I hope you’re all having a good weekend. I thought now would be the perfect time to share another exciting Behind the Biz interview with you. If you’re new here, Behind the Biz is my weekly interview series where I discover small and growing businesses, the people behind them and their business journey.
Today’s interview is with James, the co-founder of Instantprint.
Please tell us about your business.
Our business is instantprint.co.uk, an online printing business aimed at small and micro businesses. We’re based in South Yorkshire and all products are produced in our 100,000 sq ft production facility based just outside Sheffield.
Where did the inspiration for Instantprint come from?
Adam and I were at university when we started the business during our final exams, as friends from school we’d always been involved in running small business ventures and at university ran student nights which meant buying flyers and posters for the events. When we came to the end of university, we decided that this was our opportunity to go it alone and were looking for opportunities to go after. Having struggled purchasing print for the club nights we were determined that this could be made easier for inexperienced buyers. This set the objective for instantprint which is to make it as easy as possible for small and micro businesses to buy print online.
How did you decide upon the name of your business?
From the outset we identified fast turnaround as a critical element in making print buying easy for a small business, so wanted a name that reflected this. We were lucky to be able to secure the domain name before we even started.
Did you always plan to be self-employed?
Yes, both of our parents run their own businesses and I don’t think we ever really considered the option of working for someone else.
What has been the biggest challenge in running your business so far?
When we initially started we had very little knowledge of either the print process or online retail. On the print process side we were able to learn a lot from manufactures who were supplying the equipment and we relied a lot of information / forums on the internet. At an early stage of the business we brought in a mentor who was very experienced on the finance side and was able to support our lack of knowledge in this area.
As the business matured and due to volume the production facility had grown into what we term industrial printing (as opposed to commercial). As such every operation in the business is now based around standard operating procedures that ensure processes are executed in the same way every time. This ensures that we are always able to achieve the same high quality result. Reviewing and updating these SOPs has been important to us in maintaining quality as the business grows as such at rapid rate.
When we started out we faced lots of challenges due to inexperience, although these did slow us down in some areas it also had the effect of pulling the team together in those early days. It was often difficult to get taken seriously (we were 22 at the time) and were told we should try something different. Just after we set up I vividly remember being told by a print finisher in Newcastle who had been in the industry for years that we were absolutely crazy to start in the print industry, he told us that if we have degrees we should be looking to get into a different industry. As the business has evolved the challenges have changed but the numbers of them haven’t; when the business first set out the challenges revolved more around technical knowledge where now they are more strategy based.
What has been the highlight of your business journey to date?
Two really; in 2012 the business moved from Newcastle to Sheffield as part of a merger with another business. At the time we had a team of twenty four and all but two of the team made the decision to move with the business. Although it was a disappointment to lose two individuals, it was amazing that the team wanted to stay with the business. Second would be achieving Sunday Times Virgin Fast Track 100 list twice for business growth.
What role does social media play for your business and do you have a favourite social platform?
Since our customers, on average, only purchase 3-4 times a year for their print campaigns, social media lets us engage with them during that period. We can communicate any new products and offers and share our fresh content. We also use paid promotion on social media as an advertising channel, which allows us to target small business owners and introduce instantprint. Facebook and Twitter are our most widely used platforms as our customers can leave feedback and questions instantaneously. We’re also hoping to expand into Pinterest with the launch of our Wedding templates this year!
What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs?
Partners – make sure you’re going into the business with the right people, if you are even slightly unsure don’t go any further. Running a business with someone requires a huge amount of trust and both parties need to be committed. Adam and I made a mistake previously and wouldn’t again.
Establish responsibilities – everyone in the business needs to know which areas they own and will be held accountable for – run through and check that nothings been missed.
Set up your KPIs / goals – this is said time and time again but is critical – we set a specific time aside each week to set objectives and review performance against them – write them down and hold people accountable.
Act quickly and decisively – if your business is new in established market place your agility is your biggest advantage so make sure you use it.
Get cash coming in – securing those first sales is critical, lack of profit will slowly eat away at your business but lack of cashflow can kill it instantly – if cashflow is tight check it every day and build a contingency plan.
Be ruthless with recruitment – in the early days your business can’t afford to carry anyone who isn’t performing, act quickly to put them into daily performance coaching and if they still don’t make it get recruiting.
Focus – your time is limited and your most valuable asset – you’ll have lots of opportunities in front of you – pick your best and put all effort on them, success comes as much from deciding what NOT to do as much as what to do.
Open minded – you will inevitably come across lots of opportunities, keep an open mind about changing your business proposition but remember to only be focused on a few things.
Pick your time to recruit – if you’re working 80-90 hour weeks then it’s likely you are spending your time working in the business rather than on it. The business will never call you and ask to you work on it in the same way a client will. Analyse how much time you are spending actually focused on the business rather than working in it.
Reach out to other business leaders – through networking events / forums or even neighbours – more often than not people have faced the same issue you’re experiencing and can offer advice. Generally its free and often generates great ideas.
Please tell us more about your new Start-Up Hub.
The Start-Up Hub is an exciting new project we’ve launched to help provide advice for businesses just starting out. It is a new website which provides a range of articles and guides from inspiring start-up stories to advice to hiring employees! As a Start-Up which has organically grown to the size we are today, we thought we could draw upon the lessons we learnt as well as consulting business growth experts around the world.
Where do you hope to take your business in the year ahead?
This year the business is set to turn over £30 million having achieved £20million in the previous financial year. The business has achieved very strong growth over the past years and was included in the Sunday Times Fast Track 100 league table two years running. This year we plan to invest more in our content marketing strategy, providing resources for small businesses to grow.
Check out what Instantprint have to offer on their site, explore the new Start-Up Hub and support their journey over on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram.
I want to say a huge thanks to James for taking the time to be involved with Behind the Biz. I really enjoyed finding out about the Instantprint journey and I hope you did too. James has shared a lot of useful tips for anyone planning to start their own business, share this with someone who could benefit from his wise words.