How to Survive Beyond the Start-up Stage

10 years on celebrates rising from fraud to financial success

John Sollars - Stinky InkBack in the spring of 2002 BBC 6 Music launched, coal mining ended in Scotland and the Queen Mother died. Another story that crept under the media radar at that time was the launch of the online printer ink retailer, On 22 April 2012 serial entrepreneur, John Sollars, celebrates a decade of trading and gives advice to start-ups on how to survive beyond the early years.

John Sollar’s tips for new businesses:

“It’s different for everyone but these tactics have worked for me.”

  1. Stay single. If you start a business with a friend, you will fall out eventually. That’s my experience, anyway. When my first business failed the bank chased me for the total amount of the guarantees when my partner couldn’t pay his share. This was £40,000 and took 10 years to clear.

  2. Plan ahead. Putting time and thought into a business plan and revisiting it regularly is worthwhile. Unless you have a target to aim for you won’t know when, or if, you’re succeeding.

  3. Minimise your liabilities. Never take a charge on your house and try to avoid providing more information than a lender requires.

  4. Do your accounts, get invoices out promptly and don’t accept being messed around over payment. Pay suppliers on time too – it gives you their goodwill and more credit.

  5. Monitor metrics. One of the many bonuses of the internet is that you are able to tell where your customer has come from; how they searched for you; how quickly they left and whether they actually bought anything from you. Using this information you are able to improve your website and also your customers’ satisfaction, which can only be a good thing.

  6. Hire the right staff. It is impossible to place a value on a hard working employee that cares about your company and where it is heading. Spending the extra on wages for key skill sets or talents that are suited to your business can be the difference between a 5% growth and a 20% growth in a start-up’s early years.

Sollars has three start-ups to his name over 30 years:

“I set up knowing nothing about ecommerce and was almost bankrupted within months by a national ring of scamsters who defrauded me of£32,000 with stolen credit cards. The police could do nothing and I was at a low ebb. But I’m not a quitter – I discussed it with the dog and decided to carry on.”

He continues,

“The fraud issue really coloured the first four years of the business as it made it hard to get credit with suppliers as our balance sheet was so weak. It taught me the importance of having cash in the bank and watching my P&L like a hawk.”

However, the gamble paid off as within two years the company was in profit and today employs 14 staff and turned over more than £3 million last year. Sollars again:

“I’m really proud of what we’ve achieved together over the years in a very competitive market; we all work hard to look after our customers and that has paid off with them staying loyal and recommending us. We’re looking forward to looking after their printer consumable needs for another 10 years and more.”

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