So You Want to Start a Business, Eh?

IABC UK is putting on an ideas exchange pilot, focused on running your own business.


In advance of that we knocked a few heads together to learn about the practical tools and resources that they drew on as they were setting up shop.


Testing an idea

Stephen Welch is an independent consultant who, amongst other things, advises governments on strategic communications. “You might not know it, but tucked away inside the British Library is a gem called the IP & Business Centre” says Stephen. “It is a great, free, resource which helps you with everything you need to know about setting up a business. And there are loads of resources, market intelligence, data, for you to help set yourself up for success.”


“Not only that, they offer grants, meetings, coaching and 1:1 sessions. For example, we got a meeting with the ‘inventor-in-residence’ to give advice on protecting IP, licensing a product in other countries. He also did a quick financial evaluation (what is the value of this idea?) which gave a lot of confidence that we were on the right track.”


Follow @StephenWelch11 to learn about how the above is coming along.


A place to work

Sophia Cheng, a digital nomad, runs With Many Roots and swears by her Impact Hub membership. “It gives me access to 90+ co-working spaces and a warm welcome around the world”. “An essential resource due to the type of strategic comms projects I run, which often require time in far-flung places.” She adds: “Going it alone, can get lonely, so it’s beneficial to connect with like-minded folks. Many hubs host regular ‘clinics’ – where you can get advice from a lawyer or accountant and informal networking events to make connections in-country. From new business opportunities, serendipitous partnerships or a new companion in a new city, home is where my hub is.”


Keeping it simple

Michael Ambjorn runs Align Your Org and has helped a number of practitioners set up shop over the years. He comments:


“Focus is what people often struggle with the most when setting up a knowledge-based business”.


“Even the best can fall into the trap of trying to be all things to all people. One favourite (and timeless) exercise includes a sheet of A3 paper and a pen… try it out.”


And if you can’t make it to the Business & IP Centre (recommended by Stephen above) then have a look at Statista which has a wealth of data. Just be wary of the 1% fallacy, as a chap called Andy Brice puts it. For a deeper dive into the what, how, where and why of starting up, check out Michael’s Business Plan Basics Prezi.


Cash is king

Benoit Simoneau runs 514 Media which is coming up to its first anniversary, which is significant milestone. He says:  


“Finally don’t forget: cash is king. Or to be precise: your cashflow is. As an independent practitioner, it is your responsibility to get your clients to pay you quickly. After all, you can’t spend money while it is in your client’s bank account. Here are five top tips to get paid quickly:


  1. Don’t do any work without a Purchase Order or at least a full written/email confirmation.
  2. On any project longer than 2-3 weeks, tell the client it is your normal practice to invoice 50% up front. Or agreed a staged invoicing process so you get paid at regular intervals.
  3. Be open with clients about “this is how I make my money”.
  4. Charge slow payers more on the next project. Or stop working with them.
  5. Don’t be afraid to withhold delivery of part 2 if they have not yet paid part 1. I’ve only ever done this once in my career: often the threat of it is enough.


There’s a business phrase called “delivery to cash”. What is the time lag between when you deliver a service to when you get paid. For a full-time monthly paid employee it is typically 15: you get paid at the end of the month for the work you do that month.


For independent consultants you should aim for the same.

What is your top tip? Come along and share!

Using conflict constructively to generate content

Conflict is a basic part of human nature which generates interest. Think back to your primary school and seeing two little boys fighting in the school playground – a crowd forms very quickly before the teachers arrive to separate them –  and this shows our basic human interest in conflict.

Think of war or action movies or sports like boxing. One of the key ingredients of drama is conflict.

People are absolutely fascinated by conflict so here are some ideas about how an organisation or brand can constructively use conflict to generate interesting content for their audience. Watch this 2:30 min video.

  • Create content that shows in what way you are fighting the good fight
  • Present the problem you are faced with
  • Demonstrate how you save the day  – as the knight in shining armour!

And this is how you can use conflict constructively, you painted a picture of evil, of potential destruction and mayhem and shown how you saved the day.


Tony Coll is a highly regarded public speaker on Reputation Management, Crisis Communication and the Media.

His company, Tony Coll Media Training works with individuals and groups, from C-suite executives on defining messages, making speeches and videos, practising crisis communication plans and being interviewed in the media, to stakeholders learning about responsible social media.

Follow Tony on Twitter: @tonycollmedia

Impactful corporate storytelling demands singular stories, not schizophrenia


Remember when you were a kid? Something had gone wrong. You were involved, and someone was going to be angry. A teacher, a parent or a sibling. But you weren’t seen, and to minimise repercussions you crafted a version of the truth that had an air of plausibility to it that would also get you off the hook. Perhaps a boisterous but mute pet could take the rap. The problem was – particularly for the still-developing teenage prefrontal cortex – remembering the elements you’d embroidered. Let alone to whom you’d told what.

Growing up and learning to interact with different groups – friends, family, authority figures – is a positive learning experience if you’re going to be able to swap between modes and registers in later life. Those tweens and teens who learn to apply context in different environments go on to thrive. Knowing not to swear in class or to the police, becoming a bit more estuary in the playground or on the terraces, and upping the deference before grandparents are important skills for the trainee social chameleon. But it’s ever so funny when these emerging skills lapse in the heat of the moment.

I’ve no idea what it’s like to have an affair. Coming from a serial broken home, I’ve always prized fidelity and stability highly. I also happen to have found The One at just 20 – lucky old me – and have combined being not-the-straying-kind with a strong and happy partnership. But I’m not immune to popular culture, and I’ve seen my fair share of characters in film, TV series and books come a cropper by failing to control singular sexual narratives.

Holding multiple versions of the same story in your consciousness and constantly having to switch between them can be exhausting; stressful to the storyteller and confusing to the audience. As for individuals, so for corporations and brands. And all the more so because the folk memory and representation of an abstract entity like a brand is held in the collective minds and mouths of dozens to thousands of individuals.

In a pre-social media world, companies could and often did tell different stories to different audiences with impunity.

  • One story for their supply chain, whom they wanted to see them as partners: “Through our long-term commitment to you, we can help your company grow with ours.” (Or maybe: “We’ll parasite on your innovation until it becomes synonymous with us not you. And then we’ll cut your margin until it’s no longer viable for you to supply us.”)
  • One story for their shareholders and investors, whom they wanted to reassure they were running the business keenly: “We’ve removed all unnecessary costs from the supply chain and now produce our products more cheaply than the competition.” (Or possibly: “We screw our suppliers to the floor to maximise margin.”)
  • One story for their customers, whom they wanted to woo and bewitch: “We make the best products – bar none.” (Or perhaps “We’re brilliant at accentuating the positive.”)
  • One story for regulators and legislators: “We’re the greenest business in this sector.” (Or read: “We stick to the letter but not the spirit of the law and pollute as little as possible.”)
  •  And one story for employees: “With our company on your CV, you’ll have the pick of the market for your next role.” (Code for: “You should be grateful to work here, and accept the fact that we’re not going to give you a raise, even in line with inflation.”)

I’ll admit that the alternative readings (in brackets) are cynical, and historically the different narrative strands may all have been well-meaning from each of the different parts of a business. But very often the CSR story was 180 degrees from the key messages for city analysts. And a tale told to assuage environmentalists and local government would lead shareholders seriously to consider shuffling their investment portfolios.

The problem was – and amazingly still is in a surprisingly large number of organisations – that communication wasn’t joined up. The era of brand monologue was linear, siloed and separate. When it wasn’t easy to collect and collate different strands of brand communication through platforms and search engines, different strokes for different folks didn’t matter. No-one could discover the contradictions inherent in such a system.

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