Business Partnerships

Let’s talk about networking and the power of community in business. Every business you see has links with other companies. There intertwining threads through business are the veins that carry the company’s lifeblood. Can one company exist without another? Sure, but it does help to have connections.

Building relationships in business is a powerful thing and it should never be overlooked. When it comes to relationship business it’s often worth remembering that you aren’t building a relationship with the company as an entity, but with an individual (or individuals) within that business. These relationships should be viewed almost like your friendship circles. The people within the companies that you have relationships with as essentially your “business friends”.

It’s these close-knit relationships that allow you to maintain a great working relationship.

Never underestimate the importance of face-to-face networking. This is often a great way to get started with building relationships. I find that cold-email or cold-calling a company that you want to work with is often met with barriers, because to that company, you don’t have a face.

If you really want to network and get to know the people behind companies, get out there and meet them. Whatever your industry, check online and on social media for any networking events. It is often possible to see which companies will be attending, and sometimes even the person at that company.

If you feel you have a relationship worth building and you can offer them something in return, you can make it your aim to meet the person on the other end of that potential partnership. Things will blossom more in a face-to-face setting.

The digital age allows us to stay in touch electronically, and any face to face relationships that you build on, you can follow up with emails shortly after to keep that contact up. What is your business and what sort of companies do you think you would be able to form a beneficial partnership with? Make a list and get out there and shake some hands.


Now for a business update, we’ve recently taken on a new teacher in Liverpool heading up our Piano Lessons Liverpool website. Her name is Sophie Leaver and she is a multi-instrumentalist who graduated with a First in Music from the University of Liverpool. She also holds a Masters Degree in Music Performance and Pedagogy which she obtain in September 2018.

Sophie is an accomplished pianist, singer and guitar player and has performed at a range of festivals, sporting events and even on the ITV series Victoria.

Sophie started teaching in 2017 in New York before moving her teaching business to the Merseyside area of Liverpool.

Posted under mgrmusic.com

This post was written by Matthew Rusk on September 3, 2019

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Continuous Systems Improvement

Off the back of me discussing some of the lessons learned from the recent spam attack, I took the opportunity to make some important updates and implemented some new procedures to increase security and also improve a lot of other administrative processes along the way.

One thing that I’ve recently improved is the websites database systems. Due to the nature of the business, we receive a high volume of enquiries from potential students all around the UK. The unfortunate nature of dealing with high volume in a small business is that sometimes things could get missed, or as I’ve also seen, technology plays a part in the item not arriving with us even though the customer has submitted it.

I’ve made some back-end updates to the website which now provide a timestamp to all submitted entries. This means, even if an email physically does not arrive in our inbox, there will be a marker of this in the database. This means if a customer contacts us to say they got in touch but did not hear back, I can simply retrieve the entry from the database and deal with it right away. This saves us extra time and saves the customer from having to resubmit their request.

These increased records will improve our overall efficiency and also free up some all-important time to work on other aspects of the business too.

I have also made some important updates to our phone service which now provides each locational webpage with its own local phone number. This allows us to retrieve voicemails much faster and send them to the local teachers in a timelier manner. Previously the voicemails all collected in a central repository with no location indicator.


Quick business update, we’ve recently taken on a new singing teacher based in Newcastle that will be heading up our Singing Lessons Newcastle. We are so pleased to welcome Jay Hepple onboard to share his knowledge and experience with students.

Jay is not only a fantastic singing teacher, but he also performs up and down the UK on a regular basis with his band Groove Allstars at weddings and functions. You may also have heard him sing as part of SoulTown at one of the many Haven Holiday Parks around the country. He’s even sung on stage with Take That on their recent Greatest Hits Tour as part of their choir. Pretty cool huh?

Jay holds a 1stClass BA Honours in the Music Industry from the Academy of Music and Sound in Gateshead.

Posted under mgrmusic.com

This post was written by Matthew Rusk on September 3, 2019

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Spam Email Attack

So this week’s business update here, and this time it’s got a valuable lesson attached. Recently, some of the mgrmusic.com website contact forms fell victim to a spam attack. This type of attack is a bot-based attack which doesn’t directly affect the website, but the bot uses the contact form as a proxy to send emails out to multiple recipients.

These types of attacks work based on the contact form replying to the submitter with an auto reply. For instance, if you typed in the body of the text “Win £100” and entered your email in the field, our system would generate an auto reply to you and a copy of the text you submitted. The bot had used out system to email spam to a substantial number of emails, as we pay per email it also incurred a quite significant bill. Indeed, it was a bit of a perfect storm that highlighted a security vulnerability in our systems that needed resolving.

So, what did we learn? I mentioned last time that I was working on some integration with ReCapcha and we have rebuilt our contact forms from the ground up to prevent this happening in future. I have also been keen to increase security across the business, adding in 2 factor authentication on all business email logins and will look to do the same with websites. I would recommend that you do the same as well for your start-up, after all the cost of getting it wrong can literally put you out of business – no matter what size your company is.

One aspect of this that I really want to share with you is that as business owners we abstract business problems away from clients – it is part of the service we provide by default. Certain things should never make it to the client view of the business as it’s not something they should ever have to worry about when using your service.

In my case, I don’t want my teachers to be concerned with web security or the websites running as planned, but due to this attack I had to take various websites offline for 24 hours to increase security measures which placed this issue in the view of my teachers. This broke that invisible shield that you as a business owner abstract away from the client, suddenly teachers wanted to know why their websites were down and what was the cause of the attack – in other words the client became concerned with a business issue.

A good example of this scenario is in recent years when KFC changed suppliers and various branches ran out of chicken due to a change in suppliers. This meant, instead of the customers arriving and just using the service they expect (ordering their bucket of chicken!), they were then aware of issues with the supply chain. Not a great look for the company, after all you just want your customers to be thinking “wow this is great chicken”.

It is these moments, often of very high stress that you see how your company can cope with a setback and then how you can improve your systems/processes by resolving it in such a way that it could never happen again. This is what I hope that we achieved this week.


Piano Lessons Nottingham

Here is a small business update to round this off, we’ve recently started working with the fantastic Chloe Leak who will be the teacher on our Piano Lessons Nottingham page. Chloe brings many years of experience along with her and we are very excited to have her on board.

Chloe obtained her music teaching diploma in 2017 and knew from the age of 10 she wanted a career in music. She was committee to playing piano from a young age and now wants to share that knowledge and experience with students in the city of Nottingham

Nottingham has a thriving music scene with lots of new bands and great venues all around so it’s wonderful to see a new generation of musicians coming through under Chloe’s guidance.

I look forward to seeing Chloe’s business grow and grow.

Posted under mgrmusic.com

This post was written by Matthew Rusk on August 24, 2019

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GDPR / Guitar Lessons Leeds

Continuing my weekly updates on what it is like to run a small online business, you can check out below what I have been working on this week (7th – 12th May 2018):

GDPR

The upcoming introduction of GDPR was the main focus of this week. I was contacted by many of the music teachers I work with about what the introduction of GDPR meant for them, as well as communicating with entrepreneurs that I know to assess how best to approach GDPR compliance. Like most of us during the last few weeks I have been inundated with emails from larger corporations explaining how GDPR would impact the way I received communications from them.

This has sharpen the minds of many smaller businesses to assess what they need to do to be GDPR compliant by the 25th May 2018. Adapting to new legislation as a small business is certainly nothing new, all entrepreneurs at some stage will face this challenge. Often the real challenge is understanding what the legislation means and how it specifically relates to your business/industry. A significant portion of my week was assessing the GDPR’s impact within the music education industry, drawing together my thoughts for other music teachers to read: GDPR Guide for Music Teachers.

Having spoken with many different entrepreneurs over the last week about the GDPR their processes have been similar to mine. Assessing what they currently have in place in regard to securing the data they collect. Examining how and why they are collecting this data. Researching and seeking professional advice to ensure that they will comply by the 25th May. A good article to get you started on what you need to know as a small business about the GDPR can be found here: What is GDPR for Small Business (SimplyBusiness.co.uk)

Guitar Lessons Leeds

I was delighted to launch the second “music hub” this week in Leeds, UK. Based in Leeds the music school will be run by Kieran Gunter, an experienced professional guitar teacher in Leeds. This marks an important stage in the expansion process for 2018, with Kieran being an ideal guitar teacher to bring onboard to support this. I have been so impressed by his enthusiasm for all forms of guitar music, from classical guitar right through to modern genres.

His holistic approach to teaching, ensuring that students learn the many different aspects of how to play the guitar; from helping students understand the rhythmic aspects of music to teaching them exercises that build finger strength. With Kieran as Head Guitar Teacher at this local music hub I am really excited to see how it develops as a local music school with our support.

This week also saw the start of a potentially interesting relationship with the Trinity College exam board, in relation to their Rock & Pop exams. As our music teaching community are are mainly focused on teaching “contemporary” music styles, due to the high student interest in modern genres, there might be some really exciting opportunities to explore with Trinity College.

Posted under Music Teachers

This post was written by Matthew Rusk on May 12, 2018

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MGR Music Progress Update & Guitar Lessons Manchester

Progress Update – Introduction

It has been over six-months since I wrote my last progress update on the development of the national music teacher database. As we are edging towards the summer again I thought I would write a group of mini-blog updates on how everything is develop in real time. This will give entrepreneurial students a real insight into how businesses develop day by day, week by week. I have found from first hand experience that while progress can feel slow on any one day, by making multiple good business decision overtime that progress is multiplied dramatically. Conversely, the consequences of a poor decision can significantly impact speed of growth, especially when the pace of growth increases.

In this mini-series of blog posts I will take you inside each of the key decisions made each week, providing insight into why these conclusions have been reached and analysing the results of these decisions. By doing this I hope to take you with me in my entrepreneurial journey. Enjoy!

Think, Try, Do – News

One exciting development away from the business is that I will be working with Emily, Katie and David of the Think, Try, Do team on a new project that will be released later this year. The project will focus on interviewing 50 current and former University of Exeter student entrepreneurs. It will not only explore their “success stories” but also examine the motivations behind their entrepreneurialism. Asking some of the more philosophical questions behind what really makes a successful entrepreneur and how can we help develop other students with this mind set. There will be more on this to follow in due course, with the first interview of Matt Morley, of Savvy, having been the first to be interviewed for the project.

MGR Music – Six Months of Development

In my last post (August 2017), I talked a lot about trying to get the national music teacher database off the ground. Comparing it to a plane taxiing along the runway, not fully knowing if when the plane stopped and the throttle was applied the plane would take off. I also talked a lot about my determination to make the platform into an online community of music, using it as almost a “Facebook for music teachers”.

Nearly six months on it is really interesting to reflect on this (part of the reason why I write this blog!). Firstly, I am pleased to say that platform has taken off, developing as a place where students can find highly-qualified music teachers in their location. Interestingly, having trialed the platform during early 2018 as a “social media” platform for music teachers, I ended moving away from that idea completely.

Two reasons became self-evident; firstly, put simply music teachers didn’t use it (or want to use it) as a social media platform. While we have forums on mgrmusic.com that are active, music teachers continue to prefer to post questions and seek advice in our Music Teacher’s Group on Facebook. As much as I wanted our music teacher community to engage with the platform as a the location to create the community upon the true was Facebook provides a better frame work to do that. A realisation therefore was we should concentrate on developing the Facebook group since that is the place where music teachers feel comfortable to engage with one another.

Secondly, being a small team we cannot compete with multi-million pound online social platforms. It sounds obvious when you say it, but when you are developing something that you really want people to use you can convince yourself that people will use it. However, compare it to a platform like Facebook and you can see the limitations of our platform. Matt Morley summed this up perfectly to me – “users expect the speed of Google and the user friendly app feel of Uber”. The platform we made was good, nonetheless, it isn’t our core business to provide a social media platform for music teachers. It is obvious to those music teachers that the platform, while being full functional, isn’t as good as Facebook…and why should it be, considering the cost investment of the two platforms.

Two months ago I have such a clear thought. It was a true moment of realisation; “as a small business we should only concentrate on our core business”. With such a small team we don’t have the luxury to input a lot of time into projects that are not absolutely central to the business. Reflecting on this I would say that over the last two years I have developed a lot of different ideas, with an array of success, however very few of these ideas where absolutely central to the core business. Once I realised this it became obvious for me what I needed to do; sandbox projects that did not contribute to the core business and re-focus on making the core business awesome.

MGR Music – Guitar Lessons Manchester

Refocusing on the core business was the significant change of business strategy that has taken place during 2018. Specifically, this has meant the planned creation and launch of local music hubs. Each music hub will have a high-qualified and experienced music teacher, offering lessons to students in that area. I am very proud to say at the start of May 2018 we officially launched our first music hub, Guitar Lessons Manchester.

This was a huge step up from what we had previously offered, which was essentially a database of music teachers. This left the student to find a suitable teacher for themselves, rather than creating the infrastructure for great music teachers to provide professional tuition to students. Although some areas had consistent steams of enquiries, including for drum lessons in Leicester and guitar lessons in Manchester – as mentioned in my last post in August 2017 – I felt we could do so much more in locations where high numbers of music students were getting in touch. Therefore, in early May we appointed Dan Hall as Head Guitar Teacher at Guitar Lessons Manchester, creating our first music hub.

Dan is an extremely experienced guitar teacher, having taught the guitar for over 10 years both privately and in local schools. He is a qualified guitar teacher, having gained a FD Pop Music and Performance University of Salford. His impressive experience and knowledge as a guitar teacher is backed up by a fantastic approach to the lessons. Adopting a “no pressure” style of teaching Dan works hard to ensure are inspired to learn, rather than forced to. This approach to teaching, that draws a lot upon what the guitar student wants to learn, really resonated with me as a guitar teacher. The music hub will be based in the Stretford area of Manchester, with great transport links from across the city. Dan and I will work extremely closely together to provide the highest-quality guitar tuition that Manchester has to offer. This focus and investment in these music hubs will provide opportunities for guitarists of all abilities to rapidly progress in an environment that is ideal for guitar lessons.

It was fantastic announcement to launch Guitar Lessons Manchester with Dan this month. I have plans to launch a small number of dedicated music hubs across the UK over the next 6 months and I will keep you up to date with this progress. After nearly 6 months of development of the platform it is wonderful to feel that I am taking the next steps in my entrepreneurial journey and look forward to sharing this experience with you.

 

Posted under MGR Music, Music Teachers

This post was written by Matthew Rusk on May 5, 2018

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Music Teacher Database – Progress Update

Six months on from launching the national database of music teachers, known as mgrmusic.com, I thought I would be a good time to give a progress update on the development of the platform, both from a business and design point of view.

It has been an exciting first half a year of fast paced development: the teaching community has grown rapidly, with 208 music teachers, across a wide range of different instruments, joining the website during those first six months. We have had student enquiries coming through as well, the first ones coming in as early as the 26th March, with consistent enquiries coming through for drum lessons and guitar lessons, far more than I could have hoped for in what remains an incredibly early stage of development.

The website too is able to interact with users from social media in a way that is entirely new for me, both as it is able to service users located anywhere in the UK, as well as music teachers wanting to use their profile pages to promote themselves via their own social media streams. This inadvertently helps to promote the websites as a whole, generating more enquiries for the wider teacher community every time a profile or article is shared. The mgrmusic.com blog has been a real creative outlet for myself, enabling me to promote some of the more interested items of news that pass across my desk to the teacher community – from competitions at Marshall Amps HQ in Milton Keynes to local festivals, music teacher job opportunities and educational resources.

Nonetheless, there have been setbacks too – from decisions to sandbox other projects like HomeGyms.co.uk and WeddingBand.co.uk to focus on this project, as I believe it has real potential – one greater than those previous two ideas, to implementing upgrades on the website that are not supported on legacy browsers (alienating some of the teacher’s with older PCs who are unable to access the website – something that will be resolved in the next few months). I always feel launching a new project is a little like being at an airport, you wait around for ages for your flight, constantly checking your passport and tickets, finally board the plane and slowly start taxiing on the runway, the plane then stops, with the engines gearing up for full throttle before you start a very bumpy acceleration down the runway – we are certainly at this stage now, accelerating down the runway and believe me it is bumpy and uncomfortable, yet filled with the hope that we will get up into the air and the project will take off.

As soon as I feel that we have left ground, continuing the metaphor(!), I am incredibly keen to develop a teacher community area on the website similar to the one that have developed and cultivated on the MGR Music Tuition platform with 150 teachers I work with directly. This community area could be ten times bigger, and therefore ten times more useful, for the teachers within the community – providing peer support, ideas around best practise as well as a space to network and engage with one another in what can be quite an isolating job. This would see the database become somewhat of a dedicated social network for music teachers, where they can interact both with students and other teachers on a national level. My plan over the next six months is to take it to a place were the website has a micro-community of engaged active teachers using the platform, with around 500 teachers in the broader community. I will keep you updated how it goes!

Posted under Progress Update

This post was written by Matthew Rusk on August 3, 2017

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Google Mobile Update

On the 25th of April 2015 Google brought out one of the most significant algorithmic search updates since the famous Panda/Penguin updates. Responding to a major shift during the last four years in the way that people search on Google, the leading search engine introduced this update to place mobile friendly websites higher in mobile searches than “non-mobile friendly” websites. This makes sense as over 45% of website users are now surfing the internet via their smartphone devices.

So what does this mean for the internet, well potentially the change will have dramatic ramifications across the globe as, on the top level, many of the FTSE, Dow Jones and S&P 500 companies do not have “mobile-friendly” websites – this update could see them drop off into Google obscurity until they re-aline with Google requirements for all websites. On a small to medium size business level you will see companies that generate a large proportion of their clients, if not all their clients, from the internet potentially destroyed as leads dry up due to drops in the mobile search. So what is it specifically that Google is requiring websites to be?

Well, originally websites were created to be viewed on wide-screened desktop (and more recently laptop) devices – this gave them an appearance where a lot of information would be displayed from left to right, before a user would scroll down “below the fold” as Google puts it. Those of you who use your smartphone to view websites will know that a “non-optimised” website will present this same information again within the same format, giving a website that requires a serious amount of zooming before you can read the text. A mobile friendly website tends to push the same content into blocks that re-size perfectly for all mobile devices – avoiding a client to zoom in and increase they scroll down through the information. Moreover, they are drawn through the website with links that are tappable on a mobile device – rather than the minuscule links on a non-optimised website that gives the frustration that many of you will share of tying to click one link but getting a completely different page to the one desired due to the links being so closely placed together.

This change in the Google algorithm has had a profound effect on many businesses, all of whom have been scrambling to get their websites updated fast enough for the algorithm update (the time between the Google announcement of the update and the actual update was only eight weeks, which isn’t long if you need to completed redesign your website!). Thankfully, in my case though the website designs did need updating to make them mobile friendly they didn’t need completely new designs – instead we adapted what we had to comply with the new algorithm requirements.

Guitar Lessons Swansea

Here you can see on the Guitar Lessons Swansea website how mobile users would see the websites prior to the mobile update – the text is almost unreadable due to the tiny size and the users ability to toggle through the website is much reduced due to the tiny links

Therefore over the last few weeks, with the help of 1010 Media, we set about updating the designs of all the websites to ensure that the music business’s websites would be complainant with the new Google algorithm. And I am please to reveal the finished article – something that we have tested extensively during April to ensure that it works seemlessly on all mobile devices, from iPads to Android smartphones (and I guess even smart-watches!).

Guitar Lessons Middlesbrough

The Guitar Lessons Middlesbrough website is an example of the post updated website, where the content has now be optimised for a mobile device enabling the user to scroll down (rather than zoom in) for information. You might note the menu bar at the top that enable users to easily access other pages of the website.

I am especially excited to watch the analytics of the websites to see how this improves enquiry numbers, or client engagement with the website from mobile devices now that they are being update. It will be a slow process for me to update all 120 websites, but over the next 60 days I am to do just that – and no matter where you are with your business I would advise you to do the same. You can view here the Google Page Speed Analysis program to determine if your website is suitably responsive to mobile devices – Google will also provide pointers on how to improve that page. I guess my question to you, as a student business who sells products online, is can you afford (i) to have up to 45% of your audience poorly catered for with a non-mobile friendly website and (ii) can you afford to drop off Google’s mobile searches? If the answer is no, then best get to updating soon! But don’t despair – as with all algorithms Google will constantly review your website promoting it again once it complies to its requirements, therefore, you can still reverse any negative changes you might face over the next few months.

On the business front thanks to the help of many University of Exeter students that are helping me write and create new websites I am pleased to announce that we have finished Piano Lessons Sheffield website this week. As a business we are keen to continue to expand to over 120 websites across the UK within the next 4 months. It is going to be a big challenge but I think we are certainly up to it! Alongside this I am keen to look to the recruitment side of the business to ensure that we are hiring new teachers as new websites are created. It is a big challenge to balance the time input into all areas of the business but overall I feel that we are going in the right direction.

Posted under 1010 Media, MGR Music

This post was written by Matthew Rusk on May 3, 2015

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Progress Update: Guitar Lessons London

I thought exactly one year to the day when I launched Guitar Lessons London I thought I would write a short personal update on its development, a story of pivoting, entering the most competitive music tuition market in the UK and constant development to appeal to an audience that is like nowhere else in the UK. Originally rather than a Guitar Lessons London website the site was targeted at the entirety of the UK, under a “Guitar Lessons UK” branding with subpages for different teachers within locations – yet it quickly proved inefficient in generating the number of enquiries needed to support multiple guitar teachers across the nation.

Guitar Lessons London - originally launched under the a 'Guitar Lessons UK' branding

Guitar Lessons London – originally launched under the a ‘Guitar Lessons UK’ branding

Therefore, when the opportunity arose to move into the London guitar tuition market – a dream of mine since launching my music tuition business in first year of university – I pounce upon it, purchasing the www.guitarlessonslondon.com domain name and rebranding the website to “Guitar Lessons London”.

However, this quickly struck a problem as with a UK map potential students only had the very smallest of areas to click on to locate their teachers, so with the help of Andy from 1010 Media we decided to include a borough by borough map of London as the focus of the websites homepage. Whenever you design a website you have to be really clear about the customers journey through that website, once a potential client is on your website how are you going to get the from A (the first page they view) to B (a purchase, enquiry, content viewing, email subscription page depending on your aims for the website). For the music tuition websites the aim is to get them to enquiry via a contact form so having a clear customer journey for this new look Guitar Lessons London website was key: (i) landing page (ii) click on borough on map (iii) select teacher (iv) read about teacher (v) contact.

Guitar Lessons London - second design, with London borough map

Guitar Lessons London – second design, with London borough map

Yet, after this update was launched the truth was it simply didn’t work! How could this be? Well, the truth was this had disturbed a central theme that had helped the success of all of the other music tuition website; primarily that each website was designed for one teacher, creating a personalised experience for a potential student that didn’t give them more choices to make about which teacher they wanted. I found that providing potential students with a multitude of teachers actually decreased enquiry rates as a client simply wanted one teacher that looked professional, friendly and able to teach them the music that they wanted to learn. There was a second cold point that we quickly learned – that even 5 clicks from landing page to enquiry was too many to ask of the majority of web users who went through this thought process: (i) enter a website, does it look good? (ii) looks good, read a little info (iii) sounds good, I will enquire – making it a three step process. And a final third point was that by presenting a multitude of teachers the website gave the impression that it was a music agency rather than a personalised website ran by a great guitar teacher – a quick search for “Guitar Lessons London” on Google would show that my direct competitors all presented in the same manor: a music agency with teachers, rather than individual teachers running their own website. This meant that my website simply didn’t stand out from the rest – no wonder the enquiries were so low despite the best of intentions when we launched the second design update!

So despite all the hard work, as well in investment in this second design, in February 2014 I decided to develop a new model where the website replicated the normal locational website templates with a “lead teacher” who could deliver lessons to students within their own homes across London to see if I could increase enquiry numbers. Implementing this template would make the website much more personal, hopefully improving enquiry numbers through a model that had already been proven across the UK. Another huge time investment this third updated came into place and I quickly saw a rapid increase in the number of enquiries coming through the website – yet it was still way off what I would expect for the number of searches made per month in London for guitar lessons.

Guitar Lessons London - third design, personalised to a single 'lead teacher'

Guitar Lessons London – third design, personalised to a single ‘lead teacher’

Clue another step back and analysis of the analytics of the websites – turns out the Londoners spend even less time on the websites that in other cities across the UK, meaning basically even if they liked the website that they didn’t have the time/motivation/patients to get to the final “Contact Me” page. Ever heard of “London service” – turns out the same is true on the internet! (Why wouldn’t it be?!) So to combat this I decided to additionally put a contact form on every one of the pages that I want a client to work through when they land on the website, everything from the “About Me” page to the “Prices” page. This again dramatically increased the number of enquiries coming through the website – yet is it finished, certainly not! There is still plenty to develop on the website over the next year or so to help to increase the conversion numbers of the people entering the website to completing the target action desired by the webmaster. I have found that nothing ever stands still on the internet, it is an ever evolving field where a inconveniently placed link or one click too many will half the number of conversions you will make – but what am I complaining, I would do just the same on your website and so would you!

Posted under 1010 Media, Guitar Lessons London, MGR Music, Progress Update

This post was written by Matthew Rusk on April 17, 2014

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Progress Update: The Ember Club

I thought a year on from my last blog post it would be great time time to start a series of progress updates on some of the entrepreneurial students that we have worked with here at the Innovation Centre. This not only includes current students, but students that worked with and graduated alongside the first Student Entrepreneur in Residence Tom Carrington-Smith to see where their entrepreneurial journeys have lead them now three years on. I will also talk to the students I worked with during my time as the Student Entrepreneur in Residence, as well as the students that are currently working with Mithil Shah, our current Student Entrepreneur in Residence.

Mithil Shah & Kimberley Martinez

Mithil Shah & Kimberley Martinez (the Innovation Centre’s & Students’ Guild’s Student Entrepreneurs in Residence for 2013-14 academic year)!

As a Student Entrepreneur in Residence Tom (2011-12), Matthew (2012-13) and Mithil (2013-14) saw on average about 100 University of Exeter students per year – all pitching business concepts that covered a huge range of industries and products. We met with students at all different stages of their businesses, from students who simply had an idea to students that had been running fully fledged businesses while at the university. The role of the Student Entrepreneur in Residence is to provide support and advice for all entrepreneurial minded students at the University of Exeter, regardless of where they are with their idea or business. The SEiR also helps to create a small community of like-minded entrepreneurial students who are encouraged to help each other with the challenges of running a business while trying to complete a degree at the same time! Over the last three years this community has grown exponentially, in this series of blog posts I will look to talk to just a few members of this community to hear about their business stories. We would love you to become a part of this entrepreneurial community, so if you have a business idea (no matter where you are with it!) or are thinking about starting a business while at university don’t hesitate to get in touch – you can contact the Student Entrepreneur in Residence by emailing .

I thought that a fantastic business to kick off the progress update blog post series would be The Ember Club, a platform for like-minded entrepreneurial students from a range of different universities to connect, solve business problems and meet investors, mentors and industry experts. Founded by Tom Charman, Edward Noel (serial entrepreneur; founder of Soundsynk and Exeter University Calendars) and Nathan Dundovic the trio where keen to ensure that there was a platform for genuine entrepreneurial students to connect on, providing the business support that they felt was often overlooked for young business founders.

Tracking back a little, I first met Tom Charman in 2012 and blogged about his first year business idea George Edwards – a British made clothing company that looked to produce quality shirts, socks and sweatshirts for students. Indeed, Tom was a student that pitched his business at the SETsquared 2013 Deloitte pitching event. His business has been progressing slowly, with his official launch being set for Summer 2014 – yet one of the main reasons for the this is Tom’s business attention has been refocused on founding and running Ember Club which has proved extremely successful amongst entrepreneurial university students across the country.

By contrast The Ember Club has moved extremely fast since its launch in November 2013, with the founding members attending events like the Student Enterprise Conference held by NACUE to network with other business mined university students & pitch their idea. The business was quickly shortlisted for the Shell Live Wire Awards (Shell give 4x £1,000 grants to young entrepreneurs each month + £10,000 to a single Young Entrepreneur of the Year) as well as winning a £500 grant from the UnLtd fund.

http://unltd.org.uk

The Ember Club founders won a £500 grant for their idea from the UnLtd Fund!

By January 2014 The Ember Club had grown to 30 regular uses, a figure than now stands at well over 100 today, drawing in students from across the nations universities, as well as investors from as far a field as India and Australia. Continuing to drive their business platform forward Tom, Nathan and Ed are looking community to build their user base, increasing the value of the network to each member of the community, as well as grow the affiliate network that has been so successful for them so far. To become part of this community of young entrepreneurs simply Google The Ember Club. With great plans for the future there is no doubt that we will be hearing a lot more from The Ember Club as they grow in size and begin to bring their young enterprise platform to institutions like the University of Exeter business school and others on a national level. I will let you know how they get on over the next 12 months in my 2015 update!

It has been a big year for MGR Music as well – growing rapidly to over 75 music teachers located across the country tutoring over 4,500 students piano, guitar, singing and drum lessons. The most significant development has been successfully entering the London guitar tuition market, expanding rapidly to have multiple guitar teachers across London tutoring students in Fulham, Camden and Islington, in addition to continuing to grow on a national level taking on teachers even in the last few days in Glasgow and Ipswich, as well as for the Piano Lessons Cardiff website. We have quite a big announcement to make in the next few weeks as the business looks to enter a new market so I will keep you updated with what is happening on a business front as I write the progress updates! Want to get involved, don’t hesitate to get in touch by emailing .

Posted under George Edwards, Guitar Lessons London, Progress Update, SEiR, Student Businesses, The Ember Club

This post was written by Matthew Rusk on March 1, 2014

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Week Six

The SetSquared Xing event held at the University of Surrey was unquestionably the highlight of this week. After an inopportune 5am start Exeter university’s crack team of six of our best entrepreneurs and I headed off to Guilford to join forces with entrepreneurs from Bath, Southampton, Bristol and Surrey to take part in a regional business challenge. The day was a resounding success, with each mixed university team being given a business idea to develop over four hours before pitching it back to a pool of Dragon’s Den style judges. While the students were split up to network and build teams with talented students drawn across the globe to our five universities, the Student Entrepreneurs in Residence (the equivalent position to mine) of each of the five universities were placed into a team – this was a hilarious (mis)decision! Instantly getting on famously it created a fantastic day of socialising, networking and business development – with the students coming away having experienced first hand some of the critical aspects of turning an idea into a business model.

SETsquared Xing challenge

With three of the Exeter students winning big money prizes during the event’s finale – a share in the £1,500 awarded on the day to entrepreneurial students – we returned back to Exeter. The message of the day was certainly focused on teams and the importance of building the right team, one where getting the right personalities has more of an impact on team productivity than hiring on qualification. Understanding this is vital for new businesses as hiring the wrong second, third or forth employee in your organisation might be the direct reason for your business failing. Lucky after some horror stories from former Kauffman Scholar Alistair Shepherd we will be thinking twice before we recruit again!

After meeting several student businesses during my drop sessions (email me if you want one) including JD Solis, e-Book gifting and Instabear – who are launching extremely soon – I went to meet local lawyer Dominic Hollingsworth of Kitsons. Part of my role this year is to build up a network of external professional services to help aid student business development, this includes reaching out to legal, accountancy and bank firms to build relationships that students can benefit from. The meeting was a great success and I am proud to say we have Kitsons on board for legal support for university entrepreneurs!

At MGR Music I hired another teacher, a university of Exeter student and piano wizard Callum Henry for the Piano Lessons Exeter website, while the business expanded into Leicester and Cambridge. Being the first week in the month the money for the previous months lesson commissions came in, up 8.25% percent in January from December! The Guitar Lessons London website is also coming together behind the scenes, ready for its big launch on the 17th April 2013! Check out the screenshots below…

Guitar Lessons London – development screenshot!

Posted under Guitar Lessons London, Instabear, JD Solis, Kauffman Scholarship, SEiR, SetSquared, Student Businesses

This post was written by Matthew Rusk on February 9, 2013

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Week Four

Another furious week this week up at the Innovation Centre as we awarded grant funding to our first student business of the year! Dan Wiseman, a recent drama graduate and current owner of Webwise Media, pitched for grant funding to help develop his software solution to digital signage management. Named Screenfish, the idea successfully negotiated its way through two business plan development sessions, multiple meetings with Innovation Centre staff and a Dragon’s Den style pitch before gaining funding. Congratulations to Dan, I will keep you updated as how the project is going!

Screenfish – Webwise Media Ltd new software package!

I also met a student during my weekly drop in sessions who pitched one of the best business ideas I have heard all term! Instabear, which has already gone online this week, is an awesome website where you can finally get your Instagram photos printed! Offering both Polaroid’s and snaps check out their website and like their Facebook page – great job by final year student Solly Akhtar!

Instabear goes live!

This week also saw me travelling up to Leicester and Sheffield to interview guitar teachers for the Guitar Lessons Leicester and Guitar Lessons Sheffield websites. A really exciting trip, I managed to interview a total of five teachers in Leicester and Sheffield hiring a new guitar teacher in Leicester to work with!

Interviewing is a hard process to get right, especially in the context of my sub-contracting business where I have to pitch the business model to them while they try and pitch themselves to me. There is a lot of research to suggest that interviewing is actually one of the worst ways of selecting the right people to work for your organisation as the process is far from objective. Personality, appearance and the fact you both support the same football/rugby/bowls team invariably prompts you to hire the person you get on with rather than the best candidate for the job! Always take applications first and then select the final candidates to be interviewed by a colleague who is not the decision maker before interviewing the last two or three yourself!

Posted under Guitar Lessons London, Instabear, MGR Music, Student Businesses, Webwise Media, Wiseman Media

This post was written by Matthew Rusk on January 27, 2013

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Week Three

JD Solis were the student business find of the week! Ran by Alex O’Mahony-Zed, Nathaniel Rankin and Samuel Cooledge this premium operation began in summer 2012 as the three Exeter University students saw an opportunity in the polo lifestyle market. Manufacturing a simple but stylish polo belt, made in the colours of your polo team, the belts sold extremely well during the summer months at numerous polo tournaments! Targeted at the polo audience rather than the players themselves this high-end market enables a tasty margin on each belt sold. With a great marketing strategy, namely trying to encourage the players themselves to wear the belts through sponsorships and giveaways to make them desirable to the audience (a common business strategy for sportswear brands), the trio successfully built up JD Solis as a polo brand and are now looking to bring this success across to their online sales.

JD Solis – Polo Belts!

This week also saw a few fantastic developments for MGR Music – this week the final website designs for the Singing Lessons Location, Piano Lessons Location and Drum Lesson Location have come through! Andy of 1010 Media has yet again done an amazing job creating extremely professional website templates that we have already started building this week. Check them out below! Already finished are the Piano Lessons Glasgow, Drum Lessons York and Singing Lessons Nottingham website thanks to MGR Music Tuition’s team of student copy writers – it is now over to me to find some teachers!

Final Piano Lessons Location Templates!

Posted under JD Solis, MGR Music, Student Businesses

This post was written by Matthew Rusk on January 20, 2013

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Introduction!

Hello, my name is Matthew Rusk and I am this academic year’s Student Entrepreneur in Residence working with Exeter university students who have business ideas! I started a business while studying history at Exeter (2009 – 2012) and am here to help develop, support and offer advice on your business ideas. I also work with current students who run businesses turning over thousands of pounds a year while at university – you will find out more about them in my blog – helping to develop these businesses into the next big thing. I have been asked to write a blog this term so you can find out more about what entrepreneurial Exeter students are getting up to, explain how you can develop your business ideas and let you experience the day to day highs and lows that running my business, MGR Music Tuition LTD, brings! Enjoy!

If you have any questions or would like to meet up to talk about your business ideas email me at . You can also read more about the back story to my business on the Career Zone and Alumni websites. In addition you can also check out more information about other students business right here at the uni at University of Exeter Student Businesses or here at the Career Zone Success Stories.

Matthew Rusk – Student Entrepreneur in Residence

Posted under SEiR

This post was written by Matthew Rusk on January 1, 2013

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