James Burton

“There’s no time like now to build a business” says alumnus James Burton

James Burton

Writing for University of Brighton student and graduate entrepreneurs, James Burton (Brighton Business School alumnus and beepurple Entrepreneur-in-Residence) offers some encouraging and supportive advice based on his own experience in business… 

On 15 September 2008, Lehman Brothers, one of the world’s largest financial services companies, went bankrupt after the Federal Reserve declined to guarantee its loans as a result of problems caused by the US subprime mortgage crisis. This developed into a full-blown international banking crisis and the prospect of the potential collapse of the global financial system. What did follow was a sustained global economic downturn and the subsequent European debt crisis and on 6 March 2009, The Dow Jones hit its lowest level of 6,443.27.

Fourteen days later I incorporated a company and set out on my own to build a business.

Madness? Maybe. But in such uncertain times, one of the things we can do as humans is tackle the fear and worry with ambition and determination. I think looking back that those were the two basic ingredients I started with, and even today I can take myself back to the darkness of 2009 and remember the choice: lie down and accept it all or get up and do something about it!

So I wanted to write a short post today that will hopefully inspire you to crack on with your plans and chase your dreams.

But let’s be real, it’s not going to be easy. The current and developing global health crisis will lead to economic problems and no doubt social ones too. Any business starting now will need to think differently to survive, coming up with new ideas and working models and putting your client success and happiness at the core of what you do.

In whatever market you intend to operate, there will still be customers. They will still need products and services. But innovation is key and to get your fledgling business moving you’ll need to formulate a grand plan and see it through.

In terms of what I’ve learned along the way, here’s a few things to think about:

Back yourself

So often I hear people say ‘I can’t do that’ or ‘building a business is something other people do’. Nonsense! I was fortunate to receive some coaching some years back where I was introduced to the concept of ‘limiting beliefs’ – you assume or perceive that you can’t do it when in reality there is absolutely no reason why you can’t. The world is full of businesspeople no smarter than you – so go out and make it happen!

Be bold

Launch something. Create it. Give it an identity. Gain momentum. Shout about it. Put yourself out there! This will mark the evolution from ‘idea’ to ‘venture’ – the point being that it will bring it to life and you’ll never look back.

Be disruptive

When I launched Qualifa (the business in question) we had to think differently about the service we were offering and how we could ensure that clients saw the value of it and that it had the potential to become embedded within the strategy for growth and success. In our case with a marketing service, the economic climate meant that we couldn’t simply charge a recurring day rate for our work – we needed to think about the pricing model and how we could differentiate ourselves from the competition.

We launched ‘pay on results’ – so clients only paid for our service if it delivered the specific outcomes they were hoping for.

Bring people with you

In the beginning, it makes sense to take on as many tasks as you personally can. Not only will it increase your overall understanding of the business operations, but clearly it will keep costs down. But don’t try to do it all alone. There will come a point when your business can only accelerate through additional brains and passion coming on board.

Be afraid

Treat each customer as if they were your last and only. Expect the unexpected and plan for turbulent times. Have an Armageddon plan (how you can scale back and survive if you have to). Keep running from the fear of failure – it will drive you on!

Keep a balance

One of my best mates once said to me: think of your life as a stool. Business on one leg, health on another, leisure on another, family/friends on the last leg. You can keep going if one of the legs isn’t there (or takes a back seat for a while) but if another goes – the stool falls over. Building a business is the greatest journey there is, but it can be all-consuming. Make sure you keep fit and have outside interests – and stay close to your family and friends!

Take baby steps

Rome wasn’t built in a day, and when building a company there really aren’t any shortcuts. Try to set short- and medium-term goals and objectives to aim for, and in these current turbulent times take that right down to a daily level. Ask yourself ‘what can I do today to make a difference?’ Always aim to make the best use of time, even in small chunks. It will all add up, I promise.

In conclusion, I know that the current situation will be worrying for you and will no doubt prompt concerns for your immediate future as entrepreneurs. But don’t be put off and try not to be deterred – good times will come…

  • Three years after the launch of Qualifa we reached £1 million in annual sales.
  • Five years after inception we had offices in the USA, Singapore and New Zealand
  • At six years old we employed 150 people
  • On our seventh birthday, we reached annual sales of £5 milllion.
  • Eight years after Qualifa was born, the company was acquired by Clarion Events.
  • 2020 has already seen the birth of University of Brighton businesses Unitec and Ethicul and seen fantastic progress from the likes of Teddy Brighton, Enayball and Reviewdo. There’s so much to be inspired by!

Over to you, beepurplers!

To find out more about beepurple and the university’s support for startups, freelancers and social enterprises, visit our Careers Service web pages.


Luke Mitchell • 18/03/2020

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