My Best Friend: Mamakoh Magona and Renuka Bala

Startup profile: How two business buddies set up a service with a real personal touch

As busy IT professionals Mamakoh Magona (left) and Renuka Bala (right) often needed a service which would help them save time with the nasty things in life. So they decided to start one themselves They tell Startups.co.uk all about it.

Startup profiles go straight to the hub of the action by speaking to entrepreneurs who have literally just started up. We find out what made them decide to start their own business, how they got it off the ground, the obstacles they’ve overcome and the barriers they still face. We’ll look at their hopes and aspirations for the future, and then, in six months time, we’ll go back and find out how they’re getting on.

Name: Mamakoh Magona (left) & Renuka Bala (right) Age: 39 & 34 respectively Business: My Best Friend (www.my-bestfriend.co.uk) Type of business: Lifestyle Management Services Start date: Full Launch in August 2003

When did you first decide you wanting start your own business?We always wanted to work for ourselves and since we are both IT consultants, we thought it would be a great idea to start something completely different with a view to helping busy professionals utilise their time more efficiently.

Tell us about your business My Best Friend is a lifestyle management service providing wide ranging personalised services and products to busy professionals. We cover quite a range of tasks from booking holidays and carrying out home improvements to buying birthday presents for a client’s wife or husband or even life coaching. We take care of a host of other time consuming tasks such as finding plumbers, walking dogs, taking your car in for a service or MOT, negotiating with builders, making doctor’s appointments and even doing the shopping.

Was it your first business idea and where did it come from? No, we have both been involved in other business ventures. We realised that we could have used a service like this at various times in our working lives.

Was your decision to start a business inspired by any other companies or individuals? Mamakoh thought of the idea about two or three years ago but didn’t want to do it alone so put it on hold until she found the right partner who wanted to start a business as well as someone who believes in the same principles in business – work hard and play hard!

What makes you think there’s a market for your business? Because we believe time is precious, so why waste it doing the mundane tasks when someone else can take care of it? As we were both busy professionals most of the services we offer are things we would have liked to have at some point in our lives. We also believe although there are other businesses like us they are not that accessible to the ordinary person and we provide a personal assistant.

Once you’d decided to start a business, what did you do first? We wrote a business plan and presented it to the local business link adviser. We researched the market, our competitors, what our marketing strategy was going to be and how did we want to be identified and the rest just followed.

What research did you do? We used various methods including questionnaires, internet, talking to friends, colleagues, businesses and our competitors.

What advice did you seek? We took our Business Plan to Business link and asked them to just review what we had done and ensure we had covered everything required to start a new business.

Does the government need to provide more help to people trying to start a business? Yes, we think more financial help would be helpful and the requirements to get it should be simplified.

Talk us through the process of writing your business plan We followed a set format for a structured business plan which we presented to the Business link, who having reviewed it, suggested we change a few things on which were not consistent and add more things like our profile and forecasting..

How useful has your business plan been and do you think you’ll stick to it as your business begins to grow? We found it to be very useful exercise in forecasting and forward planning. It helped us focus and, so far, we are meeting all our targets. We are currently going through our testing stage to see if the market we have identified is viable and if our marketing gives clients. Our official launch is not planned until mid August.

How much did it cost to start the business? It has cost us about £1,000 to get everything in place as we didn’t need any premises and we already had PC’s and other IT equipment.

How did you fund this? We both contributed equally to a sinking fund. We have not approached anybody as yet, and we don’t want to until we can prove we have a viable business proposition.

Are you working from home or from premises? We are currently working from home and have no intentions to change this in the near future. This is because our service is primarily telephone based and we do not have any clients coming to see us it made sense financially. We are very disciplined and we have set hours and maintain a high degree of professionalism.

How many hours are you working at the moment?We both work quite long hours and there are no set hours. It’s 150 per cent commitment and however long the job takes we make sure we are there to see it through.

Is the amount of red tape that comes with taking on an employee something that concerns you? We have decided to subcontract all of our services until we are established as we did not want to have all this red tape.

What marketing and advertising have you done so far? A wide variety including letters of introduction, emails, post cards, telephone, newspapers, and talking to other business.

Where do you hope to be in 12 months’ time?We hope to have a solid client base from on the quality of our services and to have become a household name.

What are the main obstacles to growth? This is a very ‘word of mouth’ business and the main obstacle is to get our name out there and to deliver the services we have to offer to people.

Tell us about your websiteMost businesses need to have an internet presence these days but we also need to ensure that the presence represented the image and brand we wanted to portray. We wanted a simple elegant site that conveys class, simplicity and quality without being over the top. Renuka built the website herself and we maintain and update it ourselves on regular basis

What are your main ambitions, to make a lot of money or enjoy what you do? Our main ambitions is to make the business a success, by people calling us up when they need a service, thinking of us first, when they require anything – having My Best Friend in their mind as a brand name they like to be identified with.

What have you found difficult about starting up and what do you wish you’d done differently? I think the hardest part has been the marketing and getting our name out there. As this a service-orientated business, a lot of the clients come from word of mouth so it’s hard for people to know what kind of service we provide until they join. I think the only thing we would have differently is that we should have started this business two years ago!

What skills and personal characteristics do you need to start your own business? Determination, enthusiasm, willing to adapt when things don’t work. But most of all enjoy what you are doing even if it means hard work.

So what advice would you give to anyone thinking of starting a business? Be clear on what you want, use any help that is available and don’t be afraid to ask and above all never give up!

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