Features | 15 Nov 2021

Thinking of starting your own business? Four founders share their stories

Vodafone has enlisted the advice of four business owners to help make more relevant content for V-Hub, the company’s one-stop-shop website for small businesses.

Vodafone UK News caught up with them to find out more about their stories and why they got involved. The four ambassadors are:

  • Lore Salas, founder of hospitality consultancy Dates & Avocados, which helps businesses across Europe to add plant-based options to their menus through online support.
  • Khalia Ismain, co-founder of Jamii, an online marketplace for black creators and makers in the UK. Jamii is now used by more than 250 makers with 38,000 potential customers.
  • Gynelle Leon, Founder of Prick, London’s first cactus shop. Gynelle wants to educate people about the benefits of living with plants, helping her online community with regular advice.
  • Athina Bluff, Founder of Topology Interiors. Athina spotted a gap in the market for high-quality interior design with great style and service, without the huge cost.

When you were starting out, how would V-Hub have helped you?

Lore Salas: I was completely directionless – I focused on social media, but never paid attention to my website or to email marketing. V-Hub would have helped me to focus my goals.

Khalia Ismain: I had no idea where to start or how I could find help. The V-Hub is effectively a course on how to launch and run a small business online.

Gynelle Leon: Having all the information in one place for free, with access to one-on-one telephone support is invaluable. In the beginning I used business books from the library.

Athina Bluff: I never had any formal business studies…everything I learned was either through my own research or through trial and error. I only wish I had come across it sooner!

Lorena Salas
Lore Slas, Founder of hospitality consultancy, Dates & Avocados

Do you think business owners use online tools more often for advice and information today?

LS: I think we all do. Now there are many online resources available; tips to build your own website, store your projects in the cloud, design your newsletters, manage your social media, etc. Very helpful when you don’t have a big budget.

KI: Especially since the pandemic begun, but it’s difficult to find information that’s trustworthy and relevant to what you’re working on. That’s why the 1:1 sessions from V-Hub are extremely useful.

GL: Gone are the days of visiting a physical library for information, and not many have people in their lives with business experience. The internet is always at our fingertips.

AB: I think business owners will use a combination of both. It’s helpful listening to the advice of your peers, but equally their business journey is different. It’s sometimes more beneficial to do your own research.

Do you think big businesses have a responsibility to help new businesses?

LS: Absolutely. Small businesses have been hit very hard during the pandemic. From offering free tools, to encouraging their customers to shop locally, I think larger corporations have a big responsibility.

KI: Small businesses are often so connected to their communities and provide products or services that bigger ones just can’t. Bigger businesses do have a responsibility to help them get started, stay afloat and succeed.

GL: I wouldn’t say they had to, but it is a part of their social responsibility…helping small businesses with the wealth of knowledge, experience and resources they have is a great way to make a positive change.

AB: Personally, I love helping other small businesses and interior designers. There’s enough space for everyone to grow.

Jamii membership card - the first discount card for Black British creators and makers,
The Jamii card is the first discount card for Black British creators and makers.

How important is it for new businesses to think digital?

LS: Regardless of the type of business you are in, it needs exposure. Email marketing, for example, is one the most effective digital tools out there.

KI: We spend so much time glued to our devices – it doesn’t matter what your business is, having a digital strategy is crucial to short-, mid- and long-term success.

GL: No matter how busy the high-street is it will never match the national or global reach of the internet.

AB: If you can adapt to being online as much as possible, you have a huge scope to scale up your business as your overheads are lower. We’re about 70% digital and 30% in-person, so for us, putting money into digital content and software has been invaluable.

What’s the most important thing businesses can do to be successful today?

LS: I think digital marketing is now more important than ever. Having a marketing plan will help you optimise your strategy, engage with your audience, get exposed to a bigger audience and in the end, gain new customers.

KI: Be mindful of customer relationships; owning them, tracking them and protecting them. It’s so important that we have a direct line of contact (for instance, on a mailing list), that we understand what our customers like and dislike, and that our relationships are authentic and two-way.

GL: Be reactive to our constantly changing world; keep up-to-date on current trends, technology, social media, and use them to keep ahead of the curve and relevant.

AB:  A strong brand and unique selling point – your branding is key to get your message and ethos across. If you can nail your font, colours and logo you’ve already got an identity and that’s part of the hard bit sorted.

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