What's it like being a business advisor at Virgin Startup?
Our business advisors are a crucial part of the Virgin StartUp operation. They meet with potential loan recipients during the early stages and take them through the first steps to get a business off the ground, from business plans to financial forecasting. With their support, businesses go on to create their loan application - and hopefully get funded by us!
One of our business advisors is Ben Keene, founder of TribeWanted, an innovative eco-tourism initiative. Here he talks about how being a business advisor has impacted upon his own entrepreneurialism, and explains why getting advice from those more experienced is so important.
"'I’m going to start a revolution in knitwear.'
To be honest this wasn’t something I was expecting to hear this year. But, since joining Virgin Startup as a freelance business advisor, I’ve connected with dozens of talented entrepreneurs who are on missions to shake up their chosen markets and change the world.
Like most exciting opportunities in this town, I discovered them through Escape the City. After meeting the team (lots of good energy) and understanding what support they were looking for (advising entrepreneur applications and business planning leading workshops), I jumped in.
It soon became clear that this was the business programme I wish I’d been on when I first started out. I’ve worked with about 25 entrepreneurs on their business plans in the last 3 months, discussing their customer profiles, what they can learn from their competitors, why they should keep pushing down their sales forecasts and how to creatively get their big idea out into the world as cheaply as possible.
The biggest insight for me has been the diversity of the range of ideas and people. Each workshop we go round the table and everyone in turn shares their idea. It’s a chance for people to practise their pitch. Afterwards I ask which ones people remember. The answer is often more about the story or the name of the business than what it does. Every entrepreneur has a story, and the better they tell it the more likely future customers will remember them.
By the end of each workshop there is such a good energy between the group. A lot of the doubts people had coming into the room have been answered - not necessarily by me, but by each other. There is a strong sense that starting a business in the UK today is genuinely exciting and if you take the right guidance, anyone can give it a go.
As for handing out the advice, I often find sharing my failures is often more valuable than my successes:
“Don’t spend silly money on a load of website features that no one is going to use.”
“Don’t waste time and money trademarking your idea - get out there and sell it.”
“Do ask for help, regardless of how stupid it seems.”
From my perspective, being part of the Virgin Startup tribe has given me plenty of energy, inspiration and lessons for my own businesses. I thank the future startups of Britain for that!
My 5 tips for getting funded, mentored and supported through Virgin StartUp:
- Turn up. If you don’t apply online or come to a workshop, it’s not going to happen.
- Have your social media ready to go. Virgin online is a powerful network. We tweet out all the startups at every workshop – marketing your business starts before you get the funding.
- Don’t spend silly money on a website. I spend a decent amount of the workshop looking at lean startup tools to help you get your business up and running. My favourite web-builder is strikingly
- Use the Virgin Startup templates. You may have written a great business plan but these templates will help you focus better on the next 3-6 months, which is all that matters.
- Have an action plan with your business advisor. Use us to make you more accountable to making things happen!
If you would like to become one of our business advisors and help start the next generation of entrepreneurs, head over to our job opportunities page.