Posted: Mon 14th Nov 2022
Enterprise Nation partnered with Mastercard and Strive to deliver an online 'One Stop Shop' for entrepreneurs.
An initiative of the Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth, Strive will give 650,000 British micro and small enterprises the support they need to thrive in the digital economy over the next three years and beyond.
We're catching up with some of the business owners who have been taking part in the initiative to find out about how it's benefited them so far. Here, we talk to Jen Hughes, whose business ARCFORM launched out of a passion to create modern, self-designed and handcrafted British lighting and sculptures.
Jen, could you tell us when and how you made the move into business ownership?
We started ARCFORM at the beginning of the first lockdown during the pandemic. That was challenging – building a website, prototyping, and working on our presence while home-schooling two young children!
But in a strange way it might not have happened if COVID hadn't come along. It gave us the opportunity and the time to realise an idea that had been bubbling away for a while but hadn't progressed enough.
What support, if any, did you seek when setting up your new business?
There's a wealth of information out there and a lot of people who are incredibly generous with their time. I joined some online support communities, including Enterprise Nation.
There were areas in the business that we were confident in – for example, design, manufacturing and project management – but sales and marketing was a massive learning curve. We were starting from scratch.
We approached it how we approach many things in life: read as much as you can, learn from other people, and get on and just give it a go. You quickly learn what doesn't work!
We joined a incubator for new creative businesses, which provided us with valuable knowledge and a network of other businesses going through the same stage as us.
In the early weeks and months, what went well? What didn't? How did you overcome any problems?
We had to be quite organised and disciplined. There were only two of us, and the enormity of what you have to and can work on to build and grow a business can be overwhelming.
I come from a project management background, so quickly set up a weekly cadence of what we needed to do. On the flipside, when you're a small team in a small business, you also have to be flexible. You may usually go through your finances on a Monday morning but if an issue comes up you have to change plans.
That was quite a quite a shift of mindset from working in bigger corporations. We also had our fingers burned working with a couple of 'experts' in marketing who professed to be able to grow our business and make big impacts. We've only recently found someone who fits that bill.
We've learnt our lesson and definitely aren't as green! We've recognised that we must trust our instinct and take our time finding people to bring in and help make sure we find the right support.
Now you're established and looking to grow, what do you see as the next steps for your business?
We're growing our collections now, which is in turn growing our business. Our next steps are to grow our team – we're at a point where we can now scale and we need a bigger team to do that.
You used the Make a Plan tool. What specifically has it helped with?
Make a Plan is a great tool, as it isn't complicated and gives you clear steps to move forward. I liked the fact that it broke down everything into small chunks.
Sometimes you can't see the wood for the trees, as there's so much to do. Make a Plan gives you a clear roadmap and something to which you can return and check your progress. Being able to feel like you're moving forward is so motivating. You can spend a lot of time cherry-picking information from lots of different resources, but with Make a Plan it was all in one space.
What are the most important lessons you've learned from going into business for yourself?
Listen to any feedback you receive. It's all useful – even if not immediately – so keep a log of it and review it regularly. If people offer to help, accept it, as no-one is good at everything.
Find a way of stepping back from your business and looking at it from a wider, unbiased view. Keep an eye on your cash flow and regularly monitor your costs. Things like software subscriptions add up, and there are often free versions or reduced versions you can use that do the job. Be honest about the benefit you get from it.
Lastly, be brave. You'll probably be put in situations that scare you, but you have to stretch yourself.
About Strive Make a Plan
Create an account, answer some quick questions about your business, get personalised feedback, then build an action plan that will help accelerate your business's growth. Take the Make a Plan tool today