What would you give to sell to the right customers at the right time?
Richard Osborne has always been an ambitious, influential entrepreneur who started his first “proper” business in 1999 and has grown a number of highly successful technology and social media SMEs including start-up and small business intelligence specialists, Business Data Group, and UKBF – the UK’s largest and most active online community for small and micro-businesses.
Richard takes some time out of his schedule to share his secrets of success to Business Matters
What products or services do you provide?
Business Data Group’s intelligence-led services connect business service providers, such as banks and business insurers, with UK entrepreneurs who need their services at the very start of their new business journey. They are literally legally registering their new companies. Our technology helps our clients to acquire warm leads before details of their customers’ newly formed businesses enter the public domain. So we help them to stay ahead of the competition.
The Business Data Group portfolio also includes our award-winning eFiling business start-up platform which is integrated with Companies House and is the primary platform used by company formations agents across the UK. We support hundreds of thousands of UK founders to start in business and commence trading each year through our portfolio and data intelligence on the UK start-up sector.
In 2021, Business Data Group re-acquired UKBF (UK Business Forums) which is the UK’s largest and most active online community for small and micro-businesses and a natural extension of Business Data Group where we support UK start-ups to grow and scale their businesses.
What type of businesses do you work with?
Our partners are providing essential business services that new companies want and need to start and grow. They, therefore, operate in sectors such as banking, business insurance and accountancy and include companies such as Barclays, Lloyds Bank, Direct Line Group and WorldPay.
What is your USP?
Through our eFiling product, we have a significantly prominent position in the UK company start-up sector. We’re the only viable platform of choice for service providers which makes us the most influential authority on start-up data and the dominant solution for organisations wishing to position their service offerings to start-up companies.
Adding UKBF to our product portfolio in 2021 enhances our proposition and enables us to include established small businesses in the marketing solutions we provide the business service providers.
What are your company values? Have you ever had them challenged and if so how have you dealt with it?
When Google started, its founders had the simple philosophy of “Don’t be evil”. Although that is not our motto, it is a philosophy that I have. Put simply, I believe we should just do the right thing. By leading the business with that position, it spreads throughout the team.
As a business, we have walked away from a small number of opportunities over the years that didn’t feel right in the gut. We didn’t want to associate with them. It is simple really, just do the right thing.
How do you ensure that you recruit a team that reflects your company values?
Our human instinct is to be with other people that we can relate to and who share the same values as ourselves. By being who we are, we naturally give that vibe that attracts the right people. When people express an interest in working at Business Data Group, they will see the office, meet some of the team, and our interview style is not formal. We get to know the person, and they get to know us, if we click, that’s a big step.
Are you happy to offer a hybrid working model of home/office post-covid?
Business Data Group has always embraced flexible working and this was encouraged long before the pandemic. Many of our team members are juggling the demands of their roles with family and other personal commitments, so we don’t have fixed working hours in our contracts. We have flexible working hours that are set by the individual and this flexibility extends to the place of work too. It’s crucial to value and trust your employees as individuals. It has a massive impact on wellbeing, as well as productivity.
Do you have any tips for managing suppliers and customers effectively?
A customer who doesn’t pay, is not a customer. They are a liability and you don’t need them as a customer. That said, we evolve and develop our processes to support our customers in the best way that we can. We always try to understand what they want to get out of working with us to ensure there is a fit; if we are not the right solution they are looking for we’ll openly tell them.
We take that same approach with our suppliers. If we don’t pay them, then we are not a customer they want. So we look after our suppliers, agree on terms at the outset, and embed them in our culture.
Any finance or cash-flow tips for new businesses starting out?
There are two bits of advice I would give anyone just starting out in business. Know your numbers and remember that the business’s cash is not your money!
If you could ask one thing of the government to change for businesses what would it be?
Simplify the tax system. It’s crazy that taxation in the UK is so complicated and that business owners have to pay thousands of pounds every year to specialist consultants, just to ensure they don’t find themselves on the wrong side of the law and get fined, or worse.
As a business owner, you have to understand the tax on your profits, then you need to understand the tax on employing staff, as well as on your employees pay. You then also have to manage tax on your product sales as a tax collection agent for HMRC, then you have to understand and manage the tax on your own drawings. If you then make a good profit and pay yourself a dividend, you have to understand the tax on your gains too. As you can see, it’s ridiculous and unnecessarily overcomplicated!
What is your attitude towards your competitors?
Business Data Group has created a unique product that integrates with Companies House and puts us at the centre of the company formations process. In that respect, there aren’t any other companies that do that. What we are competing for is the marketing spend of the business service providers who are our customers. Business to business marketing is a noisy marketplace with so many different opportunities. That just means we have to keep innovating and ensuring that not only do we meet our customers’ needs, but we also give them the best possible customer experience.
Any thoughts on the future of your company and your dreams?
I want my business to outlive me and continue to provide a future for the next generation and the time will come where I step away from the reins.
My dreams are several-fold. I have aspirations to create an education centre to support out of school children with special educational needs and disability (SEND) which is something I have supported for many years as a coach and mentor. I’d also like to create my own equestrian clothing brand if my wife approves, although she’s asked me not to start any more businesses! I know that I would also love the buzz of working with young entrepreneurs and supporting their start-ups as a coach or mentor. I’ll perhaps invest in a few of them too.