Twenty-five year old Annabella Forbes started her website Bed&Fed – a network of affordable, friendly guest rooms – about a year ago, the Guardian has said, “The home from home experience and purse-friendly cost are a winning combination!”
But starting a business is a minefield and here she shares her tips on getting started with an Internet business.
Before you even start get in touch with your local business link. They are there to support you and are a fantastic free resource. I did lots of workshops with them from ‘how to write a business plan’ to how to deal with tax and vat to ‘marketing and advertising’. Most of the courses are free and run by professionals with lots of experience.
Before you rush into getting a website made make sure the company you hire are going to do exactly what you want and not leave you with a half-baked cake. Make sure they understand your concept fully. Put together a detailed plan for them including giving them examples of the kind of things you like from what colour you want your buttons to be to what fonts you like – it’s all in the detail! A great resource for inspiration is smashingmagazine.com. Remember the inspiration for your site doesn’t need to just come from sites similar to yours – collect things that you like from any site you use, such as the way their navigation works, or a particular thing you thought was really useful, clear or clever. You my also want to consider getting an iphone app made somewhere down the line – mine was made by Colin McGovern at assembl.ie – a great company.
Your hosting company is also something to think about. It’s good to have one in the country that you are in so you can ring them directly if you have any questions. Even though it may cost a tiny bit more I think it is definitely worth it. I use a great website hosting company called Vidahost (based in Bath) who I would not hesitate in recommending. They are always available to help with questions 24/7 and are so quick to respond by telephone or email.
Don’t be stuck in your ways – it’s your business so you can do what you want and this is a huge advantage so use it!
Though it is definitely good to have a plan as a guide do ‘think outside the box’ as you never know what might work. Recently I started the Bed&Fed Hero scheme (an example of how my business model has changed), whereby anyone (even existing Hosts) can tell me they want to be a Hero via the website, and for each new Host who references them they earn rewards!. It has not been going long but the response has been very positive.
Probably the best piece of advice I’d give is that you should never ever stop asking anyone and everyone for their advice/opinions – you don’t have to take it all, but just keep asking (men, women, young, old, people on the bus, people in large corporate firms) as you never know what a discussion can lead to. This means you the reader too! – any ideas for me please do get in touch!
Money is an issue – obviously start-up’s don’t have a huge budget but there is lots you can do for free. You could look into cross promotion with other small companies – Twitter is a great way of getting in touch with similar companies I have found and it also means I can pick and choose who I want to be associated with. For example I let certain companies put a voucher on my site for free (within the hosts area) in return for a little mention on their website perhaps.
You can also blog and use Facebook. YouTube is great also – I made some animated films for my website and a jingle just for fun, which gets people interested. Video is also a great way to communicate with your customers, people love the human element – have a go! In the age of huge corporations I think people are looking for businesses with a bit of spirit!
For website tutorials also use a nifty little programme called Camtasia (you can see examples of what I mean by clicking on the teapot on my website and seeing the videos there).
Need a newsletter? I recently found a great little company called TinyLetter, which is a great and really quick (and free!) way to integrate a sign up process for a newsletter into your site – literally took minutes.
Your idea may not need trademarking so don’t waste your money on this if you don’t have to. If you have what would be considered a copiable brand name then it’s a good idea to look into it.
About 4 months ago a man in Belgium was buying domain names very similar to mine in order to sell them to unsuspecting buyers saying that they could trade under the Bed&Fed name. He was most definitely copying my concept but more importantly my brand which centres around the Bed&Fed name. I quickly got on to the OHIM (Office for European Trademarks) based in Madrid, who were very helpful, and recently was awarded my European Trademark for Bed&Fed which is great.
You may not need a trademark for the whole of Europe however – it is possible to get one just for the UK – www.ipo.gov.uk/t-find.htm – it’s a good idea to search for your business name before you get a site made incase it already exists.
Well there are my top tips – good luck in your venture!
Name: Annabella Forbes