best business start-up advice

What’s the best advice you received as a business start-up?


I can think of two pieces of advice that I’ve cherished throughout my career.

The first I learned in accounts class when doing a postgrad in marketing while working full-time as a PR. Of all the topics I was due to study as a mature student, accounting was the one I was least looking forward to. I did economics for my first degree and most of my peers went on to become accountants. The fact that I didn’t, tells you all you need to know about my enthusiasm for figures.

The lecturer was in full flow. As she was want to remind us, she was teaching in 8 weekly, modules what she’d normally teach in one year! Then she said, “Of course, 90% of businesses that fail are inherently profitable . .” I’m not sure what she said next, but I quickly shot up my hand and asked her to repeat what she’d just said and maybe expand her explanation.

90% of businesses that fail are inherently profitable

Focus On Income

She looked mildly annoyed. Then she said, “Most businesses that fail are, or were, profitable. But they get themselves into financial difficulties because of their inability to manage the money supply. In layman’s terms, they’ve overreached themselves, they have paid out more than they’ve brought in.”

Then, warming to her subject,
“In the short term they can get by because of the natural business cycle, when sales pick up, for example. But often what happens, particularly at a time of rapid expansion, is that they lose focus on accounts paid. You generate sales but you don’t make money until you actually receive income. Perhaps they borrow to bridge the gap, paying back on a high interest loan which further erodes profitability.”

“More often they misread what is really happening and can compound the situation by assuming that expansion equals profitability. This can lead to bad decision making based on poor forecasting. Businesses often hire in expectation that growth will increase profitability. Unfortunately, too late they learn that they’ve only succeeded in making a bad financial situation worse.”

Businesses often hire in expectation that growth will increase profitability

When I started my first business, in marketing & PR, back in 1996, I was armed with this piece of advice. Consequently, I paid particular attention to income receipt from my customers, managing creditor payments and profit followed.

Sell more to your existing customers

The second piece of advice I received was from Frank Dologhan, of Mentor consultants, Newry. Just over a year into my first venture I was frustrated that my business, while steady, had not grown as rapidly as I’d hoped. I picked up the phone and asked Frank for a meeting. Frank listened patiently. He asked me a few pointed questions about my business, the services I was selling and who exactly my customers were. He had a look at my balance sheet and the forecast figures in my business plan.

“Well, it seems to me that you have a profitable business which, one year in, is better than most start-ups. Looking at your figures you’re running about 4 months behind your forecast which is not unusual. Most entrepreneurs underestimate how long it takes to generate income as opposed to sales.” I smiled and recalled my accounting lecturer.

Most entrepreneurs underestimate how long it takes to generate income as opposed to sales.

Then he asked,

“Would I be right in thinking that your initial customers knew you before you were a private business?” I nodded.

“So do they know you for one thing or are they aware of all the other services you can deliver?” I looked a little nonplussed. “Do you have a service portfolio capability statement?” When again I looked somewhat vacant he opened a drawer in his desk and handed me a document.

Serice portfolio capability statement

“Come on Fergus, you’re the one who’s supposed to be the marketing guy. This is our portfolio statement outlining all the services we can provide. You must know that it’s easier to grow your business by selling more to your existing customers than it is to find new ones.” I flicked through his company portfolio statement and I was both enlightened and embarrassed.

It’s easier to grow your business by selling more to existing customers than it is to find new ones

I thanked Frank for his help. Three days later I had a 7 page service portfolio capability statement listing 6 defined separate but related services. I also used the opportunity to price the services differently. Within a week I had placed the portfolio statement in the hands of all my existing customers and almost universally heard them each say, “Oh, I didn’t know you did this . .”

By the end of my second year I had tripled my turnover.

© Fergus Cooper

So what’s the best business advice you’ve received?”

authentic blog tips

Recently I read an article on LinkedIn by a business consultant and mentor. It was about sales leads and how to nourish them. I think the blog was meant to be about personal selling. and how to cultivate the sale by building a relationship first, before pushing the product. Unfortunately, it was full of jargon, and with me, jargon jars!

The blog should have positioned the consultant as a genuine thought leader. However, it was obviously a pre-authored article that she was supposed to top and tail to make her own. Sadly, she topped and tailed too much and this reader soon high tailed it!

3 Tips for a better Blog

It was a pity, because I actually know this lady and have heard her engage a live audience. Her presentation was good and she must have spent some time preparing it. So why didn’t she apply the same endeavor to her writing? I’m sticking my neck now and if you want to write a better blog here’s my three tips.

1. Share experiences

First, there are very few truly original thinkers. The best you can hope for is to take one truism worth sharing, then find a novel way of writing to promote and share it. As people we relate to other people and their experiences. Share your experience. It’s amazing how many blogs I’ve read lately that are full of faux-bon-mots, without even the smallest, redeeming anecdote to hold my interest.

Social media is now infested by bots and I’m beginning to believe that many blogs are too

2. Be yourself

The second piece of advice I’d give is be yourself. Only you are authentically you. Don’t try to be somebody you’re not. Let your own voice shine through. Do you remember back in school when there were all those different cliques? You had your friends right, but you also had people who disliked you. But you didn’t waist your time trying to impress people who despised you.

When it comes to writing just remember that it’s a bit like Marmite. Probably half of the people will love it and the other half?  Well, that’s my point. Stop worrying about the other half, over reaching yourself, trying to try to impress them. Stick to what you know and write more from your heart. That’s authenticity, that’s the beginning of style.

When it comes to writing, just remember that it’s a bit like Marmite!

3. Don’t over cook it

My last piece of advice is that originality is more often in the writing, not always in the writer. If you read, or hear, something for the first time, then that’s original for you. Your writing doesn’t always have to be profound. Keep it simple and don’t over cook it!

For example, what’s the best piece of business advice you’ve ever received? Mine was from my older brother, Kevin, a freelance photographer. I’d just left a well paid job and set-up my first consultancy providing marketing communications to non-profits. I’d only one client at the time and I was chasing more.

What’s the best piece of business advice you’ve ever received?

When I asked him for advice he said, “It doesn’t pay you to get out of bed to do a cut price job.” I had to ask him to explain as I wasn’t immediately sure what he meant. “Take me for example. Everyone takes holiday snaps and thinks that makes them a photographer. So when I give them my price some of them immediately ask for discount. If I give them discount this time they’ll expect it next time. And if I give it to them then all my customers will want that price.”

Everyone takes holiday snaps and thinks that makes them a photographer.

As a marketing consultant I’ve often reflected on his statement. It is about pricing but it’s about more than that. It’s also about quality, of ensuring that your customer perceives the quality. Your not satisfied with giving them a product or service which, at a push, they could do for themselves. It’s also about customer relationship, the bond or contract between client and producer.

Today’s take away:

If you are planning to write a Blog be yourself. Tell us about your experience, share at least one anecdote to brighten our day. Just remember, if we wanted jargon, we’d read a textbook!

Fergus Cooper

public relations for business

Public Relations is one of the most under utilized of tools deployed by Small to Medium Enterprises (SME) in the communication mix.

I believe there are three reasons for this:

1.  A lack of knowledge of how to engage with media
2.  It’s easier to advertise
3  The rise of social media

What is Public Relations?

Public Relations is any editorial coverage you receive without having to pay the publication or media. As an SME you’re used to engaging with local publications trying to sell you advertising space. You may also be invited to purchase advertorials, that is a feature that includes a certain word count along with a picture or advertisement. This is not PR, you are paying the media directly for your coverage when, for a little bit of effort, you can obtain good coverage in the press for free.

Why is PR important to business?

Earlier, I mentioned that one of the hot marketing trends of 2017 would be executive branding, essentially coverage focused on you. We are interested not just in the product but in the people behind the brand and their story. PR is a good way to tell your story and to reach potential customers.

Readers also read and retain information from the stories and articles they read much more than advertisements they may see in the publication. For example, a good review in a newspaper of a dining experience is worth so much more to a restaurateur than any amount of advertising.

Customer relations is about trust, reputation and confidence. Public relations is a great way to build customer confidence and brand identification.

How do I get PR coverage in the press?

Start by having a look in your target publication. What types of story and feature articles do they publish? Are there any stories about business? What angle does the publication report? Begin by tailoring your news or feature story to the publication’s editorial style. Can you provide a great photograph? Pictures are worth a thousand words and often a good photograph or photo-opportunity will sell your media coverage for you. Here are a few pointers:


We read newspapers because we are interested in the human experience and we want to know what other people are doing or experiencing in our community. Who might also be a celebrity, a sports or TV personality that you have invited to your launch.


So what’s happening and why is it newsworthy to the paper’s readers? Maybe you are opening a new business. What is it and what’s different about it? Are you creating more jobs? What’s the size of your investment and what do you hope to achieve over time?


There are two parts to this question, why do you deserve coverage by the press and why are you engaged in whatever it is you’re doing? You’re an entrepreneur but what were you doing before you decided on this venture.  And why would you risk secure employment and a steady wage to do whatever it is you’re planning? Why is this so different from every other person’s story and therefore deserving of coverage?

If it’s a local newspaper then what is the local connection?


If it’s a local newspaper then what is the local connection and where is your event happening? It’s amazing how far local newspapers will stretch themselves to find the local angle in a big national news story. However, when it comes to you they’ll want to know if you live locally, is the business local or is the event that you’re running local.


When is your event taking place and at what precise time? Will you be offering a photo-opportunity for the newspaper and when precisely will this be happening. Photographers normally cover 4-5 different events in a day, so a precise time is vital for them. If a photographer is a little late can you recreate the photo-opportunity for him/her?

The News Release

Normally, this is how you contact the media with a carefully crafted written press statement, a synopsis of the above. There is a layout and style you should follow.

(See fictitious example below right).

Press Release

Add your company logo at the top and then give your media contact information. Be sure to title your document Press or News Release.


Below this list the issue date of your news release and then the word “embargo”. After this write none, unless you want to indicate to the news editor that you don’t want publication before a specific date and time.


Compose an eye catching headline. Remember, the first person you must interest in the PR is the journalist reading it. They will process maybe a dozen PRs in a day so you need to gain their interest.


You can add a sub-heading if you want.

Killer Lead

Can you in just two sentences provide a synopsis of the story? Keep it simple. Don’t try to pack too much into the lead paragraph. You have the rest of the PR to unfold your story.

Essentials paragraph

Your next paragraph can give the who and when details.


It’s important to report the story as if it was being covered by the journalist live. We do this by providing actual quotations for the journalist to report in the paper. Make sure your quotes add to the story, and don’t merely repeat information you have already given.

Sweeper paragraph

Use your final paragraph for additional information and/or to point the journalist and reader to a source for additional information.


By adding the word “end” you are clearly indicating that this is the full PR and there isn’t a second page.

Notes for Editors

You should add all additional non-essential information in this section. This is a good place to provide additional details and facts about your business and the people mentioned in the PR.

Press Release



If you are planning a photo-opportunity for the local press I would provide a separate heading for it here.  Detail information about what precisely will be offered for the picture, who will feature in it and exactly when and where the photograph can be taken.


It can be useful to provide digital links to other resources for the journalist. Such information should include articles on your own website or links to statistics you quote in your press release. Don’t over do it. Two or three such links is enough.


You should distribute your News Release at least 48 hrs before your event. Where possible, send it via email to a specific journalist on the paper. Add a read receipt to your email. If you are hosting a significant event give your publication at least 5 days notice of the event, the main angle and any photo-opportunities you are laying on. All publications have a news diary and if your event is important enough the news editor will put it into the diary for coverage on the day.


Local weekly press employ few staff but the journalists are always on the look out for fresh news and contacts. A good News Release, story and photo-opportunity should spark a journalist’s interest and garner good coverage. If they want to check the story and develop it further they will contact you on the telephone number you supplied. Be prepared to answer their questions but remember the two or 3 points you want to get across and try and work these into your answers. Ask if they will be sending a photographer and, if not, offer to forward them a photograph later.

A good News Release, story and photo-opportunity should spark a journalist’s interest and garner good coverage.


Of course, we exist in the digital age and there are digital distribution channels for PR copy. One I would recommend for SMEs is Pressat. It is free to register with this service and you can choose a one off distribution package of £110. This allows you to upload your news release and supply all relevant information about your business. You can then select the media sectors you wish to target and Pressat does the rest. This is one way in which a SME can reach publications well beyond their local area. It is particularly good at reaching trade journals thus supporting B2B PR.

Post Publication

Don’t forget, that if you do get media coverage for your event, to draw attention to it in your social media.  This is just in case some of your customers missed it. Often you can find the story in the online edition of the newspaper which makes social sharing so much easier. There is also a range of online only publications these days, so don’t forget to target these with your PR. My favourite local one is the Down News which actually receives over 14,000 visits per month, which is more than its local rival, the longer established Down Recorder.