Building networks

Launching your own business is many things – exciting, daunting, surprising and enlightening. But one thing it can be is quite a lonely affair, especially if you work from home.

That was Deborah Murray’s experience when she started Everything Services Ltd. But moving into the e-Innovation Centre at the University’s Telford Campus transformed the early days of branching out on her own.

“I felt isolated when I was working at home, but as soon as I came to the e-IC my productivity doubled,” she explains.

“My business would not have gone the way it has if I had not moved in there. It is a nice, peaceful environment so we can get on with things and we have access to so much help and support from University projects.”

Everything Services Ltd is a business support service, and Deborah describes it as offering ‘whatever you need to run your business to free your hands up’. The idea is that the client can then concentrate on the important things, and not the small things that they didn’t go into business for in the first place.

This can be administration, accounting, marketing, transcription, property or legal support, among others, and Deborah employs people who are experts in the different areas to provide the service.

Business support

She is based in the e-Innovation Centre, which aims to support the creation and development of new businesses by providing office accommodation and business support services. Small and medium sized enterprises are brought together under one roof in incubation units, and can acquire ‘grow on’ space as their business expands.

But even in this business-focused environment, Deborah felt she needed to get to know her neighbours better, so decided to launch the Cookie Club.

“We are in a building full of businesses, and when I first moved here I couldn’t tell you what my neighbours did. So I started a networking club to enable people to meet other people in the building. The companies in the e-IC are so diverse that we could probably get everything we need here! Then I opened it up to external businesses as well, so we are bringing other companies in to build our networks.”

The Cookie Club meets on the last Friday of every month and costs £5 to attend – including cookies. But the name is actually inspired by the cookies on computers which obtain information, so the people who join become ‘network cookies’.

As well as networking, Deborah organises for a speaker each month and themes the activities to fit in with this.

On average, the Club welcomes about 22 people each time but you don’t need to be a member to go along. Deborah has found other benefits of being based in the e-IC, besides valuable networking.

Innovation

A number of innovative University projects are located at the Telford Campus, including New Technologies for Automatic Identification, Location and Sensing (NTAILS) which aims to help West Midlands businesses adopt new technology such as Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) and Automatic Identification and Data Capture (AIDC) technologies such as barcodes, quick response (QR) codes and near field communication (NFC), and IT Futures, the University’s technology and digital media provider.

Deborah says: “I love this building and the whole ethos behind it. It’s also great to be on a University campus and have access to the different projects here. I’ve received support from NTAILS to develop QR codes, which are fab as I’ve been able to incorporate my logo into the QR code. I am still fine tuning my website, so I have sent this to IT Futures to take a look at and they are compiling a report on Search Engine Optimisation (SEO), the types of web content and what I need to be aware of over the coming months of development.

"The great thing about being in the e-Innovation Centre is the continued support that is offered through various projects such as these.”

Looking ahead, Deborah’s aspirations are obviously to be as successful as she can be with her business, and to survive in the current economic climate.

“I started the business in the middle of the recession so things can only get better. I want people to realise there is a way to get help with their business without having to employ full-time staff. We can take the pressure off, for example with our call-minding service. 80% of people won’t leave a message, so if you miss a call you lose the business.

We answer as their business, as each client has a specific number that their calls come through on, so callers would think we are their receptionist, providing a professional front-line response.

“I just want my business to grow but still have that personal touch that a small business has.”

Deborah’s advice to budding entrepreneurs is to network and meet as many business contacts as you can. This has clearly proven to be a successful tactic for her and Everything Services Ltd.

She adds: “Networking really helped me. It is amazing how much advice you can pick up just from having a conversation with someone.”