Fishing for exports? The world’s your lobster*

ImageForum_ArticleBuilding the SimVenture brand has involved little hitchhiking but much globe-trotting over the last 8 years. In this time exporting has become a key revenue stream. So what’s been learnt and how can you develop your own export expertise and thus build your business? Here are my top 10 tips…

1. Work with your national export agency

The UKTI provides an invaluable service that starts with the Passport to Export scheme. Over the last 7 years this agency has offered excellent & ongoing advice, information, training and leads abroad – virtually all for free. We have also benefited from several grants to support  trips overseas (up to 50% of costs) which has made it much easier to justify time and effort spent travelling. If you’re not based in the UK, find out which government department supports export and discover what help is available.

2. Pull is much easier than push

Not long after our website went live in 2006 we started to receive inquiries from around the world. People were downloading our software and requesting quotes months before a member of the team set foot on foreign soil. This ‘pull’ from abroad made it much easier to justify plans to export and the level of interest only increased when the first trip was made.

3. Book flights and accommodation direct

There are 2 key websites we use for booking hotels and flights. Not only do we get great rates but the direct booking systems provide a complete overview of the market as well as control over purchases. Skyscanner shows all flights and prices and you can take your pick in terms of airline and airport. provides access to accommodation all over the world – all in a clear and easy to understand manner. Critically, if your plans change you have the option to cancel booked accommodation – at very late notice and at no charge.

4. Finding good agents and distributors is crucial

Whilst the ability to book hotels and flights direct is recommended, it’s almost essential that you work through local agents and distributors to build up leads and sales. Typically, these people work on commission and the better the % rate the more work you might expect from them. I could write a whole post about finding, working with and managing agents but my one piece of advice is to find people who are genuinely interested in your product and have the skills and background to work with customers in their respective territory. Those seeking a fast buck are almost always only with you for a short time.

5. Use time abroad wisely

Opportunities to market and sell abroad can be boundless. Working with UKTI you can find out about conferences and exhibitions for your market sector and these events may act as a trip hub with which to arrange other meetings. Having learnt from mistakes we only exhibit at events where a high proportion of visitors fit our customer profile. With regards to face-to-face meetings I aim to have at least 3 a day and these are all organised in advance by email. Use the advanced settings on LinkedIn to find people who you might want to meet. It is a very targeted, efficient and effective marketing channel.

6. Which airline?

If budgets are tight then use Skyscanner to find the cheapest available airline. But if you’re travelling long haul and like a bit of style then try an Airbus 380. Singapore Airlines (always recommended) and Emirates both have them in their fleet (online booking is straightforward) and the extra seat room, quietness and screen entertainment makes travel much easier. Business Class may be an indulgence but no one does it as well as Emirates. If you travel regularly with an airline then collect miles for free flights or upgrades later. Virgin Atlantic is one example of a company allowing you to accumulate miles through flying and with a credit card but read the terms and conditions carefully! Finally, I highly recommend Virgin Australia, Air Asia and Virgin America when flying within the respective countries. All easy to use, reliable and inexpensive if you book ahead.

7. Sound relationships take time

Trust is everything in business and it’s a rare thing to strike a deal at a first meeting. You have to put time and energy into relationships and this means return visits are almost essential. If agents and potential customers can see that you are committed to working together they will put more effort in too. Lead times for us are typically 12 months and more but once the process has started, all time and effort is a worthwhile investment.

8. Dealing with money

For me, a little currency and a healthy credit card go a long way when abroad especially if flights, hotels and airport taxis have been booked in advance. Buying currency at the Post Office rather than the airport gets you a better exchange rate but it will take longer to complete. We buy our currency at airports because time is often at a premium.

When it comes to billing clients abroad, all our invoices are in sterling. We also insist that bank charges must be met by the customer and thus add £12 to each bill. For international transactions to be completed, ensure your invoices include all the relevant information including: bank account details, Swift number, IBAN number and a BIC number.

9. Invaluable gadgets and accessories

Having a laptop and access to the internet is vital when travelling. When I book accommodation I always check to see that free wireless provision is available in the room. Likewise, power is essential and a multi-purpose plug like the ‘Swiss Gear‘ adaptor is an invaluable travelling companion. A bag padlock (for airline baggage) as well as lightweight quality headphones are always with me – the latter so I can escape the world especially in busy places (and don’t have to use crappy headsets supplied by airlines). Finally, take a bottle opener and a spare phone charger cable.

10. Prepare your paperwork

Prior to departure ensure you have relevant insurance, printed e-tickets for all pre-booked trains, flights and accommodation, a passport (not within 6 months of expiry) as well as necessary business visa documents to enter the countries you intend to visit. Most countries simply require you to fill out a visa card (free) on the flight but places like the US (see ESTA) and Australia require pre-registration and authorisation on-line. If you plan to travel on business to places such as India and Nigeria purchasing a visa can take a few months; so plan well ahead and consider using a professional and trustworthy agency to help with your application.

Key learning points: We live in a global market and opportunities to export abound. However, executing a successful export strategy takes time as well as money so plan ahead and consider all details. Business travel is a great way to see the world. 


*No oysters, lobsters or any other shellfish were harmed in the writing of this post. Article title inspired by the wonderful word-smith and long-time friend, Kay Wright. 

How to snowball an enterprising culture (Part 2)

AsfawDelight can quickly turn to frustration when an excellent new recruit, who is just settling into the post, decides to accept a job offer elsewhere. But occasionally, you know they’ve made the right decision.

And so it was for Asfaw Yemiru, a young Ethiopian teacher who arrived for his first day of work at the British Council’s General Wingate School in Addis Ababa. He presented himself in the Head’s office – shoeless, covered in dust and only wearing a pair of shorts and a blanket. With a quiet voice Asfaw recited the English he had learnt in preparation for his first day. “My name is Asfaw Yemiru. I am here to learn.”

The Headteacher, Frank Dawson, liked Asfaw instinctively. In little time Frank became a mentor to the humble Ethiopian and drew immense satisfaction as the young man’s command of English flourished. But whilst Asfaw’s talents with a second language developed quickly his desire to leave his new post grew faster.

For outside the gates of the General Wingate School were orphaned street children who asked each day for food and help. Asfaw found it impossible to ignore their pleas and in little time had set up a makeshift class under a fig tree in the adjoining churchyard.
Asfaw cajoled and encouraged other teachers, including Frank and his wife Fev, to help provide support. But as the teaching supply increased so word about the free churchyard lessons spread amongst the orphan community.

Direct action

Recognising his available resources were no match for the scale and magnitude of the challenge, Asfaw sought Government support to help create a dedicated orphan school. But instead of making calls and writing letters, Asfaw believed his only chance of success was to lead by doing the difficult. So he took direct action by throwing himself in front of the president’s car. Despite being kicked and dragged away by guards, the Emperor of the time, Haile Selassie, wanted to listen to Asfaw. And as a consequence, land was made available for his school project.

Years later Asfaw’s Headteacher Frank Dawson wrote these words about him. “He must be a Planner’s nightmare. He sees the need for something he believes to be vital and important, takes action at a grass roots level, draws people in around him, the project gains momentum and things happen.”

Emperor Haile Selassie with a young Asfaw Yemiru

Emperor Haile Selassie with a young Asfaw Yemiru

In a famous commercial aired in 1997, Steve Jobs also paid tribute to game-changing people who make full use of their entrepreneurial talents and enterprising initiative.

“Here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes… the ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules… You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can’t do is ignore them because they change things… they push the human race forward.” Asfaw is all these things.

Nobel Prize

A child of poverty, Asfaw chose to focus his entire life supporting and improving the lives of some of the world’s poorest people. He remains driven by a deep-rooted conviction that “All problems can solved providing one has tremendous courage, interest and belief in what one thinks.”

But the most extraordinary point of this story is the fact that Asfaw’s first transformative actions occurred over 50 years ago in 1959. Since then his consistent work and commitment to a single cause has helped rescue and save the lives of over a hundred thousand children.

Under Asfaw’s leadership the Asra Hawariat School welcomed 280 pupils when it first opened in 1961. Numbers quickly swelled to 650 and by the mid nineties the school provided for well over 1,200 people each year. Before the end of the century Asfaw was offered a Nobel Prize for his work in Ethiopia (he declined) but in 2002 he won the World Children’s Prize for the Rights of the Child (a few years later this award was bestowed on Nelson Mandela).

Unsurprisingly perhaps, after so much time giving, Asfaw found it difficult and embarrassing accepting any award. He has dedicated his teaching life to giving and when asked what his message would be to trainee teachers he said this:

“I say the same thing to the kids in the school. You have come from nothing and somebody has helped you to come this far. You owe for this and must repay. There is somebody now who needs your help and you must give it without expecting anything for your trouble.”

Key Learning Points: Money is not the prime energy source to create change. Selfless passion, focus & bravery are key drivers which draw others in and create momentum. Consistency & commitment are critical behaviours that will see a project through.



How to snowball an enterprising culture (Part 1)

teach, inspire, motivate“No, you don’t need one. The night is not dark.” Frank, head of an outdoor environmental centre, spoke with calm assertion to the ten newly acquainted teenagers.

The group was visibly alarmed by his response. None had anticipated that their sensible request for torches (ahead of their night walk through an ancient Cumbrian wood) would be refused.

And as the group walked nervously away from the perceived safety of the moonlit clearing their leader quietly led them along a path and into the imposing blackness of the forest. Minutes later the feeling of uncertainty turned to unease.

Without any sense of drama, Frank gathered the individuals close and calmly asked each by name, whether they’d sit alone in silence and ‘tune into’ the wood at night. As senses started to adjust to the new world he managed with apparent ease to persuade them all. And so the group which had just started to knit and relax was soon being quietly scattered across the undulating thick forest.

Each person was encouraged to make themselves comfortable in the undergrowth or at a tree base. With a compassionate whisper Frank said he would be back in an hour. Those with the forethought to bring a watch knew that midnight would pass before their solitude was broken.

I am certain each person’s experience of sitting alone in the forest that night, had a powerful and lasting impact.

Inspirational influence

From the age of 17 to 29 I frequently hitchhiked to the centre in the South Lakes run by Frank and his wife Fev. As a volunteer leader I thrived on the responsibility and trust I was given and often worked up to 16 hours a day in return for board and lodging.

Many other volunteers were also drawn by the magic of the place; like me they felt the centre’s deep and consistent values and enjoyed the connection with its ambitious, environmentally focused spirit. The night walk and night sit were typical activities where participants were challenged to confront and better understand nature as well as themselves.

But whilst people were pushed out of comfort zones, as leaders we were always encouraged to be kind, caring and tolerant. This ongoing dynamic meant the centre was continuously creating insightful reference points which allowed people to share and develop new perspectives, adjust beliefs and forge long-lasting friendships. So many of the people I worked with at the centre up until 1997 (when it was sold to the Field Studies Council) are still good friends.

Castlehead Field Centre opened for business in 1978. I never heard anyone use the term ‘enterprise education’ during my time there. But whenever I’m in a discussion or debate about the subject now my thoughts always go to Frank Dawson and the way his deep-rooted philosophy and pioneering approach to learning made such a powerful and positive impact on thousands of people.

Glue of unselfishness

Strong and clear-sighted leadership was at the heart of a thriving ‘culture of enterprise’ at Castlehead Field Centre. But there are many strong and clear-sighted leaders which I wouldn’t want to work for, even if you paid me.

Unlike the way so many organisations operate, an underpinning philosophy woven into the fabric of Castlehead was the ‘importance of giving’. As volunteers we gave of our time but the riches of what we learnt far outweighed anything we ever earned. And the people who ran the centre were a constant source of inspiration because they worked tirelessly, shared their wisdom and paid themselves comparatively little. As a consequence, people were empowered by strong bonds of support and a common sense of purpose.

Creep of greed

‘Giving’ brings people together and has the capacity to bond people for life. Yet, according to the Oxford English Dictionary “SELFIE” was the word of 2013. Posting a picture of yourself, taken on a mobile device, along with the hashtag #selfie, has it seems become the new social media and therefore societal norm.

Likewise, in business, it’s difficult not to be self-focused because so often it feels like it’s you against the world. And for the thousands of entrepreneurs that find financial fortune, the struggle to the very point of success is sufficient justification to then hold onto it all; even though global inequality is one of society’s greatest ills.

Paul Piff’s excellent and enlightening TED film ‘Does money make you mean’ references some fascinating research into human behaviour. His work recognises that whilst the wealthy are most affected, we all struggle with competing motivations when it comes to choosing whether we put ourselves first or second.

But ‘pernicious and negative behaviours’ he says are creating a more polarised and unequal society where the gap between rich and poor is a distance and is only set to get worse. The diagram below (taken from Paul’s presentation) shows how positive aspects of life (green) decline and negative aspects of life (red) increase as economic inequality rises.

InequalityBut make sure you watch the whole of Paul’s presentation because there is some good news at the end. Paul talks about his latest research and shows how even very small interventions and nudges in human behaviour are having significant levels of impact on the decisions wealthier people are making in terms of how they use disposable money and time.

Message for enterprise educators

But to fully combat economic inequality I think all enterprise educators have a powerful opportunity to convey a critical message and influence people who are about to embark on their entrepreneurial journey.

In their twenties, Frank and Fev met a highly inspirational and enterprising educator based in Addis Adaba in Ethiopia who passionately believed (and still believes) in the principle of giving without expecting anything in return.

So can this powerful message be shared more widely with students and budding entrepreneurs from the outset? If it can then surely we have a much better chance of creating a fairer and less polarised society in the long-term because ‘giving back’ will be part of peoples’ DNA.

To emphasise this thinking further, I want to introduce you to the remarkable teacher in Addis Ababa, in Part 2 of this Blog. His enterprising ability, belief in education and lifelong commitment to giving has brought him and his students, unimaginable rewards.

Key Learning Points: There are people in our lives whose behaviour and inspiration is seemingly ever-present. Giving first is one way to have a lasting and positive impact on others. Individuals and wider society will always feel the benefit of your actions. 

Does the US lead the entrepreneurial way?

USA Finger VictoryAs storms brewed over southern England this October I boarded a Virgin Airbus & headed to the US. My destination was Kansas City and the GCEC Conference.

Crossing the Atlantic I was keen to test out Mr Branson’s latest in-seat multi-media technology. The hours passed quickly as I laughed at The Internship and cried with the Guilt Trip. As alcohol and altitude fuelled the emotions I got into the US spirit.


But when you touchdown…

Unable to fly direct to Kansas I had opted to transfer through Washington. Now, previous ventures out west have taught me that breaking into the ‘land of the free’ requires steely resilience and titanic reserves of patience. And as one of 330+ people in that border queue, the art of standing, shuffling and fretting got plenty of practice. Ultimately, you wonder if a face-off with one of the few heartless officials (whose absent-minded superiority & scrutinising skill is unsurpassed) will ever happen. Washington’s ‘Dulles Customs Cowboys’ didn’t disappoint. It took 90+ agonising minutes to make the required 80 yard gain.

But breaking the line and luggage located I charged through the airport, desperate to make my connecting flight. Sadly it was to no avail. The United check-in desk had closed 5 minutes before my leaden legs and breathless, overheating excuse for a body arrived.

But then a spell of heavenly fortune rescued me. A stewardess, with a kindly heart and eyes full of magic, fixed on her monitor. Her nimble fingers played the keyboard and in a flash I had a confirmed reservation on the last available flight which would zigzag me on my way via Cleveland, Ohio. Hours later I fell into my Kansas bed. Drained by events I was too tired to worry that my bags had failed to make the final leg with me.

Entrepreneurial leadership

Fortunately, my luggage was delivered the next day ahead of the conference evening opening at the prestigious Kauffman Foundation headquarters. As a newcomer I was made to feel most welcome and the audience of 250+ were treated to several slick and informative presentations where speakers claimed with confidence that Kansas was the most entrepreneurial city in the US.

Being British I naturally received such assertions with scepticism but events that followed that evening and over the next 2 days challenged my views. Read on and find out what I discovered since your opinion and feedback on the subject of who leads the entrepreneurial way is important and much appreciated.

A culture with entrepreneurial philanthropic roots 

Ewing Marion Kauffman built a highly successful pharmaceutical company out of the basement of his home. After selling his billion dollar empire in 1989 he poured millions into a Foundation to help young people, particularly those who were disadvantaged, get a quality education. In his view ‘enterprise’ was a key to developing individual potential as well the economy.

Importantly, Kauffman’s philanthropic vision is not an isolated case in the US. The Gates Foundation for example is globally renowned. And as you will read later, Ewing Kauffman isn’t the only individual in Kansas who is ploughing money back into the economy in order to help young people.

Focus for social enterprise development

Within the US, the Kauffman Foundation has grown to become the generative hub for developing not-for-profit companies. Stakeholders from individual enterprises to national government are involved and I sensed from listening to speakers that collective efforts are producing pragmatic shared learning as well as edgy research. All of this work is feeding a deeper understanding of new ways of working.

By way of example, Nate Olson shared how he was growing entrepreneurial communities throughout the US using coffee as a catalyst to bring people together. After he spoke I joined a long line to get a few minutes of his time. Bright, witty and highly engaging (he’s not destined for border control) Nate’s ’1 Million Cups’ weekly program is educating, and accelerating startup communities. Nate now works with Kauffman and together they are growing this simple yet highly innovative coffee-centred enterprise into a national and international program.

Standing ovation for 91 year old presenter

For the next 2 days the GCEC event was held at the Henry W. Bloch Executive Hall for Entrepreneurship and Innovation. Recently opened, this dedicated centre within the University of Missouri and Kansas City proved a perfect conference venue. It was also a multi-million dollar gift from Mr Bloch, a 91-year-old entrepreneur and local philanthropist.

As part of proceedings the youthful Mr Bloch co-hosted a Q&A session where he said his only regret was not starting his philanthropic Foundation sooner. Having learned more about Mr Kauffman the night before I started to wonder whether educational philanthropy within the entrepreneurship sector was dominated by the US?

That question should be answered when a £500k research project led by the Hunter Centre for Entrepreneurship into ‘global entrepreneurial education philanthropy’ is complete. Of course, Sir Tom Hunter (reportedly Scotland’s first home-grown billionaire) created the Foundation that funded the original Hunter Centre.

Innovative research

But it wasn’t just the scale of philanthropy that led me to write this piece. Prior to the Kansas venture I had pored over recent thinking and research into why new businesses fail and what helps them to survive. It was only when I stood back from the evidence that I realised all of the prominent shared sources I had accessed were US-based.

Sources included: Harvard Professor Tom Eisenmann and his research on ‘Ego and Startup Failure’; Steve Hogan and his work on business failure in Silicon Valley; David Skok on ‘Why Startups Fail’; and most prominently perhaps, Paul Graham’s analysis of ‘Why Startup Hubs work’.

For me, each author presented consistent and accurate messages and lessons. However, Paul Graham’s notion that ‘death is the default for start-ups and most towns don’t save them’ stood out as a new way of thinking. Paul contends that “In most places if you are a startup, people treat you as if you’re unemployed. Having people around you who care about what you are doing is an extraordinarily powerful force.”

To what extent do you think Paul Graham’s beliefs are true where you live?

Don’t get institutionalised

Finally, on my last day in Kansas I was fortunate to hear Michael Morris (Professor of Entrepreneurship – University of Florida) address the conference. Quoting George Bernard Shaw he made a powerful case for his colleagues to be transformative in their work, rather than succumb to the processes and powers of their institution.

‘The reasonable man adapts himself to the conditions that surround him… The unreasonable man adapts surrounding conditions to himself… All progress depends on the unreasonable man.”

George Bernard Shaw

Professor Morris’ challenging and some may have thought ‘unreasonable behaviour’ chimed with me. To fully reach and support budding entrepreneurs teachers must be entrepreneurial too, he claimed. And he added, “This means we must discover opportunities, develop innovations, implement a constant stream of innovations, take calculated risks, leverage resources and act as guerrillas – all within our own academic settings.” Powerful and inspiring stuff; and in my opinion exactly what is needed to lead and equip people with the necessary mindset.

The presentation ended as it started. “Don’t get institutionalised.” Mike’s words were soft but the message was strong. The packed lecture theatre responded immediately with long and deserving applause.

And as I sat there in the auditorium I reflected on the trip and how the insular, suspicious behaviour I had first experienced at Dulles airport had been replaced completely by a pervading positive attitude of openness, sharing and a desire to look forward and get stuff done. My travels expose me to many different cultures, but few I have seen match the entrepreneurial spirit I witnessed during my stay in Kansas.

So does the US lead the entrepreneurial way? Whatever your standpoint please let me know your thoughts. I don’t want this to be the end of a Blog post, rather the start of a wider debate.



Business Insurance: Know the risks

Insurance conceptAs my first year of business in York neared its end I arrived at work one Monday to discover a ransacked office. Cables were ripped out of walls, paper covered the floor and my only computer was gone.

The landlord must have heard the loud cursing and swearing for he was soon easing his balding head around the half-hinged, half-broken door. Being a counsellor he encouraged further ranting so I could “let it all out”. I obliged; only for the exorcism to grow louder as it dawned on me that ‘recent’ files had not been backed-up.

Life in business hit a low point that day but fortunately my office insurance policy covered the theft. A cheque for £1,000 was soon in my hands. However, as you will read later, it was several months before the business was back on its feet again…

Since that burglary in 1990 I’ve bought most types of insurance and learnt much about the industry and how it works (or doesn’t) for small businesses. Whether or not you choose to buy policies to protect your business, there are issues to be aware of and pitfalls to avoid. Here’s some independent insight & advice to help you through the insurance maze.

1. What insurance policies should the start-up business consider?

Even if your business is just you at the outset, it’s advisable to have public liability insurance and employers’ liability insurance (see 3). You may also want your business to be covered for theft, fire and possibly flooding and if you shop around you’ll find policies that cover some or all of these issues within one package.

If your business requires you to drive, notify your insurers so your cover extends beyond personal use. Likewise, if you are travelling abroad, don’t assume an existing personal insurance policy covers you. On this latter point, annual travel insurance for business (excluding USA) is surprisingly inexpensive; even if you are only travelling twice in a year the annual package for business travel abroad may well work out to be best value.

If your business offers advice or if you work in a professional trade, you may also wish to consider professional indemnity insurance; although for many businesses this is not necessary especially at start-up. Finally, some trades (e.g. cafe, shop, hotel) attract specific insurance policies so check what insurance is available before buying a general policy.

2. Can you afford not to buy insurance?

One way to look at insurance is to consider what you ‘must have’ and what you would ‘like to have’. Your ‘must haves’ need to include insurance policies required by law (such as employers’ liability insurance if you employ anyone)  as well as insurance that will protect you in the event of something happening that is so serious, the business folds. For example, public liability insurance provides compensation and legal fees in case of an accident caused by your business activities.

A ‘like to have’ might include Health or ‘Key Man‘ insurance cover. These policies provide cover in the event of illness or death. You have to judge the risk and decide whether you can operate your business without having the cover in place. For the record, as a UK citizen with access to free NHS services I’ve never been a big fan of private health insurance. I have used ‘Key Man’ insurance from time to time and recommend it particularly if other people are dependent on your performance at work and/or the income derived from it.

3. Working from home – does your home insurance cover you?

Increasingly people are setting up in business from home. If this is you, don’t assume the existing home insurance policy covers your business (in any way). Contact the insurance provider to check the home cover details and answer any questions as honestly as you can. You may find everything is covered but if you don’t, you have the option to increase the premium so your business is protected, or review the market to see whether a more suitable (and possibly cheaper) insurance policy is available.

4. Why use a local broker when cheaper alternatives exist on-line?

Whilst the cheaper policies may well reside on-line, I’ve used a local insurance broker ever since I started in business. Brokers provide independent professional advice to businesses and individuals, playing a key role in the identification, measurement and transfer of risk. I also much prefer working with someone I know rather than dealing with a faceless call centre; and critically, when I have made claims I’ve always felt the broker was on my side.

If you’re going to use an insurance broker find one that is a member of BIBA as this means they operate under a code of conduct ensuring customers are treated fairly and in your best interests. However, if price is your only buying criteria then enjoy shopping on-line.

5. Should insurance policies be automatically renewed?

For the most part, policies should be automatically renewed so your business has the necessary protection in place. But there are a couple of points to note here…

I always like the fact my broker contacts me in advance to check that the renewal is required since the thinking is done for me and I have the opportunity to check the suitability and competitive nature of their quote.

Policies such as annual travel insurance don’t have to be automatically renewed especially if you don’t have any plans to go away again. Wait for the next time you travel and make the most of the policy you purchase.

6. Why policy detail matters

No two insurance policies are the same and you typically only discover policy shortfalls when making a claim. Generally speaking, the cheaper the policy the less it covers.

When buying insurance, find out what it does and does not cover by reading the accompanying blurb and asking good questions of the agent. Consequence questions such as ‘If XYZ were to happen, would I then be covered..?’ can be very revealing and will help you to get best advice and avoid making basic assumptions at the point of purchase.

7. Do you want to work with public bodies?

If you plan to tender for work (or seek framework listing) with public sector organisations such as local authorities and central government expect to be asked for higher than normal levels of public liability and employers’ liability insurance. You may be required to have professional indemnity insurance cover too.

Unfortunately, this added insurance cost is no guarantee of any public sector work but you have to decide whether the risk is worth the reward. For me, such public sector policies discriminate unfairly against small businesses and hinders their growth. The ability of the public sector to source locally is also adversely affected.

8. Always know your policy excess

Insurance policies typically include an ‘excess’ statement’ – the amount you will pay in the event of making a claim. Excess amounts are commonplace particularly with car and home insurance and protect the insurance company from small claims. However, you also need to be satisfied that the excess amount is set at the right level for your business.

9. Why health and safety is such a key issue

In a world increasingly ruled by health and safety policies and fear of litigation, it is essential you know how your business impacts upon the public. It is wise to complete an office/site risk assessment (legal requirement if you employ 5 or more people) and ensure good practice is followed at all times. For example, if people trip over loose floor cables in your office or at an exhibition/off-site event, you may well be liable if harm is caused.

Public liability insurance might provide financial cover for such events but you don’t want to be put in a situation where negligence can be proved.

10. Always consider Business Interruption/Consequential Loss

The burglary in 1990 taught me some hard lessons, not least that it’s the consequence of a loss rather than the loss itself that can really hurt a business. Losing the data cost me months of work time and clients and so from that point forward I always chose ‘business interruption/consequential loss’ when buying office insurance cover.

Several years later the same York-based business had grown substantially and occupied several offices in the city centre. Unfortunately, the offices were also close to the Ouse river and the infamous wet autumn of 1999 caused chaos. For days we had over a foot of water in our car park and ground floor office space.

Thankfully, the insurance company and loss adjuster were on our case quickly and a sizeable sum was provided to cover asset damages. However, since we were also covered for consequential loss, the company claimed against all the issues arising as a result of the flood. The final payment was 10 times the size of the one for asset damage.

Key Learning Points: Assess the risks to your business and ensure you have the necessary cover in place to protect you should the worst happen. Be diligent with all insurance purchases and make sure you buy what is best for you and your business.


Please note, the advice offered in this article is only based on my personal experience and some of the advice may not apply in different countries. Always consult a professional before buying any insurance policy.


Defending the bad name of business

Mann böse mit VisitenkarteA few months back I attended an entrepreneurship conference that attracted people from all sectors.

The organisers chose to kick things off with a ‘motivational speaker’ and the billing stated our man of purpose was a ‘leading entrepreneur and businessman’.

Now, in my experience these things can go one of two ways. I won’t mess you about. He had a shocker.

Born-again businessman

The excruciating pain of listening to arrogant and superficial babble from a self-proclaimed squillionaire (who’s risen from apparent destitution) is akin to your local dodgy take-away force-feeding you poodle.

Shelling the audience with multiple barrels of patronising and shallow b******t, we were told we too could reach Nirvana. However, getting ourselves anywhere close to his financial status required us to ‘dream’, ‘focus’, ‘work’ and ultimately ‘expect’. “I’m expecting him to finish” whispered my neighbour and friend Colin, who up to that point had sat in silence.

Colin’s mastery of the dry, pissed-off tone brilliantly illustrated the incongruous nature of the speaker’s tactless use of language and pitch. Lacing every sentence with ‘I’ and ‘Me’ he delivered his heavily masculine sermon with spellbinding omnipotence that must have left some thinking their time on earth had been little more than oxygen theft.

Our suffering lasted 15 minutes – or 900 seconds depending on one’s endurance strategy. As the presentation ended, Colin and I agreed we were highly motivated to get on with the rest of the event; which thankfully proved to be very worthwhile. So maybe there was method in the speaker’s madness.

The thorny issue of making money

But there is one point where I would side with Mr D. Motivation: business is first and foremost about making money. Whilst business owners possess many deeper reasons for running companies they also know that bringing in cold, hard cash has to be a priority – otherwise their business would cease trading. The survival instinct is extremely powerful.

But for some people the issue of making money in business is perceived as somehow grubby or dirty. We’ve all read about rich bankers, city ‘fat-cats’ and the like.

But to help demonstrate the point, my work with SimVenture means I’m continuously in touch with schools, colleges and universities and regularly present to and discuss a wide range of issues with lecturers, students and teachers.

And occasionally I will hear someone use the ‘business’ word and then immediately apologise for what they’ve just said – as if they’ve sworn. Such an ‘outburst’ may be followed up with the justification that some students or colleagues don’t like the notion of commercial business and/or the idea of profiting from others; this is then sometimes linked to a comment about the burgeoning popularity of social enterprises.

Let’s not apologise

Whilst the fine differences between a social enterprise and the ‘B’ word are for another blog post, I believe that given the opportunity we all have a responsibility to explain the absolute value and merit of seeking to make money through risk-taking and commercial trade. Surely we should never link the word ‘business’ with an ashamed and embarrassed apology?

I accept that some aspects of business are embarrassing. For example, pressure telephone selling, which does the name of business no favours at all is outrageous, but only a microscopic proportion of all firms are involved with this type of marketing. But having said that, how many educational courses help people to develop their sales skills?

By way of contrast, take a look at where you work. I’m grateful to Dell, Apple and o2 for making and providing brilliant IT equipment; the local builders and joiner that built my office; and to all the other commercial suppliers that provide a variety of goods at a competitive price and at a time that suits me. Without them I couldn’t do my job.

In all my experience of working in the private sector, I’ve learnt that most small businesses only ever have enough cash in the kitty to fund the next 1 to 3 months of existence. And as the last recession showed, many organisations are even more fragile. Such uncertainty highlights why ‘selling’ has to take a high priority and loss rather than profit is an easy position for any business to find itself in.

As traditional ‘career’ opportunities fragment and die, people entering the world of work need to be much better equipped to manage opportunity and uncertainty. Regardless of perspective or motivation, the benefits and truths of working in every sector should be shared and understood by all.

So we are right to celebrate business rather than apologise for it – although not in the mindless way of my squillionaire speaker. At the same time we need to recognise that sectors outside our own have different perspectives and motivations.

Key Learning Points: The public face of ‘business’ can sometimes give it a bad name; this is in part driven by the relentless pressure on commercial companies to make money to survive. It is easy to misunderstand this dynamic and thus misjudge ‘business’.

Romance your audience

John Keats

John Keats

John Keats, the famous 19th century poet, became part of the Italian family holiday this summer.

Dragging hefty luggage up to our 3rd floor apartment in central Rome’s searing heat, we eventually recovered to learn ’26 Piazza di Spagna’ (next to the Spanish Steps) was also Keats’ place of rest. In-fact, the floor below us was a museum dedicated to the great man.

Curiosity sparked (be assured, my literary knowledge wouldn’t fill a postcard) I selected one of the many biographies made available in our apartment. His life fascinated me.

Born in 1795, Keats discovered his poetic ability as a teenager and then worked tirelessly to fulfil his talent. He gave up his studies (to be a surgeon) so he could focus solely on writing; his first work was published in the Examiner when he was 20 (1816). Even though the death of his parents led to a life of poverty he never wavered from his passion. His poetry is now world-renowned but it was decades after his death before his work was really recognised. Tuberculosis cut his life tragically short and he died in Rome aged 25.

Entrepreneurial traits

Absorbed in 200 year-old history I instinctively sensed a strong weave of entrepreneurial fabric in Keats’ character. Even though his life was difficult, his poetry is centred around creative imagination as well as beauty and typically possesses an optimistic view of the world. Living at a time of the industrial revolution his ‘romantic‘ writing helped forge a new brand of poetry that veered from the status quo. And Keats found that just like today, if you’re going to be different, you have to be thick skinned.

The critics of the time were often savage with their reviews of his work. For example, when the now famous Endymion was published in the Examiner in 1818, Keats’ poetry was condemned. But in a letter to a friend, he demonstrates real resilience in his philosophical outlook as well as deep strength of character:

“In Endymion I leaped headlong into the sea, and thereby have become better acquainted with the soundings, the quicksands and the rocks, than if I had stayed upon the green shore, and piped a silly pipe and took tea and comfortable advice – I was never afraid of failure, for I would sooner fail than not be among the greatest…”

Seeking an audience

By choosing to earn his living as a poet Keats had to publish his work to make money. And just like the start-up who must develop and sell a new service or product, he had to connect with an audience.

As entrepreneurs know only too well, the journey to the point where a relationship with an audience is sustainable can be fraught with difficulty and setback. Fear of rejection and failure as well as criticism from others (the journey’s ‘rocks’ and ‘quicksands’) unfortunately prevent many ideas from leaving the ‘harbour’. Having faith and being prepared to ‘leap headlong into the sea’ requires bravery and a measure of self-belief.

It seems to me that the poet and entrepreneur share a similar space. Creating something completely new requires skill, imagination and a certain talent. Being prepared and able to share the new creation publicly opens up a world of new experience and invokes a common suite of positive and negative feelings that all need to be understood and harnessed.

So how can you use poetry to connect with and reach your audience?

Inspirational poetry

There’s a ‘library’ of poems out there which have all been written to inspire people to make the most of their lives. Rudyard Kipling’s famous poem entitled ‘If’ (which Andy Murray will have read part of on his walk out to win Wimbledon in 2013) is a famous example. Less well known is the beautifully written ‘How do you tackle your work’ by Edgar Guest and I’m grateful to Acme Printing for helping me find the wonderfully apt second verse:

“You can do as much as you think you can,
But you’ll never accomplish more;
If you’re afraid of yourself, young man,
There’s little for you in store.
For failure comes from the inside first,
It’s there if we only knew it,
And you can win, though you face the worst,
If you feel that you’re going to do it.”

You’ll also find several suitable references to Dead Poets Society on the web; but if you’re serious about including or embedding the use of poems more widely within your own work, I thoroughly recommend the Poetry Foundation as an excellent source of great material.

Professorial approval

And of course, if you are seeking someone who is a seasoned user of poetry in teaching and training circles, I suggest you make contact with the highly engaging Alistair Fee – a well renowned thought leader and Professor of Innovation at Queens University Belfast. Professor Fee is convinced that poetry adds real value in class.

“The joy of poetry” says Alistair “is enjoying clever use of language in which meaning is squeezed into a few words and where the reader has to use imagination to ferret out the deep significance. And innovators and entrepreneurs must work like poets because they require patience, tenacity, determination, vision and commitment in order to succeed.”

Professor Fee also says that poems such as ‘Rough Country’ (Dana Gioia) really work with students because the words encourage a sense of risk and ‘true grit’.

“Students want to be released,” says Alistair. “They want to be told that one is allowed to be bold and daring, that we need explorers and tough guys who dare to think differently and do things that many will not attempt…”

Whether an Italian holiday counts as exploration I’m not sure. But homeward bound and gazing from my window seat aboard the plane, I considered how best to reference poetry and hitchhiking. With the Italian Dolomites beneath me and only the occasional wisp of cloud between us the answer appeared quite naturally and I felt compelled to write.


Life that meanders on even keel
Suffers usual mists n’ wasteful feel
So seize it now, head up, alone
Step out to failure, and test unknown

Be brave, accept rejection’s wrath
In patience, sense the strength you have
For fortune’s arrows will be drawn
Rejoice the time of distance worn

Engage the giving, discover new
Beliefs, perspectives and what’s true
And as each odyssey finds its end
Stand proud once more and go again.

Like the hitchhiker, the entrepreneur travels a different path and thus gains new perspectives. Self-reliance and the ability to deal with uncertainty are important traits; the ongoing pursuit of goals requires strength of character, resilience and the acceptance that failure and rejection are constant companions. Every journey offers up fresh opportunities to meet new people, learn and discover personal ‘highs’ (and lows) that were otherwise untouchable. Ultimately, each journey must end – and the process starts again.

Key Learning Points: Poetry is a powerful vehicle with which to engage people who seek enterprise and entrepreneurship skills. Poems may not be in vogue, but leaders of an audience must be brave, different and able to rise above failure as well as the critics.



Flavour of the Umph!

UmphTrophyBeing 25 years’ self-employed I feel I’ve developed a ‘nose’ for judging whether a business or project might work.

The personal journey over the last quarter century has had its mix of success and failure; critical experience informing the senses as to whether something new can progress sufficiently so it bears fruit in the longer-term.

Sustainability is critical

For me, the issue of sustainability is a key ingredient. Moving from recession to real economic recovery is going to take time and short-term thinking doesn’t really help.

People and organisations that over-spice their work with ill-thought through ideas and quick gains play a dangerous game; just look at banks and the bad taste they’ve left.

That said, enterprising people who create new projects or businesses must draw on huge levels of energy and resilience from the outset. They must also possess the ability to adapt quickly because economic uncertainty mixed with market fragility/volatility means even the best made plans and forecasts quickly become round-file fodder.

So turning the ‘new’ into something ‘sustainable’ is a fine balancing act fraught with challenge and risk.

Now, this is the juncture where I typically tender a hitchhiking analogy; but my mind’s blank. But what springs to mind is a rocket using vast fuel reserves to counter earth’s gravitational pull, and then accessing a separate energy source and sophisticated engineering to fulfil its space journey. A galaxy hitchhiking guide. Now that’s a thought…

Umph! leading by example

One new and innovative project that made it ‘off the ground’ in 2010 (and is now attracting increasing amounts of regional and national attention) is Umph!; an innovative event held annually at Huddersfield Town Football Club.

Brainchild of Grant Thornton’s ‘Educate to Innovate‘ programme, Umph! gives students aged 16-19 an opportunity to develop enterprise, employability and entrepreneurial skills as well as participate in a SimVenture business simulation competition.

Umph! organisers meet polar explorer Mark Wood

Umph! organisers meet polar explorer Mark Wood

And this month a record number of schools & colleges from throughout Yorkshire gathered again to participate in the third event of its kind. In addition, 10 speakers including renowned polar explorer, Mark Wood, X Factor’s Executive Producer Siobhan Greene and football club Chairman and entrepreneur Dean Hoyle each gave of their time to share their wisdom and experience with participants.

But how and why has Umph! become such a success and what can be learnt from the process?

Secrets of success

From the very outset the organising team focused tightly on providing for schools, colleges and their students. Everyone involved gave of their time and/or resources which meant many traditional event costs were waived. The collective unselfish attitude and reduced financial risk created a powerful trust-based partnership which lasts to this day.

One of the biggest early hurdles was securing participant interest in the first Umph! event. Academic institutions receive numerous off-site invitations, so competition for time was always going to be tough. And in 2010/11 cuts to education budgets were widespread and increased government legislation made it more difficult for students to travel off-site.

The 16 month lead-in time for the first event in 2011 proved crucial and ultimately attracted 14 schools and colleges (in 2013, 29+ signed up). Even though event entry was free and each of the 4 members within the winning team were promised the latest iPad (thank you sponsors), huge effort was needed to attract the early ‘pioneers’.

Common purpose unites

Participants take on the SimVenture challenge

Participants take on the SimVenture challenge

Two years on and everyone who attends Umph! talks about how much they have enjoyed and benefited from the event. Lead teachers are keen to sign up immediately for the following year and organisers, speakers and sponsors are visibly moved by the impact the day has had on 100+ young people.

Umph! is sustainable because the organisers never sought short-term rewards and prioritised giving over what could be gained. This philosophy united stakeholders who have then collectively offered time, energy and absolute commitment to a clear and common purpose.

The richness and diversity of all the people involved with Umph! means every participant that takes part benefits in their own unique way. Creating such a dynamic is crucial because the individual as well as collective sense of involvement, achievement and success generates the necessary momentum for future years.

And since people want to be involved again, positive word of mouth promotion spreads quickly; meaning far less energy is required to persuade others to participate.

Grant Thornton deserve huge praise for making Umph! a reality. Sandra O’Neill and her highly professional team based in Leeds are already looking to organise an even bigger and better day in Huddersfield in 2014.

And such is the flavour of Umph! there is now a hunger for the event to be replicated in other parts of the country. If it whets your appetite, get in touch with Sandra.

Key Learning Points: Developing the momentum to make a new project or business work over the long-term needs to involve people who buy into a common purpose. Hard work, patience, giving first and ongoing collaboration are other key ingredients.