After graduating from university with a degree in marketing, Ben Dale started work in web design in Newcastle. It was while working here, aged just 22 that he decided to set up his own online company – today his company, Modern Rugs, is one of the biggest online rug retailer’s in the UK.
Ben Dale gives Kent University his advice for anyone wanting to start their own e-commerce business.
What should people consider before they decide to create their own online brand?
You need to some market research and get your product(s) right. Assess the size of your market and how strong the competition is. You will need to be able to offer something better than your competition, so it is important to work out what your unique selling point will be. It might sound like a strange suggestion but I would recommend shopping online when possible to get familiar with the e-commerce from a user/customer perspective. When you purchase something online make observations about the company and its website. Why did you decided to purchase from them? What are they doing right? If you didn’t decide to purchase, what are they doing wrong?
What would your advice be to students/recent graduates who want to get into e-commerce?
Relevant work experience is essential before starting your own e-commerce business. This could be anything from working for an e-commerce business to an internet marketing business or even in website design. This will help you to get to know the technology and systems involved in a successful e-commerce website. The more skills you have, the more you will be able to do yourself, ensuring you keep overheads low while you are establishing yourself. This is especially important if you do not have much financial backing.
If you were to start again, what is the one thing you would do differently?
When you first start any business, I think you can quite easily get used to doing everything yourself. This works well and saves you overheads when you are first starting out, but when the business starts to grown you’ll find there is only so much you can do. It can be hard to relinquish control of some things in a business which you have built but of course you must. I made this mistake and found myself working day and night. I have a great team of staff now and I wish I’d given up some control a bit earlier to save myself some time and stress.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of being your own boss?
Being your own boss gives you the freedom to make your own decisions. It can be rewarding and give you a real sense of achievement when your business becomes successful. That being said, running your own business means you have a lot of responsibility. I have worked hard to get my business to where it is today and you that means that most of the time you can’t just do your normal 9-5, Monday to Friday. You need to be committed to the business and do whatever it takes to make it a success. This will often involve long hours especially when you are just starting out.
Would you advise people to start up their venture whilst also in other employment before taking the plunge?
Yes, this is exactly what I did and I would recommend it if you are willing to put the extra work on evenings and weekends to get things up and running. Doing it this way reduces the financial risk, which is important for any new start-up business. You will be able to get an early indication of your businesses potential for success whilst still having the regular income and security of your day job. If the business doesn’t take off as well as you expected you can always take your time to refine your ideas and make improvements while not being under too much financial pressure. If it does take off, then you can make a decision to run it full time.
What problems are new start-ups likely to have to overcome?
Sometimes, no matter how well prepared you are there will always be hurdles to overcome. However, when these issues arise you can often get free advice or support from government initiatives, start-up support websites or even your bank. Most start-ups do not have a huge amount of money to play with so it is important to be careful with your overheads including premises, staffing and marketing. Look for the most cost effective ways to bring in business which will give you a good return on investment. For example social media, if used well, can be a very cost effective way of building your brand. If things are going well for your business you should also be prepared for your competitors to copy your ideas or change their tactics to try and push you out of the market.