If you’re looking for the Fast Track to Success for your business it can’t hurt to speak to the author of a book with the same title. Karen Melonie Gould is an entrepreneur, business coach, and published author (see also Happy Entrepreneur Mind Set). She is the founder and CEO of Gateway2Enterprise, the UK’s fastest growing alternative finance platform. We had the good fortune of speaking to Karen last week and learning from her business experiences and insights.
Karen believes that when you are brought up surrounded by entrepreneurs, it usually can instill the right values for success. “You could say it’s hereditary, you could say it’s developed, or you could say it comes out of a need.” This was the case for Karen as she explained to us where her journey began.
Karen: My grandfather came over from a very poor family in Ireland and he didn’t go to school. His mother was a widow so he had to work on a farm to support his mother and siblings. He ended up owning that farm. When I was younger I used to help my grandfather sell produce from the farm, door-to-door, and I got pocket money for it. That was my first taste of business and entrepreneurship. I liked the idea of having something that you worked hard for.
Karen told us about how the term “sales” is considered a dirty word in the UK, but is a quality imperative to entrepreneurship. Due to Karen’s situation growing up, she gravitated towards sales and this in turn led her towards the path of entrepreneurship.
Karen: Unfortunately my father died when I was very young. I had a scholarship to attend a private school paid for by the church. I was bullied consequently because my mother didn’t have the money to afford all the school trips, activities, and uniforms. So I thought, “Right, I’ll have to be able to fit in with the group. I’m not going to moan about it. I’m going to get on with it and find the money so that I’m not the child who sticks out in school, and I can participate with everybody else.” So I started my first business in school.
Actually, Karen started businesses in school. From a jewelry business, to managing the disco for the local church youth club, and going on to promote and host her own disco and band, Karen’s pursuit of financial independence transformed her into an active, sociable character.
Karen: If it all goes wrong you only have yourself to fall back on. We didn’t have emails in those days so it was all about networking. If people liked you and you tended to make yourself available for them, they tended to give you contracts.
Karen happened to stumble upon the introduction/dating business early in her career. An old school friend, a television director, asked her if she would like to do a reality show. She ended up doing a reality show on the launch of her company which was broadcasted on Channel 5, Channel 4 and BBC 2. This gig propelled her into the limelight and of course demanded high performance. Karen believes this is an experience that helped mold her.
Probably inspired by reminiscing about her adventurous past, we were treated to the Karen Melonie Gould must-do’s for successful business:
Karen: Being in the right place at the right time and knowing the right people. You need to have the passion to drive your business. You need to have tenacity and resilience because no one day is ever the same. It’s a hard, high hill to success. You need to surround yourself with successful people who value you and what you’re trying to achieve, and not trying to pull you down. You need to work very hard: you are to be in your business 7 days, 24 hours.
You need to keep your eye on your cashflow that is absolutely paramount to growing your business. You will need to keep reinvesting finance into your business in order to accelerate it.
You need to pick your team yourself and not have recruitment agencies choose your team. You all have to share common goals of how you want that company to succeed. You have to be the driver. You must have diversity within the team and you also have to have regular communication so that your team knows what you’re doing, what you’ve done, what you’ve achieved, and what you want to achieve. Your team becomes your family.
Karen believes very much in caring for your team members as much possible. Her simple logic is that if a business can help staff in times of personal need, that staff will in turn help see that business through difficult times that will always arise.
Karen has worked with over 3000 businesses in her career. On top of that she’s set up businesses of her own, raising large amounts of capital. We spoke with Karen about the business funding aspect of starting and expanding enterprises.
Karen: An entrepreneur can start a business on a shoestring. You can start it with your own value and your own skill. I’ve always believed in myself so it’s the confidence that counts. A lot of us entrepreneurs put our money where our mouth is and we invest in ourselves.
I’ve sold property; I’ve put the profits from another business into a new venture. I’ve taken a loan, maxed out business cards, borrowed from friends and from family. I’ve taken on other jobs to sustain my business because I believed in it. People who believe in their business and what it can achieve will make tremendous sacrifices. It can mean you don’t have a holiday for three years, so be it. If it means you don’t have a car, you go without a car. You will have to make a lot of sacrifices in the beginning.
I’ve worked with many entrepreneurs and said: “You’ve got equity here. Now if you really want to grow this business but you don’t want to take on a debt, you could take the equity out in your property. But you don’t want to do that.” I feel that if you really had that much faith in yourself and your business you would.
Karen observed that when a business has grown and is ready to move to a higher level (requiring £500k plus funding), then it’s a time to consider alternative finance. In Karen’s words, “We’re fortunate in the UK.” The alternative finance sector has grown to be worth £170 billion. In 2015 alone it’s already had a 13-15% increase and that is escalating.
Karen herself came upon a moment when she had to raise £3 million in funding. She said, “It hasn’t been difficult. I won’t say it’s been easy but it hasn’t been hard.” So what exactly is the first step when you reach that point where you’re ready for big growth?
Karen: We [Gateway2Enterprise] have a new section called Finance Finder. For companies looking for half-a-million plus, we as a team source the best options. First of all we would look at your company and do some due diligence. Then we’d meet face-to-face, have a look at your cashflow, business plan, sales, and traction. Traction is extremely important and I would say it’s more valuable than a business plan.
We’d then put together a business proposal that reflects your sales, strategy, traction and business model. The next thing we would do is invest in a relevant platform.
Karen stressed that at this point, when it comes to seeking matching alternative finance, the solution is not one-size-fits-all. It’s not about talking to a business mentor, an accountant, or a finance specialist. It’s about seeking the expertise of somebody who knows the alternative finance sector.
Karen: Don’t be worried if the bank turns you down due to your credit rating. The alternative funding market is revolutionizing the way we’ll be securing finance in the future.
In some cases, according to Karen, it’s not all about funding. The key to taking your business to the next level can simply be a question of finding the right personnel.
Karen: I just had one company that was looking to have me help raise investment for them. It was a company in the gaming industry, a difficult one in which to track the right kind of finance in the UK. They offered to pay me a fee but because I liked the model so much, I suggested we wait and see because I would prefer shares in the product they were going to launch.
People always think the first thing they need is money, and it’s not. It’s actually some good advice from somebody who has been there and done it.
One of Karen’s humorous anecdotes was a chance meeting with a would-be business development consultant. When Karen asked what the consultant did before, the lady replied, “I was a beautician.”
Karen: What I get very upset about is that there are so many people who have set themselves up as business mentors, growth accelerators, coaches — the list goes on and on. Unless you’ve started a business (or several!), or grown a business (or several!), you will never know what it takes.
Join us at Business Funding Show ’16 to find out everything you need to know about business funding. Karen Melonie Gould is going to be sharing more of her experiences at the event. We encourage taking the plunge, but why not talk to some of the advanced swimmers before you get wet? There’s an amazing lineup of speakers who’ve had both national and international success to meet, share and learn from. If you’re a small business that feels ready to take your venture to the next level, meet up at the one-stop-shop for all things related to business funding in the modern landscape. We look forward to seeing you at the event. While waiting, don’t forget to pick up our Free Guide to Business Funding. Let’s close the funding gap!