A Year In The Life Of A Small Business
As it’s National Small Business Day (2019), I thought I’d take a moment to reflect on the year so far as we approach the Christmas season and ViDERE’s first birthday! Last year on December 3rd, I launched ViDERE. When I first conceived ViDERE in my mind, I knew that I didn’t want to do things conventionally and that I wanted this new brand to reflect everything that was important to me; creating a connection with nature through artistic expression. Without further ado, here is a summary of everything I have done and learned over the past year.
Creating Birmingham’s first aquarium art gallery event ‘The Life Gallery’ to launch ViDERE as a brand was a very effective way of strategically gaining attention and awareness locally through my network of contacts but also globally through the content created and for digital and social networks. The event strapline ‘Nature is ART’ embodied everything that I wanted to reflect about the brand and the direction I envisioned it going in. This idea of nature being an artform really helped to differentiate ViDERE from other aquarium-design brands and inspired people to see the relevance of aquarium design within the mainstream. This experience also highlighted the importance of networking and collaborating with other businesses who have a shared interest or commonality in our projects’ success.
Inevitably, most small businesses won’t have access to venues or relevant data to set up and run events in their early days. To work around this, I partnered up with other companies: a good supplier for product prototypes; a kitchen design company, which provided a venue and an excellent local PR company who helped with supporting organising and raising awareness. This allowed me and my then-very small team of one other life artist (as well as help and from my wife, friends, and family) to focus on our strengths; which was executing product displays and installations.
Hosting or getting involved with live events are a great way to capture attention and also to generate valuable content for your social and digital platforms. As a result of this particular live event, we’re still using imagery and footage over a year later to successfully promote the ViDERE brand online. Live events are now embedded into the DNA of ViDERE: we have two more Life Gallery events in the works for 2020, along with involvement in various other projects.
The first Life Gallery was a one-week exhibition staged in the showroom of a local kitchen design company (Kitchen Gallery). The exhibition included pieces for the ViDERE range, as well as abstract pieces of natural art and smaller aquascapes. Doing events wasn’t totally new to me, as I’d had experience creating displays for exhibition events as part of my old business (Aquafront) worked with Poggenpohl Kitchens. But unlike the past, where I was part of much bigger events with guaranteed footfall, all the focus was now on me, my brand and my product to generate enough interest to bring people to the launch. Initially, I knew I had a good product and concept but virtually no relevant contacts locally. Therefore, contacting one of the best-connected PR agencies in Birmingham made the event a success.
As the owner of a small business with limited resources, it was important for me to focus on what my strengths were (i.e. the product and a strong brand philosophy) and to get support in the areas where I was vulnerable. This adaptative approach enabled me to make the event a successful launchpad for 2019 and beyond.
FINDING OUR NICHE
Shortly after the success of this first live event, ViDERE went on a three-month hiatus. During that time, I decided to refocus the business’ niche to move towards providing aquarium services for commercial interiors (specifically offices). This really helped to focus and redefine our brand message and a discover a meaningful purpose around what we do. Understanding the impact of aquariums within the framework of biophilia helped to shape our strategy and how developed the type of service for our clients.
A really important piece of advice for any small business with limited resources is that offering your product or service to ‘anyone who can afford it’ is the best way to get lost within your competitive ecosystem. Whilst choosing a specific demographic may seem like you are narrowing your potential client base, quality is always better over quantity and becoming a specialist in your field allows you to stand out.
Understanding who I wanted to work with and why this was consequently enabled me to develop ViDRERE’s big branding ethos: branding from biophilia or, ‘Biophilic Design’. A company’s brand is a reflection of the social interactions that take place within their team as well as with their partners, suppliers and clients. Comparatively, a company’s physical environment creates the foundation and context for those social interactions. Thus, ViDERE’s primary brand focus is that embedding elements of nature into the design of a workplace will significantly improve the wellbeing and happiness of employees. As a result, this happiness leads to better team cohesion and overall, a more positive environment for partners, suppliers, new customers and clients.
ViDERE stands for the notion that ‘We are all happier and healthier in the presence of nature’. In light of this, ViDERE’s three brand pillars are defined below:
NATURE – Improves how people think and feel
ART – Inspires creativity and introspection
CULTURE – Brings people together
Achieving this level of clarity with our branding allowed me to really elevate the next stage of growth in the business: building a team.
A strong, well-developed brand philosophy will have limited exposure and traction if you try to do everything yourself. Business is a team sport: the faster you can build a support network around your idea, the quicker it will come to life. Prior to this year, I had nearly 10 years of experience as a solopreneur; occasionally working with contractors on large projects, but for the most part, running and operating the business myself.
The best thing I did this year was to hire a virtual PA and begin the process of letting go of the functional processes within my business that used to take up so much of my time and attention. This enabled me to think more strategically about the what the business needed and who could make that happen. In 3 months, team ViDERE has grown from only me and my freelance Life Artist, to a small team of 8 fantastic people:
Me, Akil Gordon-Beckford – CEO & Founder
Sarah Burns – Executive Assistant
Marcus Jolly – Business Development
Ravi Kumar – (Storyteller) Videographer / Photography
Holly Young – (Storyteller) Online marketing Executive
Ed Gercog – Senior Life Artist (Aquascaper)
Nathan Dudley – Trainee Life Artist (Aquascaper)
Kenny Keddan – Field Engineer (Electrical)
Akanni John – Field engineer (Plumbing)
I’m only at the start of this official ‘employer’ journey, but the energy within this small nucleus of people is tremendous: don’t underestimate the power of a collective community. It has energised me two-fold, as I’m now responsible for delivering value to keep the ship afloat and grow the team further, both in number but also in value. Two key insights from this experience so far:
· Double down on what you’re good at and have the self-awareness to not try and be something you’re not.
· Embrace accountability and don’t allow things/events to get you too high or too low.
I’ve always believed that creating and publishing content is the best way to win attention and business in today’s digital economy. Therefore, I knew that ViDERE needed to be putting out several pieces of original content per day across all social platforms to gain the necessary traction and engagement needed to progress to the next level. On the same level, I knew that it was impossible for me to achieve this whilst working on my own; the desire to create content at this scale was and still is the main motivation behind why I expanded the ViDERE team.
We launched a podcast in September 2019, which has been great for quality short tail and long tail content. It has opened doors with clients and key partners and has been great for building my personal brand as an entrepreneur. Like the brand, the ViDERE podcast is a very niche programme of discussions around the topics of art, interior design and business culture. This creative outlet has a given our business a better understanding and insight into the market and demographic we want to work with and to learn more about how design and artistic expression impacts and benefits the human experience. It has also given me a larger platform to discuss aquascaping specifically, introducing people outside of the aquatics industry to an artform I'm really passionate about.
With regards to finances, my need for content creation meant I chose to do some work for free or pay for it out of my own pocket! As a small business, there is obviously a fine balance with what you can commit to and when. However, offering certain services and products for free to the right people has had a transformative effect on the business. ViDERE is now based in the creative heart of Birmingham, in the Jewellery Quarter, due to a business deal, I did with a local client, in exchange for a ViDERE display unit. Likewise, we also have a display unit in one of the city’s most prominent formal menswear design outlets. As a result, ViDERE is tactically positioned in multiple locations amongst Birmingham’s main business districts, ensuring continual exposure and connections are being made every week.
What I’ve enjoyed the most about this year is the satisfaction I feel when I see are progression, refinement and improvement. For example, Ravi and I’s first attempts of videography were awful! However, we have learned to analyse our work for mistakes and ways in which we can improve. I’ve now learned to embrace the process and not to be too obsessed with what version 9.2 would look like. I put a lot of pressure on the team to continuously increase the amount of content we create and publish, as I understand the more we do and put out the faster we learn about what works and what doesn't. One approach I will take into 2020 is exploring new ways to further speed up the refinement process without compromising on quality because time is a premium.
Finally, (most importantly) the significance of time is one I realised pretty quickly as I’ve watched it disappear right before me! Make each day count and celebrate the little wins, as several small victories often lead to bigger ones that build brand and reputation.