In the latest edition of our ‘Stories Of Female Entrepreneurs’, we caught up with the inspirational Julie Taylor and Louisa Stewart to discover more about their entrepreneurship journey. Their company Blue Ninja got shortlisted in 2020 for the NBCC Entrepreneur of the Year Award(!) and this year for the SME award – Best Online Business. Read the full interview here.
TELL ME ABOUT YOUR CURRENT BUSINESS. WHAT ARE YOU DOING EXACTLY?
We provide Online Business Management to help small & medium-sized companies reach their growth and profit potential with our bespoke services.
We simplify our business operations via our 5 ninjas; Process Ninja, Project Ninja, Admin Ninja, Report Ninja & Ninja Me – this is your USP (unique selling point) of yourself or your business.
You don’t always see a ninja, but you know that they’ve been there. They make things seem effortless and easy – two words that in practice are definitely the result of hard work, thought and patience! We believe every business needs a ninja!
HOW DID YOU COME UP WITH YOUR BUSINESS IDEA?
We met via a local Facebook group here in Leiden where we both live and once we’d got to know each other we realised as a partnership we would bring together our complementary skills and backgrounds and many years experience in process and procedure development, project management and administrative management.
As a small company, we are aware of the many varied tasks, challenges and skills required to run a company, you can’t be an expert at everything and there are not enough hours in the day to do everything. We know that people can’t afford to engage a full-time team of staff with a variety of skills, so we offer flexible services that people can engage on an hourly basis. We help start-ups to scale up by providing the right skills at the right time.
WHAT WERE YOU DOING BEFORE THIS, AND IS THIS YOUR FIRST BUSINESS?
Award-winning Virtual Assistant (VA) Louisa has been an office administrator since 2005 and worked for years with public health organisations.
After many years working with a global team, Louisa saw a gap in the market for this type of administrative consultancy – Louisa founded Blue Ninja Consulting in 2013.
Julie started her career in customer service and European sales before 14 years in Financial Services, working in two of the four largest banks in the UK during the financial crisis. Julie has a varied skillset including leading virtual teams and creating and continually improving processes
As her contract role was finishing, an opportunity arose to move to the Netherlands, and she then met Louisa.
WHAT SPECIFIC ADVICE WOULD YOU HAVE FOR YOUNG WOMEN WHO WOULD LIKE TO BECOME AN ENTREPRENEUR?
Do your research to ensure that there’s a gap in the market for your product or service that you have the skills and knowledge to provide, without customers your business won’t succeed. If there’s something similar in the marketplace, what is different about your offering, what’s your USP? Seek support from others, don’t be afraid to ask for help, engage a mentor and consider getting a business coach to challenge and get you to the next level. Always ask for feedback from customers on what went well, but also what can be improved. Ensure you keep tight control of your finances to cover the lean times.
YOUR GREATEST OBSTACLE AND HOW DID YOU DEALT WITH IT:
Finding customers can be a challenge. We’re lucky enough that the majority of customers we’ve worked with have been via recommendations, but we still need to widen our net and have a pipeline of interested companies. We need to demonstrate value and nurture these interested companies until they are ready to engage our services.
To promote ourselves, we always ask for testimonials and share them on our website and social media. We post regularly on social media, focussing on the channel that decision-makers will find us. This has included, blogging, vlogging, Facebook lives with collaborators, running a local Facebook group for other small businesses, being interviewed by a local TV programme ‘Hello Leiden’,for YouTube and the Dutch magazine Libelle, running webinars, getting involved with the local council and presenting at events. We also have a monthly newsletter to provide useful hints and tips for businesses.
Networking is important to make new connections that aren’t always obvious, to begin with, these relationships take time to nurture, but it can be surprising how one discussion can end up with another introduction.
OUR PROUDEST ACCOMPLISHMENT:
Apart from managing to survive and thrive through the challenges of the pandemic, in 2020 we were shortlisted for the NBCC (Netherlands British Chamber of Commerce) Entrepreneur of the Year Award. This award is given to a company that has showcased an outstanding, innovative, and sustainable achievement towards the British-Dutch trade.
This was our first nomination and without a PR department, we had to pull all this information together in a short timeframe! ‘Double Dutch’ Drinks were the winners, another company with two female founders, it was an exciting opportunity, and we were thrilled to be shortlisted.
This year we were shortlisted again, this time for the SME Award, not winners this time, but we are also finalists for the UK Business Awards Best Online Business, we’re looking forward to the final on the 8th July. This year we have created and launched an online course to help non-Dutch speakers start their business in the Netherlands. It wasn’t on the plan for the year and happened organically through a supportive coach and group we found, it’s been a lot of work but hopefully it will help people get started quicker.
HOW WE BLEND LIFE AND WORK TO CREATE THE LIFE WE WANT:
We do try to take time off during the quieter times, however, it does mean that without outside support everything stops. This does mean we need to plan ahead to cover these times without additional assistance and still keep an eye on our emails.
Sometimes discussing a piece of work, breaking it down and planning it out makes things more manageable, so we can finish our work day at a reasonable time and see that not everything is urgent, even if our clients think they are!
WE ARE INSPIRED BY:
Talking to other small business owners, sharing the challenges, usually comes up with solutions and opportunities to work together. We’ve found through the pandemic collaborations we would have never thought of before and how willing people are to help each other. We offer monthly guest blog spots to introduce people to our network and have monthly Facebook Lives with a South African contact who shares the same passion as us regarding productivity, we feel so energised by these sessions.
WHY WE CHOSE THIS CAREER:
We’re both passionate about helping people and making people’s lives easier, taking away the time-consuming laborious tasks, so they can focus on their business. Things don’t need to be that difficult, they just need a bit of thought, planning and organisation.
HOW WE PREPARE FOR SUCCESS:
We plan and communicate. We would like to spend more time on planning, but things change constantly, so we work flexibly to meet those changes while checking in with and ensuring customer satisfaction.
DID YOU WRITE A BUSINESS PLAN? WAS IT AN EFFECTIVE TOOL FOR YOU?
We wrote a business plan when we started our partnership and will review it now we are halfway through the year. It’s a good tool to have as a guideline, but things change and so should your plan. We have goals for the year and are already making good progress on these, but if some of these become unachievable due to outside forces, we will adapt the goals accordingly.
ARE THERE SPECIFIC ADVANTAGES, DISADVANTAGES TO BEING A WOMAN BUSINESS OWNER?
Women are naturally more empathetic and understanding of people’s problems, people usually tell us a lot more than what their business issues are! But having all this information does help us come up with a robust solution rather than just a sticking plaster.
We don’t see any particular disadvantages.
OUR FAVOURITE BUSINESS TOOL IS…
We moved from G-Suite to Office365 last year, and we use all the tools to their full advantage, despite living in the same city, due to restrictions we speak and share information easily on Microsoft Teams. The Kanban board Planner is really useful to track actions easily, allocate to team members and add deadlines. Apart from that we love automation, anything that reduces manual tasks, saves time and money.
THE BEST PIECE OF ADVICE WE HAVE EVER BEEN GIVEN IS…
We both have the same ethos which is to try things out, what’s the worst that could happen! Once we’ve weighed the risks, benefits and any costs, if it feels right just go for it, just like our partnership.