Startup profiles catch up

They say the first six months of any new business are the hardest. As part of our profiles section, we promised to go back and speak to some of our new startups to discover how they’ve been getting on and whether their new enterprises have lived up to their expectations. Over the past months a lot has happened, there’ve been trials, tribulations but also, we’re pleased to say, plenty of success.

Back in October, we revealed how Jenny Ungless ditched a high-flying career in the political world to set up City Life Coaching, a life coaching service for young professionals. We caught up with Jenny to find out if she had made the right choice:

How have you found running a business compared with the political world?

It’s certainly very different! Things can move frustratingly slowly in the political world, in terms of policy development, for example, and it can take a long time to see the results or outcomes of initiatives.

In business the relationship with the customer is much more immediate and direct, which is more satisfying. I also love the degree of control that I have over my own working day, which is definitely not something that I had in my previous role.

How has your business been getting along since we last spoke?Things are going very well. I’ve now brought another coach on board to help me, and business is good.

What do you feel you have learnt about running a business and yourself in this time?I’ve really learned the importance of taking time out to work “on” the business rather than “in” it. Particularly when you’re delivering a personal service, often on a one-to-one basis, it’s easy to end up spending all your time doing just that.

I’ve found it critical to stand back from time to time to think about the business and its strategic direction.

Looking back, what would you have done differently?In retrospect, we should have defined City Life Coaching’s market niche (career coaching for 20- and 30- something professionals) more clearly from the outset. It took a little time to get that focus and the company has definitely been more successful since we have specialised.

What next – where do you see your business in a year’s time?The next step for us is to expand beyond our London base. Over the next 6 months or so I’ll be looking for other coaches to come and work under the City Life Coaching umbrella. By this time next year I’d like to have a base in each of the main UK regions – Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland as well as London and some other English cities.

Last December, we spoke to Judith Smith and George Rose, who risked the harmony of their relationship by starting up in business together. We got back in touch with the couple to see how they, and their online shopping directory BigHair.co.uk, were getting on:

How have you found running a business as a couple?Our relationship probably suffered more than the business did because the business was always put first. There were times when business disagreements turned into domestic arguments, and probably dragged on longer than if we had been in a platonic relationship. We’re starting to get a better work/life balance now though.

How has your business been getting along since we last spoke? Our user base is three times what we had projected it would be at this time which we’re really excited about. The site is also starting to have more of a community feel, with more users using the forum to communicate with us and each other. We now have well over 500 shops, with new ones being added on a regular basis.

What do you feel you have learnt about running a business and yourself in this time? Customer service is really important. Web sites can come and go overnight and at first some people are sceptical that we’ll actually pay them. We try to answer queries quickly and honestly to show people that we’re a genuine business which is here to stay.

We both find it hard to switch off from the business, but we’re starting to learn how important that is. Taking regular breaks and doing other things means that we actually work more effectively.

Looking back, what would you have done differently? Been more organised from the start. It’s only been in the past couple of months that we’ve found a way of working which suits both of us and gets work done as quickly and effectively as possible.

When we first started planning we were very caught up in the little details of the business when we should have been thinking about the bigger picture. This slowed us down a lot.

How close have you stuck to your business plan? It’s fairly similar to our original business plan. The main difference is that some of the features we wanted to implement as the site developed have had to take a back seat.

We process a very large number of transactions every day – too many to do manually – so it was necessary to create a more automated system. This had to take precedent over the other features.

Having dreamed of becoming his own boss for years, Brett White launched his design and marketing company Marginex last year and told Startups.co.uk about his hopes for the business in January. We spoke again to Brett to see how the Isle of White-based firm has progressed:

How has your business been getting along since we last spoke? Well, to be honest, its been amazing how much things have changed, I have now got an office, on the verge of getting my first employee and are now dealing with very reputable clients, also the workload is ever increasing which is great so keeping me very busy.

What do you feel you have learnt about running a business and yourself in this time? I suppose the biggest factor is patience, don’t expect instant success, obviously I’m talking mostly about my field but I went months at the start without really earning myself any money as I had some overheads that obviously needed paying, but I stuck at it and now I’m starting to reap the rewards, so patience is a must!

You said that you have always dreamed of becoming your own boss- has it turned out how you expected? Most definitely! I’m so in control of my own life now which is what I have always been after, the freedom side of things, when I was working in full time employment I always felt trapped, thought I could do better then this, now I am.

I suppose the only real down side has been the income, its only now paying myself a wage after eight months, but if you have the resources in place like I did then don’t let that put you off.

Looking back, what would you have done differently? I think I would of perhaps done a bit more marketing, as I said I struggled to get my first few clients and I really do believe if I do more research I would of found many more much quicker.

What next – where do you see your business in a year’s time? I would like to think I will have two employees, perhaps a bigger office where I can settle, as my existing office is just a temporary base, and finally still very busy.

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