How an alcohol educator successfully pivoted her business during lockdown

How an alcohol educator successfully pivoted her business during lockdown
Jane Peyton
Jane PeytonSchool of Booze

Posted: Wed 27th Apr 2022

Jane Peyton is the founder of School of Booze. She started the company in 2008 as a corporate events and training provider specialising in alcoholic drinks. But with physical events not possible due to the coronavirus pandemic, she was forced to look for new opportunities.

The award-winning entrepreneur switched to operating online and launched a successful e-learning platform providing alcohol courses for hospitality professionals and interested consumers.

To find out how to start and grow her new business, Jane turned to Enterprise Nation and the Amazon Small Business Accelerator for help and inspiration.

She shares her story.

The free Amazon Small Business Accelerator e-learning programme is advice from more than 30 business experts in over 200 bitesize videos.

If you're already an Enterprise Nation member, log in to your learning dashboard. If you're not an Enterprise Nation member, you can join the Amazon Small Business Accelerator for free here.

How did you come up with your business idea?

“I founded School of Booze in 2008 as a corporate events and training business specialising in alcoholic drinks. It grew in scope to include consultancy and copywriting. The core of the business is events and training, working with groups. For the events, many clients are overseas companies travelling into London for business.

“When the pandemic started in 2020, the reliance on in-person activities, and a halt to overseas travel meant that my company was seriously impacted. Thank goodness for the internet!

“I started to offer events and training online, and to make School of Booze as pandemic proof as I could I needed something else so I developed an e-learning platform where people can download beer, cider, and wine knowledge courses which supply comprehensive introductory knowledge in bite-size pieces. The courses are aimed at people who work in hospitality, and drinks marketing and retail, as well as anyone who wants to learn more about their favourite drink.

“I am accredited in beer, cider, and wine so all the knowledge I wanted to impart was in my head – I just needed to write it down. That was the easier bit – recording it so the information was available for listening as well as reading was trickier.

“Lockdown meant that I could not leave the house to use a recording studio, so I did it at home. The trouble was that I live in Brighton where the gulls are very noisy, and not having a sound-proofed flat meant that I could only record after darkness when the birds had gone to sleep. It took several nights to record all the material and I was greatly relieved to complete the task and no longer be dictated to by the birds’ body clock!

“My website developer, who I have worked with since I founded School of Booze, is brilliant and efficient. He worked swiftly to build an e-commerce learning site using a template widely used by educational establishments which made the process more straightforward. Adding an e-learning platform meant that an entire new website for School of Booze had to be built too so I could showcase the parts of the business that already existed.

“It was all really fiddly, time consuming, and so much work to get right but like childbirth, you forget the pain afterwards! I also had a huge reward for the effort when I was shortlisted as a finalist in the Great British Entrepreneur Awards 2021 in the pivot entrepreneur of the year category.

What start-up challenges have you faced and how have you overcome them?

“Before the pandemic I was in the very lucky position of not needing to market School of Booze because bookings came by people finding us online due to our search engine optimisation being good, through repeat business from existing clients, and through word of mouth. The development of a new business I started from scratch and for which I needed to target potential customers was a challenge but also an opportunity.

“The global appeal of alcohol, and the fact that I was not restricted to a geographical location and a finite group size as I am when I do in-person training

meant that with the new e-learning platform I could potentially reach customers anywhere in the world. I just needed to learn how to find them and how to market the business.

“That’s when I discovered the vast amount of free help and advice for start-ups and small businesses easily accessed online. One of the first things I did was to register for Enterprise Nation and the Amazon Small Business Accelerator which is such an incredible business resource with essential information on a wide range of subjects. I also watched dozens of digital marketing seminars and courses from other organisations and had a steep learning curve about customer profiles, and how to find the ideal client.

“I learned the power of LinkedIn, a channel to identify potential clients in the hospitality and drinks businesses – both crucial sectors for my online courses. For those sectors, having well-trained staff is good for the bottom line and is proven to increase profits, and make staff more productive. That makes it easier for me to persuade decision makers that purchasing my courses is a benefit to their business.

“It's much harder to find individual members of the public as customers because alcoholic drinks knowledge appeals to a wide age-range of women and men, in a range of income brackets and professions and in countries across the world so customer profiles are consequently a bit vague. That’s why Google ads rather than Facebook ads are more successful because with Google, customers are actively looking for what School of Booze offers, as opposed to Facebook where the advert enters a person’s timeline without them asking for it.

“One of the challenges I have faced is probably the same as all small web-based companies that do not use search engine advertising on a regular basis and that is ranking in organic search results for keywords against large companies that embed the same keywords in their websites even though they are not core to their business. The way I overcame this issue was to improve our SEO, and to identify less competitive keywords. The Answer the Public service is invaluable for that.

“Another challenge is when search engines change the rules, best practice, and what they prioritise just when a small business has implemented the previous rules. The way to overcome this is to have regular SEO audits from professionals who are up-to-date on changes and know how to implement them.”

How has the Amazon Small Business Accelerator e-learning programme has inspired you?

“I recommend watching videos in the Amazon Small Business Accelerator e-learning programme. I’ve found several of them useful, relevant to my business, inspirational, and confidence building.

“The ones I found especially relevant were:

Content creation for your brand: The tips I picked up were that my content should be a mixture of entertainment and information, and with that perfect mix there is a high chance that people will share them. It was a reminder that content should not focus too much on not sales pitches – the intention is to be helpful.

"Brand building for growing companies: The main thing I learned in this video was the importance of brand pillars, how to identify them, and then communicating them verbally and in social media.

“For anyone planning to open a store on Amazon, I highly recommend watching all the e-learning videos that explain the process. There are several videos that clearly and easily explain the different steps in the process. The ones I recommend are:

“Establishing an Amazon store has been on my to do list for a while and now is the time to implement what I learned in the videos. I am the author of several books about alcoholic drinks including The Philosophy of Gin, The Philosophy of Beer, and Drink: A Tippler’s Miscellany. They make really good gift books and a gift book is even better when it is personalised and signed by the author so that is the service which will be my USP for selling the books. Signed with my best fountain pen!

“In order to reach customers, I will include the most appropriate keywords in the web copy. I will also be recording some educational videos on subjects included in the books, to post on social media platforms including YouTube.”

What are your plans for the future of your business?

“Marketing, serving, and selling alcohol is a global activity and people who are educated in what they are selling are more effective at their job. My courses are written and recorded in English, so this means I have potential customers in the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and other English-speaking nations. The fact that my courses can be downloaded and the learning done at a time and place to suit the learner means that there is no issue with time difference in these countries.

“I intend to contact companies that make, market, and retail beer, cider, or wine and that would benefit from their staff having good introductory knowledge about what they are selling. It’s hard to believe but most staff in the drinks sector have no education at all about what they are selling. LinkedIn is an incredible resource for identifying the appropriate companies and decision makers and persuading them just why School of Booze e-learning courses are a benefit to their bottom line.”

You've been nominated for and won some awards. What are your tips on being successful at entering awards?

“It’s a lovely feeling to be nominated for an award, and even lovelier to win!

“Most awards schemes are judged initially on the entry form so it is essential to write a convincing pitch on what your business is, what is so special about it, and why it deserves to win.

“Some people find it hard to praise and extol their own company, so if that is the case, ask someone else to write the entry who is not modest and won’t hold back! You only have one chance to impress the judges when they are in the short-listing process so make sure your entry stands out amongst the hundreds of others they will see.”

What are your top tips for business success?

“Specialise in products or services connected to an activity or commodity with enduring global appeal. For me that is alcohol.

“Have a unique selling point. In my case that is offering the range of services I do and making School of Booze a one-stop shop for alcohol events experiences, entertainment, education, and consultancy services.

“Ideally sell products or services with as few competitors as possible – this might be connected with your USP. When I founded School of Booze, my speciality was beer and cider themed corporate events. At the time there were so few companies offering that service that I had very little competition and it helped to establish School of Booze and for me to have a monopoly in beer and cider corporate events for a few years.”

Which other entrepreneurs inspire you and why?

“I live in Brighton and the city has its own gin brand, Brighton Gin. It was founded by Kathy Caton who wanted to create what she describes as “The Spirit of Brighton” which was not only the top-quality gin in the glass, but something that in its brand pillars and values represents what is so special about Brighton.

“Brighton is a fun-loving, open minded, open hearted, tolerant, caring, green city and Kathy has instilled that into the way she runs her business and its values and community responsibility and engagement. I am inspired by Kathy’s success and the fact that she never compromises on doing the right thing in business. The gin is also amongst the best in the world!

“Dragons’ Den investor Deborah Meaden proves that kindness and conscience can lead to business success. We need more high profile people like her to demonstrate that those are desirable qualities and aspirations for other business people to emulate.”

The free Amazon Small Business Accelerator e-learning programme is advice from more than 30 business experts in over 200 bitesize videos.

If you're already an Enterprise Nation member, log in to your learning dashboard. If you're not an Enterprise Nation member, you can join the Amazon Small Business Accelerator for free here.

Jane Peyton
Jane PeytonSchool of Booze
Jane Peyton is an award-winning drinks educator, writer, broadcaster, pub expert, and public speaker. She is the founder of the School of Booze – a training, education events company, and consultancy specializing in alcoholic drinks. School of Booze was named as one of the Top 100 SMEs in London & the South East Business Awards 2021. Jane was the UK’s first accredited Pommelier (cider sommelier) and Britain's first Beer Sommelier of the Year. She is a former Imbibe Magazine Drinks Educator of the Year. Jane is the instigator and driving force of the UK’s annual national beer day – Beer Day Britain (June 15th). For her beer work she was awarded a Lifetime Achievement from Britain’s Parliamentary Beer Group, and has won several other professional awards. Jane is the author of several non-fiction books including ‘Drink: A Tippler’s Miscellany’, ‘Beer o’ Clock’, ‘The Philosophy of Gin’ and ‘The Philosophy of Beer’. Jane is a regular guest on radio and television talking about a wide range of alcohol related subjects. She is the Drinks Ambassador for the Love British Food organization and co-host of the Food Talk Show podcast.

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