Just Started – Hannah Cox: The Better Business Network

Purpose-led professional support network, The Better Business Network provides eco-friendly guidance and resources for SME growth that won’t impact the planet.

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We are a team of writers, experimenters and researchers providing you with the best advice with zero bias or partiality. This article was authored by:

Name of founder: Hannah Cox
Age of the founder: 37
Location: Manchester
Date launched: April 2021
Number of employees: 6

What does your business do?

The Better Business Network is a community of like-minded founders and leaders that create energy and action; enabling small businesses and entrepreneurs to make an impact with inclusivity and positive solutions at its heart. It's a safe space for collaboration, and a community for change makers. It helps to prevent purpose driven entrepreneurs from failing due to burnout and overwhelm, create systemic change and make the world a better place. We believe individually we are one drop, but together we are an ocean. And oceans are powerful.

Where did the idea for your business come from?

I've been interested in sustainability and ethical living as an individual for years, being careful with what I bought and where I bought it from. But I wanted to do something more – something bigger than just my own actions, to make a change. I knew there were other people out there doing amazing things, and businesses making real change. I thought, ‘If I brought these people together to share knowledge and start working together, these businesses will be more successful, and people will spend money with them rather than the companies that don't care – win-win!”

How did you know there was a market for it?

I ran an accountability group through the pandemic, having other business owners to talk through my ideas, support and add value to myself made me feel part of something bigger. After meeting my co-founders Ben Thorne (Community Manager) and Kate Clarke (Marketing Manager) who both agreed that traditional business networking seemed to miss the ‘bigger purpose', we wanted to create something agile, easy to use and valuable to business owners. Cohort 1 had 30 businesses join so we knew we were onto something good!

What were you doing before launching your business?

I also run a sustainable impact agency called betternotstop, and I started both businesses during the pandemic. betternotstop started as a travel networking experience and had to pivot due to Covid-19. Starting not just from nothing, but after a big failure that cost me a lot of money, made me just think “What’s the worst that could happen?!” So, I went for it!

Have you always dreamed of starting a business?

Yes! I've worked a variety of jobs in my 20s and found that being freelance suited me best. It lets me be more in control of my work / life balance. Starting a business seemed like the logical next step as my experience developed.

How did you finance your business?

betternotstop (the sister company to The Better Business Network) got its first paying client in Dec 2020 and that brand has been supporting the better business network. The whole operation is bootstrapped from an interest free loan from betternotstop. Because finances are transparent with the Better Business Network, our members know how much has been invested and spent to build the network, as well as the impact giving, we do every month to Ecologi and 1% for the planet. Long-term, it’s monthly memberships that will finance the platform, and I will ‘pay' back betternotstop when the funds can afford it!

Explain your business model and how you make money.

It's a membership platform which business can pay monthly or annually to get the best value. We onboard businesses in Cohorts, which allows them to experience a ‘Welcome Week' in which we set up their accounts and host a lot of free virtual workshops, networking events and training. This gives them the opportunity to network and connect immediately with other members, all in the same mindset of new beginnings. We have introduced two cohorts in 2021, and plan to increase this to at least three in 2022, with an aim by 2023 that we onboard new cohorts every three months.

What are the main challenges you have faced? And how did you overcome them?

Bootstrapping – finding investment is difficult enough, and as a solo founder and female it’s even harder. I've had to focus on building and looking after customers – as fundraising is a full-time job.

Our main challenge now is keeping the lights on while we grow and making sure we provide as much value as we can to our customers. What we do is scalable, as the more members the more support we can offer so working to grow our audience has been our biggest challenge.

Self-funding The Better Business Network through the work we do at betternotstop has been the way to overcome this as a short-term plan. Long-term, the growth of the network will solve this and we are already seeing members helping us to grow through referral and word of mouth support.

What has your experience been of starting a business during a pandemic?

I don't have kids, or a mortgage so I have had it easier than a LOT of people in regards to worry around finances. I'm so used to being frugal and in a startup phase because when I got back from travelling in 2018, I spent over a year bootstrapping getting ready for the launch of betternotstop V1 (which failed due to Covid-19).

It's been stressful as I have had to find other work to pay the bills, but overall, I've been lucky to have a supportive partner and live in a beautiful part of the UK. Mentally I have struggled but I started therapy this year which has been amazing along with working with a personal trainer, so remembering to focus on self-care and not compare myself to others has been really important.

Describe your first breakthrough.

Having co-founders through Ben and Kate showed me it wasn't just a crazy idea, and when we recruited for Cohort Two and had applications from people none of us knew I couldn't believe it. I knew we had hit on something special!

How has Brexit impacted your business? Do you think it will in the future?

I couldn't say as its way too soon and we have no data to base on ‘life before Brexit'. We already have members from all over the world and are an internet-based business so I am hoping that it won't cause too much issues, but it will be something we make sure to keep our members informed about as we have so many different businesses that may be affected.

What advice would you give to other aspiring business owners?

Trust your gut. While we are a business network, not every business is our audience because our network is values lead – if business owners just care about profit, we are not the place for them. I tried early on to please everyone, but ended up pleasing no one, so I would say have faith in your idea, learn to say no, and trust your gut.

What is one resolution you have for your business this year?

I want my business to be a force for good and a place where my staff love to work. I have a team working with me on the Kickstart Scheme and really want to be able to offer them all roles when the scheme is over in December.

How do you see your business developing in the next three years?

We want to provide the best events and guidance to responsible businesses, with the aim of providing a more sustainable alternative to the traditional Chambers of Commerce approach. I want to see us supporting thousands of purpose-led businesses in succeeding and giving them a voice to create systemic change to improve life for people and the planet. When someone starts a new business, I want the Better Business Network to be the first place they come to so they can grow and succeed!

If you're a business owner with a startup that's less than six months old, apply now to feature as one of our Just Started business profiles.

Helena is from Yorkshire and joined Startups in 2021 from a background in B2B communications. She has previously written for a popular fintech startup covering everything from money-saving tips to cultural reviews.

She is particularly interested in project management software and the films of Peter Jackson.

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