Meet Andrew Ford. Founder of Social Star, a personal branding company that helps students, professionals, and businesses to build an “e-ttractive” online presence to get that killer job, a new client or funding for a bright idea.This is his business story.
Where did you get the idea for your business?
Like most great business ideas, it came from a client. I was hosting a party featuring DJ Andy Murphy to launch my brand ‘Whereis Maps’ and one of the celebrities came over to ask my advice, as he heard I was an expert in digital marketing. He said that when someone Googles his name the first page was full of negative reports of drink driving, partying and other news articles. He asked if it was possible to control what Google said about you. I said you can, and gave him some digital strategy advice. He loved it and became my first personal brand client. After a while, I was being approached regularly for similar issues and realised that anyone could manage their own digital personal brand and use it to benefit their career or business.
How did you get your business started?
After that first client, I ran Social Star part-time for over two years whilst working at Sensis and IBM. Interestingly, IBM was interested in my side business and started to get me to do personal branding work for their executive team. This culminated in delivering a keynote presentation at their yearly conference to every IBM manager in the country.
As the business grew, I knew I had to make a choice between working full-time or doing my own thing. Being an entrepreneur at heart, I decided to leave the corporate life and pursue Social Star full time. I knew I would need assistance growing the business so I assembled a board of investors who assisted with advice and finance to support the first stage of growth.
What lessons have you learned so far on your business journey?
The biggest lesson I have learned is that when you love your work, life is way more fulfilling. I enjoyed my time working for corporates, however, sometimes I was less than enthusiastic about the company values or products they were selling. I was senior enough to see many of the unsavoury decisions that CEO’s make to increase shareholder returns and secure their bonuses.
The pay and perks were great, but it just wasn’t fulfilling for me to work just for the money, I needed more. I believe if you are not loving your job, make a change to a new company that fits your values or start your own business. Life is too short to just go through the motions every day.
If you decide to start your own business, definitely get some professional help. You will need a start-up budget of at least $20k to test your idea on the market, build a digital brand for you, your company and product and get the education and knowledge you will need. It takes about 3 years to really get your business set up financially so ensure you have enough resources to get you through the ups and downs.
I highly recommend running the business part-time, to begin with, while you have a job to pay the bills, and testing your business on the market. New businesses always need adjustment and refinements so better to do this while you are not dependent on it to fund your lifestyle.
How important for you has it been to have a mentor?
Having a good team around you is critical to your success. I suggest more than one mentor as they will have different skills, experience, and networks. Setting up an advisory board is also a great way to gain time with mentors on a regular basis. Ensure you are giving them something of tangible value for their time.
What are your top 3 tips for starting a business?
My top tips are:
- Test the market before you burn the boats. Before you quit your job to chase your big idea create a minimum viable product and test the market. If you get a few sales then you know you can get more sales. There are many ways to test the market: you can run a crowdfunding campaign, assemble a tribe of followers around your brand, acquire commitments of sale for the product you want to produce, and more. Whatever way suits your business and industry, ensure you have spoken to real live customers and pitched your product to them. If you can’t get a sale, there is a problem in the process that you will need to fix before risking more time and money.
- Understand it takes time. To build a solid business usually takes 5 years. The first few years will be finding your niche and setting up systems and processes, which is an unprofitable time. Years 2-3 will be consolidating your position in the market where you will make money but not huge profits. Years 4-5 are growth years where you will scale and finally profits will increase as you benefit from economies of scale.
- Get funding support. During the testing process of your new business, you can easily self-fund. However, if you are planning to go full time and have a business that can scale ensure you have a funding partner. You will have ups and downs so be prepared for the first 2-3 years of low income and have back up finance arranged before you need it. Investors are one source of funding, as are banks and customers or partner companies.