Hunter Ruthven, editor of Real Business and Business Advice talks to Ben Spencer about championing young companies, promoting innovation across the board and asking PRs to cut out the jargon.
Business Advice focuses on providing advice to “micro businesses” in the UK. Why target this market?
While we’d been serving the SME community for nearly 20 years [with Real Business], we felt there was a definite need for a website aimed squarely at micro and small businesses. A lot has been written about the fast-growth business community, commonly referred to as startups, but less so about the millions and millions of self-employed people, sole traders, small family firms and lifestyle companies that are so crucial to the success of our nation’s economy.
We also believe that budding entrepreneurs and early-stage business builders encounter myriad obstacles in those formative years, and we wanted to be able to assist on this journey by providing useful and easy to digest advice-based pieces, looking at topics such as getting funding for your company, hiring a first member of staff, starting to build out a supply chain and sorting out insurance. We’ve had great feedback so far from our readers.
Its sister site Real Business is the most viewed SME web site, according to ABC, in the UK; what are some of the contributing factors to its success?
High-growth businesses and the entrepreneurs behind them are moving so fast that there often isn’t the time to step back and work out what is going on around you – whether it’s competitors or just general trends in the market. I think what our readers like best about our content is we plug that gap. With the pieces we are publishing on a daily basis, and then promoting via social media and newsletters, they can dip into articles on what laws and regulations they need to be aware of as well as any new government initiatives they might be able to take advantage of.
But I think what we also do well, and has contributed to our success, is that we manage to blend information pieces about subjects such as auto-enrolment with the fun and original content found in our ‘Surreal Business’ section.
What is the criteria for a business to make it onto the sites and how do you aim to help them grow?
There is no specific criteria for making it on to Business Advice or Real Business, we are just keen to hear about interesting stories and inspiring growth. While the micro business and SME community in the UK is expansive, it’s also very tight knit and supportive. We hope that by featuring a company on either site it will open the offering up a few new potential customers, an interested partner or even possible acquirer.
Young companies don’t have thousands to spend on flashy advertising campaigns, so we are only too happy to help get the name out there.
How successful does a company have to be before it appears on Real Business?
With the businesses we feature on Real Business, we generally looking for a couple of years trading, some evidence of customer acquisition and growing turnover. They don’t have to be the one every venture capitalist in the country is fighting over, it’s more about us being able to feature an innovative product or approach. We also want people to be sharing their warts and all stories, it can’t only be about the success side of things.
Who are your competitors in this space?
In the B2B digital space there are the likes of BusinessZone.co.uk, Startups.co.uk and SmallBusiness.co.uk. It’s also been interesting to see what the nationals have done to improve their enterprise sections, moving away from just writing about FSTE 100 firms and embracing the growing entrepreneurial community in Britain. However, as Real Business is the most-read site for SMEs in the UK (ABC audit figures), we like to see ourselves as leading the field.
Tell me more about your readership for both titles. How do they differ?
I think the best way to describe the difference between our audience is the level of expertise they are after. While a reader of Business Advice is looking at hiring their first member of staff, a Real Business reader is on the look out for a killer CTO or marketing whizz. While a Business Advice reader is looking to access government grants or open a business account with an overdraft, a Real Business reader is looking to venture capital or asset-based lending. While we cover the same kinds of themes (finance, recruitment, sales and marketing, legal issues and procurement), it is about the level of advice being sought.
So do you see SMEs making the leap from Business Advice to appear on Real Business?
That is one of the great things about what we’ve created. Although Business Advice is only six months old, we can’t wait to see how businesses we’ve interviewed or have accessed our content begin to grow and start looking to what we provide on Real Business. Hearing from an entrepreneur a couple of years down the road, who can tell you all about the important milestones they’ve passed in that timeframe, is one of the most rewarding parts of our job.
What does a typical day look like for the editorial team and how do they work across both titles.
The editorial team begin the day by making a big push on the news front. We want to make sure that both sites are covering the most important stories, whether it’s a government announcement, interesting survey or particular company development. Real Business has two newsletters going out each workday, so there is a constant need to make sure we have quality content for that. In the afternoon, the focus is more on longer interview-type features, thought-provoking opinion pieces and liaising with our resident experts on advice pieces.
We also like to get out of the office whenever we can, getting along to conferences, launches or just managing to meet an entrepreneur in person for a chat.
How do you and the team work with PRs?
PRs are absolutely crucial to what we do. Without them there is no way we’d be able to cover the amount we do in a day. From pitching us press releases that they know will be of interest to us to offering an introduction with a client that they believe has an interesting growth story, there are so many touch points throughout the day. While some are definitely better than others (no names I’m afraid!) I think there is a growing realisation in the B2B media space that both journalists and PRs should be helping each other more to further the cause.
What are your three top tips for PRs when pitching ideas?
(1) You’ve got to find something unique to talk about. Some of the best pitches I’ve had have made me take notice because of something unique in the business or founder’s history. One that particular springs to mind was a US-based company that was set up by a guy who had managed to get feedback from Warren Buffet on his business plan. It had very little to do with what he was up to these days, but it made me sit up and take notice as the Warren Buffett link was what the PR led with.
(2) Cut out the jargon. You have to imagine that you are explaining a business or client to someone that has no idea about that industry. Filling a press release with buzzwords doesn’t make me interested, I just switch off.
(3) At least try to make it look tailored. I’m afraid that blanket emails aren’t going to get a reply, neither will those that don’t address me by name. If you’re pitching the story to other titles, then let me know. It doesn’t mean I won’t be interested, but there’s nothing more annoying than seeing another site covering exactly the same thing that week.
And finally, which sectors are you most excited to cover in 2016 for Real Business and Business Advice?
I don’t think it’s necessarily sectors – more (like) trends. I think this year is going to be a really exciting one for a number of reasons. Small and micro businesses are finally starting to get the recognition and support each are deserved of, so I think there are only going to be more inspiring entrepreneurial stories coming out of that space. The barriers to entry are dropping by the day and, through campaigns like our Microsoft 30 Digital Champions, I’m looking forward to finding out how companies are thinking differently, adopting digital techniques and competing well against bigger and more established rivals.
Crowdfunding is another topic of interest. The second half of 2015 saw some interesting developments in the exit space, so I’m excited to see what other big success stories emerge there – alongside the inevitable failures and backlash that is going to produce.
Hunter was speaking to Gorkana’s Ben Spencer