Startup Stories – FLEXiSPACE

If, like me, you have recently been gripped by the strangely compelling show Storage Hunters, you may have become curious about the self-storage industry and the characters behind it.

Like many businesses, self-storage is an American concept, becoming popular across the US in the 1960s. It is only in the past few years, however, that it has emerged here in the UK.

Marc Studholme, Flexispace

Marc Studholme, FlEXiSPACE

I caught up with entrepeneur Marc Studholme of FLEXiSPACE, one of the first people to bring the self-storage revolution to Britain.

I asked him how he got started and his future plans for expanding the business in this burgeoning market.

Q) Can you tell us how the business got started, where did the idea come from?

A) The UK self-storage market is growing and set to double in size over the next 10 years. It provides a flexible property solution to businesses and Individuals that is relevant and aligned to modern day living – we all have more “stuff” our lives are faster moving and space can be an issue.

Q) Can you explain your business model in very simple terms?

Converting a large warehouse into lots and lots of small rooms (like a hotel layout) that customers rent and use to store items or as a place to work.

Q) What does your team look like?

A) Each Store has an Operations Manager, a Sales Manager with central Financial and Marketing controls.

Q) How have you funded the business?

A) The business is funded by personal investment by the directors and modest bank support.

Q) How did you get from idea to product, was there much project management involved?

A) The concept is location centric, so the majority of research is in selecting sites that provide the best demographics, visibility and access. Once the sites are located, each are individually project planned and costed alongside comprehensive research as to customer potential, competitive threats and so on.

locations

A FLEXiSPACE location in Manchester

Q) How much competition is there in your space? How do you stand out?

A) Today FLEXiSPACE has competition (both direct and indirect) yet the pace in which awareness is increasing is greater than the expansion of competition. We stand out against our competitors due to our branding, modern appearance, staff recruitment & training, our entrepreneurial flair and commitment to ensure our business is as compelling and relevant as possible for our customers.

Q) What does your typical customer look like? 

A) The simple fact is that anyone can use our services, however depending on life events some are more likely than others. Typically or services are used be people who are moving home, decluttering, operating a business – storing stock, equipment, documents, running an event close by, going travelling or simply need more space in their life

Q) What have been your major hurdles when starting up, how have you overcome them?

A) Finding the correct locations and the significant construction project that follows. Thereafter, ensuring we maintain a steady stream of enquiries from individuals and business that have a need for our service.

Q) What is your advice to anybody who is considering starting a business?

A) The best advise is “Just Do It!”, plans are great but reality will always be different. Work out the basic principles ahead of time and then just jump in the deep end and learn how to swim!

Q) Who has inspired and helped you in starting your business?

A) The inspiration for starting the business emerged from the business partners, however there has been a number individuals and businesses that have inspired us along the way. These include: Active Supply & Design, Lustalux, Westwood Fire & Security, The Self Storage AssociationBlue Van Hire and Fat Media.

Q) What customer recruitment channels are you using, and which are the most effective in terms of conversion?

A) Multiple, although the drive by and online channels typically provide the most activity.

Q) What are your long-term plans for the business?

A) The outlook is to open additional stores where sites and supporting demographics support, whilst maintaining our USPs and brand values.

Ask an SEO – Mark Preston on SEO for SMEs

One of the biggest barriers to SEO for small and medium sized businesses has been its unpredictable nature and the rising cost of doing the things that actually make a tangible difference to rankings.

Mark Preston of Wildshark SEO is aiming to change that, with a low monthly cost service, starting from £74pm aimed specifically at the SME market.

Mark Preston

I caught up with him to ask him about the proposition, and his tips for doing SEO on a budget.

Q) Could you start by telling us about your background, how did you get into SEO?

A) Way back when I left school I went to college full time for three years to become a qualified mechanical engineer then went back to college for another three years to become an agricultural engineer. I worked within this industry for many years until around 15 years ago when family health issues forced me to take a hard look at my career. I needed to have a job that was flexible so I could take my daughter to hospital appointments as and when required so I decided to go to night school and gain an IT qualification. I then set up my first business selling web hosting. Like any online business, I needed to drive potential buyers to my website so I started testing lots and lots of different online marketing methods. I learnt a lot during this time, including what NOT to do.

The way I saw it was – I would look at all the major competition and work out what I could do to be better than them instead of just copying what they are doing. I started setting up website after website to test different online marketing methods. This way if something did not work then it would have no impact on anyone. I ended up having about 120 websites in lots of different industries from a flatpack builder website to a music video site, most of which was ranking at the top of the search engines making me a very good monthly income in affiliate commission.

My big break came in 2007 when I confirmed a large contract worth multiple six figures per year. This allowed me to setup a digital company with qualified staff. Over the next three years, work flooded in and I had offices in both Inverness and Cheshire.

From here I went in to the white label industry, providing white label design, development and marketing services to UK digital companies until the launch of Wildshark in 2013 where I decided to concentrate on helping small business owners sort out their online presence and try and build a little trust back in to the SEO industry by telling people the truth.

Q) Tell us more about your company, Wildshark

A) Wildshark is one of the UK’s top white label SEO suppliers, providing quality SEO packages to web design and digital agencies throughout the UK at trade prices. We also offer our packages to small business owners at the same trade price our white label partners receive.

One question we get asked all the time is – “how do you manage to provide quality SEO packages whilst keeping everything in-house at such a small monthly fee?”

Most SEO agencies either outsource the work off-shore or they have large sales costs. At Wildshark we are in a unique position where we do not have any sales people working within our company so we do not have the marketing expense our fellow SEO agencies have. Our white label partners are our sales team which provides us with a constant flow of residual orders. Our own website is also ranked highly for hundreds of targeted phrases which bring in a constant flow of direct enquiries and orders.

Our in-house team is made up of top SEO professionals who complete the analysis and technical tasks and our team of IT apprentices complete the day to day manual tasks. As we secure new orders we just take on another IT apprentice to make sure we can handle the work load. This business structure allows us to grow, provide solid customer service, keep everything in-house and ensure our package prices are kept to a minimum.

Wildshark SEO

Wildshark SEO

Q) How do you convince skeptical company owners to invest in SEO over other channels?

A) I would never recommend that any business owner invest 100% of their marketing budget in SEO only. The SEO strategy should be a part of their complete marketing strategy so when you ask me about convincing companies to invest in SEO over other channels, I would not.

As our company does not do any telesales, we do not have to convince anyone. By the time they come to our website and contact us, they already know they need SEO. All the convincing is done through the copy on our website.

Q) You offer a number of different packages, could you briefly explain the difference between them?

A) In order to provide a solid service and ensure results at affordable prices, we offer the following four packages:

On-Page SEO Package (£39 one-off) – From time to time we get approached by small business owners who wish to perform all the off-page activities themselves but just want to make sure their website is fully optimised with no on-page issues.

Local SEO Package (£74 pm) – Our local package is ideal for businesses who want to attract more custom from within their business location. The types of businesses who purchase this package are florists, bakers, pizza delivery and builders amongst others.

National SEO Package (£129 pm) – As the name states, our national package is ideal for small business owners who wish to promote their business throughout the UK or any other English speaking Country.

National Plus Package (£195 pm) – Our local and national packages are all about getting your website ranked at the top of Google for multiple targeted phrases but our National Plus package goes one step further by helping you increase your online conversion rate.

Q) The cynic in me would question how much value am I going to get for £74/Month, how do you manage to deliver value for such a small monthly fee?

A) The value is determined within the research and the results. The research completed will demonstrate that when the results are achieved then the return will be provided. Even though our packages are priced low, our white label partners are easily reselling our packages for around £500 per month building a very good residual income.

We manage to deliver exceptional value for money by having a really good business structure and making sure we never offer any bespoke services. We do not profess to be a master of everything and instead prefer to be an expert at one thing – SEO. If our clients require any services that are not contained within our packages then we try to point them in the right direction – usually, one of our own white label partners.

Q) With tactics such as article marketing and directory submissions becoming increasingly ineffective, what are the scalable and cost-effective methods of link building you carry out?

A) One word – outreach

When we secure a new client we make sure we explain to them that we need them to work with us to make sure people actually want to link to their website. We then point people who we have already established an interest in our clients industry in the direction of their website, press release, blog etc… Depending on the industry will depend on how many natural links is gained.

If a business owner is serious about their business growth then they should stop using outdated link building tactics now!

Q) How do you work with clients in terms of KPIs?

A) The honest answer is we don’t work on any key performance indicators. Wildshark offers cost effective SEO packages to small business owners who wish to get their website ranked at the top of the major search engines. If clients sign up to our National Plus package, however, we do help them to increase their online conversion rate as well.

Panda strikes again

Q) What does your typical client campaign look like in terms of activity each month?

A) As we provide set packages, we are up-front and state on our website exactly what we will do and what they receive. This way there is no confusion. We do tweak the contents of each package from time to time to make sure we are constantly providing a strategy that works very well.

When we receive a new client it is important that we first look at the history of that website and ensure the on-page is perfect then move forward with generating brand awareness and building authority on a monthly basis.

Q) Have many of your clients been impacted by Panda 4.0, if so, what actions have you undertaken to recover?

A) This depends – we do get new clients coming to us that have seen a drop in rankings around the time of the Panda 4.0 release but as we make sure we clean everything up during the first month then I can state that not one of our existing clients was negatively affected by Panda 4.0. In fact we saw an increase in rankings on many campaigns.

Q) If you could advise an SME with little time or budget on one single task they can undertake to improve SEO performance, what would it be?

A) This is a good question as there are so many things but I would have to say that it is very important that their website is free from the basic SEO mistakes (lack of meta tags etc), displays quality unique content and is fully optimised for attainable keywords.

Q) Content marketing, short-lived fad or here to stay?

A) With the increased exposure of inbound marketing, it is defiantly here to stay but people need to change the way they think about content marketing. Writing a blog post and posting it on Twitter once is not content marketing. It is time that people started writing about subjects their audience actually want to read.

Teamwork.com

Teamwork.com

Q) What are your favourite SEO/project management tools?

A) I use a selection of SEO tools which I use to complement each other. The first and one that many people ignore is Google Webmaster Tools. We still get many small business owners sign up with Wildshark who do not have webmaster tools attached to their website. It is a must and provides so much very useful information that can be used. As far as other SEO tools are concerned, I would have to say Moz beyond any other is my number one favourite for many reasons.

As far as project management tools goes, I have tried quite a few but have to say that using TeamWork to manage all our clients’ campaigns makes life so much easier.

3 Tools to help you put social media on autopilot

Don’t have time to update your company Twitter, Facebook page or blog?

Here are 3 awesome tools that can take care of it for you!

Klout

Klout started life as a simple tool for measuring the effectiveness of your socal output, but now it actually helps you with that output as well.

Plug in your social profiles and some keywords which describe the subjects that you and your audience are interested in and it will throw up a feed with results that are relevant. You can then schedule these posts to go out at regular intervals.

Klout

IFTTT

I am a huge fan of IFTTT (If This Then That) which can automate pretty much any activity, from turning on your lights to organising your calendar.

In the case of social media, you can set it to ping out updates when selected sites add a new item to their RSS feed. Choose authority sites in your sector and every time they update, you update too!

IFTTT

 

Copify WordPress Plugin

The Copify WordPress plugin, when teamed with one of our monthly blog packages helps companies to automatically update their blog with quality, unique posts.

Give us your blog URL and some keywords and for a monthly fee (from £49/$69) we’ll deliver a number of posts each week. WordPress users can even have these posts pushed live automatically with an image!

A Blog using the Copify WordPress plugin

Startup stories – Girl Meets Dress

In this week’s feature, I interviewed Anna Bance of fashion rental Startup Girl Meets Dress.

Anna Bance  - Girl Meets Dress

Anna Bance – Girl Meets Dress

Q) Can you tell us the story of how you came up with the idea of Girl Meets Dress?

A) The Girl Meets Dress story began in 2009 when I was working as UK PR Manager for French Luxury brand Hermes – and like my previous roles in the fashion industry, it involved lending the collection of dresses and accessories out on a daily basis to fashion magazines, shoots, celebrities and journalists…I thought to myself “wouldn’t it be amazing if we could all borrow dresses for just one event, and wear a different designer for every event in our calendar?”

When my co-founder Xavier and I looked into the market we saw that no one was doing it. We were the first company to rent luxury fashion online and it is wonderful that Girl Meets Dress is now pioneering the way for rental as a new and exciting ecommerce category of its own.

Q) Can you explain your business model in very simple terms?

A) Online luxury fashion rental. Women can hire the hottest designer dresses and accessories for up to 95% off retail price. We have over 4,000 dresses from over 150 international designer brands.

Q) What does your team currently look like?

A) The wonderful thing about an ecommerce company is the exciting variety of team member with extremenly different skills / backgrounds, all working together each day to make our customers happy. Our customer service team is currently the largest section. We also have Marketing, PR, Graphics, Buying, IT, Social media, Content etc. We are growing fast!

Q) How have you funded the business?

A) We have 100% bootstrapped the company, self funding until the summer of 2013 when we raised our first round of investment funding from Global Founders Capital.

Q) How did you get from idea to product, was there much project management involved?

A) We very simply put a basic website live and confirmed demand for our product. Once you know the market potential exists and customers are excited, you can build on that and expand further. The early days are all about testing. My co-founder and I were the only ones involved in setting up Girl Meets Dress. Finding a co-founder with different skill sets to you is a brilliant way to launch without needing to hire a full team on day 1. If you can split the main areas of the business between you, then you can launch with minimal cost and test the product at market.

Girlmeetsdress.com

Girlmeetsdress.com

Q) How much competition is there in your space? How do you stand out?

A) We are lucky as we do not have many competitiors in the online rental market. We have the largest selection of dresses and accessories from 200 designers from over 50 countires, resulting in us becoming the UK’s leading luxury rental service. Our relationships with our designers are crucial and the aim is to bring together the best dresses from all over the world – from both UK new talent to worldwide established brands. The mix and varied selection of these designers on one site is what will hopefully mean that every woman visiting will find the perfect dress no matter what her event!

Q) What does your typical customer look like?

A) We are growing at over 100% and our customer demographic is very varied and exciting, ranging from a 14 year old girl off to her school prom, to young professional women who have 5 weddings this summer +various social occasions and need a different fabulous dress to each… to Mothers of the Bride looking for that perfect look on the big day.

Q) What have been your major hurdles when starting up, how have you overcome them?

A) When we started, ensuring we have a full team in place while bootstrapping was no easy feat. We were lucky to find so many hardworking and ambitious staff to stick with us and the vision.

Becoming knowledgeable in so many different areas is challenging but it definitely helps to have 2 co-founders with complimentary and different skill sets. Fulfilment and logistics is an area which has to evolve and improve all the time as the company grows and orders increase. New processes and staff roles have to adapt to demand for the product to maintain efficiency.

Q) What advice would you give to anyone thinking of starting a business?

A) Although not 100% necessary, I recommend choosing an area that you know something about. There are exciting ways to pioneer every market, whichever field you love. Of course, you can learn about any new topic – but will you be able to compete with people with years of knowledge and expertise.

Don’t over think it. There will never be a perfect time to leave your secure job, risk your salary decrease, take a chance on an idea which might not work – but what’s the worst that can happen? You’ll go back to your previous role until you come up with the next idea!

Q) What customer recruitment channels are you using, and which are the most effective in terms of conversion?

A) We have a dedicated team working on our SEO through our blog whilst our CRM Manager deals with our 170,000 newsletter marketing. We’ve found that both of these, combined with our PR team running regular social media competitions and campaigns, have worked well for us in terms of conversion. When you’re a new company the most important and impactful skills to have for converserion is the ability to promote and market the product and brand to get that all important traffic through the doors – PR has been a huge element for us both online and offline.

Thea Green - Nails Inc

Thea Green – Nails Inc

Q) Who inspired you to start the business?

A) There are so many amazing entrepreneurs who are pioneering brilliant and useful business that are making our lives easier and more enjoyable. I love attending business events and networking so I get to know them all. Thea Green has been incredible in her ability to turn Nails Inc into a global brand – the company keeps on getting better and better.

 

Q) What are your long-term plans for the business?

A) Without giving anything away, Girl Meets Dress is proving the potential to be huge!
 We have ambitious and exciting plans for the year ahead. We want to continue to grow the collection of stock, the team, and to innovate within the wider Fashion space. 
We will continue our leadership of this emerging space and be in a position to wow our customers in every way possible and to forge a brand and quality of service which women will wonder how they managed without, giving women access to the biggest closet in the world!