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On 17th March 2016, SMB will launch at the Birmingham Education Show.  It’s an incredibly exciting prospect but, for two, busy teachers, it has been hard work getting there.

Some days it is hard to believe how far we have come in the past year.

We have gone from being normal teachers, working late at night, writing success criteria for our own lessons the next day, to having a fledging business with over 3000 innovative and time-saving products.  Before we started, we had no appreciation of how much it would take to turn our ‘grand idea’ into something which we could actually bring to market – it has certainly been a learning curve, and a steep one at that!  I asked my business partner what his advice would be to anyone thinking about following in our footsteps, after his initial response of, “Don’t do it!!” we came up with some things we wish we’d been told before we set up SMB.

So, for what it is worth, here are our top-ten tips for starting your own ‘Booming’ educational business.

Believe in your idea.

We think one of our greatest strengths is that our products are made by teachers, for teachers, and by leaders, for leaders. If you have an idea and you think it really works, have faith in it. No one knows better than those at the ‘coal-face’ what is needed. Take Phil Neal, MD of Capita SIMS, as a case in point – one of the original creators of SIMS, he was a working teacher, who developed something to meet his needs, now SIMS is used in over 22,000 schools.

Do your research.

We spent lots of time refining our ideas through talking to other professionals. We wanted SMB to be exactly what all of our stakeholders needed, so we made sure we asked them what they wanted. Other teachers, Heads, Advisors, pupils and even Ofsted all helped shape our product development, improving it and ensuring it was fit for purpose, long before it went to market.

Know your competition.

SMB started as a sticker company, plain and simple, but it grew. Our market-research made us realise that there was a real gap in the education world – teachers were exhausted with the hours of marking, leaders wanted more and more developmental marking and Ofsted’s demands were getting higher every day – SMB fits the bill, but it had to be developed and expanded to make sure it was better than anything currently out there. There were lots of sticker companies, but none that provided the solution we had – USP identified. Once you know your competition, make sure you stay ahead of it!

Be fully committed.

As teachers, we are used to spending our evenings and weekends working, but trying to do that while also starting a business puts things into a different league. We are fully committed to doing our absolute best running our own school, so all SMB work is done at weekends and holidays (evenings are still devoted to school!). We couldn’t even begin to count the number of hours we have spent on SMB, but our holidays have frequently involved 12 hour plus working days, going into the early hours of the morning to try to fit around our teaching lives. Just take a look at the bags under our eyes if you don’t believe us! You have to really believe in what you are doing to make it worth it.

Do it for the right reasons.

We are teachers, not business people. We have a vocation. That is the single most important thing to us. We aren’t doing this to make money, if we were, I’d still be a lawyer and Danny would be in the City somewhere making millions. We teach because it is our passion and we started SMB because we passionately believe it can improve the lives of other leaders, teachers and, most importantly, the quality of teaching and learning provided to the children. Don’t go into the education business for financial reasons – there are much quicker and easier ways of earning money!

Get the legals right.

I might have thought that my legal background would make setting up a business uncomplicated but after we incorporated, I realised how much of the day-to-day running I hadn’t had any exposure to. Company Accounts, Annual Returns, VAT, Corporation Tax Returns…all par for the course for a business-person, but a total pain for busy teachers.

Go big or go home.

Once we got our products finished, we realised we needed to make a decision about whether to ‘Go Big, or Go Home’. We had to invest in ourselves if we had any hope of turning our dream into a reality. The Education Show is a gamble, but, whatever happens, I know we will be glad we did it. It brings me back to point one, if you really believe in your idea, you have to be prepared to make sacrifices financially and in terms of time and energy to make it work.

Think carefully about who you work with.

Running a company is challenging and every day I am thankful that I’m not doing it on my own. Having a business partner has not only made the whole thing possible, it has kept us both sane. We play to each other’s strengths, bounce ideas, share triumphs and drag each other through the difficult parts. Yes, it’s tough at times – we spend hours at a stretch in each other’s company, often tired and stressed – inevitably there are moments of friction and we’ve had more than a few blazing rows along the way, but we’ve also laughed more and had more fun doing this than in anything else I’ve ever done. It’s incredibly bonding building something together – you have to trust each other completely and have faith in the other person’s abilities – that’s a wonderful thing to share. So, take that into account when you go into business with someone. If you don’t trust them completely, or they annoy you, or you have different values or goals, it just won’t work. And if you happen to be thinking about going it alone, make sure you have a good support network elsewhere.

Draw on the strengths around you.

We aren’t Rising Stars, we don’t have a bank of proof readers, publishers, editors, typists or PAs, but we do have an amazing set of friends, family and educational contacts that have helped us along the way. We couldn’t have launched SMB without the goodwill and support of those around us, people who have proof-read several thousand stickers, helped when we were stuck for just the right word on a success criteria and given us free marketing advice. Use the contacts you have – it is amazing what people will do for a glass of wine and genuine appreciation and it will really make a difference in the early days of your business.

Enjoy the ride!

Nikki Kane is a Headteacher and a director of Stick Mark Boom!

Author: stickboom

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