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How to grow your business

Content supplied by Barclays

Large and small tomatoes

Justine Roberts started Mumsnet in her back bedroom 11 years ago and it now employs 50 people and has a turnover of £3 million. Here, she reveals the dos and don'ts of growing a business:

How to go from small to big

It was on a disastrous family holiday in November 1999 that mum of twins, Justine Roberts, came up with an idea. Instead of just sitting round the pool with her mum friends, moaning about the hotel and all its poor facilities, why wasn't there a website where women could share this information and forewarn any potential travellers? Returning to the UK, she hooked up with a friend she'd met at antenatal classes, Carrie Longton, and a university friend who knew about Javascript and, from a little office in her back bedroom, Mumsnet was born.

Their tactic was always very simple. "We wanted to concentrate on creating the best website we could, providing the best service to our community of mums and developing the content according to exactly what they wanted," recalls Justine. It was a winning formula. Now, 11 years on, it has over 4 million visits a month and well over 1.5 million monthly unique users. Oh, and Justine managed to squeeze in a couple more kids in that time, too. How did she do it? "With a great nanny, a fantastic cleaner and by not sweating the small stuff," she laughs. But growing a business isn't easy. Here are Justine's list of invaluable dos and don'ts…

Do keep your eye on costs
"I've always believed in old-fashioned budgeting - don't spend more than you can earn and keep a close eye on costs. If your costs are high then you allow an opportunity for your competition to come in and offer the product for less. Since Mumsnet began there've been lots of ups and downs in the financial climate and at one point our advertising rates went from £25 per 1,000 page impressions to £2.50. But we were able to withstand this, purely because of our low-cost base."

Don't ignore your customers
"Most of our innovation at Mumsnet has come from Mumsnetters themselves - it's a collaborative effort. It's so important to know what people - especially your audience - are up to. I often dread going to conferences or networking events, but then when I'm actually there I feed off other people's ideas and feel totally inspired! It also gives you space away from the office to consider strategy and to think about how to be proactive, rather than just reactive."

Do be flexible
"We've got very good people working here at Mumsnet because we're flexible. Amongst our 50 staff, fewer than 10 work traditional full-time hours. This way, we can attract high-quality, skilled people who would have otherwise left the workplace and will perhaps compromise a little more on pay because of the flexibility offered. We have women job-sharing, leaving for school pick-ups at 3pm and either not coming back for the rest of the day - or coming back once the kids are settled at home with help. For me, it's all about hiring 'can do' people. They have to be fast-moving, open-minded and positive."

Don't be scared of growth
"For the first seven-and-a-half years, we all worked from home. But once our numbers swelled to 10, the effort spent in making sure everyone was in the loop outweighed the benefits of being at home. So we bit the bullet and made the decision to get an office space, which obviously added to worries in terms of cost and location. But it had to be done. Growing is often painful, but it's the only way your business can move on."

Don't just think of the money
"When coming up with ideas to make money, you have to have a strong sense that the idea is good fundamentally and will work for your business - not just because it has financial benefits. Ask yourself, is there something in your idea, without it having all the bells and whistles that marketing puts on it?"

Do be clear about your priorities
"At the time of the election last May, Mumsnet was catapulted into the spotlight and everyone wanted a piece - charities wanted us to support their campaigns, businesses wanted us to do market research on their products, the Government wanted our input - and we just couldn't do everything. We had to make sure we were clear about our priorities. It's a lesson for all businesses- it can be so tempting to get carried away, but don't bite off more than you can chew."

Do budget time for group communication
"When Mumsnet employed less than 10 people, it was pretty easy to know what everyone was doing. But now we really have to work hard and actually schedule time in for group meetings to catch up. It's an important and essential cost of getting bigger."

If you're looking to expand your business and need some advice, there's more information here.

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Last updated: over 3 years ago