When it comes to business, Erica Wolfe-Murray is one of the best people you could wish to get advice from. As the UK's leading Business & Innovation Expert, and founder of Lola-Media.co.uk, she's a true force to be reckoned with. Her smart and savvy approach to problem solving over four decades has seen her work with over 250 companies to-date, and counting.

Erica Wolfe-Murray gives some sound business advice to readers

Erica Wolfe-Murray gives some sound business advice to readers

In her second column for Female First, she's taken a trio of questions from women feeling a little overwhelmed by the world of business. Read on to find out what advice she had to give them.

After 10 years as a stay-at-home mum, I’d love to do something for myself. I used to be a hairdresser, and would like to go back to that. I think being self-employed would suit me as I need the flexibility. But where do I start? And does it matter I haven’t got any business qualifications?

I think that sounds a great plan, good for you. You’ve got both the skills and the ambition which is the perfect starting point.

Do some market research to start with. Drop into your local salons to find out how they work. Some will use self-employed stylists like you, expecting you to bring your own clients and assist with their overflow. Look in local papers/online to see if there is a market for stylists who do home visits. This way of working could also suit you.

Do you need to refresh your skills? Offer friends/family a free or discounted cut. Study new styles in magazines and practice, practice, practice. If you need a refresher – sign up for a short/weekend course. Look to add new skills such as colouring or the care of wigs belonging to those who’ve had drug treatment.

No, it doesn’t matter at all that you don’t have business qualifications. There’s lots of information online and books about starting a business. ‘Spare Room Start Up’ by Emma Jones is good. People start businesses every day – and if you’ve been running your family budget, you are already well qualified to run your own business. But be clear about what you are offering, then settle on a fair price for that service. It’s good if it fits within the parameters of your locality. Make sure you keep a true record of your income, as well as your expenses, so you understand exactly what money you are making.

Then once you feel you are sure of what you are doing – it’s all about marketing to let everyone know you’re in business! Good luck to you.

I’ve recently given up my job to help my partner expand his plumbing business as I’ve a background in sales & admin. But I’m feeling totally overwhelmed – can you give me any advice on the next steps to grow the business? We have two full-time plumbers at the moment with a van each and want to grow this to 10 within the next 12 months.

Exciting times! Not only a change in industry, but with crunchy growth targets and working with your partner, you must feel you’re climbing a huge mountain.

The first thing you need to do is really look into the current business. Ensure you understand all the systems they have in place. And if there aren’t any, build some of your own so you have control. Work out the book-keeping/accounts, plan the relationships/deals with suppliers, understand the budgeting, invoicing etc. Do you need to improve contracts with staff as well as clients? The more you get these vital aspects of the business in hand, the easier it will be to grow. Efficiency both as an employer and as a service wins respect and trust from staff and clients.

Next you need to understand how the business currently wins work. Do you operate as a sub-contractor, or do companies and home-owners approach you direct? Understanding their ‘route to you’ is vital. You can consider how you could expand the business offering more services in other ways. But don’t do anything until you’ve nailed your existing work. Look back over the past six months trading too to see what you can learn from that.

Expanding your business by 500% in one year is an ambitious growth plan for any company, creating a real juggle around managing projects, managing your growing team, managing your cash flow and having to constantly win new business. Aim to bring on two new plumbers every six months. This slower growth allows you to learn the business, but ensures that you can keep on top of the projects and admin, as well as doing the increased marketing that will be needed to ensure your project pipeline is full.

Slower and steady is always best in this situation to ensure you have maximum control. I hope it goes well.

I’m a freelance graphic designer, but I’m busy chasing my tail. I want to structure my business better and double turnover, but without a business degree, I don’t know how to do this.

There is a really short list of things you need to get in place:

  • Ensure all your business systems are in good shape e.g. how you quote, invoice, manage money, pay suppliers. Set aside half a day a week, or an hour at the end of each day to do this – without fail.
  • Write a list of all your clients from the last two years, and a second list detailing exactly what you were paid to do. Using this second list, can you go back and offer all these services to the clients on the ? Winning business is easier from past clients…
  • Set aside half a day a week to actively market your business. This means making contact with people/companies, not working on your website. You particularly need to be doing this when you are busy – it’s easy to get absorbed on a contract, forgetting that you won’t have one to move on to when it is finished!
  • Go hunting – get out, network, reach out on social media to companies, people you want to work for. But don’t go to places where you just meet other designers – go to conferences, talks about the industries you are interested in working for.

And none of these need a business degree!