Online48 Ltd: Tim Good

Fresh from leaving university, Tim Good realised his entrepreneurial dreams by setting up Online48 Ltd.

Tim Good has long wanted to be an entrepreneur, so, after he left university, he wasted no time in setting up his own branding agency, Online48 Ltd. He tells Startups.co.uk how he’s getting on. Name: Tim Good Age: 24 Business: Online48 Ltd Type of business: Corporate identity and branding agency Start date: Feb 2004 Website: www.online48.co.uk When did you first decide you wanting start your own business? I studied business law at university but I always knew I’d never go into this field. My interests are not necessarily in design or corporate identity but in running the business but at the same time Liverpool has a lot of companies in need of a drastic makeover. There are plenty of design companies about but few that can offer advice on the company brand and using this to increase company value rather then fuelling sales.

Tell us about your business As a business we basically run a nice and simple staged approach to creating a good company brand. We hold a “branding workshop” at the beginning of a project to determine what is needed to create the actual company image. Then we’ll go away and create this image which may include logo design, website development, literature, business card design etc. This is all done in house with our own team. To finish off we can offer a small training course to help you “live your brand”. In short this basically means that there is no point in having a really attractive company brand/image if you can’t work with this and complement it with good customer service, attractive proposals and so on.

Was it your first business idea and where did it come from?It was when I was about 12. We lived in a nice converted farmhouse with fresh spring water and a famous public footpath ran right by. My two brothers and I came up with the idea of selling bottled spring water to the walkers as the passed in summer. The whole venture was called “Matimat”.

Was your decision to start a business inspired by any other companies or individuals? I don’t think so. The majority of people think you need bags of cash and good connections to start and run a business and therefore most people don’t ever get round to doing it. The fact of the matter is that if you keep an open mind, have a good enough plan and work hard at it, then anyone can start-up any business they like. Where there is a good business plan, money will follow every time.

What makes you think there’s a market for your business? I wouldn’t say that we really fit into a big gap in the market. We just do what we do a lot better than most and when it comes to a company brand, people don’t choose second best.

Once you’d decided to start a business, what did you do first? Write the business plan. It totally changed throughout the first few months but it gets you motivated when you have a nicely written chunk of paper to refer back to. Otherwise you’re just a man with a plan and nothing to show for it.

What research did you do?Not as much as I should have done but the usual – checked out the competitors, what they were charging, if their work was any good, Liverpool’s potential for the future and so on. 

What advice did you seek?Liverpool has a lot of money to throw about for new businesses so I went to all the usual objective one funding sources and others like the Prince’s Trust. Unfortunately, none of them were interested since I had a good university degree and turned me down for start-up grants.

What other help did you get?For all that I didn’t receive any help financially there was an abundance of advice going around: Business Link, Liverpool University, The Chamber of Commerce to name just a few.

Does the government need to provide more help to people trying to start a business?Yes. Rather than simply donating money so start-ups that meet a specific criteria they should look into which business plans/ideas are more likely to succeed and put the money towards them. I have seen so many start-ups receive grants that haven’t a hope in hell of passing the two-year mark.

Talk us through the process of writing your business plan. I used a piece of software build the main framework. I think it was called “business plan pro”. Anyway, this brought my attention to certain points that need addressing within the plan that I wouldn’t have thought of previously. The content was simply a case of putting ideas into words. I also received feedback from Business Link and the University.

How useful has your business plan been and do you think you’ll stick to it as your business begins to grow?It was useful as a brainstorming exercise to come up with new ideas for every aspect of the business. It isn’t very useful as something to stick to though. The latest plan we’ve done is totally different from the first and we’ve seen a totally different market from what we planned for. At the end of the day everything costs twice as much and takes twice as long.

How much did it cost to start the business?I couldn’t say for certain without looking into the accounts. It wasn’t much though. I wanted to start slowly to test the water within Liverpool. This gave us an idea of where to go and where better to spend the money at a later stage. It was only around £15,000 to start.

How did you fund this? Mostly out of my own pocket. I made a bit of money on shares, especially on small banks offering good rates on mortgages, as the housing boom was beginning. There wasn’t any investment since I didn’t want to give away any of the company at such an early stage.

Similarly, how are you funding your running costs until the business takes off? We are making good profits already and fortunately we don’t even need to market ourselves for the business to roll in.

Have you made any provisions for business not being as prosperous as expected? Don’t spend much to start up and if it went pear shaped I’d get out as soon as possible. However, if you offer a good service and you have very low overheads at the beginning it is difficult not to succeed.

When did you stop working? I started the business straight out of university so I didn’t have a full time job previously.

Are you working from home or from premises? To begin with I moved into a larger city centre flat that I split into an office and living area. This made it easy to work the long hours associated with starting a business. Once the company hired people full time then we had to get an office.

If you’ve already got premises, are you glad you made that decision? We’re looking to move into something a bit different. Possibly converting an old factory building into a big open plan office.

How many hours are you working at the moment? I couldn’t say for definite, but more than the usual 9-5.

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? Until the company has one person for every small task such as accounts, QC, general management, etc, there will be no specific rule to manage the day. We just work hard and then work even harder when a deadline comes around.

What about staff, is it just you? We have about four people at the moment with another two coming on board as and when they are required. Once we get a bigger office we’ll take on more people. Is the amount of red tape that comes with taking on an employee something that concerns you? Yes very much so. The key is getting past the first two employees. If this was made a little easier then we would probably be six months ahead of where we are now. Some financial help in the form of temporary interest free loans to fund liability insurance and the first few months’ wages would have been invaluable.

What marketing and advertising have you done so far? PR and networking all the way. Strictly no direct mail and no cold calling. That just damages the brand to the point it cannot be repaired.

Where do you hope to be in 12 months time? A bigger office (again) and a slightly bigger team.

What are the main obstacles to growth? Time to stand back from the day-to-day projects and concentrate on a growth plan.

How do you plan to overcome these? We’ve just put in place a waiting list for our services to accommodate time to recruit and grow.

Tell us about your website. It’s very important. A lot of what we do is website development and it has all of our recent work on it. It’s the first port of call for all our potential customers. It has to be top-notch!

What are your main ambitions, to make a lot of money or enjoy what you do?I don’t necessarily want a lot of money, just a lot of time. However, in this day and age, a lot of money buys you the time to do what you want. I plan to have enough money to not have to be inhibited. If I want to walk the silk route, climb Everest, or sail across the Pacific then I’ll damned if something as simple as money is going to prevent me from doing it!

What have you found difficult about starting up and what do you wish you’d done differently? Now I would probably go into it a little more “full on” and search for some investment. Growing organically however, did have its advantages and we were able to predict the market and change accordingly very well.

What skills and personal characteristics do you need to start your own business? Motivation, optimism and confidence. All the usual textbook characteristics.

So what advice would you give to anyone thinking of starting a business? Plan, plan, plan. Not necessarily a business plan but if you can observe the industry you wish to enter for six months before launching then you’ll be in a much better situation when you do.

Thanks a lot and the very best of luck. Will you come back and tell us how you’re getting on in six months’ time? Come find me up Everest and I’ll do a video conference.

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