Congratulations on your new book Simple Tips Smart Ideas - tell us a bit about it?
It is a book geared at helping the millions of micro companies and freelancers in the UK - to grow, to better understand their value, to create new products and services, find new markets and audiences, to build resilience.
I’ve been working with small and micro companies for a long time. Either running one or as clients. It struck me that once you are past the start-up stage, there is very little help to call on. These companies have weathered the difficult phase, are still in business and are looking to develop – but finding support is hard. But there is only one of me. Yet my processes and models are easy to use and effective. By pouring them into a book, it means that pretty much anyone can use them. Additionally, most of them cost nothing to use.
I wanted the book to be fun, to be enabling, in full colour with lots of quick tips, contemporary case studies. A book to sit on your desk that you can just flip through to find a useful idea when you need a bit of inspiration. I wanted people to be able to annotate it, staples notes and ideas to it, just like you would a workbook.
What has been your biggest challenge in business to date? I have had two big challenges...
The first one was when I set up my consultancy, Lola Media. I knew that every company owned what I call ‘intellectual assets’ (effectively everything that had got them to here now), which could be used to generate all sorts of interesting new revenue streams, ways of working. But in order to get work in the door, I had to explain what I meant, how it worked and what opportunities it opened up. As this was completely unique for every company, which is one of its real strengths, there was no one size fits all. I was having to educate them in something totally new and outside their experience, before they could buy my services. It took me two years…
The second challenge was getting the book into print. Despite having a brilliant agent, because no publishing company knew who I was, they all said ‘love the manuscript, the content, but who is she?’. It was too risky for them to take on an unknown writer. My agent and I agreed we would work with a self-publishing company on their new model ‘author as publisher’ which allies benefits of self-publishing with some of the support you would get from a publishing house. I remember sitting looking at the contract, the cost and thinking ‘do I sign it?’. Then a quote that I often use with my clients popped into my head ‘don’t think what will happen if you do it, but how you will feel if you don’t do it’. I signed, and after a lot of hard graft, here we are today.
You have achieved a huge amount as well as having four children as well - how did you manage to juggle such big professional and home life commitments?
It’s funny – I don’t regard myself as having achieved a huge amount at all. All I’ve done is follow my curiosity, my creativity to see where it led me. Then I spun it into another new business which is lots of fun allowing me to work with fascinating people.
I always took the view that having children wasn’t going to change the fact that I loved work and didn’t want to stop. So I adapted work to fit round the children.
I taught myself to be a copywriter, because I could work freelance from home. I ran a design business using freelance graphic designers from a cupboard in the children’s playroom, much to the amusement of the children, my helper, and my clients who loved it. I launched a home furnishing and garden accessory range with the children appearing in the catalogues. We ran a documentary production company from a restored outbuilding in the garden, meaning I didn’t have to commute, could still cook lunch every day, ensure their friends came over, read stories... It was pre-planned chaos, but we all loved it. And I refused to feel guilty if I missed a school event. I went to hundreds so the occasional miss was acceptable.
What is the best piece of business advice you have ever been given and by who?
I work with a wonderful career coach who has supported me over the last 8 or 9 years. When I was questioning my ability to actually deliver the idea for my new business, she helped me appreciate just how creatively wide-ranging I was. And told me to pull my finger out and get on with it! It gave me real pleasure to credit her in the back of the book.
Who inspires you in business?
Priscilla Carluccio. An utterly amazing visionary, it was Priscilla’s inspiration that helped give rise to Habitat, to the Conran Shop, to Carluccio’s restaurant chain. As Terence Conran’s sister and Antonia Carluccio’s wife, she was rarely seen, but she was a total powerhouse. Small with piercing blue eyes, she was a retail dynamo and had such a smart attitude. And took no prisoners. I was lucky to have worked with her at the Conran Design Studio.
For anyone wanting to start their own business but suffering from lack of confidence what would you say?
Lack of confidence is something I come across a lot. One of the first things I do is to ask them to tell me their life story – in detail. We then work through to their business idea. But I continually help them tweak this to ensure it has its foundations in their past story and experience. By the time we get to the business vision, because it is so thoroughly based in who they are as individuals, harnessing their own strengths, their self-confidence has flowered as they use their own story as a springboard.
(By the way, the book’s first chapter covers how to do this.)
How did you find the process of writing the book as it's packed with brilliant advice?
Thank you. Just as I help clients to understand what their intellectual assets are, I took my own advice (for once!). I realised that the 26 notebooks in which I recorded every client meeting, what we did, new ideas, diagrams etc over a five-year period held the core of a system that anyone could apply to their business. And as there is only one of me, the best solution to pour it into a book. The dull bit was going through those heaps of notebooks… which took me five months… By the time I had a 2ft high pile of A6 bits of paper with a business point on each – believe you me I was ready to start writing! From then on, the text was finished within 7 months – writing it was a total joy but then, don’t forget, I used to earn my living as a copywriter. All I was doing was writing what I knew and wanted to share.
Nothing in the book is complicated, most of the ideas are free to try but everyone who uses it will come up with unique and different ideas. I find that truly, truly exciting and look forward to hearing what people are doing.
Erica Wolfe-Murray is the UK's leading business and innovation expert. She has been dubbed by Forbes as the 'Delia of Business' and can frequently be seen on national TV, on radio providing expert comments regarding business advice. Erica is the founder of Lola-Media.co.uk and her new book Simple Tips Smart Ideas is out now and available on Amazon https://www.amazon.co.uk/Simple-Smart-Ideas-Erica-Wolfe-Murray/dp/1911195980
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