Geoff Alexander Interview

 


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An impending redundancy from his well paid corporate job in the banking industry left Geoff Alexander pondering his career direction. Rather than apply for other corporate roles, he used the experience as a catylst to follow his entrepreneurial aspirations.

In October 2004 he established his own marketing company. Out of that he spawned the idea for a separate online company called BeautyandHealth.com. . .

The Interview.

DS: What inspired you to quit your well paid corporate job and set up the Beauty and Health Ltd?

GA: Well, I had been growing restless for some time, and had been evaluating various opportunities outside my ‘day job’; when notified that my position was going to become redundant, this seemed like the perfect time to ‘go it alone’. Beauty and Health was one of a several ideas that were brought to fruition as a result.

DS: Did you have any help setting up Beauty and Health Ltd or were you going it alone?

GA: I sought advice from numerous areas and read extensively. I still own 100% of the shares.

DS: What was the biggest challenge you faced in bringing your idea to fruition? How was it overcome?

GA: One of the biggest challenges was the steep learning curve for the everyday practicalities for setting up and running a business, and having to re-learn and apply marketing techniques to the online world.

DS: What makes you most proud about your achievements with Beauty and Health Ltd?

GA: I think the fact that, from scratch, I learnt to build, market, and run an online business.

DS: How did you actually fund your business to get it off the ground?

GA: I set up the company using savings and redundancy compensation.

DS: What attributes make a successful entrepreneur?

GA: A dream or goal, desire, self-belief, tenacity, ability to learn, adaptability, resourcefulness…. to name a few!

DS: What do you believe are the necessary elements for a business venture to succeed?

GA: Timing is important, but you need to have USP’s (Unique Selling Points) and a hungry market. Then you need have to have sufficient resources, or else find out how you can access the specific resources that you need to make it work.

DS: How essential do you see a University education in acheiving success as an entrepreneur?

GA: I would say that it is not essential to have a University education to be an entrepreneur; you only have to look at the Rich List or the number of dropouts that have made fortunes! However, having completed an MBA at one of the top schools in Europe, I would have to say that it has given me essential knowledge, confidence and very good contacts.

DS: What are the three most important lessons you have learned about business and entrepreneurship?

GA: There are many lessons that I have learned since taking the plunge, so to name only three is difficult – but amongst the most important are definitely: 1) you HAVE to have a deep belief in yourself and be persistent…if something doesn’t work out as planned, modify your approach; 2) Be prepared for the unexpected! Often success is determined by the amount of uncertainty you are able to cope with; 3) be flexible in your approach to dealing with problems as they arise – the higher your goals, the more obstacles you will need to overcome.

DS: What advice would you give to an aspiring entrepreneur?

GA: You really have to believe in yourself – even when those around you doubt you or knock your ideas. Then you need to be persistent, and willing to learn from your mistakes, and more importantly, from others’ mistakes.

DS: What's the number one book you would you recommend to aspiring entrepreneurs?

GA: I have read many books that have inspired me, but for an all-encapsulating book I would recommend would be ‘Think and Grow Rich’ by Napolean Hill.

DS: What memorable mistakes, if any, have you made in business? What did you learn from them and how can they be avoided?

GA: As an entrepreneur, it is easy to think that you have to do everything yourself – however there will always be someone more specialised in each discipline you will need to address as a business owner. The trick is to discover how to obtain the maximum output for minimum input, or to become increasingly efficient as time goes on.

DS: What are the best and worst things about being an entrepreneur?

GA: The best thing about being an entrepreneur is the immense sense of freedom that you have – the downside to this of course is that whether you succeed or fail is largely down to you!

DS: Are there any other thoughts, insights, or advice for aspiring entrepreneurs that you’d like to add?

GA: Though it sounds like a cliché, I would say that you have to have a clear idea of your short, medium and ultimately ‘long term’ goals – this will give you direction and focus when the inevitable curveballs are thrown your way! ou find reliable and impressive suppliers you can trust, from a great web developer to a great business card supplier, you learn to stick with them.

DS: What makes you most proud of your entrepreneurial achievements ?

CR: The book does because it’s something tangible that I can pick up and say ‘Yes! I did this!’

I must admit, I’m often so busy that I only rarely stop to ‘smell the roses’ and appreciate what I’m achieving. This is a lesson in itself that I have to learn to do more and is certainly something that I suggest others do in my book. People (myself included) should list their achievements more frequently. Some books advise to do this on a daily basis, writing down mini-achievements.

I guess the main milestones that make me feel proud of my achievements are: The friendships and contacts I’ve gained since embarking on my entrepreneurial journey, including a few ‘celebrities’ such as Anita Roddick and Wendy James, among others, plus a whole host of people who are part of the same online networks as me (such as ecademy.com and Digital Eve) who inspire me and make me feel proud. The people I’ve managed to interview both in the business world and music world makes me feel proud. Learning is so important in life, and being able to learn from those who are ‘living the dream’ is important.

Knowing that we’re still doing it and are stronger than ever makes me feel proud, with I Like Music (www.ilikemusic.com) it’s taken us four years, but we are now at a point where some of the larger well-known brands and companies who’ve spent pots of cash but with minimal results are now taking notice of us and can see our strengths. We now have four years worth of great content, contacts and traffic and are ready to take the site to the next level, but we’ve not forked out on flash offices or streams of staff. And with Web Copywriter it’s great that the original business ‘WebCritique’ has grown organically into this niche area of writing for the web. The fact that all businesses are still going makes me feel proud.

DS: How did you actually fund your business to get it off the ground?

CR: WebCritique was launched with just a small amount of my own savings, plus a £1500 bank loan. My personal loan bank refused me for a business loan, so I set up a business account elsewhere. I also sold my car. Since then I’ve financed the business on cash flow, plus overdrafts and occasional loans, which is also the case for I Like Music, which is entirely self-funded. WebCopywriter cost nothing as the design was done in house.

I wish there was more cash readily available in the form of grants to small businesses in all areas: both affluent and under-privileged areas.

DS: What attributes do you think make a successful entrepreneur?

CR: That’s a tough question because there are so many variables that go toward making a business actually work; from personalities and people to the viability of an idea, state of the market and, often, circumstances outside a business owner’s control. As I say in my book, ‘Certainly, there is no entrepreneurial elixir you can swiftly drink to make you automatically successful (except your own home-made passion-fuelled one). But you can prepare yourself to seize opportunities and make it happen for you. '

However, if I had to list attributes that would make the entrepreneurial life manageable, I would say, you need energy, passion and to be dedicated and thick-skinned. You need to be able to cope with times when your social life will suffer. You should be a great communicator and someone who enjoys networking, be it face to face or online. But probably the most key attribute is the desire to learn. That includes learning from mistakes.

In my book I speak to a variety people from Anita Roddick and Stelios to Simon Woodroffe, among others. All of them told me how important listening and learning is as an entrepreneur. And, as soon as you think you know it all, you’re history as a business. As a boss, if small business owners can remember that just because they started the business doesn’t mean they know more about marketing than the marketing chap, businesses would flourish easier. Learning should be a continuous endeavour, so a capacity and interest in learning is a crucial attribute for any entrepreneur.

DS: What do you believe are the necessary elements for a business venture to succeed?

CR: Good people. You need the right people working with you, be that in terms of partnerships or staff. They are the lifeblood of your business, so you need to value them and they will perform well. As Mike Southon says in The Beermat Entrepreneur ‘People buy from People. ’ So ensuring that people working for you share your vision and at least can serve your customers in a way that they themselves would wish to be treated, is the first step.

You need to plan, as it’s easier to be passionate about getting somewhere if you know where you’re heading and how you’re going to get there. Plus cash-flow can kill businesses, so it’s important to know what is going to be coming in and out of the business all the time. Again, being open to learning is a key element. Many businesses fail because those driving the business are so caught up working ‘in’ the business, instead of ‘on’ the business, that they can’t implement changes, find time to learn or stay creative or on the ball. That’s why planning and hiring the right people with complementary skills who you can delegate to are essential success factors.

These are just some of the elements included in my Start-Up Checklist which appears in the book after the chapter called: LESSONS FROM LEADERS IN BUSINESS: Success Stories, Mistakes and Top Tips

DS: How essential do you see a University education in achieving success as an entrepreneur?

CR: Not essential. I went to University to a) make my parents proud b) delay the prospect of working for a few more years and c) because with A-Levels reading the Media Guardian I realized all the jobs I wanted to be able to do were only open to graduates. For me, although I ended up on lower or similar income to many of my peers, I needed to be a graduate to get my editorial and writing positions. However, I’d have learned a great deal more if I’d gone into a publishers and worked my way up. I believe work experience counts for a lot more (just as some people I sent my CV to as a graduate believed). What’s more, my partner James is more entrepreneurial than me (and he has the gift of the gab, is more confident, etc). He didn’t go to university, so that proves my point that university education is definitely not essential in achieving business success. Indeed, my BA (Hons) Degree in Media with Cultural Studies may well have hindered me in some ways. I could have been working all that time and saving up to fund my own business. And, if you look at the most successful people in UK business, the majority of them didn’t go to college let alone university. Richard Branson, Simon Woodroffe…

DS: What are the three most important lessons you have learned about business and entrepreneurship?

CR: 1. Everything always takes longer and costs more than you think it will (even when you are fairly stringent with your planning).

2. Go with your gut feeling. Learn how to feel what that is and go with it. The buck stops with you, so you need to get as many decisions right as you can. Some of these decisions will involve others trying to sell you something: support or a service or a partnership. There is a time for diplomacy and sometimes you will need to listen to your instincts and opt not to go ahead with a certain partnership or project.

3. Listen and learn constantly. You must never think you know it all as nobody does. People like to give advice and tell you what they know about things, so you can be constantly learning. You also need to delegate, and appreciate that there are people out there who can compliment your talents. Remember, it’s all about people.

DS: What advice would you give to an aspiring entrepreneur?

CR: Do your research, find out what your potential customer needs are and test the market where possible. Surround yourself with a good support network and work out your break-even point before you take the plunge. Buy or create a checklist that you can go through before you set up, making sure you’ve considered everything from your company name and marketing to your website, staff and expenditure needs.

DS: What's the number one book you would recommend to aspiring entrepreneurs?

CR: Of course my own book – The Small Business Start-Up Workbook. However, another book I would heartily recommend is Anyone Can Do It by Sahar and Bobby Hashemi of Coffee Republic, and also Anita Roddick’s Business As Unusual – both are inspirational and help you get things into perspective. Both are available from Amazon.co.uk, or you can order Anita’s books via her own site at www.anitaroddick.com

DS: What memorable mistakes, if any, have you made in business? What did you learn from them and how can they be avoided?

CR: Earlier I mentioned the importance of going with your gut feeling. Well, if I’d done that on at least two occasions, I could have saved a lot of time, credibility and money. We chose a web development team based on referral who ended up being appalling. They made very technical looking sites which had a reduced Google ranking, terrible indexability and were poorly designed and coded. Effectively they talked the talk but didn’t walk the walk. If I’d followed my gut instinct earlier on when the partnership was being discussed, I’d have walked alright… away from them. The partnership cost us credibility, lost Google ranking, plus a whole year of our time. Fortunately, we found a new developer who has made our sites the best they have ever been. But that’s just part of the roller-coaster ride of running your own business.

DS: What are the best and worst things about being an entrepreneur?

CR: Best things are the freedom and flexibility it gives you in terms of trying to reach your goals and in being your own boss. Plus, it’s nice to feel in control of your destiny. The worst things are that nobody can understand what it’s like to run their own business until they do it themselves and the fact that you lose a lot of ‘me’ time and social life when you work long hours on your business. Not getting paid holiday is another negative and personally it’s my occasional inability to switch off from business mode.

DS: Are there any other thoughts, insights, or advice for aspiring entrepreneurs that you'd like to add?

CR: If you believe in your idea, have some proof to back it up and have the energy to be your own boss, go for it. Remember, it’s better to try and fail than to not even bother to try then get to the end of your life wondering, ‘what if’ and ‘if only I’d done that. ’

Damien Senn helps entrepreneurs create compelling businesses. He is one of the UK's top Business Coaches as well as a fully qualified Chartered Accountant.

Damien is the author of the ‘Senn-Sational Success Journal’ and has developed his own coaching model called the ‘Senn-Sational Success System’.

For your FREE download ‘101 things to do before you die’ please click the following link:

http://www.senn-sational.com/freeresources.htm

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