Running a business in the 21st century is not an easy job. It is one that is filled with pitfalls and uncertainties, you can hope for the best and when everything looks like it is going well it collapses. No one knows this better than Angele Giuliano, owner of AcrossLimits and representative of the project ENVISION that focuses on stimulating small businesses to rethink and innovate their business models.
Moving through Angele’s LinkedIn page is like reading through the diary of the entrepreneur extraordinaire but with four failed businesses at the start of her entrepreneurial journey, Angele knows better than most the challenges and pitfalls of owning a business. Her fifth one, AcrossLimits, however has been going strong for over 16 years, she has more than learnt the lesson.
Now Angele is working with ENVISION on the BusinessMakeover.eu platform. It’s a website that houses a number of free and easy to use tools, instruction videos and inspirational case studies to help businesses of all shapes and sizes to grow and be more successful. Angele explains, “It’s about giving your business a makeover. Businesses can look at their business model and say, ‘OK, this is not working out for me, I should change this, I should tweak this, maybe even go in a completely different direction. In short: innovate my business. But how?”
“Being an entrepreneur, and being one for 20 years, sometimes you get stuck. Sometimes you have a great idea and you get lost in it. You can speak to consultants and pay for courses etc. but ultimately you have to convince yourself that it is a good idea. So we have created a set of tools which the entrepreneur themselves can use. They are easy to use, give examples, step by step instructions and videos to help the business owner.”
For startups, and everyone else
As an EU initiative it is not just for the UK, it is a Europe wide platform catering for all businesses no matter where they come from, “It is in 6 languages already, we are currently finishing the 7th. The idea is that the entrepreneur would sit down and think over their company and business model. Try to work out the little things to make their business a success. We made this for the small businesses, like the butcher, the baker, the coffee shop, the ice cream parlour, and the small companies that make up the European economy.” But also for the start-ups, who have a fantastic idea for a company or service, but need to create a solid business case for convincing (commercial) partners, family and investors about their idea. To be able to get to support, means and funding they need.
BusinessMakeover.eu aims to be different from the other government schemes which tend to focus on getting businesses started, “We are not only looking at start-ups, unlike all the national schemes which only look at those starting in business. Companies want to scale up, they want advice, they are facing adversity of whatever type and their business has to survive. These businesses have been around for more than 5 years or 10 years so it is a very difficult time for them and they need to keep pushing. The initial drive has gone down or maybe they are a family business, a second generation business so they would need a bit of a helping hand.”
Delft University of Technology, The Netherlands
Evolaris next level GmbH, Austria
AcrossLimits Ltd., Malta
InnoValor B.V., The Netherlands
Kaunas University of Technology, Lithuania
University of Murcia, Spain
University of Turku, Finland
LEF marketing & events, The Netherlands
University of Maribor – Faculty of Organizational Sciences, Slovenia
The BusinessMakeover.eu platform is relatively new, about two years old, however with European wide partnerships from universities, consultant companies and people like Angele it has a lot of advice to give and the potential to help a huge number of businesses, “I have been involved since the start and it has been around for 2 years and a year before that we had this concept in mind. We started writing together with our partners like TU Delft and Innovalor.”
What a business values is the core of a good business model. Angele explains how a good business model can influence growth, “Your business model needs to reflect your business goals. Some people’s goals are just to get rich, some are to improve society, and some are to open up a new business sector or industry. A good business model should always help you grow, but not always profits, it depends what your primary value is.
“Of course your growth should grow revenue and to be more sustainable and to relieve moments of stress that sometimes come from owning business. These tools and business models have been built by the academic & consultancy partners in the project that have been working with business owners for many years, on a daily basis sometimes.
“Still, it helps a lot to have actual business owners involved, to assure we are building something that is really functional and practical. To make sure that we also listen to many others that have a lot of experience we also have a group of multipliers, like Chambers of Commerce or Business Associations, from all over Europe that help us to spread the word.”
More than a business toolbox
Angele sees the website as something more than another tool for the businesses toolbox, “It is for inspiration. To get new insights, or find ideas to re-make your business so it fits in better to a changing market situation, or to make your business stand out stronger than your competition. Any business can benefit from BusinessMakeover.eu and we made it very personal, like addressing practical questions that SMEs have. All these questions can be found in the ‘I want to…’ section of our site. We hope all business owners will find it talking to them directly.”
Even as someone who has been an entrepreneur for 20 years, BusinessMakeover.eu has helped Angele, “When you read the case studies of other businesses it is very inspiring. Our team has interviewed and worked with over 100 businesses from all over Europe. We came across so many diverse and inspiring ideas and businesses which are trying to improve. It is heartening to work on these case studies where they are having problems, they change something and it works. Or that you see how someone is able to bring their ideas in to practise, by now having a flourishing business.
“As a business owner it can be lonely, you may have employees around you, but at the end of the day you are alone, so good to read these stories and see that people have the same issues everywhere. To see people who have made that change is very inspiring.”
So, what is bad for business? “For businesses, uncertainty is poison. As entrepreneurs we live in a very uncertain way because we have lots of risks, adding more complexities and uncertainties only makes things worse. This is certainly the current issue with Brexit, for example, where no one really knows what is going to happen.” The platform offers some tools to help prepare for a variety of scenarios, and this is what many businesses need to do – prepare for potential risks.
If uncertainty is poison then it is incredibly difficult to take that first step, and for entrepreneurs that first step can be the hardest part, “The most difficult thing is believing in yourself enough to cut all ties from a paid job or even if you are a student to go down a different, difficult path. You are moving from certainty to uncertainty.
“Entrepreneurs live in an uncertain environment so these are the people who have said they do not want a salary at the end of a month, they want profits at the end of the year. That jump from comfort to unknown is extremely difficult. At the start of a business you have to look for finance, you have to look for clients, maybe you do not have a product yet and have to build your product. Even with a service you have to realise it, maybe employ people. These are all challenges that you face at the very beginning.”
As a mentor for, mainly, women in technology, Angele tells us what she looks for in a mentee, “I look for those that normally do not believe in themselves and to me it is obvious that they would make great entrepreneurs. Sometimes the person does not see it, sometimes they know they are onto a good thing but cannot frame it, they don’t know how to go about it. The people I go for are not desperate cases, but those where I can see the opportunity and can therefore make them believe it a bit more, then can go for it. I am trying to empower women to believe in themselves more.”
In a male dominated business world how does Angele encourage women to become entrepreneurs? “Normally, I try a variety of ways, I make myself available to them, I speak at events and I have become a bit of a spokesperson for women in technology and women in business. Seeing in believing. If you see that it is possible to be a woman in technology, a woman in business, cos you hear from someone that has made it, then you will believe it more. Otherwise it is just going to be a fairy tale.”
Read about more inspiring business people like Angele on www.BusinessMakeover.eu