Posted: Fri 25th Sep 2015
Photographer Tom Lakeman runs several businesses, but his latest project is À La Cart, a photographic series of meals which have been prepared using discarded shopping lists found in supermarkets, for which he is currently crowdfunding on Kickstarter. The Enterprise Nation member shares the story behind his entrepreneurial career.
What was your motivation to start your own business?
Flexible working hours. This allowed me to work on my own start-up ideas and develop them, while still being able to do my bread and butter work. I have several business ventures and being able to jump from one to the next is by far the best thing about working for myself. The flexibility and being able to dedicate chucks of time to a project rather than an hour here or there.
Whilst you were starting up how did you balance home life with work?
At first not very well; not very well at all. I found it hard to know when I was in work mode and when I was in switch-off mode. I worked in the sitting room and that meant my mind was always half on the computer and the list of things that needed doing. I don't think I ever committed to having a proper conversation in that room with someone outside work, as my mind was always in two places. It was very hard to balance the two.
Once I started to grow the business I moved out into a studio and that transformed my efficiency and work/home balance. Although, I have since moved back to working from a home-based office and now have strict rules and routines that I follow. Having a dog helps as it forces me to leave the house!
What's your top tip for effective sales and marketing?
Regular interesting content. Sounds easy but so hard to keep doing well.
I meet up with our marketing magician for breakfast every two weeks. We will discuss homework (yes, she sets me homework) and what actions we're going to take on previously discussed points. Our marketing budget is nothing so we have to be very creative with solutions and think around the normal channels. It's something I've really started to enjoy over the past year. Planning an effective marketing campaign is key and takes time. It's a long and windy route and most of the time it's hard to see an end. But it's worth persisting.
Which tools could you not live without in your business?
Google Analytics or any marketing tools that offer direct feedback from customers. Once you know who your target market is, and how they interact with your site, then the game changes and you can start to do some really interesting things that directly affect your business. Whereas before it was bit of a stab in the dark regarding marketing and general feedback.
What movie, song or book offers you the most business inspiration and why?
Paul Arden's book, It's Not How Good You Are, It's How Good You Want To Be. I was fortunate enough to work with the great man, and that's how my first business came about. The book offers nothing new but when put in such a simple way, it makes complicated issues seem so matter of fact and simple to deal with. It's like getting that advice you've never forgotten, but page after page of it. Brilliant book.
What has been your biggest business success to date?
Being able to live, eat and enjoy London. It's an expensive city and I love my food, but it doesn't come cheap in the heart of a foodie city like London. All my work is based upon creative start-ups, whether it's a product (Cheeki Hangers) a service (photography) or a book (À La Cart). Being able to do so many diffrent creative projects and make them successful enough that they not only power themselves, but also me, is hugely rewarding.
If you had to live on a desert island with one entrepreneur who would it be and why?
Jonnie Shearer, owner of Pussy energy drinks. His mind works in ways like no other. There would never be a boring day, and to see some of his escape route ideas would be worth it alone. His mind for problem solving is neither business focused nor creative focused; it's an amazing concoction of the two which makes for some interesting reading.
What are your ambitions for the next five years?
Collaboration is my main aim over the next few years. I have my sights set on two creative forces joining together, which could be very special but it's something I'm working towards rather than chasing. Outside of that I'm planning a big exhibition which will hopefully be in the next two years.
How does being a member of Enterprise Nation help you grow as a business?
It allows me to reach out and get advice from so many different people. The problem I've found with starting a business is that you have a key skill and you have to quickly learn all others facets of the business along the way. Having a supportive network like Enterprise Nation to hand makes that process a lot easier.
It also serves as a great peace of mind when everything seems too much! I felt very much like it was me versus everyone else in the world when I first started. But networks like Enterprise Nation make you feel more like a department within a bigger company rather than a small company out on its own.
If you'd like to join Tom and become an Enterprise Nation member to access exclusive benefits, sign up now. We may even profile your business which is great PR.
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