In this episode, Jenna Davies from Pioneer and Birkbeck Futures chatted to us all about their amazing programme and how it can help entrepreneurs on their business journey. She also answered our burning questions on what it takes to start and succeed in business, how you can go about building a great community and the importance of a solid business plan!
Whether you want to watch the show, read the transcript or listen to the podcast, you can access all of that right here. So grab a cuppa, and a notebook, and get ready to #GoFarFast!
Merlie: Hello! And welcome back to the #GoFarFast Show! Our talk show that aims to get you, our amazing small business community, the answers to the questions you most need to ask and to know about fast. So, as ever, Aaron and I will be interrogating another stellar guest. We've got an awesome guest on today's show – haven't we, Aaron?
Aaron: Yeah we certainly have, Merlie, thank you very much. So I can't wait for today's show, this is really going to give us as small business owners, including you guys out there, the opportunity to really have a chance to pick the brains of an absolute expert.
So we have Jenna with us today, who's an expert as a career coach and training development business called The IAM Hub, and who can teach us a thing or two about public speaking and presenting with confidence. I can't wait to really get into those critical questions and ask all about how to sell ourselves as a business.
Merlie: Exactly, exactly. If you are starting a business, or if you are running a business and you want to get better, you want to do more... you've maybe got some of those sticky questions about where to go next... how do you cope with everything that this year has thrown at us? Well, Jenna Davies is the person to ask these questions.
What's also very special about Jenna is she heads up and leads Birkbeck University's Pioneers Programme. Now, this programme is awesome – Jenna's going to tell us all about it on the show today, but again if you're starting a business, if you're running a business and you want to get better, Jenna's programme and everything that she knows is going to give you some golden nuggets of wisdom in today's show.
Don't forget, as always to like, comment, subscribe let us know what you think. Let us know what else we can bring to the party. But, Aaron, shall we get started? Let's get interrogating!
Aaron: Yes let's get straight in there. Hello Jenna, how are you today?
Jenna: Hi guys, really good thank you, so excited to be here today! Thank you so much for having me on the #GoFarFast Show!
Aaron: Welcome! So, first question, we're going to throw you straight in there. We're going to get really into some of the some of the bits we want to cover today.
So, what do startups and their founders really need to thrive? And, more importantly, is there any special sauce we should be aware of?
Jenna: Oh the special sauce! So I'd say there are three ingredients that go into my special sauce, when I talk to startups (especially those who are in the super early stages of starting their businesses) and the first one is passion.
You have to have passion about your idea, about your business... that's what's going to keep you going through those tough times as well and it's what's going to get other people to buy into your business and your idea. So, super passion is really really key.
The next one is belief, and I talk about self-belief a lot – especially with those early-stage founders. But, as you continue on your entrepreneurial journey as well, if you really believe in your product, in your service, then that's going to come through. And you need that because some people might not believe in it as much as you do. You need to keep that self-belief going, so that's my second ingredient.
And the third ingredient, I would say, is dedication. It kind of comes into resilience, commitment, that kind of thing, but I put it down to dedication because there are going to be challenges. Wow... look at the year that we've had in 2020. We're going to be up against a lot of tough times as founders as well. So we need to be super dedicated and super resilient to make sure that we're coming back from these knocks that we might have and really committing ourselves to make it work. So there could be loads of ingredients in this secret sauce, but I'm gonna whittle it down to those three: passion, belief and dedication.
Merlie: I think they are such a powerful three too, and it all comes back to that sort of inner wellbeing, that inner golden potential of the individual, doesn't it? I know that's something we talk about a lot on the Birkbeck Pioneers Programme. It's a topic that's very close to my heart too. Looking after your own wellbeing, making sure that everything that comes out of you is at its optimum value and gives you the greatest potential to stride out there and succeed.
I'm going to leap into the second question for today... so, Jenna there are lots of people that take part in the Pioneer Programme and we think it's brilliant, we really do... we've been big fans of it for many years. But what can participants in Pioneer expect from the programme, and how can people apply for it, because it's kicking off really soon, isn't it?
Jenna: It is! Yeah, we are days away, so it's kicking off this weekend. I love Pioneer, it really is my baby. It's so exciting to be able to support early-stage founders who have got a business idea and they want to turn it into a reality.
So that's who the Pioneer Programme is for. If you've got this niggling idea that you've had... maybe it's been for years, maybe it's something that's come to mind lately that you think, "I really want to go for it"... Pioneer is going to take you on a journey to help you turn that idea into reality and give you the basics that you need to succeed, essentially.
It's seven monthly workshops, we end with an awards evening in the summer, in June, and every month we focus on a particular topic or area of expertise that you need as an early-stage founder. So, for example, we cover things like startup funding, startup marketing, pitching your business – but we kick off with things like ideation, innovation, testing your idea and the crucial things that you need to do to succeed.
So yeah, I guess, for me, it's a really exciting programme! It's a seven-month programme, as I said, seven monthly workshops... but it's about what we're doing in between those monthly workshops as well. It's not just about turning up on that Saturday morning virtually (because it's a virtual programme this year, as you can imagine), it's about working with your peers, creating that community and using everything that you're learning to move your business forward. And in terms of getting involved, because it is kicking off super soon, the best way to do it is to search for Birkbeck short courses – because this year we've opened it up as a short course for anyone to enrol onto. So Birkbeck short courses and when you search in that page, search for Pioneer and you'll see that come up so that's the best way to find the programme.
Merlie: Very quickly if I may... sorry, Aaron, I'm stealing an extra question. If you are more advanced with your business, Birkbeck Pioneers can also help you too – can't they, Jenna?
Jenna: Absolutely! So if you're further along in your journey, we help you out with that as well, it's the skills that you need to succeed in your business. You know, starting is key, but as you're going along your journey it's about things that you might forget. It's skills that you want to hone, to really give yourself those chances of success. So as much as we help you turn your idea into reality, we also provide support for those further along the journey – because it's such crucial information that you're learning.
Aaron: Wow that sounds so amazing. And I love the fact you're so passionate about it as well... the fact you've said it's your baby and the fact that you're promoting it as you are wonderfully now.
I think timing couldn't be any better. I mean, that's perfect timing for this sort of course.
You know, you've touched on it as well, that short-course opportunity for people having to, unfortunately, endure these circumstances, having to pivot and having to think of new ideas and new ways in which they can realise their dream. So I'm really, really excited for it. One further question then, I know you said it was seven months as you say, from how long the course lasts, but what do the Pioneers usually go on to do afterwards?
Jenna: It's a real mixture. I think, because a lot of our students who are on Pioneer – if they're studying a master's degree or an undergraduate degree – some of them will be balancing both... so they'll be working on their business idea while they're studying. Some of them might be working as well, so they're really playing this juggling act and that's where that dedication and commitment is showing... that people really have this passion to really make the most of this idea that they've got.
So we have two winners from this year, so I mentioned there's an awards evening in the summer, and two of the winners actually from best business idea and best business pitch categories, they're both growing their business rapidly. One of them is currently going through a crowdfunding campaign. The other launched her business in August officially and she's got about 20 volunteers who are writing for her online magazine. So yeah, really about growing their businesses, to be honest a lot of them might be freelancing, so it's a side project for them to start with.
We've seen certainly over the last couple of years for the cohort that we're about 2018 right now. It is about trying to grow and tackle this tough time that we're going through this year so real mixture but it's about working on the ideas and really helping to make it as much of a reality as possible.
Merlie: I think that's one of the things that is so powerful about Pioneers too, when we talk students, I think many of us tend to think of you know people who are fresh out of school or fresh out of university or even going through university but the Birkbeck Pioneers I've met are people of all ages, from all sorts of different backgrounds, people who have been employed, people who've run businesses previously. I mean there's a real diversity which I think is super powerful.
Jenna: It really is and that's the beauty of Birkbeck and it's the beauty of Pioneer. It really reflects the cohort that we've got. So you'll have people fresh out of college like you said, people in their late teens, early 20s on Pioneer, but then you've got them networking with people in their 60s 70s who are starting a business that they want later in life.
It's phenomenal the life experience that everyone shares. You're learning from each other, it really does make it a super unique programme, compared to others that are out there.
Merlie: What type of businesses are you seeing people create during the programme and then go on to kind of expand and maybe launch for the first time?
Jenna: Again I think because of the diversity of people it's a real mixture, there's not really anything that's got these trends that are coming through. The biggest one I'd say if there was one is social enterprise. There's a lot of ideas that are coming through, especially this year, that want people want to give back, they want to do good. So a lot of things around health tech is coming through, as well a lot of things around sustainability in the environment trying to solve you know real issues that are happening in the world.
So that's really exciting to see and if it's not a social enterprise that people are building, more often than not there's a social arm or element to their business, so I'd say that's one of the key trends but, as I said, it's a real mixture. You've got service-related businesses, products, tech businesses, those who are doing it as a sort of freelancing on the side. Anything and everything goes with Pioneer, that's why I love it. But I'd say, if there was a trend, the social enterprise side is definitely coming through this year, and last year, is what I've seen.
Aaron: That's amazing and really can see how everyone should really love an idea like this because, like you said, there's such diversity there – you've got older people, you've got younger people, you've got all mixture of people and then you also got the ability of all those different types of business as well.
I think one question we get asked a lot here and and through the community, and through my business as well, is about that whole idea of experience. How much experience? And that question – and I think that fear factor isn't it – of people being a bit worried about when they should start this sort of journey.
So building a business is a huge step and a challenging journey... how much experience do you need to start, and where can people get the experience so they can feel they have the right foundations to succeed?
Jenna: It's such a key question, isn't it? And it is one that I get all the time. I think the first thing I'd say there's no perfect time to start a business. If you wait for the perfect time for everything that you think needs to be in place to go, you'll be waiting forever and you won't take that dive and go into it. My advice to a lot of students on the programme is if you've got that fire in your belly and you've got this gut instinct thing that this is what you want to do, it's about taking those first steps and going for it.
Yes, give yourself the best chances of success as possible by learning the basics – and that's really why we cover the topics that we do on Pioneer, because it's about that confidence. You might have the belief in the product, but you might not have the confidence to execute it and really know what the path you need to go on looks like. So my biggest advice there is: don't wait for the perfect time. Start making steps now but give yourself whatever's going to give you that confidence... whether that's talking to people about your idea, trying to validate that idea a little bit more. Rather than just keeping it in your head, get it out there, talk to people about it as much as possible and learn the basics.
If you're worried about the legal side or the financial side, do your research – there's so many amazing free resources out there that you can get confidence with your knowledge as well. As I said, it's the key reasons of why we cover the topics that we do on Pioneer. I would also say it's never too late to start a business. I think that's a question we get especially because the diversity of students that we have. It's never too late... just get going, get your idea down on paper but also talk to people as much as possible.
Merlie: I think that's such good advice, it really is. I used to ask myself that when I was sort of gearing up and really trying to work out... am I brave enough? Am I going to be good enough to do this? The question I ended up asking myself is: how would I feel if I woke up tomorrow morning and somebody else had launched my idea? At the point where it was unthinkable that it wouldn't be us doing it, wouldn't be me founding it, I kind of knew I was ready. Despite the fact I had no idea how to do any of this stuff.
It's folks like you guys, with the Pioneers programme, it's Aaron at Boffix with everything you could possibly need to know about finances at your fingertips. It's why it's we created Farillio so that there's full-on accessibility. It's come as you are, whoever you are... you don't need to be rich or wealthy or highly educated. You don't have to have experienced life in all its multiple facets to do this.
If you don't like the thought that somebody else might do it, if you don't do it today, then you know... as you say, I love that sort of fire in your belly. If the fire is really getting hot in the belly, just go for it. You'll muddle through and you'll kind of figure it out as you go along. With the kinds of networks that the three of us have been so fortunate to cultivate and to build, there's always someone who knows the answer to what you need, right?
Jenna: Absolutely, and also when you talk to other people, you don't know what ideas they might come up with and who they know as well... that point of network that you mentioned there Merlie and I've experienced that with my training business and I'm still navigating. You know, the future ideas, all these things that are going around in my head that I want to do and I speak to people and they introduce me to people that might be able to help – and before you know it, you've got that snowball effect. So it is about cultivating that network and it is that community feel that we try to make sure happens with Pioneer, whether it's online in the virtual programme this year, or whether it's offline. You've still got so many opportunities to build that network.
Merlie: Yeah, absolutely. Aaron I could carry on interrogating Jenna forever but I know we have some of our viewers' questions to crack on with! So do you want to kick us off with the viewers questions and, if we can get through enough of them, maybe we can come back
to more of our own?
Aaron: One of our community, and one of the things we love about our community is the fact they're so honest and they're so brutal in their questions. I think you're a perfect expert to throw these raw questions at, so that we can really get into depth and try and understand exactly what our community is going through at this point in time. So, someone in our community is saying, "I'm really struggling with our business plan at the moment. Can Pioneer help with this and what tools would you recommend for business planning?"
Jenna: Great question. I think this is probably one of the most popular questions that I certainly see from early-stage founders who have this perception that they need reams and reams of paper filled with a business plan that's hundreds of pages long and super loads of detail. For us, it's about using one tool – that Merlie I know... we're super excited about this! –, it's a business model canvas and it really is your journey on Pioneer as well. For those that doesn't know about the business model canvas, it's a one-page business plan and it has all the key areas of your business where you can write in the key details that you need.
So you've got your value proposition, your customer segments, customer relationships, your key activities, your partnerships, your costs, your revenue, everything of the key areas as a starting point. When you're an early-stage founder and you've got this blank piece of paper and you think, "Where do I start?", this is where we get you started. So in terms of business planning, that's the tool that I recommend: the business model canvas. On Pioneer, we take people through that and it's a core part of the whole programme that you'll be working on in between those monthly sessions. So definitely get involved with that if you haven't already... check out the business model canvas.
Merlie: Awesome advice. Yeah we're big fans too – aren't we Aaron? We still go back to our business model canvases even today because it it grows with you. It's such a powerful tool.
Okay so I've got a good one for you, Jenna! One of our viewers says: "I've been an
employee for a long time but I've always wanted to run and start my own business – is it ever too late? How would you advise I get started?" You did answer this earlier, so let's delve into that a little bit more.
Jenna: I love this question. These questions are great – bring them on, the more raw the better. It's never too late. I said that earlier, it's never too late to start a business and, actually, for that person who's asked that question, the fact that you've got a lot of experience as an employee is only going to help you with your business because you've learned great skills with your career so far, no doubt. You know, you've got commercial awareness there. You know more about yourself, probably, because you're further along the journey, so it's never too late to start.
I think... you get your idea down on paper – I think that's where I start. I'm a very visual person, so I'll put vision boards around and it depends on what works for you, but find a way to get your idea down on paper so you get the thoughts in your head out and then start talking to people about this idea... to friends, family, colleagues. I think there's a real resistance sometimes for people to talk about their business idea through that fear, not only the fear of judgement of the idea, but the fear that someone might take that idea as well.
It's completely understandable, I think. You don't need to let everything out of the bag and there are certain things that you might want to keep to yourself, with the finer detail. But ultimately, if this is the idea that gets the fire in your belly going and this is the idea that you've got that belief passion and dedication to do, very rarely will someone else be able to replicate that and have that passion to drive that idea forward.
So I've gone off on a bit of a tangent there – I do apologise! We're talking about your ideas, but it's certainly never too late is the short answer. Definitely, in terms of the tips and advice, get the ideas down on paper – whether you're visual, whether you just want to get your ideas down and talk to people about it as well, because it becomes more tangible in that way. When you get people's buy in to be like, "That's a great idea", "This is what I'd buy into", it becomes more of a reality rather than just a dream that's happening in your head.
Aaron: I would definitely encourage you to go off a tangent here on the #GoFarFast Show – I mean, that's how we get those nuggets of information from you, so please, please continue. You said that you're talking about the the framework of that idea and having to talk to or wanting to talk to different people about it, so your family and your friends, and you wanted to get those ideas off the ground and you wanted to start those conversations.
That's where you at Pioneer really can help, but when one of our other community members is talking about that, they've got a great idea and they really want to build a team to join their business, but they don't know anyone. Can Pioneer themselves help them build a team and match them with like-minded people by any chance?
Jenna: Absolutely. Part of the beauty of Pioneer is the community element. You know, you're on this journey with other people who are in the same boat as you, who have got this idea they want to turn into a reality, and they're going to go through the challenges and the tough times with you. That's the whole purpose of it, so really make the most of that network that you've got.
Pioneer is one one of many programmes that are available to do that, but I think what's really key – and you touched on it there – it can be quite a lonely thing to do. When you've got this idea and it can be quite daunting with... "What do I do? What am I doing? Where do I go with this?"
So, share your story, share your ideas and support each other. That's what we try to do with the Pioneer Programme... create this community who share and support each other as much as possible.
You know... maybe you'll find you've got skills that someone else needs. They might have skills that you need for your business. But, also, what's happened in the past is people have found their co-founders for their idea as well. So you might have a similar idea, or you think in a similar way, and you join up and you create this business together. So whether it's team members or co-founders that you're looking for, or a supportive network to get you going along the way, then there's definitely that opportunity with the Pioneer programme.
Off the back of that I think, in general, we talked about network earlier and really finding your fans, finding your supporters for your business, and people that are really going to champion you and keep you going when you're being challenged. You want people around you to give you that kick and that motivation of, "Come on... you can do this!". It's really key. So, again, loads of things that I could say on that, but Pioneer does absolutely help you find team members, find co-founders but, ultimately, that support network to keep you going through the journey as well.
Merlie: I think that's such good advice... because of the loneliness factor – particularly when you're founding a business. There are mornings where you kind of wake up and you feel like it's all on you. You're supposed to have all the answers, you're sort of almost magically imbued overnight with this knowledge that no one's ever prepared you for and you're not an encyclopedia of entrepreneurship. Even when you've been running your business for a number of years, you still don't have all the answers... you're finding it out as you go along and that loneliness factor, that network of people around you, is so important.
Jenna, let's talk about another big challenge for anyone starting and running businesses, and that's money. Great question here from one of our community members. "I have my idea and my business plan ready, but how do I get funding and what are the most effective ways of getting it... especially right now? Can Pioneer help with funding and finance as part of the programme too?"
Jenna: Such a big topic – and such an important topic because, and I think it really depends on what your idea is because, to an extent, we talk a lot about bootstrapping. You know, we've all heard of that term 'bootstrapping your business'. That will get you to a certain point, but beyond that there's going to come a time when you probably do need an injection of funding to be able to grow.
So, the first thing I would do is look at how you could bootstrap your business. A lot of our students do that themselves. We have a skill-swap platform where we encourage people to skill swap, which I think is a great idea because it's a way that you can give back to someone, someone can give back to you, but you're growing your business with this great skill that someone can give you without having to part with money as well. So try to think outside the box a little bit with how far you can get without funding if you haven't got access to it at the moment.
One of the things we do on the programme is startup funding – so we bring in people who have gone through crowdfunding campaigns. We expose you to VCs and angel investors to really give their insights into the different types of funding that's available for startups... but also their advice, because VC might not be the best route for you, angel might not be the best route for you, crowdfunding might not... or it might be. It's really weighing up the pros and cons for each. What's the risk involved? And really giving you that insight and that understanding.
One of the things I think is really crucial is... it's all well and good if you can get funding but it's also having the financial understanding of them making the decisions of how to use that money. I think so many people focus on, "I need to get this amount", but it's about those financial forecasts. Aaron, I know you're the guru of this topic, as well, but it's about really knowing what you're doing with your finances afterwards. If you are going for investment, they are going to look at your financial forecast, they are going to want a bit more of a business plan to move forward with. So I think that's a really crucial point. Yes... the funding is key, but actually being able to make those informed decisions when you've got that finance is also crucial to think about as well.
Now other things that we do – I guess I'm kind of coming at it from a student perspective as well, but there's so many startup competitions out there where a lot of our winners and our
cohort from previous years have managed to get an injection of funding as well. We do have some prizes as part of being on Pioneer and doing that Dragons' Den style pitch, but there are other startup competitions that you can go for, which is a great way not only to get funding, but also often there's mentorship and there's other support that you can gain from that as well.
So it's a really important, huge topic: money and funding. But, just to summarise: bootstrap as far as you can, think outside the box a little bit... but increase your knowledge and your awareness of the options and, also, what your financial forecasts are... what would you do with that money? Really look beyond just, "This is the amount that I need"..
Merlie: Yeah, it totally makes sense – and, of course, we have Aaron the finance expert with us as well... so if you are struggling with questions about bookkeeping, or cash flow, or how you just get on top of the early-stage financial reconciliations, then anything that Aaron has to say on that is absolute gold dust and deeply reassuring.
Aaron, I know you had one one question that you really did want to ask Jenna and that was about her own business. Do you want to quickly squeeze that one in before we have to round up for today?
Aaron: Before we wrap up, we can't let you go without asking this one question and I think it's one where, although our community has been brilliant and we've got some great questions, one both me and Merlie really want to actually make sure that we get that question thrown at you... So can you tell us a little bit about IAM and how that can help businesses, especially in this virtual world? We absolutely love Whiteboard Wednesdays. Can you tell everyone a little bit about your own business too?
Jenna: Oh Whiteboard Wednesdays are super fun! So, anyone who's following me on LinkedIn will just see that every Wednesday I use this thing called the magic whiteboard. If you haven't used the magic whiteboard, I highly recommend it. It's a great way to get your ideas down, put a piece of paper up on the whiteboard, get your marker pens out. Anyway. I digress... So Whiteboard Wednesdays is, essentially, weekly communication tips – and that's really part of what the IAM Hub is all about.
I'm a communications trainer, my background is in broadcast journalism and I love public speaking. I love presenting in front of others, and I know that I'm in the minority in that category. I know a lot of people hate it, they've got a fear of it, so what I champion with the IAM Hub is really helping people to pitch, present and network with confidence and impact because it's a skill that I think everyone, not only entrepreneurs, but everyone, can really maximise in their career to progress further.
So that's what the IAM Hub is all about: working with individuals and also going into organisations to do lunch and learns, online workshops and individual coaching around communication. It's all virtual, as you can imagine. It's a big pivot, and I'm sure I'll go back to face-to-face training at some point, because I really love the energy in the physical spaces but it's all virtual and that's really what the IAM Hub is all about.
Merlie: Yeah, and I couldn't recommend Jenna's training and what Jenna has to share more. For those of you that do land on Farillio's blog site or you're Farillio users already (I know many of you are), then you'll have come across a lot of Jenna's extraordinary advice on elevator pitches, presentation pitches as well and, Aaron, it makes all the difference, doesn't it?
Aaron: It certainly does! And I know you said how you love public speaking, but we've absolutely loved to have you on this show. It's been an absolutely brilliant topic that you've brought here and I think some of those questions and some of those raw bits that you've given us today has been absolutely exceptional. I think our community is definitely going to go away with a little bit more knowledge, so thank you very much.
Jenna: It's a pleasure to be on the show, guys. Thank you so much for having me – that was
Merlie: It was awesome. So, folks. Go and look up the Birkbeck short courses if you've got that burning yen to launch your business. If you're even thinking about it but not quite sure, go check out what they have to offer. Birkbeck Pioneers go on to launch extraordinary businesses and take on the world. Aaron and I have followed the progress of so many of them and we remain connected to them and that network. When you're starting out, when you're running a business, when you are changing things up, it really does matter.
That is, unfortunately, all we have time for today – so don't forget to like, comment, subscribe.
Let us know what you're thinking. Let us know if you have any more questions for folks like Jenna – we can weave that into the conversations that we have in future and, of course, to the content that we produce for all of you guys. Until then, with massive thanks to Jenna and, as ever, to my wonderful co-host Aaron, all it remains for me to say is have a good week, guys, and #GoFarFast.
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