When I first created the Homemade London website, ahead of my business’s launch in 2010, I made certain assumptions about what kind of business it would be – about our prospective customers and their imaginary spending habits. A few years on, some of those assumptions were right and others were proved wrong. The new site will help to refine our brand and grow the business in its most profitable areas. Creating it won’t be a cheap exercise – the development, design, photography and marketing costs will represent the biggest investment I’ve made since opening – but after nearly three years, it’s time for some reimagination.
When I worked on the BBC science programme Tomorrow’s World, I remember speaking to a producer who had been working on the programme for well over a decade. The programme itself had been running for nearly four decades and she said to me, “The thing about Tomorrow’s World is that you’re continually reinventing yourself; always looking at ways to be fresh and attract new viewers without alienating those loyal to your brand.” Eventually, when the producers couldn’t think of any way to keep it contemporary, they pulled the plug. It’s a lesson I aim to learn. Reinvent or die.
So, how do you grow without ruining what you’ve built? How do you replenish and stay fresh, without alienating your existing customers? I think there are some key questions for any entrepreneur to ask:
If someone bought my business tomorrow, what changes would they make?
This is a great exercise for focusing your mind and emotionally distancing yourself from your business. Are there some obvious things I’m missing? Am I being ruthless enough about things that aren’t working? What are the things I really should be doing but haven’t because the everyday pressures of running a business have been getting in the way?
What are people really buying into?
If you understand the reasons people are buying your products, it’s easier to work out what other products and services to offer them. Do some customer research. Ask people open questions, not leading ones. What need or want are you meeting? The answer may not be what you were expecting.
What is the single biggest opportunity open to me?
After three years, things are starting to calm down and at last I have a bit of time and resource to start thinking about the longer term. And there are loads of things I could be doing. I’m lucky that I get approached by lots of interesting people with good ideas for partnerships. But, realistically, I can only make one big bet on the future. A new venue? A partnership? Something completely different?
I’m going to focus on doing the thing that offers the biggest potential prize. There are things I’ve learned and customer relationships I’ve built along the way that could be applied in entirely new ways. I’m not going to get hung up on incremental change if there’s something more dramatic I can be doing.
Will making that bet stop me from pouncing on any opportunities that open up?
Having said I want to think big, I also don’t want to tie up so much of my time and money that I can’t be nimble. Writing a book might be a great way to grow my brand, but it’s a huge commitment of time and I know from writing this column that deadlines can override everything else you need to do. Opening a second shop would use up all my money and prevent me from investing in marketing or creating new classes – maybe there are less capital intensive ways of expanding than committing to a long-term lease.
One of the biggest business lessons I’ve learned in running Homemade London is the importance of flexibility and keeping fixed costs down. If physical expansion is the big opportunity, maybe pop-ups are the right way to do it.
Is an expansion going to mean I lose focus on my core business? How do I ensure that standards don’t fall?
This question really boils down to whether I have the right people in place to run the day-to-day business. Start-ups are often the result of one person’s vision, passion and expertise. That can make it hard to scale up or experiment. Do I have to invest in recruitment or development before I do anything else?
Am I up for it?
After three years of hard work, low pay and nerve-racking conversations with my accountant, do I really want to take new risks, rather than enjoy the fruits of my labour? Well, yes actually.