Where are they now? Introducing The Formations Company’s start-up alumni

When we talk about start-ups, it’s often the exciting chase to launch that takes centre stage. Coloured with drama, made manifest through stress, and often long-winded, we’re quick to describe how we secured funding at the last minute, or were inspired by a random trip to Tesco in deciding a company name. But once up and running successfully, we seldom hear of a company again unless they fail spectacularly, or become as big as Apple.

Here at The Formations Company, we like to keep in touch with our alumni and the start-ups we’ve helped get on their feet. Whether we helped you form a consulting company, start-up your dream laser cutting business, or a business that provides personal protective services, the stories that crop up once launched can teach us a thing or two about what it takes to really run a business.

Getting on top of paperwork

Take our first alumnus, Blacklight Intelligence, for example. The company was started by a small team of experts from industry and defence, who wanted to bring cost-effective solutions to the practice of protecting others. But with the business of providing protection to businesses, families, properties, or individuals, comes a spade of legal hurdles. With piles of legislation to understand, and plenty of different licences to acquire, getting through all the paperwork and policy was demanding.

All in all, it took Blacklight around two years to get to the point of trading, to “complete all of the underlying things that no-one tells you about before you start-up”, which, although painstaking, “has proved to be invaluable for us”.

“Everything about this company has been a labour of love by all involved, and I would recommend that as a starting block for anyone considering a start-up,” they said.

Take things step by step, counsel Blacklight, and think carefully about all the things your business will need to practically be able to run day-to-day. Don’t rush on this last point: you want the time to create your business in exactly the way you want it, without the pressure of having to trade right away. Think about licences, cash flow, whether you’ll need forms for customers to fill out, a landline number, or a fax machine, or whether you’ll need a commercial office. Plan things in a logical order: for instance, there’s no point spending money on licences if you aren’t trading yet, and they won’t be in use.

Growing pains

When Pred8tor Ltd. (trading as Apple Mac Repair Centre Birmingham) started in January 2014, they had but a single website, and a small, local customer base. Now, running up to ten online stores, and with over a dozen websites and webstores across Europe, the company has thousands of satisfied customers. In turn, MSE Cartech, a car repairs, sales, and servicing company found their first year to be a steep learning curve, with challenges including finding the right premises for their business, getting their marketing right, and understanding their industry. Now, not only is their turnover higher than expected, but they’re looking to move into a custom premises.

Whilst expansion is the obvious goal for any entrepreneur starting out, the process is not without research, more research, and a lot of trial and error. For Channel Facilities Management, a soft service provider to the facilities industry, dealing with a spike in customer inquiries after becoming a limited company eventually pushed them to hire someone full-time to deal with all the phone calls. Hiring staff, an inevitability if your business is ever going to grow, can be one of the most challenging tasks you’re ever faced with.

Let’s not forget the marketing side of things: how much money should be spent on advertising, and how to rank higher in Google? “Don’t spend fortunes on advertising,” warn Pred8tor. And, they add, don’t rush into anything, either: “There are 1000’s of companies offering to take your money…go slowly, and see what works for you, and what [sort of] customer base you want.”

Straight to the point

And then, of course, there’s the power of brevity in branding, and clarity in the way you do business. Jigsaw 3D, another alumnus and a company that provides consultancy services to the insurance industry, outline the importance of being transparent in your intentions, both internally and when facing clients. “You need to be really clear on what you are building,” MD Alan Stokes says.

“I wrote down my company strapline to make sure that we had a succinct description of our company: we discuss the issues, design a solution, and then deliver it. Hence [the name] ‘Jigsaw 3D’: the three D’s are ‘discuss’, ‘design’, and ‘deliver’”.

It’s also important to be clear with clients about what you’re able to deliver, and what it’s realistic they expect of you. Otherwise you’ll only form bad relationships, and hurt your chances of winning leads and business by networking. “Clients like our clarity,” says Mr. Stokes. “In our case we could say we are management consultants, but that doesn’t mean anything. When we say that we deliver faster results, and help companies achieve their plans, it does.”

Been inspired by our alumni? Ready to start your own journey and see how you fare? Check out our formations packages, or, if you need more advice, our help centre, for everything you need to know about starting up. Who knows? In a year’s time, we might be interviewing you…