websites. This network currently stands at 8 but will be growing to 12 within the next 4 weeks. We are also looking for a commission only marketer to work on a new venture.

What marketing and advertising have you done so far? As we are predominately an online business we have marketed on Google Adwords, cold calling and also swapping links with other related organisations.

We did break through a barrier this week when a large corporation contacted us just because they saw our website. A big success l believe.

Where do you hope to be in 12 months time? I hope that Able IT will have the UK’s No.1 accessible search engine, Ablesearch.co.uk. An accessible internet service provider, Enableserve.co.uk and Able IT will be recognised as a company that makes the internet inclusive to all.

What are the main obstacles to growth? Cost and time. Currently the business cannot afford the 4 full-time staff it requires to grow mainly because of cost. Coupled with that the time taken to advertise for staff, train and develop just isn’t visible.

How do you plan to overcome these? At the moment l don’t have a clue. I am just taking each week as it comes at the moment as every week appears to have a surprise around the corner

Tell us about your website. Our website, Ableit.co.uk, it the forefront of our business. It stands promote our aims, vision and mission and shouts out to the world what inclusive is. Without our website we would not have a business.

What are your main ambitions, to make a lot of money or enjoy what you do?I want Able IT to grow over the next 8 months to the point were we can acquire other similar businesses and sustain our growth in the marketplace.

What have you found difficult about starting up and what do you wish you’d done differently? I wish l would of taken more risks. Spend that little extra, even if it means using a credit card or overdraft.

What skills and personal characteristics do you need to start your own business? Determination and you need to understand that starting your own business is a huge personal development cycle that you may or may not like.

So what advice would you give to anyone thinking of starting a business? Reduce your personal outgoings to a minimum then go for it. Just be open to everyone’s comments and ideas but not necessarily take them all on board.

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