Here, we talk to gardening website guru Nicola Gammon, who started Shootgardening.co.uk with the intention of transforming the way we approach gardening.

1. When did you start the business, why, and what were you doing before this?

Shoot aims to transforming the way we garden by helping everyone to be a successful gardener. Shoot is a membership-based organisation that provides advice and services to domestic and professional gardeners with 150,000 members and 23,000 plants in our database. If you tell us which plants are in your garden we send you automatic, personalised garden care reminders for each plant in your garden every month.

I started the gardening website in 2009 after a sales role. I am very entrepreneurial and saw a gap in the market. Like many people who own a garden, allotment or even window box, I had problems with plants. I’d buy an attractive plant in the local garden centre, bring it home and then it died because I put it in the wrong place or gave it the wrong treatment. It was very expensive, and also heartbreaking to lose a beautiful plant I’d fallen for. I never had time to consult a gardening book on when to prune or plant. Then I realised that there are lots of others like me – busy people who wanted to have a nice garden but aren’t very knowledgeable and needed advice on how to care for their plants.

2. Talk about the early days of the business.

In the early days, I launched a basic website and allowed new members to join for free. After the first year, I started charging for extra features and was thrilled that my members would pay a subscription for our service. Although the sales at first were small it was a big moment when we knew people would pay for what we offer. There have been many big successes since then, including being a finalist at Richard Branson’s VOOM GREAT 2016, an £50,000 equity-free cash prize at Mass Challenge UK 2015, and successfully raising £500,000 in equity funding from my members in 2015.

One big, painful failure right at the start of my business was trusting a friend of a friend to do my early web development work. I didn’t have an IP agreement or contract with him and when he worked out that Shoot would be successful he demanded shares of the company to allow me IP rights over the code I had been paying to build for me. This has only just recently been completely resolved, so my advice to any entrepreneur starting out is to ensure you have IP rights from anyone who contributes to your business.

3. What was the single ‘turning point’ moment for the business?

In 2015 I turned to Crowdcube so my members could invest in Shoot. We were fully funded in 2 weeks and went on to hit our upper limit of £500,000. This funding helped me to build a team to improve the product and to focus on marketing and sales for the first time. As a result of focussed product development and outbound promotion our revenues have increased 200 per cent this year to date.

4. How did your business scale?

One of the most valuable exercises I did after our crowdfunding on Crowdcube was a very detailed study of our members and produced a customer segmentation map. With a very small team and still very limited resources we have had to be very focussed on who our main customer segments should be. The product we might build for a novice gardener is very different to the product we might build for a professional. Sales and marketing are very different too. So we had to be laser focused.

We did surveys and interviews with members. We split the surveys into groups based on how valuable each member had been to us to date. We looked for patterns in the customer groups as well as mapped other key metrics such as Lifetime Value and Net Promoter Score feedback to each group. This work enabled us to identify our most valuable customer segment as garden designers. With this focus we have improved the product for that segment and focussed our marketing and sales efforts there. This focussed investment is what has allowed us to scale so successfully. We are now looking at expanding to the USA to sell to garden designers over there too.

5. How can similar companies learn from your success?

A recommendation I got from the legendary Seth Godin was ‘Nicola turned internet visitors into gardening friends, and gardening friends into loyal customers. And she now has turned those loyal customers into investors in her award-winning business. With Shoot, Nicola continues to make a ruckus transforming the way we garden by enabling everyone to be a successful gardener. Congratulations on all your success Nicola. BRAVO’

I believe what I have done well is to ensure I am delivering value to my core customers. I have worked out who I want my customers to be and have focussed on them. And I am turning those customers into evangelists and investors. I hope others are inspired to learn from the successes (and some failures) we have had.

Further reading on starting a business

Nominations are now open for the British Small Business Awards, the leading event celebrating the brightest stars in the SME sector. Click here to enter, and make sure you get involved today using the hashtag #BSBAwards. Good luck!

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