How to Bootstrap a Business

Rachel Hargrave is perhaps one of the most tenacious and resilient business entrepreneurs we’ve come across. Here’s why. At the age of 28, she left the security of full-time employment with a creative agency and, along with a partner, started up her own full service marketing communications agency, The Phoenix Partners. The business enjoyed 12 successful years, generating a 40% nett profit on a turnover of £1.65M. Then disaster struck with the Gulf of Mexico disaster. BP was one of her largest clients, and that business disappeared quite literally overnight. Living up to the company name, Rachel re-built the business, acquiring Canon Europe as a significant client. This time a natural disaster – the great earthquake and tsunami of 2011 – wiped out Canon’s factory, and Rachel’s business with it.

Not to be disheartened, she went on to set up RDZ PR, a specialist PR agency. Once again, Rachel found business success, but most significantly, out of the RDZ business came the Newtonian insight that led to the formation of a unique new business concept: The Awards People. Rachel found an untapped and un-serviced market amongst smaller, clever companies which didn’t necessarily have the funds to underwrite a major PR campaign but who did want to raise their profile. The Awards People business model is simple: as Rachel describes it, “we research, write and enter business awards for our clients”. It’s an affordable service, and eminently successful with a 93% success rate of clients getting through to the finals, and an 81% success rate of clients winning their chosen award category.

As well as being dedicated to driving her clients’ success, Rachel is intriguingly driven by another desire. “I’m still curious to know what it takes, what it feels like to grow a business at scale – we couldn’t really do that with RDZ – but we can with The Awards People”. Her ambition is to rapidly scale the business to attract future buyers.

That’s quite a story, and 10×10 could not resist asking her what she considered the big lesson learned. Her answer is equally telling: “do things that make sense to you,” she says, “which might sound strange but if things don’t make sense to you, then you shouldn’t be doing them”. Wise advice.

Rachel applied to join 10×10 because while she knows how to grow a business in the conventional sense, she needed to learn how to ‘bootstrap’ a business. “The programme is exposing me to new ideas, it’s re-energising my knowledge, and giving me insight into great new systems. It’s exciting and thought-provoking,” says Rachel. Asked to sum up the 10×10 programme in one word: “Awesome!”

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