Chris Jones, one of our Business Tutors, currently runs a weekly sessions to aid students who are budding entrepreneurs to start or grow their business. Chris has over 22 years experience in computing and 15 years working in IT and 8 years running companies. Students get advice on: how to build a website, help with accounts, coaching for sales, sense checking ideas, and finding industry contacts.
We asked Chris to share some of his experiences with the project so far.
Could you tell us a little bit about your experience? When you're not not lecturing what are you working on?
I'm a computer programmer by trade. With my degree in computer science with robotics from Lancaster Uni. After uni I worked for a big graduation photography company where I moved from IT trainee to IT Director over about 2-3 years. (basically automating the data gathering and production process)
Then I worked as part of a large international team at an insurance company called Tradewise on something called CRIF. Which is a system that interfaces all the databases of all the insurance companies in Europe to allow for automatic fraud detection using big data analysis techniques.
While doing this I was also working on my own projects. Some more profitable than others, (though all good fun). In 2013 I went fully freelance and started ChanJones Ltd. Which is now a successful software company serving clients of all sizes from governments to startups. I've worked in Europe, the US, China, Australia and the Middle East and program in about 5 or 6 programming languages depending on your definition of a "language".
What modules do you teach at Pearson Business School?
I teach BM6006 entrepreneurship, with research and reports, Industry Studies 3 (IT Industry) and various digital skills classes that are module independent.
Could you tell us what inspired the idea of the 'Help With Your Start Up' project?
On my BM6006 course I have 16 students that have to start a business over their second and third year. Because of various issues a lot of them were starting the business THIS year. Which meant that there is a lot to do that doesn't fit into lessons.
So I was meeting up with students in the breakout area and helping with business advice/contacts/IT skills etc. Will Holt suggested we formalise it and open it up for the rest of the students. So far it's been fairly busy. With me seeing 3 or 4 students each morning and answering/writing somewhere in the region of a million emails to various contacts.
How do you help students at PCL?
My software company is based around the premise that people don't always know what they need. So I let students explain to me where their business is and/or where they would want it to be. Then I try and give advice to get around any sticking points. Explain problems that they may not have considered (Public liability insurance is one of these). And suggest next steps.
A lot of the time the issue is that there is a big scary task and they are not sure what to do. Breaking it down into smaller chunks and deciding on a next step is usually helpful
What is the most common questions students ask you?
Other than "What should I do next", so far the most common request has been for technical help with websites, or with help accessing contacts in a given industry.
What would you say is the most overlooked aspect of starting your own business?/ What is the most common error?
The boring stuff like accounts and insurance. And getting clients. Most of my work comes from networking events, or industry events. There is no point in building a really good business and then sitting back and wondering why no one is giving you any money. I spend a lot more time than people realise talking to people in various industries and putting people in contact.
What advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs?
Always look at a problem from lots of angles. It could be that an insurmountable problem has a weak spot if you look at it the right way. For example, you may try to set up a business based on commission and have real problems with variable income. However by increasing the level of customer service you offer you can possibly switch customers to a subscriber model.
Don't be afraid to knock on doors. While it doesn't always work, physically turning up somewhere can give you a great chance to get new clients. When I ran a photo booth business I managed to secure the Inner Temple Palace and the London Symphony Orchestra as clients by walking in and saying hello.