Today is the first Wednesday in nine months that we won’t be working from the Entrepreneurial Spark offices in central Bristol. After successfully completing the Sprint and Enable phases of the UK’s largest free growth accelerator programme, we’re flying the nest, armed with more knowledge and experience than I could ever have expected when I attended the first boot camp session back in February. 

I can’t recommend Entrepreneurial Spark highly enough, whether you’ve got an idea you want to test or an established business that you’re ready to scale. The next intake will most likely be February 2018, so you’ve got a little while to do your research. In the meantime, here are some key takeaways from our stint on the programme that I think apply to all business owners everywhere.

Lesson 01: You need to know your numbers

One of things I remember most clearly from boot camp was a hand out we were given with an illustration of a brain surrounded by a series of entrepreneurial mindset statements. Most of them applied to me - like "I am opportunity hungry" - but there was an exception: "I know my numbers."

I’ve always been more excited by the creative aspects of business than the finances, and in hindsight I can see how that was holding me back. Now that I know vital basics like our monthly turnover levels and gross profit margins off the top of my head, I am more confident of my plans and what I can afford. It was only by running the numbers that I realised I could start building an in-house team sooner than I thought. Having Liz on board has been a game changer, and we already have plans to bring in a couple more people next year.

Lesson 02: Confidence is a mindset

Being an expert in your field doesn’t automatically give you the confidence you need to run a successful business. I started the Entrepreneurial Spark programme with 14 years’ experience as a writer. But with a background in the media rather than industry, I had the occasional niggling suspicion that I somehow wasn’t as good as other marketers. 

Working on understanding the mindset of an entrepreneur with my fantastic mentor Andy Jackson has not just boosted my belief in myself as a business owner, it has given me the confidence to adjust my pricing structure, develop my range of services, and set a clear vision for the company I want to be running in five years’ time.

Lesson 03: Writing a killer pitch is vital

If you’ve ever been to a networking group, you’ll know there’s normally an opportunity to talk for 60 seconds about your business. I’ve been doing this for years and always felt relatively confident about it, but Entrepreneurial Spark took things to a new level. Each mentoring session starts with a pitch, there’s an opportunity to practice in front of everyone at the fortnightly Huddle events, and regular pitching competitions throughout the programme. 

Writing my Entrepreneurial Spark pitch - to the ‘Hook, Problem, Solution, Traction, Ask’ format - not only helped me to hone my message but also to really understand the heart of my business offering. Endless practice means I now have a collection of concise phrases that I can use in a variety of work conversations, whether that’s at a networking group or during a sales call. I’ve even used my pitch to update my website.

Lesson 04: If you’re going to fail, do it quickly

Not every idea becomes a business, and not every business becomes a success. Which is absolutely fine! The secret is to fail as quickly and as cost effectively as possible so you can move on to the next thing with knowledge and experience rather than debt. 

Although I had an established business when I entered the programme rather than an idea for a business, it was a useful principle to learn nonetheless. “What’s the cheapest way I can test this?” has become a guiding principle for every new idea I have for the company, whether it’s developing a new service or creating an ad campaign.

Lesson 05: You can’t beat collaboration

One of the best things about working from the Entrepreneurial Spark hub in Bristol has been meeting all the other entrepreneurs based there. I have been blown away by their ideas and determination, their resilience and enthusiasm, and their willingness to help others with advice and support. I’ve also seen some brilliant collaborations, from joint workshops to combined product promotions and even full blown mergers.

In fact, I’m in the middle of planning what promises to be an incredible campaign with Visuable and Kimba Digital Marketing. It’s bigger than anything we’ve done before and will definitely create a huge buzz when it launches in early January. I should be able to share more details next month, so keep your eyes peeled!

My time at Entrepreneurial Spark has completely transformed my business and I will always be grateful to the people who made such an impact along the way. Although I’ll miss seeing everyone’s faces on a weekly basis, I’m not sad to be leaving because I know that even though we’re no longer in the office, we’ll always be part of the team. And you never know, we might be back sooner than you think!

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